Beneath a digitalized sky, near-infinite neon billboards convulsed. I descended bloody stairs leading to a dark alley filled with cybernetic prostitutes, drooling mindwipe victims, and preachers howling about salvation.

“50% off blowjobs for the next ten minutes,” a cybernetic prostitute said. “Interested, sir?”

“Not today.”

The tattoo etched on my left forearm flickered, like a cruel god carved in into my flesh, burning and hissing. I’m not sure how I got it, my memory a hazed mist, most things a blur, like blood smeared over my prefrontal cortex. The tattoo beckoned me to follow, to a place unknown. It flickered as I moved.

Turning right, then left, then another left, the tattoo spasmed. A florescent sign flashed: Dax’s Menagerie of Oddities. Rapping on the door revealed a toothless man through an iron slit.

“State ya business.”

I looked down at my tattoo. “Dax?”

“Who’s askin’?”

“I’ve been summoned here.”

“Summoned by who, boy?”

“I don’t know.” Clutching my skull, the tattoo hissed. “You’ll think I’m crazy.”

“Everyone’s fuckin’ crazy, boy. Why do you darken my door?”

“Tattoo. I know, its fucked up. I just—”

Dax ushered him into a room organized with antiquities ranging from the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5G and PlayStation 5s to the skull of a now extinct Bos Taurus.

“Ya eyin’ the Taurus skull, boy?” Dax asked. “Dat der skull ain’t easy to come by no more.”

“Come again?”

“Cow, ya know, bovine?” He shook his head. “Before yer time, I reckon.”

I shrugged.

Dax sucked on a menthol vape pen. “What can I do ya fer ya boy?”

“The tattoo.” I gestured to my arm. “I don’t know—”

“If ya lookin’ fer body implants, I ain’t messin’ wit dat shit, nor with cybernetic organ transplants. Too much fuckin’ hassle. Tattoo removal ain’t my bag, neitha.”

“No, no, no.” Pain coursed up my tattooed arm, carving trenches in my brain. “My memory ain’t—”

“And no, I don’t do no mindwipes no more. Surely ya done seen dem fuckin’ idiots out der.”

An image of a sphere flashed before me. “A sphere?” Pain inched its way to my eyes, like hot needles. “My memory…hazy. A sphere. Yeah, a—”

Dax aimed a six-shooter at my temple. “Who da fuck are ya?”

I backed away and raised my hands. “Sir, please. I don’t know why I’m here.”

“Yer followin’ the orders of some fuckin’ tattoo?” Dax holstering his pistol. “Some feller came in here a few years back. Much like you.”


“And notin’, boy. I sent him away.”

“I can pay,” I took out a handful of credits. “I need the sphere. This enough?”

Dax cracked a grin and filled the air with vape smoke. “More than enough, boy. If only ya knew.” He retreated to a back and returned with a mellitic orb and gestured to its red button. “Ya press this here button on that there tattoo, ya hear?”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“What happens?”

Dax cackled. “An All-American-Mindfuck. You won’t be da same afta.”

I backed away as the orb pulsed.

“You came to me, boy. Ya want it? If not, get da fuck outta my goddamn shop.”


I awoke in a space devoid of chromatic and achromatic colors. Before me sat a glass-throned entity, innumerable faces peppering his body, with an infinite number of hollowed eye sockets, as though the being embodied every platonic form of human. Its mouths gaped, though it lacked tongues, and while its lips mouthed words, my ears betrayed me.

I lacked any foundation, disorientation set in, and perception failed to anchor me to existence. The space we occupied, a void, a nothingness, a veneer for nonbeing, something outside the fabric of existence.

Whatever this was, its essence was beyond my linguistic capacities. Before the being could act, my mind was stripped of preconceptions. Upon laying my eyes on the entity, my ego shattered, my sense of self deleted. A nothing, a disorganized collection of memories and sensory collections imprisoned within a bag of rotting meat attached to a calcium artifice.

You’re a disturbance.

I clutch my head as the being probed my psyche, like a squid wrapping its tentacles around my brain, its grip tightening, slithering over my consciousness, a drill boring deeper.

The being knew what I thought before I did, anticipating my thoughts before I could translate them to words.

I have no name, and my realm is beyond your God’s apprehension.

I curled up in the nothingness, the void, suspended and paralyzed by nothing.

You’re not frightened. How the same you all are.

I opened my mouth.

Silence. Inspecting the labyrinths of your of psyche, I offer a proposal. I shall grant ten minutes of incomprehensible pleasure. A pleasure which betrays linguistic description. A pleasure to dwarf your primitive understandings of paradise. Your frail hedonic systems will spasm and convulse.

            The being drilled deeper, beyond the fragments of my ego, beyond my shivering body, deeper than my subconscious, deeper than the reptilian architecture on which the intellect rests. My ego fragments said I should be terrorized by this being, that I should be in awe, but I felt indifference, not calm, not depression, but an existential void. A kind of depression incomprehensible to most.

I require an asymmetric trade. For your ten minutes of pleasure, you must endure two minutes of the most searing, mind-breaking, time-stopping pain. A pain so severe, a misery so deep and so anathema to anything you humans could dream up, not even your God could dream up.

The being knew the answer was yes, and I could feel a flood of dopamine flood my brain, like an infinite hit of cocaine. Over. And over. And over. Whatever concepts remained were washed away, my sense of identity, my individuality, all distinctions were made one. The seconds bled into minutes as more and more bliss gripped my consciousness, reducing me a drooling nothing, a nobody experiencing a rainbow of pleasures and blisses beyond my understanding.

Ego-death in a fraction of a second.

When the two minutes were up, the dopamine drained, and the tentacles loosened. My ego was reinstalled, inflated, and terror gripped me. No longer the egoless nothing, but not an ego-embodied illusion. A nightmare hit me, a sense I’d forever be stuck with a personality, an individuality, that the Nirvana I achieved could never be achieved. Satori glimpsed me, then evaporated.

The ultimate nightmare wasn’t a recharged prefrontal cortex, but that the entity washed away all coping mechanisms to contend with the horrors of existence. No longer could I rely on isolation to segregate disturbances in my awareness. All horrors would be omnipresent. All techniques of anchoring ripped out, such that I’d be unable to wrap my misery in narratives to give my suffering meaning. The being ensured I was raptured by its presence, making distraction impossible, implanting in me a singular focus on the nightmare of being human. Finally, it robbed me of any semblance of sublimination, depriving me of an outlet for the terror I experienced. It ensured there could be no outlet to express my nightmare, nothing to make sense of it, that it would always be viscerally present.

The entity made me into a Cassandra. It showed me my future, and the future of all living things, and made me into an aborted god. I knew nobody would believe me. I knew when I’d die, and how, and I knew the futility of trying to stop anything. The being ensured my memory and experiences were tattooed, in high definition, across my psyche.

With my mortality brought into view, with no way to escape the terror inherent in its realization, my ego splintered and was reassembled. There would be no escape from the ministry of terrors. For I was an ego locked in a flesh prison, knowing I was nothing, but incapable of dispensing with it. The entity left me with a head full of paradoxes, with no solution, no comfort. A puppet in which the nature of being was the puppeteer.

I had become a bastardization of the throned being, an orphan of existence.

I awoke in my bed, dripping sweat, with no recollection of how I got from Dax’s place to mine. Grabbing a pistol on the nightstand, I jammed it in my mouth. My hand shook and I pulled the trigger. Then again. And again.

The existential meat grinder wouldn’t be through with me for another 87 years.