“Surely,” Ellen whispered to the stone wall close to her face, “there has to be a more dignified way of dying than succumbing to leaking bodily fluids.”
She had been lying still for a long time looking at the wall before her, its solidity somehow anchoring her against total humiliation.
She had taken as many painkillers as she dared before they started their descent, but their effectiveness seemed to wear off quickly and waves of cramps increasingly robbed her of strength. Once, she lost control altogether, letting go her hold of the rope and writhing like a caterpillar at the end of its thread until Richard managed to reach her and pull her in and steady her again – giving her an injection as Lian Shivay had taught him to do. She remembered little of the rest of the descent, her thoughts consumed by a need not to disgrace herself further.
“I was embarrassed!” Ellen whispered. “He was very thoughtful but I was embarrassed.”
She was quiet again for some time, aware of her breath and the stillness around her, and of the heavy mass that seemed to dominate her chest, just under her throat and around her heart.
A quiver in the stone caught her attention. She blinked, focusing, noting that the gloom around her had lessened.
The wall she faced was not a uniform colour, but brown and speckled with pieces of crystal. It was also very uneven – pockmarked and dusty. The perpetrator of the movement was an insect in a hole not more than twenty centimetres from Ellen’s face. The ant-like creature seemed to be doing excavation work. A few tiny crumbles of dirt dropped from the hole. The insect stopped and seemed to look around as if to check that in fact the debris had been disposed of.
“It’s gone,” she told it. It had been quite a while since Ellen had used her voice, and it scratched at her throat.
The insect went back to work.
The sound of her voice seemed to cause the chest-mass to swirl, making her aware of the lethargy of her limbs.
“You are in a bad way,” she told herself after a period of self-observation.
The RedŌne, on whose foot her head was pillowed, shifted Its weight a little. It had a knack of staying perfectly still for hours – maybe days. She had quite forgotten the source of the soft pillow. Actually, she had not cared what her head lay on.
Ellen shifted her attention back to the industrious insect.
Another few specks of dirt fell from the insect’s excavation and, once more, the insect turned to look.
“What’s it all for?” Ellen asked. “Why do you – why do we even live if all we’re going to do is die? Why do we love, hope, be happy, feel sad, make friends, suffer, feel embarrassed, bitter, satisfied – why anything if all there is at the end is death? Why not just have oblivion straight away? Why not just oblivion?”
It was a long speech given her weak state, and she felt quite drained at the end of it, reduced to staring immobility again.
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