Phenomenon 21
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There he was, sitting on his office chair. Lifeless.

Rarely do you hear of wanderers living long enough to see the new generations replace the older. Most meet their end in unfortunate circumstances, eaten by starving Hounds, caught in the sick games of the Gamemaster or dying of thirst in the never-ending corridors of Level 0. The Backrooms are an unforgiving multitude of unwelcoming worlds, far removed from any perspective of prosperous lives. Yet, some do manage to survive the horrors. Judging by the apparent age of the dead man, he must have been one of those.

I'm not sure I recognize him. He seems familiar but I can't quite put my finger on why that is. In a way, I resemble him. My hair is turning grey, age starts to show. I am not the young man I once was. Since I am also not the fittest person in Base Alpha, I always remain on base, helping out in keeping logistics rolling. When the MEG's administrative workload began to pile on, I was on the front to help the group not collapse under the weight of bureaucracy. The younger ones all love adventure but they don't understand how tough it is to maintain a community stretched across different Levels. So, in lieu of being the hero everyone wanted, I remained in the shadow.

But I loved it. I got to form friendships, know people I could bond with. From the ashes of our home, we built something that was …normal. A new normality that would perhaps seem horrific for the lucky many still home, but one that allowed us to survive some more.

I thought I was the only one here until I felt a heavy presence beside me. I turned and saw a tall figure standing, forcing me to lift my head up to see their face. They had a cold and tired expression, unfazed by the presence of the body. I never had seen them before, yet a heavy weight in my heart told me they were no stranger.


He looks peaceful. Smiling, almost.

Yes. He does. Have you looked into his mouth?



No, I haven't. Why?

That smile of his, it's been sewn in from the inside. His whole body appears as if it was embalmed.



To my knowledge, not one soul here practices thanatopraxia.

You're right. Yet, this is not the first time a body has been found in this state.



Has this been documented yet?

There is a draft. Nothing definitive, I fear. The workload remains immense, the publishing frequency has been halting to a grind, and it is hard to maintain the MEG's database perfectly up to date.



Doesn't matter, send it to me.


They reached for their pocket and took out his phone. It was in pristine condition, the kind that only the higher-ups from the MEG or those with connections within the BNTG could afford. Mine was the same from the time I landed here, in the Backrooms. Yet it still works, despite its cracked screen.

I felt the vibration of a notification. I figured out that they must have known me from somewhere, as he had no need to ask for my name or my e-mail address. The e-mail they sent was straightforward: they had not bothered to write out a title or even words, just the document attached, soberly titled "phenomenon-xx-draft.html".


Well, that was fast, thank you.

Let's not waste any time, right?



Indeed, indeed.

The page will give you some insights as to what the phenomenon is, but there are a few unknowns, things we are not quite sure of. After all, we are just mere mortals attempting to understand what games Death plays.


DESCRIPTION
Phenomenon 21 refers to the abnormal alteration of human bodies occurring after death, which has been first reported on 29/03/2023.

The corpses are affected by Phenomenon 21 regardless of the circumstance of their passing. While those who have died in the presence of none have always been found in their altered form, those who have died while in the presence of other individuals appear to be affected once they are out of the vision of every involved individuals.

The alterations are similar to the process of embalming which is common on Planet Earth, but has fallen out of practice in the Backrooms due to a lack of qualified personnel, the often chaotic circumstances of fatalities, and a shift in the cultural practices of the population of the Backrooms. The bodies appear to have been washed, groomed, and fitted with formal clothing. Their eyes are shut, and their lips produce a slightly smiling expression, the result of a small operation using sutures within the mouths of the dead. The corpses appear to not be subject to rigor mortis, as their muscles are relaxed. It is not known who or what is behind Phenomenon 21.

A sense of peace fills those who witness the bodies. The Phenomenon has been described as an opportunity to allow those who have lost their loved ones during tragic events to grieve.

Since the apparition of Phenomenon 21, access to The Grave through astral projection has been found to be impossible. The implications are not fully understood, although they may signify that Phenomenon 21 also alters the afterlife in the Backrooms.


… This place never fails to surprise me.

For once, it is a good surprise.



True, but only for the dead.

For the living too, don't you think?



Death remains death, no matter its beauty.

Yet, not one soul escapes it, all must play a part in it.



Certainly. I suppose it is what awaits us after leaving these worlds that anguishes me.

All that was known was The Grave. A grim perspective, but at least we had an idea of where we would go.



And now we don't.

… You're a curious mind, are you not?



Mh?

I can sense that your mind wanders, you are one that hates doubt.


Strange fellow, capable of reading minds. Their hazel eyes looked directly into mine, and an odd feeling crept in. It was not dread nor fear, but an understanding of the surreal nature of this exchange, an understanding that they who stood in front of me were no human.

They knew that I knew.


A bright mind, I see.



And it is now my turn.

It already has been.



… Sorry?

The body in front of us… It's you.



I know myself, that can't be me, I am not that old.

Tell me, do you remember what you look like?



Well yes, I… I…. Uh-


No further words came out. Confusion flooded my soul, something broke in me. Memories were distant and blurry.


Your mind died long before your heart did.



My friends, are they…?

Long gone, I fear.



What was I doing all this time?

Taken care of by wanderers. They all played along your disease, letting you "organize" things. You were the eldest of the base.



Am I dying alone? Is this what's happening?

Time will tell. You died recently. A matter of a few hours.



Uh-huh. This Phenomenon, is it real? Or are you toying with me, torturing me? If you are, please end it quick.

No, I am not torturing you and yes, it is real. Come, we will discuss.


My surroundings were swallowed by a vast emptiness, only to be replaced by something else.

Priestley_House_attic_staircase.jpg

The stairs led to an attic.

A place I was most familiar with.

Home.

I saw an opened door showing the stairs leading to the attic, but I felt a pressing urge to revisit the house. Everything stood in place, like how it was the day I no-clipped. When I entered the kitchen, I saw the half-finished cup of coffee, the bag of bread I left open, and the newspaper of that day, dated on the 7th of April 1983. That day I had to leave early for work and when I saw that I was getting late I jumped out of my chair, made a run for the front door… and fell stupidly in front of it. Next thing I knew it smelled of moist carpet and everything was made of different dizzying shades of yellow. I really thought I was going to die there, without water or food, all alone and with no one to hear my cries for help. Even though I am part of the lucky few who survived that place, I never ceased wondering about those so many who never made it out.

The urge felt stronger and stronger, compelling me to go back and up the stairs to the attic. Rays of light illuminated the room through the windows of the old house, allowing me to see the arrangement of the attic. An old and simple wooden table was sitting in its center, with 8 chairs surrounding it, three on each side and one at each end, all of them as simple as the table. Dust was collecting, as if no one went there for decades. The tall humanoid sat at the end of the table in front of me, slouched in his seat. As I approached to sit as close as I could to him, I saw what looked like a white drape covering something human-shaped. Despite that, I felt the same sense of peace that filled me upon seeing my own body.


My apologies for the corpse next to us. Work is never-ending for me, I fear.



I imagine that is one positive aspect of being mortal, not bearing the burden of infinite work.

Do not rush to conclusions, death can mean many things.



That is concerning. So, tell me, who are you really? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that you are not really a wanderer.

Huh, the disguise works well enough under normal circumstances. As to who I am really, I am what you would call "Death". Well, Death isn't universal, dying on Earth is different from dying here. You see, Death on Earth is… nothing. It is indifferent to what you think it is. What happens on the other side is beyond humans, despite the thousands of explanations and meanings humanity has attempted to give to the end of the life cycle.



But here, it is different.

How so, do you think?



This place is fueled by humanity, isn't it?

You could say this. More so by the human imaginary.



My guess, my attempt to understand what is happening here, is that you, "Death", is shaped by that imaginary you mentioned.

Not too bad of a guess… But you are still no master of Death. On what you call "Earth", Death is something humans cannot act upon, something deeply meaningless onto which humans attach meanings they have built themselves. It may matter to them, but it does not matter to anything outside of them. But here, in these worlds… Death is humanized. It may not be human, but it feels as much as you humans do.



And as you are humanized… you attach meanings to Death.

Yes, and Death is tired to see humans suffer. Death cannot stop death as it is its duty, but it figured out that it could give… what could be the word? Mh…



Respite?

That works. For the living, and the dead.



I understand for the living, but for the dead?

I give them the freedom of choosing what is the afterlife for them. A final gift, if you will.


A gift that I cannot choose, for there are so many places where I want to be.


Still unsure?



May I be given more time…?

Of course. Take your time. If you want to, I can take you somewhere else.



I'd like to, thanks.


My senses were once more deprived before a long corridor appeared to me. Death led me to a small and comforting room.

AtTheEndOfTheTunnel.jpg

Here I am, sitting on a chair. Grieving.


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