Chapter 1 - Wide Angle
"Is the last thing I'm gonna see before I die a bird? Gonna shit on me, aren't you?" The man spoke, bitterness accenting each word.
The bird looked down at the man, and cocked its head once more. The man was tied to a wooden pole, which jutted upwards from the platform he was residing on. A slack rope was tied around the man's neck, rooting him to the spot somewhat. Two other men were near him; one dressed in priest’s clothes reading from a book, spouting random passages from the Bible.
That book isn't gonna justify what you're about to do. I'm up here and the frothing masses are down there, throwing their words and their hate at me as temporary replacements for the stones they usually throw. I'm still not entirely sure why I'm up here, considering how my life's been, but I guess that's the lot I drew, the card that was dealt. And what can I do to stop this shit? Nothing.
The bird nuzzled the man's head strangely, and then flew away, some of its feathers falling down lightly atop the man's shoulder. No one made a move to brush them off, but their presence was slightly calming to the man. He looked upon the crowd one more time, and tried to paint a picture of what they saw of him. In his mind, when he looked in a mirror, he saw a forty-year-old good-for-nothing living in a hovel, in an illustriously grime-ridden ghetto somewhere in downtown Portland. The Willamette had become more and more polluted each day because of the human refuse that lived there, or at least that’s what he blamed it on. Age and experience had drawn lines across his face, making valleys where there used to be plains, crevices where there used to be self-entitled perfection. He had let his hair grow out; it went well past his shoulders, and his beard was thick and scraggly, making him look haggard. He gave off the impression of being a stereotypical vagrant, and he was content with that. Dull, listless black eyes adorned the upper half of his face, and he knew he'd never win over anyone with them. People always went on and on about how great people's eyes were, but they were never talking about him. He didn't need jewel eyes to see through all the crap. He was wearing a somewhat-expensive brown overcoat over a wool shirt, which was torn and raggedy, ravaged from use. His pants were shoddy and dirty, and his shoes were torn up from all the running, all the running he had to do from everything that ever gave him a problem.
But no, this was not entirely the problem. It was never what he thought of himself, it was always them; it was always other people. Very much like the numerous, congregating mob in front of him that so rabidly wanted to tear his throat out, drag his entrails along the streets and let the hordes of vermin chomp and nibble at the blood and guts. They wanted him decapitated and angled so that the fountain of juices would stream out all over them, and the last thing he would see would be the masses clamoring for a taste, drinking greedily. They thought they were enacting judgment here, but they weren't. They were enacting vengeance. Vengeance overrides all judgment in the human mind, to the point where it doesn’t matter if you're innocent or guilty; someone has to pay for the crimes of another, in just the same fashion, even if it was a draconian enactment of justice.
“They only see through the glass darkly, and for that they will always be fools. But you cannot fault them for not having any good reason to hate you. They live upon the edge of a lie, teetering back and forth as the vicissitudes of life batter them to and fro. On one side, there is real veracity; on the other, easy acceptance and easy answers; one must simply breathe the right words into the right ears, and soon everyone is on board. You are not a saint amongst them, no, but you can at least see the truth before the end comes.” A voice spoke, nothing more than a whisper, inside the man's head.
Now the man was no longer concerned with the bloodcurdling cries of hatred and bile, bubbling forth from the people's gaping maws. Instead, the voice became a focal point. It had come from nowhere, and it wasn’t reminiscent of any other voice he had heard before. It was calm, and wise, but with a tinge of something else. The voice didn't seem to be wholly trustworthy, but then again, he had never known what trust was, not in all forty years of existence. He had learned not to take anything at face value in a world like this, and if he was starting to hear voices just before he died, he might as well ascertain the origin of his new benefactor, even if it meant he was going insane.
"What are you?" He asked, mumbling quietly to himself, so as not to give away that he was, indeed, talking to himself. He didn't need to give the executioners any more impetus to let the rope go taut. He needed time for this one.
"I am just a voice; a voice that intends to show you something before you die here, before you don't have any time to fight back. I'm here to give you a reason."
"For... what, exactly?" Enigmas and riddles were not what the man needed right now.
"I'm going to give you an option. It's an option you've never been given before, but it is, nonetheless, a path. You see, in life there are many different journeys one can take: odysseys like the ones you've read in the old Greek or in the later Latin, desert sojourns in the Bible, or, perhaps, just living a life in a ghetto, without any excuses because you have such distaste for the rest of the world. However, there is always a way out. It takes a bit of time, and a little work, but it's possible, and necessary, if you want to keep living."
He idled with his response for a bit. The promises this mysterious voice was giving seemed, well, completely inane to him. Here I am surrounded by a murderous crowd, a priest who is streaming Biblical passages like a broken record, and an executioner ready to pull the lever. And he sure looks damn happy about it, too; the bastard has a grin on his face that would make women flinch and babies cry. I'm talkin' about the kind of grin that makes you avoid a person when you're walkin' down the street.
"You don't have much time." The voice said, interfering with his thoughts.
"Give me your option. Give me a way out." He replied, resolutely.
"Good choice. I want to remind you that this path is difficult."
"Difficult should have been what my mom named me when I was comin' out of her..."
His eyes closed of their own accord. He reopened them to find himself in a pool, but standing atop the water as if it were solid. Ripples flowed endlessly in this small place, which seemed to be nothing more than blackness, deep dark that stretched on infinitely. A light shone from above with no definite source, and it only illuminated a small patch of the pool surface. His clothes had disappeared for some reason. Being stark naked was a luxury he never usually had, and a small part of him enjoyed it, even if there was no one around to behold such a splendor. Images began to appear before him, only somewhat illumined by the light. These were images that at first appeared alien, but that feeling was immediately replaced by stunning clarity. They were images of the man's own life. The images themselves were encased in bubbles that came upwards from the pool, and inside their globes he could see his childhood, his adolescence, when he discovered alcohol, when he discovered sex, and so on. Everything that he had put behind him was now swimming back to the surface. Everything he wanted to forget had become a reality once more. The final bubble that appeared was him again, standing on the gallows, waiting to die. He reached out for that bubble, and it popped.
"They put you there because they thought you killed a man. Several men actually. A few women, too? Some children? They're calling you the next Jack the Ripper. What a scarlet letter! I can't save you from the ignominy, I'm afraid. There are too many consciences to alter, too many stubborn people with their hesitancies and vices to persuade. I can, however, change yours, for the better." The voice said, returning. The tone and deftness of language had changed since it had last spoken, adding some slight jocularity. It was as if the supernatural voice was having fun with his situation. He didn't need someone having fun over his plight, not anymore.
"You can cut the crap. I don't know why I'm here, or what this all is, but I don't need some god damn voice givin' me shit, and makin' fun of me!" He yelled.
"I apologize. I am merely being a little facetious, but you can disregard it, I will not be offended. As for this place? Why, I am inside your mind right now. This lone spot, amidst all the darkness? That's the place you painted yourself into. You used your brush like a wand, weaving magic that made you reticent, that made you indolent, that made you feel acedia towards the rest of the world. Only in this small nook within you can you understand everything that led up to this point. You've spent so long running... and I want you to stop. I want you to take a look at your whole life, and through that you will piece together what it takes to prevent your death. You do not have much time, even here, because the outside world is waiting. It is waiting for you to prove your innocence."
"I've felt guilty my whole life. Ever since I forced my eyes open when I was a small little baby. Didn't change anything. I was a product of people who hated me and shoved me out when they had the first chance. I wasn't given an easy life. I was thrown to the dogs that howl and bark and bite, that wanted to devour me. I had to learn quick. I had to make weapons out of nothin'. I had to make my fear into a sword. But that isn't gonna cut me free from that rope. You're sayin' there's an answer in my past? Through all the shit I had to endure? You're sayin' all that stuff is gonna give me a way out? Forgive me if I don't believe ya." The man said, sorrow staining his sentences.
The voice was quiet for a time, but during its silence bubbles appeared again. However, one of them lazily drifted over towards the man, bursting open in front of him, spraying in his eyes, and as the water soaked into his pupils he was transported backwards. The world shifted and he was a baby once more, just coming out from his mother. She held him in her arms, and wagged a finger in his face, cooing quietly. She smiled broadly, ecstatic about her newborn. The woman was a small bead of iridescence amidst the rat-infested and disease-stricken abyss of the environs around her. Nothing could infringe upon that, not even the dirtiest of men or the most disgusting of actions. The man's father was curiously absent, but she didn't seem to mind. All of her faculties were focused on the baby in her arms, sweet and angelic, graceful and new. The man stood there, transfixed, until the voice began to speak again.
"Now you see the beginnings. You've always held such an irrational distaste for your mother, who gave you a chance in this wretched place. She had rooted for you all this time, even though... well, we'll get to that later. Don't you see she wanted you? She loved you from the very start, and you think she willingly fed you to the dogs? You think she wanted to let you go? No. She didn't. Her Brian Thorpe was a pot of gold buried in mounds of sin. You let her enjoy her life more than anything else. I know it would be impossible to remember this moment, as no one does. These snapshots get put in graves, because most people find them unnecessary. However, in your case, this one fleeting moment is but the start to your enlightenment."
"Enlightenment towards... what, exactly?" He asked, confused.
"Towards who really put you up on those gallows."
"And what if I don't understand... even if you take me down this road through all my memories?"
"You won't. I won't let you."
"What if I want to die?" He asked with a serious tone.
"You don't. Don't lie to yourself."
He didn't, truly, but it sounded like a good rebuttal at the time. Looking back at his mom holding him tightly in her arms, tears streaming down her face, blood pooling down below her from the birth, he began to see a sliver of what it meant to be alive and thriving. Then he looked around her, at where she was. She was in a bazaar, selling fruits and vegetables behind a booth. She had given birth to Brian without privacy, without watching eyes. Everyone could see him coming out and exposing his newborn nakedness. Everyone could see innocence before the taint of bad decisions and the thirst for blood. At least for this bit of time, he was shielded from people. People were the scourge that ruined the life he had. But if the voice was speaking true, then this voyage into his past could give him a way out.
"So the answers are all in my memories... somewhere I'm going to find a magical key to free me from the rope, to let me go free?"
"Not exactly. What you find is entirely up to you. It could be a key, a sword, or just... the truth."
"Do I deserve this? There're so many others that... go up on the gallows every day and they just die and that's that."
"No one deserves absolution. You merely earn it."