EPILOGUE THREE

Chapter

14

Your name is Dirk Strider, and you know what you must do.

The decision was made the moment John chose his course. This world has been set on a path that you cannot tread.

You stand beneath the carapacian bell tower, poised to climb to the top. You’ve brought nothing with you but a long length of rope, coiled in your steady fist. It is the only thing that you need.

> Ascend.

You do not hesitate. Your legs feel impressively powerful as you begin to climb the staircase, two steps at a time. There is nothing of consequence but your singular task.

You left a note, but you don’t expect any of your friends to understand. It’s not important that they do. A flip of the cosmic coin has rendered your entire life completely inessential. What could you accomplish in a dead-end existence like this? There are no stakes. No meaningful challenges. No structures or themes—only residual chemical reactions in a dying brain, a physical system’s obligate compulsion to exhaust its own lingering momentum. A cockroach with its head cut off, waiting to die of thirst.

Halfway up the tower, you take flight. Every second you waste here is a drain on the concept of existence itself. You whip up the hollow vertical shaft at the center of the spiraling stairs and erupt into the air beneath the bell. You land on the ledge overlooking the Carapace Kingdom below and cast a cursory glance across the landscape beneath you. Its beautiful scenery is a comical illusion of no matter to you.

> Get to work.

Your hands move methodically to fashion the hangman’s noose. It is a gesture you have practiced well. You bunch a section of the rope into an S, and loop the end of the rope around its middle. Seven wraps, and you’re done. You tie it off at the bottom, then tug the rope taut.

The corrosion has already begun. You can feel the gears slowing, all the intricate, unseen mechanisms coming unhinged from their mooring and drifting apart.

Your friends might derive some sense of fulfillment from satisfying the elementary obligations of self-preservation and self-propagation, but there’s nothing here for you. It doesn’t matter anymore.

There is a beam across the opening of the face of the bell tower that will serve as a convenient anchor for the rope. You toss the noose up over the beam and then rise to fasten the knot. You ensure that it is secure. There can be no mistakes.

You touch back down on the ledge of the tower. You bring the noose over your head and pull it tight.

Your choice is not between that of life and death. It is between an ignominious dissolution at the hands of entropy, and one final act of relevance that can bequeath your meager energies to the cosmic well from whence they came.

In a certain sense, you’ve never felt so free.

> Kill yourself.

You jump.

A meaningful death would, of course, be quick. Brutal. An expeditious descent, a splash of crimson at the base of the bell tower, a body that looks otherwise intact if you don’t flip it over to see the dark, mottled bruises where the fetid, septic blood has begun to pool. You made certain that the rope was long enough for the velocity of your fall to immediately decapitate you. It slices through the air with a vicious whipping sound, unspooling in even, silk-smooth rotations. Just as your epiphany occured at sunset, your death must occur at sunrise to complete the ouroboros of symbological harmonic resonance that is your personal arc.

It is the very last moment of narratively consequential action that will happen in this whole, barren world. The few carapacians unfortunate enough to have left their homes this early in the morning will remember this moment forever, but in reality, it lasts only half a second. The noise your cervical spine makes when it sunders is indescribably gruesome. Many of the bystanders who witness your death will later attempt to recount it, but there really are no words that can adequately express the sound someone makes when they die. It’s a phenomenon that happens on two levels. First, there is the literal termination of organic processes, which is to say, the destruction of the meat. Then follows the dissolution of the ego. And you have quite the ego to dissolve, one that has flown so high above the forest that not only can it no longer see the trees, it cannot even conceive of the trees as material substance with objective meaning.

Yours is a singularity of narcissism—an endlessly recursive existence so dense that it has no choice but to sprawl out much further than the boundaries of its person in any given universe or timeline. Once cut off from that, you become unbearably dispensable. From a purely utilitarian perspective, killing yourself is the greatest gift you could give to this dying world. A valorous sacrifice the likes of which this place will never experience again. If your severed head could speak, it might say, “You’re welcome.” But even then, maybe it wouldn’t. It might not care enough to do this shallow realm even that basic courtesy. We may never know.

Your severed head remains suspended in the loop of the noose, tight under your jaw, while your limp body bounces off the side of the bell tower and tumbles to the grass.

Screams sound from below. The horrified carapacian bystanders scatter and run. Your body tumbles down the side of the hill, spraying blood from its neck in a volume that makes the foot of the tower look like the scene of a massacre.

Your heart keeps beating well after you’re dead. It keeps beating until every drop of blood is forced from your corpse, a sea of gore drenching the earth beneath the scene of your demise.

Your body doesn’t get up, and your head doesn’t open its eyes. When you think so little of yourself as a moral character, any act of self-termination will result in a death that is Just.

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