End – a short story from the ouroboros universe.

Edward felt the wind rip past his face. As it scraped along his stubble he could feel the division of space where Walter ended and everything else took over. Edward was always trying to convince Walter that any and all things beyond his thin barrier of skin cells were not at all separate but was actually one big gelatin like substance.

<<You’re only wading through it on your journey, past to future, through your momentary flashes of segmented awareness>> Walter accepted that most of what Edward said was meant to fuck with his mind; a mind that was already overloaded with disjointed and frayed connections, distorted further still by the constant hum of static.

Am I mad because of the static? Or is the static a manifestation of my insanity? He didn’t bother asking Edward. Walter knew what his answer would be.

<<We’re all mad. Some are just better at hiding it than others>>

Edward was waiting for Jake, though usually it was Walter that went to meetings. Edward was unpredictable. Walter liked meetings to be lucid and then the job itself would be passed on to Edward. Walter didn’t want to be around when Edward worked. That’s why he did so much acid. Acid made the division between Walter and Edward that much thicker and dulled the uncomfortable intricacies of the profession Edward loved so much. Walter had tried before to just accept it but he wasn’t like Edward. Something he never let Walter forget.

Usually Walter would leave Edward to his work while he escaped into the churning heaviness of an acid trip. Sometimes he took ketamine, but Edward said he couldn’t work while Walter was thrashing around in a k-hole. Edward insisted Walter only use LSD when the auto club needed him to work. Edward was silent and Walter was anxiously trying to repel paranoid thoughts that came charging out at him from the darkness.

I should’ve left the phone in the car, Walter felt an itch in his nose and their body made a move to scratch it. As the finger slid up their nose to pursue the itch, another feeling poked at his unfocused awareness. The phlegmy residue of the ketamine slid out from his sinuses. It crept along the skin at the back of his throat, dropping excess globs of the viscous solution on his tongue as it did.

Since the first line of Special K the night was charged with a dark malevolence that crackled around Walter’s fractured mind. Edward had no jobs planned and that’s why Walter had gone to see the man in the purple suit to stock up. LSD. Ketamine. DMT. Mushrooms. Walter trusted the man in the purple suit, as much as Walter was able to trust another person, so he didn’t hesitate dosing Edward with three hits of acid when he asked. On the second shared peak, the man in the purple suit started stomping about the room aggressively. The dark energy pulsed and ballooned up in intensity, pressing outward larger and larger until Walter could feel the seething malevolence stabbing at his skin.

“Hey man, did, uh, did I accidentally give you the white ones?”

Walter stared at the man in the purple suit silently.

“’Cause those were actually my personal ones. How many did you take?”

Edward reminded Walter that they’d taken three. Walter held up three fingers.

The man in the purple suit cackled in a hysterical flick of his whole body that arced back before swinging back the opposite way. The expanding energy continued to stab at Walter’s skin.

“Holy shit, dude! There were 300 mics in each of those!”

The laughter angered Edward. Walter was about to let him take over but then his phone began to ring. Jake wanted to meet. He wasn’t sure about what or why he’d called so late.

<<It’s our night off!>> Edward reminded Walter.

He knew they should’ve said no, but Edward was about to stab the man in the purple suit and Walter didn’t want to go searching for another source with quality shit.

There was a ludicrously elongated moment where Walter was convinced that rather than recalling the night’s events with the man in the purple suit that they had actually jumped the temporal track and inserted themselves back in that time. It didn’t feel like simply recalling a memory of earlier that night but then Edward reminded them that they were still spiking hard from 900 mics of LSD.

The chemicals hummed but Edward was in mechanic mode. It was almost too much for Walter who was still trying to flee and lose himself in the nothingness of buzzing images and fragmented thoughts lacking any discernable sequence.

The air scratched past him again and he could almost feel the individual cells lifting away like shingles in a hurricane. It made Walter wonder how many skin follicles the wind had taken with it and how many cells from other beings were floating in the air around him. His spine tightened. The idea of bits of dislocated skin spiraling around in the ether made him think of those mites that live on your eyelashes, living out their whole lives beneath the towering structures that to them would look like redwoods dotting the pink surface of their world.

What do we live our lives upon?

While Walter was tossed around in the choppy waves of quantum non-locality, Edward was present and excitedly waiting for orders.

<<It isn’t like Jake to be late>> Edward tried to slow his portion of their mind and throw off the dark feeling that hovered over him. Edward tried to identify the malevolent force concealed behind the impenetrable skin of the unseen. Every muscle in his face tensed down in crazed concentration. He was disheartened by his inability to articulate the pulsing waves of terror that were throbbing through him. It was like Edward could almost see . . . it. But the resolution was so pixilated that the true picture was lost in large solid squares. <<Either I’m too close or its image is blown up far too large for me to make it out>> He realized he needed to either pull back or shrink . . . it.

Edward became aware that he was far closer to the edge than he should be. He didn’t want to lose himself inside the throbbing electricity of his splintered mind since Walter was already far off beyond him, rising and falling off in the distance carried around by the invisible waves of madness.

Edward tried to wrench his awareness back into their body. Edward was away from it long enough that when he did return, their body was wobbling uneasily back in forth like a newborn calf. He snatched control before their body collapsed completely and shot out an arm to steady their body against the bricks.

Edward had entered crazed eyes that were darting around, unfocused and purposeless. When he finally calmed them, he reached into his pocket for a joint he hoped would settle him.

Walter, seeing Edward’s hassle with operating their body, cut himself away from the aimless waves and decided to take over Edward’s aborted quest to uncover the name of the illusive malevolent force. Someone had to be inside, and someone had to be outside. Walter thought it only polite to help Edward out since he was on outside duty at the moment.

Just before the peak of Walter’s search-and his 900 microgram acid trip-his exhausted mind collapsed, sputtering clumsily and finally stalling completely. His attempt could only revealed a frustratingly partial identity for their invisible terror.

End.

Edward blinked dopily as their brain rebooted from the critical systems crash Walter had caused. Walter eventually rejoined Edward in their unsteady body back in reality. Both were crippled by the profound, yet terrifyingly limited, awareness of End. What scared them more, was that they knew End was not its true name. End was just the name it went by; the name it gave to those it didn’t already know. End was but a codename and Edward knew that behind the invisible skin of End there existed something more.

Their whole body shivered but then he laughed. His loud, sparking laughter blasted out into the ambient noise of the Exchange District alley. The hysterical grunting of their insanity infected the charged hum of night traffic running up Main Street and along Portage Avenue to the South.

As the intensity drained, Edward’s relative lucidity returned and the strings connecting his mind with his physical senses began to reattach themselves. His eyes focused and he saw that he was standing in the back alley in the Exchange. He was cloaked in sickly, yellow light raining down from the metal fire escape above. Edward could see his shadow stretched out in front of him, long and sinister. As he stared at his own shadow, textured by the pebbles and cracked stone it flowed over, Edward wanted to name his shadow End too. He coughed as he turned his head to look at the glowing tip of the joint he held in his fingers. He saw the ribbon of smoke float upwards, displacing itself into the nothingness of air around him.

He laughed loudly again and shook his head. He reminded himself once again that the man in the purple suit had dosed them with a ridiculous amount of acid before they’d gotten the call to come meet Jake. Edward pulled again on the joint. He reminded himself that weed always made him paranoid.

The intense psychedelic detour had caused their hands to sweat. He put the joint between his lips and wiped his clammy hands on his shirt.

What the fuck is taking Jake so long? Walter wondered anxiously fidgeting inside their mind.

The phone in their pocket vibrated and their whole body tensed.

It wasn’t a number Walter recognized so he stared anxiously at the phone and didn’t answer it.

Eventually, the ringing stopped.

“Edward,” a calm baritone voice filtered out from the darkness of the alley. It squirmed its way into his ear canal where the sensation was distilled into sparks of anxious electricity that sped off to his brain. They jolted him with the true meaning and identity of End.

He didn’t recognize the voice though it wasn’t as if the auto club would have sent someone they had ever met before.

Edward knew it wouldn’t do any good but Walter was already trying anyway. Edward knew the inevitability of what was coming.

<<So everyone makes that face at the end>> Inside, Edward smirked as Walter pleaded through pathetically hysterical tears. He was too terrified to be amused. The face was a grimace that marked the instant they became aware of the moments they had left between the one they were in and their last, when the nothingness would snap them away forever. Before, Edward had always found that expression humorous. No longer. Now he understood. At their own end, Walter (and therefore Edward) was making that terrifyingly unfunny face. 

Edward felt End growing with sinister intensity. Walter did too. They felt it like a bright flare that scorched their skin wherever gelatin reality touched the barrier of cells separating them from End. Edward knew he had never once shown mercy. The auto club would never have paid them if he’d ever shown mercy. He’d never really thought about it from the other side before, but then that moment too-imbued with unappreciated irony-dissolved into nothingness, shoving him closer and closer to End.

Edward birthed a plan to stretch time with more weed. Although it wasn’t so much a plan as it was a craving that sizzled across his brain. It jostled around for importance against the jagged clumps of competing thoughts. Of course they couldn’t all fit inside his head. Even without drugs, Walter’s insanity ensured that his mind was never a thought or two under maximum capacity and Edward wasn’t even included in that. Their continuous drug use-and the psychosis required for them to thrive in their profession-caused a spike in immigrant population that led to a kind of cognitive urban sprawl even though Walteropolis, and sister city Edwardopolis, offered no vacant land to sprawl into. His skull crushed the immigrant thoughts together. The citizens of the twin cities screamed out but to Walter and Edward they were percieved as pulsing waves of undifferentiated static tinged with aggressive desperation. The plan, hidden inside a craving, was ignored among the gurgling and roiling mass of screams that thundered about the twin cities.

“Listen, I . . . I have a collection,” Inside their head, Edward laughed. He knew Walter was talking about the assorted trinkets spilling over the lip of the wastebasket in their basement and not the collection itself. Edward always thought Walter’s collection was fucking sick. <<Yet I’m the dark half>> Edward very much enjoyed the act of killing but Walter’s collection was more sinister and depraved than just murder. And Edward didn’t care who the victim was while Walter’s meticulously selected future additions to his collection. “I’ll share. I just . . . I don’t have it with me, okay?” Walter yelped worriedly.

There was silence.

Their throat tightened.

“But I mean, I can fucking take you to it. Just, uh, wait. Fuck, just wait. I got rings, necklaces, fuckin’ coins and shit! Jesus fuck just give me a little time to get ‘em.”

A man Edward didn’t recognize emerged from the shadows. His eyes locked on Edward purposefully. The man stepped forward into the harsh yellow light flooding down from the rusted lamp above them.

“Listen, it’s really a funny story-“

 The man wordlessly pulled out a 9mm from his chest holster, concealed beneath his aged leather jacket.

“Jesus,” Walter jumped. “Holy fuck, just, just listen . . . okay! Just fuckin’ listen. I’ll just . . . I’ll just leave, okay? You’ll never hear from me ag-”

Walter’s whole body flinched as the other man’s head exploded outward, spraying bits of brain and matted hair across their face and chest. Edward blinked, amused. Walter was shaking.

The body of the man neither of them knew collapsed limply. A rush of red surged out from the space that used to be the man’s face and pooled beneath the still form, seeping into the cracks in the pavement of the Exchange District alley.

Walter couldn’t process any of it, but it only took Edward a few seconds to realize what had happened. He spun around, scanning into the darkness to see where the shot had come from. He felt the faintest bit of pain.

And then the nothingness swallowed them both.

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