Who Cares For The Dead?


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1. Patterns

that the means by which he eventually found equilibrium in his life was by helping the dead, surprised no one more than Callum himself. it had been a slow, meandering journey from humanist to misanthrope, each step as significant as any other, though he had been unable to recognise their importance at the time. as a child he had been fascinated by people, and he observed them whenever he was able, speculating on what drove them to behave as they did.

He recognised patterns in behaviour and attitude that allowed him to categorise them into groups, for easy reference, but it could never be an exact science, he soon realised. though he could sort flowers by colour, which allowed for some understanding of their patterns, he would end up with identically coloured roses, tulips and lilies in the same group, which led to confusion when he then tried to categorise them by genus and species. and so it was with people too.

as a young man, excited about the possibilities that lay ahead of him, the new people his adulthood would allow him to encounter away from the repetitive restriction of seeing the same faces every day in school, all long since categorised and assessed, then re-assessed as raging hormones turned them into impulsive, irrational things barely distinguishable from beasts in the fields. Callum yearned for greater exposure to new and intriguing people and peoples, and so went to university to study anthropology.

at first, it felt like a revelation, like he was not alone in his search to understand people. here were others who not only shared his fascination but, having come from places Callum was barely even aware of, all were bursting with new data - new attitudes to categorise and new social stigmas to take into account when ascertaining what the triggers were that led a person to behave a certain way in a given scenario. here were new ideas and tools and theories to help him refine his own system of categorisation, now much more complex and intricate than his original flower model. He had learned that rather than trying to put people in categories and groups, it was actually less effort to accept that people are simply too unique and discrete for generalisations to ever be a useful tool in isolation, and instead to view each as its own entity, with a set of traits that could be assigned to each, like the badges he had earned as a cub scout to acknowledge different skills learned.

his system had developed over years of observation and conclusions, which would be scrapped and re-concluded time and again - graphs to plot shortness of temper against tendency towards aggression, graded and colour-coded mood groups, with different shades to indicate the level of an individual's propensity towards a certain behaviour. when he looked at people he imagined them each having series of embroidered, triangular badges stitched to their sleeves, each with the symbols Callum had assigned to character traits and moral values, and each a carefully calculated shade of an even more precisely calculated colour, to represent where on the graph fell the intensity of that trait in that particular individual.

So focused was he on understanding people that it was some years before Callum realised he knew little about himself. He had categorised himself in a hundred different ways and even fantasised about making his own badges to wear, to make himself easily readable to other people, if only they would adopt his system. he didn't see that though the precision would allow the circumnavigation of most of the Waltz of Awkwardness that was constantly being danced by people who did not use his system, the end result would be to circumnavigate so much of what makes us human as to render the system void. he had devoted so much time to understanding people, he had forgotten the importance of interacting with them. of course, he did interact with them, but it had reached a point where the emphasis was far more on the "act" than the "inter". he played a role - a flawless performance every time, but it was just a means to an end, a method of obtaining the information he needed, and all consisting of behaviour observed in others and then mimicked.

Callum realised that though he had all the data, ultimately he had no idea what its purpose was. he could read people well enough to be able to respond in a way that was pleasing to them, or at least inoffensive - his every action towards another human being carefully calculated to keep them interested and engaged, but with the sole purpose of collecting data so that he could improve the system. he realised the system was the means, but also the end - it was self-perpetuating. he was collecting data to improve a system which he then used to gather more data more accurately in order to refine and improve improve the system so that he could obtain more data, and so on.

this realisation insinuated its way into his psyche over several months, the change too small to perceive, so that gradually each interaction started to feel more and more frustrating. he became angry, but couldn't understand why. his only real fulfillment had always been the data, and now that fulfillment was ebbing, and having never aspired or desired, beyond the data, Callum was at a loss to replace it. one morning he awoke before his alarm, and for the first time in years, he wept.

to begin with it was a barely perceptible sob, and the feelings that went with it were so alien to him that at first he thought it must be a hiccup, or a twitch. then it came again, and the feelings inside him intesified. Feelings he had observed in others for years, and analysed and catalogued and graphed and plotted, but never felt. he had no idea what he was feeling, only that it did not feel pleasant at all. the sob became a whimper. the whimper became a cry. before long Callum was foetal, on the floor, wailing and beating his chest as year upon year of repressed emotions and sadness all clamoured to be released. the desperation and despair was worse than anything he had ever felt - no physical pain could ever come close.

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