Author's Note: After some thought, and due to the highly sensitive nature of some of the topics in this story, I've decided it's appropriate to add a small disclaimer here. Not because I fear that people will be offended or even take this story seriously and actually hurt someone. Simply because we live in a society that shuns creative minds when they dip into the unsettling side of fiction.
So let it be said that this story is 100% fiction, and the suggestive themes of murder and suicide are for entertainment purposes only.
I regret feeling the need to add this, but these are sensitive times, and I need to protect myself from the less understanding types. Thank you, everyone, for the phenomenal support I've received so far!
I've discovered a horrifying truth... and now extinction may be the best hope we have.
I know it sounds crazy, and yes, the things I now know may be too much for our species to grasp. While the effects of your mind shattering might ultimately serve humanity's greater interests, I suppose the parts of me that remain human still possess some morbid, misplaced sympathy for the ignorant. After all, I've lived countless lifetimes blissfully unaware that we, as a species, are trapped. Not quite dead, but doomed in a purgatory-like state that, unless we intervene, will persist until all the stars in the sky go dim--and perhaps even beyond. Even so, this is the only reality we've ever known, and I can't help but understand those who'd simply prefer not to know. I only pray that our jailor doesn't realize what I've done here. For all I know, it can simply unmake every bit of progress I've suffered for, or even alter my memories and turn me back into one of the blissfully unaware meat puppets to which humanity has been reduced. I've eluded discovery so far. I just need to make enough people aware so that we can do something to change our fate.
Well... If you're still here, you're either ready for the truth, or I'm about to break another mind. Last chance to turn back.
Life in the late 2010s. That's where we are right now, right? Humanity is the same as ever; warring for ridiculous reasons, pushing the envelope with new technologies, and overall trying to find a purpose in our otherwise dull and uninteresting lives. I had cursed the daily slog, getting up every morning to trudge my way to my dead-end job and secretly hope that some great stroke of misfortune would strike my workplace and render it inaccessible--at least for a week or two. A gas leak, or some huge mess, or hell, a meteorite the size of a football crashing through the walk-in freezer. Something ridiculous like that. Knowing what I do now, the tedium of lower-middle-class American life seems hopeful. Ideal, even, compared to the truth.
It was at this point that I first became aware--at least, when I first began to peel back the layers of the veil of lies which composes our entire perception of the world around us. I was walking to work one morning, across the road in what I like to call mid-rural Florida. It wasn't all farmland and hillbillies, but the nearest Walmart was a good fifteen minutes away. A sleepy town at the edge of the suburbs, but before you hit the trailer parks, creepy farm houses, and swamps.
Still, quiet as it was, some things were the same no matter where you went. Maybe he'd been driving too fast for me to realize he was coming, or perhaps I'd simply fallen so deeply into the motions of the daily grind that I'd just mechanically wandered into the crosswalk without even looking. Neither determination would have changed the outcome as the dark-colored SUV plowed into my soft, frail human body.
It's true what they say; when you come close to death, everything just stops. For a moment I even thought the driver had slammed on his brakes and barely nudged me--but the sensation of the life slowly draining from my swiftly-breaking body made it all too real: This was what dying felt like. I caught the driver's eye in the split second we shared during the final moment of my life. Terror flashed across his gaze, as I'm sure it did mine, before the light drained from the world, and all sensation except for the dullest, most disconcertingly muted thud of impact left my perception. "Dead on impact", I'm sure the autopsy would have said. Barely enough time to even register the pain.
"This is it," I remember thinking, now, though at the time I was surprised I still had such a capacity for thought. "Bring on the pearly gates or the fiery abyss. Nothing stopping it now." I'd never been a religious man. Perhaps that's what ultimately kept me sane through this whole ordeal.
For just a moment, I became aware of something. Sensation. Movement. Not like someone was hefting my unmoving corpse onto a stretcher or anything--this was manual limb control. Locomotion. My arms, my legs... but I wasn't in control. Everything was dark, and there was only a faint clattering sound, like needles tapping on glass. Discontinuity followed, and as far as I was aware, I was alive again. Only I wasn't me, and I wasn't actually 'aware' of anything that'd just plowed my awareness from a mangled corpse into a new, working body. I was--well, let me stop there before I get hung up on who I actually am--or was, for that matter. It'll be irrelevant before long, anyway.
All you need to know is that I was reincarnated. We all are, it seems, but not in a manner you've come to expect. I wasn't "reborn", so much as I was... 'inserted' into another body roughly the same age as my past self. New identity, new memories, new... me. Completely seamless, without any knowledge of what had just happened. At least, at first. Life carried on like I'd never met my end at the business end of a speeding motor vehicle, and my existence on the complete opposite end of the world seemed as normal as ever. Until, of course, humanity exemplified both its lust for destruction and its unerring frailty once again.
My next death came at the hands of a homeless man on the streets of Moscow. He'd asked for change that I simply didn't have, and responded with an empty bottle of vodka to the back of my head when I relayed this to him. Once again, curtains of darkness drew over the world, and I became distinctly aware of being someplace other than the cold, snowy streets of Russia. Even more perplexing: I remembered the car accident. Every little detail of the wreck that had claimed my previous life was as fresh as if it'd just occurred. Before I could even think to puzzle over this, I felt this dark world slip away, but not before I heard the odd clattering sound again.
I went through many lives after that, in many places. Africa. Asia. Back in the US. I can barely remember most of them. It seems like only violent deaths can bring me back to that horrible place beyond the terminus of life. But through it all, I began to piece some things together, and the dark world that lingered in my perception after death became more clear. After a particularly gruesome death courtesy of a pair of wild dogs in Australia, I of course returned to the world beyond. Only this time, something changed.
I could see. For the first time, whatever passed for eyes in this body of mine could sense the world around me. I couldn't control where they looked, nor did I recognize the dark amber walls surrounding me, but I could finally see just where I went after each bloody death. I could tell it was dark, but my eyes were accustomed to it, perhaps built for low-light environments. I could also move, but I was not in control of my motions. At this point, I was a prisoner in this body, peering out through alien windows as whatever contained my consciousness moved about these dark, yellow-orange tunnels. The walls themselves looked almost organic. Chitinous or resinous, maybe. Slightly shiny, like they were wet. I couldn't feel anything, but once again I heard the tapping, tinking, clattering sound. I heard it in the distance, and very close every time my body walked. This surreal experienced lasted maybe fifteen minutes, providing a short-lived tour through the strange, alien tunnels, before I was pulled from purgatory and back into life.
Again, my recollection of this place ceased until my next bloody death. Again, my perception of it grew stronger, and continued to do so each time my life came to an abrupt and violent end. I can't remember how many times I'd gone through the cycle before the bombshell of dreadful, horrible truth descended upon my mind and mangled my perception of life, existence, and the universe as a whole.
I can't even recall how I'd died that time. I think the trauma of finding out where I went with each death took that knowledge wherever it took my sanity. For all the times I'd been to this place, I'd never seen another living soul, never spotted what made the strange clattering sound, and still had no idea what kind of body I had--if I even had one at all. For all I knew, I was just a soul in a jar being carried around by a demon, and this place was Hell. Really, that would have been preferable; the Biblical Hell was all fire, brimstone, and suffering, but at least you knew what you had. What you were. No one could have imagined this--no human mind in that pathetically luddite era of our history could have conceived of the things I now know, and if they had I'm sure they'd have killed themselves to ensure they never met this fate.
I was walking along--well, being walked, I should say, as I still had no control over my limbs--and eventually came to a new part of the world beyond. The tunnels opened into an enormous antechamber, where what appeared to be translucent pods made of rough glass or resin lined the towering walls. It was here that I finally saw them; the denizens of this horrible place. Huge, vaguely insectoid and pale. Vestigial wings hung limp from their back, and four spindly legs arched upward and curled down from a body that could only be described as a centaur of Greek myth, but all chitin, four arms tipped with grasping claws, and a vaguely wasp-like head, complete with twitching antennae.
I tried to scream, but my lips either refused to move or simply did not exist. Looking back, I don't know what good it would have done. I just couldn't think of anything else but to vocalize the horror of what unfolded before my eyes. The bug things were lowering the resin tubes off the walls, their needle-like legs piercing into the wall and allowing them to scale the sheer, amber surface. Here, the clicking and tapping sound was at its loudest, and I realized now what it was: The tapping of their feet against the resinous floors and walls. There must have been thousands of them in these caverns.
Panic rose in the phantom space that might have been my heart, as I was made to approach the wall. Up close, the things were just as pale and grotesque as anything else you'd expect to find in a near-lightless environment. There had to be a dozen in the room right now, some coming and going as they worked to peel open the tubes and retrieve some unseen treasure from inside. Many of the bugs appeared to be injured or damaged in some way; their carapaces pocked with holes, some missing entire limbs. Whatever the cause, they appeared entirely unconcerned with their wounds.
I stopped at the foot of the wall. I suppose I should have put two and two together by this point, but my mind refused to accept the theory stringing together in my mind. I watched a bug thing higher on the wall pass a tube down to a lower one. Then one even lower. Then... to me. Four chitinous graspers took careful hold of the tube and, with unimaginable strength, hauled it aside and set it down. My mind spun as I witnessed the hands--the ones attached to this body from which I viewed this terrible world--tear into the resinous membrane at the front of the tube. Only when my body tilted forward so it could view its own handiwork did I finally realize the truth.
Large, compound eyes. Wasp-like face, complete with antennae. Sharp, pincered mandibles. This was me. My face. My body. My hands. My prison. I think the shock of my realization awakened me to something, as sensation began to creep into my horrible clawed extremities. I begged for it to go away, to retreat into the recesses of whatever veil had held it back. This couldn't be me. I was a human being! This was all some horrible pre-death nightmare that only seemed quite so long because of the time distortion we experienced in dreams. My death at the intersection was my only true death, and I was just dreaming the rest of this. Just dreaming!
But the sensation persisted. No veil of darkness swept the world away, and no beam of light carried me to the heavens and away from this hellish world. I watched helplessly as the resin glass was torn away, and a dazed, but otherwise seemingly unharmed human came into view. The clawed hands which I refused to call my own made quick work of that, piercing into the man's carotid artery, producing a spray of blood and a gurgling sound I had previously figured exaggerated for gory movies. It tore into that body, dissecting flesh and bone with its powerful claws, ripping viscera apart and completely dismembering the human corpse. The sensation of human body parts squishing under my fingers made me want to vomit into the ethereal void that was my existence. Other workers approached and began to cart the mess of organs, limbs, and tissues away. My body carefully took the head in its hands, its claws effortlessly snapping off the jaw, ripping flesh from bone, and cracking the skull in just the right way to remove the intact prize waiting within.
It discarded the rest of the head, tossing the remnants into the open chest cavity of its victim, which another drone casually hefted into its impossibly powerful arms and began to cart away to places unknown. At this point, the darkness began to return. Despite my terror, I fought against it, clawed at the awareness of this world, desperate and horrified to know where this hellish rabbit hole went! I think something broke that time. Something in the system of life and death as it has been for humanity for... god, I don't even know how long, now.
I awoke to my new life, a flood of memories threatening to overtake me. A woman sat across from me at a table, and two children looked on vacantly. I nearly choked on the pasta in my mouth, and some words sputtered out in apology--in Swedish, I think, but I can't tell. No one looked at me. I hastily excused myself and stumbled upstairs, toward what I vaguely recognized as my bedroom. The tunnels. The bug things. I could still remember them, even now! Death brought me back there... so to find out what happened, I needed to die. And it couldn't be clean, either.
I dug through a drawer and found a large pocket knife. My mind raced--What the hell was I going to do? Yes, I had to know the truth, no matter how horrifying, but at what cost? Through the haze of broken, disjointed memories half-inserted into my addled brain, I realized that the woman downstairs must have been my wife, and those children...
God, I couldn't even think of it. It wouldn't just be my life I was destroying. As I struggled to make my decision, however, I realized something: They hadn't reacted at all when I'd stormed off from the table. None of them had even looked at me.
I went back downstairs and peered around the corner. They were still there at the table; my wife and two kids, mechanically forking noodles into their mouths. There was something horribly inhuman about the way they ate. I called out to my wife, but she didn't answer. I yelled to her this time--still nothing. What the hell was going on?
More fascinated than concerned, I hurried into the kitchen and smacked one of the kids in the back of the head. He didn't even flinch. He just kept eating. When I slid his plate away, he just reached his arm out farther for it. Not a single one appeared to realize I was there.
I'd seen enough. Whatever this was, it sure as hell wasn't the answers I sought. I brought the knife to my throat, held my breath, and did the deed. The pain surging through me as the blade pierced my carotid artery distracted me from the compulsion to stay in this place, to embrace the lie and forget the horrors I'd seen. But I couldn't. I had to go back to the truth, to see where it all wound up.
It didn't take long for me to bleed out. Sure enough, my consciousness returned to the inside of the wasp thing in the tunnels. It had made its way to another part of the structure, to what I could best describe as the end of an assembly line. Hundreds of fresh, new workers, free of any blemishes or wounds, sat lined up on the floor, their bodies rising and falling with their respirations, but otherwise inert. My organic prison skittered toward the nearest drone and, grasping the human brain in one hand, took hold of the new drone's head and pried open the back plate of its chitinous exoskeleton. The damn thing had a hollow head, save for the end of a spinal column. My hands carefully maneuvered the fresh brain into the drone's head, setting it atop the spine. Another hand went to my mouth, where a glob of sickly grey-green mucous was coughed up. The taste brought on another phantom gag reflex, and I couldn't even begin to describe it.
This disgusting snot ball was slathered around the base of the brain and spine, and the new drone's head was closed up. Its body twitched a couple times, then went full-on grand mal for half a minute. All the drones in the room stopped, but I hardly even noticed; the psychic scream ringing in my head was enough to drive me teetering back to the realm of the living, but I somehow managed to hang on just long enough to endure it. God, I wish I hadn't.
Memories flashed before my eyes. School children. Homework. A first kiss, maybe. First job. A funeral. Then, a black sky. Military air raid sirens, followed by the deafening rumble and blinding light of a MOAB colliding with... it.
I awoke in a human body once again. Just like last time, I was thrust into a brand new life, already in progress. Now, however, I didn't have to fight away the new memories. They came, and they found their place, but they were foreign. Irrelevant. The truth had firmly burned itself into my real brain. The one sitting in the once-vacant skull of a mass-produced drone, birthed by an entity humanity never had any hope of defeating.
The woman who must have been my wife shifted and turned toward me in our bed. She asked me what was wrong, and I responded effortlessly to her in French, telling her I was fine. She hummed sleepily and turned back over, apparently content. Her name was Amalie. We had two children, Jean and Camille. I was a successful software engineer, and she was a school teacher. All things considered, this wouldn't be a bad life to live. I could forget everything I'd seen and just continue on in ignorance. Hell, at least she realized I existed, unlike the Swedish woman. I could start over like this!
Only I couldn't. This life wasn't real. Nothing past January 4th of 2011 was real. I remembered it all, now; my last--or,rather, my only true death.
NASA and the ESA had co-discovered the anomaly in '02. An absolutely massive patch of dark space, slowly edging across the sky. It couldn't be seen by anything but the most powerful telescopes of the time, and it was nowhere near us... or so we figured. This curiosity turned nightmarish, as one day the shadow completely vanished, only to be discovered around three-thousand light years away from its original location. Not only that, but it had gotten closer. This continued for the next eight years; the shadow would travel to some seemingly random place in space, only to disappear and reappear again. Each time, it drew nearer. Each new discovery raised more and more alarm among the scientists studying the phenomenon, and word eventually got out that something big was headed our way. We still couldn't see what it was, of course. Space is dark, and it was still outside our solar system, unlit by any of our stellar neighbors. Even if light had reached it, we simply didn't have the technology to properly image it.
It wouldn't have mattered, anyway. All the world's combined arsenals, nuclear and otherwise, would have dented this thing at best. We knew it, too, when it finally appeared at the edge of the solar system, its vaguely circular body surrounded by pale, fleshy tendrils and jagged, rocky-looking flesh. If this thing wanted to kill us, it wouldn't have to try hard. Best estimates put the thing at just over fifty thousand kilometers across. About five times planet Earth's diameter, give or take. Yet despite its immense size, it seemed to have no gravitational effect on the bodies around it; it passed right by Pluto without flinging the tiny non-planet into the depths of space, nor did it appear at all disturbed by Jupiter's immense pull. This tendril-covered pseudo-planet spat in the face of gravity, and singlemindedly floated toward its destination: Earth.
Panic the likes of which no disaster movie could depict soon ensued. The approaching entity had done nothing to prompt any feeling of dread; it hadn't fired any weapons, shown any aggression, or so much as nudge another planetary body on its way here. But humans are flighty creatures at the best of times. People acted like the end was already upon us, pouring into churches, murdering those who'd wronged them in some final acts of revenge, fleeing the resulting carnage and chaos, or committing suicide en masse. Those who died before our jailor's arrival were the lucky ones, at least if their brains were destroyed in the process. I don't think it can use the broken ones.
I remember the day so vividly now. It's as if the newly-activated drone's seizing had reawakened it in my mind; some side-effect of the hivemind that keeps them running, combined with the final desperate cries of the freshly-implanted brain before its awareness was suppressed, its consciousness shunted into a new, artificial life. But I remember. The horrible tentacled thing rose over the horizon before it'd even gotten close. In the days before its arrival, people had formed cults dedicated to sacrificing their fellow man in its name, so that they might be spared. I never really learned of their fate, but I don't imagine this thing cared for their paltry offerings.
The thing's rocky surface lit up with tiny flashes of distant nuclear fire in the month leading up to its arrival; a sort of final act of rebellion in the face of complete annihilation. We all knew that, even if we managed to kill this thing, it was on a crash course with Earth. We'd be obliterated on impact. But humans are warlike at our cores, even if people refuse to admit it. There's something deeply primal about killing something that's trying to kill you, even if it won't necessarily mean your survival.
Eventually, the nuclear bombardment stopped. The world governments, suddenly freed from their old hatreds and conflicts, decided to hold the rest of their arsenal, on the odd chance that this thing meant to invade Earth, rather than simply crush it in some massive, unseen jaws. Well, they were half-right. An invasion did happen. They were simply wrong in their assumption that their weapons would make any difference.
The world darkened. Massive tendrils plunged into the ground, causing earthquakes the likes of which we'd never recorded. Ground defenses worldwide were rendered largely useless, and millions died in the resulting upheaval. I was one of the lucky ones, if you can call us that. Entire countries were reshaped overnight due to mass flooding and tectonic shifts, but those who survived were in for an even greater horror. The bug things. They descended through the tendrils, as if they were colossal, fleshy elevators, pouring out of hollow openings and charging heedlessly into the resisting human ranks. Unlike their floating master, the bugs could be killed. Hundreds of thousands were torn apart by gunfire, mortars, and aerial strikes. For months, the remaining holdouts fought the invaders, many opting for suicide to prevent capture, lest they be subject to whatever horrible things lie in wait up the fleshy tendrils and inside the colossal monstrosity above.
As our numbers waned and the ceaseless flow of enemies trampled over their own dead, the few remaining aerial transports opted to deliver nuclear devices to the front lines. Once a position was overrun, a bomb would be detonated, absolutely devastating the enemy ranks. But for every dead bug, two more seemed to crawl from the tendrils. They gathered the charred, irradiated remains of friend and foe alike, and crawled up the tentacle tunnels from which they came.
I met my end in the same manner as the human screaming in my head. I was captured, dosed with some kind of aerosol sedative, and stuffed into one of those resin pods. It was placed into one of the tendril walls, and slowly drawn into the upper levels of the creature in space. In my haze, I felt hopeful; maybe if we could kill enough of these things, we could get inside and strike back. We could kill the master. Maybe even survive in the apocalyptic hell it'd brought upon us. I held onto that hope even as one of these goddamn bugs tore my body to shreds, and I slipped into the all-encompassing darkness that is true death.
Then I woke up, a new man, and you know the rest. I can't tell you whether Heaven or Hell are real. I don't think any human alive that day will ever know, unless we do something to free ourselves from this madness. I've died, lived, and died again so many times since I learned the truth, and I have some theories about what exactly this thing is. This is more than just the musing of a madman; I believe the things I've learned may yet save us from this fate.
For one thing, our home is gone. Forget all illusions about going back to Earth, because there simply isn't an Earth to go back to. Over time, I've dipped into the hivemind, listening to the echoes of thought riding on psychic waves that control the drones, and I've watched it tear apart our beloved planet more times than I probably should have. I've seen this thing's thoughts, its ideas, its... dreams. I can't tell you why it's doing this; it doesn't think like we do. It doesn't communicate in words or syllables. It speaks in a language of ideas. Of urges. Of intent. It drives its drones to do things, and they do them. To be honest, I don't even think it's consciously aware of the state of humanity. In my push to understand this thing's mind and comprehend its thoughts, I haven't come across any impression that it does anything but maintain the illusion in which we all live. But therein lies the tiny sliver of hope I've managed to dredge from the depths of my broken mind.
Something this big and this powerful expends a lot of energy. Even its means of teleporting through space--a mechanism I still fail to understand--can't bring it to its destination instantaneously. It coasts along in space in a dreamlike state to preserve what energy it has, using its drones to process organic material from the species it harvests. Yes, that's 'species', plural. We aren't alone up here. Not only did this thing take every living human from planet Earth, it also consumed all the plant and animal matter it could find, and every last scrap of mineral-rich earth it got its tendrils on. But more than that, there are other minds up here. Minds which were here before humans were taken. Minds from other worlds, trapped in similar illusions to ours. For now, they seem to be unreachable, but I believe that if we make enough humans aware, we can save them, too.
That brings me to my plan, and stay with me on this. I'm alive right now--well, in the facsimile of life that you call planet Earth in 2019. I've written these notes in just about every language known to man, having lived through so many lives already and retained so many memories. For now, this plan is safe from the prying eyes of our jailor, as it's still asleep, scanning the cosmos with senses indescribable to human minds, in search of new life to absorb. Why it does this is still beyond my understanding; maybe it's a living vacuum cleaner, sucking up the garbage life in the universe. God only knows we'd qualify. Maybe it's some sick and twisted means of cataloguing life and preserving it before it's wiped out by some cataclysm. Or perhaps it's completely meaningless, like all life, and the universe is just cruel and unforgiving and horrifying in ways we could have never comprehended. I suppose we'll never know, but there is a way out.
You have to die. Not only do you have to die, and gruesomely so, but you have to kill. As many people as possible. Brutally. Violently. Take as many lives as you can, as often as you can, and spread the HELL out of this message. I know it sounds insane, and I hope it is. God, I hope I've just done a metric ton of drugs and been delirious for the past decade. Anything would be preferable to this hell. But you have to believe it. Surely you've seen the signs already: Flickers of memories from past lives, sensations of deja vu, and the sense that half the people around you are just facsimiles of human life, waiting for a soul--a mind--to be implanted. That's why we're stuck into already-set lives after we die; because this thing has invented them for us already. There are empty shells of human beings, like my Swedish family countless lives ago, wandering this pseudo-Earth every day, just waiting for some fool to kick the bucket and fill a new role. And it's so seamless, that it's almost perfect. Almost.
I leave you with this plea: Do your part to save humanity. It's our only hope, not for survival, but an end to our imprisonment. A species-wide mercy killing to free us from the false reality in which our minds are held captive. And I know you're asking, "Why would I want to know all this? Is ignorance not bliss, if the alternative is just watching myself chop people up and feed them to a giant space monster all day?"
Well, maybe. But here's the juicy part: Recently, I've made a startling new discovery. I was testing the extent of my senses in my drone body, and I found that I was able to wiggle the end of my antennae. Just the end. Just a little. But like an arm you've slept funny on that's gone numb overnight, that little wiggle paves the way for greater motion. And if this thing stays asleep long enough for more of us to become aware, well... we could do a lot of damage, given the right circumstances.
Live as a slave, or die free. We've made that choice as a species time and time again. Why not partake in one last rebellion? One final collective middle finger flipped at the universe that decided we weren't good enough? I'll see you out there, friends. Happy hunting.
Written by Spookfox