I’ve always been fascinated by death.
It’s no secret. There’s just something about the line between life and whatever-happens-next that has always made me curious. The religion of my upbringing had a lot to say on the matter, but so did a lot of other cultures, too, and as I grew older I found myself captivated by the stories and mythology-based around such an integral part of life. I’m a huge mythology nerd, so being able to combine two of my favorite subjects into hours’ worth of reading pleasure is Really Good, okay?
Seriously though, if you are looking for a topic to binge on while we wait for the outside world to get its act together, try googling ‘psychopomps.’ I guarantee that you won’t be bored. There are just so many ideas and stories out there about what people think happens in that split second after our synapses stop firing and the essence of who we are moves on. It’s no wonder that writers have latched on to some of those as inspiration to create even more stories, and I can’t say that I’m exempt from that.
One of those death-related hot topics revolves around the idea of the ‘undead,’ or deceased creatures that behave as if they were alive. I think the concept really gets to people because of the purely taboo nature of the subject— if something is dead, it should stay dead, right? But the creatures in these stories don’t, and that’s what makes them so compelling.
Some of my favorite original characters fall under the ‘undead’ umbrella in some way, and the one that you’re about to meet is one of those closest to my heart. I’m sure more of his story will come out on this site as time goes on (hell, I’d love to write a novel about him someday, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon), but for now, enjoy a little vignette I call “Rain.”
Artwork courtesy of Tikattu
Dark clouds shot through with silver and light billowed over the horizon, dumping their precious cargo down over the rolling hills of the ancient forest below. It reminded him of… something, things he’d long since forgotten, memories that had been torn away from him just as his life had at some distant moment in time. Life in the most literal of senses, Matthias thought wryly to himself, barely sparing a glance at the hand curled tightly around his walking staff.
He didn’t need to look, because he knew what he’d see. Every inch of his body bore corpse-pale skin marred by decay and a patchwork of seams both physical and magical. He was a testament to his race, a stark reminder of both the human he once was and the undead creature he’d since become. Sometimes, while feeling rather philosophical, he would ponder the paradox of his existence as he did now: Am I alive, though my body decays around me like a crumbling house? Am I dead, though I walk and think like any other man? He chuckled to himself, the sound like tumbling gravel in his dry throat. Perhaps more so than most?
Thankfully, such morbid thoughts had long since ceased to bother him, and he paid them very little mind as he continued putting one boot in front of the other, making his way down the rocky, winding path. He traveled because every once in a while he thought he remembered the pull of wanderlust, a longing to be somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere full of fresh adventures.
At least that’s what the words in the ragged journal he carried in his satchel seemed to describe. Matthias wasn’t sure if it was his or just something he’d picked up in his wanderings, but it told all sorts of fascinating stories about the living. He kept reading those tales over and over again, his bony hand carefully turning each fragile page, gathering the fading memories into the crypt of his mind as though they were his own.
They had to be, didn’t they? Why else would he have battered little book?
But there was another reason Matthias kept traveling: because a deep, instinctive part of him feared what would occur if he stopped. What would happen if his steps stilled and he just… gave up? If he stopped contemplating the line he trod between life and death? What would he become then? Would he finally embrace true death, leaving his body an empty, derelict shell for a mind that had simply ceased to exist? Or would he become one of the Mindless, a snarling, feral monster like the ones the living told tales of ’round the fire at night?
Perhaps he was not as far gone as he feared himself to be sometimes, to worry so.
A crack of thunder yanked him from his dreary thoughts. There was no use pondering unknowns, for normalcy became what he made of it. And right now, his reality consisted of little more than the incoming storm.
Matthias paused in his endless trek to lean against a large boulder and watch sheets of rain tumble into the small clearings between the trees. Rain cleansed and brought life to the land, the sort of life most thought proper— blood and warmth and the fiery desires of short-lived creatures. Anger, lust, hatred, jealousy… their importance tended to fade once one realized just how fleeting they could be.
But that wasn’t to say that sometimes Matthias looked upon a solider with innocent blood on his hands and did not burn with a need to sheathe a dagger in his chest, or that the beauty of a young woman would not occasionally strike him so keenly that he almost felt as though heat rushed through his body once more. He’d simply grown used to tucking them away like so many other things, useless distractions from his current existence. They were but faint memories of a time long past, recollections from a life he could no longer claim to have.
But the rain… ah, the rain.
Lighting flashed through the sky like fingers of fire, setting the dimly-lit horizon aglow for the briefest of moments before retreating again. Matthias closed his cloudy eyes and raised his face to the caress of water he could not sense, in a gesture reminiscent of a life long forgotten.
Alone out here with the sound of the rain falling around him, coaxing the ghosts of nearly-gone memories from the depths of his mind, he could almost feel it.