~ a short story
Agent Redel inspected the scene with a keen eye. A necessary trait in his particular profession. For a case like this, even more so. He found himself opening desk drawers in a small cabin in the wilderness of the northwest United States. There wasn’t much to speak of in the way of decor, or furniture, or any sense of identity to this place or its former owner. There was nothing within its trappings which said much about this John Doe, or the final days and hours of his life. These facts in of themselves were clues to the thing. But he’d need to search deeper.
There was something here that would explain it. Redel would find it. It was only a matter of time.
A body had been found here in the cabin, sitting in the same chair Agent Redel now sat. He’d been called in to investigate this death, and soon after, another. At first glance, they appeared to be two unrelated deaths. One here, and one half a world away. A young woman in the countrysides of the United Kingdom was also found dead. But the two deaths were connected, it would seem, logistically speaking. Eerily, was the word Redel might use. It wasn’t exactly clear why just yet. Always possible that it was mere coincidence. Redel ran through it one more time.
~ First, there was the letter. From that they knew the identity of the woman, but not the man. This was the most important piece of evidence connecting the two persons, but still provided no proof their deaths were also connected.
~ Second, was the similar nature of death of each individual. Although the exact causes were still being worked out in autopsy.
~ Third, the estimated times of death was practically simultaneous. Across the world, time zones away, at different stages of the sun’s glare upon their respective places in the world, they died in the very same instant. Eerie.
Agent Redel had a gut feeling that last piece of information was most salient. He straightened his posture and began to run his fingers across the two deep gashes covering its wooden surface. They formed an X stretching across the full area of the small desk’s topside. Redel didn’t yet understand this part either.
John Doe had perished sitting in this chair, right here and under 48 hours ago, Redel thought.
“Redel, here are the facts of the case: Our John Doe is discovered by the park ranger on Saturday. About 22 hours after time of death. Cause of death is still being worked out. Could be variation of heart attack, stroke, aneurysm. It was sudden, no wounds. He’d been living within this cabin for the last 92 days. Alone, limited supplies, meager conditions, no real interactions with anyone else in the wider community. Apparently, he had made arrangements with the local authorities to have the cabin here for at least a year, possibly longer.”
“Did you speak with them?”
“Not at length … mostly on account of them not having much to say. They said he was generally amenable. A quiet man, and quick with the transaction to acquire … or rather rent, the cabin. After that initial meeting three months ago, at the beginning of the year, they didn’t see him again.”
“92 days … What of the letter? When did it arrive?”
“The letter was sent about seven days ago. From the young woman’s address in London. The contents of the letter are less remarkable than the fact that she sent it at all, and it managed to find this remote location.”
“She had no known relation with this John Doe? No prior interaction, or familial connection?”
“No sir, at this point we have looked into it quite thoroughly. Digital contact and all that. All accounted for. Nothing outside of this letter, and their deaths, connects them.”
“Seems that way… We sure we didn’t miss anything?” Agent Redel questioned, a common refrain of his, passed down from his mentor.
“I am confident in our initial work, but inquiries are certainly continuing.”
“Read me again the contents of the letter.”
He pulled out the letter, and began to read. Redel stared out the window, into the daylight upon the forest at high noon, wheels turning and heart wrenching at the facts of the case.
To whom it may concern,
Please, you must end this. You have to understand what you are doing. I am not sure why, but I need you to see me.
“Honestly sir, I can’t make heads or tails of it. Outside of the letter, this is all pure —
In this cursory inspection here at the cabin, it didn’t take long for Agent Redel to find the journal. Soon discovered on the underside of the desk emblazoned with the X, there was a secret compartment. Running his fingers across it, he eventually found something resembling a button, which released a light notebook into his other awaiting hand. The hiding place was simple, analog, hand-crafted even. It was not part of the original desk’s design by Redel’s judgment.
The note was small, bereft of most of its paper. Agent Redel opened it, seeing several pages of writing on the first few pages. The font was dangerously small, but still readable if you looked closely. Most of the pages after, until the last one, appeared to be ripped out. Some shreds of the absent pages’ presence still remained in the rings binding the notebook together. Instinctively, Redel went back to the compartment to check for any loose pages, or anything else. He found none.
Why hide this journal like so? In a secluded cabin like this, there was no real threat of theft. Not that he had anything of value here … And so Redel realized this journal must be that, to the John Doe. Something of value.
One the last page, following the gap of ripped pages, there was only a few lines: “It didn’t work. I was wrong. Seven days. I can feel it. Goddamn it, I can feel it in my chest.”
Agent Redel looked about, before calling out at his find. It appeared the others had left the cabin and were canvasing the surrounding wooded area for further evidence. Instead of calling the team together just yet, he stayed put and began to read the first pages of the journal.
To whom it may concern,
I want to say this is simply an experiment, a way for me to see about the truth of my own complex psychology. I want to say these actions I am about to take are merely a practice in curiosity, even aspirational self-discovery. Ha! But that wouldn’t be true. I must set the record straight here — about my intentions, my own self, my soul. In truth, this is a culmination of my life up to this point. This is the endgame I have chosen for myself, and whatever becomes of me from here on will be destiny. I hate to sound overly dramatic, but before I can go any further I need to do this. It will either kill me, continuing the work which has already been done in my living up to this point. Or it will make me stronger via some form of revelatory resilience, better preparing me for the life I desire to lead after leaving this place. Whichever outcome faces me down at the end, it will be my just desserts. I believe that.
I will either walk out of here, or I will not.
Who I am matters less than what I feel. And what I feel is difficult to articulate. Nevertheless, I will do my best.
I am a person that was born alone, like everyone else. This is not so revelatory, or worthy of being noted. What is, is that I am a person who has stayed that way, all along the travails of my life up to now. And I am at the rocky bottom of this truth at this moment. This is why I am here. I have long been someone indifferent to the consequences of my style of living. I am an outsider, living outside of my peers and their society, and often living outside of myself, in dreamworlds of inner imaginings. But these worlds are full of ghosts which give me nothing, and sometimes, for a spell, take everything away from me. I am a solitary individual of no real consequence. Nameless for all intents and purposes. What I am doing here shouldn’t matter much, but in my hubris, I nevertheless still wish to explain myself. I nevertheless wish to try to will myself into existence. Against all odds, I will try too. God, I will try to.
“Loner.” A loner, a label, aptly fitted. I don’t know how not to be. My whole identity is tied up within this state of being. I don’t sincerely interact with people, because I fear the reprisals of their indifference towards me. I don’t know how to convey myself, because I lack the confidence to do it well enough to my standards of communication. I drive those that are around me, by way of bloodlines and chance, away and it is borne perhaps of masochistic tendencies, or an inability to embrace positive states of change. I fear. Fear, fear fear. That’s the root of it all, I think. But I don’t know what I fear more: people, of all kinds, of all impressions upon me, or change, in all of its iterations I’ve never managed to hold myself to. I don’t want to assign values to my style of living, because I don’t necessarily trust in such judgments. But I will anyway, because I must. I am truly wretched.
I have no fallback, nothing to rely on, of the physical or spiritual kind. There’s no person and no thing which holds me up when the inevitable, restlessly destructive self-doubt emerges to annihilate me in between spells of temporarily effective escapism. I observe others, of course. This is the basis for many of my coming pages of analysis here and the gaps I continually discover between myself and the general hordes of personages out there. Comparison is the parent of my maladies. (Ohh and I knowww — I should be comfortable in my state and my singular existence, and don’t give me the ‘don’t go comparing yourself to others’… yadayadayada. Hey! Who can help it!) In my observations, I have witnessed that everyone has something like this. It’s usually a significant other. Sometimes it is a God, or a place they can go — whether a real location or a state of mind. Most times, the reliance is carried forth in a friend, or a group of them. These companionships are time-honored and borne of shared experience, the most profoundly powerful thing in this world, I think. Coming from someone that doesn’t have a lot of that, maybe I’m not to be trusted in such an assessment. Often, the fallback is bolstered through altered states of mind, such as the use of certain drugs.
No such thing exists for me. There is no intimate connection. No confidant. There is no one else I can trust or rely on to provide for me the things I need to survive, no one else for me to cast my own identity into to save it from the fires of ambiguity. No personage to pour my words and my heart into, to compel understanding unto, to listen and to speak and to feedback me in the manners to which I cannot articulate any further because I have never experienced them. Such communications and interactions are available to me only on my own pages. My many, many useless pages of my similarly styled words. Yet these expressions only ever reach me, thus they cannot be considered true communications, can they?
I have to work very hard to stay OK. To stay safe, to protect my fragile mental states from shattering under the weight of my own fears, doubts, and wavering sense of self. I have to wake up everyday and recreate myself. I have to generate things to care about, to keep me going. It’s challenging work. It is seriously exhausting. And I am finding less and less motivation to continue all the time. Art is the sole progenitor thus far. And it is faltering (it has faltered).
“I am alone, but not lonely.” This is what I would tell myself. Mostly, it is a lie. But it is true in the sense that this is how I choose to live. None of this has happened to me. By a manner of the methodology of how I carry myself, I have created this ghost world for myself. My own indifference and my own choices have delivered to me this fate. And now I must face up with it. The truth is that I belong nowhere. And so, it stands to reason that I deserve nowhere.
All of my prior connections up to this point have been cursory, incomplete, and inarticulate. There is no passion within me for others (and yet I crave the comfort of their acceptance, their understanding, their presence). I am a walking paradox. I lie to everyone around me, all the time, (especially myself), and then am dumbfounded by the consequences. I have certainly not loved (I am not sure I am capable of love). The threads of my thinking are generally pathological. There might be quite a few things wrong with me. And because of all of this, because of my observations of people and art and places and things out there existing around me in their various states of suffering and contentment and being — I can see with clarity what I am not. The world, my reflections upon it, all the people out there … it’s all a dark and revealing mirror to the suffering of my own existence. I can see now, because of my solitude and my lack of an understanding of what I need for permanent meaning in my life, that my life has yet to begin. In this stasis, I am simply awaiting death. Within the void within me, I can actually feel myself falling deeper and deeper into a permanent zone of non-meaning. I can feel my soul giving in to the entropy of my time.
I have come to find I can actually feel entropy’s effect on me. It happens in my chest during the darkest bouts of my malady I am yet capable of. It’s a feeling that’s a non-feeling. An emptiness, but physically manifested within a space not so used to it. Or rather, an absence that is not meant for this place. A place that yearns to be full, fulfilled even. And when the empty darkness drops, it is like a square peg in a round hole. It’s disconcerting.
And with this hole in me, I can actually feel myself dying, if you can believe that. It’s all quite depressing. But to admit that would mean defeat (I am NOT depressed). I would mean that this life (or non-life) I am leading (which I have chosen for myself) has been a complete mistake (which it has), but I simply cannot admit that, I cannot show weakness, there’s too much on the line for that now, I cannot do it, there are too many past selves and uninitiated potential companions counting on me to survive this, to escape into the hope I cannot yet perceive. There are too many persons in my past, some of which I still contact, that will be so disappointed in me. So unbelieving of this center, this ’truth’, if that’s what it is. No, they cannot know. No one can ever know.
I have too many existential scores to settle, and its long past time for me to settle up. I am the only one who can. I need to accelerate the communal entropy harvesting my soul and reach the finish line with something to talk about, and write about, and forget, casting it away into the indifferent inner void. Yes, I must face up to the daemons awaiting me at the end of the line. If they eat me, and no words are ever spoken again, then I can accept that. I have to. I owe my daemons that much.
And so now I am. One way or another, this will be my final fate. Despite the solitary conditions of my life out there, I was still holding the line. I was still waiting so patiently for something to happen. So now I am forcing it to happen within me. Or I am to be destroyed in the effort. So be it.
This will be a “zero’ing out.” I will reside in this abode for an indefinite period of time. This is day 1. Hour 1 of my journey. There will be no connections, no communications. I will not speak. There was no vow of any kind, I just figure I won’t be needing to. I will only live here, inside these walls, and outside within the wilderness — in a truer, more complete isolation. There will be a kind of harmonious state to things here. A part of me is looking forward to getting started here.
The core idea is this: if I can remain here — living within the harshest emptiness yet encountered, giving up everything I had (which wasn’t much), away from all the restless worries and comparisons and sheer misunderstandings and missed opportunities, outside of the risk-reward matrices of social and professional circles, absent from interactions of which I never felt apart of, aside from the the visions which have long spurred my loneliness, living abroad in an ocean of my own existential regard, out of the facade of the life I am leaving behind — then perhaps I can continue in this world. Then, perhaps, I will be deserving of life.
Only after giving up everything, can I hope to find my way. If I can truly rock bottom out and survive this, if I can continue to ‘create’ myself even here, then I can do anything. ~
Agent Redel finished reading. Gathering his thoughts concerning the case, and this person, Redel felt tears forming in his eyes. Despite his best efforts to remain detached, the words carried a significant emotional response with them. He felt his own brutal depression rear its ugly head in his words; he was compulsorily empathetic to the writer of this letter. As he read, he felt the soul of the person on the page. It was necessarily damned, and the whole dark sentiment was made worse by his knowledge of the final outcome of this little “experiment.”
In a deep rumination, he spent many more minutes in the chair considering the coincidence of these deaths. And the other person, this girl. The other ‘victim‘?
~ They both wrote letters. One was unaddressed. Neither was read in time, and not by the one with the agency to prevent tragedy. Two deaths. One of despair, it seemed. And the other?
Redel kicked back in the seat, standing it precariously on its back two legs. Mind away, but now focusing on his balance, something drew him away for a moment from the journal and the desk and the whole case. Instinctively, he turned to look out the window of the room to the east. Still seated at the desk, holding the journal, Redel scrutinized the landscape of nature presenting itself out of that particular window. Just as the John Doe had done countless times over the past 92 days, Redel gazed out into the heavily forested area of the plain at the base of the closest nearby hill. Among the circles of the trees there, one had fallen. Inside of brisk walk away, Redel gathered, as he slammed the chair back into place on the floor. Rising out of the chair and approaching the window to take a better look, Redel saw its trunk lay shattered in a field of fine grass, rotting in the sunlight.
Before this scene, and in light of the case coming to resolution, Agent Redel’s sobs began anew, redoubled by traumas he could no longer set aside out of dutiful professionalism.
Somewhere nearby, unseen and undiscovered as of yet, bound by some kind of fate, Redel envisioned another tree similarly composed in such a way, its roots bared to the glaring rays of high noon, now for the same duration. ~