The Path is Yours to Choose

Horsemen plod on in a beautiful illustration from Moebius.

Pictonaut challenge story for January 2013.

“The path is yours to choose…”

The phrase rolled around. Echo chamber mind. Open vistas of expansive space awaiting. Sound of a soothing voice deep and sonorous urging the mantra refrain.

“The path is yours to choose…”

Eyes open or shut? No certain knowing in this state. Out of body experience? Out of mind experience? He couldn’t tell. Sunstroke suffused senses. The haze and daze of the desert dusk. Weary. Tired. Twilight fugue.

As far as he could see it was sand. Grains of grey, green and blue. Ghostly. Otherworldly. Unusual but understandable. Weirdness happens. Weird is the way the world is. Weird is where we all inevitably end up.

The edge diminishes and slowly dies down. Calming to a point where the intense anxiety isn’t so acute. He felt a little better. There was no pain here. Fear falling away. Now just confused curiosity.

Easing. Eyes refocusing and awareness opening. Acclimatising to surreal visions spread ahead. An open almost-void reaching out to infinity. Unexplored and unknown. Where? How? Why? Then he began to remember and with remembering he realised that “what now?” was the right question.

The present, engulfed by that all-encompassing enigma.

“The path is yours to choose…” it echoed again and painted itself across everything as everything illuminated out of miasma mind.

Clarity was coming. Taking form. Forms took shape. Three of them shuffling away. Departing toward the desert. Bold against the backdrop. Dark outlines drifting over firmament as clouds wisped overhead.

Lords in a wasteland. Ever-majestic even as they shrunk the further away from him they moved. The horizon called them and they plodded on. A certain modest magnificence. In the middle of so much uncertainty and ambivalent feeling he sensed something so strong from the trio of shapes striding on into the great yonder.

Blinking away his doziness and devoting himself to concentration, he eyeballed them and sought to register their movements. Mental rooting. Empathetic understanding. Linking back to indelible past encounters.

Memories of moments long distant came to the fore. Fragments in time from what seemed like lifetimes ago. Ingrained amber ideas. Déjà vu flashes of familiarity and that repeated refrain. “The path is yours to choose…”

He saw himself as a younger man. Black neckerchief. Bags of looted plunder. Revolver on show, a shining  metal menace in the noonday sun. Boots caked with the blood of a bank teller. Throb in his foot from the kick he’d delivered to the protesting man’s face. All around faces fraught with fear. Pitiful pleading and prayers for mercy. A community caught off-guard and cowering in the face of violence.

Out of his depth but not on his own. Strength in numbers and in the possession of a six-shooter. The gang around gnashed their teeth and yelled out cautions. Cats among pigeons. A small town alarmed. Danger swept in with a desire to steal. He was danger but he wasn’t sure he wanted to be.

Scanning the scene and the swarming panicked population eyes alighted on an outstanding figure. His face calmer. Something benevolent and beautiful about him. An uncanny aura. Sublime. A spirit figure sizzling in hot rays radiating out of the midday sun.

Something supernatural about him. Alien in this environment, among these people. Mystery. And something is urging him to dismount. Overriding impulse. Unnerved. Hesitant steps across kicked-up sand as he finds himself compelled to confront this character.

Flanked by two quiet companions. Supportive shadows and he’s like a king holding court on a dusty splintered boardwalk. On the approach he’s overwhelmed by an energy. Some extraordinary charisma. Drawn like a moth to flame. Light dances in the stranger’s eyes.

Those eyes regard him and reach into his soul.

A surging streak through sinew. A shift deep down inside the guts. Wrenching. White flares felt within. Cracking ruts as a rivers of purity power through. What is this, this weirdness?

At a standstill before the figure. Luminous eyes glinting beneath the shadowy brim of his canyon mountain hat. Elemental. And all at once he drops to his knees before the enigma and starts to stutter.

Behind him there’s the loud bray of a startled horse. He’s shocked and reels around. People cower and flee at the sound of maniacal cackles and warning shots. Dark merciless hearts hidden behind grim, evil grins etched onto ugly, unshaven faces. All at once he’s haunted by his criminal deeds and the bad company he keeps.

Eyes down. The six-shooter in his fingers stings and he feebly drops it to the floor. In peripheral vision he notes the blood on his boot. Face scrunched in disgust. Spasms. He straightens, face up to the inexplicable man, unearthly and obscure.

“This…” he uttered weakly with a loose sad sweep of his wrist at the town around, “this… this ain’t me… I, don’t… I don’t wanna…”

Trying to convince someone or something but who and what of? Throat dry. He’s choked in the moment. Caught, but then comes the all-absorbing gaze. Light dancing in the mesmeric eyes. Enveloping everything. Then an ancient, assured voice follows. Penetrating pith. The world shrinks away. He’s internalised into a soul space and the refrain reverbs around the emptiness.

“The path is yours to choose…”

In reverie he remembers that the figure vanished. Profoundly affected, he’d felt immense loss and a terrifying uncertainty. He left the gang and travelled on. He chose other paths but wandered loose, wracked with demons and unease. Things weren’t right and he plodded on perturbed. A soul unable to find peace.

Flourishes of pain came in the present as past hurt raised its head as he watched the figure and his companions receding in the distance. Memories of misery and malaise. Years of yearning for something better or a lifting above his own loathsome disharmony. Weary. Eyes watering. History continued to cascade through his conscience.

That hadn’t been the only time he’d met the mystifying man in the mountain hat, ever-accompanied by his twin acolytes. Were they disciples? Was he a holy man? Was he a man at all?

He had no way of knowing but the refrain “The path is yours to choose…” accompanied the visions. In his psyche, he was an inextricable, un-erasable entity. Eternal. An all-powerful psychic phantom. Something shining in his soulstuff. Unforgettable yet unfathomable.

One time he’d encountered the figure outside a brothel in a dilapidated slum of a town. Whorehouse blues. Sleazy feelings. No pleasure in the pleasures of the flesh. No comfort in drink or music. Suffocated by cheap perfume, nasty spirits and the vile atmosphere he’d walked outside to breathe the clear night air. To be clean. He longed to be clean.

Shivers down his spine as he saw the trio across the main street. Astride three horses, they slowly cantered on by. Dignified wanderers. Clearly not sticking around. Just riding on through to who-knows-where. They keep moving. They’d kept moving through his mind in quiet, scared moments. Now the mantra passes through his thoughts again.

“The path is yours to choose…”

He’s back on the ground and out of his physical body once more. Hypnotised. Paralysed by the powerful presence of the peculiar gentleman who presents himself in dreams. Dazed distress drags him into imminent existence. Visions of something special. Possibly sacred. Something greater than the gutters and gravel he rolls in. Gritted teeth relax. Tensed skeleton slackens. He swallows hard and feels a dead weight drop. With a breath he feels beatific. Light dances in a man’s eyes and a shrunken universe opens up.

There was another time when he was dry and dying in a mesa. On the run from debts and personal disgraces but mostly on the run from himself. Collapsing in exhaustion he’d looked out to a butte across a valley. Miles away but yet still perceptible, the mountain-shaped hat and his cohorts came into sight. Across swathes of land he felt the familiar eerie essence. It was reaching out to his heart. That same song sounded. The same sentence sang.

“The path is yours to choose…”

Now, eyes opening he gazed out to the great man again. He and his fellow horsemen were leaving him for a fourth time. They’d never leave his thoughts though. Written into memory . Invisible ink blots pre-occupying his private thoughts. An irrational, esoteric connection that could not be cut.

Sweltering sands, rocky firmament and the haze of the horizon was eating them up. Could he catch them? Was there still time? There they went, out to the unknown beyond. Inviting. Freedom.

To follow the ghost who gripped his subconscious? To follow the mystical figure who surfaced sporadically, struck right through and seared his soul with those fiery eyes and soothing, repeated words?

“The path is yours to choose…”

Energy rising inside. Lifting and looking out to the open epic space. Infinite out there. A trio of strange shrinking figures slowly, surely travelling right on into it. Hoofprints hailing him. The holes in his soul yawning out eager pleas.

Movements in his mind as indecision came undone, knocked out by the revelatory vision of the wanderer. He breathed and embraced a truth, echoing out of time…

“The path is yours to choose…”

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