Eric shot himself in the head on April 24th, 2016. I was standing beside him. I still have the bloodstained clothes. And the bloodstained memories.
“You need to understand, Elena,” he explained, holding the gun to his temple. “There’s a bridge. It’s right here.”
He shook the gun, as if to signify its new status – not as a weapon, but as a means of traversal.
“Don’t, Eric.” My voice was slow and calm but flickers of panic were doubtless present in its timbre.
“I see it now. In flashes. Whenever I imagine pulling the trigger, I get a glimpse of the bridge ahead. It’s not black. It’s not empty. It’s bright and full and warm with everything I’d imagined.”
Machinery whirred around us. An omnipresent hum of energy filled the room as countless megajoules of electricity filled capacitating cylinders, all ready to discharge at a specific time.
“What if you’re wrong?” I asked. “What then? You’re just dead. And you’re worthless when you’re dead. All that potential is gone.”
“The continuation of life affirms worthlessness. My worth is in what I’ve seen. My worth is in what happens next. Because if I’m right, and I know I’m right, everyone will learn that what we are in right now is just the first stage. Once that gets out, we can all go through. And on.”
“But by that, you mean that everyone can just die? Are you listening to yourself?”
He gripped the gun tighter and grinned.
“Maybe it sounds crazy. But I see it. And I think you’re about to.”
Eric swung the gun toward me, his finger on the trigger. I gasped. Instantaneously, the humming and whirring grew deafening. Something shimmered in my vision, as if those floating remnants of my eyes’ development had coalesced into one point on the other side of the room.
“What…” I stammered.
Eric grinned and lowered the gun.
“You saw it, didn’t you?”
As the gun went down, so too did the vision. The sound drifted back to its previous level.
“What… was that?” I’d given up on trying to sound calm. The fear and confusion in my voice was obvious. I was shaking.
“You did see it,” Eric said, matter-of-factly. He put the gun back to his head and gestured with his left hand at all the machinery surrounding us. All the machinery he’d built in the two years since I’d left him.
It was as if he’d read my thoughts.
“You walking out on me was a turning point in my life, Elena. You got me to see myself as the failure I was. It was that shock that allowed me to set my sights on something greater than just me. Something greater than all of us.”
“Eric, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“But you didn’t. You couldn’t. You woke me up.” With the gun in a vice grip and his strides long and proud, he toured the cavernous warehouse, pointing out the various components.
“This is the generator. It’s a prototype from Singapore that I traded my fortune to get. Those bubbles in the tank? See how they pop? Every time they do, they release more energy than a truck going a thousand miles an hour. Once I got that, everything else fit together just as it had during my dreams.
“God, I thought those dreams were the most disorienting moments of my life. I couldn’t imagine such things could be real — but now I know they were. They’re just on the other side of the bridge. And they’re nothing to fear.”
Eric’s finger caressed the trigger with a loving warmth that had been absent toward the end of our relationship.
“And here,” he commented, brushing his free hand along a bundle of cables as thick as my thigh until he reached a set of what looked like black glass tubes arranged around the circumference of a red, metal globe. “Here is where the magic happens.”
My mind was reeling. The situation itself was enough to break me. I was seeing the man I’d loved since he was a boy who had gotten lost somewhere. Somehow. What had done it? What was the turning point when I’d said “no more?” Surely this person with a gun in front of me wasn’t the same boy who’d brought me wildflowers twenty years earlier. Surely it was someone else.
Eric’s eyes gleamed with rapt intensity. I knew those eyes. The same eyes that had stared into mine on the night his fever had reached 105 degrees. The same eyes that I’d watched dull every night after for years and years. The same eyes that were flat and colorless on the morning I left.
The color was back now. Bright blue and piercing. But not full of life. Definitely not life. But it wasn’t death, either. Eric’s eyes were filled with something else. Something alien and horrifying. Something anti-life.
“Elena, I didn’t invite you here to talk me out of anything. There’s no doing that. No, I had you come so I could show you how I made something of myself in your absence. To show you I could be someone you can be proud of.”
Hot tears carved slow paths down my cheeks. How was I supposed to answer that?
“I could never be proud of someone who didn’t think their life was worth living.”
Eric watched me cry with curiosity. “Didn’t you see it? Don’t you feel it around us? That hum? That static? The hair on your arms standing on end? This is the entrance, Elena. The bridge is just on the other side. It feels us. It knows we’re here. It’s why you saw what you did when I turned the gun in your direction.”
With that, the gun was in my face again. The deafening hum returned. Alternating prickles of heat and cold swept up and down my spine. I saw a solid, black circle in the distance. Just a dot. It was up against the far wall, beyond Eric, near a cluster of machines.
“I know you see it,” Eric said, his voice barely audible over the electric din. He walked closer to me and put the barrel of the gun to my temple. “Don’t look away. Watch it. Gaze into it.”
A new rush of tears blurred the world around me, but I obeyed. I studied the dot as it grew larger and more prominent in my vision. It started off solid black. Entirely black. Impossibly black. But the longer I watched, I noticed it was changing. Deforming. It bubbled and roiled, dim light within casting illuminations inside the shape. And something was moving in it.
“Enough,” I whispered. “I see it.”
“Not yet,” Eric responded, pressing the cold barrel hard against my forehead.
The blackness swept across the room, now eight feet all around, and hovered in front of me. Eric was enveloped in the swirling chaos, but he didn’t seem affected. It was as if it were ignoring him, or he, it. I don’t think it mattered.
The black shifted to gray, then to white. Then red. Red as the sphere into which all that generated energy was pouring. I’d stopped weeping. Eric noticed.
“There it is, Elena. I’ve watched it for days. It just waits. It’s ready whenever you are.”
An aperture in the redness opened. Beyond it was a path of stone winding through an endless sea of stars. The path twisted and swirled up and around and through the starscape in an intestinal tangle that caused my stomach to lurch with vertigo.
“The bridge,” Eric announced. “It’s ready for you.” He paused letting a slight bit of pressure off my forehead. The bridge dimmed. “But are you ready for it?”
I found myself leaning my forehead toward the barrel of the gun. The image sharpened. Innumerable stars bloomed along the twisted path of the bridge. I squinted to see what lay beyond – to see what was being bridged. All I saw was a pinprick of red light. Harsh. Caustic.
“I can let you cross if you want. I promise I’ll be right behind you.”
The redness at the end of the bridge swelled. The electronic hum was now an ocean of white noise; waves on a starry beach.
“Just nod, Elena, and we can go. This is where we were meant to be. All we do while we’re here is suffer. Let’s go be happy together.”
I thought of my life. I thought of my parents and my friends and my dog. Was I suffering? Were they? Were we just biding our time?
“No,” I murmured. The redness faded as I leaned my head away from the gun barrel. “No.”
Eric pulled the gun away and placed it back against the side of his head. The vision evaporated and I was left with just him and the room and the machines.
“What are you going to tell everyone?” Eric asked. His eyes weren’t on me. They were watching another point in space. Now I knew what it was.
“I’ll tell them exactly what happened,” I replied. “That you were depressed and you killed yourself.”
“But what about all this?” he inquired, gesturing at what I could no longer see. “Won’t they want to know about it? Wouldn’t they prefer to be there?”
“Maybe,” I answered. “But in their own ti–”
Eric pulled the trigger. The left side of his head exploded outward, showering the wall and floor with blood and bone and brain matter. His knees buckled and he fell.
A tiny arc of electricity flickered along the black-glass spires surrounding the red globe.
I felt cold. Numb. The contents of Eric’s head leaked across the dirty concrete floor. I wiped the spattered blood off my face.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, not knowing why.