Sean crouched on the outskirts of town, huddled in a torn cloak. Under it his leather pants were torn and his bare chest was dirty and hairy. His beard was coming in thick, though unruly. His hair was short, nearly shaven clean. Gray eyes looked out over the barren wilds beyond the town. A final shame had forced him to leave. They would let him into the outcaste ghetto, but he had no desire for that: they were all entirely insane, just like him. Once he had been insane, he had lost clarity, but then he lost it, all of it. The strength of his previously tempered mind proved weak in the face of love. More specifically, love betrayed in so many ways.
“You lied to me.” His voice was uneven, his eyes never left the horizon.
“I’m sorry.” The woman next to him was a beautiful sight, even through the coming tears.
“You spied on me. There are things people vent. There are things we need to say. You have said things I should not hear.”
“I forgive you. Come back. Hold me. Let me hold you.” Finally he gazed upon her, his head cocked up to look at her. “I don’t get why.”
“Don’t forgive me. I just can’t. Maybe some other time. But, Sean, I don’t even know who you are. This isn’t the man I knew. I don’t get you.”
A twitch crept across Sean’s brow. “I don’t get me, either. My world, have you seen it? It shattered. There are shards everywhere, like a porcelain doll thrown from the top of a building. Another man. I was replaced.”
“You have another man treating you the way I should be.”
“You keep acting so….”
A large sigh came from Sean, “Erratic. I am acting erratic. I don’t know me. My actions, it’s like being outside my body. I lost my center. You ripped it out. Why?” Sean shook his head, “You saw me vent. You saw what you’re not meant to. My release.”
“I’ll let you see mine.” She placed a hand on his back and he recoiled.
“That’s not how it works. You have what you say. I have what I say. At the end, as long as you’re by me, I don’t care. As long as we work it out….”
“I don’t think this is something we work out.”
“So do I have a chance?”
“Maybe, but you would have to be mad to want me back.”
“Ha! Haha! I’ve got that going for me. Quite mad. I would always take you back. Always forgive you. I love you more than you know. But I get it.”
Will you stay here?”
“To die the deathless death? To slowly wither away, forgotten? I will not live as a leper while my skin isn’t white.”
“I’ll pray for you.”
“I don’t know if He has sway where I’m going. It’s been forsaken, or so it feels.”
“He never forsakes his children. Where are you going?”
Finally Sean stood and started to the rocky desert, “My mind. What an unholy place it is now. Must redefine it, stabalize it. Need to relearn myself. Remember when you used to help me on these journeys? I wonder if you ever thought I’d be sent on one because of you.” Wide eyed, he gawked at the woman he loved. Memories filled him and he started to weep.
She tried to touch him, but his sobbing only got louder as he recoiled. Sadly, she smiled at him, “I didn’t want to hurt you.” She felt he was weak. “I wish I knew what happened. I’ll….”
“Pray, pray, pray. I must go. Goodbye, my love. Might this me die that you are only left with a trustworthy wonderful man in your head.” Bowing and stumbling forward, Sean went into the desert.
The desert of despair was aptly named, for only the truly desperate made their way out there. Sean had reached that point, betrayed horribly by himself and the one he loved. He remembered clarity, though. He missed it, even before he had loved. The path was dreadful, which led most to try and avoid it. However, the life of the insane was not to his liking. He needed the ability to rationally think, and he had it once before. Looking back at those content with the life of bedlam, he thought, ignorance truly is bliss. All those souls who chose the life of insanity just could not remember what sanity was. There would be an exodus to the desert if they ever realized a life free of the tumultuous minds torturing them.
It wasn’t a truly hot desert. Great canyons throughout gave plenty of shelter. The rocks were hard on the souls of the ragged shoes, though, boring into Sean’s feet. After several hours he needed a break, sores starting to form. Then he heard the giggles of a woman, though he didn’t see anyone. “I won’t date anyone else. Only you.” That’s what he said to here after the break up. He would punish himself for her decisions against him. Instead, he chased any skirt that came close.
The giggling continued. He looked around, finally gingerly walking towards the giggles. It upset her that he would look, yet she already had another man hanging on her every word. She threw it in his face when she found out. He just didn’t want to be the loser that couldn’t move on when she had. So many of the old habits played over and over again in his life, and the women he chased simply provided a temporary distraction from the emptiness.
A flash of skin was visible. She was wearing very little and had rabit ears. Sean gave chase. He remembered what she said when she heard about the women, “What happened to never dating again?”
“What happened to looking forward to spending the rest of your life with me?” Would it have helped? That’s all he could think. If him staying from woman would have won her over, it would have been done. But he didn’t want to appear as if he couldn’t move on. He didn’t want to look like the loss was consuming him, though it was. It was obvious it was in each desperate attempt to hide it.
There was an oasis in the canyon, a small spring. A few plants grew around it, giving some life to the area. It was a welcomed change, as even the ground was gentle soil. Drinking at the spring were two beautiful women with rabit ears. Though the ears were peculiar, Sean thought little of it. He watched at first, curious as to what he should do. Once they noticed him, they ran, and he gave chase. The two women ran in opposite directions, and he tried his best to catch both. His hesitations and direction changes led him far from the spring, leaving him lost in the canyon, his feet still sore and the souls of his shoes nearly worn through. Exhausted, he did his best to lay out on his cloak, stones digging into his flesh.
The night was sleepless. No matter what would happen, he just couldn’t let go of her. She was to be in his arms, not someone else’s. “But he’s nice to me,” she would tell him.
“So was I. For years. I would give everything for you,” though his sporadic behavior likely said otherwise. He had lost himself in her, and she ran off with that part of him.
The cold started to numb his flesh, as the desert didn’t hold heat. He shivered, teeth chattering, doing his best to wrap up in the cloak while also covering the jagged ground. Both pursuits were pointless: the rocks cut right through and the cold was hardly hampered. After a couple hours of near sleep, he started to journey again.
Once the sun was out, the rocks warming up, Sean found an area to smooth. He laid down, though even in the warmth, there were only the thoughts of previous promises and hopes, each one dashed. He tried continuously to think of how it went wrong, how his flaws peaked, how he tried so hard to combat them. “But what did she do to help me through them?” He sighed. It didn’t matter, he would have given all he was to be with the girl he watched grow up into a woman. And in truth she had helped him a great deal. With a sigh, he got back up and continued his journey.
Food was difficult to come by, but lizards were often bathing in the sun, lazy and easy prey. Between the tough meat and strong blood, they kept him fed and hydrated. The wandering continued for a week, until he chanced upon a caravan, though he very much so accepted the likelihood of a hallucination. A middle aged man noticed Sean first, “Come on over! You look half dead. Take a seat.” There was a fire keeping the cold at bay as the sun set.
The people were happy and loud. Sean did what he could to join in. His sores were looked at and salves were applied. He was given rations and thicker clothing. Stories were told around the fire, and even Sean told one, his own experiences with the woman he loved. When they went to sleep, Sean could only toss and turn despite the thick mattress he was given. His mind raced, and finally he got up, keeping the blankets wrapped around his shivering body. The man approached him, “Son, you ought be sleeping. Look at those dark bags under your eyes.”
“I can’t. Too many memories of what’s supposed to be.”
“Well, son, if it were supposed to be, it would be.”
“It still could be. She said I could have a chance in the future, that she still loves me and cares for me.” His eyes were wild, looking into the distance.
“But you gave in. You are letting whims control you, and you can’t hold onto a future like that. Who knows what will happen.”
“Then what do I do? How do I move on?”
“Well, I’m hella sure not through women. They’re just a distractn and you’re ganna hurt a number of them on the way while just confusing yourself. You won’t get a rabit if you’re chasing two of them, and you are obviously still chasing one. Need to stop. Take stock of where you are. Only then can you truly figure this crap out.” The man handed a large stalk of some strange plant to Sean. “And at night nibble on this. It’ll put you to sleep. Works like a charm. Just don’t mix it with anything else to loosen you up. I know the pull of alcohol in these times, bet let me tell you, mixing the two will show you a whole new world.” He laughed a little and slapped Sean on the back. “Anyway, I’m rather tired. I’ll see you around some time.”
Sean laid down and nibbled on the stalk. It took a few minutes, as he stared into the fire, but soon his body was shutting down, his eyes heavy. He found sleep, even if only for six hours. The sleep lacked dreams, but in the morning he felt rejuvinated.
Blinking a few times, everyone had left. There was still the sign of a fire, the thicker clothing and mattress still wrapped Sean snuggly, and the sores were scabbing over. Thicker shoes were even left behind for him, along with a flask. On it was inscribed, “This helps ease the pain.” It wasn’t from the man he had spoken to, yet there it was, a home remedy for someone. It was the remedy Sean was using already. He was quite the giddy drunk.
Six hours of sleep a night was enough to keep him going. His mind still felt weak, and he had a hard time consentrating, but he blamed that in part at the remedies he took: alcohol during the day and the stalk at night. The next week was mostly a blur of hallucinations and passing out for a couple hours at a time. The hallucinations were of her, standing there. Sometimes he was reminded of what they had done, or what they would do. Other times she was scorning him, hanging on the arm of this other guy.
It struck him hard when he realized she could see each and every insecurity, though he tried to hide them to her face. She could see his struggles, but it seemed she couldn’t see his love. “Maybe this is for the better.” He took a nip from the bottle and in a few minutes his head was spinning. “He sang and danced on his way through the canyons, drinking a little more from time to time when it seemed he was sobering. Most the hallucinations happened while sobering up. If it wasn’t a hallucination, it was thinking too much. Either way, he went until nightfall in a stupor, unaware which way or that he traveled. At night, he took his customary gnaw from the stalk and went to sleep. He woke up to a loud noise. There was singing and dancing, laughter and foul language. He got up to see what was happening, and soon he found a strange house in the middle of a clearing. Rabit women were everywhere and men hauled them off. It was his greatest struggle.
Awed at the vision, he looked around, not quite sure what to do. Since he was left, he indulged fairly readily in women. No doubt, he was often in trouble for looking at other women. The man, though: don’t chase two rabits. Each woman had rabit ears, just like the two before. “What will it matter? She gave chase to another man as soon as I was behind her.” He went into the brothel, viewing the woman, going after them, but never catching one.
“Are you in that catch and release program?” A man was standing against the wall, smoking a cigar. “Seen you chasing bunnies all night, never seen you catch one. Why’s that?”
“I’m not good enough.”
“These women aren’t looking for good enough. They’re looking for men wanting a good time. See that bald bastard over there? Fat and pretty old? Look at the girl slung over his shoulder. Don’t get hotter than that. Not committing to marry them or nothing, just a night of fun. Go on. Reach out at the next piece that skips by.”
Sean went limp, “I can’t. As much as I look, as much as I pretend, I can’t.”
“Why’s that kid?”
“I’m looking for love. I had love. Something horrible happened though.”
“If you’s looking for love, you’re in the wrong place. Fun? Right place. Come on, go spread yourself around. Only need the confidence to claim one.”
“I’m okay. Thanks.” He walked out, though he looked at each bunny to pass him by. Each one tempted him. Why couldn’t he have his play thing, his toy to discard after the role was fulfilled. For a moment he grabbed one, then released, leaving the house.
He woke with a start. His breathing was ragged, his lungs burned and eyes teared. After a few coughs, he straightened himself out and packed his things. “No drinking before bed. Got it.” Yet sure enough, going down the same path, there were signs of an old building long ago torn down.
There was another clearing a day later. There was a circus, waiting for travelers. They were jovial and had an excellent set up for food and games. Other wanderers were playing games or watching the shows. One stage had a sword juggler. “The swords of truth will reveal you to yourself.” The harlequin repeated this, daring the audience to try juggling.
Sean was always eager to try new things, especially as a distraction. He stepped forward, “I’ll try it.”
There was a concerned look on the harlequin’s face, the mask,s smile flipping upside down, “While there are many who could do this challenge, sir, I must ask, do you truly feel called on this? I fear for your safety, for what this will reveal.”
“Are you stopping me?” Sean walked forward, extending his hands to hold the blades.
“I would never stop someone from self discovery. Just sometimes it doesn’t turn out how we think it it.” He handed over the blades.
“I know it’ll be something horrible.”
“It might kill you, tear you to the pieces you are truly in.” The juggler handed over the swords and stepped back. “Remember, once that first blade flies through the air, you cannot stop their judgment. Good luck.”
The blades started to move. Sean really had no control of them, his body knowing when to throw, where to catch. As the steel danced around him and through the air, he accepted his fate. If death had come at any point in his journey, he felt he wouldn’t go out of his way to avoid it. Maybe he knew what the juggler meant and truly wished to test himself against then blades, to see if they would release him from his mortal form.
The swords hadn’t harmed him and he had slung them for some time. The juggler still looked greatly concerned, gnawing his bottom lip. Everyone else was applauding. “Failure. Loss. Left. Blind. Judged.” As the blades cut through the air, they sung these words. The crowd didn’t hear it; they kept cheering. The circus performer heard it as he sighed and looked away.
The blades went into a frenzy, ripping violently through the air. Then the fell, one by one, to the ground. Slowly Sean fell apart, his legs giving way to clean slices, his torso dividing, his arms split apart. His head was kept whole, aside from the left ear which flopped about in the forming pool of blood like a beached fish. The juggler picked up the weapons and shook his head, “I was afraid of that, but you are being given a shot at redemption. Think you can take it?”
“I think I’m rather dad. Just the final nerves reacting to what is.” Sean could get his head to roll about. When he reached his ear it reattached.
“Your blood is seeping into the soil. You really want to die here? It really is as simple as willing yourself back together.” The juggler knelt by Sean’s head. Everyone else seemingly dispersed while he was falling apart. “All you have to do is will it. Really. Just roll on over to the rest of your limbs and you will be put back together. If the bloodmseeps into the ground, however, you wither and die.”
But this was his chance to just let go. He didn’t have to do anything.
“There’s still a plan for you. It would have just killed you if you served your purpose.”
“I loved her. So much.”
“She didn’t believe you. She didn’t trust you the same way you trusted her. Maybe you didn’t deserve it. Maybe everything is flawed if you look closely enough. Either way, you need to follow through with your future. You can’t let your mind slide. The body follows. Move.”
Sean’s head started to roll. He touched part after part, and his body started to reattach. Once whole, the juggler smile, “Remember, He has a plan for everyone.” Sean woke up with scars all over his body. The sun was setting.
The evening was cold, and Sean felt weak. The blood loss seemed real, and it was difficult for him to move long before starting to pass out. “Shoot. Might still die. I guess the plan was momentary.” He curled up and covered himself with his layers, letting himself go.
It was impossible to tell how long he slept. There was a degree of dizziness, but he could walk. He drank from cacti to regain is strength and continued walking. In a few days he came across another oasis. He had regained his strength and eagerly went to the water. The bunny women were all over, watching Sean. When Sean had enough water, he noticed them. “This is why I’m where I am. I need to move on.” He stood and walked away. He looked back many times, but it was time to stop chasing. He took a swig from his bottle and wiped his mouth. He had to keep moving.
After a week he returned home. No one recognized him as one of the mad. No one told him he had to leave the city. He saw the one he loved, but it didn’t matter if she recognized him or not. He had done enough damage, but he would pray one day she would be back. He went back to his family, focusing on his works. He still wept. He still longed for her. But he was moving back towards a man he once was. Perhaps one day he would be.