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 to...well...here it is:
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.
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!
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
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
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
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.
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.
grabbed his arm.
“Travis, you cannot change this, what you have become, what has been
given to you—”
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!”
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…
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.
had tried to warn Travis.
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.
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
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…
he ran into the truck’s path anyway.
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.
on one level he was correct with the broken statement. He is.
He simply is.
truck swerved and hit a pole but, amazingly, avoided any further mishaps.
damage had been done.
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.
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.
didn’t see him! I swear. He came outta
nowhere. I didn’t see him.”
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.”
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.
would have thought the body dead, but I knew otherwise.
still had a purpose.
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.
pain knocked me to my knees.
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.
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.
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.
thank the old man everyday for at least making my personal hell a bit more
despise the old man as well, for what the years have been.
I despise myself for always being the perceptive one, the one who understands.
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…
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.
I solemnly wait for the next chosen one to truly show up; just as Travis waits.
am not heartless. I just want
something. After all this time, I just
want what Travis wants.
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.
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.
also learned my soul was big enough for the both of us to share; it had to
soul was no longer a part of the deal.
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.
these are only stories. And in their
writing, they keep me going as well.
for how long?
When will the next chosen one come to take over?
When?—damn it, when?
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?
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.