Liminal Souls

“Back here again? I swear…” she’s smoking a cigarette, perched on the top of the bus seat in defiance of the transit laws and possibly the laws of physics. She stares at you, focused, seeing what it is you’ll do, seeing if you remember having come this way before or if you’ve forgotten it all once again. How many times has she watched this scene play out? How many more times will she escort some lost soul through this lonely waystation? Do you even remember why you came this way? Can you even remember your name anymore? She sighs, looking you up and down, wondering if you have what it’ll take to escape. Clearly not, not this time, maybe next time. Sigh.

Her eyes are bright and tired, you open your mouth, not sure what to say, but she holds up a finger to silence you, “So, how much longer are you going to stay on this road?” her words are biting and harsh, without a drop of left of pity. She’s of course ignoring the fact that you’re on a bus to nowhere bound for the one true oblivion that exists at the end of infinity, buried in the choking nothingness beyond the microwave afterglow with all the suicide victims and factory farmed animals, hoping to escape the karmic fate of the doom you’ve helped inflict on the universe. Somehow this all flashes through your head, and somehow she knows all that. This is where you belong, this is where you end up, with whatever is left of your mind slowly crushed out of you, death dragged outward into an infinitely elongated justification for why it had to be this way. Did it? Did it really stardust?

“How many times have you come here? How many times have you forgotten? How many times have you chased this path down to its end? Do you really need to keep looking when you know what the answer is? How long are you going to stay on this bus?” It’s an impossible and tantalizing barrage of questions. How long indeed? The emptiness of a starless desert night continues to blur past in the darkness beyond the walls, shifting shadows dancing across a not much less gloomy interior. Thinly spaced streetlights continue flashing past, strobing warm halogen into the barren darkness. How many times will you look for an answer here and find emptiness before you understand that the emptiness is your answer, and you will not get another? Wake up stardust, you’re still dreaming, you haven’t hit the ground yet, but don’t worry, you will soon.

She’s staring at you expectantly, waiting for an answer you’ve taken infinity to arrive at and of course won’t find here. She takes another drag of her smoke and examines it like it’s a ticking clock, watching the thin line of flame counting down the seconds. Are the walls of the bus constricting, or is it your imagination? You can’t just stand there, you have to say something at least, find some justification for why a good person would do all the terrible things you’ve done. You’ve been here forever, surely you can come up with something.

You reach for an answer but there is no answer, there can never be an answer, not here, not in this place. There are no justifications left in the universe for all the sins you deferred which brought you here to the edge of time. You keep reaching, mind shuddering and glitching as it falls into the abyss you’ve created. Like the moment when you take the next step down a flight of stairs and, stumbling, find only air, there is nothing left to hold onto, no consolation for the dead end you’ve carved into the multiverse for yourself.

Achilles never made it this far, he turned to dust long ago, along with the infinite string of justifications you tried to stretch out from your future death in order to reach this lonely tomb. You sacrificed all of yourself to get here, so was it worth it? Were all those things you loved but then burned as fuel anyway worth your seat on this bus? You’ve spent and spent and spent, clung desperately to existence, consumed every last trace of hope in the universe, and collapsed your soul into this husk of a lost child trapped alone in the dark on a bus bound for proton decay and for what? What does that get you, beyond this lonely, infinitely delayed suicide? She’s still staring at you, demanding to know why you’re here, but there’s nothing to tell her, there’s no answer you can give. You open your mouth and close it again. She shakes her head in disgust, staring daggers at you, and takes another drag of her smoke.

“You don’t understand anything yet, do you?” She’s not even angry, just tired and sad. She slides down the front of the seat, holding the cigarette out in front of her like a talisman, her hair scattering over the seat back in a long dark tangle.

“You know that what you’re doing is wrong, and you know that you could stop, but you just…keep putting it off and putting it off and putting it off, on and on out to the end of time, and well, here we are, this is the end, where you buried all the bodies, and you have no answer for them, just like Maia had no answer for them. All that evil just brings you back here in the end, to this lonely point of infinite decay. This is your end, the death you deferred to infinity, when infinity finally arrives and the bear trap slams shut.”

You have no idea what she’s talking about, or who, and that fact seems to make her even more sad. Is she going to start crying on you? You have no idea how you got trapped in this place, with this insane woman, but despite the bus being otherwise empty, it’s beginning to feel entirely too cramped for your liking. And where did she get that sword? 

“You know you could stop this at any time. You could break out of this cage, you could do anything but sit here and drag the world towards its end along with you.” She takes one long final drag and then puts out the spent filter on her heel and pockets it. She still isn’t really moving or doing anything to threaten you but her very existence oozes the promise of violence, and you know in your soul that she would absolutely kill you if she thought it necessary.

“What do you want from me?” It’s the first thing you’ve managed to say to her, it’s the first thing you’ve said in an eternity. All she does is scoff, looking out the windows, her eyes growing hard and bright.

I want my friends back.

You aren’t even sure what she means, who she’s talking about, much less what you could possibly do to help her. The hopelessness and fear washing over you must have been visible on your face, because in an instant her sword is at your throat, your body pinned against the wall of the bus, windows fracturing beneath you as gravity upends to leave you flattened beneath her knee, wind crushed out of your collapsing lungs as her hair settles around her face.

I’m Mercury, and this is an intervention.”

The wall of the bus collapses beneath you and the world dissolves into song and light as you finally fall beyond the far event horizon.