The traveler meandered down the dusty road like an abandoned cur, stopping momentarily to gaze at a Broken Heart alongside the road. It was like something which had come straight out of nightmarish dreams. Shading his eyes from a tremendous August sun, he peered off to the right where a mortally wounded Psyche lay in the dust being baked into something calloused and hard and no longer part of the poor soul it had come from. To his left, where he didn't have to shade his eyes because the sun was hot on his back, rose a huge Mountain of Betrayal. Tears the size of his hand tumbled down its weathered slope to drop into a swirling vortex of optimism, which reprocessed it back to betrayal, forever recycling the sadness of man's Treachery. The traveler closed his eyes and sighed as old Sol began its final plunge behind the craggy mountains, where it would soon retire for the night.
"I can't do this."
No answer. The traveler had expected none. But it was not silence which greeted his declaration. Faint moans of Anguish could be heard over the tormented pleas of a small child. Male? Female? He did not know. It mattered not. The pain was real. Yes, it was, and he withstood the sound better by keeping his eyes closed.
The road was familiar. He had never been here, though. Not in this life. That was the thing, then. Since everything here seemed familiar, but twisted; out of kilter, the traveler had to ask the question.
"Am I dead?"
Far away he heard Shattered Hope screech.
"Am I dead, or is this the way to The All-American Dream?"
Raucous laughter issued from Wickedness which was hidden somewhere. The traveler had heard this laughter before, but Wickedness never showed its face. Coward. Instead it played evil games inside your mind. He vaguely realized that the reason you could never see it was because it is you.
This rather strange road he walked was familiar in an obscure, unfamiliar way. Since early this morning, or was it yesterday morning, oh, no matter. Since he had found himself here he recognized certain . . . things. Nothing he could put his finger on and say, "Look, I remember this from . . ." No. Nothing like that. There was a surreal quality about certain things which defied definition. There were things he saw he had never seen before, but why then, did he know what they were?
Like the Broken Heart baking in the August heat.
Was it his? Or some other unfortunate traveler who had passed this way before? The Broken Heart, of course, was not like the Valentine Day pretty heart all drawn so nice and neat. No. This was a real heart, lying alongside the road, dirty, with dried blood all around it. This heart was alive and making strong, thump, thump-thumping sounds which reverberated inside his head, nearly causing him to lose what sanity he was holding onto.
He had attempted to cover up the Broken Heart to mute the sound. But there was nothing he could use to place over it. If he had been wearing a shirt he would have used that but he was not wearing one. Actually he wasn't wearing clothes at all. He shivered. It was approaching nighttime and he recalled it had gotten cold last night.
The traveler began to trudge slowly down the road again, shelter on his mind. Soon he came upon a wooden bridge built over foaming, raging rapids. He stopped, fearful of crossing the bridge. He took a tentative step. The bridge creaked, gave somewhat with his weight. Another step. Groans from the timber. He froze. After a deep breath he took five very quick steps and was almost in the middle of the bridge when he heard . . . them.
He stood; naked, afraid, and alone, debating whether he should go back or go forward. Instead of doing either he placed his hand on the bridge's railing to keep his knees from giving way from a terrifying dread. He leaned forward trying to steady himself and the noise became ferocious. He knew he should not, but still he looked down into the rapids.
But the foaming water was not rapids at all. No, it was only a languid little stream, and the only reason it was foaming and churning was because of the drowning Libidos and accompanying Egos.
"Please, what do you want from me?"
He stared into the horrible scene as hundreds, no thousands of perishing Libidos screamed out for one more chance to go back to the very perversion which had sent them to their watery grave in the first place. Defiant and lustful to the absolute end is mankind's absorption with skin against skin. The traveler lingered his eyes on the water below because to not do so he would have had to look into himself.
Taking a few quick, very intense mouthfuls of air, he leaned further over the railing and stared into the turbulence below as if he were seeing the very last thing on earth. Rank odor emitted from the water, an odor which could mean only death and decay. Suddenly he saw something scurrying from the water. Then another. And more. Egos were making a mad dash for . . . where? Where could an Ego go if it had no body to prod and to push? Still. They were leaving the water by the hundreds and they looked so comical the traveler laughed aloud in spite of his own dire situation.
They bounced ahead without feet in a kaleidoscope of colors, mostly black, dark blues or heavy greens, no wimpy colors for the Egos of the world. And the noise! Deafening. How could they make sounds? But they did. Angry sounds, like jet planes screaming inside his head. Then suddenly, they stopped. The traveler watched in fascination and horror as the Egos became too big for themselves and burst into gore and globs of Ego matter. Then they were gone; seeping down the bank toward the stream.
What had been fetid odors wafting from below gave way to a different fragrance; the lingering smell of all the lovers he had known. The combined smell was at first pleasant and satisfying, taking the traveler back to better times and the sensuousness of women's caresses. Faces flooded his thoughts. Headless, naked bodies fought for dominance inside his head until there was only one left. It had a grotesque body that looked not feminine or anything remotely close to it. It was a misshapen apparition, but it did have a head, and the face on the head was recognizable.
"See?" The face spoke. "I am your lover, can you not see that? I am the only thing you have ever loved, I am you."
The traveler screamed. Then he ran and ran and ran, and the road became as straight as it had been crooked before. But he could not escape from himself. He understood that. The woman thing was gone but it still lived as surely as he took the next gasping breath, and it did so because it was him with all the warts.
A forlorn, solitary howl interrupted the traveler's perverse musings. It was such a sad and lonesome wail it could only come from a hound. The traveler took it as a warning. A cautionary howl for the stranger who walks among the remnants and distasteful ingredients which make up mankind.
Plop. Plop. Plop. One foot in front of the other. It should be night. It is not. It is twilight. He needed to find . . . Shelter.
He startled himself with his question. Shelter because he was, or would be, cold. Shelter to hide his nakedness. He was ashamed of his slightly rounded stomach, his slightly sagging breasts; his rapidly receding penis. Shelter to hide his imperfections.
Oh, my. A howling hound was there with him, pressing his cold, wet nose against his bare leg. Oh, my. The hound walked ahead of him. He was, of course, not a hound. A beast though. He was that. A beast that spoke.
"I am here to take you." The traveler did not see the beast's mouth moving when it talked, but he knew that it did.
"Follow me." It began to lope. The traveler did not run after it. Soon the hound was out of sight.
The traveler continued walking. What else was he to do? There was no where else to go. Each step he took he was met with Ghostly images from his past. Only they were not Ghosts. Unless Ghosts could touch and feel and bleed and sob and scream into his face angry words and screeches and claw his backside and front side and attack his genitals, especially his genitals. He could not defend himself because somewhere without him being aware, his arms had fallen from his body. There was no blood. It had not hurt. He was at the mercy of his past sins as they went about absorbing them into the very pores of his being. Still, he walked, and as he did so he was determined to forgive his persecutors even though it seemed they had held onto their grudges.
He knew most of them. His Mother. She was the worst. Blaming him. For everything. She was the worst. Old Girlfriends. Old Wives. Vicious. Unrelenting in there desire to hurt. Payback is . . . Toughtittie . . . Reap what you sow . . . Yes . . . What goes around . . . All That Jazz! He was being hit and poked and jabbed with sharp fingernails and bit with filed-down teeth and kicked and he thought he would surely fall to the earth and be beaten until he died but . . . They stopped. His Mother's chest burst open and her heart fairly flew from her bosom onto the ground and split into. Broken Heart. The rest did the same. Everyone he had known, everyone he guessed he had hurt in ways he could not remember now, lost their hearts and minds and love and joy, all to be strewn alongside the dusty road the traveler walked.
Now he understood.
They were all gone and in their wake had left the parts of themselves they blamed the traveler for destroying. Hearts, broken Hearts were the most prominent but there were also Minds Unstable and Love Destroyed. Love Destroyed was the most awful of them. He had heard of Love his whole life and had never known exactly what it was. Now that he was looking at Love Destroyed it was all he could do to keep from regurgitating. Love Destroyed was a dreadful thing to behold. Love Destroyed was a small golden sphere approximately the size of a small green pea when it fell from those who had just left. When they touched the ground there was an audible gasp and then no more sounds were heard.
The golden sphere morphed into such a lovely child, a child of no particular sex, but a Child of Innocence, and a Child desirous of guidance and someone to attach to and grow into love personified. It was not to be, however, because the lovely Child's skin began to peel from its body and as it did its eyes stared straight into the travelers and the eyes said, "I never had a chance to grow into my potential, and it was because of you." Then it turned into a caricature of an old hag, the kind you see in fairy tales as witches and melted back down to the pea size it used to be, sprouted roots and bloomed into hate intensified. When that happened, the traveler had to turn away, the horrible stench and penetrating stare was too much for him.
He stumbled down the road, half running, half walking; stumbling. A huge, intense, bright light blinded him and caused him to lurch sideways and finally collapse onto the sandy road. Before he passed out the moans and shrieks and screams of all the Broken Hearts and Minds Unstable and Wounded Psyches and Mountains of Betrayal lanced his heart and brain so passionately and sadly that dying to escape would be a blessing.
His eyes opened to the loveliest woman he had ever seen. She had been swiping at his forehead with a cool, moist rag. She smiled and the world smiled and was happy. The traveler was in bed. Not his bed. She poured a sparkling glass of water and touched it to his feverish lips and before he supped from it he knew that it would be the best tasting water he had ever drunk. It was. She sat the glass on the small table and stood to leave.
"Oh, please," the traveler said, "don't go. Where am I? What is your name?"
She smiled. The world smiled again. "You are here. My name is Gentle." With that she turned and left him alone. But no. Someone else was here. The traveler sensed another presence.
"How do you feel?"
The voice, like the girl's, saturated him with breathtaking sensations. A rich baritone voice full of wonderful . . . ambiance. "Tell me what I am doing here, please."
"My name is Go," the voice answered. "You are being prepared."
"Why, am I--"
"Yes. You are dying, traveler. You are in the hospital room in the city where you reside. We have been preparing you for the transition."
"Fear not, we will treat you kindly."
"But the road, and oh, the people and all the--"
"That is part of the transition, an unkind part to be sure, traveler, but necessary."
"Why? To show me my past sins?"
"No. Everybody thinks that. It is a cleansing. It is not for everyone because everyone has not been such a man as yourself, genuine good person, but one who hurt many along the way.
"The attacks? The Broken Hearts, the--"
"It was done to make you understand, that although you were sinful in your life, you were not responsible for other people's heartaches in the end. You were not attacked on that road for that reason. You, traveler, although you made awful mistakes you weren't the only one who did. Those within your sphere must walk the same road you have just walked; we are, after all, accountable for what we do and what we allow others to do to us."
"Yes, you are dead now. My companion and I will assist you the rest of the way." The young woman appeared beside the bed.
"Take her hand, now mine."
The traveler saw the voice standing beside the woman and he was as beautiful as she and they both wore long, flowing white robes and when he took their hands he wasn't surprised that he had his arms back and he understood the significance of their names now.