Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Dark...Reloaded: "The Perceptive One." Chaos, History, Responsibility...

Continuing with the second run of teaser/samples from my collection, The Dark Is Light Enough For Me, I think with this one I'll give you the whole bleak and spiritually draining finale, as told to us by Peg Saunders, a teenage writer out to see the world with her "boyfriend" Travis Wayne who intends to be bigger than Elvis (the story, though recollected later, takes place in the 1950s).  I put quotation marks there as she knows their time together is not long, what with his wayward, blown-up to hot-air balloon sized ego and misguided goals and insidious soul, let's get real, not one to hold on to her, no matter what she wants or needs.  She knows as much, hopes for better, but knows as much.  A sense of melancholy is draped over this one.

Until they meet the old man on the train and Travis is given a gift, something always meant for him.  Sure, you need to know what it is in order to understand where this is all leading.  What he has been given is the responsibility of watching the most horrible moments of history, the chaos and bloodshed because, well, somebody has to.  That is the law of the universe, perhaps.  Somebody has to in order to keep things in balance...and so we don't forget, though history has shown us time and time again how we tend to slip and slide down well-worn paths that should have been oblitered long ago, with the knowledge of what came before.

Humans can be such stupid animals.
Where do these images play out?  Behind his pupils, where only he can see them.

"The Perceptive One" is a slippery one that is perhaps more slippery because somewhere in production, the italics got sliced out.  The thoughts that Peg hears, and Travis to some extent, telepathically tossed their way by the old man, were supposed to be in italics, to better indicate this. Ah, well, perhaps if published again, I can rectify this, but it's all there anyway.

So, with all of that in mind, here we are at the crossroads, decisions to be made: dutifully watch and live your life in the shadows, not an envious future, but a necessary one; or allow your ego to dictate a different path.  And Travis, with all that ego and no perception at all, narrow scope and blinded by aspirations beyond his grasp, decides it is:


     All the power he could ever have imagined was entrusted with him. An eternal chain—no!  As master of eternity, he kindled grimmer aspirations.  He would not be a slave to the cataclysmic visions and become a whittled shell as the old man had done.  No, he would be swift to extinguish the raging past, an apocalyptic finale to the images as well as mankind.
     The voice in my head had grown viscous, thickened by destructive desires into something monstrous.  I listened, clawed at his leg, begged, “Please, it will not end as you want,” all for naught.  The person who stood above me, delirious smile agleam, spoke more words in my head, culled from his soulless soul:  So what if this act would deny the placement of his name in the tomes of history, except as an exclamation point.  So what if there would be no one and nothing left to whisper his name in awe or dread but the sepulchral wind.  No one and nothing can stop him, either.  So be it! 
     But these were not his words, not just his words—he would have chosen something straightforward, less defined.  These were the voices of every watcher who had but dreamed similar thoughts and tossed them away out of fright, out of a respect that was excruciating to accept, out of understanding that swallowed faith, surrendering without quarrel anymore.
     In my head again, the voice, Travis’ disembodied voice, marching to the front:  Was there a power more potent, more omnipotent, than that of a god? 
     “No, Travis, there is not.  You are not something more than a god—”
     “Wrong, Peg.  Just watch!”  The personification of defiance, spoken aloud in a voice wrenched from steel so as to obliterate any possible misinterpretation.  
     Travis stomped out of the diner, his purpose altered by the now charred ruminations of his misguided, fearful soul; a soul devoid of understanding, or possibly understanding too well and taking it down the most selfish path imaginable.  His fear had infected his already repulsive core
     I pulled myself up, my legs unsteady.  The waitress walked up to me and asked if I was okay.  I told her “No,” and left.
     Travis approached the busy road, large trucks pulling larger trailers speeding by, kicking gravel and smelling of hot oil and burning rubber. 
     Suddenly, though I had been hooked into his thoughts, I understood completely the level in which he expected to alter everything.  I watched him as he stood at the edge of the road, felt the hideous power surge through him as he denied his newborn responsibility; the roiling images faded as before him materialized a specter of the old man.  It did not startle him.
     I ran up to him, seeing the specter myself as the old man’s apparition held up its palms as a plea to compassions Travis no longer supported and, as a matter of fact, had never really supported.  It was a silent plea that Travis ignored.
     I grabbed his arm.
     “Travis, you cannot change this, what you have become, what has been given to you—”
     “I can do anything, Peg.  I am omnipotent.  You cannot stop me.  He cannot stop me.  Nobody can stop what is destined to happen.  I am a god!”  
     He laughed, hollow, indignant cries that meshed with the bleating horns of trucks as they zipped by.  A cherry red Mack truck loomed ever nearer, towing a huge Budweiser sign behind it.  I sunk my fingernails into Travis’ arm, but his strength and the urgency that propelled him made my efforts useless.
     There had been a time, for awhile, when I thought Travis and I would be together forever.  I had moved passed that way of thinking when I really got to know him, knowing there was something shattered within him that tainted the good—though there was good there too, there had to be—but that did not mean I did not love him.  It’s just that I had always been a perceptive girl.  But now…
     I knew I was right all along, despite my doubts.  We would be together forever.
     Almost fifty years ago, and I remember it as if it were yesterday or, to be most precise, as if it were a mere few minutes ago.  I always remember what happened. 
     Sometimes, memory is all one really has anyway.
     I had tried to warn Travis.
     As the truck bore down on him, he looked at me with mischievous intent, his eyes so black even the fires seemed buried within, beyond trespass, but I knew they were still there. 
     The old man and I had tried to change this path—there was no way to change the path—but there are some things one cannot change.  Travis had an understanding about destiny, he just had it figured out all wrong.
     I knew, as the old man had known, no matter what, Travis would not die that day, and that the human race would not be extinguished within the process.  He had a duty to the human race that he wanted to disregard.  But his narcissistic ways and greedy heart and malicious soul had not allowed our interruption. I tried to warn Travis…
     But he ran into the truck’s path anyway. 
     I saw the old man’s apparition turn to mist as the truck passed through him and plowed into Travis’ body.  I closed my eyes and tears poured from them before I opened them again.  I listened to the squeal of brakes, to the dull thud and firecracker popping of bones beneath heavy tires.  I listened to Travis final words, “I am…” but whatever he was would remain a secret long forgotten at this stage. 
     But on one level he was correct with the broken statement.  He is.  He simply is.
     The truck swerved and hit a pole but, amazingly, avoided any further mishaps.
     The damage had been done.
     The truck driver, wearing a stained baseball cap, peered out of his passenger side mirror and scrunched his face. 
     That was what I saw first.   I was afraid to look closer to my right where Travis had been dragged as he went under the truck’s skidding tires. 
     I watched as the truck driver opened his door and swung down to the asphalt, heard his shoes clacking as he circled around the front of the cab and saw him scrunch his face again.
     “I didn’t see him! I swear.  He came outta nowhere.  I didn’t see him.”
     He was looking at me as if this feeble explanation was meant for me.  As if I did not already know something bad was going to happen, just not this bad. 
     “I’m sorry,” he said, to the gathering crowd.  “I didn’t see him.  I didn’t see him.”
     The waitress from the diner had made way to the scene and could do nothing more than shake her head.
     Finally, I looked to the road, to the tragedy.  Travis seemed crushed in ways that made living impossible, plastered to the asphalt in blood and viscera, bones ripping through torn flesh, splintered bones.
     One would have thought the body dead, but I knew otherwise. 
     It still had a purpose.
     I sensed the voice from within.  It was nothing more than a scream that tattooed my eardrums for months, a droning symphony of immeasurable suffering.  It filters through even now, so many years later: the scream; a mind screaming; a soul in eternal agony.   
     The pain knocked me to my knees. 
     The waitress approached me and put a comforting hand on my shoulder.  She still had no words, but I was thankful for her kindness under the circumstances and, really, there was nothing one could say to make anything better. 
     Ever again, I may add.
     I looked down at my love, Travis, a boy asked to do a man’s job and unwilling to realize the scope of what that entailed.  His eyes were wide open and moist.  No, not his eyes—those eyes, those obsidian orbs—so merciless in their selfish necessity, their concentrated, determined scope. 
     Travis’ attempt at fulfilling the most catastrophic of dreams had not killed him.  It had done worse, if that was at all possible.  He was crippled beyond repair, condemned to a life as little more than a space occupier: a vegetable, alive, existing, but not living.  Only his strange obsidian eyes, with the fires that raged behind them, indicated he was anything more than a shadow. 
     I know what he sees and know it is necessary.  That is what the old man bequeathed on me, this ruthless knowledge.  Because I understand, I have done the best I can do with the life I have lived; with the life I continue to live; we continue to live.  Travis rides the rails of oblivion, the images persistent, rolling by with furious perseverance, a ride for him and him alone to fully embrace; images he, as the only passenger on the oblivion express, is allowed to witness.  Images better left forgotten.
     I thank the old man everyday for at least making my personal hell a bit more tolerable. 
     I despise the old man as well, for what the years have been.
     And I despise myself for always being the perceptive one, the one who understands.
     As the tedious accumulation of days into months into years crawled by, Travis grew to understand a lot.  He understood the credentials he flaunted as a god were incomplete, erroneous.  A god is not molded from flesh and blood, bones and dust; a god cannot be a prisoner to these earthly restrictions, only a man can.  And Travis was but a man—more so, a boy—or at least the ruined remains.
     Knowing what I know, I sometimes steer one of the nurses toward Travis.  I know I push them a bit too hard.  I know what I am doing would sentence some random woman to a life I would not wish upon anybody, but I know eventually somebody will have to replace Travis as watcher of all that is inexcusable in a world that accepts it too readily—the vile panoramic norm and all that slithers beneath and within—and I will be able to walk away from his bedside and maybe…
    Is it wrong, what I do?  It is terrible and rips me apart every time I do it, but because of my grip on their arms, a grip that has grown vice-like over the years, a strength I did not wield way back when it mattered, and because of the abnormal condition of his eyes, they find an even greater strength and break free from my grip, driven by their own fear and, really, there is nothing I can do.  
     So, I solemnly wait for the next chosen one to truly show up; just as Travis waits.
     I am not heartless.  I just want something.  After all this time, I just want what Travis wants.
     But until that time, I read him the stories I have written, all starting the same: “Lean, mean, quite obscene: tougher than a stick of beef jerky and cruder than a stiff breeze from the slaughterhouse.  Wheat-blond hair and the bluest eyes imaginable, like the sky had been polished and placed in his care; like the color of summer on a liquid glass ocean…”   They all end differently, all lead down different paths, different lives, all because we are together forever as I had once wanted. 
     Sometimes when I read these stories, a tear escapes from the tumult within his eyes. 
     I try to give him something, because his mistake was many years ago, and he’s destined to do time for his youthful guile. And I stay because I must. 
     That is my affliction, having loved him. Sadly, I always will.  I’d realized after a time he was my soul mate, even if his soul was tarnished from the get go, even if he had done things and thought things I would never have ventured.  We were meant to be together.  We were always meant to be together.
     Destiny, no matter how damaged, was ours all along.
     Destiny, no matter how sadistically shrewd, had chosen Travis as it had chosen the old man, bad people but not the worst. Little people with lives already aligned with unhappiness. Soiled souls who would not matter if not for this heinous gift.      
     I also learned my soul was big enough for the both of us to share; it had to be.      
     His soul was no longer a part of the deal. 
     His soul died long ago, and what he has left just maybe finds a bit of something positive with the stories, is able to take a ride somewhere else, away from his eyes and the travesties that inhabit them, to a place where he is bigger than Elvis, bigger than any star ever; the brightest star amidst a dead black and loathsome eternal night.
     But these are only stories.  And in their writing, they keep me going as well.
     But for how long?
     When will the next chosen one come to take over? 
     When?—damn it, when?
     I know deep down inside what he really wants.  I know because it is my dream as well. 
     What are our dreams?
     They are simple dreams, peaceful dreams. 
     What are our dreams?
     We dream of sleep and the smile it will bring.


Whew!  I know that goes on a bit, but in her condition, I could not stop Peg from thinking, wondering, wanting to know how long?  How much longer must she endure?

So...a photo, eh? This story was originally, in a much shorter version, called, "A Torrent of Ages," then with the re-write that expanded it by about 7,000 words, "The Oblivion Express."  The  photo here, by Bob Cuthill, featuring lonely tracks leading to oblivion, seems most appropriate. 


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