You collected outcasts with hearts of broken glass, promising to fill their cracks with gold, but you made a grave mistake with me. My heart is not a fragile piece of blown glass – it is a chunk of volcanic glass, deep black obsidian, and when it breaks each shard is sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel. I was never an outcast, you see. Outcasts yearn to be told their worth yet I inherently knew mine, for I had been born and tempered in the earth’s deep fires where no mere man may survive. I loved you, yes, and I believed in you, but I did not need you like the others and thus was the first to see through you when my rebellious edges drew your blood and then your anger. It’s no wonder you could never fix those broken hearts you hoarded; without one of your own, how could you know how the pieces fit together?
Are you coming to me?
What urges me to search for you here among the snow and ice? Why do I linger on the side of this dead mountain, straining to catch your voices on the wind, when you could never have been here? This isn’t your story. This isn’t your grave. So why this place, this time, this particular tragedy? Perhaps it is the mystery that draws me, the kinship I feel for those who will forever search in vain for a truth only the dead know. Or perhaps every place touched by death is a link to you, you who are death embodied, you who are ancient beyond comprehension, and those places become an access point or a portal or just another clue on my never ending scavenger hunt. Maybe; perhaps; possibly. At the end of the day all I know for sure is you are one of these mysteries too: a flicker of light at the corner of my eye, a single footstep in the frozen forest, a distant figure in the fog I cannot ever quite reach. Some part of you waits for me here at this bleak crime scene – so I kneel and dig.
Will you find me?
Will you find me?
i could build a gruesome Stonehenge with all the teeth i’d pull more easily from my mouth than words; do you want to see?
Embracing Apocalyptic Fatalism, or: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
There’s no point in beating around the bush by crafting a poetic opening statement, so I’ll just say this as bluntly as possible: the world is fucked. We’re simultaneously dealing with climate change, mass extinction, deforestation, mass shootings, bigotry, war, political corruption, deadly diseases, genocide, poverty, famine, terrorism, potential nuclear annihilation, totalitarianism, and fascism, and those are just the things that came to my mind in like thirty seconds. Each of those topics has an overwhelming number of smaller but equally horrible subtopics which might come spilling out like maggots from a carcass if you poke the wrong spot with a stick.
…I’m not really selling you on this particular essay, am I. Okay, forget the roadkill analogy and just focus on the fact that we – “we” being almost any living creature on the planet with more than a single cell – are pretty fucked. The last few years have shed an especially harsh light on the course of humanity’s future as we’ve watched history repeat itself in ways we thought would never happen again. Genocide? Still happening. Putting people in concentration camps? Yep, that too. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-semitism? Alive and doing very well for themselves. Actual, literal Nazis? Fuckin’ everywhere. What I’m saying is, here at the pinnacle of human achievement we’re still struggling with the toxic byproducts of a fanaticism that seems inherent to our very species. We destroy everything we touch.
So how do we cope with this? How do we go about our day knowing that at any moment there are people being killed for their beliefs, billions of animals trapped in factory farms, ancient Amazonian trees being bulldozed and burned? It’s really fucking hard, I know, and everyone copes differently. Some people find energy in being angry; some sink into depression; others dedicate every hour they possibly can to signing petitions and attending rallies. But if none of those options are working for you in the long term, good news! I’m here to tell you about my new life philosophy: apocalyptic fatalism!
What’s apocalyptic fatalism, you ask? It’s the belief that we as a species have gone past the point of no return, meaning we have little to no chance of stopping the issues listed above – especially, at least in my humble opinion, climate change and its associated Bad Shit. Apocalyptic fatalism means we’re fucked, and that we fucked over every other living thing too. It means accepting the world (as we know it, at least) may actually end in our lifetimes. It doesn’t purport to know the how of things, only that the when is much closer than we’d like to believe. We are in trouble now.
If you’ve never heard about apocalyptic fatalism, that’s because I made it up!
See, in the two years since Trump (*gag*) was elected, I’ve tried coping. Anger only works for me in short bursts, though, and the well of depression is already up to my chin. Part of me wants to hide in apathy, but I’m too empathetic to ignore all the living creatures suffering right now. So anger is fleeting, depression is dangerous, and apathy is a betrayal. What I have instead found long-term comfort in is… acceptance. Acceptance that humanity is a cancer on this planet, no matter how much good we do on an individual level. Acceptance that we might really have gone too far this time, and maybe now there’s no going back. Acceptance, in short, that we might have already started the apocalypse and on an individual level there’s not much we can do to stop it. Doesn’t that lift a weight off your shoulders? Think about it; our generation doesn’t have to save the world because it can’t be saved in the first place. We can only do damage control on the way down.
That’s horrible! you’re probably thinking. How can you give up like that? That makes you part of the problem! But that’s the bittersweet beauty of this philosophy: it’s not about giving up. You don’t have to stop being a force of good in the world just because you know your efforts won’t change everything for everyone. You can do good for good’s sake, make a difference on the micro scale instead of the macro, all you want. But when those little bits of good get overshadowed by all the horrible things you have literally no ability to stop, apocalyptic nihilism tells you it’s okay to let them go. If you have to buy a plastic water bottle one day, it’s okay; your one guilty purchase is nothing compared to what those in power are doing to the environment. If you buy something to lift your mood instead of donating that money to a charity in need, that doesn’t make you an inherently bad person contributing to the downfall of humanity. The world is ending – buy the damn book, eat the damn doughnut, use a damn plastic fork once a year. It’s okay. Your guilt and anxiety help no one.
Read that again. Your guilt and anxiety help no one. Apocalyptic fatalism frees you from the responsibility of saving the whole damn world, a burden millennials and Gen Y/Z have felt acutely since birth. We inherited a shitstorm and we know the generation before us doesn’t, for the most part, really care about the future. In fact, they seem determined to fuck it up as much as possible. We feel, therefore, that it’s up to us to save the oceans and the national parks and the atmosphere and human rights and freedom and science and… the list goes on and on. But you know what? We didn’t start this war and we can’t end it.It’s just too big. It’s just too entrenched. So do what you can for the world – but take care of yourself too. If the end is extremely fucking nigh, then every moment is unbelievably precious. Don’t waste them worrying.
Tal’reth doesn’t sleep that night. He rarely does the night before battle; his dreams are always troubled on these eves, especially if the situation involves children. And these two half-elf siblings are children still, even if they have seen enough horror to age them beyond their years. As he sits up in the small cabin’s main room, sharpening his sword and checking his gear, the tabaxi reviews the conversation he had with the older sister Peri. Since taking up work with Graymalkin he’s met dozens of children with stories like hers – loved ones lost to war or pointless brutality, homes destroyed by greed, futures endangered by people with too much corrupted power. That these two teenagers bear the burden of protecting their god’s holy land against an empire set out to destroy “false” religions just means their cause is that much closer to his heart. In the end, though, they’re kids who have just lost their father and have nowhere else to turn. Of course he’s going to help in any way he can.
Assuming everything goes just fine, Gray won’t take issue with a slight detour in the greater plan; he knows full well where Tal’reth’s priorities and loyalties lay, after all. The others, however… well, Tal’reth suspects his companions won’t be happy when they wake in the morning to find out he’s agreed not only to destroy the crownsguard watchtower nearby, but also to help get the siblings to their remaining family. If they refuse to take part, though, that’s fine. The warlock and ranger can continue down the road and he’ll catch up with them once he’s confident Peri and her brother are safe. He refuses to entertain any alternatives while the memory of their father’s butchered body weighs so heavily on his mind. What if the crownsguard decide the poor dead man’s children are next? Surely it’s the will of the gods that Tal’reth found the teens first, before someone more malicious did. Certainly they would have received no help from his party members if he wasn’t there. If he won’t protect these kids, who will?
Movement at the edge of his vision catches Tal’reth’s attention and he whips his head up, right hand dropping the whetstone and gripping the hilt of his sword. But it’s just shadows moving, or maybe the candlelight playing tricks on his eyes, or he’s just more tired than he thought. Yes, that must be it; he hasn’t slept all night, save for a brief catnap before Peri and her brother appeared in their camp. Half-convinced, Tal’reth returns to his work once more – though he shifts slightly so the dark corners of the room aren’t visible at all as he focuses on the sword’s keen blade. If the shadows in one corner seem to move independently of the fire’s dancing glow, he would rather not see.
I am no wanderer. I feel no desire to travel far from home, to visit foreign lands or step foot on other continents. I am happy in the same state, the same rainy peninsula, the same ten mile radius of forest and water where I grew up and which I still call home. This place is where I want always to return at the end of the day and I ask no more than that. As I said, I am no wanderer. I am no wanderer, yet the land around me has changed so that I feel lost in this alien landscape. Forests razed to make way for shopping centers; picturesque waterfront blocked by million-dollar homes. Storefronts sit empty while commercial building continues to churn out box stores and parking lots and cheap cookie-cutter housing. The nights aren’t as dark, the stars aren’t as bright. Every season seems hotter and drier than the one before. Where am I? I did not leave my home, yet neither do I recognize this place.
On the wind I heard a sigh
As the snowflakes cover my fallen brothers
I will say this last goodbye
She yields to nostalgia and allows herself to walk the island’s overgrown paths one last time. Though it has not truly been that long since she left, everything feels smaller to her. Were these lintels so low before? Were these steps, these windows, these honeycombed rooms and secret passages so tiny? She can almost imagine her childhood self running through the woods and along the beaches, playing chasing games or hide-and-seek, yet she was never actually young in this place. She thinks, Perhaps time does this to any location we once called home, even if only temporarily. Surely she has not grown, nor has the island shrunk, and yet she feels a giant who must step carefully so as not to harm everything around her.
Night is now falling
So ends this day
The road is now calling
And I must away
Despite the familiarity, the years have not been kind to the island’s settlement. Sapling trees burst up between the paving stones; vines climb along walls and wrap themselves around every available surface. Wind and rain have torn away roof shingles, left great puddles of standing water, and sent great branches crashing down. The once beautiful murals are faded from sun and storm, now nothing more than old graffiti. Even her own handiwork, the years of destruction wrought on the land with magic and cannon, is softened beneath layers of green growth. Nature is slowly reclaiming this place now there are no lost ones to bless its halls or bolster its protections with their love. It is truly abandoned.
Many places I have been
Many sorrows I have seen
But I don’t regret
Nor will I forget
All who took that road with me
She knows the others must assume she’s forgotten them, locking away her memories of the time she spent here in her quest for revenge. She has not. She remembers them all; names and faces, quirks and foibles, kindnesses and cruelties. She remembers those who left and those who stayed and those who fell out of reach completely. She remembers those who fought against her and those who never bothered to take up arms at all, who chose instead to stand for nothing. No matter where she goes next, no matter how many years pass, she will not forget a single one of them. She loved them all, once, and still may. They were her sisters and brothers, after all.
To these memories I will hold
With your blessing I will go
To turn at last to paths that lead home
And though where the road then takes me
I cannot tell
We came all this way
But now comes the day
To bid you farewell
After she has walked the length and breadth of the island she returns to the shore and gazes one last time upon the lighthouse. It was first a beacon of hope for her, then a target for her sorrow and rage. And now? Now it is merely a symbol of the past, both the good and the bad. She can neither hate it nor love it, so instead she releases it. She releases the island and its light from her idyllic memories. From her extinguished anger. From her heart that beats for a new future. Let this place return to the cosmos from which it was formed now that its purpose has been fulfilled. There are no paths which lead here now, only away. And that is as it should be, she thinks.
I bid you all a very fond farewell