Emptied

Red Hot Sun

The Smiling Ellipse, Giver of Life. ... Image via Wikipedia

He didn’t know where he was or how he got there. He didn’t even remember his name.

The sand under his bare feet was warm, and he could see nothing through the fog around him.

Ow!

The sand’s heat was biting his soles. He walked forward a few steps, and this brought a bit of relief. As soon as he stopped, however, the heat again became unbearable.

He walked again, and the heat began to subside – not to the point of total comfort, but enough to be tolerable.

So walking helps, but where do I go?

There was nothing else to be seen – no signpost to guide him, no dwelling to take shelter in; he couldn’t even sit down to rest, for there was nothing but hot sand and he was naked.

Michael.

He stopped, looked around.

“Who’s there?”

Nothing but fog.

“Hello?”

Then the heat stung his feet again. He edged ahead to ease the pain, but feared where he might end up, feared what he’d heard – and that he’d heard something that wasn’t there.

He gazed around, peering into the fog. Still he saw nothing.

Michael.

He froze, confident now that he at least wasn’t hearing things. And what was said – a name; he wasn’t sure the first time, but now he knew that’s what it was.

Is that my name?

Yes.

He wheeled around.

“Who’s there? … Please, show yourself.”

Nothing.

He was hurting from the heat again, so he turned around to continue on.

And there it was.

An ellipse of flaming yellow tinged with orange, suspended in the fog like a sun hanging low in the sky. Except there was no sky.

The flaming ellipse was ringed with several halos of diminishing thickness, and it seemed far away, like an object on the horizon, yet near enough to reach out and touch.

Michael.

“Yes?”

He winced at the heat again and moved forward, never taking his eyes off the ellipse, which showed clearly through the fog. This time he went on for what seemed like hours, without stopping, without removing his eyes from that bright magnet drawing him on … and without another word from that voice.

Did it leave me?

He called out to it in a feeble half-whisper a few times, but every attempt went unrequited. At times it seemed that he was getting closer to the bright thing in front of him, at others like it was pulling away. It generally appeared, however, that he was getting closer by slow degrees, and this gave him a small measure of encouragement.

After he’d gone on like this for a time, the sensation in the bottoms of his feet started to change, becoming less like pain and more like a mild, soothing electrical current that somehow drove him on. But where was he driving on to? Towards the bright thing in front of him, was all he knew; he didn’t know where it was, or where he was, only that as long as he kept moving towards it, he was fine.

Or was he? The thought struck like lightning: You don’t know who you’re following. You don’t know.

His eyes began to drift as he mulled the thought.

It’s true; I don’t know. But the heat’s tolerable when I’m moving. And my feet are actually beginning to feel good now.

He hadn’t noticed, but he was slowing down.

But you’re in a desert, and you can’t see a thing – how good can this person be?

As that thought rattled through his mind, a shard of loneliness thrust deep inside him, cutting him almost to the point of despair. A sense of abandonment gnawed at his soul; he wanted to die, in one sense already felt dead. And then an image flared in his memory: The burning object in the nonsky.

He showed himself to me … and he gave me a name. … Ow!

He realized that he’d stopped.

But think of all this heat! The pain! the hot sand! And no water to drink! That’s not love!

Other thoughts fought back.

He showed himself to me.

He gave me a name.

He’s helping me through the heat, guiding me through the fog.

The unpleasant thoughts returned the volley, besieged him, pounding time after time against the door of his mind, sometimes to no avail, sometimes with moderate success … and sometimes with terrible effect.

“Aaaah!”

Michael dropped to the ground. He had stopped to gain control of the shouting chaos inside his head – the good thoughts and the unpleasant, fighting each other – but he had stood still too long. Far too long.

Now on all fours, his feet were finding relief but his hands and knees were having their turn at discovering pain. Michael clawed at the sand, gouged it, shredded it between his fingers as a look of pain seared his face. He wanted to give up; everything was pointless. So many times his feet had hurt, and now his hands and knees – and his mind and heart were being ripped from their sockets. The good thoughts were there, yes, but they were drowning, overwhelmed, and it had been so long, so long, since he’d heard the voice. And though it was true that he’d been getting ever closer to that glorious thing before him, the pace was excruciating, like that of a slug traversing the ocean floor.

How long?

Too long.

“How long?” he whimpered.

Too long.

Michael couldn’t hear the good thoughts anymore. He collapsed onto his side.

More pain, scorching. He rolled onto his back to escape the pain in his side.

More pain.

He rolled onto his other side.

Still more pain, hammer!hammer!hammer! against his soul. He grimaced, ground his teeth, moaned, rolling back and forth, back and forth.

How long?

Too long.

“How long?”

Too long.

He screamed. “How long!?!”

Then he stopped, lying motionless, nothing left.

He cried, surprised that his body still had enough moisture to form tears. Soon, however, he ran out of those, too.

His skin sizzled. His body ached with dryness, his soul with barrenness. Torment rode the tidal wave of despair that now crested within him. He wanted to say those words one more time, but he couldn’t manage it, couldn’t remember them. They were only two words, one simple question – that much he remembered – but he wasn’t able to form it again, not even in his mind. Even worse, his cries had gone unanswered.

He stopped struggling and closed his eyes.

* * *

His eyes popped open. Fog swirled overhead.

What?

He raised himself onto his elbows; he lay in the same place he had fallen.

I’m still alive?

He shot to his feet, studying himself, surprised at his energy. There were red areas all over him, but they didn’t burn. He touched them, pressed them – no pain. And the heat under his feet – it felt comfortable, like the warmth of a woodstove on a cold winter’s night.

How–?

I called you by name.

Michael’s head snapped up. The ellipse was still there, burning bright. Nervousness raced through his body.

Yes. Yes you did.

Michael stared into the blaze before him. It was soft, inviting. The heat, the burning, the unpleasant thoughts, the pain – all those evil things were gone. No – not gone; still there but washed new, their composition rearranged into something … good.

You didn’t leave me.

No, I did not.

“Why?”

Michael’s attention was drawn down. There on the ground beside him was a large black spot in the middle of where he had lain. It seemed foul.

“What is that?”

It is what I did not want.

“It came from me?”

Yes.

Michael stared at the spot. He began to tremble with fear.

“And … what am I?”

You?

Sweat trickled onto Michael’s nose.

You are what I do want.

Michael swore he saw a smile pass over the edge of the ellipse. Then he felt a pull, towards it – nothing forceful, more like the attraction a child feels for an amusement-park ride he’s eager to try. He began to walk forward again, towards the warm blaze. He glanced back once at the black spot and produced a soft smile of his own. He then set his face to what was before him and walked ever towards it, ever with it.

Ever thankful.

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