The creature couldn’t remember its true name. It couldn’t remember what gender it had been born. Couldn’t remember where it had been raised, or what languages it had spoken, or whether it had ever loved or been loved.
All it knew was pain. The pain of sharp rocks and uneven pavement pressed against its raw flesh as it half-walked, half-crawled through the ruined landscape. The pain of writhing hunger, even as it consumed tasteless but flesh of things it no longer had names for. The pain of bone-crushing fatigue as it kept moving, kept surviving, kept following the thread.
It always bled, both from self-inflicted wounds where it tore at its own flesh with thick, filth-encrusted fingernails and from wounds inflicted by those who refused to hear the calling. It often found itself curled up in the shadow of empty buildings, howling in agony. And because it no longer sought sleep, its body often collapsed onto the ground with no warning, forcing it into a self-induced coma. Yet even then, it whimpered pitifully as gruesome shades plagued its sleep. When that happened, the creature could only wail and gnash, useless and helpless. That’s when the voices spoke the loudest.
They always filled its head, whispering unceasingly, perpetually slashing at the porous skein of its thoughts like so many razor sharp teeth and claws. Early on, the voices recognized the creature for what it was, recognized its unholy lineage and promised to bless it with a name. Names were curses. The creature knew this. Horrible, spiteful things, names were. Agonizing things filled with broken glass memories and edges that seared. The creature’s name, though, would be special because it would be bestowed by one voice that always rose the loudest above the rest.
It spurned these chattering litanies. Somewhere deep down inside, where the last microscopic fragment of its untainted sanity held on desperately, it recognized them for what they were: hollow lies. Once, it had trusted the ascendant voice, long ago, in another time, perhaps in another life or on another world. But not now, not ever again. Like its own, it could not remember the ascendant voice’s true name but it did remember speaking it. Just once. Aloud, with confidence and crystalline clarity. That was all it took. Parted lips, parted mind and soul, parted world.
Doubling over, the creature retched rancid, black bile across its feet. Everyday, the whispers grew louder and more numerous. They made it dizzy and sick. It just wanted to die. It just wanted silence.
The voices would never allow that to happen. Their distant laughter echoed throughout the mind-sea engulfing it, reveling in its suffering.
It straightened, then shuffled onward. It just needed to keep moving. If it stopped for too long, then the thread would be lost. This it knew: keep moving, keep surviving, follow the thread. There would be reprieve at the end. There had to be something. There had to be an end.
This couldn’t go on forever.
Nothing lasted forever.
In that instant, like a cauterizing stroke of lightning, the name seared itself into the creature, branding it, marking it.
A whip-crack litany of promises quickly followed this foul baptism – promises of salvation for its riven soul; promises of silence and solitude away from the endless whispers; and promises of a regal coronation, for the creature would soon sit in exaltation for the desecration it had wrought.
Follow the thread.