The pulsing shriek continued below me
It is often said that when you die, your life flashes before your eyes. There is truth to that statement, to be sure, though it differs from the frenetic memory slideshow people envision their brain playing in the moments before or during their demise. In death, your life experiences are not confined to the substantially limited two and a half petabytes or so of memory your brain offers. Your life "flashes before your eyes" because you are suddenly gifted with the ability to recall everything you've ever seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched, now that you are unburdened with the heavy responsibility of life and its severe limitations. This is when you learn the difference between knowing, and Knowing, between knowledge and Knowledge. You become Light; a beacon in the darkness, a possible courier for a Child who sleeps and dreams of your existence. You will become a Messenger for the Child, or you can forsake that role as I did.
That is why I still Knew dread when I came back to my Home, though I had witnessed the birth and death of many stars since I last visited. Memories had become Knowledge which could not fade or be forgotten, and I had no one to blame but myself for straying close enough to Know the shrieking, writhing call of Broken Light. I spent countless eons of existence as a Stray, ignoring and fleeing the pull of the Child and my supposed purpose, but I was always powerless when it came to Broken Light; Light that has been shattered or twisted through unnatural means. I imagine that compulsive force was a purposeful failsafe from the Child itself; a gift to its philanthropic Messengers and a bane to Strays like me, a reminder that I was never truly in control of my fate. We were all drawn towards that which needed to be fixed, to be healed.
KAHHH!!! KAHHH!!! KAHHH!!!
Home loomed in front of me; my place of origin, a dead world I had vowed I would never return to. I could not relieve myself of Knowing what had brought me here, but now I could at least prioritize the Knowledge of Home over the Knowledge of my irksome situation. There was no longer anything or anyone to Know here; even the Angels had fled at some point in time, though their unique brand of stubbornness likely kept them in place for far longer than could be considered sensible. Not that I would have ever considered them to have anything resembling sensibility. I wondered when the first cracks in their solidarity appeared. Did they stay to the very end? Did they understand they'd been lying to themselves all this time? I doubted I would receive answers to my questions, and the pull was too strong now for me to linger. I would have to continue my pondering below.
I descended to the surface, passing through what used to be an atmosphere, beckoned by the continuous shriek below as I steeled myself to become a tool of the Child and fix what was broken. A landscape of empty, sun-scorched earth confronted me. This corner of the galaxy might have been withering away and losing its tether to reality, but some other calamity was certainly responsible for cleansing my old Home of humanity. Whatever it might have been, it likely left as quickly as it first arrived, indifferent to the extraordinary circumstances that must have put it on its collision path with my Home. The pulsing shriek continued below me as I descended further beneath the rotted crust, my Light passing through matter which did nothing to impede my unwanted quest.
KAH!! KAH!! KALLL!!!
As I reached the origin of the gibbering squeals and spikes of distress that had compelled me back Home, I concentrated on my own Light. The last time I became corporeal was also the last time I had visited Home, and the effort I exerted back then had saved my Light as well as the Light of countless others. There was no reason not to take the same precaution now, and the sudden disorienting mixture of distorted Knowledge signified that I could now safely interact with the Broken Light I was nearing, and whatever may have caused it. I adjusted my senses, rusty with disuse, as I set foot on a floor for the first time in a very, very long while.
The scene before me brought the memory of my last visit Home to mind: it was another massacre. At least that bastard Kuhn had kept the Light he stole mostly intact. Whatever was responsible for this new atrocity could boast no such precision. The room I found myself standing in looked like a children's playground had been clumsily combined with a high school science lab and a landslide. Rubble had claimed large sections of what obviously had been a laboratory, and playground equipment was haphazardly strewn about, much of it bent and broken. Broken Light glittered and screamed from every visible piece of metal from the former schoolyard fixtures, mewling at me like an angry, injured kitten. So this was why I was here.
Kah! Kall! Kall!!
Clarity provided itself to me as I continued to concentrate on shielding my Light with my corporeal form, while I walked from each piece of equipment, touching it, and attempting to Know it. This was different from Kuhn; this was self inflicted. Someone had broken their own Light, and it now littered the room in the form of destroyed playground equipment, like grey matter from a shotgun suicide.
I could not make sense of the chaos. I could not Know anything. Why playground equipment? Why in this laboratory? Why and how did someone break their own Light?
The shock of sensing that name did not prevent me from noticing the shrieks and spikes had stopped. The Broken Light was speaking to me. The voice came from all directions at once.
Is that your name? Chael? I'm not sure how I knew it, it just seemed right.
What was happening here? In my immeasurable time as a Stray I had seen stars shatter, worlds unfold, civilizations rise and fall and rise and fall again, but never had I encountered Broken Light that could speak, or Know my name for that matter. This was not the corpse of a Messenger, or another Stray; this was a mutant, a Light that never should have been.
Can you hear me?
The only way I could communicate, even in corporeal form, was to let my Light into the Light of another. But Broken Light? There was a reason I was shielding myself from it. I wasn't some foolish Messenger; I was not looking to meet new and different things with sickening enthusiasm.
I think you can hear me. This way.
My concerns were starting to lose priority as I searched for the source of the voice, which was no longer coming from all around me. Anxious confusion was turning into curiosity.
Here, Chael. I'm here.
It came from the half-crushed frame of a swing set that had begun its slow descent into disintegration quite some time ago. I approached it as the caution I usually wielded like a shield was slowly drained from me. This was definitely not normal Broken Light.
I'm glad you came.
I was glad too. As I let my Light into the talking swing set, memories that were not my own invaded my corporeal senses, becoming Knowledge. At first, they trickled in like a stream, but soon I was swimming in a newly formed ocean, gasping for breath as I decided whether to sink or swim.
I haven't been glad for a very long time.
Slowly I sank to the bottom, watching as bubbles passed me by. Lazily, I reached out to touch one.
I can tell you about it.
Okay, but we do not have much time left.
when your toes can finally reach the trees
be sure to bring your mind along with them