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 and dulled by weather. All around me was a familiar city that I could not place, completely deserted and gray. My hands rested gently on my lap. I was dressed in an expensive three piece suit, the kind you see on TV that cost $600 on sale. Two black dress shoes with perfect bow knots in the laces. My fingers didn’t move at all as I waited. I was still, simple and purely patient.
As I waited, I watched the sunset. It spread out tendrils of purple and green and bright red in patterns that defied logical thinking. I didn’t mind. The colors shifted in time like a kaleidoscope, twirling and dancing in the sky. The colors reminded me of a painter’s pallet, midway through a masterpiece.
Through the still tempest of color a shape emerged, followed quickly by the steady clopping of iron horseshoes. A pair of ebony steeds morphed from the shadows between the living colors, walking with long, even strides. On the flanks and backs of the stallions were silver and red velvet, with ornate curling designs. As the two beasts strode forward out of the shadows behind them melded a cloudveil carriage. It had a broad sloping frame, a dozen and a half feet tall and twice as long. Six wheels each as tall as I was rolled in perfect tandem over the flawless concrete street. Steering the carriage was a man shrouded in a long overcoat and white gloves. A broad-rim fedora covered his face as he held the reigns with easy confidence, the kind of confidence you gain with experience.
The carriage pulled up to the bus stop, and an aura of calm settled over me as a bit of the bus stop sign rusted and fell to the ground. The door on the carriage side opened, and I stood, dusted off my jacket, and stepped inside.
The seats were of the same red velvet as the halters. The walls curved up so that they melded into the ceiling with no clear corner. As I sat down on the bright crimson seat the door closed, and I heard the horses snort and the crack of the reigns, and the mobile room 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. I saw even his feet were bound to each other with a thick chain and that chain forged into a large iron spherical weight. His eyes wandered with fervent intensity, seeming to latch onto no particular thing. Beneath the muzzle his mouth babbled incessantly, never stopping nor ceding to reason.
The other was a calm man in a utterly dark suit, counterbalancing his roseless cheeks. His hollowed eyes were quiet, peaceful, and kind, and gazed 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, the other was folded on his lap. 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 was like the sound of a wind through trees, quiet, ever present, and a force of nature.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am your guide,” the man said. “I will show you the way 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, walking hand in hand with an older man. The youth had curly brown hair, masked by a Yankee’s baseball cap. Under his free arm was a little baseball mitt. Inside the glove, at the thumb, would be written in pen, “Rivera Jr.”
“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 is an older boy, well into his teens but not quite a man yet. The curly brown hair has given way to short hair bulging in the front with close cuts fading at his sides. Natural athletics oozes from his pores, and his body is well proportioned. He wears a Baseball Jersey, designed with a huge number 42.
Next to him is a broader specimen, with unnatural green hair and a body riveted with piercings. This fellow leans against the rock casually, talking.
I blinked, and suddenly the green haired boy was gone. Discarded next to the brown-haired boy is the same jersey, the 42 worn down to just a 4. On top of him is a young woman, with long, lush blonde hair pulled back to flow down her bare back. It is hard to tell where the boy ends and the girl begins.
“Who is that woman?” I asked, feeling no sense of erotic lust.
“I do not 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 endeavour to take.”
“You are not mortal?”
The man beside me screamed in agony. I glanced at him as he writhed in his bondage, twisted and blasting profanities. The jacket tightened and stretched as he heaved to break free. The iron ball at his feet didn’t shift in the slightest as the human, foaming at the mouth, kicked in every direction.
“What is wrong with him?” I asked, in complete calm.
“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 is the sole holder to the answer to life’s many imperfections. Does that mean they covet insanity?”
“I don’t know.”
He gazed for a second at me, his empty, black eyes seeming to read my thoughts. Then he nodded. “Look outside. Perhaps you know this scene.”
I glanced out the window to see the inside of a church. The brown haired teen is a man now, with hair combed back and a glossy black suit on. He stands with a prophetic grin next to a man dressed in a similar, if less flashy, suit and holding a bible. On his other side are three men, none of them have the telltale green hair or body rivulets.
In front of them the pews are full of people, all in complete silence, heads turned to look down the aisle. The object of their attention is a woman in a shimmering white dress and seems to shift between dimensions as she walks. Her head is covered with a veil, but she walks with cool, purposeful strides.
I watch as the two figures face each other, and words are exchanged. Times seems fluid as the ceremony runs by almost in an instant. I see the exchange of rings and promises, and the veil lifted from the woman’s face. She, also, is not the blond haired woman from before, rather of shoulder length black hair and sturdy features.
“Marriage,” the man said wistfully. “The sacred bonding of two imperfect entities into one. A memorable event, wouldn’t you say?”
“I don’t know.”
“Indeed,” he answered.
“Were those two happy together?”
“See for yourself.”
They are at the beach, walking together, hand in hand. They are still young.
They are in a kitchen, screaming at each other. The man lifts up a knife and raises in threateningly with wrinkled hands.
The man stumbled from the dark exterior through the door and collapses onto a chair, exhaustion decades too old for his year stapled to his face.
The woman is on the phone, angry. She brushes a few grey strands away from a bruised cheek.
The man answers the door, and a familiar blond head of hair steps into the house and out of her robe.
The woman stands outside, staring up at the twisting shadows of two figures in her bedroom.
The man is outside the house. In one hand is a cane, in the other luggage. In the doorway is the woman, her face emotionless and her arms crossed. The man says something, one last thing, then turns to leave. The woman stalks back into the house and the door shuts.
The carriage shook from the reverberation of the boom. I had to grip the window sill to keep from falling. “What was that?” I asked.
“The man,” my guide says simply. “He shut his heart. Such a 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 f***ing b**** about it. Enjoy the rest of your life, you pretentious f***ing w****.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “The man was at fault.”
“This view is the clearest view a man can have. To say now you don’t understand is the way it should be.”
“And this man does not have the same clear view?”
“Life is a lense. If you do not take care of it, it will become blurry and dirty. This man you see looked at life through a lense of questionable clarity.” He gestured to the window. “There is more.”
The man is sitting in the stands. His hair is mostly grey now, with only a few brown hairs. He is scowling at the baseball game going on below, seemingly unaware of the fact that the team wearing the jerseys that match his, still marked with the faded 4, are winning by six. He taps his cane angrily against the adjacent seat, until finally he stands, with an angry exposition, and stalks away.
I see him walk through the crowds, down the stairs of the stadium, out the exit, and into the streets. He walks with mad efficiency, every step striking the ground like mallets on a drum. His eyes are straight ahead, seeming to ignore the masses that pass on either side of him.
A shoulder bumps him, followed by a quick apology. But the man spins around and spews a torrent of fiery insults at the woman, seeming to force her back with the power of his words until she trips on a loose brick and falls over. Still fuming, the man turns and steps into the street.
The sight outside shifts, and all I see is a bright light, then a blaring horn, then the vision is gone. “What happened,” I ask.
“I’m afraid you don’t know,” my guide answered in full clairvoyance.
We passed by a familiar dull grey city again, celibate of color. The streets hung dull, rusted and falling apart, along dusty and cracked sidewalks, by closed windows on towering skyscrapers. The tall buildings so close made it seem like a tunnel.
Then we were out, immediately 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 order of the 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?”
“Can you tell me more about the muzzled man?” Almost as if he knew I spoke of him, 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 soul rending 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, now, 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 and danced before me. The horses, jet flanks and snow teeth, entered the veil and vanished behind the pallet of vibrancy. I watched as first the driver with his face obscured, and then the carriage itself, melded into the color.
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. All around us, from not specific source, light emanated throughout the space.
Suddenly, a mighty giant, a hundred feet tall and growing by the instant, stepped from nothing right in front of me. His flesh swirled with purple and yellow and red, this hair thick and braided mist, and two silver globes for eyes. With heavy but swift steps, he stepped towards the veil I had passed, and reached out his hands to place gently against the now solid mass.
“Who is that giant?”
“He is the Mark of Temporal Termination,” my guide answered. “He is the Watch-Guard, and the Eternal Lullaby.”
I saw the great giant press forward into the veil, groaning with the effort, and brace himself against the empty ground. 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. First purple, then yellow vanished, then red was obliterated. Then, finally, with a blink of my eye-
“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 dark and homely carriage. My dress shoes clicked unnaturally as I walked, echoing like I was in a large hall. Finally, ahead, I saw a light. I strode towards it, covering the ground half a mile per step, until I stood before a redwood door with a single street lamp, filled with a flickering candle, hanging from the frame above. I reached for the handle, and opened the door.
I stood in a long hallway, nothing beneath my feet, nothing above my head, but red velvet walls on either side. Down the length of the hallway, I saw a figure, standing as I stood, too far to be seen in detail.
“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 towards me.
“What do I do now?” I asked.
“Now, you continue,” said the voice. “You are mortal, and a subject of Time, so you must continue forward.” 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 below a 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 and smote from pure light.
“Will I choose which one I go to?” I stopped finally, and looked at the figure.
He was old, with luscious grey hair slicked back to reveal a face set in a perpetual grimace. In his right hand is a cane topped with a swan’s head. He wears a three piece suit, perfectly matching in his form and figure. It flickers, and I feel the scratch of a baseball jersey against my chest for the briefest of moments. I gasp, and he does in tandem.
“You already have.”
I grip my cane, and I fall, down, down, down into the smoke.