The Living Death

Stephanie Welton

Taxidermyphoto by - Curious Expeditions

The bar is running low on its liquor supply. No one here of age to drink it anyways. A few layers of dust have accumulated on the countertop. No one really comes here at all actually. At least, not anymore. I’m not sure why they keep those practically empty bottles lined side by side on the shelf behind the bar. Is it for some sort of aesthetic? Or are they just lazy, careless, perhaps unaware? I’d say all three. And by now, they’ve just convinced themselves that there is some sort of aesthetic to it. Ignorance is bliss. It’s no surprise that I’m the only one still hanging around this place. It’s withering away from being a no man’s land to absolutely nothing. We have that in common. We balance each other out; serve as comforts. I suppose co-existing also means co-expiring.

I’m attached to this place. I’ll admit that. Greater forces keep me here. I don’t know why. What do they get out of this? They are how I got here in the first place. When I came to, here I was, rigid as can be, mounted against these walls as if they are within me. I was in clear view of the clock, watching it ticking. I faced the fact that my time had come and gone. I was no longer anxious to be found. Instead, I am dedicated to my suffering. Most people aren’t given the opportunity to be tortured this much. It’s the only thing that I have left. It’s sacred.

When I was alive, humans were only known as myth. Now, I see them for all that they are. I’ve learned their language—body language and what is spoken. I catch onto patterns and similarities between different people; how they act, dress, change throughout the course of just a few hours. My pain is something they will never feel. They will never be decapitated, skinned, stuffed, mounted on display. I am a goddamn undeserved trophy. This is my grave. How dare they treat it so unkindly?

I pity the people that come down here from time to time. I see how they touch each other too intimately. How they avert their eyes, cover their mouths. They lick their teeth, and hold their chins. They embellish their stories with far too much detail. Like they’re only bile serving their own cravings. Masses of flesh, bodies flop together. Skin is paper to be torn, and recycled. Connections are made solely based on convenience. They take what they can, whenever they can, whenever they want, completely oblivious of what damage they could cause, what that damage could lead to, if and how that damage could ever be repaired. They deny each other everything truthful and they won’t acknowledge it. Probably never will.

The air is stale. My limpid eyes still looking around begin to hallucinate. Goosebumps trickle in a wave upon my body. I feel my body again. The ceiling has opened up to shed fresh snow on me. It’s been such a long time. I become lost in the fantasy. It’s freezing cold yet I am on fire. I was trapped in a dream. My consciousness snaps each sinew.  I am not crippled. Streams surround me. My veins have spilt again. Everything begins to die. We are all left here to perish. My lungs were once full of the winter air in the forest, but I no longer have lungs to fill. This entire time I have been bounded, spineless.

I had never thought about death when I was still alive, much like I had never thought about life. Much like these humans don’t live at all. I just lived. There was no time to think about these abstract concepts. My days were spent hunting, gathering, roaming free; keeping distance from danger. Or so I thought. Not until I saw my body, chopped in pieces, skinned before me, did I realize that I was slaughtered; without a pulse. Yet, somehow my consciousness has survived. I could never convey how painful this is. It’s as if each day I re-live my initial death, and decay some more.

This room is habitually starless. The stories my eyes have sketched are all erased. I am very far from the woods, from bare trees covered in snow. I am desperate to crawl back inside of my old self. I am crucified. Claimed as wanted, and stolen. My shattered limbs were clung to and torn from me—as if they swore an oath. I have no autonomy. They took me down; they brought me here. I am misplaced, disfigured. I no longer remember what it was like to be whole. Then I haunt myself. My past flourishes in my imagination. Briefly, I remember. As a dark gloom consumes me, I will soon forget again.

These people think they are clever. All I see are various shades of blue. Blood circulates to their brains. I am envious of this. But their art is not foolproof. It is shameless, without passion, and temporary. With their paper-machete fingertips, they hold ashtrays, cigarettes, glasses of wine. Their smoke seduces the breath out of them. Delicate expressions masked upon their faces. Suppressed secrets imbedded into the silence. Dilated pupils, palms cautious and still, nostalgic empty glares. They are brief and surreal illusions. Demons of lies and defeat. Burdens to memories of their own. They are jagged and hollow and that is what brings them here, into the cold damp earth.  They exchange their fragments of poison bar-side. They infiltrate my coffin, digging graves of their own, to hide away from themselves. There is only so much life dimming moons can provide. It is not enough. They take off their masks as the night unfolds, putting out fires with their thorns. I remain in place, disintegrating from years of rising smoke. I do not fear them; my fire was put out long ago. A cigarette drops onto the wooden floor. I do not hesitate. I watch it closely hoping no one will notice, that it will cause the place to burst into flames. A shoe crushes it, absent-minded.

My voice is a shadow. My weariness is framed. I am covered in debris. I am tucked away into the seam where death meets life. I am a grieving, ostracized ghost. I can never go back to before—to seeing all the colors of leaves in the air. I am haunted by reminders that I am passed by, that I am beginning to crumble—that my fallen pieces lie on ground that I will never stand on again. I crave to be released, to regain movement. But more than anything, I crave serenity. What I have seen, what I have been through, has scarred me deeply. I would be unable to live with these markings. I would be unable to live fearing the chance that I could end up this way again.

As I feel myself rot, I know that this very slow death will soon come to an end. I was once afraid of what is happening to me. Now I am only afraid that it might stop, that I will be salvaged and mounted all over again. My fantasies of life have turned into fantasies of death. I long for termites to infest me. I wish to become fire and burn. I hope to become so tarnished that I am tossed into the trash, picked up and crushed into nothingness. If only they would notice that my antlers have become loose, my left eye is barely hanging to the socket, that cotton stuffing is foaming from my mouth, joining the piles of dust and dirt beneath me.

I have said my goodbyes to the life I once lived. I have let go of my one true love, the forest. I have learned to ignore the returning memories, to accept my loss. Here is my nightmare. The unknown is approaching rapidly. I am discovering twilight in disguise. I loitered among these silhouettes, unseen on the wall. My remaining eye plummets to the floor. The drop smashes the marble into tiny, sharp specks. I realize I am now blind. My end is closer than ever before. This is my farewell.

My last thoughts are without anger. I feel a sense of wisdom. I feel aged. I am no longer plagued by vision. I am free to imagine what my final surroundings look like. I unveil the darkness and make way for winter trees to bloom. When I die, I will leave behind a different world, a beautiful one. I am at peace with my enemies. I forgive you. Every last one of you. Your vermin has possessed me far too long.

They move like disease, gravitating towards tangible substances. A drink, a cigarette, the ashtray, the curvature of each other’s backs.  Those who fill the emptiness, those who provide purpose.

Their misery is contagious, nameless, old. I can no longer see them, but I know what they are doing. I know what they want. And I know it makes no difference if I hate them. I have for years.  What good has it done?

My head feels heavy. I begin to doze off. My head hits the floor. Each faceless body stops. Death creeps up from inside of me. A loud buzz. An inconsiderate machine. It swallows each fragment with suction, rearranging me into a dismantled whole. They put my remains in a trash bag. They place a mirror where I hung. They change the name of The Elk Hotel.

They look into the mirror. They are foreigners to living. They are eternally dead. They could gaze into it forever and never begin to see things the way that I have. To never realize that each minute of life is borrowed time.

As I experience my end, I realize the insanity of never being free. For the first time since bullets took me to the ground, my outsides match my insides. I am broken beyond repair. Death is the only escape. I had been living through the experiences of others. Thinking was my survival, connecting me to the outer world. My mind was still running; the rest of me was long dead.