The Desert

I was driving north on Interstate 5 on my way to Las Vegas when I first saw the light. A beam had strayed and wandered into the corner of my eye. Where the light fell on my face it soon became warm and the warmth traveled, first through my head to my ears, and then down my shoulders to my back, dipping towards my legs. Surprised I pulled my car over the shoulder of the highway, slowed to a stop and walked outside. The air was warm but I could feel the darkness influencing the environment.

I searched for the source of illumination but was confronted by endless desert. Dry bushes were scattered a few yards from each other. Solitude is the key to life in the desert. I could see their imaginary boundaries underground. The bush on the left fending off the bush on the right, their roots perpetually struggling to claim any water that might seep through the topsoil. I kicked the bush on the left for being mean to the bush on the right, and then I kicked the bush on the right for not fighting back. Just as I was getting ready to slap the bush on the left I was struck again by the foreign glow.

This time I saw it emanating ahead of me. I took note of the position and headed towards my car. I pulled the car behind a knoll out of sight of passing motorists. From the trunk I pulled an old orange backpack and stuffed it with two cartons of cigarettes, some toilet paper, and an old gas canister filled with water. I said farewell to my faithful chariot and marked my course towards destiny. The bushes were still fighting but I spent no more time with them. The moon looked down, laughing at me, stopping only to warn me, “You won’t find it”.

“Fuck You,” I screamed.

He just kept laughing. I tuned out the disturbing chuckle pressed a lit cigarette to my lips and took a long sweet drag. I watched the smoke leave my mouth. It rose a bit, made some funny shapes and then fell again. The smoke clung to me as I walked forming a cape, flowing pristinely back and forth.

I walked almost eight miles before I stopped to rest; the smoke took the spot next to me. I tore a long piece of toilet paper and wiped the sweat from my face. The paper was thin, single ply, and stuck to my skin. I rolled the paper into a ball and tossed it in front of me.

I put the roll of paper back in the sack and placed it on the floor. I was tired, cold and hungry. I lay my head on the sack and closed my eyes. A slow, long breeze passed by, saw me lying on the floor, turned and said, “Hi!”

“Go away,” I replied as my eyes flickered.

“What’s the problem buddy?”

“There won’t be any problem if you just leave me alone.” I answered.

“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to offend you. I pass through here every night. Where are you headed?”

“The light, I’m following the light.”

“What light?” the wind asked.

I jumped up and pointed to the faint flicker.

“Oh! That’s not a light baby.”

“What do you mean?” I blurted as I pulled a new pack of cigarettes out of the red and white box.

“That’s no light baby. That over there, that’s something you’ve never seen before.”

“It has to be a light. I saw it from the highway!” I retorted.

“Baby that’s pure, unadulterated…” he was interrupted by a rustling on the ground.

I looked down and saw the piece of paper I had left on the floor was moving. Paper doesn’t walk. I looked closer and saw a small scorpion was carrying it.

“Sorry man, I gotta get back to work,” the wind reported.

“Wait. Wait. If it’s not a light what is it?”

The wind flurried around for a moment, picked up some loose gravel and dry twigs, made a mess and left without giving me an answer. I became infuriated, cursing the wind, the rocks, and the smoke that wouldn’t leave me alone. I cursed heaven and hell and all points in between. And when I thought that there was nothing left to curse I saw the scorpion.

“Psst. Hey you!” I said.

“You talking to me?” the small arachnid asked.

“Yeah! What are you doing?”

“What do you mean what am I doing?” he replied.

“What are you doing interrupting my conversation with the wind?” I clarified, “and where are you going with my paper?”

“Come on man, cut me some slack. I’m just out here trying to survive. I didn’t mean to interrupt. Really man”

I thought about stepping on the little bastard and how much happier that would make me feel. And then I had a better idea.

“Listen scorpion, no worries. I just need your help with something.”

“What is it?” he said.

I crouched down and opened my hand in front of him and asked him to climb on. He dropped the paper and scurried on. I aimed him toward the light, err, thing, and asked if he knew what it was.

“Sorry man! I’m blind. I can’t see more than a few inches in front of me,” he informed.

I threw the little bastard back to the floor. He scampered back to the ball of paper, picked it up with his right pincer and crawled under a large stone. I lay my head back down on my sack and shut my eyes.

I awoke to find the sky in a purple haze. A battle had ensued between the moon and his nemesis the sun. The scorpion, awakened by the ruckus, emerged from beneath the rock. I bet him twenty bucks the moon would win. The moon lost. As the moon disappeared in shame over the summits to the west, the sun was triumphantly dawning over the east. The purple turned to blue, and my shadow found me once more.

I rose to my feet, picked up the sack and started walking again. I pulled my breakfast from the carton and lit it with a match.

The sun was resentful that I favored the moon in their battle. She shouted at me from above. She blazed insults and flared obscenities at me. My arms bore the blunt of her abuse along with my face. I found solace in reverting to thoughts of enlightenment. Oh how glorious to endure so much pain for such an immaculate honor. Whilst I pondered a most magnificent encounter I saw the light outshine the sun. I made it a point to reach my destination in the presence of the sun. And she, having become mindful of my intentions and for some personal accord, hurried to subside.

I ran and leapt and sometimes forgot to step and the sun shot towards the horizon, racing around to come up behind me again. And as I ran and leapt and sometimes forgot to step I became exhausted and stopped.

A drop of sweat trickled down my forehead and dove from my brow. I saw it fall on the red earth. In an instant the drop was consumed by the arid soil leaving only an outline of its demise. My legs cracked and contorted as I lowered myself to the floor. I leaned against a tall cactus; the cowhide strewn over my back and shoulders made me impervious to its defense. I lifted a rusted tin canteen to my lips. Chapped and purple they suckled the last drops from the reservoir. Sitting in the long shadow of the cactus my mind wandered. Memories of civilization slithered in my mind and I questioned if my search had any purpose.

A lonely ant found its way onto my leg. It crept and crawled through the valleys and mountains formed in the folds of my pants. The ant seemed lost, but I could see the trail it had left behind. I lowered my hand to intercept its course and she slowly climbed on, cautiously smelling and tasting and exploring. I rose my hand closer to my face and gazed at the miniature insect. She was a funny ant. She had large, sharp, coarse jaws. Her head was large and round. She had six legs that moved in harmony and a pair of antennas that wailed in discord. How many other rival ants had she beheaded? If I was an ant I would be a red ant and I would behead 100 ants, black ants. And then I would be king of the ants. But I could tell this ant was not the queen of her colony. It wasn’t even a female. It was just one of a million expendable drones. And with that I took my left hand and pressed it over my right and said goodbye to my departed insect friend.

The shadows from the mountains behind had grown long enough to drown me. Every second I sat served to compound my infatuation with the light. The thought of bliss swam around in my mind splashing freely visions of rapture. I stood and the needles on the dreary cactus pulled at my jacket, hoping to keep me there, but I prevailed. The lust for success had blinded me from physical existence. The quest for the light drove me. What was I going to do with the light? I only know I felt compelled to pursue it. Then I realized it was the drive that enticed me. The challenge of surmounting the untamed. My search was for something I had never known. Whether it existed did not seem to matter.

It was spoken of, written about in books, promised in every which way to anyone who wanted it. I closed my eyes and watched as the light penetrated inward and engulfed my soul. My eyelids became warm and sweat began to pour down my face. The sand became warm enough to scorch through the soles of my shoes. I opened my eyes and saw white. There was nothing there. There was no separation of colors, no sky, no sand, no bushes. I looked for my arms, my legs; I knew I was there but I could not see myself. I stood in unfamiliarity. My mind wanted to stop; it could not comprehend what was happening. I was saturated with serenity but my mind became frenzied. My reason was force feeding me memories. The tangible did not exist, and therefore my intellect told me I did not exist. I struggled to see the light as my mind bombarded me with images. The void quickly filled up and in an instant the light was gone.

The moon was laughing at me again. And then I realized darkness is not the opposite of light, it is the absence of it.

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