This turned out nothing like I expected. Then again, I got to about halfway in my expectations and didn't know where to go. Criticism/editing appreciated, I'm looking for a relatively fast turnaround on these.
Golgotha and Back Again
by Stewart Wilson
"Golgotha," Jen said. "It's the sort of place everyone has to see once."
I was more skeptical. "As long as you're not trying to use this as a pretext to a religious revelation."
"Come on," she said. "You know me better than that. I just want to see the Place of Skulls. The place Christ died. Religious or not there's a hell of a charge sat there. You were hyped for a week after we went to Dachau."
"I remember. The ghosts there..." I tried to repress a shudder, and failed. "I get insane around the big, mythic places. The ghosts whispering to me, the historical inertia crashing into my brain. I'm just worried about going too far, you know? And you can't get more mythic than Golgotha."
"I know." She slipped her arm around my shoulders. "I'll be there, if anything happens. And if it doesn't, just think of what we can bring back."
That's the problem with having a wife who's just as much an occultist as you are. There's nobody to calm you down, pull the handbrake before you skid into the petrol tanker of insanity and a life of medication on the schizophrenia ward.
But if you don't take these risks, you never know where that limit is.
Five days later we were there. The Holy Land. A cheap hotel for the both of us, keeping a low profile while we arranged a pilgrimage. Three more days, trying to blend in, to look less like tourists and more like people with a purpose. Which we had, to tell the truth. No magicians had managed to get all the way to the Place of Skulls and return home before now. Even if Ein Sof didn't have a son, a hell of lot of people died in that name. Their ghosts would lend power to the place, every single one who died in the name of Jesus Christ. Part of them would move on, but the remains still had enough psychic energy to make this place into a beacon.
It was there, even in the hotel. An itch at the base of my skull, a vague pricking in my thumbs. We were very close to something big. I could tell that Jen felt it too. We didn't talk about it. It was enough to see it in each other's eyes. I'd gone on this holiday for a dare, but I had to admit that I was honestly curious. And more than a little scared.
The twitches, the signs of something big, all got worse as we made our way there. I squeezed Jen's hand, and told her I loved her. Seconds later, I saw it.
Shadows on the hill, eye sockets and nasal cavity both. A trick of the light, just the highlights from an incredibly high pile of human skulls every time I moved my head. I can feel spatial dimensions closing off, collapsing under the incredible weight of entropy we have brought upon ourselves.
I step forwards, closer to the source. Into the Place of the Skull. The sound of a thousand thousand screams tears at my ears. Grey shadows whip around at the edge of my vision. More spirits than I can count. No magician had come back from here. I had to be stupid enough to think that I could be the first. An immense pressure builds inside my head until it threatens to explode.Out of view of the few others who are here, I start haemorrhaging, blood flowing from my eyes.
Jen's in a bad way. I see her through the red film of my own vital fluids. She's collapsed on the ground, weeping uncontrollably. She spasms, her own muscles trying to break her bones. Nobody left around. Just the two of us, dying from our own hubris.
This is the place that defined humanity. Given a saviour, we killed him. We could have learnt so much, we could have walked up the Tree, but instead we struck out with barbaric cruelty and killed him. Not just an ordeal, a tortuous death. An act that cemented Cain's first murder. That opened a crack in the human soul, the crack that let true entropy into the universe. We could never return to the godhead, never truly merge with Ein Sof. We were and are and will be killers, destroying everything we don't understand. Imperfect monkeys, trying so hard but always failing. Everywhere I look I see the faces of the dead. Everyone killed in the name of a higher power, everyone to die by someone "just following orders". Every soul condemned to death by human ignorance. Their screams tear my eardrums. They want us to join them.
I drag myself over what feels like ground glass, do my best to hold myself up over Jen's body. The ghosts will get me before they get her. I won't let it happen any other way.
And right then, a renegade bit of information that had been screaming for attention finally gets it.
This is the place of death, but death is a part of life. A scary part. A part that currently feels like something is cutting every inch of my flesh with rusty knives. But a part of life. The skull is a symbol of death. But the skull is also the crown of the human body.
This place is an Abyss. The ghosts, the pain, my broken legs — these are Dragon at the gates of Nirvana. We do not succumb or overcome. We accept. We cross the abyss and live through it, go through everything. We both have to accept our own mortality. In life, there is death. Atrocity. Hatred. But in death, there is life. In man there is God and in God, there is man.
My body is wracked with hacking coughs, a tumour the size of a tennis ball in one of my lungs growing all the more. I lean my head in close to Jen's ear, and I can hear upper arm snap.
"Don't fight. Transcend."
I black out.
It's long after dark when I wake up. My head feels like death and my eyes are rimmed with dried blood. But I am alive. Just. I can hear a faint groaning, and I see Jen beside me.
We lay there in silence, looking up at the stars.
"Do you think–" she wipes blood and bile from her lips. "Do you think we're the first?"
I think about that, as I slowly discover what injuries remain to heal. "No. Not the first."
"But the others didn't come back."
"Yeah. Guess we have to do the same."
"I didn't do that to go back to fleecing people with tarot readings."
"But we've got each other. Bet none of the others knew they weren't alone."
"Yeah." I feel my wrist pop back into the socket.
"Plane leaves tomorrow. We need to be on it."
"We will be."