Everything had a nebulous fuzz to it. A disorientated tang that rung around the head like a fistful of loose change in an over deep pocket. Concerns like who the hell I was or where I was or even when I was didn’t seem important and even if it did the answers were beyond me. Bits and pieces of the world came screaming through the fuzz in stark and searing clarity. A white room; teal curtains; a beige sea; lights; and a thousand shadows. It all felt like I was being excised from reality in nano-molecularly thin, man-shaped sheets. Wafer thin segments of my being peeling away into the nothingness of the void. It was something which felt awful at first, but every slice of me that billowed away on the ephemeral cosmic winds of reality made it seems like less of an issue. It was a problem for a future iteration of myself. A version who might at least have the wherewithal to deal with the issue in a fashion fitting the problem, a three-pronged amalgam of the adroit, the alacritous and the astute.
That was the disorganised consensus at the start. To put off the now for later. Forestall. Limbo. Wait. Procrastinate in the fuzz of non-consciousness. Purgatory of inaction. That was before the world came crashing down and into my head. Kicking and screaming I was dragged back into the realm of action and mobility. It was not a pleasant trip. Disorientating; like being pulled backwards through the wrong end of a funnel.
The awakening was slower than the brisk and brutal trip I had experienced out of my own little, personal well of sleep. An ill-tempered wind scoured my exposed skin and whipped at my hair. It was not a gentle shaking awake it was like I was being repeatedly kicked in the face by a belligerent bouncer in metal shod boots who found himself in the unenviable position of only being able to get his sexual kicks by unforgiving kicking strangers in the face. My mouth was heavy and my tongue was fat, like it was stuffed with cotton wool and sawdust. Cheap sawdust used to soak up the blood in an illegal back-alley slaughter-house and cotton wool used to stuff a slasher’s collection of ball-gags. But above all else there was an overwhelming sense that everything was a little bit gritty.
The world was beige. Beige upon beige upon beige upon beige. A washed out sky above an endless sea of sand. I lay on the rising swell of a dune, just below the crest. I had no idea where I was or how I got here, in that respect at least, my awakening had changed nothing. I wasn’t alone on the rise. Toward the sunward horizon, standing on the high spine of the dune there stood a figure. A great cloak of bright crimson swirled about them, the golden embroidering on its hem dancing like leaves on the wind. They turned towards me and I saw now face, only a pool of inky blackness lit by two white ovals that hung in the murk like eyes. It was a genderless face to a genderless form. It was a blank slate from which nothing could be derived or discerned, and yet I felt that in those eyes I saw kindness.
The red-clad stranger cocked its head and looked at me with what I felt was curiosity. It gestured with its head to whatever lay beyond the crest of this swell of sand. A subtle suggestion that perhaps I should take a look.
Have you ever tried walking up hill through sand? People always go on about how walking through treacle would be hard but at least treacle’s got some damn grip, a bit of sticky purchase. But sand? It flows away like water, you sink down and slide back and end up going nowhere. This must be what Sisyphus feels like. The thought that my climb was sadly reminiscent of life evaporated before it could fully form as my mind was shocked into silence by the vista before me.
As far as the eye could see from the base of the dune to the shrouded horizon were stones standing in the sand. Black stone scoured to a pitted grey by the sands. What were they? And why so many? What twisted and insane consciousness could conceive of such a project? Had there once been some reason to it, only for it to decay and be lost to the relentless hunger of encroaching sand. My red clad friend turned to me once again and gave a sage and understanding nod. Without words they explained to me what they were, a fact that deep down I already knew. These stones were my regrets. I now recognised the ones closest to the base of the dune.
The girl I never asked to dinner.
The party I never went to.
The job I never took.
The places I never went
A lifetime of regrets set in stone, lost is the haze of the swirling sands.
The stranger in red look at me with sadness in its white eyes. They looked almost wet, even in the dry heat of this desert. They turned their head away from me again. I followed their gaze towards the horizon. For a brief moment the billowing sands parted long enough to see what lay at the extremity of this place. In the chink between the ever roiling clouds I saw the shadow of something colossal. Mountain, monument or edifice I could not tell. It rose above everything and at its peak shone a light that swamped even the brightness of the sun. A point, a pillar and a halo of radiance. What was that thing? Was it a beacon? A signal? My strange companion turned to me one last time, its warm, white eyes narrowed and bent into a pair of crescent moons.
My guide bounded off down the face of the dune with impossibly long, leaping strides, feet barely touching the sand and barely leaving a mark of their passing. They tore through my regrets and into the sandy mists. It looked like they were making a beeline for the monolith on the far distant horizon.
What was that thing? What was there on that far distant horizon?
What was the red guide’s destination?
Now that was the question.
I made to follow, sliding down the face of the dune without grace or style.
I suppose I’d find out the answers to my questions when I got there.
After all, it’s not the goal that matters, it’s the journey.
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