THE COUNTING MAN: A Short Story – 3300 words)

One, two, three… that’s how everything starts, right? And then you reach a number, a reasonable number and it ends, everything ends. 70? 75? 80? 85? 90? 95? 105? 110? 120? Until the numbers become more and more incomprehensible. So vast and strange that it’s almost impossible to grasp their meaning.

Everything ends but me.
And I have reached a number like that.
And I’m still counting.

Floating, as I am, in this vast nothing of outer space. I have long since forgotten what my mother looked like, but I do remember most of what happened back then. This is not a space odyssey, but rather a space oddity. Improbability, bordering on impossibility and all I know is that I am still here, all alone… floating.


It was huddling in a cave. The only source of light came from a small crack in the wall to the left of the Jinn, lighting up the dark creature and yet it was as if it devoured the light and extinguished it.

It was hard to look at it. Hard to stand there still and not run away screaming. The cave was eerie enough in itself. I had been forced inside its bowels because of mad men and bad weather. The snowstorm had taken me by surprise. Not that knowing about it would have made any difference. I was still a hunted man, an outlaw, and I needed shelter from the weather and since any human-made dwelling would draw attention and be ransacked, a natural one was perfectly fine with me.

I didn’t expect to meet a fiend much worse than my enemies in its deepest chambers. I just followed the walls towards the glimmer of light I saw in the distance.

Though is it fair to call it a fiend? Is it fair to call it names, knowing what struggle it must have gone through?

I was the naive Viking who needed to proof himself as much to himself as to anybody else. I remember very well who I was back then. It might sound like an odd statement, but for a being such as myself it comes natural to say such things, because I’ve been many men since then, lived lives half forgotten in the drifts of time, where eons become a grain of sand on a never ending beach.

I was a Viking, first generation born on the new island. I was a wilding, as things were, and having two older brothers I knew that I would have to work hard for my prosperity, either on my brothers farm, or I would have to break land for myself and start out poor. It wasn’t the worry about my future that got me in trouble though, but my inability to see where my actions would lead me.

I know that now, an eternity later.

Eternity is such a strange word. You can flaunt it, but most people never ever had a sense of what it meant.
I do have an inkling, unfortunately.

The Dark Jinn was still as I approached, but I saw it had its eye on me. It wasn’t hard understanding where it’s eyes were. The thing was like a living, black fire with a flexible, flickering body, but it had stern red eyes.

This was not THE Devil, just a devil because the Universe is too large, too vast, to just have one, but a devil it was and despite its flexible body it was trapped in that cave, deep in the heart of an island that had risen out of the ocean not too long ago.

It looked at me with hunger in its eyes and I mistook that hunger greatly. I thought it meant to devour me, to eat me up and make nothing of me.

How wrong I was. And at the same time, so incredibly right. 

It didn’t speak to me right away, but as my forefathers I had curiosity in my nature, otherwise I wouldn’t have been on this scar at all. When I was close enough, however, it spoke to me in a voice deep and raspy, but a voice nonetheless. It spoke to me in the language I understood, and as it was, none of this surprised me the least.

It wasn’t apparent from the start that the Jinn was captured there. It seemed to move about freely in the cave and when I approached it hesitantly it rushed towards me, intimidating me, but I was a fighter, a Viking and a farmer and I wouldn’t be intimidated, be it by men or beings of mischief. But I also knew better than to prejudge any being as evil.

I walked towards the light source, thinking that I would gain some strength from the light, hoping there would be a bit of Baldur in it and henceforth some strength to grasp from it. Our gods were always so present back in those days.

It didn’t stop me from moving, just followed me with its vapored body and its grim gaze. When I was standing next to the light I felt a bit better and I turned to face the creature.

We stood in silence for a long while, each evaluating the situation. What it was, I cannot tell you, I knew nothing of this being and don’t know much more now. It looked like nothing I had ever heard of and we had been well educated in the invisible world, the world of our gods, the hidden people, ghosts and other invisible things. I had conjured up images in my mind of Hel’s grotesque half face and her realm of the dead. I had heard the song of the Valkyries before battle. I had seen Thor’s anger rage in the sky above the mountains by the farm.

This, however, I hadn’t heard of.
It started speaking in its husky voice.

“What brings you here, man?” it asked. It sounded curious, almost happy but it was only later that I learned of such loneliness that makes you keep rocks as company.
I told it my ailment, and got a laughter as a response. It was a hollow laughter, a sound made for my ears and not so much a part of the beings repertoire.

It didn’t amuse me at the time. I stood there sternly, caressing my beard, holding the sheath of my sword.

But I can admit that the memory has made me holler a few times since.

It sat down on a stone, the little ray of light shining on the thing making its flaky body flicker wildly in all its glory, the different shades of grey and black creating abstract patterns in the air.

“If you do me a favor,” the thing said, “I will grant you your wish,” it said. “Whatever you want, I tire of this habitat and I am lonely for my own kind, for darkness, if you just help me…”

His last words lingered in the air, hung around like unfinished meanings often do and I was intrigued.

You see, I was a dead man. I may have walked into the cave drawing breath but it was only a matter of time before I would have to get out of there, only a matter of time before I needed to go out to find food, shelter and some human companionship. Outlaws rarely survived alone for long in this harsh country, especially when they had a chieftain hunting them for making their most precious slave pregnant.

She was a divine creature, Fríða but she was also sly and dead-set on getting back at the men who had abducted her from her darling homeland. And who can blame her?

I was a dead man and I knew it, but all I wanted to do was to live, to be able to continue to draw breath and live my life like any regular man would. I wanted to die with honor, as an old man in battle, and not hunted down like loose cattle or a rapid puppy.

I had broken the laws of my chieftain, but I felt no regret for it. I had felt love and pity, for the poor girl and I had not seen the slyness and her willingness to get back at us just because we were in cahoots with her capturer.

I don’t know if the gods were asleep that day, or what happened. I know I became one of a kind that day. I was no longer like those around me. I changed, transformed into a being that transcends anything humanity had been before. And all this happened in a deep cave on an isolated volcanic island somewhere far in the atlantic ocean.

What commenced was strange. Still to this day, or this eternal night rather, I cannot properly explain it, even to myself.

What it was that was trapped there I don’t know. I call it Jinn because that’s what it called itself. I call it The Dark Jinn because it seemed to have a body darker than the night surrounding it.

Maybe this creature once ate from the big forbidden fruit of the tree of immortality, and found a rotten way to get rid of his curse. He found a willing victim in me, someone who he could play a fool.

I should have just given into the slaves vengeance, I know that now but, like they used to say, it’s easy to have twenty-twenty hindsight.
“If you set me free,” it said, “I’ll make you immortal. You will conquer your enemies, because they will have no means of killing you.”
I asked the creature what it wanted me to do and it told me.

What drove me was fear of dying, I knew that unless I was extremely lucky I wouldn’t make it through the week. I wasn’t in dire need at the time, but I knew that I soon would be. I would be cold, hungry and forced to face men more than willing to kill me for the glory of it.

Is that enough to make someone like me do what I did? Maybe it was ignorance? I’m not sure, maybe the Jinn had additional powers, a way of manipulating me and soothing me so that I wouldn’t be afraid.

I wasn’t particularly afraid of it.
I should have been.

I walked towards it and I did what it asked of me. I placed my hands on the stone that was standing in the middle of the cave floor. It was a large stone, an obsidian, and on it was a symbol I didn’t see until I was close. A symbol I didn’t understand and didn’t even try to until much later. 

I found a tool underneath the stone. It was dug into the earth, but not very thoroughly. It took me moments to get to it and with that tool I was able to trace the symbol more forcefully into the stone, as the creature wanted me to.

Then the creature came to me and kissed me.

It wasn’t like any human kiss, that much is certain and I felt an intense mixture of disgust and arousal venture through my body. At first I thought it was slipping me its vaporized tongue, I only later realized that it was passing on to me whatever it was it had.

I caught it from this deity, like you catch a diseases from other people. Or perhaps he passed on the torch, leaving himself vulnerable again.

Of course I didn’t understand any of it at the time and when I got out of the cave I was as afraid as I had been before. The Dark Jinn seemed to dissolve before me as it was kissing me until I was left there kissing the air and I had to deal with my problems on my own.

I didn’t die of cold in the mountains, I’m sure I should have. And when Gunnar’s men came with their swords and tried to run them through me I stood as sternly as a cliff.

It was a proud victory I experienced that day.

It would take a long time to explain all the things that happened to me throughout my long life. I soon realized that the Dark Jinn had indeed kept its promise. I didn’t die. I couldn’t die. I walked from lifetime to lifetime untouched, unchanged and for the most part I was happy.

I solved my problem with Gunnar by killing him, as we did back in those days. I became a chieftain with many men and I kept the fair Fríða by my side until I felt it was time to let her go back to her own country. She bore me many fine children who I helped bury in their last resting place.

When times changed I moved, changed my life and started to study. I became a doctor and a king, mathematician, politician and a midwife. I was a crusader for a short while, and a pirate, I fought in wars I would rather forget about and I had many lovers, several wives and had children who I all saw grow old and die.

It’s a cruel fate, but at the time I figured it was the price I paid for being who I was. It was a price worth paying. People die and I learned how to move on.

It was sometimes hard, but seeing society change and evolve was amazing. I saw new discoveries and I made a habit of going back to school every once in a while so I could learn new things.

I wasn’t the same blue eyed boy I had been in that cave. I knew things, but truthfully I think that some part of me always stayed the same, despite all the things I learned, despite flying to the moon and participating in the attempt to colonize Mars.

I could tell stories of my life on earth, but that’s such a small part of my life, such an invisibly small part.

What ended it all was a war, of course, along with a catastrophe that I guess even with all human effort would still have made the human race extinct.

The whole human race, except for one tiny human being.

At first I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. The earth shattered, killing all the warring parties, and everyone else along with it, but I was left standing, still intact.

These were amazing sights, and though the impact sent me in a spiral of cacophony and jumble I can hardly explain I still saw the moon evaporate before my very eyes, its splinters shattering, ascending and descending all around me. I stood on what was left of my planet, awestruck and bewildered.

I don’t know how much time went by, turns out immortals can’t tell time very well. In the end what was left of earth collided with other astroids and I was left descending in the darkness of space.

Untouched by its threat of vacuum and the extremeness of its cold touch. I drifted and I drift. It’s been so long since I saw any sign of anything at all that I have half forgotten what materia even looks like. I remember my time on earth, I don’t change in that respect and my mind isn’t lost. I guess what gets frozen in time isn’t just my body, but also my soul and yet I’m obviously not frozen in time just oddly stuck in the space between one yoctosecond and another. I am trapped, but I still drift forward in the relentless time, I presume. It’s a contradiction, but most of my life is.

I’ve spent eternity counting my heartbeats to be able to tell time. Keeping said time in my mind, hoping that I haven’t forgotten millenniums, or eons, because my mind falters, yet my mind stays the same. I don’t forget.

And I have a goal in mind, or hope if you will, that when I reach as high as Graham’s Number then maybe probability will allow me to find another earth, or another universe or something that will contain life in some form. It will allow me to find something other than this empty space, this darkness.

I had hopes of descending into a burning star or a black hole long ago, hoping that whatever force these things contained would break the spell I’m under, allow me to die like my kindred did.

I am the last human, I am whole of human history, drifting in space. I’ve lived longer than all men that were once alive on that blue pearl put together. I am the history of humans because my history exceeds everything that was there, for the little that is worth.

All because of a Dark Jinn in a cave on an island that would maybe have been better off remaining hidden in the sea until that meteor reigned down.

I sometimes wonder if we are now kindred spirits, it and I. I guess it had been tethered in that cave for a long time, for how long I have no idea, but it had at least the earth around it, living creatures walking the face of the earth.

But of course, that might have been a short period for the Dark Jinn, what do I know? I never spoke to it thoroughly, never understood its power nor its dilemma. Never understood the coldness of heart that it took to do something like this to a human being.

Or the desperation.

The two of us, we exceed all science, or what I know of it, we lurk in the space between religion and knowledge, somewhere in the land of faith, hopes and dreams.

Desperation comes in many forms, it hits me often, but ascending anxiety alters the numbers. The numbers that are constantly adding up in the part of my brain that always does the counting. As if knowing  some form of time changes anything at all.

It’s an illusion of course, something to keep busy, a goal to be reached in the vast space of nothing at all. I used to see the occasional planet, a moon and sometimes a shining star. But I haven’t seen anything of the sort for … well, who’s counting?

I’ve cried for it to return, the Dark Jinn, to take back the magic but I know that the Jinn, whatever it was, no longer exists. It has seized and with it died something very precious.

The knowledge of how you pass this gift onto others.
If there ever will be others.

Dark, strange world. Heartbeat, and another, and another and there have been so many now that it’s incomprehensible to me, but still I keep counting.

Because counting is all I can, all I know how to do out here.

And words whispered into the darkness, are just that, words in a fleeing moment. Though they get whispered again and again. It matters not, because there is nothing, no one, here to hear them.

I’ve cursed the Dark Jinn with its dark body and dark mind, but given the chance, would I not do exactly what it did?

Will I be that devil? A deformed creature, in the eye of some unknowing young species, giving a curse to an individual I can hardly look upon as a creature at all because of how different we are.

And then my eternity will actually end, I will be her Dark Jinn and I will seize to exist, knowing well what gift of horror I have given her.

The Immortal can’t tell time, really, but counting the seconds, that’s all I can do for now.

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