Walking vacant New York streets at night, lights diffuse over tainted snowbanks. Towering silhouettes scrape into a claustrophobic red sky. Atmospheric silence
echoes off the pavement. I turn down an alley and icy winds slice, whipping my bare
back. I pull my forearms inward, noticing a coating of frost on them. Glancing forward, I
see faces in the blizzard. Decrepit people slouched against a crumbling brownstone,
their moans muffled by the howls of the winds.
Down the alleyway, I spot a warm glow. Ignoring it, I approach a person for
assistance, but discover his blank eyes, glossed over by plastic. Touching his shoulder,
his head snaps toward me and releases a hideous scream. I jerk back, falling into the
snow. Lying contorted in hypothermic cold, I scan the alley’s inhabitants once more;
receiving no acknowledgment, I reluctantly begin my trek toward the light.
Enveloped by the opaque storm, I stomp through deepening snow. Arriving at the
light, it is revealed to be a fire. Warming my hands over the flames, I notice chains.
Large crude iron handcuffs shackle my wrists. Despite the pyre’s heat, the shackles
remain chilled, the cold piercing into my wrists. The icy metal bores into my tendons as
the fire’s heat increases, burrowing into my bones. Wrestling with the chains, my
screams are lost amid the wails of the human husks behind me. Their glossed, plastic
eyes drowning in snow.
Suddenly, the roar of a diesel engine bellows from behind the blizzard. A light
appears in the darkness, enclosed by a masculine form. The sepulchral figure marches
closer, an uncouth industrial rumble crescendoing with his approach. Stopping on the
other side of the pyre, the orange light illuminates a chiseled physique. His chest is a
hole containing a radiant blaze. A vortex of internal combustion floating mid-cavity,
pieces of his own flesh are consumed and ignited. An incandescent light blazing from
each engulfed bit of tissue ignited.
Robotic hands raise a lit cigarette past the cyborg’s lacerated neck to a mouth
with steel teeth. Briefly inhaling, then exhausting dark smoke out his nose. His face is
human and natural, with familiar green eyes gazing right through me.
Intimidated, I step back, dropping my hands. The chains are getting heavier.
Unable to hold them up, I’m yanked down to the frozen street. Hunched over, I seek the
fire and see that the cyborg is gone; instead, a form of myself is standing in waist-high
flames. Blood dripping out of a panting mouth. Arched over my shivering body, his
dilated pupils stare into me. Turning my heavy head, I look around for help, only to
discover grotesque horror. A tenebrous and cavernous lake of ice saturated with gaunt
souls. Their twisted bodies trapped in heinous torture. Tears pooling under plastic
sheets. Open mouths holding stagnant cries behind tongues. Noise perpetually
reverberating inside ear canals plugged by their own palms. I’ve entered a ring of
Cocytus, reserved for those who betrayed themselves.
I turn back toward the fire. My reflection is now panting, staring over the hearth.
It begins to evaporate. His blood dissipates, his posture straightens, his teeth galvanize
as the reflection molds into the infernal cyborg. His green eyes stare into me and I stare
back. Fighting the pull of the chains, I stand, our gazes meeting over the pyre. Raising
my shackled hands, I cast them over the flames. I hear the cries of the damned, the
cracking of glaciers and the howling of Lucifer’s winds all fade against the sound of the
cyborg’s diesel exhaust. Suddenly clear, I bolt forward and sink teeth into my tendons,
chains and hands falling to the flame.
Ben Connolly can be reached at [email protected]