On this night, a dreary Tuesday with a cold wind that brittles the bones, one fruit in particular catches his eye. A dragon fruit. It is a deep red with sharp green scales that look like they could nick an artery if you aren’t careful. Despite a history of spilling coffee on himself and tripping over his own shoelaces, he feels a fantastic urge to hold the barbed fruit.
He arrives back at his studio with a grocery bag of three frozen dinners, and one deep red dragon fruit. After putting the dinners away in the freezer, he goes to his desk, dragon fruit and knife in hand. On his laptop he googles “How to eat dragon fruit”. It probably doesn’t matter, but he’s never had one before and he doesn’t want to accidentally poison himself or something by eating part of it he shouldn't. He uses his sharpest kitchen knife and slices into the fruit. The tough skin resists the intrusion at first, but eventually submits, letting the knife pass smoothly through and splitting the fruit into two halves From the images of his google search, most dragon fruits seemed to have white flesh speckled with black seeds. The inside of his was different. Somehow, the flesh was a deeper and darker red than the exterior. Its black seeds coalesced in curved patterns that swirled and intersected at random: he felt as if he was looking into a crimson vortex.
To him, life had always been a game of choices. He often made the bad ones, but they were his bad choices. He was unsure why, but at this moment, there was no choice. He sank his teeth into the fruit and swallowed the sweet flesh down his throat.
He is being held like a baby. Towering over him are two creatures of impossible size. They have deep red scales and emerald green eyes. The gigantic eyes look at him with the love of a mother and father.
A spark ignites in his lungs, he breathes out, and he knows this will be the time he finally makes flames just as big as his father… or not. Instead, a hot bellow of air puffs from his mouth, and a few embers fall to the ground. His father’s laugh booms and echoes across the canyons.
He looks down the edge of the cliff and only by squinting can he see the rocky ground below. He looks behind to make sure his parents are still there. They stand tall, radiating with pride and expectation. He cannot turn back.
He is falling, falling, falling, until he is not. Now he is soaring through the sky, his wings propel him further and faster as they catch each gust of wind. He is not sure how long he flies, but it is very long. He wishes to fly forever, but he knows that his parents are waiting for him.
He begins his journey back, and through a heavy gray mist he barely spots the wings of his parents on the cliff. I will never have the patience they do, he thinks. As he approaches, the mist clears: his parents lie there, with hundreds of swords, arrows, and spears stuck into their bodies. Surrounding them are humans, the ones father had always warned him about, and other creatures he does not recognize. He screams a shrill, childish roar, his declaration of revenge, and flies away in terror.
He has grown to nearly the size of his father, and as his body flies over the town, he casts a vast shadow onto the land. Shouts of “Shadebringer” ripple across the town, but are swiftly burned away by the rush of flames from his mouth. When he is finished, only a dark black landscape remains.
He spots her at the edge of a cliff in the great canyons. From a distance he watches the sunset reflect off her golden scales. She is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen.
They lie together. He places his taloned palm on her stomach and feels the quick, rhythmic beat of their child. It wishes to fly, she tells him, like its father. For the first night since his parents were slaughtered, he sleeps in peace.
A tortured cry forces his eyes open, and he sees the body of what had been his everything. Swords protrude from her belly and her eyes stare blankly at him. A rage that could shatter mountains and split the sea rises in him, but before he can unleash it on the world, a sharp pain slices through his skull, and the end comes…
He is back in his apartment. The dragon fruit is still in his hand, the sweet taste still on his tongue. Tears roll down his face and he begins to sob and shake uncontrollably.
“TRAGIC, I KNOW. BUT THAT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THE END. YOU COULD CHANGE THINGS.”
The voice booms in his head, like the crackle of a forest fire that consumes everything around it. He shoots up from his chair, and looks around in confusion.
“YES YOU, DAVID. WHO ELSE WOULD I BE TALKING TO?”
With each word it speaks, a splitting pain throttles his head.
“AGH…WHAT IS THAT? Am I going crazy?"
“YOU ARE NOT CRAZY, DAVID. WELL, ALL HUMANS ARE CRAZY, BUT YOU ARE NOT AS CRAZY AS MOST.”
“I… I need to call my doctor”. He frantically takes out his smartphone and begins to dial. The 9 digit number seems impossible to finish as the voice continues to boom in his head:
“EVEN IF YOU WERE, WOULD IT MATTER? THE FRUIT IS A LENS INTO BOTH OF US DAVID. YOU SAW THROUGH ME. I SAW THROUGH YOU. AND WHAT I SAW… PERPLEXED ME.”
“WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING IT DAVID?”
“EACH AND EVERY DAY YOU JUST KEEP GETTING UP AND THE REASON ELUDES ME. IS IT WORK?”
“NO, YOU HATE YOUR WORK. IS IT FOR SOMEONE ELSE? A PARTNER?”
“NO, YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ALONE. YOU HAD A FAMILY TOO. THEY LOVED YOU, BUT IT DID NOT MATTER, YOU STILL FOUND A WAY TO BE ALONE.”.
David’s fingers begin to violently tremble and the phone drops from his hand. For a second, the voice sounds gentle, like a dying ember: “Help me understand, David.”
Then, the old roar returns: “WHY ARE YOU ALIVE?”
“SHUT UP!” David shouts in response.
“WHY DO YOU KEEP GETTING UP AS IF YOU HAVE A REASON TO? WHY?”
David digs his hands into his hair: “I DON’T KNOW!” He collapses onto his chair: “I just… I don't know.” He sits there, with his head in his hands, tears slipping through the gaps between his fingers.
The voice takes on a conciliatory tone: “I know. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t bear to see you keep going on like this. You need a reason David. Let me give you one.”
David sits limply in his chair with his palms pressed against his face. He isn’t sure how long he’s been sitting there. However long it was, his brain was…empty. Finally, neurons start to fire, connections form, and his thoughts return. He begins to speak aloud, even though there is no one there but himself.
“You’re a delusion. A voice my mind has manifested because something is seriously wrong with me. But…you’re right.”
He wipes the tears and snot off his face.
“I just, I can’t get out. It's like quicksand, the more I try, the more I struggle, the harder it becomes to escape. I’ve stopped hoping to do anything other than breathe. I’ll be stuck in here ‘til I get hit by a car or die of a stroke! And I’ve…I've accepted that.”
The voice responds burning louder than ever:
“I AM NO DELUSION DAVID. AND A MAN STUCK IN QUICKSAND CANNOT AVENGE ME.
YOU ARE WEAK, DAVID. COMPARED TO THE HUMANS OF MY WORLD, YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN AN ANT ON THE GROUND.
TO AVENGE ME, YOU WILL NEED TO BE STRONG, THE STRONGEST, IN FACT. OF COURSE, I ALREADY ACCOUNTED FOR THIS AND TOOK THE FIRST STEP FOR YOU.
YOU DO NOT REALIZE IT YET, BUT YOU HAVE BEEN TRANSFORMED. I SUGGEST YOU PREPARE YOURSELF.”
David’s mind begins to race.
“What are you talking about? Prepare myself for what?”
His question goes unanswered.
Then, the pain hits him. It comes in waves, each more painful than the last; hot lava is being poured over his intestines, he is being boiled alive.
“Fruit..doing…someth…” He lurches from his chair and pukes his lunch and breakfast onto the hardwood floor. The strength to remain hunched over his own vomit is too much, and he collapses entirely. Intermittently spurts of black blood bubble up from his coughs.
“JUDGING BY HOW YOUR BODY IS CURRENTLY WRITHING ABOUT IN AGONY, YOU ARE STARTING TO FEEL THE TRANSFORMATIVE EFFECTS OF THE FRUIT.
I WILL WAIT TO EXPLAIN WHAT I MEAN UNTIL THE PAIN HAS SUBSIDED.”
After what feels like an eternity, the pain does finally subside to a dull numbness. David still lies on his floor, stretched out like a bleeding snow angel. His glazed eyes remain fixed on his plaster ceiling.
It feels like hell has taken up residence in his throat, but he still manages to croak two words out in response:
“HMM, PERHAPS YOU NEED TO REST BEFORE WE SPEAK AGAIN.”
“NO!” David shouts. “Right..now. Tell me…what the hell…you just did to me.”
“VERY WELL. TO FULLY UNDERSTAND YOUR TRANSFORMATION, YOU MUST FIRST UNDERSTAND MY WORLD. ALLOW ME TO SHOW YOU.”
His ceiling disappears from sight, and only a thick black void remains. Slowly colors arise from the darkness. They blur into each other until shapes form and define themselves into a man. He has skin the color of chalk and slick hair which seems to shift colors the longer you stare at it. David feels uneasy looking at him. The man fades away, and in his place, another human…no, not quite human, appears. It is a woman with a dark complexion, harsh eyes, and sharp-pointed ears. He again has a feeling of unease, like he is looking at things his brain was not configured to perceive. The woman fades too, and is replaced by a familiar, yet still terrifying, creature. It is impossibly large, and has deep red scales that contrast with its serpentine green eyes. The voice begins:
“I COME FROM ANOTHER WORLD, ONE SIMILAR IN SOME WAYS TO THIS ONE, BUT STARKLY DIFFERENT IN OTHERS. IN MY WORLD, THE CREATURES CONSIDERED FANTASIES HERE, ARE VERY REAL.
THEY ARE FAR MORE DANGEROUS THAN YOUR FANTASIES IMAGINE, WITH CERTAIN… POWERS OR CHARACTERISTICS THAT MAKE THEM FAR SUPERIOR TO HUMANS.
BUT THEY ARE NOT JUST STRONG BECAUSE OF THESE.
SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME, THERE HAS BEEN A LAW OR PROPERTY THAT HAS GOVERNED MY WORLD. YOUR EARTH HAS AN APT DESCRIPTION OF IT; ‘YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT’.
IF ONE CREATURE EATS ANOTHER, IT GAINS SOME OF THEIR INNATE ABILITIES.
SO, SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME, THERE HAS BEEN CONFLICT. CREATURES WHO WISH TO GROW STRONGER WILL HUNT THOSE WITH MORE POWERFUL ABILITIES.
WAR AND BATTLE ARE COMMONPLACE. THE CREATURES WHO EXIST THERE HAVE BEEN HARDENED BY THIS STRUGGLE FOR AS LONG AS THEY HAVE BEEN ALIVE.”
David sees swords clashing, piles of bodies that reach the sky, and nightmarish creatures feasting on the dead.
“THIS IS THE WORLD YOU WILL BE STEPPING INTO.”
The vision of the voice’s world fades and David regains his sight. He has the urge to puke again, but his anger keeps it at bay.
“Why do you keep saying that? You keep acting like this is a given. Like I’ve already made the choice. What if I said SCREW YOU AND YOUR DISGUSTING WORLD?”
“DAVID, THE LIFE YOU HAVE LIVED UP TO THIS POINT ENDED 10 MINUTES AGO. I WILL BE WITH YOU UNTIL YOUR DEATH. MY ABILITIES WILL BE WITH YOU UNTIL YOUR DEATH, AND YOU CANNOT HOPE TO CONTROL THEM WITHOUT MY HELP.”
“DO YOU REALLY THINK YOU CAN STILL LIVE A NORMAL LIFE? THE MOMENT THE POWERS OF THIS WORLD DISCOVER THE CHANGES YOU HAVE UNDERGONE, THEY WILL EITHER TRY TO CONTROL YOU, DESTROY YOU, OR DISSECT YOU.”
“YOU SHOULD BE GRATEFUL. YOU WERE TRAPPED, AND I HAVE FREED YOU.”
“YES, YOU CAN ABANDON MY QUEST ENTIRELY, BUT EITHER WAY, MY WORLD IS THE ONLY PLACE LEFT FOR YOU TO LIVE.”
NO NO NO no no. How is this happening? Why? Why is he always so helpless? He wants to scream but he can’t even muster the energy. The voice is right. David knows that. When he bit into that dragon fruit, his life here ended.
“Give me your name.”
The voice responds, “MY PEOPLE CALLED ME KLEYMON.”
“For the rest of my life, however long that is, I will never forgive you for this Kleymon.
How do we start?”