Songs From the Damned

                I have started more stories than I could ever hope to finish. And when I die, I will die wondering: What songs did I leave unsung?

Mort washed ashore far from any ocean he recognized. The air was singing. A lilting chorus of countless voices, high and low, that gently woke him. He stretched on black sand, and yawned as he awoke. Despite his strange surroundings—the sky was blue and clear and the land was flat and he could see for miles in every direction, yet there was no sun in the sky—he was not perturbed, nor worried. Everything is at it should be, some voice inside him assured, wait… and you will see.

                So he waited. Waited for what this world wished him to witness.

                Eventually, though he stood still, not walking up the beach nor away from the shore. The waters receded into the distance. He was no longer on the sand but in the forest, mud cool between his toes. The air still sang, words beyond his grasp. Mort wondered what this could mean, to be so transported without his knowledge, without the sensation of movement. The stuff of dreams. Then a voice arose, different from the song of this world. It bade him Follow. And so he did, though its direction was not evident. He walked without aim, totally alone. This land was bereft of life—aside from the plants and trees—both large and small, not even the insects came for him. Only the flora, only the song and the singular voice conducting it all that called him forward.

                Without noticing, he passed from the forest into tundra, where his was the only life around. Despite the snow and raging winds, he was not cold. He did not feel their bite. The song, which prevailed over the wind, was within him now and where it sang no frost dared reach. At the center of this sudden wasteland, a mountain of ice, seemingly the eye of the storm that buffeted him to and fro. It was from its peak that the voice echoed. There the answer he had not realized he sought until he woke on the now-departed beach awaited his arrival. He walked forward, never stumbling, nor slipping, nor doubting his course. Hands shielded him from the wind and the stinging snow.

                Mort reached the mountain, and without hesitating he began to climb. Somehow he sensed hesitation meant death, to wonder at the impossibility of the landscape. The implausibility that he might survive it. That would overcome him. This, he also knew without doubt. Doubt, the poison of mankind. He would not drink from that trough. He would move forward.

                And forward, and upwards he climbed.

                At the mountain peak, a mouth yawned inward, revealing darkness. The voice beckoned him into its depths. Mort waited only a moment, pondering the chances that if he entered, he would again live to see the sun. Then he reminded himself: This land, wherever and whatever it is, has none. The sky is without stars. It is always day. Always night. Always a time in between. Where the sky is gray and blue, where the land is black and light. Let what will come, come. He left doubt and fear behind in the world he knew. And into the darkness he flew. Or the darkness flew into him. Once again, he did not seem to move.

                A cavern opened up before him. Here there was light, and a throne. Sitting in that throne, a figure in robes. He could not see anything but its smile until it threw back the hood, revealing an ancient woman with red on red eyes. Her skin, greyish green, wrinkled and thin, did not betray her strength. But from across the hall, in a world he did not understand, still Mort sensed it. A spirit not to be trifled with. She grasped his comprehension, and smiled, satisfied. After a while, she spoke.

                “The dead are words and memories, and that is how they exist… even here. You have done well to make it this far intact.”

                Mort was not impressed, tired of confusing words and whispers on the wind. Of dreams and half-measures. “Where is here exactly? Why should I be impressed to reach a place if I don’t even know where it is?”

                “This tower has many names. As does this land. As do I.” She smiled again, his impertinence did not seem to bother her. Quite the opposite in fact. “Have you not wondered why you have encountered no others on your journey? Or why the wilderness seems to float before you?”

                “Well, no… I-”

                “Wonder at this, then. How in the nature of dreams is your incuriosity! How malleable your world, like it is shaped by your subconscious moments before you perceive it. The only real thing you have seen… is me. This hall. Everything else…” She shakes her hands to demonstrate its illusory nature.

                “Then where am I?”

                “You… are in the land that has never needed a name. None of have lived to see it. None that inhabit it even realize it is there. You are in the land of song. And you, Mort, are a thing that should not be.”

                “And that is?”

                “Alive.”

                “Alive?”

                “Alive… in a land built for the damned.”

                I have ended more worlds than will ever live, merely by having an idea and then forgetting it. In this fashion, how many great works have been lost?