Part 12, and the conclusion of this tale. See the rest here if you haven’t.

His voice rang out clear in the vast, open room, echoing off of distant walls. There was not a soul in the small crowd that had gathered who could not hear every word, who could not hear the trace of empathy beneath its cold detachment; it wasn’t a cruelty, but a defense mechanism. It was important to tend to your own wellbeing when delivering these speeches.

“Daniel Willis was a bright young man. Troubled, yes, but who among us has not struggled? That we toil every day, both in our labors and in our thoughts, is testament to our tenacity. So it was with Daniel. I am certain all here recall his trials, the struggles he faced after an accident nearly took his hands from him and changed the course of his life. This struggle, though, did not define him. He did not allow it that power.

“Daniel — or Dani, as he liked to be called — instead found himself in a different battle. Ever sure that he had been cast into the wrong role, given a life and body that was not his own, he fought against his own existence. Those who knew him well will never forget his unique perspective, his insistence that this world in which we live is not all there is. It was more than a fascination with the yarns we spin of the time before; it was a true, deeply rooted belief in something greater. Something different and fresh.”

The gathered observers remained still, their silence punctuated only by the occasional cough and the deep sighs of Dani’s mother, seated in the front. She would not allow the pain of a lost child to break her in front of the assembled; no, that would be for later, in private. Here and now was a time for strength and resolve as the words of their elder fell flatly against her ears.

“Today, we remember Daniel not for his struggles, but for his optimism and strength. With all odds stacked against him and what he felt was right, he still stood tall in his own beliefs. He refused to allow the limits of his body to define how he looked at the world. Some might accuse him of being a dreamer, of being lost in some fantasy, but to Daniel, it was more than that. He was never lost in his mind, but rather, his mind was the one place he could be found.”

The words went on, more touching recollections of how Dani had lived. There were very few words about how she had died; the malnourished husk found sealed away in the trappings of a forgotten experiment. Secreted off in an abandoned sensory deprivation chamber, she’d found the one place she could be herself, free of judgment and half-cocked grins. It was hard to talk about this without speaking negatively. The speech concluded, and the attendees made their final pass by the remains, hidden beneath the stone casket, to pay their last respects.

Dani’s mother was the last to leave. As the room emptied, she could no longer bite back tears. Her mind raced across every argument, every assertion that her son — no. That wasn’t the word, not anymore. Every time she had sparred words with her daughter flooded her memory. Every single battle she thought she’d won was just another push towards this ledge, and every word hung on her like a steel weight attached to her skin. The elder looked on in solemn silence as she collapsed onto the casket, desperate for a conversation that, now, would never come.


A warm breeze drifted across the field, each blade of grass bending to its gentle push. The air here smelled of something sweet and undefinable. A new lightness carried Dani’s feet across the emerald expanse, as though she’d been freed from chains that had once held her captive to something that she could not define, and she knew that the echoes of that awful dream would never again encroach on her existence.

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