A mythic adventure through madness and transcendence. A mind lost in the lonely outer reaches of consciousness.

A frail old man, tortured by grief and delusion, is suffering a pitiful and horrifying death, and he is utterly alone. How has it come to this?

Scars and bleeding wounds in the shapes of magical symbols mark the length of his body—wards against the demon that chases him. He can run no longer, and the demon’s grip tightens.

In his final breaths, he must travel back through his quickly fading memories to discover the source of his torment. If he can remember the moment he let the demon in, perhaps he can find some clue to escape it and the damnation it portends.

But the closer he gets to that memory, the harder the demon fights, and the more his mind slips from him. He is running out of time.

Read Chapter 1

The Old Man in the Mirror

The scene opens with an old man lying on his deathbed.

Wild eyes dart around a drab and lonesome room. Scattered bits of oily hair fail to cover a jaundiced scalp dappled with scabs and spots. His sagging face contorts in grief and terror. His body, stripped to the waist, shudders violently in pain. Horrible wounds in the shapes of strange symbols—some still crusted with dried blood, some wet with fresh blood—adorn his bare chest and stomach.

Arthritic, age-spotted fingers fumble around in his pockets but find them empty. His head tilts back, his mouth opens, and stretched cheeks sink between toothless gums, emitting a tearless sob. He looks around the room with wide, desperate eyes, searching, it seems, for someone, but he is alone. Whatever path this man’s life took, it brings wretched and horrifying solitude as his life comes to its end.

I’m terrified by this man, and I don’t know why.

His eyes shine with a fleeting moment of clarity, and his hand slides beneath his pillow, searching, then emerges, bleeding, holding a broken piece of razor blade. A joyless smile bends his lips.

I look again at the cuts and scars, then back at the jagged bit of razor, and come to a grisly understanding that his wounds and scars are self-inflicted, and he has one left to carve—a final act of symbolism—the last exclamation point to punctuate the story of his life. He brings the blade to his face, and with a shaking hand, he slices a symbol into his tongue—two overlapping Xs followed by lines and curves that quickly become obscured by blood. His final curving line cuts too deep, and his tongue drops to his chin, dangling, held only by a slim strand of flesh.

I scream in terror, but there is no sound.

Is this a dream? It’s too real. Where am I? Why am I so terrified of this old man?

Tears and blood seep onto the pillow as he turns onto his side, and his stomach tenses and spasms with sobs. I feel his emotion as if it’s my own. His grief and his fear. The unbearable loneliness. I want to cry but cannot. Emotion has no release in this formless place from which I watch.

I can hear his thoughts as he reflects on what brought him here. How did he come to this? At what point in his life did the road fork, and how did he choose his path so wrong—a path that led to such despair and loneliness?

He’s not alone. I freeze as the shadows move, coalescing into a horrifying creature of darkness. The serpentine shadow wraps around his leg, finding greater purchase as it ascends his body, attempting to drag him down…to where?

Despite my terror, I feel compelled to go to him. To save him. To fight off this creature. But I can only watch in helpless horror.

I see his body relax. Is he giving up? Is he letting the creature take him?

No, he has an idea.

He closes his eyes, and the curtain closes.

As the scene vanishes, the old man’s thoughts and experiences become my own. I’m thrust backward in time through the tortuous catacombs of the old man’s memory. This is his last effort to escape, but the Demon is close behind.

As I watch the old man’s life speed in reverse, I can see this thing has been hunting him for a very long time.

I can guess now what he’s doing. He’s trying to find that moment when the Demon first came into his life, and from there…I don’t know. Perhaps he will find some clue to free himself from the Demon’s grasp.

As the Demon reaches for him, we flee further backward through his memories. I see him speak to family and friends, and I see the fear in their eyes. His words, it seems to me, are not frightening, but people are afraid when they don’t understand, and no one can understand this man any longer. To them, he is a cautionary tale, and they avoid him. He is ostracized, and eventually, he is institutionalized. When the institutions no longer care for him, his solitude is complete.

His loneliness aches like an old wound that will never heal but has become as familiar as the air he breathes. He has carried his loneliness through times of companionship as well as times of solitude, for he craved more than the physical company of others; he wanted to be seen. He wanted to be understood. Perhaps all of us are isolated in our own minds, and we all can feel lonely amongst others, but none so acutely as this old man. He was alone long before he was abandoned.

I fall further back through his memories and discover his numerous attempts to connect with others. Perhaps, he thought, he could connect through the universal language of music—the language that magically syncs listeners to the same rhythmic pulse. The language that conveys complex, ineffable emotions and primal impulses that words cannot possibly express. The language that can inflame the zeal, devotion, and passion of entire populations of people. The language that, in the hands of a master, can build a bridge connecting listeners’ entrenched states of mind to any of the far reaches of consciousness and beyond.

But even with the language of music, the old man ventured further from the comfortable shores of convention than others were willing to follow, and he found himself again lost and alone.

I travel back further in time to see his efforts at communicating the ineffable through poetic language. I see that moment when he first discovers he can sometimes reach people by telling stories laden with complex emotion and mythological significance. Then I see his frustration as listeners and readers filter his words through their prejudices and biases and come away with corrupted and sometimes even antithetical interpretations, driving a wedge further between him and his audience.

As I travel back further, I see his first attempts to communicate subversive bits of wisdom he believes he has discovered. As he tries, I see the blank stares, confusion, and contempt that he faces. I see how people pull away from him as if revolted by what lives in his mind, and I feel his mind flinch and retreat into isolation, where it is lonelier but safer. The more he is injured in this way, the more afraid he becomes to express himself to others, and the deeper his mind retreats.

Traveling back further, I can see our destination. This is when his consciousness shifts in such a way that his perceptions of the world seem to diverge from those of other people.

He’s a happy and curious young man who has only recently discovered the richness and wonder of the world within—a world ripe for exploration. He finds the excitement of discovery grows every time he closes his eyes. He swims in every direction, venturing farther and farther from the shore with each expedition.

Today, he has traveled farther than ever before and faces a vast darkness. For the first time in his life, he feels perfect serenity. He allows himself to melt into the darkness before a survival instinct takes hold, and he looks around for some sign that his mind is still alive. He sees a dim glow amidst the darkness and moves toward it to find a curtain of shadow lit subtly from behind. The curtain parts.

The scene opens with an old man lying on his deathbed.

The old man looks around with wide, desperate eyes, searching, and finds a small hand-held mirror. He holds it up to his face, and our eyes meet.

How can he see me?

Wild eyes dart around a drab and lonesome room.

Always so dizzy. That was his thought, not mine.

I try to close my eyes, but I have no flesh, and the image of the old man does not go away.

Is this a vision of my future, or am I an insane and lonely old man reflecting on the life that led him to madness and loneliness? Which side of that mirror am I on?

I feel the Demon grip me, and I scream soundlessly into the void of my mind. This was the moment. This was where the road forked. It was this old man who infected me with the Demon. It was me at the moment of my death. How can that be?

I have to find a way out of here, but I’m lost. The old man and I are the same mind now, and I feel him dying as blood gushes from his mouth. Time has slowed down. I have to think. How did I get here? I have to follow my memories back further.

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