In the early morning, before the sun rose and the town awoke, he stood barefoot on the cold mountain stone, awaiting his fate. It was here, high above the artifice and humanity below, atop the bluffs and outstretched overlook, that he stared at spear tips and determined faces ready to block his salvation. He was accused and found guilty, neither protestation nor desperate plea would prove of any use now. The precipice was just a few steps behind him, and beneath it, beneath all known life, lay the Abyss.
It was told the Abyss had always been there. The first generations believed it to be one of the world’s imperfections; an incomplete void the Creators left as an oversight. Thus it was declared that those deemed unworthy and unfit for society would be cast into the Abyss, forever cleansed from this world. Here now, on the precipice of oblivion, he took two steps forward and peered over the edge. Beneath him now, beneath everything, he saw darkness. It was a darkness that looked to swallow all that lay above, a gaping maw that consumed the rocky cliffs that jut out of its chasm, that would consume him. He trembled as fear overcame him, sullen eyes now turning back toward his staunch accusers. He wanted to say something, working over and over again to manufacture the words that would free him from his fate, but after all this time all he could muster, the last echo of his hope, came in the form of …
He was ignored.
Before him, the jagged barricade of spears parted and from beyond their wall approached an armored woman, scroll held aloft in her hand. He had recognized her as the Captain of the Guard, although he had never personally made her acquaintance.
“Talo Ward, you have been tried, you have been found guilty, and you have been sentenced to the Abyss. All of your worldly possessions are now forfeit. You will be removed from the annals of society, you will be forgotten. You will leave no legacy.”
As the echo of her decree rang away, the spears sprung forward, which was met with sturdy grunts from their wielders. He glanced longingly around him, as if expecting a hand to hoist him to safety, a winged creature to carry him from this place, but he was alone. As the spears reached his position he lashed out toward them, cursing his fate. As their jabs struck him, he recognized the familiarity of their impact, an almost nostalgic sensation of agony, muted by adrenaline and terror. He recoiled, not out of pain but from necessity until finally, his foot felt nothing but the void beneath it, and with that, he plunged.
He knew nothing as he fell. The air around him became bitter, enraged by his presence. The wind howled through his soul, he was both weightless and heavy, motionless, yet moving. Still, the inevitability that he dreaded alluded him, for there was nothing but the absence of light and the languor of his flesh. He embraced the infinity of his being, and soon enough his thoughts faded with his acceptance.
He felt… small. He acknowledged that there was once more ground beneath his feet, although he couldn’t see it to confirm it. He could see nothing. Even still, he didn’t assume himself to be blind, only that the space he was in lacked the ability to maintain light. But even this observation proved insufficient, and before him, he began to sense a presence. The soles of his feet felt the pound of the figure’s approach, a soft yet familiar cadence of step. He could sense it closer and closer now, soon not just with his feet, but with his ears, then finally with a scent, violet orchids, sweet honey. He recognized it, though he dared not believe it to be true. His eyes fluttered, crystal globes of water descending onto forgotten cheeks.
There she was, a long-forgotten echo of a kinder reality. He beheld her now, just as he remembered, soft onyx locks draped over plump cheekbones and emerald eyes, gaunt yet elegant. He went to embrace her but found his hug reached no higher than her knees.
“Oh my sweet little warrior, what is it that makes my baby weep?” She leaned down and wiped the tears from his eyes. He felt it, as her hand swept across them, fingers much larger than they should be, and he rejected it, and his form. He was small, he was young, but he knew he shouldn’t be.
“What are you? How is this possible?” He had fallen. “Where am I?”
“My dear boy, whatever are you talking about? Have you been around Maku again? I told you he was trouble” she said with that smile that narrowed her vision.
“I… I was on the precipice and now… none of this makes sense.” His mother’s brow furrowed as he finished speaking.
“Talo Ward! Did you go to the precipice? You must never go look at the Abyss, you understand?”
Without thinking, the automated response manufactured from years of conditioning escaped his body.
“Good. Now don’t look so down my little warrior, Mommy made you your favorite.”
“Salmon and sweet rice?” he said in excitement. She burst into laughter, reaching her hand out to her son.
“Let’s go home dear, Mommy will make it all better.” As he grabbed her hand, a cold voice crept throughout all of his being, merely uttering a single phrase.
He was on the precipice once more. Before him was a row of spears, trained at his body. His feet stung against the cold mountain stone. Once more, the wall parted, and the Guard Captain approached. He had done this before. He had done this today. What he knew as today. What he knew as moments before, yet what felt like forever ago.
“Talo Ward, you have been tried, you have been found guilty, and you have been sentenced to the Abyss. All of your worldly possessions are now forfeit. You—”
He shook his head in disbelief. His thoughts rambled, parsing all scenarios and all that he knew, but nothing could explain this. He thought he remembered his mother, but he knew she was long gone. The Captain looked at him as if expecting him to say something, and he felt required to oblige.
“We, we’ve already done this. You already said that!” He knew how foolish he sounded, but he knew it to be the truth, even if they wouldn’t.
The Captain turned her head in confusion, before returning the decree. He tuned her out as she spoke, now recalling the voice he heard. Again. He scrambled to find meaning, but nothing could explain the impossible. He once more peered into the Abyss, now feeling acquainted with its reality, although that acceptance did not bring him peace, but rather a new sense of dread. The infinitesimal sensation of falling reentered his mind, and he once more rejected his fate, now with new vigor. He charged at the spears before him, which lashed out in retaliation. The impact of the sharpened tips pierced through his unwilling flesh, causing him to crumble to the ground beneath. His vision waned in and out of focus, with the blur of the Captain coming into view.
“Disgusting worm.” She grumbled, before kicking him over the side.
Once more, he was himself and felt weak. Just a older than before, yet younger than he knew himself to be. Beside him, he felt another familiar figure, although he could not see within the void. He could sense him though, the demon beside him, his hateful gaze washing over him. He could feel his weight, broad shoulders and jagged jaw, rough brows, and cold steel eyes. He knew it was Father. Where before there was joy, there was only anger.
“How could you let this happen? Why didn’t you stop them?” His father turned to him now, beams of resentment cutting through him.
“I, I tried. There were too many of them, and they had weapons.”
“You miserable wretch, they killed her, and you just watched. It should have been you, not her.” He stooped down to his eyesight. “They should have killed you.” With that, he struck him across the face, sending him recoiling down to the ground. He could feel it. He knew it wasn’t real, but at that moment it was the only reality he knew.
This time, he would say what he couldn’t when he was powerless.
“You should have been there, if you were there you could have stopped them. It, it isn’t my fault you weren’t there to protect us.”
“You would blame me, you cretin? Filth, that’s what you are and all you’ll ever be. Pawning off your failures onto me. You deserve this fate.”
At that moment, the illusion of his reality shattered. His father, or whatever this shade before him was, was not oblivious of this place as his mother had been. He acknowledged the Abyss.
“My fate? Where are we? What is this!?” Talo screamed now at the man before him.
The voice that answered wasn’t his father. The voice that answered spoke what it had spoken before.
When he came to once more, he was again on the precipice. But now he was filled with a cacophony of emotions rattling through his soul. He lashed out at the void behind him and the people before him.
“I didn’t think he would die! He wasn’t supposed to die! It wasn’t my fault, he tripped back, and, and his head hit the step! I didn’t kill him! It wasn’t my fault!”
The Guard Captain once again walked forward, this time parchment at her side, as he roared before she could speak.
“Pathetic, this one is undeserving of his decree. You may cast him into the Abyss immediately.”
In the repetition, he recognized the pattern of their movement. As one spear lurched out toward his stomach he grasped it around the top of its hilt, catching its wielder off-guard. Flipping it around, he brandished it at his would-be assailants. Desperately he flailed at them, at one point catching one of the guardsmen in the chest, implanting the spear within his breast. But he was overcome, and once more descends into the depths of oblivion.
He awoke this time and felt nothing. He waited for a figure from his past to approach, but there was nothing amongst the void, amongst the darkness. He waited for what felt like hours, standing motionless, his mind blank. He couldn’t comprehend. He didn’t want to comprehend.
In the darkness, he felt the familiar hatred emerge from the horizon of blackness. There was a faint light radiating from him, crimson in color, sanguine in reflection. Talo felt nothing as he crept up to him, halting once he reached where he had been standing.
“You could not live with your failures. You could not live with the burden of knowledge that I represented. You cower at confrontation. You deny reality because it suits you. But you cannot escape it.”
He no longer saw the man before him as his father. Instead, he merely gazed at this creature of the void, its words impenetrable to his ignorance.
“What are you?.” he asked blankly.
“You know who I am, boy. Don’t deny knowledge of your own blood. Don’t think you can forget me. The man you killed.
The anger crept up once more, shattering the facade.
“You fell. It wasn’t my fault.” He cried.
His father burst into a hearty laugh, although it wasn’t his own. The voice felt melded with something, something familiar. Within it, he felt that tender hand, the sweet rice, and tasty salmon. Within that laugh, he was her little warrior. But there was something else, something looming in the shadows of its boom, the voice he had heard now twice before. He could feel the coldness of its voice, hiding within his family, lurking within the darkness.
“You would blame me again for your ineptitude? You would kill me and believe it was my fault? How truly lost are you that you would so desperately deny what you know to be true?”
He denied it because he didn’t know the alternative. He couldn’t grasp the reality of his forbearance. But as reality had become so shrouded in obscurity and lack of objectivity, he could no longer reject the truth. With ferocity, barbarity, and savagery he screamed into the Abyss.
“Enough, I would kill you again and again if fate allowed it. I failed. Is that what you wish to hear? I wasn’t strong enough to save my own mom. But you would have had me endure all the suffering in the world, striking me down for the failure we shared. My dereliction doesn’t excuse your own. I wasn’t strong enough then, but it was you who was weak when I struck you down like the beast you were.”
When the rage, the heavy breath, and heated face subsided, he was all that remained. The ghost of the demon was gone.
When he was himself once more, his mind was clear. Now on the precipice, he was at peace, the spears in front of him offered him no anxiety. He nodded to them, as if declaring intent, then spoke.
“I am aware of my crime. I won’t deny that I killed my father. He was an evil man. If fate decrees I must enter the Abyss for ending his life, I don’t object. I would do it all again.” He said, pausing. “Knowing I’d end up in oblivion.”
The guards before him shuffled their spears in confusion, heads turning to one another, before fixating on the Captain. She slinked forward to begin her decree, but Talo stopped her.
“Your decree is not necessary Captain. I go at my own accord.”
With that, he turned once more to the precipice, once more to the void and to oblivion, and lept headfirst into the Abyss.
Here now in the Abyss, he accepted his fate. He pondered on the potential of a spectre, but something within him no longer expected it. Instead, he stood there, no longer encased in fear, standing on absent anticipation. This time when the figure approached, he didn’t recognize footsteps, nor scent or sound. It was new.
As it reached him, as his eyes were able to aid him once more, he realized what it was, who it was; it was himself. This shade was his own reflection, own body, steely eyes, and onyx locks staring back at him. Once it reached a position just within arm’s length, it stopped and took up the position of his mirror. It was him, echoing his movements, each arm raise, and head tilt perfectly mimicked. At this moment he understood, and reached out his hand, as his shadow reached out its own. When they reached, when he felt those familiar yet foreign fingertips, the shadow began to seep into his very being, its essence slowly consumed through his own fingers. It spread throughout his body, filling each fiber of his flesh with oblivion until they were one entity, one reality. In that moment of oneness, he grasped its true existence and welcomed it. The voice spoke once more, this time from his own mouth, his own words.
From the Abyss he ascended, carried by dark wings of angelic oblivion, lifting him from fate itself. The wind danced across his face, filling his pale cheeks with rosy invigoration. He was alive, truly alive now, the void crashing in his wake, the ever-present maw receding into obscurity. When he reached the precipice, the guards, now walking the mountain path, recoiled and braced themselves against the fierce winds that accompanied his arrival. He could sense them quailing beneath him at his return, but he cared little for them now. Now, his fate was his own.
Spencer Kern is a recent graduate from Rutgers University with a love for exploring human interaction and conflict through the lens of speculative fiction. He says his story, “The Fall” examines the relationship between guilt and self-acceptance in a series of mind-bending visits from figures of the central character’s past.