This is Part 2 of a 2 part story. Click here for Part 1…
With a smile the Sphinx exploded into a kaleidoscope of colour. A rip roaring tunnel of light that sucked me down and onward until I was thrown headlong onto the wet stone of Machu Picchu once more. I lifted myself from the rock. My body, tired and spent, threw heavy breaths from my lungs. I looked out over the old city. A rock maze built into the mountain. A civilization overwhelmed by nature and time. I was going to die here.
Behind me I felt a presence. Instinctively, I spun, and my blood surged to life. It stood before me. A man? I couldn’t say. Possessed of ones shape, it was more a living blackness. A walking void – a demon thing. A demon thing come for me.
Well it wouldn’t have me.
I charged and with a defiant cry tackled this black thing and the fight was begun. Evenly matched each blow was traded and returned in kind. Never a word exchanged, only violence. Only hate. Endless we fought atop the mountain. The role of victor and loser swapped at random. The struggle, chaotic and without purpose. Each day one would win, the sun would set and the wounds would heal, and at sunrise the battle would renew afresh. And so it was that we fought atop the mountain. For three long years we waged our private war of hate. Never once trading a word.
Then it happened on the final day. I held that black thing by its throat, faceless and revolting. I drowned it in the water. It’s dark blood pooling like spilled oil. Swirling. I drew back my fist for the killing blow. I set my teeth and my rage and then… I saw him. I saw him in the puddle. Reflected. Not some black and terrible demon. But myself. Wounded, and afraid. Pinned down – defeated.
I saw that he and I were two, and yet, one. I saw him for what he was, for what I hated. My weakness. My shame. I saw myself. And for the first time, I offered him my hand.
Tentative, he reached back. His hand and mine, joining in mutual empathy. Then he was gone. And in the rain I stood. Born again. Two legs, two arms, two eyes. Joined together and whole. Black, and white.
I began to feel weightless. At my feet the dust and rain and leaves began to rise. And my heels left the ground, then my toes – and I rose into the air.
I left the mountain behind, shrinking below me. I soared beyond the sky, the clouds. Beyond the moon, the planets. Beyond space. Beyond nothing. Beyond time. Beyond thought and dream and imagination. Beyond creation. And at once I knew the meaning of it all. Of life, of true love, of happiness. I saw that I was part of one endless system of life that sprawled back through time. A vast chain of existence, of my own life – playing backwards, snakelike through time to a central point, connected to all others like a giant spiders web. Meeting at a central point. Where it all began together. And I smiled, and I was done.
I awoke on the mountain, renewed and refreshed. The Every God was gone, and the sky was clear. I can still feel the morning rays on my skin. Baptism by light. I drank in the valley with my eyes, and with a final goodbye, made my way back down the mountain. To live again’
The Beggar stopped. Enjoying the moment.
‘Is that… True?’ I asked him.
‘You mean was it real, or did I imagine it?’
‘Does it matter?’ He said, and stared off into the horizon, with a calm and radiant face. I waited for a while, hanging for his next word. But when his head begun to slump, and breathing shallow, then stop. I knew it would never come, and I knew he was dead.
I rested my hand on his shoulder and then closed his eyes. I stood and looked at the old man, prostrate on the old stone. Had anyone else heard his story? Was it me alone?
I thought of my own life. Of my own mistakes and my own lies and weakness, and my own courage. And I looked up to the top of the mountain and knew what I must do.
Cradling the old man in my arms I set out for the peak. The climb was steep and fierce but my will would not break. With every drop of strength and emotion I pushed myself onward. Over stone and clay and jungle. Against the razor wind and thrashing rain I carried him until I finally conquered the mountain. Laying him on the grass I dove my hands into the earth and for hours I dug, shoulders burning, until I had a grave for my friend.
I surveyed my work, deep and roomy. I laid him inside it, and with a final goodbye rained the earth down upon him. Patting the soil flat I laid a small, humble stone cairn to mark the sight.
Standing I stared at the spot, then out at the mountains and the sky, and whatever was beyond. Turning I made for the way down. As I left I cast one last glance at the cairn. And there in the sunlight I saw something, maybe imagined, maybe real – that I’ll never forget. Like a mirage they were there – the Beggar and The Every God. Reunited and walking off together, to the spirit in the sky.
And with that I walked down the mountain, back to my life, and the future.