The Nihilist

“What’s your fascination with decay, anyway?” He reached out to touch the crow’s skull, and I could see that his fingers were trembling. He recoiled before making contact, perhaps out of instinct, perhaps out of respect. Let’s call it a mix of the two.

“I find comfort in the knowledge that things die and disappear,” I said. “That there are forces greater than anything we humans can conceive of, that are constantly at work eroding the things we create. That, no matter what lengths we go to, no matter how ingenious our methods, in time everything will return to dust.”

I watched him traverse the display case and stand in front of the Travein painting I’d hung near the entrance. It was an oil depiction of a figure receding into shadow, just the barest outline of a human portrait defined more by darkness than light. I heard him hum.

“I think we spend a lot of our lives in arrogant ignorance,” I said. “Even those who are born to nothing and die the same way, the starving and the underprivileged, I think they take comfort in any little mastery they might gain over their environment. From as simple an action as claiming a small square of ground upon which to sleep, to the mind-boggling complexities of building a world-spanning empire, we all try to establish and maintain some form of control over our surroundings. It’s only through years of study, discipline, and introspection that we might gain some insight into the more profound realities of nature, and decay is one of the most visible and pervasive manifestations of it. Even with awareness I still find myself forgetting about it, and so I collect reminders. What do you think?”

He turned and surveyed the room, then sighed. “Honestly? I think it’s a little creepy.”

2015.02.12 – 2023.09.08

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