(continued from yesterday’s post.)
I can no longer remember her face.
Her echoes haunt his sleep, but she will not visit. She cannot. The All has seen to that. She is gone, and little but the work remains. He is Orpheus, without his Eurydice. He is Atlas, doomed to hold the heavens upon his shoulders – perhaps for an eternity – all in hopes of garnering a single glimpse of her. Nightly he begs to die, and many nights he has tried. It has become a game. Hunter had flown on the backs of dragons through a New York City night, daring the paparazzi to snap his image. On one such night he swooped to the top of the Chrysler Building, released his black-winged steed, and with eyes closed, leapt to his death. He has died often – twenty times, perhaps thirty. His death is never permanent. His remains splattered a Manhattan midnight street, with residue from his shattered skull showering the horrified onlookers. Then, the next morn, he awoke, as if from a dream, while the New York City police worked futilely to identify what little remained of his previous body. Perhaps, one day, the All will tire of awakening him.
With each death, he relinquished more of himself. With each rebirth, he grew more bitter. He is no longer a man and less than a god. He is only The Hunter. His mission is to seek the wretched and free them from their torment. At the start, when she was alive, they did so with love, using the light. Now alone, he embraces only the shadows cast from the light to which he has turned his back. He no longer searches for the wretched. Instead, he finds the dark ones that torment them. He is not messiah but avenging angel. In the past, he found the weak, protected them, and set them free. That was before he realized it was easier just to kill the bad guys.
The meek shall inherit the Earth. Everyone else is shit out of luck.
Once, as a boy, he feared the dark ones. Now they fear him. He feels nothing for them, least of all pity. He was a good man once, pure of heart, and loving. His children have taken his place as protectors of the weak. He is husband and father no more, but there is enough left of his former self that the incessant hunting has become too much to bear. And so, he has traveled here, to this place, to beg his release, or claim hers.
He exhaled, lifted his bowed head, placed a hand against his trembling knee, and rose. He lifted his head once more, eyes closed, challenging the desert sun, and started again up the hill. The climb seemed endless. By the third sun, he had lost track of the days. By the fourth moon, his blistered soles no longer pained him. Still he climbed, with no further complaint.
At the dawn of the fifth morn, Hunter stumbled, feeble from the climb and lack of food, onto a patch of hard, green earth. He had with him a week’s supply of water, a bedroll for the frigid nights, and nothing more. He lay in the sand for a time, panting from exhaustion. From some distant fire, the first scent of meat he encountered in a week took him. Meat meant strength, and strength meant survival. It was a simple equation, one he had calculated numerous times. He stood, the smell of the food whetting his hunger. To his left, he heard the gurgling of a stream that would quench his thirst. He staggered to the damp bank, sliding his face in the river’s sweet water. He disrobed there, slipped his spent body in its flow, and allowed himself to heal from the climb.
The food would be nearby; the All provided what was required, but never what was wanted. What he wanted was her. She was the reason for his climb, the unwavering source of his quest. He would find her and bring her back, even if it meant ascending to heaven itself and tearing her from its bosom. He had always done the work. He spent his childhood at the All’s beckoning, but this quest, this new emprise, was his and his alone. The All had claimed his love, and he meant to have her back. If he must kill his god to have her, then kill him he would.
Cruel are gods and bitter their game. But if they want me to play, let’s begin.
He traveled – uninvited – across the painted sands of the Heaven Plane, to challenge the All. It was tantamount to tearing at the very cloak of God, except rumors taught that God was a forgiving god. The All were more than gods and forgave only themselves.
God is an apprentice, working at the feet of insane masters.
Hunter climbed from the river, his long curls dripping tears that streamed through his eyes. He raised his face to encroaching storm clouds, and allowed his voice to rise above the angry din of gathering thunder. “I have always done the work! But you were wrong about me. I’ve never been an angel.” He stopped, feeling foolish at raging, nude, against the sky, and pulled on the blue robes left for him. Garbed, his sun-bleached hair covered by sacred blue cloth, he appeared more desert nomad than warrior. “You ask too much. You expect everything, and you leave me with nothing. I can’t do this work alone.”
As he sank to his knees in the multi-hued glass, sound rose, clarion above the storm’s fury. It was a chorus whose words he had known for years. It took the winds, with voices hundreds strong, thousands wide, saying, “We expect nothing but your All.”
“And my All is enough,” Hunter sang, finishing the refrain.
“No time for tears,” sang the chorus, “there is yet the work.”
“And for how long?”
“Until it is done.”
“It is never done,” he said. “There is always one more death, one more soul to free. Find another angel and set me free.”
His answer was only dust and whispers of the diminishing winds. The chorus faded, the clouds ceased their churning and fell to still silence. Hunter sank to his knees and began to weep.
“I liked it better when you were yelling at the clouds naked.”
The voice was familiar – his heart leapt, and he almost dared not look. From behind, he heard soft footsteps approaching. They stopped, and there was the gentle crunching of glass as she sank to her knees behind him. Her arms wrapped around him taking with him his breath, his torment, his sorrow.
“They let me go,” she said.
(to be concluded tomorrow:)