He greets me. No. Not quite right. He, it, is always there.
I know he is. Fleeting lurking daytime glimpses more or less easily banished by routine, by distraction.
But in this deep, dark, cold night he joins me. Like the aches and pains that hurt in the light, but torture in the hours where the world is black. He is there.
I am not asleep. Not awake. Somewhere in between. I look at the clock.
It is 2:22. No doubt the time of my death. I close my eyes. He returns.
Not eager, not showing any sign of emotion. He is just there.
Completely black. Dark and seeming to absorb light, but for the eyes.
The eyes are brown, aged, old beyond time, sad beyond consolation.
Behind them are spiders and maggots and things that slither under rocks, shrink from the light.
On him is the stink of the grave.
My guide on this tour.
It knows where everything is.
The piles of self-doubt. The mounds of recrimination. The ravines of despair. All there on the well-worn path.
I hate to see it, yet can’t not look. All the broken promises, the unfulfilled dreams, the hopes and plans and schemes that turned to cinder, all in skyscraper sized displays.
Weeping but with no sound and no relief.
Torment, unrelenting and cold, calculating my strength and overwhelming me with ease.
He brings me to each and every monument to my failure. I can’t take anymore. I stop in the shadow of what could have been but never was.
He senses. And leaves and returns with dread in his jaws.
He comes and goes for a while, bringing the pus filled bags and dropping them at my feet.
Evil done to others here. Acts of pure selfishness there. A shameful stinking pile of lust, reeking of infidelity and betrayed trust he nudges toward me.
Petty thefts, lies, indifference to others suffering. The sacks of stinking malice towards the ones I was supposed to love. He seems to not take any delight in his task but do his eyes betray him? Is this a task that gives him purpose? Pleasure?
No. I look into those eyes, those deep brown, ageless pools and see not love, no hate, but indifference.
I am surrounded by my shortcomings. My lack of integrity squirms at my feet. My pride bloats a black bladder and hisses as gas escapes. My inability to face the consequences of my own doing is a moist black sticky tar rising above my ankles.
All around me is the stink of failure. In every direction all I can see is black, doomed, unrealistic expectations. In high, keening shrill voices I hear the disappointment of the betrayed.
My guide stops his relentless pace and sits near me. He looks at me. We both know there is only one way out of here. And we both know that the time draws near where it is the only choice.
He gets up and draws a few steps away. Stops and looks back at me. Am I ready, he seems to be saying. Or do I want to wallow in this toxic place a while longer?
Is this hell?
The true hell is I can’t go forward and I can’t go back.
I look at the clock. It is 3:33.