Return to Sender
When he opened his eyes, it was to darkness, a deep, ravenous darkness that seemed to just eat and eat and eat, leaving nothing for his gaze to rest upon. He had to go through the motions of blinking repeatedly to make sure that his eyes weren’t in fact closed.
And the quiet… It was the same nothingness that assaulted his ears like a barrage of noise made of not-noise. It was the kind of silence that could be deafening in its absence. As with the act of blinking, he clicked his tongue to be sure that he wasn’t in fact deaf. The small sound echoed about him loudly with no other sound to compete with.
He thought to call out, and before he’d even settled on what to say – a myriad of options ranging from questioning where he was and whether he was alone to how had he arrived here – a voice replied to them all, in a fashion.
‘You’ve been brought here to wait, because that is how it will be,’ the voice said.
‘Who is this?’ he asked.
He’d have normally shifted his glasses on the bridge of his nose, but the intent fell away to a strange form of static, as though the action was disjointed and fractured. He felt as though he had in fact performed the task, but at the same time he knew that he hadn’t.
It was now that he also realised that blinking and clicking his tongue had been just as much afterthoughts of an act that hadn’t in fact taken place. It left him feeling giddy, as though afflicted by déjà vu, but even this was a parody of itself, having happened but also not happened, much like the supposed “now” when this realisation took place.
‘You’ll get used to that,’ the voice said. ‘Or maybe not. Maybe you’ll get used to not getting used to it.’
‘I don’t care for this foolish double-speak,’ he told the voice irritably.
The voice chuckled. Or perhaps it was more that a chuckle voiced. He was quickly learning that many of the rules here were not-rules, something that made sense with alarming absurdity.
‘That’s quite ironic, coming from a politician,’ the voice again chuckled, while the chuckle also voiced.
‘I’ll have you know –’
‘You’ll have me know nothing,’ the voice interjected, ‘just as that’s what I’d bestow upon you.’
And then it did. As much as there’d been a terrible air of absence, there suddenly came much less. It was absurd that such a thing could be measured in its nothingness, but it was abundantly clear that wherever he was, or maybe wasn’t, this… thing, could make it more so. It was achingly lonely. It was sad. And there was so, so much of it bearing down on him. He would have gasped once the momentous weight of it had been removed, but the voice wouldn’t even allow him that.
‘Do you understand now?’ the voice asked him. ‘This isn’t what you’ve known before. This is an entirely new existence for you, or rather, a lack thereof.’
‘But why?’ These were the only two words he could utter. In the tone of his voice there were memories of bawling in a cot, scraping a knee, his first paper cut, first heartache… Every initial disappointment he’d ever learned from the cradle to the grave resonated within those two simple words that would now learn of another unfairness.
‘Because this is just how it is. Would it help if I told you others go through the same process? Or would that be a disservice to your ego? Ego’s really all that you have now, after all.’
‘See, that little rise in your not-voice there, the one I’ll allow you to use for now, you hold on to that small bit of hope.’
‘So this will pass? This…’
‘Limbo,’ the voice suggested for him, only because he would not. To do so implied the other, the fact that to have reached here, something else must have come to an end. He wasn’t ready to accept that.
‘As I implied, it’s a process,’ the voice told him. ‘This here that you’re in, this is consistent. This is something others before you have experienced. What’s not consistent, is how you get out. How others have gotten out.’
‘But I can?’ the man asked. ‘I will?’ The voice this time stripped away the hopeful lilt to his voice, almost as though to prove a point. It left the man’s questions sounding defeated, flat and dull.
‘You can,’ the voice chuckled. ‘You might,’ the chuckle voiced. ‘The end fits the means.’
‘Don’t you mean –’
‘I mean what I say,’ the voice told him. ‘That’s why I never went through this when I arrived. You, however… well, some of what you said, while not mean, was quite mean in the fact that you didn’t mean it.’
The man said nothing to this, offering a silence of his own that could very well have rivalled that of Limbo’s.
‘See, you understand that one very clearly,’ the voice told him. ‘I was absolutely thrilled when they assigned you to me. Bit of a backlog, even still, so a lot of the cases that come through really had no… what’s the word – not relevance – impact? Yes, impact, on me. But yours did. I was there, you see. In your time, your place.’
The man remained silent still, but his quiet wasn’t so forceful now. While before it had seemed put-out, indignant almost, it now seemed only sullen like that of a chided toddler.
‘What do I need to do?’ the man asked, that pointlessly hopeful tone returning, only because the voice allowed it.
‘Dealer’s choice,’ the voice said. ‘Like I said, I was there, but that was a long, long time ago. Enough time to let history be the judge of your actions. Way it works is that we’ll have a tally. Should someone write of you favourably, we’ll call that a point for. If they write otherwise, well… Point against, as you’d imagine.’
‘So they still talk of me, then? They still write of me?’ the man asked.
The chuckle truly voiced now, becoming more of a laugh. ‘It hasn’t been that long. Five decades, give or take.’
‘How often do they write about me then? How long will it take before –’
‘Whoa, whoa, whoa… I said it hasn’t been that long, and that’s true, which also means the big ol’ techno bubble’s still expanding. When I said write, I really did mean write, as in putting actual pen to paper.’
‘Like I said, dealer’s choice. Think of it as a postal vote of sorts.’
‘Oh…’ the man muttered again, finding nothing else to say.
‘Oh is right,’ the chuckle voiced. ‘It’s not all bad, though. I threw in an alternative if it helps. If you ever manage to find one here, I’ll allow you to leave by boat.’
And then the voice said nothing more, leaving the man to simply wait just as he’d once forced others to do.