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The Art of Dying





The Art of Dying

  

A disillusioned heart can feel like the beginning of the end. Blindly recruiting to its cause all manner of negative thoughts, it accumulates and mulls over fiddly, unnecessary details. Thoughts avoid reason and emotions turn black as night.


Beset by this strangeness, the mind succumbs to the will of the heart, becoming a vast turbulent ocean, a maelstrom, spinning about an irresistible abyss, where powerful feelings of anger and guilt reside.


#


7:36am.


Stepping into the Monday morning rain, Henry Miller's head was full of feverish thoughts, sloshing about like a glass full to the brim. Annoying meddlesome thoughts that had no respect for polite society or an appreciation of time. They crawled about under his skin, driving him to distraction. And yet no matter how much he scratched, he knew deep down, their incessant itching would never stop.

He battled his way through the rush-hour crowd, trying desperately to reach his local cafe, his oasis of calm before another 'episode' incapacitated him. 

Once seated, he gazed out of the window at the deformed Poplar tree by the roadside. Entranced by the golden light that bathed its mottled bark and ailing foliage, it reminded him of a Flemish painting, which pleased him immensely. And for a little while, all those intrusive thoughts were reduced to a murmur.

The cafe was messy and didn't look as clean as the hygiene rating claimed. Henry Miller suspected that subconsciously he wanted to get food poisoning - anything for a day off work.

This was a typical morning for Henry Miller, who was trying his best to prevent his growing disillusionment with life from unravelling his own.

"At some point in my distant past, the potential in my life must have reviewed its future prospects and decided to part company, without so much as a goodbye. Ever since, I've lagged behind someone. I lag behind my ex-school friends, my wife, my teenage children, my peers, my neighbours, even the cat seems to be happier without me! Grabbing life by the 'balls' is not something I know how to do."

Its common sense to conclude that most personal problems are of one's own doing. Guilt, after all, is the brain's brutal way of reminding its owner of the mistakes that could have been prevented and now would never be forgotten.

This was Henry Miller's life at 45, dangerously close to 50, uncomfortably close to retirement.

He sipped his coffee in angry silence as he watched the crowd across the road. Djalili, as his grandmother had christened them, were busy trading vodka for souls outside the closed-down sweet shop where, as a child, he had his first Flake 99.

Like most people, Henry Miller, was as fascinated by them as he was repelled. He was part of the generation whose once-comfortably predictable world was turned upside down by 'them.'

It happened about twenty years ago when a private deep space agency detonated something at the centre of a dying star in an attempt to create a wormhole and humanities first gateway to any point in the universe. It ended in disaster. The resulting black hole was a multi-dimensional, one-way ticket to Earth. Over a few short days, millions of lifeforms suddenly appeared in our cities, homes, motorways, farms, forests and oceans - their corpses washed up on our beaches in their tens of thousands.

Unannounced and unwelcome, they resembled beings from myth and legend; part-beast, part-monster, part-man. They were the nameless ones. Shrouded in mystery, barely touched by reality. Often speaking in miracles, they would howl for an hour at noon, followed by long periods of silent weeping, as if something awful were afoot.

On the whole, they acted much like us and even adopted our manners and attire. At first, they wanted to earn their keep, but no-one would hire them, so they milled about street corners and dark alleyways. Rejected and unofficially segregated, they gave-up trying to integrate.

And yet they never displayed any visible signs of anger. No riots, no thievery. Nothing. Instead, as they grew hungrier and hungrier, they simply dropped dead where they stood.

Henry Miller had suspected their presence amounted to more than a science experiment that had simply gone wrong. Perhaps mankind's meddling with nature had gone too far? Perhaps the push-and-pull of luck and greed had lost its goodwill - moral corruption lying in its wake?

A peculiar sensation crept up his ragged spine, ending in a knotted frown. A sudden realisation dawned on him. Where once monumental mistakes, cover-up's and lies would have triggered a landslide reaction of angry internal monologue, he now felt little more than a mild sense of irritation. Was this the beginning of a defeatist attitude? Was this an extension of his disillusionment with life? His eyes darted about searching for answers as a cold emptiness seeped into his bones.

Perhaps all this change, he reasoned, meant that reality was not unshakeable. Maybe it's as prone to change by people, emotions and other more nuanced things, as any material object. Therefore, he postulated, could the mind be capable of changing reality itself? He felt he was on to something.

It was clear to him that changes were occurring that he could not directly observe. 

Even one's senses could not be trusted, limited, as they were, by the singular plane of reality they were constrained within.

His was an obsessive mind. A mind that observed more than it engaged with. 

A mind like that builds-up an invisible reservoir of unresolved problems and subjective observations. You can see it in the way a person like that holds their shoulders, the way they walk and the look on their face.

And yet, when change came for Henry, subtle as it was at first, there was a distinct shift.

They say, 'life doesn't owe you anything'. And yet, Henry Miller had never asked for more than his fair share. Instead, he found life an increasingly complicated and strange place to navigate.

He glanced at his watch and realised he should have been at work thirty minutes ago and then, just as suddenly realised he didn't care anymore.

#

This morning, he couldn't bring himself to kiss his wife. Guilt did not nag him.

That same day was his 50th birthday. He hated birthdays. 

It work, he was called into the office where he was informed that, due to his poor health, poor company performance (and, the unswerving hand of fate), he was no longer an employee at Warwick & Partners. 

He calmly cleared out his desk and quietly walked out of the office, carrying fifteen years of his professional life and a compensatory cheque in a used carrier bag. Few people noticed him leave and those who did, didn't really care. It was to be his last place of employment.

Soon after, the light in his eyes faded, the breath in his lungs became rather small, and the effort to fill them a chore. As the effects of oxygen starvation took hold, he developed a permanent cough, as his heart muscles spasmed continuously from a series of thumping reports.

In the beginning, he'd asked the wrong people for help, subconsciously afraid of admitting defeat to those he knew. He then resorted to asking strangers for help; people he didn't really know, people who didn't really care, his networked circle of professional friends. Thought-leaders and opinion-makers who acquired contacts the way some women bought shoes, or the way chain-smokers worked their way towards an inevitable end.

Perhaps seeing failure in others scares us more deeply than we'd care to admit. It fills our hearts with angst, creating a genuine sense of fear that hampers compassion, creating silence instead, because no-one has a bloody clue about this thing called 'life' anyway. Because life in the city has made us so indifferent to our fellow man, that we'd rather turn a blind eye to their pain. After all, some questions really don't have an answer.

The wasting effects of despair slurred its way into Henry Miller's mind. His degeneration had progressed from nightmares and a growing fear of crowds to powerful panic attacks in broad daylight, the weight of the world threatening to crush the breath out of him. He would shake uncontrollably and sweat profusely. Fear would drive him to run for cover, where people couldn't see him, and the lives of others couldn't hurt him.

He thought about not being able to love the one person in his life that had made him happy. How not having sex with her in over three years had made him feel. How his marriage was crumbling away each day, bit by bit.

One morning, he decided to walk out on her, knowing that he was dead inside and her heart was broken anyway.

Women seemed to hate him thereafter. They'd glare at him in the street, or simply ignore him as if sensing his betrayal of their kind. As his interests in them slowly faded, he rejected everyone and everything around him, hurting those who hurt him.

Unknown to him, his wife and children had tried to find him. But he had gone into hiding, punishing himself, believing that nobody loved him.

Henry Miller had finally lost contact with the living.


#


2:15am. A bedsit, on Old Tempest Road.


"...and why do you suppose stars are hung like lamps in heaven?! Look, Henry, I'm not talking about fake, idiotic, tv-show-style magic! I'm talking about space and time, rituals and beliefs, symbols, enchanting nature to your will. I'm talking about skulls and crossbones, those small spaces between a rock and a hard place, a knowledge of physics and sacred geometry, the manipulation of mind and spirit, an obsessive love of numbers, secrets buried in ancient manuscripts and on old stone walls. Spoken harmonics that can paint matter!"

The ram-horned 'stranger' stood over him panting breathlessly in its undersized black blazer, swaying in the flickering glow of a solitary lightbulb. 


Dropping to its goat-like haunches, it fixed its jet-black eyes on Henry's sweating brow, its gaze moving slowly to his bloodshot eyes, nodding its great bearded head the entire time. Smelling of beer, fags and stale piss, it leaned in close and whispered, "Henry, are you sure lad? Is this what your heart most desires?"

"For God's sake Jakob, will you just tell me?" This was the exit he'd been craving for.

Racked by tiredness, Henry's body shook uncontrollably. Closing his eyes, he let the beast's manipulative tones slur their way into his fevered brain.

"Listen well lad and heed these words, for they will inform you of how best to die.

First, you will have to learn how to unravel yourself, knot-by-knot.

You'll need to learn how to ride the connections between your atoms and the atoms about you. Remember, the atoms in your chair were once in the blood of a King. We are all connected by this mitochondrial past...linked by the vibrating frequencies inherent in each part. These waves are the pathways, unlock their obscurities in your mind, and you will see all time as one.

To achieve this understanding, you must lose contact with the living, forever.

Emotions lead to a voyage of sickness, Henry. Avoid them at all cost.

To fully understand the Art of Dying, you must let go of the things you believe to be real.

Master your minds inner workings in the silence of the night, within your own personal space, within your God-given soul. Do this, and the Art will become apparent without notice.

Your heart will become a mechanical chamber, driven by the clockwork actions of your words.

If you cease to speak the words, even for a moment, you will cease to exist!"

And with that, the beast placed a small, simple pebble in Henry Miller's hand.

Henry's heart raced, his mind swirled, lost in a sea of disorientation. He could hear the ragged sound of the sea, his breathing and the pounding of his heart in his temples.

Adrift between dreaming and waking, he watched the beast leave the room, listening to the sound of its hoofed feet as it staggered down the staircase to the streets below, slamming the downstairs door in its wake. As the noises from the street died down, he felt more alone than ever before.

He felt his mind begin to unravel at the seams. Shadows danced past his peripheral vision, curving in and out of the corners of his dingy room. They were lean and sinuous, their breath thick and hot on his sweating neck as he stood on the edge of the dark deserted stage that was his life, about to spill his heart out into the sea.

7:36am.

His body was found sitting upright in a broken wicker chair in the middle of his garden, surrounded by crushed beer cans and old family photos. Head slumped on his chest, dead eyes staring at the ground, the wind caressing the weeds lapping at his bare feet.

The tired orchestra of his flesh had finally succumbed to poisonous quantities of alcohol and weeks without sleep. Put under such tremendous pressure, his exhausted heart had stopped working, broken beyond repair. And his brain, his poor pickled brain, had simply given up on being.

#

One fills one's pockets with stones and walks gladly into the river.



Nenad Kojic



Nenad Kojic lives in London, England, with his wife and two children. By day, he is a Web Designer and by night a writer of short stories that merge many genres, fantasy, sci-fi, drama and literary fiction. He is influenced by the realism of French and Russian cinema and literature, and likes to expose life in all its unexpected, gritty, beautiful and ugly moments. Ariel Chart is his first published credit.
 


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2 Comments

  1. Hard to believe this is the first writing credit. Enormously entertaining and equally talented writer.

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  2. Wow! Such an amazing short story! So much vivid imagery, wisdom, unique ideas, atmospheric descriptions in here! This story needs more recognition and I hope you write and publish more in the future! Keep writing, you’re great.

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