We knew we would die and we didn’t care. When we discovered we were already dead, we reckoned we’d been conscripted.
For several millennia we walked the outer wall, which was not the same wall if one thought of it as, say, an inner wall, which is not to say that we ever knew where we were or who we were, if we were us or if we even knew each other.
At first–in a remnant of maybe someone’s old neighborhood or maybe some coastal sort of place where we were maybe born–there was only one landmark: an iridescent oil slick, left behind, someone claimed, by a factory of former ones plying furtive somethings in remote and desperate locales. Well, hell, someone said, is quite remote, but others disagreed, saying hell was usually located rather close to where one lived and thus, given that we were dead and all, probably was not the remote we were in.
Rumors reached us that our pets were pacing morosely about near some entrance, but where the hell was that, and how would we know them or they us if we didn’t know ourselves? After all we’d been greeted in scary effusive fashion by relatives we’d never met in life dressed in homey costumes from some past in which things were always baking and eating went on all day and night as well as good-natured laughing at rustic jokes. Still, it was rather like what we thought we could recall of the miscellaneous holidays of life, mainly that there was a lot of dread.
Like other expeditions, this one began in disappointment.
I confess I often whined at first wondering loudly if we ever got to have snacks or at least lie down. The others roared. Lie down with what they said. I said what, they said look down, and I did, only to find no me below where I thought the head was I was thinking in. I said, like are we really walking and talking, are we inside pilgrim’s fuckin’ progress or some medieval hallucination?
We espied another landmark but after only cursory inspection, it turned out to be a figure of speech. Ah, the absent signifieds, grinding along beneath what we assume to be us, someone said, or maybe I said, or maybe that guy we kept passing or him passing us looking sidewiselike at us, like he wanted to ask us where we bought our handsome shoes or wanted to disarm us with quirky chat then knock us down and take them.
Whenever he veered near, someone yanked what would’ve been my arm if I’d been armed and said no no no don’t for chrissake look at him, he’ll come over here. Big deal, I said, he’s just some dude. Just some dude like your ex, they said, entirely too long tolerated by ourselves only for your sake. Who, I said then, are you people? How long have you been here? Why is he wearing my clothes?
Later on: a skirmish, exciting loud complaints about whether the most recent landmark could be said to be a proper landmark if it didn’t stay in the same place and kept looking like things other than itself. A pterodactyl-like something flew down from a sudden turret nearby and jabbed its finger in the air in our direction.
Oh how we hate officious finger-pointing–in death as well as in all the unnecessarily long meetings and relentless micromanaging leading up to death. Finger-thing said we should not concern ourselves with matters beyond our lesser understanding. Is that, we said, a fuckin’ edict, or a law of nature? Then another fait accompli was on its way, we could already hear the sycophants scurrying up behind us.
No exit, someone said, and we realized as if for the first time that we were in some random someone’s rather limited idea of a universe. We hypothesized an outside to which we might escape but couldn’t get much past some scribbled calculations that rapidly became indecipherable even to us. Later we cobbled together sketchy schemes for replicating pleasures that none of us could quite recall. Probably just as well, it’s not like there are raw materials for pleasures or anything else lying around.
Sometimes we pass colonies occupied by busy busy people who haven’t noticed their lives are not their former lives. One of us thinks narcotic use probably has something to do with that, but that was in another life. We cruise their minds for something to help us sleep, nothing ever helps.
All we really know after all this time is that orbits hereabouts are usually oblique and that we seem to be heavier than air. And we still wander inside, outside, here, there, nowhere–it has so ceased to matter. Nonetheless, with so much time on our phantom hands, we have learned how to picture in total detail vast other worlds that crank on and on forever without us in them.