Dear Exa,


A Memoir
Operative: Derec Litus

I knew a man by the name of Exafan once.

I write this memoir in hopes that somebody—anybody—knows anything about him so I may one day see him again.

He was an old, muscular, and bald Greek individual with unusually large feet and a severe case of hitchhiker's thumb on both hands. At least, I think he was Greek. Might've also had a bit of Asian in him, Japanese or something. It gets difficult to parse what earthly kingdom one might hail from after an ungodly amount of time spent in this mono-hell. What especially didn't help was that Exa was a particularly tight-lipped person.

He rarely let out a peep or whisper unless it was dire or inevitable; he seemed to take routes through conversation that specifically allowed him to say the least. However, he always communicated worlds of information during these interactions; what he verbally lacked, his subtle smirks and his hums and whistles made up for in spades. It was like reading a book in a foreign tongue; you just needed a firm grasp of the language. So in that regard, he truly 'spoke’ volumes. It was just always in his own personal dialect… Exafaran, I suppose. A vernacular of stark silence.

Where I might have found the absence of speech to be an awkward, aggravating period with any other person, with Exa, it was euphoric. Paradoxically, in his lack of noise, he somehow drowned out the droning insanities of the Backrooms far more than anybody else I’ve ever met. It was expected, welcomed, and even warming compared to the usual unforeseen, undesirable, and bone-chilling iciness. With everyone else, the silence was a demonizing activity. You can see it in their eyes when the conversation drops, that look of anxious waiting as the seconds pass us by, standing there in an uncomfortable quiet. Like there’s some unspoken truth where ungodly actions will be committed against us at any moment if we keep this up.

This scrambling for any sort of superficial topic beyond “Uh…” and “So…” is simply draining. But not with Exa, no. Never around him. His eyes begged for the torrent of swirling thoughts swimming through my mind to be left unsaid. He counted the seconds not out of some alien, conditioned fear; but rather because he knew that he didn't need to say anything to speak his mind. He basked in speaking less–wordless conversations and arguments. He found peace in the silence and, by nature, so did I. Staying there in that absence was a soothing experience of spiritual cleansing, relaxing and pure. We would often sit there, just the two of us, deep within this blissful quiet for a long, long time.

It’s an odd sensation, initially winding up in The Halls. Like being in a car crash or finding yourself in some luxurious casino or foreign country after a long day in which you’ve barely slept. A sudden surge of stimuli in a deprived consciousness. Albeit, I don’t know if this sensation is shared, as I’ve never really felt inclined to ask anyone if they felt similar. For me, though, it wore off pretty quickly. Those primal feelings of fear, hunger, thirst and hallucinations never seem to be far behind. After the initial awe of the otherworldliness withers away, it's all you're left with.

Soon you'll find yourself licking at the carpet like a dog in hopes that the damp spot there is indeed water. Eating the questionable mushrooms that pervasively grow in the gloom. Occasionally wandering from light to light until your shoes tear open and your feet blister. Your innate sense of preservation pleading to stay in the luminosity, dreading the inky sea that surrounds you so. Sometimes I would find myself staying in the light, perfectly comfortable with where I was. I would think that if I remained still, I could ignore the darkness. I thought that if I just stopped looking at it, so too would it stop staring back at me. But every time I tried this, I soon found myself returning to the shadows out of necessity for sustenance. This didn’t stop me from continuing to attempt this, though. I kept returning, again and again, only chasing that sweet, sweet hit of pleasing comfort found at the storm eye of despair. In that comfort, I discovered just how easily time can slip away between your fingers.

Days pass by in the span of what should be seconds. Your mind rots in the sickly isolation, only accompanied by an uncanny, repetitive industrial landscape. Soon the buzzing of the lights infested even my dreams, my one last desperate respite from insanity. Eventually, sleep only led to questioning whether I was still dreaming or not after I’d woken up. Some of these feelings never leave you, even after you’ve made human contact. They stick in your mind and plague you until you eventually succumb to the eerily familiar yet so alien environment. These conditions still ail me as I write this, so of course it wouldn’t be long until my luck changed for the worse. Soon enough, I found myself gravely ill, huddled up and awaiting the siren call of death.

It was in this state when I first met Exa, sometime after arriving in the Backrooms. Be it months, weeks, or even just days after I entered, I have no idea. In complete isolation and dire circumstances, tracking time soon becomes the least of your concerns. Truthfully, he was the first soul I encountered within these wretched walls, and I thank God every day that he came to me at the time he did. When we did initially meet, I was a mess curled up in some corner just marginally nicer than the others, my pale form dimly lit by a single fluorescent bulb overhead. I was a frail, sick, weakened, and lonesome creature entirely out of its depth. He was a mountain looming over me with his stoic pose and inquisitive eyes. It’s ironic that my lowest state was in a place where I had found so much comfort before, on that solitary isle of light punctuating the blackness. He appeared to me as an angel out of the dark.

His physique and disposition were so jarring that I thought that The Halls had finally got the better of me and it was due time for me to pass on to the next. He came to me in a pristine, stark sunflower-yellow gown, his expression a mixture of concern and nervous relief. How he kept his garb so clean, I never asked, and he certainly never told. To do so would be a needless conversation. It would break the veil of holy silence, something I would soon come to learn.

I don’t really recall the journey back all too well, for how much of it he carried me, or if I was even able to hold my own weight at all. What I do remember, though, is that when I finally came to Exa was sitting beside me in a makeshift shelter he had assembled. I looked around a bit, his old, gentle eyes briefly meeting mine before foolishly trying to get up. As I did so, a dull pain shot through my body at lightning speed, the feeling of an elderly man at the end of their thread. Exa softly put out a halting hand and gave out a shallow grunt, a look of worry sparking on his face. He slightly withdrew his hand, turning it into a singular pointer finger held upwards in a ‘1,’ as I lay there still cringing in pain. He bent over in his chair crafted from the walls of The Halls and picked up a light-red flask, handing it to me.

“Drink.” He spoke, his voice raspy and steady.

So I did as I was told and drank up. Slowly, over maybe the next hour or so, I felt my pain begin to dwindle. Not vanish entirely, no, but whatever he had given me had most definitely worked. He stayed with me for a while longer, ensuring that my state was stable. After he was certain of this, he silently stood up and left the enclosure. I watched him do this and found myself in a state of conscious limbo for the next few minutes, my head filling with thoughts. Voices of people I hadn’t spoken to for a long while began to whisper incoherent words strung up on a thin string. Soon, though, everything went silent. I was again in the realm of the sleeping, passed out in this perfect stranger's makeshift home. It's only now that I think back on the situation and realize that the buzzing which was invading my dreams had stopped during this time.

Sleep came and went in a flash; it couldn't have been shorter. When I was able to fully comprehend where I was and what was going on again, my first impressions of Exa were not the fondest. He seemed to me like some similarly deranged old coot, and I doubt he would be someone I would ever interact with in Baseline reality. However, he had saved my life, which means he at least had to be a good human being. Also, as I had been quick to discover, options for human connection here were null in these parts, so I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter at all, really.

Eventually, though, I warmed up to him. I got to know him despite virtually never verbally communicating. My bouts of questions soon dissipated as the underlying distaste plastered on his face grew every time I would ask one. I still learned more from him than I have from anybody else in my entire life; even sometimes learning about him. On the odd occasions we did talk, he always specifically strayed away from the topic of Baseline and what we did before arriving here. Despite his reluctance to divulge personal information, my best guess is that he was an outdoorsy intellectual before arriving here. Most probably some hybrid between a chemist, a botanist, and a rugged mountain man with the way he would create luxuries that seemed impossible for this place. He truly had a way of not just surviving, but even thriving in The Halls.

After I had fully recovered, he slowly taught me what was good and bad to eat and drink by obviously distinguishing physical features alone. His camp was quite mature and was filled with rudimentary scientific tools for making such elixirs. Along with these, he had dried modest carpets, water collecting areas, fortified walls, beds, entire rooms just for cultivating common plants and fungi, and a whole lot of navigational rope. I also never bothered asking how he managed to obtain so much equipment. I’d wager that it’s another topic he would not want to have gone into.

Sometimes we would venture out together to find more elusive components, the odd mushroom and such. One skill that always entirely evaded me was complex identification, which would still be left up to him due to this. Other times we would venture out to find a dark area and simply meditate together for long periods of time, now ignoring the very light islands I used to be so attracted to. It became apparent that he had been here for quite a while. He certainly knew how to adapt to his given environment. Things could not have been better.

In some ways, it was at this time that I was happier than I had ever been back in Baseline. In the years preceding here, I was a bar hopper in South-Western Alaska, an octopus trapper by morning. Booze would evidently drown out the ‘hum-buzz’ of life. It would make me forget those who I had lost. I still can't pinpoint why it happened. Only loose strands of theories dot my splintered mind. Perhaps I made some grave error somewhere along the way. Vile syllables rolling off my tongue, a fist clenched in iron, something along those lines. However, the 'why' doesn't matter, only that it did happen. First, my friends, then my wife, then I was left alone with my eight-leggers and alcohol.

Once you start to see the shadows of life, you can begin spotting them draped over other people's faces. Everyone in those buildings was just the same as me; the only question was how much longer they could live like this. Life had been this way for me for the better part of three years when I first entered The Halls. Really, Exa was the first person I had met in a long, long time. I should have expected that a place like this would never be so benevolent.

Suddenly, he was gone. After innumerable days of waking up next to him, I was in for a rude awakening when I arose and found that he was nowhere around. All that was left behind from him was a solitary scrap of his sunflower-yellow gown, nothing more. I waited, of course, I did, but after so long, I had to start looking. So I packed up as many resources and as much of the guide rope as I could manage to carry. I was determined to find him. I didn't care how long it took. After cramming the pack as much as I could, I set off. Soon I found myself in familiarly unfamiliar terrain. Everything began to blend together again, a void of yellow. Each passed mushroom was no longer an intriguing species, just another bystander on my journey to reclaim what I had lost.

In these halls, I would walk, and walk, and walk. Perhaps even traveling as far as I had when initially making my way through. I passed through those same oceans of black, not caring if I was finding my path in the light anymore. As I walked, I wondered if I had caused this as I had compelled everybody else in my life to silently abandon me. Was the reason I now looked at a sum of my own actions? What had I done? Why does everybody always turn to dust? Why can't I know why they all leave me? I only snapped out of this cycle of thoughts when faced with a decision.

Eventually, the rope ran out, my one lifeline back to the base if I chose to take that route. I had two options: return to the base, ensure my survival, and wait for Exa to potentially return. Or I could press forwards into the known unknown and stand resolute in my search. Now faced with this crossroad, my choice was a quick and easy one: I had to keep going. I had to keep scouring. Keep traversing. Keep calling out desperate wails into the abyss for him, hoping to hear one of his edifying grunts once again. It never came, though. I knew deep down on some spiritual, metaphysical level when I started that I would never find him. Looking for him was predetermined to be a futile endeavor. The odds were plainly stacked too far in the house's direction. But even with the game rigged against you, it's always possible for a new contender to buy in.

I don’t remember how long it took, but I eventually, somehow, against all conventional statistics, wound up with the UNCB. Maybe their presence had created a manmade trough for the apparent non-Euclidian geometry of the space to converge in. I really don't know; I'm not a theoretical inter-spatial physicist. What I do know is that I tried to go back, and I did. I tried to explain it to them. I tried to tell them the finer details of the man I had met, the journeys we had taken, and the knowledge he had bestowed unto me.

But they didn’t believe me, said that The Halls was making me delusional and that I needed rest. Nobody could do that on their own as Exa did, they said. What compounded these arguments was the fact that I had been left with barely a scrap of what I started with somewhere along the journey. The pack, the materials inside, the clothing, all disheveled or missing now. Vanished into thin air, consumed by the beast. Could it have all been a fever dream? Did I actually just imagine it all? They made a highly convincing point. On one hand, I so desperately wanted to believe that one of the best men I'd ever met was real. But on the other hand, the evidence simply adds up to the contrary. That's not to say that I don't keep up my hopes, though.

This is where I am currently. Involved in small management around the base. I’ve been told to move on, to just get over it and go to a safer, more secure camp further down by others. But I can’t simply do that. The feeling that he might still be here, wandering somewhere in The Halls is too great. I can’t just give up my one and only chance on a whim like that. So, I remain here, listening to the crescendoing of the lights day in and day out, wishing I had never found the UNCB. I imagine vivid scenarios where the troughs didn't align, where I was allowed to keep wandering, ever searching for him.

Now I have things to worry about, The Leviathan, more areas than just this one, and entities. Those are only to name a few. Yet I keep looking for him. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but when nobody is watching, I sometimes find myself sneaking out, if just for a while. I creep around to see if I can find something, anything that will point to my missing friend. But nothing ever does. Just like the expedition, my soul tells me my endeavors are misguided. Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t been caught yet. Or perhaps it's that nobody really cares, or at least not enough to interact with me. They know that I'm not much of one to speak anymore. They know that I prefer that which drives them crazy.

When I first found the UNCB, I was questioned a lot, but after a while, people know to back off some. I’ve found myself becoming more and more silent and increasingly agitated whenever somebody tries to shoot the trivial with me. Ever since I arrived, the average conversation has paralyzed me. Exa's influence can be felt everywhere in how I live now. Even if it was all a hallucination, it still changed my outlook.

They don’t get it, though. They fear the absence of noise and light, and I can’t quite blame them. What they experience is only a natural human reaction. But me? I keep yearning to not know, to slip back into the dream, to revert back to a state of ignorant bliss. This reserve of knowledge has only made me worse.

It’s soul-crushing to know that what you barely began to understand is only one of the hundreds, thousands, or maybe even millions. I don’t know how they deal with it really, probably by keeping themselves ungodly busy. Everything is in a perpetual state of motion around here. There's no time to sit down and meditate. Resources need to go here, information needs to get to them, this needs to be defended, and the like. It's all go, go, go, go, go, busywork to make occupied the idle minds.

I try to break that, though. I really do try to take some time. Other times I’ll only sneak out only to meditate in the dark for hours on end, away from the hum-buzz, still telling myself that maybe, just maybe, this time I'll find him. When I return, I’m surrounded by people, the buzz creeping back out. Nothing feels different from the saloons. Everything is all the same. I’ve reported these emotions to my local Director, as I’ve been instructed by the UNCB, but I get little response other than a meek “You’re fine" or “It’s not him.” I’ve even tried asking Juna for assistance in looking for any hint of Exa's existence. But aside from a few false positives, her results are virtually the same as mine. According to all knowledge, he was a ghost, but he was my ghost.

Ex'58 is typing...

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