About midway to the car, when we were still in the hallway of my apartment building, Lindon paused. He appeared struck by an invisible force, momentarily paralyzing him. It could have been fear, but it also could have been a strong bowel movement, no different than the one I had experienced earlier. A nasty gurgling thing, like a demonic creature sinking into a bog. I asked if he was alright and he shook his head no. Then I asked if he’d rather stay at my apartment and he shook his head yes. I unhooked my key from the ring and handed it over to him. It fell into his cold slender hand, flesh split like the burst casing on a bratwurst. He clutched it and drew it to his chest. He looked at ease. His face and posture relaxed. The force had released him and he was free. “Well, feel free to stay back and help yourself to what you need in the apartment. I’ll go get us food. Just let me in when I buzz.” He shook his head yes and ambled back towards my apartment. I waited for the click and turn of tumblers, the creak of hinges and the clapping of the latch to know that Lindon was back in the apartment, safe in the box. Safe from exposure to the living world. Once I knew, I resumed following the path out the building and to my car. I would make this venture solo.
My drive to White Castle resembled like so many other drives to so many other destinations that in my current state of mind, they all blended together into a beige soup. Something generic, something bland, something so utterly devoid of anything exciting, novel, and remarkable. Life was a blur. You know how your present is so fresh and yesterday is a memory of time gone by so fast? Well, my present goes by fast and yesterday feels like forever ago. My memories are bled into the soil and swallowed up, hard to recover and stained by dirt. I’m sure if I really concentrated I could have total recall of everything before I began to systematically destroy myself, but why? Why would I want to do that to myself? There’s fresh pain in those old memories, and when I wash them away, I just wish I could sink into the soil too. I don’t want to be numb, I just want to be emptied. Uh oh… the other patrons in the White Castle are starting to look at me funny. I… I put on deodorant. Unless it’s a smell emanating from some other source on my body. I pat myself and no, all good. “Sir? Uh… Sir?”
I swing my head about. It’s slightly disorienting. Looking straight ahead I see that it’s the cashier speaking. “Oh, uh. Yes. Sorry.”
“Your order is ready and… are you going to be okay?”
“Thanks, uh, yeah. Why?”
“You were mumbling about blood, dirt, and being empty.”
“Oh, well, yeah. See… I’m a gardener and I was thinking about how I’d like to pass away and be buried in my garden. Again, thank you. Have a good day.”
“You, too, and may whatever god there is have mercy on your soul.”
I exited quickly and hurried to my car. I placed the order of a Crave Case gently onto the passenger seat, making sure that it would not slide and possibly explode open, ejecting carefully stacked sliders onto the floor. That would be a disaster and I don’t think I could bring myself to return to this White Castle ever again, but soon that wouldn’t be a problem. No, I would soon be injecting myself with the finest drug known to man: The White Castle slider. How it can ease the pain in a way not even alcohol or even a lobotomy ever could. There’s just something that opens up in you when you bite into the steamed bun and taste the sweet flavor of a slim meat patty resting on a bed of onions. How they satisfy it is almost quite sexual. They’re small enough that you have no need to stop at just one, you can’t have just one. No, you can cram another three, five, or more into your gullet and swallow them, you practically inhale them. You gorge yourself until your stomach swells and bursts. There’s a warmth and you feel a release from this world, this reality. It is almost euphoric. It is ecstasy. It is better than drugs, it is better than sex. The hit of a slider is the best fucking fix a fast food junkie could ever score and the high is pure. It is unlike anything else, but it could also just be that they’re so small you consume in larger quantities and your brain just doesn’t know how to process your sensory mechanisms. It is an overload and your pupils grow wide and your brain is fried, your body shrinks and the world gets larger and you’re swallowed into the void of unyielding pleasure. You climax eternal.
I could wax poetic about the delight that is the slider but I think that’s something I should pocket for another occasion. I took a different way home than I took to get to White Castle. This way was a bit quicker but it’s one of those routes that you can only really take one way, not both. Not that it was a one-way street, which it wasn’t, but it’s just a way that isn’t really easily accessible from the point of origin. Then again, why the fuck would you care what way I take to get home? You’re just reading this and thinking “Why is he is explaining how he gets home from White Castle? Is he stalling? Does he not know how to lead into the next part of the story?” You may be right. But you could also be seriously fucking wrong.
I arrived back at the apartment building with the Crave Case in hand. I buzzed my apartment and heard the reciprocating buzz that unlocked the front door. I entered and hustled up the stairs to the second floor and down the hallway to my apartment’s door. Rapping gently in the count of thrice, Lindon approached and let me in. He greeted me warmly. He looked better than when I left him, that is, he was still a living corpse with chunks of flesh missing and deep gashes wrapping like ribbons around his body, but he at least appeared to be at ease. He stepped aside as I walked past him to my dining table and plopped the box atop it. We took our seats.
Opening the box, the fresh smell of steamed buns and grilled onions that had been trapped inside exploded forth like a bomb. The detonation was appetizing and only tempted our hunger further. We were greedy as we each dug our hands in and scooped out the individually packaged burgers two or three at a time. I saw that Lindon had procured a variety of toppings for us: hot sauce, mustard, ketchup, jelly. Whatever technically constituted a condiment, it was on the table. We pealed back the buns, topped off the patty, then replaced them, shoving them into our mouths. Though you shouldn’t shove them; you lose the precious savory taste of the slider that way. You don’t really enjoy it. You place it in your mouth, let it pool with saliva until the slider is practically swimming, then you chomp down and let the flavor burst in your mouth with all its glory of Heaven. We tore into the sliders, rebuilt them in splendid Frankenstein-like methods, creating abhorrent affronts to nature. Massive meat balls the size of fists that we snacked on like puppers gnawing on a bone. We felt fully satiated and we still had half a case to go.
“So, Lindon. Does this make you feel more human?”
“Haha, maybe. I don’t know. Hard to feel anything lately. I mean, I thought I felt something when I came back from the dead, in a way, but the longer I exist in this state, the less of anything I feel.”
I paused from eating and pondered his words. “The longer I exist in this state, the less of anything I feel.” Those words felt so cold as they lingered on my mind before dissipating into the ether. The longer I exist… the less I feel. I wanted to follow up on that, ask him more about what he meant but a part of me could sense what he meant, what it all meant, so I decided to ask something else. “How did… uh, no. Well, what happened… Lindon, what was death like? Not your murder, but the actual state of being dead. What was that experience?”
Lindon too stopped eating. The glee that came from the food faded as he began to think of how to answer my question. His eyes dropped and he sank into the chair. He let the slider he clenched fall to the plate. He emitted a heavy sigh, one full of hesitation and caution. “I suppose it was a matter of time before this came up and for the life of me, Cy, I’m still not sure of what I experienced in death.”
“Well, it doesn’t have to be sophisticated. Describe it as best you can.” With my reassurance, he took a deep breath, sat upright, and began to speak.
“I recall it being cold and dark. Darkness everywhere, but not like the night sky. Pure black. Pitch black. I was floating in it. Despite the darkness I could see everything. There was nothing. There was no light but I could see perfectly. I floated. Drifting free in a great ocean of the black that is everything. Somewhere before me or ahead of me or below or wherever it was because directions did not matter here, I saw a pale white disc. A flat white disc. From my perspective it appeared to be floating towards me, but as it grew larger I could see that it was actually fixed in place. This flat round opaque thing rested firmly in the emptiness and I was coming towards it. It got wider. It stayed as pale as ever. It was soon at least three times as big as myself and I was set to crash into it. I crashed right through it and in a blink, in fact, faster than a blink, the world flipped.
“I was no longer in the darkness. The emptiness around me was drained of the darkness and replaced with swirling hues of red, all violent and raging. Like a great storm, the waves of red shades shifting, sweeping and rolling over each other. The white disc was gone. In its place was a black dot. It had depth to it, mass. It was an orb and it looked as though it was shaking. Like it was shivering. Floating in place, I kept my eyes on the orb and saw that it was twitching wildly and soon I could see why. It wasn’t fixed in place like the white disc. It moved. I tried to propel myself closer to get a better look and I could see that coiled all around the orb were these deep black tendrils. They were like oily black roots curling about, overlapping each other. Weaving over and in, pulsating. It was growing.
“The tendrils loosened. They released themselves from the shape of the orb and stretched outward, in search of no end. You’d think something that resembled a ball of twine coated in oil would get smaller as it unwound but this wasn’t a realm that adhered to the conventions of Earthly physics. No, as they freed themselves, the orb only got bigger. As though it had been constricted. Like the air was squeezed out. Now it was enlarged, good lord it was engorged and the tendrils were twisting and lashing freely and they were reaching for me.
“They took hold of my wrists, my ankles, my throat, torso, my whole damn body. Their grip was tight. I was bound to them. There was no way to escape because even if I could, where would I go? I never struggled. I accepted my fate and let it swallow me. Into the awaiting darkness I was pulled.” Lindon stopped. He slumped forward and brought a hand to his mouth.
“Hey man, you doing okay?”
“This is a tough thing to speak about because it only happened a short while ago. It’s been difficult to process. Strange as it all was, the entire experience felt like years even though it was only a couple of days. Time wasn’t just slow; it was non-existent.”
Lindon’s words resonated with me. His experience in the great blackness that was death was something that felt so familiar to me. At the core of it, this was a reflection of my current state of existence. An existence that the longer it went, the less of anything I could feel.