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Hallow's Way MAG
I woke up that morning with a transcendent sense of peace. I simply was, and that was good enough. I sat at a bus stop, worn down by eons of age. Around me was a city that I could not place, completely deserted and gray. I was dressed in an expensive three piece suit, the kind you see on TV that costs $600 – on sale. My feet snuggled in black dress shoes.
As I waited, I watched the sunset. It spread out, tendrils of purple and green and bright red in patterns defying logic. I didn’t mind. The colors shifted like a kaleidoscope, twirling in the sky. The colors resembled a painter’s pallet midway through a masterpiece.
A shape emerged through the colors, followed quickly by the steady clopping of iron horseshoes. A pair of ebony steeds morphed from the shadows, moving with long, even strides. A carriage materialized behind them. The broad, sloping frame stood at least a dozen and a half feet tall and rolled on six wheels, each as tall as I was. A man, shrouded in a long overcoat and a broad-rim fedora steered the monstrous vehicle with easy, experienced confidence.
The carriage pulled up to the bus stop, and the door on the carriage side opened; I stood, dusted off my jacket, and stepped inside.
The seats were red velvet and the walls curved up so that they melted into the ceiling with no clear corners. As I sat, I heard the horses snort and the crack of the reigns; we shuddered into motion.
Two figures occupied the carriage with me. The first sat beside me. His face was muzzled, and his arms were tied into a straight jacket. Even his feet were bound by a thick chain and weighted down by a steel ball. His eyes wandered with fervent intensity, not latching onto anything in particular. Beneath the muzzle, his mouth babbled incessantly, never stopping nor ceding to reason.
The other man, dressed in an utterly dark suit that counterbalanced his roseless cheeks, appeared calmer. His hollowed eyes were
quiet, peaceful, and kind, gazing out the window opposite mine with perfect attention. He was thin, clean-shaven, and had a sharp jaw line. One hand held his chin up with simple grace. Though his features were young, his skin was wrinkled and leathery.
After a few minutes of dormant silence, the pale man turned and smiled at me. It was a sad, worn smile. “Welcome,” he said. His voice sounded like wind through the trees: quiet, ever present, a force of nature.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am your guide,” the man said. “I will show you to your new home.” He turned back to look out the window. “It is a lovely view from here.”
I gently rotated my neck, my eyes searching the scenery. A young boy, in shorts and a baseball jersey, walked hand in hand with an older man. The youth had curly brown hair, masked by a Yankee’s cap. Under his free arm was a little baseball mitt.
“Do you like baseball?” asked my guide, his eyes lost in the scene.
“I don’t know,” I answered, turning to him. His face betrayed no emotion as he analyzed the boy.
When I looked back out the window the boy and adult were gone, and in their place was a forest, green and lush with life. Sitting on a big rock was an older boy, well into his teens but not quite a man, talking to a broad-shouldered fellow with green hair and piercings. Natural athleticism emanated from the brown-haired boy’s well-proportioned body. He wore a baseball jersey, designated with a huge number 42.
I blinked, and suddenly the green-haired boy was gone. Discarded next to the brown-haired boy was the same jersey, the 42 worn down to just a 4. He was embracing a young woman with lush blonde hair that spilled down her back. It was hard to tell where the boy ended and the girl began.
“Who is that woman?” I asked, feeling no sense of erotic lust.
“I don’t know yet,” the man answered. “Her time is not yet here.” The scene vanished before me, and all was dark outside the window. “Do you know where you are?”
“No,” I answered, looking at the man.
He smiled, and sighed. “I expected as much. Only one man ever knew where he was. Do you know where you are going?”
“The journey of life is full of potholes and twists and turns,” he said, leaning back. “This journey has only one crossroad, yet mortals find this more deceptive than any other quest they endeavor to take.”
“You are not mortal?”
The man beside me screamed in agony. I glanced at him as he writhed in his bondage, twisting and blasting profanities. The jacket stretched as he heaved to break free. He kicked in every direction, foaming at the mouth.
“What is wrong with him?” I asked.
“Wrong?” the man across from me asked, almost amused. “Nothing is wrong. In fact, he is exactly what he was meant to be. He is realized.”
“Then why does he act insane?”
A brutal roar burst from the muzzle, and the man redoubled his efforts. “What is insanity?” said my pale-faced guide. “The world covets this man. They believe that this man holds the answers to life’s many imperfections. Does that mean they covet insanity?”
“I don’t know.”
He gazed at me for a long second. Then he nodded. “Look. Perhaps you know this scene.”
I glanced out the window to see the inside of a church. The brown haired teen was a man now, his hair combed back, He was wearing a glossy black suit and standing next to a man holding a Bible. People in the pews focused on a woman in a shimmering white dress. I watched the couple exchange rings and promises. When the veil was lifted, I saw that the bride was not the blonde-haired woman of earlier. This woman had shoulder length black hair and sturdy features.
“Marriage,” the man said wistfully. “The sacred bonding of two imperfect entities. A memorable event, wouldn’t you say?”
“I don’t know.”
“Indeed,” he answered.
“Were those two happy together?”
“See for yourself.”
Next they were at the beach, walking together, hand in hand. They were still young.
They were in a kitchen, screaming at each other. The man lifted a knife and raised it threateningly with wrinkled hands.
The man stumbled from the dark exterior and collapsed onto a chair. Exhaustion, too old for his years, was stapled to his face.
The woman was on the phone, angry. She brushed a few gray strands away from a bruised cheek.
The man answered the door, and a familiar blonde head of hair stepped into the house –and out of her robe. The woman was standing outside, staring up at the twisting shadows of two figures in her bedroom.
The man was outside the house. In one hand was a cane. In the other, luggage. In the doorway was the woman, her face emotionless and her arms crossed. The man said something – a last word, then turned to leave. The woman stalked back into the house, shutting the door.
The carriage shook from the reverberation of a sudden boom. I gripped the windowsill to keep from falling. “What was that?” I asked.
“The man,” my guide said simply. “He shut his heart. Such devastation can be felt no matter where you are.”
“What did he say?”
“I’m sorry for what I did.” A hard, gravelly voice cut through. “But you didn’t need to be a heartless b**** about it. Enjoy the rest of your life, you pretentious wench.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “The man was at fault.”
“This is the clearest view a man can have. To say now you don’t understand is the way it should be.”
“And this man doesn’t have the same clear view?”
“Life is a lens. If you do not take care of it, it becomes blurry and dirty. That man saw life through a lens of questionable clarity.” He gestured to the window. “There is more.”
The man was sitting in the stands. His hair was mostly gray now. He was scowling at the baseball game below, seemingly unaware that the team’s jerseys matched his, still marked with the faded 4. He tapped his cane angrily until he finally stood and stalked out of the stadium and into the streets. He walked with mad efficiency, every step struck the ground like mallets on a drum. A shoulder bumped him, followed by a quick apology. But the man spun and spewed a torrent of fiery insults.
The sight outside shifted, and I saw a bright light, then a blaring horn, then the vision was gone. “What happened?” I asked.
“I’m afraid you don’t know,” my guide answered in full clairvoyance.
We passed by a familiar gray-washed city again. Cracked sidewalks were flanked by closed windows on towering skyscrapers. The buildings stood so close the street felt like a tunnel. Then we were out, appearing instantly over a long and endless field of dancing wheat.
“What was that city?” I asked.
“The city is simply a container,” the man said. “It was originally to be the Destination, but the Choice of Mortal Life divined a different use. Now it holds the decision of men.”
“What choices were made?”
“Not choices – choice.”
“What is this field, then?”
“It is simple Between. This place is perfectly untouched by the lives of men, has always been, and will always be. It is guided by the natural order of the Way of Life.”
“But it is all in neat rows.”
“Time changes all things, even the natural order of the Way of Life. Before Time changed its whims, order was the natural Way of Life. In the mortal life, Time is more powerful than him,” he pointed to the chained and muzzled man, “or even me.”
“Is Time the most powerful?”
“Tell me more about the muzzled man.” The near human beside me twisted and moaned, attempting to break free of his bindings.
“What do you desire to know?”
“Why is he here with you?”
“I am his counterpart,” was the answer. “And because of the realized state he is in, I am also his keeper.”
“Was he not always in this state?”
“No,” he answered. “Long ago, before I walked your earth freely, he was the guide of this carriage and of this journey.”
A screech tore out of the man’s throat as he bucked wildly. He thrashed his neck in such a frenzy I thought he would snap his spine, but I heard no crack. I realized the importance of the metal ball holding him down as he strove to fly about the carriage in full insanity. After what seemed an eternity, he fell back, breathless, but muttering nonetheless.
“We are passing the gateway now,” my guide said evenly to me, unphased by the outburst.
I glanced out the window to see a glimmering veil of colors that twisted before me. The horses pulling our carriage entered first, vanishing behind the pallet of vibrancy. I watched the driver seep into the color, then closed my eyes as I felt the carriage jostle through it as well. Beyond was a bright nothing. We seemed to float in ether, horses still clopping along in their steady staccato, but now with no ground to strike.
Suddenly, a mighty giant, a hundred feet tall and growing by the instant, stepped out from nothing right in front of me. His flesh swirled with purple and yellow and red, his hair was a thick and braided mist. He had two silver globes for eyes.
“Who – what – is he?”
“He is the Mark of Temporal Termination,” my guide answered. “He is the Watch-Guard.”
The giant pressed forward into the veil of colors, groaning with the effort. The lights of the veil began to retract, sucked into the palms of his hand.
“What is he doing?”
“He is locking the sunset of a mortal life.” In his struggle, the veil darkened slowly, the light dying away at the titan’s command. Each strand of color vanished into his flesh, pulsing like veins.
“What has happened now?” I asked.
For the first time, I received no answer.
I stepped forward, realizing suddenly I was no longer in the carriage. The clicking of my dress shoes echoed unnaturally. Ahead, I saw a light. I strode toward it until I stood before a redwood door.
Upon opening the door, I found myself in a long hallway bordered by red velvet walls with nothing beneath my feet nor overhead. Down the length of the hallway I saw a figure.
“Here, mortal, is where I leave you,” said the voice of my guide in my ear. I stepped forward, eager to learn the identity of the man ahead. The figure started toward me.
“What do I do now?” I asked.
“Continue,” said the voice. I could see, ahead, the man closing in on me. The hallway seemed endless, its soft red walls comforting.
“What will happen next?”
“You will go to the New Destination – which one I do not know.” I glanced below me, and saw miles of black ground, bare of anything but dead trees and withered grass. Unmistakably, I saw the soft uprise of a hill, topped with a gaping hole from which smoke poured.
“What are the New Destinations?”
“Up and Down.” I looked up, and saw a floating city high above the clouds. The clouds themselves formed great marble walls that circled the metropolis, guarded with soldiers in silver mail and white banners. The only way in was a gateway etched in gold.
“Will I choose which one I go to?” I stopped finally and looked at the figure.
He was old, with luscious gray hair slicked back to reveal a face set in a perpetual grimace. His right hand held a cane topped with a swan’s head. He wore a three piece suit, perfectly matching mine. For the briefest of moments, though, I felt the scratch of a baseball jersey against my chest.
“You already have.”
I gripped my cane, and I fell – down, down, down into the smoke.