I know this is not my normal type of post but I have had this short story idea for such a long time (years maybe 5) and I thought it was about time I write it. So last week I sat down and wrote it. It is based off the idea that we often think of things on such a superficial scale but what if we actually contemplated the details of ideas and thoughts. This is just a rough draft and I don't think I will change that.
1. Don't hate
2. Yeah, it is weird so don't hate.
This story is based off of part of La Divina Comedia by Dante Alighieri. If you read Canto 21 of The Inferno it might make a little more sense.
I barely remember my first day here, it was so long ago. According to the counting ones I have been here for around 11,673 years. I still don't know how they do it, keeping count for all that time. Then again people say they don't know how I did it, how I became the inspiration of the Grafters.
My first day here I got scratched around ten times. Il graffio as the old timers call it. Wish I could say I had it rough but I've seen others get scratched 15 or 20 times on their first day. Apparently, the record belongs to a Buddhist monk, the story goes that it took him a long time to realize he wasn't meditating anymore and was actually in Hell.
It took me less time than most to be acclimated to the river. I was a sort of prodigy. After 76 years I was already going days without being scratched. I guess I nevermind it when most of the 12 get me, as Malecoda never rarely does any of the scratching. Let me tell you though, whenever that fat fuck Ciriatto or the asshole Cagnazzo manage to catch me with the hooks I make sure to have both middle fingers raised high and mighty. One time I even managed to slap Ciriatto in the belly with my torn off arm before I was complete scratched. That one was talked about for years afterward but now he has it out for me, a handicap I have had to deal with.
I definitely wasn't a prodigy at learning the language. I have never been sensory perceptive and with the language being based on touches, grasps, squeezing and feeling. I could barely say "Hello." till about my second year here. However, "Hello" is one of the more complex things to communicate so I guess it's not that bad.
A day in the existence of a Grafter is much like an existence on Earth, except that instead of sitting at home watching TV most of the time is spent under the river occasionally surfacing for air while trying not to have a razor sharp grappling hook thrown through your body by a demon. If they do catch ya', they scratch ya', they drag you from the river and rip your body literally to shreds. It's not too bad though after the first 1000 times and it's only seconds before you reappear in the river.
Like all creatures, we do things to keep us occupied, like gossip, philosophize, have sex and play games. That's right we have many games that we play including The Third Wheel, Captain Comrade and the most popular game that is called just that The Game. I think it is called The Game because it was one of the first games invented by non-domestic inhabitants of Hell or of the Eighth Circle at least.
There is only one rule in The Game, don't get scratched. Trying to not get scratched is an everyday activity in this existence and long before I showed up it was turned into a game. Don't get scratched. Use whatever means necessary to not get scratched. The longer the better and you win if you can break the current record. The first time I heard about The Game, Matthias was still the record holder back then. He lasted 234 days and that record was held for over 10,000 years. Matthias invented The Bubbler, a technique in which you create bubbles or turbulence in an area near where you surface but far enough away that the Malebranche are likely to miss with their hooks. Many have tried to replicate this technique but it is alot more difficult than one thinks. Anyways, I like Matthias he is one of the true players. He plays to win. He plays for the challenge. He doesn't let The Game beat him. There are so many reasons to play The Game, some want to forget their pain, some want revenge on the Malebranche or their fellow inhabitants of Quinta Bolgia. Some just want others to know of them. They want fame. Fame, in Hell. Yes, one can even be famous in the 8th circle of Hell.
I have oft wondered why I play. Why I compete and what I have to gain or lose. I mean in the end I am still stuck here. The most fucked up thing is that no matter what happens I still occasionally find myself having hope. Maybe if I earn the respect of the Malebranche they can get me out of here. Maybe if there is a God or Jesus one day he will come down here with his angels and break us out. I still have hope. Well, I used to, maybe it is still hidden somewhere back there but I can't find it anymore.
The first time I went 10 days without being scratched I had a groupie. Ok, maybe that is exaggerating but I had someone ask me if I was playing The Game and when I told them "No". They asked me "Why not?". The Game, hah. Laughing as if I had something better to do. Maybe I did. I think that was when I just found out about the bottom of the river and would go for leisurely walks down there. However, my response was more pretentious. I was too good to play games. Games are for children and children do tend to be better on average at The Game than others. A smaller target I think.
I didn't start playing The Game until after my dark age. Some say these dark ages can occur every few thousand years. For me it was my first. I was depressed and spending too much time on the bottom, away from others and all alone. Whenever I did come up for air I would most assuredly get scratched. Sometimes I would take people with me. Sometimes I would fight back so much that it would require two of those assholes to scratch me. Others stayed away from me for a good 100 years or so. There was a point during my dark age when I met someone that I knew from before. That really set me off. It made me realize how "real" this situation actually was. Depression for a few hundred years is rough. Really rough. But like all things in an eternal existence it passes. I think it was The Game that brought me out of it.
I remember when I was asked "If I was going for the record?". I thought at first that I was confused for being someone else. Then I understood the comment to be sarcasm. Mocking is so much worse when one is touching another to convey it. My first thought was to respond with "Go get scratched fucker." and take them to the top with me but then I had a better idea, I would show everyone. I would break the record.
You can't just start in The Game. Well you can but you probably won't make it far. There is so much against you. Others competing, the Malebranche, the focus. I skipped the usual process and just decided to go for it. I mean I did 10 days without even trying before, how hard could over 200 days be. I was so arrogant and by day 8 I was telling people that I could go on forever. Unfortunately, I told the wrong person, who unfortunately, dragged me to the top with a bunch of ruckus to make sure I was scratched. The unwritten second rule of The Game is to remember that there is _only_ one rule.
I couldn't do this on my own I had to become one of the faceless.
Spending time as a faceless is where you earn your ability to actually make a run at the title. Doing diversions. Getting scratched. Getting others scratched. You need to give favors to get favors. It is the only way to actually be a contender. Those who are true contenders spend most of their years up till their run as a faceless. I actually never minded being a faceless. Most can't stand it. They want to be recognized, they want their actions to have immediate benefit. This was one of the ways I was appreciated more than most as a faceless. I was ruthless. I wanted nothing. I was true to whatever a player asked of me. I would drag a player to the top and then turn around and drag to the top the player I just did the favor for because another player asked. I had no allegiance. There are no allegiances. There are only favors.
After a few thousand years I gained a following as a faceless, which rarely happens. Most faceless only last a few years then make a run for the record. I was lost for a while, lost in the world of the faceless. I could just be. It was during that time that I learned so much about existence. That really there is no reason to exist and that is why none can control it. Did an electron as matter ever try and not exist? Or choose to be something else? Do those who exist elsewhere do anything different? Do they not play games? Do they not communicate? Do they not try and avoid or overcome problems? Do they not try and understand? Was not my existing on Earth only a slightly different version of this? I was beginning to understand I had no choice but to be me. To be scratched or to not be scratched. To rely on others or to not rely on others.
In my 8,756th year here I decided to be a contender. I had learned much over the years by being a faceless. I learned about the patterns of others and the Malebranche. I learned that Scarmiglione was easy to confuse and slow on his left-side. Cagnazzo had become more quarrelsome and Ciriatto still had it out for me. Most of all I learned that everything followed a pattern. Everything.
When others found out I was to be a contender many were afraid of the debt accumulated and how I would require them to pay it back. To not pay back a favor makes one an outcast from The Game and requires thousands of years of being a faceless until others can trust again. Everyone pays their debts. Well at least I thought so.
It was day 112. I was already farther along than any had made it in the past 100 years. The allegiances I gained as a faceless helped me out greatly. I had what one might even call friends. It was a simple maneuver that is called the Double Dunk. A group will gather in an area and in a random manner each will attempt to feign a surfacing and retreat and then a short ways away feign a surfacing again or surface for air. I could only find 4 others to participate in the maneuver which was far from ideal but still doable. I remember doing the first dunk, reorienting and moving and then as I surfaced again I immediately noticed something was wrong. No splashes or noises around me just silence. Then I saw it, the gleam out of the corner of my eye as I had seen so many times and the feeling of the hook tearing through the flesh above my left bicep. I screamed, not in pain but in aggravation. Where were the others? Where did they go? Why did they leave? I gripped the hook as I was being dragged through the river, more intent then ever on not being scratched I let out the most intense cry I could heave from my body and suddenly the dragging slowed down. I looked next to me and Matthias had grabbed the hook and stuck it through his chest and smiled at me. As I tore my arm free I saw both of his middle fingers held in the air as Ciriatto pulled him to land and dismembered his body.
As the days continued many became fascinated with me and the fact that Matthias allowed himself to be scratched in order to help me beat his record. I communicated with many about my time spent on the bottom and my thoughts on existence. Others told me of their dark ages. Some of how they were in one. The communication removed the ruthlessness from me, all the pain and all the hatred. It was the most enjoyable period of my current existence.
I was nearing the record yet my need to achieve it became less and less. I had gained so much from the process. So much knowledge and understanding. So many interactions that many would call friendships. I didn't want people to choose me for anything or look at me for inspiration, it just happened.
It was day 233 and the Malebranche were keeping vigilante. Others were communicating how so many who surfaced were being scratched. Usual efficient techniques to escape the hooks were not working as well as they had usually been. Thinking that the Malebranche don't know what goes on down here is silly. Of course they do. It was sad because some simple stupid game I was playing was now effecting others. This is not how I ever wanted it to be. I just wanted to do what I do. I never expected to have such a negative impact on people. It is hard not to feel guilty and remorse. The complete antithesis to what my actions were meant to provoke. I decided I would end it. I wanted no reward. I had already gained a reward that nothing could take away. It wasn't like how I thought it would be no one argued with me. I surfaced and I was scratched. I didn't respond or gesture or love or hate.
That is how it is now. The hook, the Malebranche, the people, they have no control over me now. I am not afraid. I am.
I didn't think it would end like that. Not what I expected.
It makes you wonder how long people have been talking and thinking about Hell but not actually understanding what they are saying. That if you are alive in Hell you can make friends and do things just as if you are in Heaven. Well, except that it is supposed to be painful. I don't see how that would be different than life on Earth. Some people have really painful experience and others do not but in the end we all live.