Well, I mean, I had fun with this. So there's that. I mean, sure, it's not quite the romances I used to write as "enter your desired username", but, you know, this still has heart in it.
A bleeding, quivering heart.
Err, happy late Halloween everybody.
You're right to suppose there's something wrong with me. And I'd be mad to deny that there's anything wrong with me. I admit this fully, whilst also hoping that you'll understand why I wouldn't anticipate my attitude getting any better. Indeed, it has taken me quite some time to decide whether I ought to even respond to you—being cold-shouldered is not my style, I know, but on this occasion I thought it best to keep you as ignorant as possible. That word will likely bite at you like a gust of cold wind, but I mean it with as much compassion as I can out behind a single word. There are simply things that even gods should not know.
But I will tell you anyways, because I feel as though I must tell someone. And perhaps you're the right person to tell—I deeply suspect that you may already sense what I have learned, where-as Clark would no doubt be crushed by this burdensome weight. I choose my language very carefully Bruce—what I have learned feels like a weight tied around my legs.
What happened is that, not too long ago, I finally heard back from a dear friend of mine. Her name is Barbara Ann Minerva, and for a time you likely would have remembered meeting her when she was, shall we say, in a much different state. Cheetah, I am proud to say, was no more—though the curse that befell her would reoccur like a particularly vicious virus, she had finally found a cure. I had no part in her recovery, though I wish that I had. All the same, Barbara—through a fierce intelligence that I wish members of the Justice League had known as well as I—finally found her salvation. She could return to doing what she loved most—exploring the world, charting cultures, and immersing herself in the diversity of human life.
As I said Bruce, I choose my language very carefully. "Had known" was deliberate—just as I am proud to say that Cheetah is no more, I am equally saddened to say that Barbara has now gone as well. Though, here I am, showing the second edge to careful language—I am saddened, but I'm also thoroughly terrified. I wish I could say I mean no alarm, but I cannot—Barbara died under highly distressing circumstances, and I only just found out a mere two week ago (which, as you will no doubt recall, is precisely when I began to act detached, withdrawn, lost; all the common signifiers of someone who is trapped within some unpleasant thought).
We all are, a voice whispers to me. You can't hear it, but I believe that you feel it none-the-less. We all are trapped within some unpleasant thought.
Before Barbara died, we had one final encounter. She was in London (though she could not gain affiliation with a University after her criminal escapades, she had sympathetic souls still within academia; the University College London, in particular) and had asked me to meet her there. She did not say "as soon as possible," but my ears could detect her urgency as clearly as though it was a nuclear blast. I was in London by the hour.
She greeted me on the roof of the faculty building, covered in the remains of a rainstorm that has passed through. She did not accept my offer of dry clothes or to fly us someplace warm—she merely begged that I listen. And listen I did.
"Diana…I may have made a mistake," she said.
"How so?" I said. I tried to move closer, but she backed away from me instinctually.
"I…you know, um, that old saying? Curiosity killed the cat?" I nodded. "Right, well, somewhere along the way I went and forgot all about it, seems like. Left me in a bit of a rotten state as a result."
I could hear a tone of humour die on her lips. She was trying to jokingly dismiss whatever was bothering her, but Barbara was having no success. Again I tried to move forward, and again she backed away.
"What happened?" I asked. "I've…I've never heard you this anxious before. Is someone after you?" That was the only explanation I could think of—her past was coming back to get her, someone from her Cheetah days was determined to drag her back.
But the moment I saw her eyes, Bruce—I knew that was not the case.
"Oh, sweet Jesus," she said to me, "I bloody wish that was…no, Diana, nobody's after me."
"But you—" I paused, considered my words. "I can get you help, Barbara. It would be no trouble at all—I could fly you to any hospital or clinic or doctor you want."
"Doctors can't help me—can't help anybody," she said. "But listen, I do need your help. Your specific help—frankly, I can't think of any other way to get past this. It's going to sound unbearably selfish and petty and cowardly, but—"
I cut her off—I did not need to hear anymore. "Barbara, you'll never find judgement from me." I then tried to smile. "Whatever it is, I will be there with open arms."
Perhaps it is because of my own innate selfishness that I expected a smile in return, but part of me believes that I simply could not comprehend how bad things were destined to get. Still, in this very moment, I can scarcely comprehend. So when Barbara merely stood rigid, frozen like stone, I let my mind drift to potential requests she might make. It had always benefited me before to be prepared—I see now that such a thing is foolish, in the scheme of existence.
Besides, I did not anticipate her response. She said, "Take me to Paradise Island. Let me gather some things, call some people, and then take me there. Please. After that, you and I can figure out what we're going to do."
I felt my brow crinkle. "I…all right, Barbara. I see no reason why not. I would like some more information, if that is at all—"
She thrust a brown folder into my arms. It was covered in a clear plastic and slick with rain—at the time, I chalked up her white knuckles and scrap-covered hands to her grip and the cold, cold air. Backing away from me again once she was sure I had the documents safe in my arms, she began to shake her head.
"You'll figure it out when you read that. Tonight, please—we're taking a big, big risk every second we're not on Themyscira. Bigger than you can possibly imagine."
"Then we shouldn't waste any further time," I said. Perhaps, if I had slowed her down and demanded more information, a tragedy could have been stalled. But not prevented—no, I have long since disabused myself of the notion that any great tragedy can be prevented.
We're living in one now, a voice whispers to me again. Perhaps you can hear it now too, Bruce. I'm not sure if it is better for you to hear it, or only hear the silence.
Barbara exited the roof, and so did I. I retired back to the Embassy and immediately opened the documents. It contained Barbara's last hopes, I would soon realize. I would discover they were merely false hopes equally soon.
What was in the folder was a detailed travelogue of an expedition Barbara had taken with a detachment of archeologists and anthropologists at the UCL. It was an expedition to an uncharted island in the South Pacific, one that had been recently discovered thanks to an accident involving a weather satellite. I was shocked to hear of this: I had no idea Barbara was leaving for an island, nor did anyone else. I myself had given lectures at UCL, and from what I could remember, no talk about islands or exploration had ever made it through the channels.
The island was abandoned, they discovered—no animal life or signs of indigenous tribes could be spotted. But they discovered the camp of another, previous expedition. This group had been there a mere five years before, and according to documents located in the camp had departed with just as much fanfare as Barbara's group. For me, it was as strange to hear Barbara describe her departure as it was for her to read of the previous expedition. A great deal of disquiet had formed in her gut—she did not say this explicitly in her manuscript, but I could sense it behind every word.
Behind every word, behind every face, inside each star and between every void. That has been whispered in my minds ear ever since I read the manuscript. I did not know where it came from, but now I do.
What followed was an exercise in essentially discovering a discovery—this forgotten expedition, this one that was seemingly erased, had uncovered documents from yet another expedition, and, as I'm sure you can guess, that expedition had done the same. A seemingly infinite chain of discovery, originating from nowhere anyone could decipher, had laid buried on this island in installments that stretched back decades. Names were engraved in these writings that, supposedly, had belonged to celebrities of their time—and yet neither Barbara nor I could put a face to them. Beyond that similarity, the documents all talked of uncovering a horrible truth—one springing out from some place that nobody could pinpoint. It was the truth, Barbara's manuscript said, of Nethescurial.
Nethescurial, all the documents say in unerringly similar prose and tone, is the true name of God. Though this is not the God of the Bible or the Quran or any other religion—it is not the divine power that runs through and unites all of our polytheistic religions, such as the one I belong to. This was a presence, the presence—the omnipresent entity that Einstein referred to as "Spinoza's God". Only even then that is not quite accurate, because the documents Barbara unearthed declared that this god was utterly, maddeningly malignant. The reality it represented was warped and decaying—a nightmare that had sprung forth from an abyss of blackness no mind could comprehend. Everything was a loose, moth-eaten cover for the true inhuman evil that sat at the heart of all creation. This was not pantheism, the documents said; this was pandemonism. And every document punctuated its bleak announcement with the very same line:
"I am not dying in a nightmare."
Those that discovered this did not have time to go mad, not at first. Members of each expedition would die in their sleep the night after the discovery was made. Barbara did not go into detail, but each death was apparently horrific, filled with gibberish that spat at descriptions of what lies beyond, what awaits everyone after death. Our ears either could not understand what was said or something within us scrambled the incoming message, but each member of each group was left assured on an emotional level that what happened after our eyes close for the final time was unimaginably terrifying.
But so, they began to realize, was what preceded it. The moment the lifeless body stopped spasming, reality would bend and contort. A peeling of the membranes of life could be felt, and like a rancid gas being forced upon you, the world would begin to strike out. Every shadow, every shape, every flicker at the corner of your vision—the true, underlying terror that brought these things into being, that gave them existence, was revealed to these explorers. Escape was a must, escape became a compulsion—but the only escape was death, and they had ample proof that something frightening awaited them on the other side.
Those left were trapped between a nightmare of life and a nightmare of death, and then—only then—did madness take them. They would go cackling into that eternal night as the slaughtered one another, forced each other to gaze into the familiar and see the rotten ground that gave it being. They would cackle even as their eyes filled with terror, and it was here, reading the journal, that Barbara heard the first screams.
She left her group, unable to feel anything but fear. She immediately returned to London—where all had forgotten that she left—and contacted me. I had just finished reading her own account when the whispers of a word invaded my mind (you can guess what it is, can't you Bruce?) The phone rang then, and I was told by a frantic ER nurse that Barbara had been struck by a car.
That was why I missed that meeting two weeks ago, Bruce. I was in a London hospital, watching my friend scream and twist and cry about a coming darkness that threatened to consume her. Not a hint of peace entered her eyes, not a second was spent where she didn't beg me to save her. And I could not, Bruce—the Purple Ray that may have repaired her crushed kidneys and liver would not make it to the hospital in time. I sat by her side and tried to guide her into her passing as peaceful as possible, but peace was never Barbara's to hold. She died screaming, Bruce, and the name she screamed joined the whispers in my head.
I did not have time to grieve. I still do not. I did not even have time to rationalize her story, to try and make sense of the twisted logic and the horrid truths. The moment she died I saw the room shift, I saw reality bend, and I merely glimpsed something behind the thin curtain that I cannot bring myself to recreate on paper. What is worse—when I finally forced my legs to move, when I finally returned to the embassy, despite all the terror Barbara underwent and is likely still subjected to, nobody except me remembered she even existed. Were it not for her manuscript, and the brutal peak behind the veil it offered me, I do no doubt I would have forgotten her as well.
Reality continues to bend for me, Bruce. I continue to see mere shadows of things that should not exist. And yet these shadows form the basis of our world—or, should I say, shadow. Singular. One Thing. One God. One Nethescurial. I tried to go to Themyscira for guidance, and to see if we could not grant immortality to all, to prevent them from sharing the fate of anyone in this life who has died. But I could not go—the illusion of Paradise, the illusion of immortality, it was so thoroughly warped by what I know that Themyscira looks merely like the first in an infinite regress of Hells. My mother and my sisters are trapped in a Hell they cannot see, and I envy their ignorance, just as I envied yours, Bruce.
I share all of this with you because I think you know. If you do not know, you at least have assumed at one point or another. Watching your parents die opened the veil up just enough for you to see its darkness. It scarred you as it has scarred me, and I feel as though you are the only one on this accursed rock, floating in an accursed void, held together by an accursed nightmare, that I can be candid with.
I am frightened, Bruce. But for reasons I do not understand, I am not frightened of what lies beyond death. Or, for that matter, of the inhuman choice between the nightmare of life and that of the unknown—the deadly illusion of now and the indescribable evil of after. That thought does not consume me as it consumed Barbara, both figuratively and literally. I am frightened, Bruce, because I know what pantheism entails—it means that God is not just within us, we are a part of him. So, naturally, what does that mean when God is, in fact, a Demon?
We are heroes Bruce—we are supposed to do Good, to help people. And yet we are parts of a Demon, a sadistic demiurge that tears bits and pieces of itself off, tortures them now and for eternity after, and yet is still whole, still complete. God is reality and Reality is evil—and if we are just as much a part of reality and of God, then we are just as much a part of that evil. You may understand God hating us all, Bruce, but it is this fact—this truth—that I doubt you can understand, that I doubt we can want to understand.
You and me.
Clark and Lois.
Arthur and Gordon and Hippolyta and Barry.
Zeus and Luther and Alfred and Grodd.
Would this not be the ultimate torture, the ultimate joke? Would hero and villain and civilian alike not shudder at the prospect of looking behind our faces and finding what I now know is there? Would everything we have struggled to build not be reduced to the sickest, the most painful rebuttal of life and good and hope and grace we could possibly imagine?
Help me understand Bruce. Please, help me understand.
Are we all just servants to a nightmare?
Ligotti comes up with such cheery propositions, doesn't he?