Roman Samuelson was bruised and bloody. His massive forearms no match for a heavy wooden door. Like an animal in captivity he attacked the cage that held him.
“By what authority do you keep us here—I demand my freedom!”
His defiant chorus collided against unforgiving walls until the intersecting crossfire canceled any noise at all. He and I were not alone in our suffering. Most spent the day standing with heads hung low, circled like cattle sensing a storm, but whereas bovine nervously await the first clap of thunder, in this case the igniter of awful things came in the form of a faint chuckle rising from a dark corner. Farley’s laugh was unmistakable; the old man was rife with madness. He whiled away his days reasoning out loud or sitting glassy-eyed laughing at words no one hears. Harmless really, but Roman Samuelson found a challenge in everything.
“Who is it that finds my demand entertaining? Let him speak his name, so I shall know which of you to crush!”
Roman moved to the corner with purpose in every stride. Upon arrival there was a thrashing of bodies and clashing of spirits that could not be disguised with darkness alone. As the pair transitioned from shadow to the light, Roman emerged first, dragging behind him a feeble man caught by his shirt collar. Farley’s laughter erupted in volleys, even as Roman threw him into a pile, and most oddly when his head struck the floor. Yet to have his fill, Roman seized a handful of hair and engaged the lunatic in conversation.
“Farley, you have suffered in this place longer than any other. Surely you know of a secret passage. Share it with us and I will forego the pleasure of snapping your neck!”
His body was awkwardly tangled and a trickle of blood filled the crease in his forehead, yet his laughter remained constant. There was a distinct disconnect, as the question posed swirled about before lodging squarely in his mind. When it did the laughter stopped, and for the very first time we heard coherent sentences.
“I refuse to address you as Roman; instead I shall call you Jude. You are a rebel, and here in the afterlife there is no place for an untamed spirit. There are but two means of escape, and only a fool insists on a third. My poor boy, your very existence is an illusion…a charade of sorts, and breaking my neck will do nothing to affect that. Roman Samuelson is abbreviated Roman S., but in his blackened heart he is already Jude S.”
Roman’s brows narrowed and his grip loosened. Farley slipped through his grasp, but instead of fleeing he wheeled and moved closer. From point-blank range Farley delivered his last cogent sentence. It came in bursts, the gaps filled with mad laughter.
“You see it clearly now—don’t you—don’t you, Judas!”
A faint jingling came from the hallway, followed by the sound of a lock rattling under the weight of a key. Every desperate eye fell upon the door and every heart skipped a beat. It was each of our deepest desires to be claimed by one side or the other and both had arrived.
In the time it takes for a door to swing we were in the presence of the two most powerful forces in the universe. Out of reverence each of us found our feet, with the exception of one. Farley was in a particularly tortured state, turning circles and hopping like an agitated chimp. Drool slung from either side of his mouth as he shrieked.
“The time has come for one…the time has come for one….soon we all will see, the time has come for one!”
There were many things of which Farley was unaware or clearly mistaken, but he had a thorough understanding of what was to take place. Each time they arrived, the light and the dark, one tortured soul would leave this chamber.
The fairer of them stood to right of the throne and despite our desire he could not be directly gazed upon for his light was too brilliant. However, the lesser of the two, on the left, was not without merit; he too was alluring in a primordial sense.
Just as thunder shakes the heavens, his words rattled our bones.
“Does anyone wish to speak before a decision is made?”
From the rear of the throng came more of a roar than a voice.
“There is one among us that is plotting to undermine your authority.”
Roman parted the crowd, stumbling and cursing those that stood in his way.
“Lord, it is Farley who has betrayed you.”
A murmuring of disbelief filtered from font to back.
“I do not come forward without proof. In his dark corner there is a tunnel. Can it be meant for anything other than escape? Come, and see with your own eyes.”
There was the beginning of an escape route, and Farley spent most of his time there.
The light shone upon the crowd, probing the breadth of us.
“Is there are friend of this man? Who will stand with Farley’s and speak on his behalf?”
The opportunity to acknowledge him was issued three times, yet no one moved from their place. My heart had noble thoughts, but my feet carried me deeper into the safety of the crowd.
“If there is no man willing to prove otherwise, Roman, you have won your freedom. Step forward and reach out your hand.”
With the speed of a serpent’s strike, the dark one intercepted Roman. Firmly gripping his wrist he turned to address the others.
“Inaction is good; your silent mouths bring me great hope for the future.”
Roman fell to his knees as his captor forced his hand toward the crowd.
“The dirt beneath your nails—is it from digging a tunnel, or perhaps a grave in which to bury Farley? Roman, I did not pursue you; there was no need for it. You proposed your allegiance if I would grant you rule of half my kingdom. It is unwise to bargain with the dark side. What is sown shall also be reaped. Today, Farley will leave in the presence of light, and you, Jude, have loved me forever.”
The four disappeared outside the door and a suffocating darkness fell over this tomb. It is difficult to explain to those outside the chamber, but even the most detestable destination is surely better than nothingness. For those that remain, within our chests beat pale hearts yearning for the vibrant colors of pain and suffering; too long have we been subjected to the pastel shades of purgatory. We barley exist; hopelessly wandering in circles, searching for a definable moment when we might again recognize direction. It is with great conviction that I tell you there is most assuredly a fate worse than being damned.
I believe the clarity with which I recall that day only serves as another form of punishment. Inaction is truly a friend of evil. Perhaps no longer being allowed the luxury of experiencing emotion is a blessing. Now, the only reminder that I should feel something comes in brief flashbacks of days gone by. As time grinds on they too will be taken from me. Piece by piece, thought by thought, they will dismantle everything that means anything and eventually only dust will remain.