Inspired by elements of grimdark, the kernel of an unused story idea, and the recent fever-dreams of a low-grade flu, Torpor is a writing exercise in world building where the narrative will be told through a series of vignettes that focus on the world around the story, rather than directly on the plot itself.
For lack of a better term, I’m calling the process Artifacting. Like digging up a long forgotten relic from out of the earth, the reader will uncover the narrative bit by bit from the surrounding fiction that the story is buried in - an Artifact waiting to be discovered.
Part historical reference, part adventurer’s journal, part religious text, I want Torpor to feel like someplace lived-in, where to the newcomer, every answer unlocks new questions about the people and places that they discover.
As I’m usually prone to overwriting, and rewriting ad nauseam until I feel like I’ve gotten a piece right (and how many stories have I thrown away because it’s never felt good enough?), for this exercise series I’m writing the vignettes as quickly and off-the-cuff as I can stomach with almost no editing. As much an exercise in automatic writing as anything to maybe free up some of the old and rusty head-gubbins. If this turns into anything I’m mildly pleased with, I might go back and collect and polish them into something larger. For now, just an experiment.
We’ll see how it works. Frankly, it might not, but it should be interesting.
Here, I present the first part of this series I am calling, Torpor.
The easiest part of the Pilgrimage is finding the door.
The Parallax Door, invisible to the senses, stands where scholars say the heart of Torpor once stood before the great and terrible city winked itself out of existence. The surrounding territories, once separated by the vast area of Torpor, found their borders abutting new neighbors as the edges of reality puckered themselves tight to scab over Torpor’s sudden absence, and at their convergence, Pilgrims to the Saint will find the invisible door that is the sole entrance to that other realm where the city now resides in darkness.
Though you may not see the Door itself, its position is known by the sudden ending of the approaching road that was once the main passage into Torpor. In a jumble of trees and stone, smashed together where reality reasserted itself, its place is littered, shrine-like, with devotional prayers, farewell letters, and the diaries and personal effects left behind by both those hoping to gain entrance, and those Pilgrims who have taken their first steps on the Path, leaving their past selves behind. These parchments and tokens and trinkets are weighted down by rocks, nailed to surrounding trees and walls, or staked into the ground, each new devotional to the Pilgrimage feathering an ever-growing nest of detritus save for one spot at the center; the Door itself. Felt but unseen, the Door cannot be defaced, and so stays as a void at the focal point of the heap.
There have been times when this devotional midden has grown large enough to have collapsed, crushing those hopeful worshipers who pray at the entrance’s foot, beneath a mountain of testimonials to the Saint. Since these tragedies, an ad hoc priesthood has sprung from the devout to perform the thankless job of thinning the piles and shag of the shrine to a safe size, burning the refuse of yellowing prayers in great bonfires. The irony of their duty is that the rising columns of smoke only serve as a waypoint, attracting an increasing number of Pilgrims to the Door, who will in turn offer their own prayers and wishes to the heap, making those known as the Ash Priest’s mission a never-ending exercise in futility.
The habits of the Door are watched closely by those frustrated many who have never been granted the gift of entrance, and entire cultures have formed devoting themselves to tracking the regularity, timing, and census of those lucky or worthy enough to be given passage into the other realm. An industry unto itself, enterprising watchers have grown wealthy from the collection and sales of this information. For miles, the roadsides and pathways leading to the Door are lined with hawkers and stalls who will sell these collected tracts to the faithful Pilgrims, so that the trick of passage may be gleaned from data both qualitative and quantitative.
This is the first mistake of those denied—the first step of the journey is not a puzzle to be solved. The journey begins within oneself, and the miracle of the Parallax Door can only be discerned by those truly ready to walk the path for themselves and not for the glory of the idea of the thing.
The Saint does not want blind devotion from its champions—It needs heroes that can walk on their own two feet.
Listening closely above the wails and prostrations of fellow hopefuls, the chiming of bells announce your approach even if you cannot see the door's edges and outline. The seeing is the first of many trials to the center, and the seeing of the thing is not one of true sight, but one of knowing that it is there; an itch in the back of your mind, and a flicker of shadow in the corner of your eye.
Those denied entrance will simply walk through the marked position of the Door, unchanged. For Pilgrims accepted into the Saint’s realm, as they walk across the threshold of the Parallax Door, they will feel a pull that many have compared to a deep longing or loss, and as they cross over into the other realm where Torpor lies, they will be blinded by the transition between realities.
For those onlookers lucky enough to witness the event, the Pilgrim is said to simply vanish as they make the passage, never to step foot in this world again.