There is a voice, dimly from the darkness.
There is a light, faintly from without.
There is a man, sallow and creeping, who comes without will. He is but an object as he comes, withered toes catching sharp black tomb-rock. Blood spilling lazy from his cuts; it spills and does not pump, it slips torpid from his veins. His eyes roll over dim, and will not see but the light to which the voice is calling him.
His is to rest, to sleep, to dream no dream, to feel no pain.
But he comes, from rest and from sleep, to the world that around him is as a dream. And all the world is pain.
He is the child of Earth, expelled by force from this stone womb and into the arms of the man unthinking who has summoned him forth. What man – what god? – possessed of such a power, to draw from rest towards an image of pain. And how can one claim such a right who will not know the taste of final sleep? The child preconfigures himself in the lives of others, and in their death he draws his way.
His hands and his feet are torn and weeping red, his eyes would weep if they but could. He is drawn, and his mouth is drawn by force in a false grin. He smiles, rushing towards the world. His decayed muscles tear beneath the skin, bursting as they are pulled by the manipulation of this great puppeteer. Would he could but stop, if he could but lie upon the stone.
They are waiting for him and for them he must be brought forth. He must be presented. He is the magician’s rabbit, existing so long in calm velvet darkness only to be produced at a whim into the hands of the terrible crowd.
His skin the winding sheet. Death is nothing but a birth in horrible reverse, birth doubled upon itself and folded back to its first point. He is coming undone, all the strands of his life tangling around his ankles as he rushes towards the light, rushes towards the voice.
* * *
When the crowds are gone and his smile allowed to fall, when the masses have taken in their fill of him, when the master has vanished over the hill, when the violet band of night has spilled back across the horizon.
His wife holds him in the gloom of their clay abode, and her small rough hands will not stop touching him. She touches his skin, his face, his lips. Unbelieving hands, driven to seek ceaseless affirmation, constant awareness. She speaks, voice soft and low and constant.
She speaks to him questions, questions of things to which he can make no good answer, to which he can commit no true word. Knowledge is to him no blessing, and life to him no gift. It is a weight, the lodestone round his throat which should pull him again towards the earth but cannot for the string by which he has been suspended.
He holds his hand before him as the gloom crosses the sky. His skin is tightening, color and shape returning slowly. His whole body prickles as blood pushes into newly twined veins. From his lips a cold black slime, from every orifice flushing the rot of expelled death. Waste spilling from him as animated regrowth pushes out the history of his person.
Her hands are hot and inquisitive on him, searching. He thinks she would push her fingers into his chest if she could, reach into that cavity to squeeze his heart and feel it beating in her palm. She touches his face, turns him towards her. She looks into his eyes, and seems to him alien other, a new being entire. All the world is bright and harsh and screaming. All the world seems set against him. She looks into his eyes and she asks the question.
Would that he could answer.
Would that he could weep.
* * *
Life does not stop. It does not cease once it has been set so roughly into motion. His skin is like a husk on him, hardened by the weathering of ages. But it does not crack nor fall away. It holds him tight as prison bars, close as a burial. One by one they go to the grave, and to their final grace.
Days allay the day. His son’s sons are set, here to rest upon their stones in silent array. And he to watch, remaining, a guardian of names which slip further from tongue and memory with every passing.
Set adrift to wander the world and time. Before his eyes pass the lives of children, pass the fall of empires, pass the infinities of life’s cycle. And he, the example, the master’s prop, he remains.
The sun is going down fat and red as the angry eye of god in the western sky, and Lazarus returns to the cave in the hills. He returns to the slab of rock, and there he lies. He crosses his arms across his chest and he waits in darkness. He stares up at the ceiling, the igneous sky, and he waits.
He rests upon the stone, and he waits for a release denied which now may never come.