It is in the dark, unmentionable recesses of our mind that we often find our most solitary moments of despair; those that disquiet us and force our unglamored souls to be revealed. We wander into the darkness, and carry back a part of the unmentionable horror with us, so that in that reality- our newfound reality- we have left some part of ourselves.
In my own darkness, which I have wandered aimlessly for far too long in my dreams, I have found the deaths of my old selves, compounded by the reverie of an innocence I long to touch. And in that reverie, I see people in the snow. The contrast to the horrors that I set off in my mind are unmistakable: instead of monsters, I see friends and forgotten friends that have been untouched in my mind for years; instead of an unrecognizable world, I witness a cascade of white on the ground, with more making its way; and instead of the horror I have become accustomed to, I felt a familiar sadness soften into an alien form of joy.
I cannot name all the people there. I know I saw some faces that I remembered only by as much, and others whose names and places in my life I could immediately recall. I saw old friends that I have not spoken with in years, and those who left me behind as they went on to bigger and better things. My grandmother and mother, of course, were among those in attendance. My father and step-father- one dead, but both dead to me- were a more surprising addition to the partygoers. My uncle, my aunt, and my cousins, were all ice-skating leisurely and smiling. And my arrival was cause for complete and utter excitement to all.
In their minds, they were guests to my party. Guests to a small part of my world.
Each of them came to me as I mingled through the crowds, asking for forgiveness, and congratulating me on the person I had become. And to those I had wronged, which seemed to be of no small amount as well, I was offered forgiveness. Tears would have streamed down my face were the biting wind not already causing them to do so. And each smile I was given was full of warmth and happiness beyond my wildest dreams. That I had been so out of touch, even with myself, seemed to me, only to be a state of opaqueness scrubbed away.
Without the sense of overwhelming joy, one cannot appreciate unsurpassable horrors. And to that end, I should have been wary of the current state of things. I should have minded the people who were unlikely to congratulate me, let alone take part in the celebrations of my personal world. I should have minded my own reflection in the ice, seeing it as I wanted it to be. Seeing it for what beauty it could be.
In the distance of the crowd, I saw a face that was my own, but not. I found myself drawn to this person. The first sign that all was not right in this world had set in my mind, as it would continue to do so with each step toward the figure. A knowing dread overcame me, as I saw the world for the illusion that it was.
I spoke to the figure, and the figure spoke to me.
“You are not me,” I said. “You are not me, and you do not belong.”
The smile- my smile- he wore seemed warm and friendly, but it quietly conveyed an astonishing sense that, like a mask, it was only painted that way. And the voice, which sounded like me and not like me, spoke: “I am not you. You know me. You know my name. And I have come to offer forgiveness like the rest.”
I looked incredulously. “Forgiveness for what?”
His smile faded, and his face contorted in a most unrecognizable expression. “For making me.” His voice sounded less like mine as he spoke each word, as if shedding the disguise.
And when he spoke his last words, the snow turned to heavy ash. I heard the laughter and songs behind me turn to screams and cries. I looked at all the people in the ashes and saw the nightmare of their bodies charred by fire, but no evidence of fire could be found. The ash rained into their mouths and eye sockets, covered what little sinew rested on their ribs. It began to bury them as they posed there on the ground, writhing now forever, if permitted to be undisturbed.
I ran to the nearest body and began to dig at the ash, crying, wishing that I could free them. But they were just bodies that were left behind me, and leaving me behind in turn. No person was left unharmed by the fire. No snow was left for ash. And the sky had turned from a cloudy blue to a grayish yellow, poisoned.
I kneeled at the body, screaming and crying- were the cries I heard earlier my own before I even made them? Or had others been suffering the whole time, and it was only then that I had noticed? Ash was now covering a thin layer on my back and by my sides, and I watched in horror, looking up to see the bodies stretch as far as I was able to see. Black writhing things, almost alive, just barely dead, shadowed the gray land as if in a fog.
“I offer you forgiveness for what you’ve done, and those you’ve let suffer.”
I don’t even turn around to respond to the devil behind me. “Montag.”
I can almost hear his neck crack as his head contorts sideways, and I imagine instead of me his true form: a lifeless burnt corpse, almost dead, just barely alive, eyeing me between black bandages that would reveal nothing of his curiosity. Nothing, except for in his voice when he stated simply, “You named me.”
He put his hand on my shoulder. And his smile behind those bandages, I imagined almost visible were I to look, was at the very least audible as the skin creaked beneath. “I am all you have left. I am all there is to see. Your closest friend of all. And I shall always forgive you.”
He moved his hand from my shoulder and placed it on my head. And through his touch I experienced visions of a place I knew only by name, but had never seen. A neighborhood that I appeared familiar with, as I drove a car that I had never driven, heading somewhere to see people, people I knew well enough. Only he showed that these people did not want me there when I arrived, that I was unwelcome by all. And fire burned, as my car burned, as the people burned. And all that was left of this nameless nightmare, this tiresome vision, was ash.
All that was left of this ash, was me.
He released me and I fell on top of the corpse, disoriented and horrified. It was only after I caught my breath that I realized my hand was pressing against what was once someone’s neck. I recoiled, and Montag laughed.
“We shall suffer together,” he whispered tersely, still smiling. “We shall suffer in our solitude, and we shall both despair. That we may have each other.”
That is the last I remember of him speaking, but his skin made a final, elongated creak, and the body fell backwards in the ash, colder than the snow.
If I were to tell an ending to this story- If I were to give more of an ending to this dream, it would be unfair and a lie. Except, perhaps, to say that some people become trapped in the darkness. That unmentionable horror grows within and becomes strong, and it thrives on the extinguishing of the light. The part of you that carries this abomination warns, but it can never fully ward off. And the nightmares continue.
In solitude. In despair.
Never in peace, but always in pieces.