It was dark, so dark. And then I realized why it was dark: my eyes were tightly shut.
I opened my eyes and let the light hit them.
I was inside a jail cell. It looked like, well, a regular jail cell. Bed, sink, toilet.
Wait. Bed, sink, toilet. Words written on the wall. This was the cell. This was the cell my dad took me to, the one my dad locked me in for a whole hour.
This was where I learned the words that ended the world.
How did I end up back here? This couldn't be the Singularity Cell. It couldn't be. I had been here before.
There was no one else in the cell. There should have been a chain and an anvil. And "Ferratus," whoever that was. And I was supposed to break the chain with...a metaphor?
But that was not happening here. Something must have gone wrong. I needed to find Jack again.
"Jack-in-Irons," a voice said. "Jack-in-Irons brought you here." I turned and there was a man sitting on the floor. He had a long, ragged beard and his face was pock-marked with scars. His hands were manacled to the wall.
"Yes," I said. "Jack led me here. But I was supposed to be in-"
"The prison," the man said. "The prison at the beginning and end of all things. Welcome, Jacob. Welcome to hell." The man began to laugh and I could see that there were lit matches in his beard and smoke rose from them.
I blinked and suddenly he wasn't an old man anymore - he was tall and terrible and covered in iron. And before him there was an anvil as big as I was tall. And his manacles had chains that were wrapped around his body and around the anvil.
His laughter echoed in my skull.
"Break the chain, Jacob," Ferratus said. "Break the chain and set me free. Break the chain and save the world, set me free and doom it. Break the chain, Jacob."
I could see what happened now. Jack had tricked me. He had led me here, he had told me to break the chain, but if I did, Ferratus would escape. And whatever Ferratus did might be worse than what I had done. Wouldn't it?
But I had to do something. I couldn't leave the world empty. I could save the world and break the chain.
Ferratus laughed at me again and raised up his chain to me and I suddenly remembered what Jack had said. How metaphors become that which they symbolized.
"Compassion can cut like a knife," I said. And there was a knife in my hand and I could see how sharp the blade was. "It can cut through the hardest iron."
And I swept the knife forward and cut the chain the bound Ferratus to the anvil.
He laughed again and looked at me. "I thank you for freeing me," he said, his voice a raging storm inside my head. "The fetters are now broken, the words no longer connect. The world has returned to its normal state of being. Ripe for the plucking."
"My father was a cop," I said. "And every Christmas, he read to us his favorite story. I remember him reading one part so vividly. It went like this: 'You are fettered,' said Scrooge, trembling. 'Tell me why?' 'I wear the chain I forged in life,' replied the Ghost. 'I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?'"
Chains materialized around me and I quickly wrapped them around Ferratus's manacled hands and then the anvil.
I had cut his chain and replaced it with my own.
I blinked again and the tall, iron-clad Ferratus was again the old man, with smoking matches in his beard. "You are a fool," the old man said, "for you are now chained with me. You will stay here until you die."
"I know," I said. The chains were heavy, but I could bear them.
I'm writing this message on the wall in the hope that someone - perhaps Jack - will find it and put it up. If you do, tell my family that I'm okay. Or maybe just tell them I'm dead. It doesn't matter.
I used to hate my dad for what he did to me. Even the name he gave me, for which I was tormented mercilessly at school. I blamed him when the bullies picked on me and when I got into that fight. But it was my burden.
My father told me that prisons were only for bad people, liars and killers and so on. That if you were bad, you belonged there. I don't believe that. I don't think I'm a bad person.
But I belong here.