It was a dreary Saturday. Of course, everyday had become a bit dreary for me these days. Stuck in the mundane, a spectacular waste of braincells and potential. Wasted away and living the life of a settler. That's what I call them, the people who build their life on repetition and consistency. The kind who work at the same job for 50 years, thinking that their hard work and servitude ACTUALLY means something to the rich pricks who own the company. The kind of people that live their entire lives with the goal of getting married to their high school sweetheart, having kids, and remaining stuck in the same exact cycle since they were 16. Those were the settlers.
Now to clarify, there's nothing WRONG with these types of people. They served their purpose like the rest of us. They were the ones who kept the world turning, while the dreamers focused on expanding it.
I had divided the world up into two classes of people, settlers, whom I just mentioned, and dreamers. Dreamers were the people who were told the things they saw were impossible and chased them anyways. They were the creative sort, the kind that were always toeing the line between genius and insanity. To sum it up in a clever elucidation:
"Settlers would swear to everything they hold dear that a fish could never touch the moon. Dreamers would tell you that fish touches the moons reflection on a nightly basis."
Perception is often one's reality, but rarely is it truth.
I was dreamer, but I was the worst kind of dreamer. The tortured kind. The kind of dreamer who saw the magnificence of what he could accomplish and pissed it all away on a lifetime spent chasing hedonistic pleasures. Woman that he could never hope would love him, drugs that served as a temporary escape from the mundane reality of his self -inflicted prison, and a false persona he wore so that no one could see how wounded his tender heart had become in the presence of his many insecurities. Dreamers lived in the clouds. I had fallen off mine.
I sat in my old, faded, leather recliner and reflected on my many missed opportunities and misdeeds. I had spent many a night gazing out my front picture window, reminiscing as the plague-like cold of the New England winter spread across the landscape. Once blooming trees, adorned with a plethora of leaves, bursting with fruit, and later, in the fall, color, now stood barren with the leaves it once pridefully boasted, lying dead beneath it, and rotting into the ground. It amused me, how much alike to those trees I was. Where they had fruit and leaves, I had ideas and dreams. We both had an abundance of life and opportunity growing from our very existence, and yet here we both were, with all of that hope lying dead on the ground, rotting in the cold, bitter air. I gulped down my third glass of bourbon from my rocks glass. That was the last thought I remember having before I laid my head back and nodded off.
I awoke a short time later, only to find that I was no longer in my recliner. For that matter, I wasn't even in my house. As I looked around to determine my surroundings, I realized that I could see nothing through the thick, swirling fog that had descended upon me. As I wandered around in a futile attempt to get my bearings, the crack of a giant lightening bolt cascading down from the sky, both drew my attention, and illuminated the ground around me. I saw a narrow path running through a forest of sickly-looking trees, that appeared to have just sprung up around me. The path seemed to run in a straight line towards a towering mountain that was looming in the distance. It seemed clear which direction I was meant to go in, so, like so many other times throughout my life, I put one foot in front of the other, and marched towards an uncertain future.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I had reached the base of the mountain. I know that people use the term "in the blink of an eye" loosely, in a metaphorical sense to highlight the passing of time in hindsight, but this was different. This felt like "the blink of an eye" in a literal sense. I had no conscious thought of walking all the way through that path. I know that I must've, to have arrived here, now, but it seemed I was afflicted by acute-onset amnesia. I could not remember even a single step past my first, and the harder I tried, the cloudier my brain got. Lightening flashed again, and that's when I saw it. halfway up the mountain was a cave, illuminated from within by a soft, glowing light. As I gazed up at it, weighing my options, another thunderous bolt of lightening crashed down beside me, bringing with it a torrent of rain. I sprinted up the mountain pass, and into the cave in order to escape the freezing, pelting droplets.
As soon as I entered the cave, the rain and thunder picked up to a hurricane-like level of intensity. As I backed away from the entrance, a large stone door abruptly crashed down, entombing me within. I studied my new environment, but it didn't take a great deal of detective work to determine my next course of action. There was but one direction in which to go, towards the back of the cave, where a torch-lit winding staircase carved into the stone, lie. I made my way to it and descended down into the abyss.
When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I found myself in a rather large chamber. In the middle of the floor was what looked to be a large compass that was engraved into the floor. Looming in front of it was a giant, maze-like labyrinth that jutted up from the stone floor, and wound itself in multiple directions, with no end in sight. I'm not sure exactly what it was that was compelling me, but I found myself wandering directly into the center of the compass-carving. I noticed that there were strange symbols carved in places where directions normally were. I didn't have much time to study these strange carvings however, as I found myself standing on a pressure trigger that was hidden in the center of the carving. I heard an audible click as my body weight pushed a small stone block downward. The whole center section of the compass slowly turned. The sound of the old stone grinding together echoed through the chamber. I found myself slowly spinning, finally stopping, facing a full 180 degrees to where I first stood.
Directly in front of me, a secret doorway opened. A stone rectangle appeared in the floor, emitting a strange red light. To my surprise, out of the doorway a shadowy figure emerged. His clothes were tattered, and his leathery skin, what hadn't fallen off at least, was scarred. He looked up at me, with eyes that were sunk into the socket, but not human. Instead of eyes looking back at me, it was fire. Like a deer in the headlights, I couldn't look away. A strange feeling washed over me. I found myself spiraling in my thoughts back to every fight I had ever been in. Every thought I had ever had about inflicting harm on another person. Every moment of impulsive violence I had ever had. All of the rage from those moments had suddenly boiled up inside of me, begging for a release. I knew who this figure was before he even had a chance to speak.
"I am your anger" he said, in a deep gravely voice.
Before I had a chance to so much as sort my thoughts, or fathom what was happening, the center began to spin again, this time slightly to the left. Another in-ground passageway opened in front of me. This time the underground chamber emitted a soft, golden glow. A child, who looked just like me at young age, emerged.
"Hello young man," I said with a smile.
He looked up at me with soft blue eyes full of amazement and wonder and responded:
His ocean-blue eyes drew me in. I suddenly found myself back in my childhood. The smell of my grandmother’s banana bread wafted through my olfactory glands. I was suddenly brought back to how I felt in that moment, like the world, and everything in it, was full of limitless possibilities, and I could have anything I wanted. I had but only to reach out and grab it. That feeling left, almost as soon as it entered my body, and I found myself kneeling, looking up at the boy.
"I am your hope," he said, in a soft, reassuring voice.
My brain began spinning, trying to put the pieces of this mind-bending puzzle into place, but once again, I had no time to organize my thoughts. The platform swung to the next door. This one emitting a bright, pink light. A man walked out, clean shaven, and wearing a tuxedo. I recognized myself immediately, the version of myself from my wedding day. I suddenly caught a whiff of her perfume; it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I had only ever loved three women in my lifetime, only two of which I still carry a torch for. Samantha, my first love, the one I married far too young, and Christin, the one who kept me going after Sam had moved on. The perfume was Christin’s. It nearly made my heart beat out of my chest. As the figure moved closer, it was clear to me that his aura was far bigger than any of the others.
" I am your love," he said, in a gentle reassuring voice.
This made sense to me, as it had occurred to me on many occasions, that there was quite a lot of love trapped within my heart. Some had been misused, some given willingly to people and causes which had never been returned, and some had turned to bitterness, which had then faded to cold indifference.
The platform turned again, another door, this time with grey, billowing smoke. A man dressed in military fatigues marched out. He was an exact representation of myself in uniform back when I had joined the United States Army. He marched in military fashion, with his arms straight, and his thumbs tucked, forming a straight line with the seams on his trousers. He stopped in front of me and saluted me with his right hand.
"I am your courage," he bellowed, loudly and proudly.
I saluted him back, as the platform once again spun towards the entrance of the next arrival. The door slowly dropped inward, and out strutted a man who was clearly a reflection of me in my prime. He sported a perfectly groomed line-beard, wavy, gelled hair (which I no longer had any of) on the top of his head, and a nice button-down shirt. His physique was one I had not had for at least 15 years, and he was adorned with diamond earrings, and silver chain around his neck. He strolled up in front of me and looked me over, as if unimpressed.
"I am your arrogance," he said, as if disinterested, after scoffing at my appearance.
I had little time to address my distaste for this character, as the platform slowly rotated to the next the door. The light was blue, and the temperature in the cave had suddenly turned undeniably cold. A figure emerged, staggering out of the entrance holding a whiskey bottle. A barstool appeared behind him, and without saying a word, he just sat down, and continued drinking.
"Uh, excuse me...who are you?" I asked him, after waiting a few moments for him to introduce himself, the way the rest had.
He responded without ever even turning around to look at me, in the most depressing, defeated tone I have ever heard.
"Well, not that anyone really cares, but I am your Sadness."
I had begun to connect the dots on what was happening. I just couldn't quite fathom the why. Before I had time for further contemplation, the platform turned once again, to the last remaining doorway. This time soft, white smoke, and a blinding white light emerged from the entrance. The final figure walked slowly, but purposely out of the doorway and towards me. He was older, and wrinkled, sporting a rather long beard that had turned silver. His face was unmistakably my own, but much older. He sort of reminded me of a cross between myself, and "Albus Dumbledore" from the "Harry Potter" films. He looked me over for a moment, before speaking gently, but firmly, and with confidence.
“I am your wisdom.”
I looked around at the various figures that had now surrounded me in awe. I had begun to understand the nature of their existence.
"So, you are all representations of various parts of me then?" I asked them.
"Yes, We are a collection of your pieces. We have gathered here today to help you seek what you long to find. You will find it at the center of this maze."
He motioned towards the giant stone maze that lie ahead of us in the distance. Arrogance began to walk off towards the puzzle. He motioned for me to follow.
"Come on man, we don't need these other clowns. We can do this ourselves, just like we've done everything our whole lives," he said, his voice dripping with contempt for the rest of the figures around us.
Anger stepped forward, menacingly.
"No way man." he said to me. "You don't need him," he hissed, pointing at Arrogance. "Me and you, we can take out all of these weaker parts. Feel how powerful I am. With me by your side, nothing will be able to stand in our way."
Courage stepped forward and scoffed.
“Good luck making it through there without me.”
As I stood there watching the versions of myself argue with one another, I felt a hand grab mine. I looked down, and Hope was standing next to me.
"You will make it through this you know," he said, reassuringly.
A loud drunken cackling cut through the brief, tender moment I was having with Hope. It came from Sadness, who was still guzzling whiskey from the stool. He swiveled around to face me.
"What's the fucking point? You won't live to see this through, and even if you do, no one's gonna care. It's not like your life is going to improve even one FUCKING iota." he slurred, loudly, making hand gestures.
His words certainly got to me. I could not hide the creeping sensation of doubt that was now making its way through my heart, and into my mind. The strong, gentle aura of Love pulled me out of the chilling despair.
"You deserve this. This is how you show them," he said.
"Show who what?" I asked him.
With a sly smile he responded:
“Show the world who you really are. Who you have always been. Let them see you through me. We can do this together.”
I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. I didn't know which one of them to listen to. They all made good points, points that resonated deeply with in me. It was Wisdom who helped me put it all together. I, and all of the others watched as he slowly strode into the center of the compass. He gave each one of us a deep look and stroked his beard as he became lost in thought. He took a deep breath and delivered his verdict.
"We are all but reflections of you. Before us lies a maze, a tangle of decisions and events that you must navigate your way through. At the center of the maze, should you make it, you will find the ultimate prize."
"And what exactly is that prize?" I asked.
He smiled knowingly and answered:
I took this in and thought it over.
"But how do I know which parts of me to trust? How I can I be sure that the one I choose will lead me to the center?" I asked.
"How does a bird know it can fly, without first jumping from the tree?" he asked, answering my question with one of his own.
I thought it over and gazed at the large looming maze sprawled out in front of me. The rest of the characters around stood silently, waiting for me to make my decision. I looked at Wisdom, hoping for one last piece of guidance.
"Is there nothing more you can tell me?" I asked.
He slowly stroked his silver beard before he answered.
"We are not here on accident. I would say that our presence suggests that we all serve a purpose on this journey. You will need us all to complete the tasks necessary to find yourself. Each of us has our place in this puzzle. It is up to you to decide when and where you choose to use us. In the end, that is what will determine your lonely failure, or your gratifying success. You already possess all the answers that you need, you need only ask the right question, at the precise moment, and the path forward will become clear."
There was no doubt that he was right. All of these characters, Anger, Sadness, Love, Hope, Wisdom, Courage, and even Arrogance, had a place on this journey. They were all tools designed for a specific purpose, or moment on one's journey through life. The trick was to not rely too heavily on just one, and choose carefully how, and when, I put them to use. I took Wisdom's advice and lined all of the characters up behind me (much to the chagrin of Anger, Arrogance, and Sadness, who had to leave his barstool,) to keep them close by for when they were needed.
With a deep breath, and the words of Wisdom still ringing in my ear, I took my first step into the mysterious, internal maze of my soul, hoping that at the end of it all, I would finally find myself.
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Eric, I hope it's not too late to comment. I like this soul searching story and the beginning cynism of the dreamer/narrator. I was thinking a scene showing an interaction between the narrator and a settler would enhance the definition. The image of a fish touching the reflection of the moon was beautiful and I loved the journey into the cave. I thought a brief flashback of each of the characters in his life (anger, love, courage,...) could really enhance the narrator and provide insight into his life. What do you think?
Craig I think this would be a wonderful to provide depth to the story and give it a bit more substance. Thank you for the suggestion!
This story reminds me of something I heard a while back about how too much self reflection can become something you are trapped in. I read it a few days ago and it keeps coming back to me. Great job!
Emily thank you so much for reading. Im glad it could connect you to something else, and make you think. Thank you for sharing that experience with me. Cheers
Quite a metaphysical journey. Wonderful language. I do like him, as a dreamer, “falling off his cloud.”
Thanks Brenda! And thank you for the read!