Oblivion. Gosh, wouldn't that have been sweet! It was what tek wanted. He certainly didn't want to live. He didn't want Heaven or Hell. He didn't want Nirvana. He didn't want reincarnation. He didn't want to be a ghost. He wanted oblivion: an absolute and final end to his soul's existence. No life or afterlife of any kind. No consciousness, thought, or dreams. Nothing. Oblivion.
Falling down (though soon he had no sense of direction) through the utter darkness seemed interminable, but it was not, by his definition, oblivion. He sensed no motion; not of himself, and not of his surroundings. In fact, he experienced almost complete sensory deprivation. He could not see or feel or smell or hear anything. He tried speaking and making other noises; those, he could hear. But apart from himself, there was nothing here to make any noise. Not even air resistance as he fell (and though he could not in any physical way sense his fall, he nonetheless knew that he was falling).
He began to wonder where the Gorlab was. He couldn't feel the invisible tether that bound them together. He couldn't hear Gorlab say anything. Once, he shouted out to him, but there was no response. Perhaps he's vanished, thought tek, back to wherever he came from.
He gave up on that and began thinking of other things. This isn't real, of course. I'm really in the real world. None of that bridge stuff really happened. None of this abyss stuff is happening, either. In fact, now isn't even now. This happened last year. I typed up that bridge scene months ago on the word processor. Then about a couple weeks ago, we got a computer, and about a week later we got the Internet. Then I started looking around for a new page to move my files to. I did that, finally, though I still have many files to move. But I decided to put that whole death thing up now. I revised it somewhat, based to a degree on how things are now. So it doesn't really entirely make sense for some of what was or wasn't said or done to have happened or not happened at the time it's set. Just as what I'm thinking now doesn't make much sense. This is still set soon after falling off the bridge. Sort of.
But speaking of which, is "falling" really the right word for it? Sure, it was Gorlab and his confusion tether to my mind that dragged me down, but if he was in effect me, or some part of me, wasn't it really my own choice? Ah, well. I suppose so. But it doesn't really matter much, though.
So anyway, let me try to get a handle on what's going on... I mean, sort of reconcile this fantasy with reality. I am currently writing about something I've been planning for quite some time. Something that in essence, in real reality, has already been in effect. I've talked a bit about it to some friends. I've used the handle 'ektomage' on the Dom and in various other places, including the homepage this story is being written on. I'll have to get the email address changed, because it's for the whole family, and they (or at least Dad) doesn't like the name ektomage. Or 'ektophage' as he keeps calling it. Heh. Coincidence there he isn't even aware of. Heh heh. Anyway, i don't want web-based email anymore. There's things I can't do with it, like register a handle on the Dom. I also don't trust it, since my hotmail account shut me out last year, plus any other accounts i tried to start either wouldn't work or stopped working after working for a little while.
Okay. Hmmm. What was I thinking about? Right. I fell/jumped sometime last year, I can't even remember when. August? September? Some other month? As I said at the top of the last part of the story, it was "around August." Whatever. It doesn't matter. Now, it is late April of the next year. Okay. Still no job, no money, no license, no hope. But back around January my feelings about the whole "love" issue began to change somewhat. Still hurts in some of the same ways, as well as some new ways. But at least the old ways are basically not so bad anymore. I've accepted it wasn't meant to be. But as I told Gorlab, I can't really talk about it. Not here. I've talked or written in private to some of my friends. That's enough. Anyway, it just doesn't matter anymore. But life still sucks, and I still have practically no hope. But at least I'm online again. Okay.
Struggle, struggle, struggle, that's all I did, with inner turmoil and pain, all these months. The real aspect of me, anyway. Tried and failed to find work. Had all kinds of difficulties in life. Who cares? Um... so what's to be said of the fictional me? I've been falling all this time, and real me never got around to writing about it, even though he knew what would ultimately become of me. But I'm still stuck falling. This is getting so old.
"Yo! Dave! Hey you, out there in the real world, in your real time! So what's supposed to happen to me now? Do I stop falling ever, or what?"
"Hey, tek, just be glad you didn't actually have to experience these intervening months, as I did. But don't worry, I think I'm about ready to get you out of this."
"So commence with the getting me out, already!"
"Will do, buddy." And with that, though he still didn't exactly feel anything, tek was aware that he had finally stopped falling. And the space around him began to brighten.
He found himself in a lounge that vaguely reminded him of one from a residence hall at UMPI. It had a large TV with a cable box; a couch, chairs, a ping-pong table and a pool table, and one wall had been painted like something by Escher. Okay, he told himself, so maybe it's a trifle more than vaguely like that room. But not exactly. He looked around some more, and suddenly noticed someone sitting on the couch, watching TV. One part of his mind told him that the first time he looked around the room, no one had been there, and the TV hadn't been on. Another part of his mind told him that the person who was there now had not just appeared out of nowhere, and the TV had not just suddenly turned on. Things had been as they now were from the time he got there. And at the same time, they had not. "Okay, whatever," he said aloud to himself.
He took a closer look at the TV, and recognized the character of Angel, the vampire. "Hey, I haven't seen his show yet. Or have I? Had I, at the time I jumped? I don't recall." And then it occurred to him that he'd gone from saying "fell," to questioning that word, to saying "jumped."
"I noticed that, too," said the man on the couch. "Not that I was reading your mind, or anything. I can't really do that, and even if I could, I wouldn't."
"So how'd you know what I was thinking?"
"I guess Dave must have let me know."
"Of course. Now, on a more important note, I should have recognized you at once, even from the back, and been surprised to see you. And glad. I am glad, in fact." Tek smiled, and walked from behind the couch to look the man in the face. "So what have-" he began, but the man looked from the screen momentarily, shifting his gaze towards tek's face. He put a finger to his lips. "Shhhh. Sit." So tek shhhhed and sat beside him, to watch the scene.
Dave allowed tek to know what had been happening in the episode, and whatever was helpful to know from previous episodes; at least those that Dave had seen himself, in reality. The scene came to the point where Angel told his... not exactly a friend... a police woman whose name Dave (and therefore tek) couldn't remember, "...if nothing you do matters, then all that matters is what you do." Suddenly tek was aware of how much Dave had liked that idea when he had watched the episode. (It was at that point that tek realized the episode he was watching wasn't really on right now; that it had in fact been on some time ago, a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months. Dave's bad with time. Which was just as well, since wherever tek was right now seemed to be somewhere outside of time.)
Tek and the other man watched until the end of the episode. After the zombie drawing shuffled by and said, "Grrr. Arrgh," the man turned off the TV and handed tek his remote. Tek's remote. "Hey! Cool. I haven't used this thing in such a long time. I think in reality, the battery cover's tab is broken off so it won't stay on. But I have no use for it anyway. Still, it's nice to have this fictional one. And it's in perfect shape." He stuffed it in the pocket of his green suede jacket, which isn't what he'd been wearing a moment ago.
"Yes, you were. Your attire changed as soon as you landed here. You simply hadn't realized it till now."
"Would you please stop not reading my mind?"
The man shrugged. "Sorry. I'm just a character, like you. At the mercy of Writer Dave."
"But you're not even his character."
"When have you ever known that to stop him? Anyway, it's not like he's making any money or taking any credit for other people's creations."
"I guess not. And hey, the pockets and everything seems to be in good shape on this jacket. In reality, it's in less decent shape. Holes in some of the pockets, and stuff. In fact, it seems he doesn't even wear this anymore, really. He's had a grey and black suede jacket for a while now. But anyway... I was going to ask you before, what have you been up to, Master Cain?"
"Well... I ended up going to Kalighoul with Primus and Miss Hale.... Or a more official sort of me did. I am the Adam Cain you have known, but of course any relation to the Adam Cain in the comix is strictly in the mind of the Writer at the Moment. And he knows damned well that makes me completely unofficial. Practically nonexistant."
"Well, anyway, what became of... the real you... after that?"
Cain shrugged. "Who can say? Do you think Dave knows? He last saw Cain dragged off by Teknophage's servants. Apparently, the Phage would have him for dinner, later. It is to Dave conceivable that Cain may have somehow later escaped, for he never saw his actual death or devourment. But most likely, the real- and yet fictional- Adam Cain made a very tasty meal for Mr. Henry Phage. Or at least his soul would have.
"As for me, I ended up here. This is a place of... well, it's rather difficult to describe, really. 'Uncertainty' probably says it best. It is sort of death and sort of not. It's like what Dave's other character, Jax, was in for a time, in one continuity, when he was dead for a while. The word I'm searching for escapes the writer, for the moment. Maybe he'll think of it later and edit this page, instead of having me say all this. But I'm saying it for now."
"Um... okay. So... we're both sort of dead?"
"Oh, we're both quite dead. Only, there's some uncertainty to it. Even though it's basically real and complete."
"Not, perhaps, something like being mostly dead, as in 'The Princess Bride?'"
"No. We're completely dead. But uncertainly so. We're not likely to come back to life or anything like that. But we could exist in some other form. Maybe. Or... we could just move on into something else. The Gorlab made one choice for you. Now, you are presented with another. That creature has been reintegrated into your mind. You now must make this choice yourself."
"What about you?"
"I waited around because I knew you'd be coming, eventually, and I wanted to have a few words with you. Which I'm doing now. After we're done, I'll move off into my own uncertainty. Where I go from there, I can't say. But for now, you have a choice to make. I know what you're thinking: your choice is intrinsically connected to that which Dave had to make some time ago, and he's already made it for himself, as well as for you. But you know, while you, whatever your choice, have attained a kind of freedom, he's still stuck in his real life, which will go on and on, and he'll experience practically every troubling moment of it. And his choices, even if he's already made them... well, he'll have to keep on making them. He can always choose differently for himself."
"And for me."
"Yes. We may not have truly free will. But take heart in the knowledge that we don't truly exist. And even those who do truly exist, such as Dave, still can never be completely certain that their own free will is quite as free as it's supposed to be. And even if it is, they still can't do everything just because they will it. He wants a job. He can try as hard as he may, but it's still up to others to decide to employ him or not. For example."
"Very heartening." Sigh. "Very well, get on with it. Tell me about this choice I have to make."
"You cannot live again, as you did. You could go to true oblivion, never to exist again. If you chose that- if Dave had you choose that- he'd stand by it, and never bring you back again by any means, even if he changed his mind later on. Your second option is to go on to an afterlife. Heaven or Hell or whatever you believe exists in the hereafter. You could decide to remain here in Uncertainty. But it won't be sitting around watching TV or playing pool or wandering around outside. There will not be anyone else; we each have our own Uncertainty- those of us who, when we die, don't instantly go on to our expected afterlife or reincarnation. I had enough experience with diversion of such energies to enable me to come here, for a time, instead of to my own. But I must go there soon. When I am gone, you will be alone here for as long as you choose to stay. Alone with your thoughts, and with your pain and regrets, and all your unfulfilled aspirations and desires. ...Of course, you will also have the comfort of knowing that you no longer have to deal with life, and that all who you've left behind will consider you dead. Such things might hurt others, but for you I know it is comforting.
"Your final option is to return to your fictional reality as a ghost; as you know Dave has already done in your name, in his reality."
"Not exactly my name."
"No. Not exactly. But I know you like the name."
"I do. I suppose that's what I'm going to do. Okay. I'll be a ghost. I suppose I'll still have some magic."
"I do not know. You may be more than a normal ghost. You may not. Dave may not even write about you in any new stories, but merely use your new name as his new online persona. All that he's been writing here may serve simply as an explanation of that name."
"That wouldn't surprise me a bit. Still... I expect he'll try to get around to writing about me as a ghost. Eventually. Anywyay, I guess I've chosen. Or he has. Whatever. So, as of now, I am not teknomage. Teknomage is dead. I'm gonna go be a ghost. I am... ektomage."
Adam Cain stood up, picked up and donned his hat, and took hold of his staff. "Well, perhaps we shall meet again. I wish you luck, and whatever happiness you can find. Good-bye, ektomage." He began to offer his hand, but remembered that tek... that ekt never liked shaking hands with people. Even uncertainly completely dead people. So he withdrew it.
"Good-bye, and good luck, Master Cain," said ektomage, now standing himself, and gazing upon the face of his master for probably the last time. He tried to think of more to say, or something to do, but there was nothing more. Cain turned, headed for the door at the back of the room, and... stopped momentarily with his hand on the handle, the door opened just a crack. He looked over his shoulder and said, "'Limbo, I think that may be the word. Funny, the way the mind works, or fails to. Even...." he trailed off, turned back to the door, shook his head, pushed the door the rest of the way open, and left.
Ektomage found himself back at his cottage on his own private world, beside his own private Wheel of Worlds. Looking down at himself, he seemed a bit hazier than he used to. He phased through the door of the cottage, and walked to a mirror. He could barely see himself at all in that; so much so that it wasn't worth bothering with. But then, he said to himself, I don't suppose my appearance will be changing anymore. No more getting dirty or needing cleaning or brushing of teeth or hair or anything. Hmmm.
Just then, a plump, fluffy, grey and purple striped cat appeared in the air in front of hiim and said, "Hi, tek. Haven't seen you in awhile. What've you been up to?"
"Oh. Hi, zack. I'm dead now, actually. Well, I've been uncertainly dead for awhile now, so it seems. I've just become a ghost, though."
"Oh, I see. I suppose in that case, I should call you ektomage, then, shouldn't I?"
"That's what was decided upon. So, you can see and hear me alright?"
"More or less." Zack rolled over onto his back, but his grin remained right-side up. "About as much as ever I could, you know. But things for my kind aren't exactly as they are for your kind. I think rather few of them will see or hear you now. Unless they want to. Or something. But I'm sure you'll find ways to amuse yourself. Or maybe you can do things you couldn't before. You know, as a way of compensating for the things you can't do now that you used to could.
"You know, I've spent a little time with my family while you've been away, and Mother says she's known a few ghosts in her day. She says they have a few things in common with Cheshire cats that living people don't. Of course, one thing the living have in common with us is that they're living. Or aren't we living?" He turned back onto his stomach, and crossed his paws under his chin. "I'm not entirely clear on some things about my kind. But I'm only a few years old, really. Perhaps I'll know more when I'm a few centuries old. Say!"
he said, now shifting to 'stand' on hind legs, in the air, "There's something we have in common, now! I'll probably remain in my current state of being alive for longer than your kind tends to, but you'll stay in your current statee of not being alive for rather a long time, yourself. ....Oh, but come to think of it, travelling via that Wheel of yours was supposed to keep you fairly young and alive anyway, wasn't it? Bother." He now lay on his back, at a slight incline, paws behind his head. "Hmmm... oh well. What is death, anyway? Everyone dies, even Cheshire cats... I think. But here you are, talking with me. Or at least listening to me, which is surely even better. So, nothing to worry about. The rest is icing. If there is a rest. But you don't need to rest, now, do you? What fun we'll have!"
"Um... okay. I guess I look forward to it. But of course, I think I'll leave my material possessions, such as this cottage, to you. I'll still stay here sometimes, if you'll have me."
"Oh, my dear departed tail-less friend, don't you know everyone wants to have their very own ghost! ...Well, maybe not their own, if you see what I mean. At least, not for as long as they can possibly hold it off. Well, you know what I mean. Of course you can stay. But right now maybe you and I should do some traveling! And not to your standard tourist traps, either. Some real out of the way places should now be accessible to you. Greater adventures than you ever knew in life, and being a teknomage, you knew more than most of your kind, I gather. Let's go!"
And off they went, zack the Cheshire cat and ghostboy ektomage....