Rebirth

He walked through the streets of the burning city, mind numb, body sagging.

If anyone had seen him, they’d have wondered how and why this once-revered defender of the city had fallen so far.

But he did not wonder. He did not think. He did not care.

For him, it was catharsis.

And under the excitement and exultation, a small part of him knew he wouldn’t survive this.

Was this madness? This bleak, desolate maze his mind wandered in, was it insanity?

It was just a dream. He would wake up any moment now and find himself with her. His baby. How he loved her.

But no. Even the bleakness was better than that.

He couldn’t bear the pain that ravaged him, worse than any of the physical injuries he had suffered. He couldn’t think of her, not now, not never.

He was old. And now he was broken as well.

He tossed his head back and laughed.

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A loud laugh broke the silence that had settled over the burning city like a shroud over a corpse. An apt analogy, he thought, since the city was more dead than alive.

Those residents who hadn’t died in the initial waves of destruction had fled the hero’s wrath. All that remained were those too weak, helpless, or hopeless to run.

And then there were people like him. Those too mad to escape. He was mad, wasn’t he? That’s what they had told him in Hell. He hadn’t believed it at first, but they couldn’t all have been lying to him. Or could they?

The continuing laughter snapped him out of his reverie as it changed. It almost sounded like sobs. But beneath the sadness, the anguish, there was another note. What was it?

Oh.

Hilarity.

Was there another madman around? Maybe he ought to talk to him. Madman to madman. That would be fun.

He rose and walked towards the laughter.

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A figure approached him. No fear, no anger, no judgement, nothing in his gait or face. He couldn’t see the stranger’s face.

The stranger peered down at him.

“Why do you laugh?”

He considered the question. His daughter was dead. His wife would have been better off dead. His beloved city in flames. And yet he laughed?

Was he insane?

“Because I’m mad.”

The stranger looked at him for a long five seconds. He idly wondered whether he should disintegrate the stranger. Why not?

As he began to form the thought that would accomplish the deed, the stranger did something entirely unexpected.

He broke into laughter. Low, pensive, chilling laughter.

But underneath the pensiveness, below the chill, he heard something else. What was it?

Oh.

Hilarity.

Finally, someone who understood. Finally, a friend. His old friends were de- no that hurt too much as well. Better to be mad than to experience such anguish. Was he mad?

He joined the stranger in his laughter.