With The Hero Doctrine officially on store shelves, I thought I’d briefly expose the other side of my writing. No Romance is a novel I’ve been working on for over four years now, but I only just wrote this prologue in the last few weeks. I’m going to decline any explanation of the book and let this prologue speak for itself.
If there was one thing our hero was terrible at, it was dying.
But now lay before him an epic expanse of a sun-painted canyon that was sure to spell certain doom. Certain, wonderful, blissful doom. He’d rev the engine, give the bike a kick, maybe even wheelie forward, and let gravity take him down the sheer face. There was nothing—and nobody—else for miles around him that could interfere.
He had come all the way out in the forgotten deserts of the American southwest for solitude, and for once in his life, he felt it. He could sigh contentedly as he surveyed the happily godless country. No invisible voice whispering in his ear. No tap of the shoulder to alert him to an idea. No external motivation, seen or unseen, poking or prodding him, pushing or pulling him toward a pyrite cup of glory. He was alone, truly alone, and about to drive his motorcycle over a canyon cliff.
“Yes sir, this should do the trick,” he said confidently, daringly, as if still not totally aware of the void he’d be facing should he succeed.
It was to be his sixth suicide attempt.
As it happened, the other five attempts also included motorcycles. No one could call him particularly imaginative, the unfortunate consequence of solutions always being given him without real effort. The previous bikes had all exploded into spare parts and sound-effect springs, leaving him with his life and five respective and attractive scars like tally marks across his chest.
But this bike would be different. Its shrapnel in the inevitable explosion should kill him pretty effectively. Either that or it’d fall apart somewhere in the downward plunge and he’d meet the smooth face of the canyon floor in a very personal way. He knew this because he had acquired it specially from a custom dealer a few states over, a place called Mercy Motors, and they promised him the moon in exchange for a few simple payments of several hundred dollars. Money was no problem.
Sure, some might say it would be more convenient to just put a bullet in your head. But with his track record, the gun would probably misfire. And personal experience had taught him that death by freefall alone could not be relied upon.
The sun had at last begun its dip below the horizon: the moment was here. The hero drank in the dry canyon land a final time, his feet planted on the ground on either side of the bike. Then he rolled forward ever so slightly, feet paddling back and forth, the front tire inching towards and finally over the edge, spilling a few grains of gravel. His eyes followed the rocks in their fall down the smooth wall a thousand feet below. He’d join them soon enough.
He took a deep breath and let the motorcycle roll backwards, down the gentle incline that led up to the cliff’s edge. About fifty feet back, he paused to once more take in the feeling of peace, gleaned especially from the tall blue sky above him and all around. No clouds whatsoever, no heavens to be seen, and thus no gods to fear.
He revved the engine. His boots went up. He twisted the gears. The motorcycle leapt forward, rumbling then roaring.
Sixth time’s the charm, he thought.
Mercy. Mercy Motors.
His eye couldn’t help but catch the words emblazoned on the bike’s handlebars, even as he departed from the cliff’s edge, out into the blue…
Wait, what was he doing? He’d found himself alone, truly alone out here. He could stay, and They wouldn’t bother him. It was quiet! Desolate! Free!
Free to soar, at least for a moment. Up at the apex of his leap, he forgot his hesitation, for he felt that familiar thrill that comes when gravity is temporarily neutralized, when the force of going up cancels out the force pushing down. That feeling of freedom from all pressure…was it his to keep?
Not for long. For he was free, yes. Free, alas, but free to fall. And so he began his plummet, the canyon mouth open like a cosmic whale ready to swallow him whole. For a moment he felt like Jonah of old, attempting to escape his divinely ordained destiny but finding an even worse fate in its stead.
The canyon floor drew ever closer. Adrenaline had replaced every other sensation in his body. Flashes of other falls he had made in his adventuring exploits filled his mind’s eye: from the top of a greyhound to the windshield of the fake cab driver in London. Leaping from one plane to another to catch the fleeing ex-president’s daughter’s alleged assassin. Pushing off from the twelfth girl he couldn’t save as he fell into the sea.
This would be the last. No gunshots driving him here. No sudden epiphany as to how to survive the fall. No threats made to friends and family to coerce him into a suicidal jump. No, this would be his choice. Entirely his.
If he could manage it this time. He registered the motorcycle’s presence just a few feet below and to his right, and remembered that if the fall didn’t kill him, he’d need the bike to finish the job. To land on top of him, and crush him. And, if he was lucky, explode.
His body contorted, limbs twirling in their own orbits against the rush of wind, he reached out to grab one of the handlebars. His hand grasped at the rubber but couldn’t get a grip. Again he reached, stretched, but this time he got it. And once more he saw those words emblazoned, this time alive, shining, flaming:
That was when he felt it. A massive gust of wind—what else could it have been?—so large, so billowing, that he felt like he was being carried. Carried through the sky. Still falling, still heading toward that flat stop, but somehow his speed was slowing. He could feel, in a very physical sense, an invisible resistance against his body. As if…as if some unseen giant hand was cushioning his fall, each of its cosmic fingers threaded between his arms and legs.
“Are you kidding me?” he shouted into the ether.
Now he wasn’t even facing his doom head on. His body had spun to face the blue sky. His own hand, slick with sweat, was slipping from the motorcycle’s handlebar. The motorcycle itself was drifting away, further and further out of his sight until—
He landed. Then, crunch.
“Aughhh!” cried the hero, and it was the kind of cry he’d never uttered before. It wasn’t a grunt or a wince or a grimace. Those he’d made when a bullet grazed his arm, or when he took a punch to the gut, or when he’d suffered a superficial knife wound. No, this was the cry of serious pain.
I’m alive. Pain, pain, pain.
What pain! No other word appeared in his brain. No other word to describe all the agony he was feeling. Not even a curse, muttered gruffly, could do it credit, and he had done that a lot in his time.
Where was it coming from? What torture device was wracking his body up and down? What depraved act was digging this much into his psyche? He could feel the signals singing fire up the nerve lines, so vividly his whole body might as well have been one massive pain receptor.
The throbbing, it screamed at him. It didn’t relent. He knew nothing else. Even the shock that he was alive registered only in the background comparatively. But he was finally able to trace the pain back to its ground zero.
It was his leg. Still attached, obviously, for he could feel it, and feel it acutely. But…broken. Probably. He had never broken a bone before. Had never seen evidence of his skeleton before, either. But that was definitely the bone sticking out…
And that was definitely the motorcycle on top of him. Pinning his leg against a rock about the size of a football. Around him he saw no other such rocks. It was just lying alone on the canyon floor, and he had happened to land on it. The motorcycle, not a part broken or bent or out of alignment, and the C4 it was packed with totally inert, had in turn landed on top of him, and forced the shin to break the skin.
The sense of awe at it all quickly receded back into the agony, like a surfer swallowed up within a wave.
But…what if that wave were fresh water? As much as it overwhelmed, it also rejuvenated. He just had to open his mouth.
Some people might lose their sense of self in such a moment. Some might pass out. But our hero did not. Drowning in pain, his perception heightened. He started sensing other things just as vividly. The blue sky bearing down on him like he was watching an ocean about to crash. The parched colors of the canyon burning with such heat he could feel his own skin begin to flake, and his lips with them. The dark lines of every crack and crevice in the cliffs and crags stood out to him in high definition, like he had just put on a new pair of glasses.
But beside this hyper sense of things, he could not move. His head could swing back and forth, but he had no strength with which to move the motorcycle, and certainly none to stand up and get moving. That was strange for him. Whatever wounds he’d gained in sequences before had always allowed him—in some moments more dramatically than others—to be tough, get up, and keep going.
Not this wound. A leg so broken, a pain this indescribable, now turned out to be his greatest impediment. The solitude he so sought was now his enemy. He’d die out here, withered and broken, if no help showed up.
All in all, not the simplest or most painless method to commit suicide with.
The pain didn’t die down, even as the sun fell and the moon rose. But delirium did begin to set in, synchronized with the razor edge of this new reality. At least, he thought it was delirium. He’d never been out in the desert at night before, and his sharpened eyes started counting every star he saw up there among the pink and violet swathes of interstellar dust. As he arrived at a number he would later forget, his eyes fell back down to the canyon, which, even with only the light of the glorious night sky, was perfectly visible, and settled on the only written words for miles and miles around.
“Mercy,” he coughed out. “Mercy.”
And his pain began to fade away…
Everything from then on was a blur of colors and shapes and sounds. The night seemed to pass, yes, and dawn seemed to break, and someone seemed to arrive on the scene (no one he knew, though his mind was in no state to recognize faces), and he seemed to remember a loud fan being blown and a great black beast with a great bulbous glass eye descend out of the sky, and he remembered being up in the air again, carried to some destination far away, though this time he could see the hand that did it, and it wasn’t a hand, but the belly of that great black beast with a giant spinning intersection on its back, and then a horizon chopped up into various flat rectangular shapes, and down into a white-lighted dwelling with many women in green attending to him and a few men in white occasionally overlooking him and then blackness and then suddenly he was awake, but the colors had settled down and the pain was fully gone and it all seemed blurrier than it should have been, but he quickly got used to that and really forgot all about the memories that were now just stories he had experienced, like everything else, and his vision finally coalesced into two people, who he could vaguely recall as being his mother and father, and out of his mouth spilled the words of existential crisis and self-doubt and a lack of ultimate knowledge that had often driven good men and women as lonely as he into an early grave with a self-inflicted wound.
But he, he had survived, and was finally sharing his thoughts and feelings and cinematic experiences and the bizarre fact of his very survival with the two people who he thought would care, and hoped would understand.
Little did he know how much they really did understand.
At the end of his speech he found tears trailing down his unshaven cheeks. Such despair could have been from the words that had just poured from his mouth. But if it was, it was manifesting itself to his own brain through something more sensory. It was something about this hospital. Everything was so…mixed together. Blurred together. Compounded together. Every machine, bed, desk, instrument…all felt bound together like they were a part of some painting, all made of the same material. The whole world was like that now. He supposed it had been before the incident, as well. The pain of his broken leg was gone, almost forgotten, and…he missed it.
No, that couldn’t be right. There was no explanation for that. It certainly wasn’t the self-harm he enjoyed. It was something else that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. But that thought was now mixed in with all his other distress and, like paint, it couldn’t be unmixed.
He looked up at his mother like an anguished child would. She in her fifties, still beautiful and mysterious with black hair that curled around her face like obsidian, and turquoise eyes that glowed like a subterranean lake.
His father, with his hooded Italian eyes and lined gruff grin that must have masked much, but still communicated a fatherly air.
Together they looked first at each other, exchanged a little knowing nod each, a little twinkle in their eye, and finally looked kindly on their thirty-year-old son, who had just been hospitalized for a severely broken leg gained in an apparent suicide attempt that otherwise produced no discernible injuries.
Then his mother opened her mouth to speak, and her voice was as gentle as if she were about to teach him the birds and the bees.
“Son…it’s time you learned where you really came from.”