I met a beggar on the steps of Machu Picchu. He was sat at the foot of the mountain under some trees. As I approached down the dirty road he called me over and asked me where I was going. To the top of the mountain, I told him. He smiled and said he’d been there. His skin reminded me old leather. I gave him some cash and told him to find something to eat – instead he offered to tell me a story. Curious, I accepted.
For a while he sat, staring glassy eyed at the horizon, his skin drinking in the rain – then he began.
‘A long time ago I was young man. At a guess, I had thirty years to my name. For the last ten I had lived a brigands life – drink, whores, killin’. All of it. I wanted no place in the world, or any world I’d heard of. I just walked and walked, lookin’ for something I was never gonna find, and takin whatever I wanted. A man’s life, I thought. A warriors life.
One day, my wanderings brought me to this mountain. Why I ended up here I’m not sure, a feeling in my soul perhaps – destiny. Who knows?
I arrived at these here steps, and I met a boy. Sat here on this stone. The boy looked me up and down and sneered – called me a beggar. Said I was nothing. A deadbeat drifter.
I drew my pistol and blasted him twice, but he was fast as a snake this boy – and ducked ’em good, fleeing up the mountain, laughing that coyote laugh of his.
Well I chased him with a black rage up those steps. Never was he was far in front, but never did I get my hands on him. He was sharp as they come. Always flashing me his taunting looks.
I was damn murderous with rage. And I’d killed for less. Much less.
The rain was heavy and the mud was washing down the stones. He seemed to dance over it, whilst I slogged on, denied my prey. Long and steep was the climb but never once did I let up. No man would speak to me in that way; no man, no woman, no child. No one. I’d grab him and wring his neck before I put a bullet clean through his skull. That’s I what I thought.
At the top I lost sight of him. The fog was pea soup thick and the rain was belting down like some wild thing. You could scare hear nothin.
Old stone was all about me. I knew where I was – Machu Picchu.
The Quechuan city stretched all around me. Cobbled stone street, and slab steps. Raindrops from thatch tips. Witnesses, long dead, to my own end. And more…
There, through the cluster – that laugh. Giggling like a hyena. I made after it, wolf like, hand fixed on the pistol grip with mad purpose.
I made up the mountain, charging on burning legs. The clouds crashed together and there was thunder, and then, lightening. Black weather for black work.
There he was at the top – standing there pointing at me under a stone arch. Beggar, he called me. Fool! He laughed.
I spat oaths and fury and mounted the top. With a red glare I fixed my aim on him and sent three raging shots roaring through his head. The force threw him back and enveloped by the mist – he vanished. There was silence. Gun smoke danced on the barrel and there was that cordite smell I knew too well. I remember I was shaking.
Then he spoke. Not in his boy voice, though it was there. Damned if I can’t describe it – but it was voices – many voices all at once. Languages I didn’t recognise, didn’t speak but now understood. Their meaning felt clear as day.
Through the smoke a thing walked. Tall and strong, straight of posture and handsome faced. It had a fine feather headdress and gold trimmed robes. Neither man nor woman nor child. It was something else, something more. Something unreal.
Terror stricken, I made for an escape, but poor footing sent me crashing to the floor, my pistol clattering off down the cliff face. My heart pounding like a drum I turned to face this being. It looked at me and through me, and although it never revealed it, I knew it was a God. Every God. All at once.
The Every God took a knee before me, and fixed its eyes on mine. It told me it had brought me here. I heard the word puppet behind its voice. It told me I had been brought here to die. It said I deserved to die, for I had never found my place in the way of things. That I had never found my own, true way.
With tear filled eyes I begged and grovelled. Pleaded for mercy. My cowardice in deaths face was great. I wanted to live – if only for life’s sake.
Spare me! I screamed. The mountains echoing my cry. The Every God stood and fixed me a contemplative look. For what felt like an age the being was silent and still. The roar of weather beyond playing out the song of this moment. Of my final chance.
At last The Every God spoke. My fear was so great I can still feel it now. A sick dread, right in my chest. Like a hole, blown right through.
It offered me what mercy it could spare. Mercy in the form of three challenges – one in the form of knowledge, one in the form of soul and the last, in the form of reality itself. Wild and desperate, I screamed agreement. Pledging myself to its service. With a mischievous smile it said ‘It’s not me you should serve.’
There was a blinding flash. The world went dark and spots danced in my eyes. Ears ringing the world slowly retuned to me. A great Sphinx stood before me. Tall as a building, with skin like smooth onyx. I stood before this Titan and it spoke to me. It spoke to me in riddles. For hours it threw it them at me. Endless and indifferent. I answered as sharp and as fast I could. My brain pulsing. I had always taken to books so I had me a good mind, and I reckon I had the the trail bested soon enough. But the riddles moved from my mind and to my heart, and I was forced not to solve, but to see – but to feel. The Sphinx laughed at my answers. ‘You don’t know’ it shrieked, over and over. It bent forward and looked at me with its black jewelled eyes.
‘What are you’ it whispered.
I stood. I couldn’t fix its gaze. I shook and I was cold and I couldn’t answer.
‘What are you’
My breath froze into vapor, whirl-pooling in the air. I tried to speak, but there was nothing. I could say nothing but one thing, the only true thing.
‘I don’t know.’
Continue to Part 2…