From fragments of tattered nightmares I traversed, unwilling, thrashed upon tides of pain that’d leave me searingly alert, and more revoltingly, alive. It was here I had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting her.

“I’m closed; last call was 10 minutes ago stranger,” a voice echoed through the empty café. 

“Hmmm… Not even a triple espresso for a weary insomniac?”

“I stay open for no one in these dark times, insomnia or not. Things howl in the wind that no sane person would welcome… I’m getting goosebumps,” she rolled her sleeves back to reveal a Nivea-like smoothness. “Besides, it’s probably the espressos that are giving you insomnia.”

The last of her words trailed off as I left—cold of heart and soul, forced to the pavement and the long, bitter night yet again. I was already late, aggravated, and gloomy as the dark sky merged with my mind. Still I knew, I, like others, had no choice but to either kneel to the tyranny of the divine or the chaos of the random abyss. Whichever I chose, it appeared I was doomed. 

I walked the night for hours, ‘chancing’ upon where I’d once held my muse; In her absence, the madness of the place fueled my rage, and when it subsided momentarily in a wave of tranquility, I felt no elation, no sense of victory, only a calm certainty that I’d walked into her trap yet again. I didn’t know whether she intended to burn me, and I fear now, I may never know. 

I pondered the futility of my physical ambitions and felt strongly drawn, compelled even, not to linger in the darkness, but to go to her at once. 

First things first, I took the paper out of my jacket pocket, a picture of a greenish-brown brick only found on a historical building on King St West with ‘3 AM’ etched on it, and a message on its reverse, “The emmet’s inch and the eagle’s mile make lame philosophy to smile. He who doubts what he sees will never believe; do what you please.” Blake. We’d read this particular poem together under a moon not unlike the one I was standing. I knew not where I was going nor why against my true nature, did I feel an inclination not to disobey. Words can lie, and lying is what she did best. But no matter how much I thought I knew, I couldn’t ignore her distinctive penmanship, with the lines of the ys hovering over the letter beneath it… and so, in a building on King street stood the enlightenment she thought I lacked, conveyed at the place where answers ought to have lain. A shadow disappeared behind an alley, but pursuit revealed it to be a stray white cat. I continued my journey as the sky darkened, the wind gusted, and birds scattered from the clearings above me in alarm. I might’ve turned back if I believed in auguries of guilt, but one more glance into her bright hazel eyes was worth anything… and anything it seemed, to the divine or the chaos, would meant even death. It was more pressing however that ever since I’d received her summon, I had the constant and palpable sensation of being watched. Someone, it appeared, was keenly interested in my presence here. A crow flapped away and its cawing disappeared into the roaring tempest.

I reached the address at the precise moment my Cohíba ran its course, still unable to catch the blurring shadow mimicking my every step. In the bowels of this urban forest I feared I would find something worse than hell: myself. 

The venetian door was as black as night against a blanket of untouched snow. What manner of man would choose an environment so devoid of life? No one else it seemed, had ventured here in days. The interior was as cold and sterile as the icicles formed on the roof. Framed masks and fallen animal heads armed the walls beneath Nordic swords. This form of gothic romance coupled with a renaissancian indifference gave birth to the death I longed for. Huge church windows warped and distorted our city’s color… from the depth of the mayor’s eye socket I tried to behold Toronto in its former glory—as if I needed some looking glass to make its corruption more apparent. Its glow was now faded in decay and disintegration. Like me, it was aging. 

*   *   *

A nostalgic sense of urgency and self-loathing overwhelmed me. Contrary to my original logic, I now felt a strong vibration not to remain here. 

As I advanced through the darkness of this manor, it lit up, and suddenly not one, but three of my former enemies appeared at once. How considerate of them to hasten my search. When coincidence seems too convenient, I prefer to label it fate. I had no need for weapons (why bother with tools when you have a perfectly good pair of hands?), and though my injuries were cosmetic and physical, theirs would be embedded in their souls as long as they lived, however short that may be. For all their barking, these wolves were nothing more than yorkies. I smirked, for at that moment, someone else in this world was suffering more than I. 

The next room I entered seemed to have one purpose other than invoking a feeling of nausea and disgust: the torture and murder of others at the simple pleasure of its sadistic engineer. Blood was spattered on every surface, coating the empty sword cases and filling the marble floor in a maroon color. The dread and agony of past victims still echoed through these lethal walls; a symphony of pain filled the air, and it wasn’t Gorecki. 

Then, from amidst the company of pitiful souls came an indescribable yelp only attributable to the woman that holds my heart, and disconcertingly, this was followed by the perverse chuckle of the unspoken enemy I’d already grown to despise. 

I admit, I sought no answers in my quixotic haste to rescue the damsel-in-distress. After all, it was her machinations that had set these series of events into motion, her flip of the coin that moved me into action, but perhaps, she, like me, had no choice but to acquiesce.

I neared the ambient mumblings of my nemesis alongside his prisoner and a strange sensation crept over me—an indescribable sense of displacement, a feeling of vertigo. My fearlessness oozed through my skin when I treaded forward, but each step I took intensified the dislocation until the despair was too much to bear. I neared her with fragments of destroyed ambitions, reluctantly pressed against a throbbing pain in my mind, and my heart. 

She sat in front of me, whimpering in pain and churning my heart left-and-right as she struggled to break free. “MMMMM…” her perfect lips forced closed behind a piece of tape. I’d have savoured the moment if I were some vindictive bro or an old, uneducated ogre but I was not blessed with carelessness nor was I gifted the rampant stupidity others seemed to love. I only knew that every time she turned up something monumental and terrible happened; I didn’t know if I had the stomach for it, but with nothing behind me but the wasteland of society I presumed to reside in, I resolved to press on and explore this circle of hell even further.

I ran up to her without minding my surroundings like a young Batman; the tape was bloodied and she was catatonic with a mortal fear… even now, as I saw her in his state, I felt more alive than I wanted to. Few sights moved me as much as her; I marvelled at her beauty and grace in such a vindictive world. But at the same time, seeing her like this altered universal laws. I dared not expect such cruelty from the sunrise, for in the embrace of its light I now saw only hate and an ire that could only be subsided at the prospect of vengeance. I awoke to the pain of an existence born in a dark womb of malice and suffering. 

Kultaseni,” I whispered as I tore the tape off, unable to endure the immense sorrow consuming my heart. 

“You are either very brave… or incredibly stupid!” were the words she uttered out of breath and with a deepened pain. 

I untied her eternal legs. “You will find me relentless in my pursuit,” my senses spun, my body ached, weakness… overcame me. 

“TRAP!” she resisted when I leaned around her rapturous body. I hadn’t even touched her hands when I felt the inclination of a rusty blade against my neck.

“Last time we met Mr. Hüeshang, I believe you thought you killed me.”

I never make a pretense to rationalize my rage, yet these soldiers of freedom cloaked their bloodlust beneath a veil of righteousness…. Hypocrites. 

He guided me up with his knife at my neck, “I seem to have failed,” the thing that’d become my shadow illuminated himself at last, and in the light, I knew him. Another visage of my past. Vincenzo, the reformed Epicurean hedonist of Sparta. I’d met him once before in his new role of patriarch, not that anyone could… but I still knew he couldn’t be trusted. 

“How’d you find this place? Where’s Albert, David, and Terrance?” 

I chuckled and pushed myself closer to him. She’d be safe as long as the blade was against my jugular, “I dealt with them as I deal with all traitors.”

“WHAT? …” he gripped the knife tighter and I felt every second, “Does it not occur to your arrogant mind that perhaps my cause, and not yours, is the cause of right and justice? That your ambition to succeed is only a youthful craving of a petty renaissance peon, who has gained—” 

“ENOUGH OF YOUR SERMONIZING!” I roared, “What are you trying to do? BORE ME TO DEATH?” … We both knew cowards and traitors deserve only complete annihilation.

He enjoyed displeasing me, “You really can’t find good help these days…”

I pushed his knife harshly against my neck and felt my blood flow down to his fingers. I had him right where I wanted him. 

He looked at the blood, “She did warn me; your fatalism is exhausting.”

“And yet profoundly ingrained…” I sneered, “You have me now… this sounds moronic and cliché, but let the babe go.”

“HA! What do I care about the life of some woman? I’ve done this many times. You're the only one to make it this far old chap… it’s taking your life that entices me.”

Fair trade, “I always knew you were a sneaking, cowardly opportunist. How unfortunate that my failure in ending your cancerous existence has permitted you such power… I will not make the same mistake twice, you have my word.” 

“Your delusions distort your judgment,” he let me go and pushed me towards her. “I have to know, what is it about her you worship with such fervor?” 

I pondered his question while the decadent fool prattled about his past. A boorish account of how he’d defeated and ended anyone who stood in his way since our last meeting. His plan for us was wearingly unclear; she radiated with a piercing purity, but far from being enlightened, I felt myself entangled in an even greater mystery. I dreaded to think what these ominous rumblings might portend. 

He must've thought me credulous if he permitted me to believe such blatant exaggerations.

“You’re lost in a labyrinth of moral relativism and seek applause for your clever sophistry,” I would’ve laughed at him had he not held the knife with the power to end my physical existence, and my heart with the power to end my abstract one. 

“And yet, you fail to grasp the absurd beauty of that paradox. We are the same, good, and evil.” He sounded dangerously Platonic, a misunderstood and foolish one at that. 

“If it’s absolution you seek, the kind found in death, I will be our deliverance… but you grow weary from your own buffoonery.” 

“… And so it was, with a sense of gravity and trepidation that I unsealed the ancient door and crossed the threshold…” he threw the knife at one of the masks on the wall… and when I looked back; he was gone.

I took a step to give chase before her soothing voice, now vibrant with the angelic humming I remembered, called me back. “Wait… get me out of here!”

And so it seemed, I’d returned to the sanctuary of my enemy. As we stepped outside, we gazed at the rising sun along the plains of possibility. I knew she’d left with all her soul.

It was grave to wonder how godlike we'd become, and as such, become indivisible. She offered worlds to those patient enough to look, and in my past haste I realized I’d never looked deep enough; our futures were intertwined, like two rivers that had met and could never be distinct again, at my every fatal turn, I found her, until it would be, the moment would come where I would find nothing.

The Soul of the Rose;  John William Waterhouse; 190

The Soul of the Rose; John William Waterhouse; 190