votw ii.32: Stillborn, By Choice
“Stay On These Roads” by a-ha is featured this week. An epic theme boasting some of Morten’s best vocals ever, it begs to be the melancholic denouement of a grandiose film…I wrote “Stillborn, By Choice” five years ago. In preparation for this blog, I redrafted the narrative, tearing it down and rebuilding from the fundamentals. It was very pleasant returning to an old work of mine after so many years, stopping to wonder what thoughts floated through my head half a decade ago. What an apropos time to feature this, one of my most beloved personal stories, than here and now. I thank Flickr for its bevy of gorgeous images. Enjoy.
Stillborn, By Choice
The frost choked his throat like a daemon snake binding a receding apple tree in the Arctic glaciers. His cheekbones scratched against his weathered skin. The lad’s lips: dry slits invisibly caressing lifeless cacti. What remained of his eyes shrank into humid wasteland – former suns that could not breathe a wick to life. His hair, split with cold grease at the ends, masked his pupils like a raven defending her snarling brood.
Dawn, listening in, awaited a sleepless English town of color gray. Seiiven zombied through the withering glow of the sinking city, dragging his wooden legs along the labyrinthine path of the pearly black avenues. The dazed candles blew him no warmth as he trudged along in the amber of purgatory. These ocherous tints flicked their gaze lazily at Seiiven, blinking neither comfort nor malice. The window panes, those lacking hollow pupils, that is, shut their eyes utterly, shunning him from whatever comfort they may have harbored. The decaying white doors spoke no evil. The ajar thresholds spewed a stench into the atmosphere that fazed the senses. Eyes streamed and veins gulped; all was foul, dead. In breakneck silence, forked tongues lassoed the morning paper. The Manhattan skyline’s blood bubbled down the headlines.
The trees, yonder in the quivering horizon, gossiped despair to one another. With his eyes darting madly from footstep to footstep, Seiiven heard their mumbles stiffen as his beaten spirit approached them. Embarrassed, the trees straightened and ogled inconspicuously as he rushed passed them. In his wake, they returned to combing their locks, their hearsay now a stabbing hiss.
Seiiven turned almost instinctively when the wind whistled what he thought was his name…
The boy continued his wayward march.
The trees loomed larger, and then dimmed. Flap-flap-flap, the wings soared overhead. An owl? Black and brazen and slurping crimson. Seiiven shivered, digging his fists deeper into his night-splattered jacket. He kept on.
He’d been trolling the town for too long, or not long enough. Eons, it seemed to this checkered vagabond. Perhaps mere minutes? God, no doubt, dusted this off His slate as insignificant seconds. Yet, the devils relished this hour of disquietude. Theirs was the influence Seiiven drank, gingerly poking him along the inkblot landscape like a child bouncing a red balloon on a listless Sunday.
Seiiven shrank from these thoughts and pushed his hair back, unleashing his sooty eyes on the world. A disheveled bitch resolutely avoided Seiiven’s black holes, crossed the street with her tail betwixt her hind legs, and galloped back to the world Seiiven had darted away from. In turn, he spat the rancid aftertaste life had delivered in a mouthwash bottle. His saliva cleansed the she-dog’s waste. The convolution spilled into the sewers – the underground mutants hiccuped.
On and on Seiiven traversed hither and thither and back again, acutely aware of the darkness etching in every direction. Man’s last ace, the Moon, suffocated above him: a gibbet wringed her neck from the greater heavens. Venomous coughs from the bloated throat of the graceless orbiter singed humanity’s skin. In Seiiven’s mind, the Moon’s sole agenda for retribution was to cast an undying eve. She thrashed through the frigid shadow she descended upon Earth, struggling to free herself from the quiet Universe. The Sun, a gloom from a forgotten ice age, stared at her from a distance, both helpless and bitter. Wasn’t like this yesterday, Seiiven thought.
And from the Moon, a tear rippled through her features, distorting the realms of the gods, and she bled a little. The droplet plunked down on Siiven’s head. The trickle bushwhacked its way out of Seiiven’s hair, branding his brow with a subtle trail. It continued by splicing his eyes and then joining his lips in fiery matrimony. The taste was empty, free from being the elixir of life. Surviving his virgin lips, the droplet dropped down to the collar of his leather jacket, stumbling over the teeth of the corroding zipper. Finally, the sky’s trinket clutched the white rose pinned on Seiiven’s jacket. A synapse cracked within him.
Yannice knew he had loved her. Seventeen winters had brought him to her, but she could never hear his plea. All those voices inside her head…He had offered her the white rose without words – and she accepted it inaudibly. That same day, the cloaked one with the hell-scythe wrapped his fingers around her mouth and slit her breath away. With her failing heartbeat, Yannice took Seiiven’s soul with her as she slipped into the murky whirlpool. Seiiven’s mind teetered on the edge of this festering flurry from Hades, a razor’s contemplation egged on by wails from the past.
He found the flower not long after her journey to the dull light, unspoiled and yearning to live. He pinned it on the right side of his dark jacket and felt it knife his chest. It now hung snugly.
After the white rose licked that first raindrop, it summoned more from the moaning skies. Recovering from her thoughts, Seiiven got jabbed by the pelting rain. Melted glaciers with blunt edges continued to prick at Seiiven’s body, all except his chest, where he protected his silenced lover’s keepsake. An ephemeral scar of light sliced the skies asunder, blinding Seiiven. Recoiling, he could make out a far-off speck for only a moment. He winced and his heart stuttered a bit – it couldn’t have been. Twice did he blink, and he realized that he was staring at the balcony of a black cathedral.
Questioningly, he poked around for another soul, but not a single shadow offered any solace. Perhaps that dog would be back. He dearly wished it to return, dirty and deceptive though it may have been. Alas, the only thing breathing was the rose that carried him.
He was but a half-life.
The rain veiled the view of the Moon, and the twilight now enveloped Seiiven whole. Blistering were the waters that bored into his flesh – reflections of grander evils. The incessant crying of the Moon had sheathed her face, swallowing her and masking what beauty she had claimed at birth. She blew her nose and thunder clapped in Seiiven’s ears.
Seiiven surveyed the onyx fortress. It clawed at the heavens, climber ever higher above the reach of the Moon’s heavy sobs. The blood-oak doors elongated before his disbelieving eyes, capable of fitting dozens of caskets on end. The windows, keeping vigil of the piercing blackness within, snared at him. The stairs leading up to the ominous threshold stretched for miles – every step up meant one step down. The grotesque gargoyles, fangs dripping with the unquenchable salivation of Cerberus pouncing on a thousand intruders, gnarled at Seiiven. Their purple glare gashed at shreds of his spirit – but were they moving at all? They leapfrogged one another: where once arched the griffin now heaved the sphinx; the devil and angel swapped places as well.
With one final search for life (the Moon, she wasn’t there, either), Seiiven took in his last lungful of contaminated oxygen, coughing quickly. The rose pulled him to the presence of the foremost statues. A half-smirk flashed after a bolt of lightning, vanishing altogether after another crack. Seiiven began his torturous climb up the stair. Every step up daggered his throat, punctured his ribcage. The rain, fearing for him, desperately splashed harder and harder to knock him down, to deter him from his impossible task, but the rose did not relent. The doors were but within reach.
The precipice of a canyon, that is what Seiiven tried to reach. Though lightheaded and gnashed, he managed to scale the spirals to oblivion. Limply, he crashed into the lordly doors. Any brusquer a crash and his face would have splintered through to the other side. Soaked in his blood and rattled by the rain’s drum beat on his skull, he felt the eidolon of his rose intimate a push. “Go,” it insisted. “Go…”
The bell bellowed stories above Seiiven, but he pushed the doors open anyway.
Two steps in, the hatch behind Seiiven fastened with an unholy clang. Two marble pillars stood before him, ordinary beyond girth. His foot squeaked forth and the pillars multiplied by ten. A slight shudder caused thousands of pillars to streak down the endless hall. Daring a look back, Seiiven could not discern the entrance. Seiiven’s Adam’s apple stirred to produce sound, but no cry came out, not even a whimper. The rose now owned his voice.
The boy inched his way through. A shriek diced through the hall, knocking Seiiven off-balance. Then came another violent yelp, and then another. Owl hoots guided him forward – or backwards, it did not matter much now. Dead weight placed themselves on his shoulders from time to time, becoming cold claws that drilled nails into his bloodstream. With every crippling stab came the sound of thirst. Someone – something – had made Seiiven its new bloody dessert.
The red stains on Seiiven’s eyes made way to his growing pupils. He saw black and endured black. He heard black and smelled black. Black had shaded in the gaps between his skin and fogged his sense of humanity. Truly, this darkness became all that he knew. And then he saw red.
A few spots of sanguine radiance splattered on the floor. Then a few more. A little ways off, it became a trail. A thickening trail. Dense, it was, and sloshing against the pillars – levees against an enraged typhoon. The windows ingested blood.
Seiiven saw it. The shadow, the real one, fleshed into being, stirred from deafly slumber. It limped a bit, a burden to itself. Gaining momentum, it began to jog – no, run, always leaving more and more blood. The apparition bobbed between pillars, weaving in and out, crisscrossing between opposite ends, zigzagging from ceiling to floor, gliding to the beat of hide-and-seek. One last stride and the phantasm careened into Seiiven’s shrinking eyes. The abomination leaped in and out of the defiant rose.
Seiiven awoke to the void. Groggily, he looked around. Plack! Shouldn’t have let his head drop on the indifferent marble. Massaging his inflicted cranium, he checked how intact his limbs were. Sweat and rain, with a smear of desperation, splashed his white undershirt. He smelt his forefingers, reflexively retreating from the stench, hitting his head against the marble once again. His brain did not compute the pain, however: the foul substance bathing his shirt reeked of distressing memories, pestiferous like the bogs of a posthumous swamp. Seiiven rolled back the sleeves of his leather jacket up to his elbows.
Noticing the puddles of blood around him, Seiiven decided to follow the trail. As he scrambled between pillars on the floor, he tried to think back to when he collapsed. Vague images of some elusive entity igniting before him flashed before him, but the more he gleaned the details of the encounter, the less he could grasp – a wire mesh screening the specters of the past. In an instant, he recalled a slender frame atop a pedestal, beautiful but sad. Just as quickly, the mirage vanished from all existence.
Over and over did he try to solve the riddle of his noxious abyss. Coherence gave way to questions, so many questions he could not answer. Who, exactly, was he? Why could he not remember anything? Was there a reason for why he was following these markings? Was he in a hospital – what was he in for?
The light switch, Seiiven demanded. Where’s the light switch? A source of light to hover around, this is what he wished for the most. He noticed the leathery wristbands entwined around his wrists. Maybe these are my shackles, thought he, but what a terrible place to be locked in.
His knees scabbed and his palms blistered like the hands of a fat child slipping on the monkey bars over a pit of crocodiles. The smile this image brought to him quickly dissipated as Seiiven came to an abrupt stop. Something felt missing…felt missing. Body erect, he patted the length of his body: he pulled and prodded his ramshackle hair; he poked every crevice of his sweat-parched face; he reached around for miles in his breast pockets; the lint in his blue jeans did not assuage his worries either. Alas, his detrimental fear of having been thieved of a kingly element shook his body whole.
He spread his jacket’s left wing and uncovered a hidden compartment. Smuggled below his heart, Seiiven dusted off a piece of ancient parchment. The runes returned to Seiiven, yet they granted no peace of mind. He read aloud, and though his voice reverberated decibels above a screeching vulture, he could not take in what he spoke. Blind to the enunciations and deaf to the hieroglyphics: “Stay…away…never…no, never…never meant it…hello…why, hello…’tis just the beginning…only the beginning…always the beginning…of goodbyeeeee…” His spirit wearily exhaled the profoundness of the last word oozing off the sheet. Gooooodbyeeeee.
Drawing zero conclusions, Seiiven resumed his search for nothing. An omnipresent chime, ding-DONG, ding-DONG, ruptured his ears. When at last he recovered from the blow, the darkness resumed its gentle lullaby to the outside rain, which still suicide bombed against the windows, somewhere. And then Seiiven felt the presence of a new fiend: a turbulent cackle, off in the corridor before him, or right behind him, made the rounds of the vast hall, ricocheting off the posts and bouncing along every panicked hair on Seiiven’s being. With no alternative than to follow his legs, he bolted this way and that, praying that the shrill buzzing of the hall would stop, for the love of mercy, that it would stop. But with every turn struck a sharpened blade into his thinning film of wedging sanity.
It ceased. He spent a few seconds playing on his paranoia, or the rest of his living days. Time? What is time? Pushing off his struggle against the manic cackle, he turned unwillingly. Staring at Seiiven, from the corner of his twisted eyelashes, were serpentine eyes. Their exact color, ambiguous, for it shone with the luster of brilliant riches, the corrosive wont of emerald thirst, the ache of Satan’s ruby throne, and the smoldering onyx of the Beast’s staff all at once. The orbs sparked into two conflagrations that daggered Seiiven’s own eyes. In spite of the searing stare, an invisible grip transfixed Seiiven’s gaze. Broiling particles leaped onto the boy’s flesh, slowly chomping away in layers: the hairs on his arms, trimmed; skin evaporated and danced into the fires; blood gushed to the eyes, penetrating the white-hot pupils; bones disintegrated to dust, billowing to the ground.
Seiiven regained himself with a cry. He twisted and shrank and punched and rattled in place, trying to make it all go away. His body retreated within itself after he collapsed from one of his feeble attempts to be free from something that was no longer there. Perspiring profusely, he wiped his head with his bare arm, thinking his leather sleeve would be the absorbent. Seiiven spent his next few lifetimes mulling over everything that had happened since…since…No inkling did he have for his reason for being. The horror house only served as the slate for the wordless prose he had become.
Seiiven got up, one weight at a time. He looked around a bit and noticed no pillars on his left. An about-face revealed no pillars on his right, either. A row of pillars vanished with every twitch, as if an unseen lawn mole had plucked them from beneath the marble landscape. The laughter began like a busted car ignition, growling to life. It closed in on him. Slowly, slowly. There were no trees to hide behind in this game of hide-and-seek – manhunt gone awry.
Feeling every thump in his chest and every goose bump bump, Seiiven turned to run in slow motion. The serpentine eyes of old devoured him beautifully.
Seiiven awoke flat on his back. Shadows burned overhead against burgeoning flames. Seiiven tried to shift his position, but a leather strap held him fast in place. Individual cuffs snagged his wrists and ankles. Soft humming broke into his ear, a kind of pleasant distortion, both peaceful and ominous.
“Wha-what is this?” stammered Seiiven.
“Foolish boy,” began a dense accent, “you know not what you have gotten yourself into.”
“Let-me-GO!” shouted Seiiven with gritted teeth. Struggling in his binds proved useless.
The response was none. Seiiven felt the subdued candles’ bleak light dissipate into a the low murmur around him. A hood approached him. Seiiven pored into the darkness for the glimmer of eyes. Slowly, a cadaverous hand slinked onto his forehead.
“In onore del nostro padrone scuro, cediamo questa anima alla bianchezza del sacrificio!” a dead voice chanted from beyond the robes. “Attendiamo la caduta dell’uomo, generiamo, lasciamo questo bambino produrre l’inizio del vostro dominio…”
Growling behind terror, Seiiven forced his thoughts out. “What are you doing?” The spells continued.
“What are you doing to me?” he demanded assertively.
The shadows paused for half a second before continuing their chores.
“Release me,” he said meekly. “I…I order you to release me! Now!”
“Order? You? Haha!” scoffed the voice from afar. “Not likely, boy. You’ve become much more important than you could ever comprehend. Danneteie!” the voice shrilly called out.
An incandescent knife was placed next to Seiiven’s right arm. The hood responsible for it was struck by a third shadow, who seemed to order the hood to return to its brew. Seiiven, with reflexes of an arachnid pouncing on the night’s meal, clutched the blade and slipped it away from the shadows.
“What you fail to understand, boy,” resumed the accented voice, “is that you’ve been caught in this web for a long, very long time.”
“Time? Where – when am I?” asked Seiiven, biding his seconds.
“To you, boy, it would be AD 1987.”
1987, thought Seiiven, that was when…
“It is of no use to you where – or when – you are now, boy,” interrupted the voice. Its drawl pricked Seiiven’s neck. “Your time has always been predetermined.”
“Just tell me where I am, dammit!” barked Seiiven. The nebulous chamber hushed a bit. The low chant resumed.
A glacial breath befell Seiiven. His muscles hardened to the cold steel of the principle wraith.
“Your life, as far as you are concerned, is over. Do not search for my eyes. I do not require them in your wretched world. Dvendemesie.”
Another hood approached Seiiven’s table and started pawing for the blade. With a smarting slash, Seiiven ripped the fiend’s gut and cut across the latches that bound him. He leapt in triumph. He cut the air in front of him menacingly, warning the ghouls to keep their distance.
“Yeah, you don’t want none of this!” he bellowed, taking a swing near a hood and gesturing at the bleeding heap on the floor.
“Insolent fool! Quit this – now!” roared the tallest of the wretches, undaunted. With no feet to sustain him, he glided purposefully towards Seiiven.
Desperately, Seiiven knocked the canisters and cauldrons, smashing them on the floor. The toxins swarmed the area, uncorking poisons into the air. Hisses broke all around.
Seiiven ran. No direction gave him clear means of escape, so he ran some more. Finally, after minutes of hearing only his failing breath and his injured stride, he stumbled unto a latch on a wall. Never thinking twice about his actions, Seiiven pried open the gateway and peered outside. The rain continued in the nightfall, but a clear trail devoid of the water revealed itself to him. It was sprinkled with sweet moonlight.
Seiiven crept into the hole, and he was out. Wait – no. With half his body feeling the calming air of night, Seiiven spotted a relic on the floor a few feet away from him: the white rose. He remembered it now, and all that it meant to him. Looking around, the coast was clear. Biting his lip, he muttered, “What the hell?”
He stopped in front of it, quixotically. The unspoiled flower slept on top of a filmy puddle of red liquid. He stooped over to retrieve it, but the crimson lake did not relent its possession. The two fought ferociously for the prize, until finally Seiiven managed to yank it from the sanguine grip. He fell dumbfounded. Admiring his trophy, Seiiven noticed that the white rose was not blemished by the crimson substance, whereas he was splashed with the
The delirious laughter that knocked Seiiven out a millennium ago spun him to the wall. Reeling, he tried to find his escape hatch, but whatever salvation Providence had offered him before had all but dispelled into the ether. The revolting cackle tightened its grip on Seiiven’s mind.
Serpentine eyes crawled to Seiiven, all knowing and all hungry.
“In onore del nostro padrone scuro, cediamo questa anima alla bianchezza del sacrificio!”
Seiiven’s birth disclosed nothing to him. Diseased, the formless shadow faced him.
“Ah, you’re awake,” the hood proclaimed, “but not for long. Yes, yes. Not for long.”
“For you see,” the hood continued, “His forces cannot save you now.”
“His…forces?” repeated Seiiven.
“Yes. Your God cannot interfere now. His rain – His Moon – all that! Oh! So much more!” The hood procured Seiiven’s letter. “You yourself couldn’t save you. You tried with this letter. But you…you didn’t listen to your own voice. You let the ultimate sin get the better of you. Love.” The sinewy shadow spat.
The cloak’s poison rushed to Seiiven’s head.
“And then she died.”
Seiiven vaguely remembered of whom the hood spoke of.
“And now your folly will cost you your life.”
“I…I don’t unders-s-stand -” squealed Seiiven.
“Simpleton,” remarked the shadow. “Do you think she died of some whimsical accident? Do you think her blood spilled into my goblet by mere chance?! No. But she…she was not the specimen we required. We needed a sound sacrifice…an intact, virgin if you will. Our lord…he wouldn’t like filth such as her, would he now, on this day of Man’s reckoning? Don’t act so surprised. She was never ideal. Think about it. Your hazy perception of the truth will unite us all. She, who so willingly spooked a fool into loving a wretch…she led you right to us.”
Seiiven knew nothing in his final moments. He bore his sight at the white rose, as pure as ever. Against the wall, a shadowy leviathan did the flower produce, overseeing the goings on of the ritual. The breathing dirge of the rose stretched its claws to every corner, finally gouging Seiiven’s eyes with the absolute blackness. Darkness inhaled Seiiven’s last breath. Two droplets of blood splattered on the ground. Slowly, a bloody stream from his body forked every corner of the world, destroying all the sanctity of purple pastures and white waters. The heavens, ablaze, thundered once, twice, three times immediately following Seiiven’s departure, with the third bolt of lightning rendering the bell at the top of the black cathedral forsaken.
Blood reached last of all the white rose Seiiven left behind. Upon contact, the rose withered into a frail afterlife, and slipped into the torrid flowerbed of the blazes of Earth.