He lies there in a pool of blood, cradled by light. A gentle hand strokes his hair, soft tears fall on his cheeks. Tears that are not his own. Another hand lies on his. He tries to squeeze it, but cannot move a muscle. He tries to speak, but only gurgles and bleeds and dies bit by bit. A voice pleads, desperate and tremoring, “Please, please… you can’t leave me. Please. Hold on, just hold on.”
And yet, and yet, it grows ever more distant. The world around him fades away.
The man wakes with a gasping "No!" Clutching at the wound in his chest, there no longer. Only a phantom pain remains. Only a receding memory. The smell, the comforting hand, the love and anguish in his heart, they are all left behind.
"Welcome," A voice rasps, "Welcome to the world."
It is a seering, bleeding world, leaking flame and darkness. The air supperates with a million distant cries. He is warm, sweating, like the flames lick at his heels. And indeed they do. Despite their brightness, he can barely see six inches in front of his face. The neophyte pleads: "Wh-where am I?"
Silence reigns a while. The young man seeks the voice that spoke in the black. Seeks to define the world that still eludes him. He blinks, trying to brush away his swimming, failing vision. His eyes are weak like a child’s, like he’s never used them before, like nothing before this moment was real, like on this moment has presence or meaning. Nothing, nothing... then:
"You have found your way. You are home."
The man stammers. "What? No! I was, I was..." A loud retort, the stench of sulphur. Distant sobs and sadness and pain that grows ever fainter. A world that fades away. With it leeches memory. "I was shot?" He finally sobs.
The voice returns with the weight of a thousand whispers, all asking the same question in unison. "What else do you remember?"
A form starts to coalesce in shadow, large and misshapen. Its terrors too dim to comprehend.
And the gaping whole reveals itself. His life, his family, his loves, the face of the hand that held him as he faded, slow, then quickly away… all forgotten.
Only pain, the wound, the puddle of blood and now the fear, the stench that clogged his nostrils and sent his heart a-racing. They were all that remained. That and the dark, that and the voice.
"Who am I?" He demands of the shape looming just beyond apprehension.
"What are you?" He asks, now quietly, "What have you done to my life?"
"Life?" The rasp becomes a wheezing laugh, "Boy, that ‘life’ was a dream." The shape moves. Closer, closer. "This, here, is the only real."
The man shakes his head to dispel the madness. But the... (world?) grows more solid, more present. Still his vision swims, or is the world, the ground itself that swims? He feels a beat beneath his feet, like a giant, vivid heart. "What are you?" He repeats in a rasp of his own.
Into the dim light’s flame crawls the speaker. A skeletal mass, many-handed, of undulating limbs and dead gaping faces. A field of humanity plastered together, jumbled like bodies in a blender, a broken whole. All slack and all grinning, all silent and unmoving and yet all speaking with the same toneless voice. "I am Man!"
The man stumbles, jibbering in silent horror. The world ripples and he falls, hand brushing against fleshy ground. Against a mouth. He looks around him and the veil is lifted. The world lives. Mountains of bone. Valleys of mouths, lakes of spittle and blood. Forests that are tufts of hair, and always, always, scabarous, puckering faces with sightless eyes. Moving yet unmoving, one life, one mind, billions of terrible voices. It speaks, they all speak: "I am the World!"
He moves to stand but sinks. Down, down. Deeper and deeper, until the all world is warm and black. And the flame from without, the distant dull burning, alights within him. It is hot and terrible and… familiar. He stands before the candle that warmed him in the womb, the candle of Man. The truth his dreams shielded, that his own mind hid. This is the world. There is no death, no God, no truth but this: There is only man. He tries to cry out. "No! Please, I want to go back. Take me back!"
But instead, his mouth smiles. The torrent of life obviates his thoughts, his self. There is no young man any more, only Man, only the orgiastic world of flesh.
And the chorus, it whispers: "I am You!"