I Wonder - (The demise of the Pub)
As I sit in my virtual pub
With no packet of crisps
And no pub grub, I wonder
The beer looks great
With its frothy white head
Sat at a table with my virtual mate, I wonder
We drink a toast and the fire is glowing
To absent nights out
And the beer is flowing, I wonder
Go, going gone are the constant reports
Another pub closed
Through lack of support, I wonder
- I wonder if all our pubs will close
No frothy white head
On the end of my nose, I wonder............................
©Julian Race 17/06/2020
I knew the sickness was a lot to bear.
I knew it was eating away at him. I could see his cheeks sinking in, and his hair; well fading like little white dandelions that we blew as kids.
I could see his eyes were weak and sometimes it seemed like it was too hard for him to open them.
I could tell that some days when he attempted to swing his legs out of the bed it was too hard to even comprehend.
I knew his arms were weary from the pricks and that his blood ran dry from all the tests.
I knew that it was hard on his lungs to breathe and that sometimes at night when we weren’t looking he begged for death.
I could see in his face he was embarrassed.
Every time he looked in the mirror the man he was more and more, was no more.
He could no longer take his shirt off he had to be helped and when he faltered in his steps he had to be carried.
He was nothing but skin and bones.
He looked around the world now knowing that its end was coming towards him and he couldn’t stop it, he cried.
He didn’t want it to end but he couldn’t stop it.
He had come to terms with fate.
And now on the hospital bed with the hymns of the morphine chanting, I could sense his pain.
Now with the scars of surgery imprinted on his brain, I could feel his thoughts.
the ones that cried for all of this to be over.
And yet, in spite of everything, I encourage, press, and hope that the fight continues.
I pray that it’s not today that you go.
I might could bare losing you tomorrow but, not today not just yet.
I hold onto your fingers.
there cold and limp.
I try to rub them till there warm but the cold lingers.
and then I realize that in spite of my wants and needs the fight has been lost.
should I be glad?
should I be sad?
I ask you what you think as the alarms cry a different tune now.
then I come to realize, come to understand, no matter how I beg, no matter how I cry you’re cold; your stone dead.
And just like those dandelions, we blew as kids I breathe you out and watch as your ashes scatter into the wind, going...going... and finally in totality your gone.
Run. Running from your fears. I see. Let them go. Face them. Stop running. Stop going.
Your giving them what they want. Stop. Don't give it power. Don't let it win. If you fight, it will be gone. Faster then the eye can see. Stop going backwards. Turn around. Don't fall. Get back up. If you won't do it for me, do it for your family, if you won't do it for them, do it for the fans, if you won't do it them, do it for yourself, if you won't do it for yourself, do it for God. Stop. Go, going, gone. fear.
Ever since I took my first step down this path, I knew I’d end up here. Still, it’s a shock for it to finally be rolling around. A handful of other initiates press around me, their faces carefully schooled into the empty but attentive mask deemed appropriate for large gatherings. Hopefully, mine looks the same. All our eyes are locked on the narrow doors before us. Soon, all of us that are strong enough won’t need to pretend. Nervousness flutters through my limbs, stomach turning to lead at the thought of what comes next. Older mages line the wall, their faces impassive. They’ll be the ones to guide us through the process. I try not to look at the large basin in each of their hands, and I try to forget its purpose. We all knew that this road would lead us here, our true initiation into our chosen field of magic. Today, we will truly become the Hollow Ones.
We all wear simple black robes, the thin fabric still leaves me feeling exposed. It was just a temporary garment, designed to allow us to become uniform and prepare us for the ceremony. In an effort to distract myself, my thoughts turn to Maria. She knows that I’m graduating today, but I’d kept the details from her. Secrecy is of great importance to Hollow Ones, especially anything that provides emotional power over us. Besides, there was no need to worry her. I’ll be fine, I’m sure I’ll be fine. There are professionals here in case anything goes wrong. In a few minutes, I’ll either have become Hollow or, or… no, I’m certain I can do this. I may not be strong, but I know that this is the path for me. I’m adept with magic, and this process will give me far more mastery over it. It’ll be worth it, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’ll be okay. All the Hollow Ones from the past few centuries have gone through initiation and come out all the stronger for it. The marks it leaves behind are unmistakable, as well as a source of pride. Once I cross this line, there’ll be no going back. A loud scrape gets our attention. The doors open, it’s time. My heart skips a beat, and it takes every scrap of apathy I can muster to stop it from showing on my face. No going back, I’m ready.
We file through the doors, our guides following suit. The room is split into a dozen cells, each with a single light shining from above. We all pick a room at random, and I end up second to the right wall. The guide that follows me is an older woman, her brown eyes dead. She shuts the door behind her, cutting off all noise from the outside. The floor, walls, and ceiling are all made of mirrors, repeating us a thousand times over. A high metal rack dominates the room, leather cuffs attached to the bottom. I know what to do, I’ve known for months what I have to do. I curse my shaking hands, betraying the panic of my rabbit heart. I’ve come so far, I refuse to fail in this.
I pull off the thin robe, my naked body already beginning to shiver. Bundling it up, I hand it to my guide. For a moment, I wonder who she was before she worked here. But, that doesn’t matter. I don’t need her name and she doesn’t need mine. Our stories, what led us here, none of it matters. She accepts it, tucking the bundle in the basin. I step up into the frame, the metal freezing against my bare skin. She sets the basin aside and straps the cuffs around my ankles, pulling them tight. This is it, it’s happening, this is real, I’m going through with this. She rotates a handle on the device, flipping me upside down. Blood rushes to my head, ears thumping with my pulse. There’s no going back. The basin is placed underneath my head, my robe thrown over her shoulder. My eyes meet hers, and she gives a gentle smile. It’s a polite reflex, we both know it. Her eyes are as dead as ever, and mine will be just the same. Finally, she produces the most important piece of the ritual and presses it into my clumsy, blood swollen fingers. I grasp it instinctively, its cool surface making something deep inside me recoil. I feel my face slip, a flash of fear allowed to escape. She doesn’t say anything. All she does is turn and walk away. The door closes, and I’m once again enveloped in silence. There’s nowhere I can look to escape the sight of myself. I know I’m strong enough to do this, I have the willpower. I regain control of my face, take a breath, and make myself look down at the knife clutched in my fist.
One smooth motion, that’s all it takes. My hands are uncoordinated from both dizziness and fear. I will survive this, I know I’ll survive this. Animal instinct won’t help me, I’m above them. I’ll go home and see Maria again, I’m not leaving her alone. She’d have already finished the job if she were in my shoes. My breath hitches and I forcibly level it out. I am empty, I am nothing, I am forever Hollow. One motion, that’s all. Come on Lilith, prove you’re the mage you claim to be. Fire blooms in my chest, and I drag the blade along my neck.
Red washes over my face, falling into my eyes. Far away, the knife clatters against the floor. Numbness spreads through my limbs, body in shock at its own action. My breath chokes through the hole in my throat, body still desperate for air. My vision starts going grey, and I see myself reflected again and again, but it’s a stranger staring back. It doesn’t hurt, it’s like watching it happen to someone else. Blood pools below me, a vat of color and heat that doesn’t belong here. Cotton fills my head, more and more cotton filling up my skull and pushing me out of it. All of the color leeches from my eyes, puddling with my blood. This isn’t so bad, everything’s all fuzzy. Static whirs around my body, eating up my limbs. That’s funny. Where’s that gurgling coming from? The void calls out to me, beckoning me downward. I agree, trailing after that all reaching emptiness. I slip my restraints and fall down, down down, all the way through to nowhere.
As soon as I enter the void, my delirium fades. No training or description had ever truly captured how it feels to enter the void, to truly experience nothing. No senses, no gravity, no time, no space, not even my own breath. It is eternal, encompassing everything and nothing. Black doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s so far beyond the darkness that my mind refuses to process it. Mankind was never meant to be here, we’ve feared it and all that it is since before history was written. The animal part of me, the piece that hides, that fights, that bares its teeth, all it can do is scream for mercy. It buries itself in every memory of pain and fear it can find, tearing through my mind in search of anything to drown out the silence. Time doesn’t exist here, all that exists is my own mind tearing itself in half trying to comprehend.
Even in the face of the sheer scope of nothing, I know what I have to do. All my painfearsorrowangerpassion, I let it rise. I scream into the void, pouring everything I have into it. It makes no difference, they simply fall into the emptiness, dissolved into nothing. More and more emotion wells up within me, desperately vented into eternity. Eventually, I give in, utterly spent. It had made no difference, had done nothing to fill the silence. I had nothing left to give. In the end, they meant nothing. The void calls out to me again, both a question and a promise. Something fades within my chest, and I agree without hesitation. Cold spreads through my body, cold without feeling. The vast unknown fills the place my emotions had been, curling around my heart and granting it strength. Without the distraction of feeling, I can truly sense the void’s embrace. I’d made the right choice, and it has accepted my offering. In return, it will grant me a taste of itself. A quiver runs through the darkness, a push. It’s time to leave, for now. No matter where I go after this, I will always carry the void within me. There’s no going back.
Weight forms into a body, shadows peeling back into senses. Something pulls me upright, and I return to reality. Well, most of me returns, save the piece I’d left behind. No matter what happens, I’ll never get that back, I will never truly be Lilith again. The guide had returned, holding the now full basin. A healer gently grasps my throat, their magic coaxing my blood back into my veins. I’m lightheaded and dizzy, but alive. My sluggish heartbeat and all three of our breaths seem cacophonous. The smooth metal of the frame is an avalanche of texture. There’s blood sticking to my skin, pulling on it as it dries. Every detail on their faces stands out in vivid color. I can taste my own mouth, though it’s overwhelmed by the powerful copper scent of my blood. Pain thrums through my neck, thumping in time with my heart. I’d never thought about the sheer volume of sensory stimuli that exist on this plane of existence, not until I’d experienced complete deprivation. Eventually, most of the fluid is returned to my body and the wound is sealed. It’s not healed completely, it will leave a permanent scar. It’s the same scar that adorns the neck of my guide, of every other Hollow One. That’s what I am now. I’d considered myself a stoic for most of my life. Looking back now, even I was full of emotion. It’s all gone now, drained out forever. I can see the concern and disapproval in the healer’s eyes, etched so plainly on their face. They look me over one last time before nodding at my guide. They’re trying to stay quiet, but the rustle of their clothes seems to echo against the walls. We’d been told that the sensitivity would fade in a few minutes as we reacclimated to the world and circulation improved. I glance away from them and see my reflection in the wall. Even while covered in my own blood, my eyes are completely lifeless.
The guide gives me back my robe, and I wrap it around myself. I understand now why they had chosen such a thin fabric. Its texture is minimal and its color is inoffensive. I’d called it black before, but I know better now. I’ve seen true darkness, and no fabric dye on Earth could ever hope to replicate it. My senses slowly return to normal, but the empty feeling lingers. It’s over, I’ve done it. The guide pushes the door open, allowing a wall of sound to crash into us. They exit, and I trail behind. We’re back in the waiting chamber, a few other recruits already there. They’re in the same state I am; a slash on their throat, blood on their face, nothing in their eyes. We stand in silence together, waiting for the rest of our peers to return. Most of them do, the blank look of success carved into their face. Two don’t return, even as the guides instruct us to leave. Either they’d failed to complete the ritual, or had carved too deep and bled out. It didn’t matter which, just that they weren’t among us and would never know the freedom of darkness. I can feel the shadows calling out to me, waiting to take shape. I’d studied this technique, but now I can finally put it to use. I step into the shadows, allowing them to envelop me. It’s familiar, almost protective now. I concentrate on the shadows of my bedroom, the darkness that gives it shape. With a pulse of magic, the shadows send me forward.
I stumble into light, bruising my knees against the floor of my room. Huh, it worked. The sense of accomplishment I had expected never came. Well, I suppose that makes sense. All I want to do is go to bed. I’m halfway to it before I remember my face. I don’t want to ruin my pillow, and it’ll stick and pull and get everywhere. It’s an effort of the will to turn away from the comfort and relief and head to my door. I’ll have to be quiet, I don’t want to run into Maria until I’m cleaned up. She’d ask far too many questions and care too much. I don’t want to deal with emotion right now. Moving quietly is second nature, and I make it to the bathroom undisturbed. I drag a wet face cloth around my head, roughly scrubbing the blood off my skin and out of my hair. I don’t have the energy or care to shower. Once most of it is gone, I rinse off the cloth and toss it on the towel rack. I’ll deal with all the fallout tomorrow. I manage to dodge Maria again on my back to my bedroom. As soon as I clear the door I flop onto the bed, pulling a blanket over me. The fall hurts my neck, but luckily it doesn’t open back up. The dark wraps around me like an old friend, providing more comfort than the blanket. Despite my weariness, sleep doesn’t come. My mind remains painfully blank, even as my body begins to sob.
High School, Going and Gone
And just like that, it’s been ten years today since my high school graduation.
It’s been ten years since I counted out twenty bites of graduation cake and then spent the next few days nonstop on the treadmill, trying to summarize my worth in a machine’s calorie count.
Google Photos, in my timeline for today, shows a picture of me eating said cake. And seemingly, enjoying it. My family is around me, and to this day, they support me.
If today is a day to reflect on how far I’ve come, here’s the proof. I’ve reflected.
And I like what I see. I’m not running; I’ve arrived.
I was going, and now I’m gone.