Great destruction will soon rain upon us, once the Intruder crosses the gates of our hallowed halls. We may only survive by raining destruction upon the Intruder first.
Dusk is drawing near. The harsh shrubs of the Sonoran Desert seem to stretch to infinity in the distance, vanishing into the orange hues hovering over the horizon. As you drive down the Devil’s Highway at a dizzying speed, the Arizona landscape blurs itself into a liquid mix of limestone reds and succulent greens. Attempting to distinguish the elements of scenery in that frenzied dance of colors could only be a futile attempt at categorizing the uncategorizable, for the true nature of the desert’s mysteries escapes the perception of the human eye. The material eye, that is.
That’s when your car breaks down. Of course, you always knew that blue Mustang was bound to reach the end of its journey sooner or later, but why did it have to be here, in the middle of nowhere? You spin on the spot, searching your surroundings for a sign of civilization. Nothing but prickly cactuses and suspended dust. Your breath accelerates, and the dust soon begins to fill up your lungs, leaving an astringent taste of emptiness in your mouth on its way in. The memories flood your mind in a violent monsoon, the kind this patch of land never gets to see. The apartment back in New York; the moldy striped wallpaper; the broken shards of mirror littering the floor; the open freezer spreading its bone-biting chill; the stains of blood on the carpet.
No. You can’t let yourself go back there, in mind or in body. It was the past. You must look towards the future, even in times of panic. That’s when you catch a glimpse of it. A gated community, southeast from your position, half-hidden by a hill roughly a mile away. It must be a mirage of some sort, akin to a fictitious oasis miraculously appearing to a parched traveller. Yet, from your vantage point, it looks very real. You gravitate towards it, and each step taken on the uneven ground feels more difficult than the previous one. One minute you firmly stand on rocky soil; the next, you trip in the sand and find yourself face first into plucky vegetation.
Remember that travellers who are pure of heart will always be welcome here. I shall be the one to identify the true Intruder amongst our visitors. Have blind faith in my judgement.
You finally reach the gates in desperate need of water. Four imposing concrete walls surround the community. You knock on the heavy iron doors, praying someone will come to answer, and someone does. A security guard opens the gates and stares into your soul through his sunglasses. He is dressed rather plainly, but you feel intimidated at the sight of the gun strapped to his hip.
“Looking for something?” he asks.
“Hum… My car broke down…” you mumble. “I have no phone service and I could really use some water, any chance someone in there might help me?”
He takes a minute to ponder the request.
“The Seer will gladly meet with you.”
“Yes. You must know about the Seer, I’m sure.”
“I mean… To be honest, I have no idea what this place is.”
“You’re about to find out.”
He invites you in. Something feels off, but it’s not like you have anywhere else to go. Slowly, with prudent steps, you walk into the community. The other side of the gates is filled with countless rows of identical red brick houses, lined up on each side of a wide paved central alley leading up to a domineering two-storied estate. The mansion at the end of the road radiates with opulence; the brick boxes, not so much.
You’re clearly being escorted towards the estate. As you pass by, the children playing in the street recoil and run back into the arms of their parents, who invariably cast worried looks in your direction.
“Is it the Intruder, Mom?”
“I don’t know, sweetie, let’s not jump to conclusions. The Seer will know.”
Doors begin to shut with every step you take. Soon, the alley is completely empty.
“Why do I get the feeling I’m not welcome here?” you bluntly declare.
“Travellers who are pure of heart will always be welcome here,” insists the guard. “Are you pure of heart?”
“I think I am,” you reply, a hint of hesitation trembling in your voice.
You enter the estate. All is white. The walls, the doors, the stairs. A continuous, blinding, mesmerizing white.
“You’ll find a room upstairs,” said the guard. “First door on the right. As I said, we always welcome travellers with great hospitality into our community. Freshen up, get some water, and we’ll get your ready for the Seer.”
None of this sounds good, but you’re now too far in to go back. You slowly make your way up the white steps and search for the first door on the right. You enter into an ivory bedroom with two mattresses, one of which is occupied by a tall, golden-haired woman. Your presence interrupts her reading.
“How wonderful, a newcomer!” she exclaimed, jumping off the bed and shaking your hand vigorously. “When did you get here?”
“Just now. My car broke down.”
“No way, the exact same thing happened to me three days ago! Aren’t we so lucky we stumbled upon this place? Paradise on earth, I’m telling ya. Never going back.”
“What do you mean, never going back?”
“How could you leave utopia after you found it? I’m still in the transition home for now, but they’re giving me my own red brick house in two weeks, and a husband also! I’m sure you have no intention of leaving the community either, do you?”
“I am most definitely leaving. I just wanted to freshen up and get my car towed.”
“Sweetheart, I can assure you, these thoughts will disappear after you meet the Seer. She knows everything. Bask in her wisdom, and you’ll never be the same.”
“I doubt that. Besides, the other members of the community didn’t seem to like me being here. They made it quite clear.”
“That’s just because of the prophecy sweetie. The Seer saw a future in which an Intruder destroyed the village, so they give all newbies nasty looks. You have nothing to worry about. Once the Seer proclaims you are pure of heart, they will all welcome you with open arms. Make sure you wear white.”
Have no fear, for when the Intruder comes, I will be ready. And you will be too.
You come back down, now dressed in white from head to toe. The guard is waiting for you. He guides you towards a secret room, hidden behind a portrait. You cross the threshold and find yourself in a room just as red as the previous one had been white. Red walls, red desk, red chairs, just like a blood aquarium. Most importantly, the Seer is dressed in red. Her eyes are piercing, terrifying.
“So this is the newcomer everyone is talking about,” she says. “Sit down.”
You comply, without saying a word.
“Are you pure of heart?” she asks.
“Why would you say that?”
“Because I see everything. I see what you see in your worst nightmares. The apartment back in New York; the moldy striped wallpaper; the broken shards of mirror littering the floor; the open freezer spreading its bone-biting chill; the stains of blood on the carpet.”
How could she know? There was no way. It was all behind, in your past. You travelled across the country to escape this.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Lots of people come to the desert to escape their problems. I see right through them. Some flee alcoholism, substance abuse, violence. Few flee murder.”
“It was legitimate defense! I had no choice, he was going to kill me.”
“You always have a choice. Your heart is stained with impurity, and impurity brings destruction. You’re the Intruder. You are the one who will burn this community to ashes. But we won’t let you get away with it”
“This is nonsense. I’m leaving.”
“Good luck with that. People don’t just leave around here. I see you for who you truly are, and they see you too.”
You rush out of the room, narrowly escaping the guard’s grasp, but even then it’s too late. Once you step into the open air, you realize the entire community is waiting for you in front of the estate, with torches and pitchforks. There is no way out. Unless…
“Come and get me! Come and get the Intruder!”
You run back in. The villagers follow, marching into the Estate, torches in hand. You dash up the stairs, lock yourself into the first room on left. The guard’s voice resonates in the hall.
“The Intruder is behind the first door on the right.”
You hear the banging, the terrified screams of the golden-haired woman as you change using the community clothes in the wardrobe. Then you exit and blend in, casually going in the direction opposite to the crowd without anybody noticing. In their boundless hatred, they have already made up their mind. They are burning the first room on the right. As you rush out and walk away from the community, past the iron gates, you look back at the desolate spectacle. The fire has consumed the estate, and is now spreading through the brick houses. Great destruction rained upon them as you crossed the gates of their hallowed halls. The community was no more. It was legitimate defense, they had brought it upon themselves. Then why did you feel so empty, as if chaos followed you wherever you went?
As the column of flames lights up the night, you keep walking down the Devil’s Highway, leaving your beloved Blue Mustang behind. Pain had found you again, in the depths of the desert this time. There was only one thing to do: to keep walking, to the break of dawn. Perhaps the golden hues of the morning would bring a new beginning.