This story is by Nicholas Dharmadi and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I’m on the couch. The cushions of flesh and polyester couch sink into each other and bare skin sings along with the sweep of smooth fabric. I pull on my boxers as they ride up. The summer sun bakes the walls, drawing out the dew of sweat. A crumb of something grits against my crossed legs. I can’t get the earthy dryness out of my mouth. Should I be trying to? Namo amituofo, Namo amituofo, Namo amituofo, Namo ami-
I open my eyes and I see myself reflected in the black of the television. The geometry welcomes me in.
I’m riding on the steppe of my mind on that great bucking beast known as the stallion of desire, but the kaleidoscopic horde is on my back urging me, howling, onward. I tame the pulsing muscle: the pistons and cords of the great beast swelling – set to burst – and ride into that dark of night as the ribbons, the ribbons of color stream past. Like a fluid mirror they swim past my eyes and I inhale the visions reflected within. My lungs are not lungs, they can take it. Life, memories, geometry, shapes, everything flying past, all at once languorous and at the speed of light.
I was an old woman, a butcher, a goldsmith, a soldier. I was a fish, a stream or the phytoplankton in the stream, the deer drinking from the stream, the tiger eating the deer. I’ve been every stage of life and so has everyone else, and I don’t know if there is anything different about them. They all live and they all want. But all that want and life culminated in the frail body of a college dropout I left back in a rundown trailer, a filthy coffin of corrugated metal, on a speck of blue and green. Well I won’t stay that way, I’ll escape, I am escaping. Could the Is before I have ever imagined this pathetic, pale form to be the liberation of their eternities in bondage? I will find a way out of this cage of meat.
Not at the speed of light, but of thought, because it takes eight minutes for the Sun’s light to reach my eyes but I am already there in front of that great white ball of flame, circumambulating it a dozen, a hundred times over with the horde; riding over sunspots, over solar flares like great orange tongues lashing out at these gnats who yet remain unburnt. Some daring even to graze the black char and ride off once the surface of roiling fire breaks its tension.
Tension, that sweat-producer, that eternal mind hunter urging us on to live, but there is no threat of death in this realm and so the predator called tension must take on a new cloak: the death of spirit, of vitality. Not something so puny as mere life, chained as it is to everything. Chained to the food the body needs for fuel, the water it lubricates itself with, the air of its internal combustion: everything needs everything, except in this space where the only thing that I need is the stallion of my desire and the reigns of my imagination; so it takes me someplace new again.
Across the galaxy we are now travelling in a great curve, tracing up the ass end of this arm of the Milky Way. Curving towards its center, we ride and we see stranger things than can be imagined in the minds of the sedentary. A miasma of stardust coalesces into clouds of boiling gas, a womb of stars pulsing so very much like a heartbeat. Our faces are showered by clouds of dew as our blinding pace melts through glittering clouds of ice crystals. We pass by scores and scores of worlds not like marbles no, like jewels.
Jewels in this vast of night more precious than stars, each ball of fire like any other: growing inevitably dim. The only thing immortal in this realm of mind – the only thing that matters – is memory. Memory of worlds young, old, dead, dying.
Now I see two globes. One eternally dark, the other bleached with light. Blinded by the heat of their sun or frozen by the vacuum of space, the twins orbit each other like dancers. Another place: a relic the size of one such world, a great jagged skull, the burr along its sheared metal snapping off in the cold of void to orbit its punctured cranium as asteroids. And inside an eye socket the glint of sparks. The storms of Jupiter pale to the planet spanning tempests raging across worlds in so many more shapes than what Saturn lays claim to; have you ever seen rhomboid lightning hail down from equatorial icosahedronimbus?
And on and on we rode. Sometimes blinded by the light of the universe, sometimes riding into the void where there is no sight, no direction save that charted by the mind’s eye which – un-ignorant, awakened – sees the four heavenly kings/sacred animals/cardinal directions: where, why, what and how. And when we finally arrived at the center of the galaxy, the middle of the poster stuck on every elementary school classroom, we saw. Yes, the blinding light of the Milky Way shown in space documentaries. But it was not bright.
The truth we all know was there: the great maw at the center of it all, the smooth featureless darkness of space gathered in an antipode. The fusion of void and substance. The one and the many. The one consuming all other ones, insatiable. The agent of primordial chaos, not the womb of night from which so many abhorrent and beautiful creatures emerge, but its agent of destruction that consumes its excess but does not return it, and one can only hope it spews out the excrement from a diet of stars into some strange place even the mind cannot cross. Because then there might be some hope for when the universe crumples like an infinite sheet of one-ply tissue crushed by a million, billion garbage compactors that riddle it like the discrepancies between the fact that matter cannot be destroyed and what I am looking at right now.
Yes, we saw it ringed by the coils it made of its meals, the streaks of light winding around the black head peeking up at the horde of us. Swallowing stars, light, matter, all energy, all vitality reduced to nothing as time wore on. Spaghettified by gravity, both of the situation and of the super-dense black hole – itself within the slowed time of my expanded consciousness – there was the final truth.
Its suction was an invitation to the only unexplored territory in the psycho-universe around the rider, the stallion, the horde, everything else a fabrication. The black hole at the center of the universe an illusion. The body – my body – generating it is at once less and more than the capabilities of the unhinged, unbound mind within, but both are still painfully insufficient for liberation. Onward then, into the void, and let us see what the mind cannot bear to imagine.
But oh God it is bright. It is so bright. It is so bright i can hardly look. It is searing my motherfucking eyes. i cannot escape the inside of my eyelids are going see through they are neon orange and i can see the purple of the capillaries turning red and bleeding out they are bursting and staining the inside of my eyelids like spilled ink. Oh God i hear them, i hear the riders screaming, the horde is howling like wolves, like a whole pack of wolves caught in the same trap, caught in the same damn steel jaws and trying to gnaw their legs off but i can’t let go of the reigns now i need to ride away, i need to LEAVE or else i die. i’m pulling, i’m pulling on the reigns as i hear the men who try to claw their eyes out lose their grip and fall into the light, the center of that sucking light. My stallion is not moving, it is hurtling like a stone faster and faster. Up, up into the blinding light. i need to go i’m sorry i have to leave you. i kick off and fall, try to fall away from everyone, from the light, from the hole, from any memory of their significance, from being dragged back down to their level if i give those concepts even a single solitary moment of thought. i’m leaving. Leaving now. Floating away back, back through time. i didn’t know that could happen. i thought only memories did that. Pop in and out of time. Maybe i’m not wrong. Maybe i’m just a memory. Everything here represents something else. Maybe me too, this body just the shape of a memory. A group of memories, hurtling. Lost.
I am a hog in a black forest. I remember the smell of mushrooms.