Chapter 1: The Beginning of the End
The withered barren man continues to forever walk on, dragging his leg across the ground. Many wonder why he continues to walk. Why one such as him continues forever on. Why would he waste his whole life walking? I suppose it is understandable, they don't even know for what he walks. You see it is not for any conventional means such as for enjoyment, exercise, or even to get somewhere. Instead he walks to find something. Something so rare that though he has searched for a lifetime he has yet to find it. Now one might ask what is worthy of a life to find? There are few answers to that question. Either it is most valuable, or perhaps the man never valued his life as valuable in the first place, thus freeing his time to search for the lowliest of things, whatever his soul may desire. But no if it were the later he should have found it by now. Maybe there is yet another option. Maybe it is not of this physical world and more of the spiritual or emotional realm. And even then you would be only be half right.
Let us begin from the bottom, the sole device of this man's venture. His feet are hard and calloused, his shoes long since worn off his feet mid stride. They are thick with muscle and brown, bruised, and cut from the maltreatment. Though the tool of his trade the old man tends to forget their presence, letting them pass through different phases of their own volition.
His calves are as big as his small diet will allow. Muscles cling to bone just under dirty skin. Once again he is to obliged to his search to waste time with something such as cleanliness. His skin is tight on his legs making him look malnourished and to small despite the obvious muscles. One leg drags across the ground leaving a smooth trail behind, creating ever new scars running up and down the long limbs, speaking of a hard past, years gone by and secrets never told.
He wears tattered shorts just above the knees. Tan and ripped to shreds on might wonder if they would even count as clothing more than a rag. His skin is obviously paler here though the ever-present grim still leeches to it, carried by wind and attaching during falls.
A shirt 3 sizes to big flows just past the waistband of the shorts. It is grey. Though in better condition than the stripped shorts it still bears its history to the world through holes, jagged and free trailing string. They give the illusion of spider webs hanging off him, a perfect match to a dusty old man. His arms are the only part of his body, besides his face, which speak truly of the mans malnourishment. Without the muscles of his legs or abdomen one can see the bones through the freckled skin. His finger nails grow long, neither trimmed by utensils or from use. They grow, crack, and fall as any living thing may.
Last is his face, hard and worn. No expression is present, not of pleasantry, desperation, annoyance, or dissatisfaction. Possibly a haggard expression set on his one task, but that is all. Any likely hood for any expression has long been forgotten by this man, or at least covered by the lack of interaction. His eyes are deep but bright with feeling and intellect. Brighter than any old man's eyes should be, constantly shining as a star in the night. Though through the sun's power they fluctuate as the sea may. From calm and cool, to stormy and grey, his eyes portray the water herself and her fluctuating ways.
That is him. Nothing special about him but for the one task set upon his soul, and even that, to most, is of no significance either.
He has walked and walked for most of his life. He has visited almost all the parts of the world. The crowded cities, the empty country, the dense forests, and the broad sea. Never once has he found that one thing that he has searched tirelessly for, and never once has he questioned whether to keep looking for it or not. There where times when he thought he may have found it, his true purpose forgotten, but they were merely one goal. One piece of the puzzle. However, now the thought has crossed his mind. Only for a second but it was there. Quickly he throws it away as spit sizzling on the scorched ground. He has been to all of the lands to no avail, and now he stands at the beginning of the last one. A broad desert spans the miles around and he stares into it undaunted though the heat rises from the ground in waves.
It seems like it was the edge of all things. One step and you are in it, apart of it, one step back and you are no longer. It is completely flat, dry, and desolate. A great scab burned onto the Earth. The man has traveled the whole world and yet he had not set foot in such a terrain. It stretches as far as he can see, spreading from the left to right and forever forward. The man considers turning around, he would have to be crazy to do the opposite. Yet crazy is what he has been called his whole life. Nothing waits for him if he went back except desolation and emptiness surrounded by the feigned air of purpose and prospect. On the other hand something may be waiting for him if he walked ahead, it being the only place left he had not searched. Where else could it be if not here? He felt it calling to him, drawing him forward. At least if he were to die there, not finding his purpose, he would die in a land of his own soul.
The man watches the heat sizzle, under the shade of the only tree in sight, until it dissipates into the blue-sky eyes catching onto a black form. A bird soars high above, prepared and confident towards its destination. Without even a determined breath he sets forward after its form, feet sinking into the sand, becoming one with it. Immediately any thought of cooled air that might have come from the shade of the tree dissipates. It now buzzes in his ears and stings his face. He feels as if he were already beginning to char into ashes.
The man blinks. He is a child again. A small boy eager to please his parents and teachers. Always one at the top of his class he was praised often and soaked it up like flower basking in the sun. He never once doubted his place among his parents under their roof and protected by enormous white walls. The house was good and bright, practically glowing.
The now small boy runs out to the family garden to play. His mother watches from the deck laughing. She is soft and comforting, an angel in the eyes of her son.
"It's time for school." She calls out after a time, tucking her hair behind her ear as a pass of wind unseats it. "Be quick before you get mud on your uniform."
The boy runs to his mother and stands still as she brushes him off.
"There." She beams approvingly messing with his collar. "Now the beast has become my strapping young man once again. I'd dare say decent enough to grace school with his presence."
The boy laughs at his mothers praise, blooming in her glow. With a small pat to the rump she sends him running to the front streets, down the sidewalk, and off to school.
The old man blinks. Now it is as if he watches the scene unfold under his very nose. A bird's eye view of his own life.
He remembered the day like it was yesterday, the day he found the bird. Before that the boy had lived not in contentment but in blissful ignorance. He had listened to his parents and played with his friends without a care in the world. No thought out of place, or phrase out of line. On that day he was walking to school, hair combed, uniform pressed, and shoes shined. A fowl stench lacing the air pulled him to a stop. He was under the leaves of a maple tree looking around when he spotted the source on the edge of the road. It was a small bird crumpled up against the curb. It had been trampled by a car, shoved mercilessly to the side, and picked on by ravens.
The scene was gruesome. In shock the boy ran to the grass and began vomiting with massive heaves. On some subconscious level he heard a door slam shut and foot steps skirting across the grass. A women had ran out of the house who's yard he was defiling. She put a hand on his back, rubbing it gently.
"Your Mary's boys aren't you? For God's sake what's wrong?"
Mrs. Smith. He could recognize her voice anywhere, conventional in every meaning of the word. The boy didn't answer, merely continuing to retch even when nothing more came out.
He did eventually stop, succumbing to violent shivers instead. Mrs. Smith wrapped him in a blanket and settled him onto a long leather coach. She called over his mother and explained what had happened.
"He just became quite ill all of a sudden. Uhuh. I saw it all from my window. I'd been watching the squirrels in my yard like I do every morning, nice warm cup of coffee in my hand. Amazing creatures." She paused like she had been interrupted. "Oh yes. He seems deathly pale now. I always told you you didn't feed him enough poor tiny lad. How can he be expected to become strong and healthy…" The women trailed off again. "Yes. Yes, he is just sitting here all quietly on the coach. Hurry over now dear. I don't want him sick on my carpet."
Mrs. Smith hung up and walked slowly to the boy like he was a wild animal. "Your mother will be here soon so just sit tight." She turned to sit herself but turned a full circle instead as a second thought. "would like any water dearie? Tea?"
The boy shook his head. His eyes were wide and glazed, she would have half thought he wasn't listening had he not responded. His face remained pale as he looked off to a distant place she herself couldn't see. His body still shivered under the blanket, though he gripped with tight thin fingers. Mrs. Smith tried to follow his gaze but was caught by the wall. She hadn't realized how long she had been standing there when the doorbell finally rang. Gratefully she scampered over to the door, realizing her legs felt numb.
The boy's mother stood on the porch shifting worriedly from foot to foot.
"Alright? Well frankly I just don't know anymore. Been staring at the wall for God knows how long. You should find that boy a psychiatrist or a doctor or something."
Mary walked passed Mrs. Smith, she had always been long winded. The boy didn't move even when his mother kneeled in front of him.
"Hunny?" she cooed softly. His eyes flicked into focus and he looked at his mother as if for the first time.
"Mom." He cried and launched himself forward into her bosom. He sobbed and sobbed. His mother caught by surprise held her arms out before quickly sheltering her child from whatever had assaulted him. He continued to cry until his mother wasn't sure if he even knew why anymore. Finally when the tears subsided into mere sniffles the women coerced him to his feet and guided him towards the door.
She nodded her head to Mrs. Smith and headed to the car. Her son didn't speak again the entire trip home, instead watching the yellow lines on the road. When they got back to the house, with her guidance, the boy walked to his room. She helped him strip and then tucked him under the thick warm sheets. Her heart was heavy with worry and knew there was nothing she could do unless he talked to her. However, she would just have to wait until he was ready. She turned to go when her son finally spoke.
"Yes baby." She said hopefully
"Why what?" Confused she came back and perched herself on the edge of the bed.
"Why did it have to die?'
Not understanding she waited for her son to elaborate.
"I saw a small bird. It was dead. Just laying on the side of the road. Why did it die?"
The mother was astonished. "Is that what this is about?" She shook her head a little relieved that that was it. "I don't know baby. Sometimes things just die. We all do eventually, all of us stuck on God's clock." She got up and shut off the lights leaving only a streak from the crack in the door.
The boy laid thinking about what his mother had said but he couldn't believe it. He couldn't just believe the poor thing had just died for no reason, that its life had been meaningless.
He couldn't believe that if he had been that little bird, that if he died, it wouldn't matter. That is mother would only say that sometimes people just die too. Now suddenly questioning his purpose in life, his reason for being alive, he realized if he was going to get answers he'd have to get them himself. The boy laid back, relaxing. He remembered his mother's church group, sitting perfectly still in pews letting sermons turn to background noise. His mother had said once when he asked her why they had to go that it gave meaning to life. Maybe he could find a reason there, a purpose.
The old man woke with a start. He had walked the rest of the day through the burning sand until the sun had set. Even though his feet were burned he had not feeling of it through his callous. He had enjoyed the felling of the air cooling as the sun had gone down and then set up a small sleeping bag. Now as he looked around he could see a golden band on the horizon. The last chilled wisps were fleeing off his body with the retreating shadows. A few shivers retained as the man stood heavily feeling his body ache under him. Ignoring its pleas he picked up his pack and set off. A ring of birds had begun to circle above his head, Vultures screeching at him to go back or to die. The old man ignored them to along with the dream of his twilight.