Epilogue

            Max is with me in this dank Seattle forest where she smashed my bones into a multitude of bloody pieces beneath the flesh. I am lying in her arms, and my agonized body is sprawled over her bent knees, while one of her hands clasps the back of my neck and the other rests across my body. The pain, a diabolical fiend within me, unfurls inside of my leg and slithers its tendrils up through my body, wanting to paralyze my being. To resist it and block such a force from my mind is easy enough. To rise valiantly to my feet and flee into the lush grove of trees surrounding us, however, is impossible.

            My flight has ended.

            In the dark recesses of my mind, the thunder begins to roll in a great multitude of reverberations, sounding like a hungry demon's stomach anxious for its next meal. I thought I had witnessed the worst of such a beast before, but I know now that any of my past beliefs are gone, obliterated like my defenses. Even though I hate the idea of Max seeing me cry, tears, hot and acid, spring to my eyes and I cannot stop them from appearing around my quivering blue irises.  The storm of death is approaching once again, but with an intensity unlike anything I have ever known, for this time, it comes for me.

Part of me leaves my green grave and enters into a separate world where those I have known so intimately in my months of freedom wait for me. Dead or alive when I last saw them, they exist in the form I knew them best, and whether they are true ghosts or merely hallucinations of a dying man, I do not know.

Jace sits with her legs crossed underneath, and her blue hair, streaked black, tumbles down around her face. She tried to warn me, tried to make me see that my destruction was closer than I thought, and to ultimately give me a chance at a better life. It was she, who had to disguise herself, just so I would listen to the words of my death, even if it meant driving me to the point of insanity. I ignored her precious words, believing she knew nothing of what she spoke and continued on my fatal road.

Zack's here too, in all of his black leather glory, and for the first time, his eyes are downcast and mouth tight against his wrinkled skin. He is mourning and naturally will not admit such an emotion. Yet, for a second, he looks up and meets my eyes. Grieving for me and berating himself, his eyes are coated over with glassy tears, and in them, I see my reflection, and I know at last what I monster I have become.

Carlos sneers wickedly, whispering his curses to the devil that spin and echo around me, which make my head swirl in confusion. We were more alike than I thought, as both of us believed our superiority made us indestructible in the realm of inferior humans. At our strongest moment, though, destruction came. No longer am I the murdering spider; I have become the insect forced to suffer under another's judgment.

Kyle passes by me, studying me, as was his job in Manticore all those years ago. Even if his conscious mind did not recognize me on the bus, deep down, beneath the layers of gray matter, he knew I wasn't the mere football jock I claimed to be. Jack, his simple son, floats slowly in the background, so I can only see his gray figure in the distance. He was to be the death to avenge my brother's and the blood to cease my rampage for proper revenge.

Jada cradles Taji in her arms, whispering sweet words to him as tears fall down her hollow cheeks. These tears splatter onto Taji's dirty skin and leave their trails on the curve of his bones. The only woman I ever loved for more than blood or sex, for she gave me neither, I will forever regret leaving her that night her daughter died. My subconscious struggles to reach out to her for one last caress and one last kiss that could save me from the suffering of death. She refuses to acknowledge me and, with the back of her hand, she wipes her tears away and denies her ever-augmenting pain.

George, perfectly whole and completely devilish, aims his gun at me, pulling the trigger, but failing to execute his deadly plan. My love for Jada fades away to hatred for such a bastard of a man, and it was he who made me realize that my childhood was fairly decent compared to the punishment he bestowed upon his own children. Unfortunately, there are a thousand more like him and a thousand more children who will suffer until death mercifully ends their pain. A compassionate part of me wishes to save them all.

William stands casually in the corner, swirling his precious vodka in its little crystal cups. He looks up from his drink for a moment, meeting my eyes as they float inside my skull. Tipping his head to me in a gentleman's fashion, he smiles wryly before turning away to drown himself in potent alcohol and to block out the memories of his mother he loved so much.

Diane sits on the floor, with her beautiful white dress flooded around her in a shimmering puddle of pearls and lace. She moans softly, but her body is too weak to produce tears for herself. All she ever wanted in life was to be loved, and her greatest desire caused her greatest pain.

Suddenly, breaking through these sorrowful images is Lia, my love, and the only one who truly could have saved me from the storm. Twirling under a beacon of radiant light, while the people around her are clad in shadows, she runs to me through puddles of crystal water. The water shimmers with a rainbow's glorious colors and her sun nearly blinds me with all the love she powers it with. She holds her arms out to me, and at last, I can hear her as she cries my name in a flurry of giggles, pleading for me to come and dance. My heart nearly bursts upon seeing her again, and I try to call out to her but the pain steals my voice away before it reaches my lips.

            Slowly, my subconscious joins my being in the entirety, and I see Max above me who is shaking her head, refusing to grant my one last request. The one last request that will change me forever: I am pleading with her to kill me. The storm is thunderous in my brain and it takes all my concentration to listen to her instead of grabbing my head in insanity. She believes I do not want to return to Manticore and suffer with the monsters in the basement.

What I do not tell her is that I am not afraid of the simple anomalies who gather in the cages of Manticore. The ones who reached for me in the hallway as a child, knowing that I would return to them one way or another.

I am afraid of myself because I am the monster in the basement. I want her to destroy me before I destroy myself. Before the storm reaches me and swallows me whole.

As I have all along, the only creature that could ever bring destruction to me was myself. No matter the human dangers I took, I was unstoppable. Only when my own weakness erupted, did my mortality triumph over immortality.

            Then, I see the acceptance in Max's face. Her body tenses, followed by a period of brief relaxation. "Tell me about the Good Place," she says, her voice strangely hollow and yet beautiful.

            I struggle to smile, but the pain has reached my face, and my lips twist and turn unnaturally. So many times have I spat in death's face, and, now, standing at its gates, I am terrified beyond comprehension. "Where no one ever gets punished?" I question, even though I know the lines by heart. The Good Place is my world where the storm cannot reach me. Will I reach the Good Place now before the storm catches up with me? The wind racks my beaten body and the rain gushes down in torrents as the thunder rises in volume, building in a crescendo of death.

            "And no one gets yelled at," she continues. Her eyes glisten with tears, and I wish I could kiss her right then and tell her that my blood will not be on her hands, for she is doing the right thing for both of us.

            "And nobody disappears…" The roar of the thunder and rain is deafening, and the wind shreds my muscles open within me. "And in the morning," I begin, staring into space where the Blue Lady and her angels smile at me through heavenly rays of sunshine, and the anomalies grin on the sidelines with saliva dribbling from their fangs, prepared to feast on my flesh until the end of the world. Violently trembling as the storm surrounds me, prepared to reach its climactic end, I continue, "...You can stay in bed as long as you-"

            Then there was a crack like lightning.