As night fell the rain continued to drizzle. Downtown, even the concrete softened under the constant pattering of rain drops, which began falling at sunrise. Though that day the sun never actually shone. An erotic reference turned somber: just a sky fifty shades gray. Emmerich hated gray days. He awoke with his scar tissue billowing as much as the clouds, expanding till they ached. Reminding him of when he first took razors to his upper thighs. More than discomfort, the sensation saddened Emmerich. Not because they were long gone memories, but because he lost count of the number of scars and knew that as early as tonight he would add five more.
As the clock neared midnight, Emmerich felt the irrepressible urge to once again press a blade into his skin. It seemed illogical. Yet it was painfully simple. Emmerich longed for affliction, for reminders that he was indeed alive.
From as early as Emmerich could remember, pain had been associated with affection. Emmerich’s father never touched him unless if harshly. After coming home from a pub, Jerard would greet Emmerich and his two siblings with hearty slaps across their faces - and smile. Emmerich was seven when he first imagined that his father lived a fast life, and that those fast swings toward his face were really just coddles on fast-forward. That's how Emmerich first learned to cherish pain. It was, after all, better than feeling nothing at all.
Emmerich first cut himself in high school. There was no specific traumatic event that caused him to pick up a blade. Emmerich’s cutting was best understood as a surrender to a years-long battle against nothingness. Whether his choosing to cut was a win or a loss, he still, fifteen years later, did not know. Just as Emmerich could not decipher if when he cut he felt pleasure or pain. By now the decision to cut was automatic, thoughtless. Some could say an addiction. He’d been trying to stop. So tonight, Emmerich grabbed his umbrella near the door and walked out his apartment for a long walk in the rain and vowed he'd return only once he was tired. Too tired to reach for a blade.
A few blocks from home, Emmerich stood at a corner alone awaiting the signal to cross. Yet, no cars passed. None were in sight. If he looked up and down each street Emmerich would see that there was no one except him on this corner, which on any other night would be crowded with roaring, stumbling, weeknight drinkers. Instead, Emmerich stared at the rainwater that dripped from the nearby curb onto the street, when he noticed a number of droplets suddenly flash green. He assumed his light had turned, and that it was his time to cross the street. But when he looked up Emmerich saw the sky teeming with green-lit droplets.
Emmerich shuffled across the road, fixating on the green apparitions. The swath of droplets narrowed their indiscernible patterns to a corner of a building one block ahead. The coalescence of green replicated a randomized traffic light signaling to Emmerich for him to come toward its direction. It wasn't until Emmerich stood directly across the street from the green ball of light that he realized the beams originated from hundreds of lasers further down the road. Staring into the rain, Emmerich noticed silhouettes draping from windowsills and scattered across the street. He stood for a moment, awaiting something climactic. But the lasers just tremored against the building's corner. Emmerich looked away and began to walk toward the silhouettes. He, at first, walked oblivious to their actions. And then lasers began to scribble in front of his feet. Up close, the lasers emitted immense heat, drying each raindrop before they reached the ground. Even stranger, was that beams appeared to battle the sidewalk. The sidewalk was ripping apart but with each pass of a laser the fragments of concrete were again made whole.
"Huh?" Emmerich said aloud. The rain muffled his voice, swallowing the sound before it traveled to the edge of his umbrella. Lasers danced at his feet, doubling each second. Emmerich looked up in search of the far-off silhouettes, but instead saw that all around him the earth ripped, as if every object were wrapped in an invisible paper being torn apart by unseen hands. Even the sky began to tear. Within every crack the world cubified, abandoning its smooth rendition of reality. Like a television under a microscope the gaping world was composed of thousands of digital squares. And, everytime a laser passed over a crack the squares were again made smooth, normal.
Emmerich watched as a few green dots dazzling at his feet began to travel up his body. One sliced across his eyes and burned so hot that for a moment he thought he'd lost his sight. The pain faded quickly and when Emmerich reopened his eyes, he saw his sternum splitting into two as lasers congregated across his chest. Rather than pain, Emmerich felt a respite from the imperceivable burdens of flesh. Like he'd just released a belated orgasm. The sensation so enthralled Emmerich that he - without thinking - buried his right hand inside his open chest. He wished for his entire body to be consumed by this pleasure. For the entirety of his skin and blood to transform into these colored, featureless squares. If it felt meaningful, pleasurable, was it still mutilation?
The pleasure intensified to a degree that Emmerich could no longer stand, and he collapsed to the ground. After he fell, many green dots seemed incapable of reaching his chest. In their absence, his sternum continued to tear. The once fist-sized hole stretched to the entire width of his torso. Yet nowhere was there a single ounce of blood. Emmerich's entire body began to fold into itself like the center of his chest had become its own source of gravity. The more pixelated Emmerich's flesh became the more euphoric he felt. It was an out of body experience, yet it originated from within.
Lying on his back, the lasers shooting above Emmerich's head looked like halos. Green crowns he'd wear in whatever afterlife he'd soon enter. Emmerich laid on the concrete awaiting whatever future time granted. He neither cared if he lived or died. Emmerich felt whatever outcome awaited him was outside his control. Surrendering to death had felt much more like birth - or what Emmerich imagined being born had felt like. No person can retell the details of their birth. Though Emmerich now possessed a mind built with logic and language. There were still no string of words that Emmerich could conjure that would satisfactorily explain the sensation of this birth into death. Isn't this what he wanted all those years after he began to cut himself? The desire to die but never the courage to kill. No. It was something more difficult to explain. The desire to feel but never the courage to live.
Before Emmerich could answer that thought, a man sized figure stood above him and shot a laser directly at Emmerich's chest. The man waved the green brush of light systematically across Emmerich's torso like he was painting the side of a house. Inch by inch Emmerich's chest restored to normal. His clothes were perfectly resewn. Underneath, his skin lay intact without a blemish.
The man standing above Emmerich then ran. Emmerich, his blood filled with adrenaline, began a chase. But after running just one block that man was out of sight. And Emmerich was alone in the pouring rain without an umbrella or clue as to what he just encountered.
When Emmerich returned to his apartment that night, he undressed on the backside of his front door and carried his sopping clothes directly into the washer. He then walked to the bathroom and observed his naked chest. It looked just as it had any day prior. However, at the touch of his fingertips, his pectorals tingled, reverberating the pleasures from earlier. He then brushed his fingers across the scars on his thighs and felt nothing. He hadn't had sensation at the top of his thighs for years.
That night, Emmerich stared at the black ceiling in search of sleep. Whether he slept or not he could not tell. By morning Emmerich felt so delirious that he struggled to comprehend if the events from last night were a dream. One brush of his fingers against his chest reminded him that they weren't. Oh he longed to become those figments, to transform into a billion painless pieces. To no longer possess a body, or again know pain.
During his walk to work that morning the entire incident replayed in Emmerich's mind as if it were someone else's memory. The events flashed in his mind to a narration of someone else's voice. Each memory was in third person as if a prompt on a screen. The longer he lingered on these memories the more he started to believe that his mind was somehow broken. He momentarily exited his trance at an intersection, where he looked up to watch for oncoming traffic when he saw, dangling from the side of a man's pants, a small, handled stick. Like a flashlight or laser.
"Excuse me," Emmerich said, surprising himself to a brief pause, "what is that?"
"Oh, just a light. For work." The gentleman said, "construction."
"Can I -- Can I see how it works?"
"You want to see my light?"
Emmerich reached for the dangling thing. The man blocked Emmerich's attempt. "What's your problem, man?"
"Show me how it works." Emmerich demanded, again reaching for the item.
"No," the guy said, swatting Emmerich's hand away, and then, backing away, added, "you're crazy."
It was a small scene but enough to draw a crowd of spectators from those standing on the same corner. No one stood within two paces of Emmerich after that exchange. Emmerich felt a wave of guilt rush over him and he wished he was back inside his apartment, locked in his bathroom with razors spread across the counter. The light turned green. And as he crossed the same street where the event took place last night Emmerich smiled at the sight of it being closed.
That day was rather dull. As were the next few weeks. Emmerich dressed. Walked to work. Finished his assignments. Stayed late most nights, looking, from the fifteenth floor of his office for any clues of those people - or unexplainable fissures. The only thing that changed throughout the following few weeks was that Emmerich was chronically tired. Tired from staying up all night and wandering the streets in search of green lasers and cracks in reality. To keep himself awake, Emmerich had drank so much coffee that his taste buds dulled. His mind remained in a constant state of alarm, and yet yearned for sleep. As if the experiences he was recalling weren't already too delusional - he'd flirted with total hallucination. After over two weeks of his constant searching and sleeplessness, Emmerich was awakened at his desk at 11pm by the shuttering of his office lights automatically powering off.
Emmerich awakened and exhaled. His legs were too tired to stand. In his seat, Emmerich tried to wave the lights back on. But none triggered. In the darkness he gathered his things. Emmerich's vision slowly acclimated to night. On his walk toward the elevators he noticed that it was raining. In a single step his walk became a run. The last time it rained was when he had his encounter. Emmerich jammed the call button for the elevator. Each awaiting second he paced three steps. Back and forth; and back and forth. When the doors opened Emmerich hopped inside the elevator and began his descent to the ground floor. Emmerich imagined how tonight might end differently than the last.
Outside it was pouring, as it was two weeks ago. Wet, hot, and humid. Like the ground itself exhaled its hot morning breath up Emmerich's legs. Whatever mental fog he was in before he fell asleep had now dissipated. With each step he felt himself running faster, until he ran so fast that the rain left him practically blinded. He ran to the same block where he first encountered the lasers, and, sure enough, here they were again firing away at parts of the earth splitting without explanation. This time the lasers fired more methodically, like each stroke was a predetermined task on a construction site. Steadily, calmly, designing the world to remain as it was.
Emmerich crept down the street, keeping his shoulders against the row of buildings opposite of where the lasers shone. Getting closer, he tucked himself into a small gap between buildings. A small fence pressed against his back. He watched as the earth tore itself apart. Emmerich thought if what he always saw was just the wrapping paper of life, then he longed to see the real gift underneath.
A chasm in the roadway raced toward Emmerich. Stronger than before, it began ripping Emmerich’s body into two.
It was as if his body was digitizing - transforming in both form and matter. The soft curvatures of his skin cubified, then separated from another. His arms, chest, and stomach became countless distinct, floating, colored cubes. The very nature of those cubes was aesthetic. No purpose but to adore. As his skin cubed Emmerich’s flesh melted away. The properties of blood and bones hallowed. As if revealing that he were not a human at all, but a glitching hologram.
If not for the fact that Emmerich began to glow as this process took place he may have successfully transported to the other side. But as his gravity increased, the sight of his separating attracted the attention of three men who traced lasers across his chest.
Emmerich observed the encounter from out of body. Indeed, he no longer felt associated with his body. Emmerich now believed that he belonged nowhere in particular. If last time the lasers appeared to restore him, this time when they burned they felt as if they were erasing parts of him. As the lasers resealed his skin, Emmerich closed his eyes, wondering how it was he could ever surrender to the pixelations. Once he was again made whole the same figure who stood above him the first time walked toward Emmerich from across the street.
Emmerich sighed, and said to the man walking his direction, "I thought you said that was a flashlight."
"I said it was a light - for work. That's the script."
"So, what, now that I know you, do you have to kill me?"
"Feels like you already have."
"You want to know what’s on the other side?"
“Well,” the man said, crossing his arms at Emmerich’s side, “let me tell you. When you're first getting ripped to the other side it's like an unexplainable orgasm. You leave your body. No negative energy or thought exists in your body. It’s a tsunami of pleasure. Then, at the very last second, right before you cross to the other side. You --”
“Wait,” Emmerich interjected, “how do you know all of this?”
“I had one pixel of me left before,” the man pointed toward the others standing nearby, “they brought me back. Anyways, just when you think you’re about to climax your every nerve electrifies. You think you’re aflame, your nerves char. And then you become nothing.”
“But, there must be something beyond that?”
“What’s beyond nonexistence?”
Emmerich sighed, then aloud said, “It’s just that I don't want to be here -- in this skin anymore."
"We’ve stopped you twice. We won't stop you again.”
“I understand,” Emmerich said, and then he began to walk home. He’d never return to this road when it rained. For the same reason that he didn’t pick up his blades again that night. Because there was no worst feeling than none.