I: The Oasis
The only limit to desire is desire's needs. Grendel's Law
He paused, looking down the road. It stretched on into some form of infinity. As far as the human eye could tell, it ceased to exist at a certain point on the horizon. He had learned while drawing still life in art class that this was called the vanishing point. He liked to call it the point of the end of matter.
With little more than his acoustic on his back, he had little to go on. The empty calls of desert wolves had driven him to the brink of gentle insanity, but he had held on to some form of hope. He had brought himself here. Where he was coming from was no longer important. It was where he was going. But where exactly was that? He himself was unsure.
He had a name at one point, but having been away from home for so long, he had forgotten it long ago. He needed no identity. For all he cared, he was some sort of serial killer. He could still remember most things, like his age, height, weight, blood type
But the concept of family had deserted him in the twisting sands. This desert in which he stood was the only family he needed. He was still rather unsure of what state he was in, though he was fairly positive it was Nevada, New Mexico, or Arizona. He had been walking down this road for ages now; perhaps for the length of time itself as an existence. His mind, now degrading, was beginning to believe that the road was leading him to nowhere. This was the metaphysical Long Walk to Nowhere.
In a cloud, he could swear he saw an image in the distance behind him: some immovable object meeting an unstoppable force. The Thing meeting the Hulk. A Ford pickup meeting the cruel desert. He stood agape, somehow amazed at the work of human genius: the automobile. It had been days since he had seen one. Hell, it had been days since he had seen food or water. The endless span of sand had taken everything from him but his life. Somehow he was still alive.
The truck drew closer, and he could make out some features: it was red, with over inflated tires. What appeared to be a middle aged man wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap was at the wheel, focused solely on the road. But then the man's head turned toward the desert wanderer, and the truck slowed to a halt in the gravel. The man rolled down the window and stared into the boy's gray, cold eyes.
Whatcha doin' out here, boy?
The boy stood silent for a moment, studying the man. He could tell so much from a single glance. The blue eyes of the man watched him in silence, probably doing the same. The boy could see his reflection in the man's eyes: a boy wearing a gray shirt covered by an open black dress shirt. His legs were covered by a pair of dark jeans, but his feet were barely surviving with a pair of shredded black Converse. Around his neck he had a black bone ankh: the Egyptian symbol of life. His black hair fell loosely in his face in untamed bangs, covering his gray eyes. He had let it grow for ages now. The simple stud ear piercings shined in the desert sun, momentarily blinding the man.
My car broke down a long way ago. The boy lied. He couldn't be bothered to actually reveal what he was doing.
Well, I can't letcha die out here, eh? the man said, motioning for the boy to jump in the truck. Come on, I'll drive ya to the Oasis. They got phones.
The boy nodded graciously and jumped in the passenger seat. It smelled of cigar smoke and dirt and dog. He carefully placed his acoustic between the two and rested his hands on his lap. Eventually curiosity got the better of him and he asked.
What's the Oasis?
The man chewed his furry upper lip.
The Oasis? It's a motel up the road a while. Only place for a good fifty miles out here.
Only place? the boy asked. As in, only building?
Yup. The man replied. Ol' Midge's grandpappy built it out here when this desert was a thriving gold mine.
There was a whole town? the boy asked in monotone, staring out the window. He tried to imagine a town among the dunes, but his imagination did not span to that limit.
Yep. The man laughed.
What happened to it?
Well, accordin' to the history books, all sorts a' things went wrong. The gold dried up, the animals suddenly died, and the rainwellit never rained again.
Never rained again? the boy wondered. He stared up at the cloudless sky, thinking of how much evil the town had wrought upon itself. Sure, murder, extortion, gambling, lawlessness. Sin was its own demise. Commit it, pay the piper.
So, why were you headed out this way? the man asked.
The boy turned his head silently toward the man, cold eyes boring into his soul. He knew how it worked: this man had an agenda. So did he, technically, but what, he was rather unsure of. He was dragged out here by fate, perhaps. And maybe this middle-aged man was part of his fate. Had some higher being sent him here?
No, the boy thought, staring at the man.
This is life.
The Oasis Motel was falling apart at the seams. It was a hodunk two-story building in the middle of the desert. Here, the dry, cracked plateau stretching out in all directions looked even more dead, as if some darkness hung over it like a storm cloud. All in all, there were about eight rooms: four per floor, and one small room for the owner.
The boy checked in quickly, meeting Ol' Midge and signing in under the name Hank C. 'Bison' Gracer. It wasn't his real name. He had forgotten that long ago. He simply went by the name Hank Gracer, feeling it suited him. He paid up front in cash for about a week's stay, which honestly barely put a dent in his bulging wallet. For some odd reason, he had exorbitant amounts of money on his person. Where he obtained such currency, he felt, was unimportant. Spending it wisely, however, was the goal.
However, walking into his assigned room, #3, Hank knew immediately that his stay would not be pleasant. The room looked positively ransacked, as if a rhino driving a pickup truck in a tornado had hit it. The bed lay in shreds, with the pillow and sheets completely missing. But Hank smirked. He knew how this worked. It was the only lodge for fifty miles in any direction, so you get what you pay for: no competition. Oh, well, he thought, at least she feeds the tenants.
For the next three days, Hank wandered out into the desert to an old bit of stone sticking out of the ground. He sat on this rock and pondered why he was there. In contrast, it was rather unnecessary to think about such things. The utter meaningless in the world defied his rationale as desert creatures scurried under his feet.
He would always bring his guitar with him. It was the only real thing in the world that remained in his possession. What little he could scrounge from his brain came out in the musical medium. He bounced through the musical alphabet: A B C D E F G but he wanted to go further. What can one man do alone? He can die.
He sometimes wondered if his life had a purpose, but what came through was a resounding no. Where he had come from didn't matter. And now, seeing as he was stuck in this never-ending desert, he began to realize nothing would ever become of him. He would fade in this timeless land. Like some sort of meaningless insect on a windshield. The wipers have to come on in a rainstorm eventually.
But then, the meaning of the Oasis came to life one day. Hank had been out on his morning walk into the oblivion desert all around him when he saw the first sign of life since the man in the pickup: a small white sedan, zooming across the desert toward the Oasis like the singular sperm to impregnate the egg of conflict. And indeed, it seemed this was the birth of his purpose.
From behind a pillar at the Oasis, Hank watched in fascination as an older woman with a mix of blonde and gray hair and a puffing oxygen tank strapped to her back exited the vehicle and grabbed a few things from the trunk. Boring, he thought. Maybe this wasn't what he was waiting for.
But then she emerged. The woman's daughter, he supposed. She was a beauty: a girl about 17, with glowing locks of blonde hair sweeping out behind her in the desert air. She was dressed in a white Muse t-shirt and crisp blue jeans. Her figure was to die for, curving dangerously with her clothes, disappearing into a blur of beauty. But this, he thought, wasn't what he was hoping for. Pity, he thought, returning to his room that hot day.
The next day reached a burning temperature. As Hank went to leave to go sit on his rock, he passed by the open window of the new tenants' room. In it, he caught a glimpse of the older woman, panting and wheezing as she downed several pills. What a shame, he thought, such a sick mother of such a lovely daughter. Regardless of his pity, he continued into the desert.
As he approached the rock, he heard it: the ringing aria of the siren. It was the voice of an angel, singing some French operatic overture. His ears rang in joy, and he began to grow more and more curious. He walked closer, fascinated. A blurry figure began to form in the distance, with an obvious curve in its figure. As Hank drew closer, he could see that the lovely vocals were coming from the girl he had seen yesterday.
Ha approached quietly from behind, not wanting to disturb the lovely sound. He watched in utter fascination as the girl dipped and dived through difficult transitions, past tritones, and into perfect fifths. As she finished, slightly winded, he applauded lightly, surprising her. She spun quickly around to face the eavesdropper.
What are you doing out here?! she asked, embarrassed that he had heard her singing.
What are you doing on my stone? he wittily responded, sitting on it. The girl gave a scoff.
You're that other tenant. She said, sitting next to him, hands folded awkwardly.
I do have a name. He replied.
Fine. I'm Erika. You are
Hank. He said, looking her dead in her perfect blue eyes. Well, it's Hank now. Used to be something else a long time ago.
Okay, well Erika began, but stopped, looking down at the ground. Listen, don't tell anyone.
About what? Hank asked. Your singing? That's nothing to be ashamed of. You're astounding!
No, it's justI don't like attention.
Ah, I see. Hank stated, standing. You're one of those quiet ones you see in classrooms, who secretly knew all the answers at the beginning of the course. You're the genius, talented beauty who refuses to date. You're the misunderstood, neglected and bent out of shape with the world. It refuses to rotate with you, and you refuse to rotate with it. Am I right?
She stared at him awkwardly, absorbing the tirade into her mind. It rattled around for a while like beans in a maraca.
That'sbullsh*t. she laughed. What are you, a nutjob?
As nutty as people living in the desert are. Hank replied, getting down to eye level and staring blankly into her windows to the soul. I can see it in your eyes, Erika. Youhide something. I saw your mother. She's ill, isn't she?
By now, Erika was getting upset, and Hank could tell. This was the process of opening the soul: press and press until the tears flow, then go for the kill.
Yes, nowgo awa
No. These things won't leave with me. I saw the oxygen tank. She'sfrail. Easily broken. I'm sorry. These things are
I'm afraid of death. Erika suddenly blurted, trying to stop him.
Ah, an answer. Hank muttered as he thought for a moment. Well, fear is meant to be overcome. I'm not sure why I'm out here, but I assume if you overcome your fear
I don't want to be like you. Erika said bitterly, and then stood up, folding her arms indignantly. She walked away from the stone back toward the Oasis, now a dot on the horizon. Hank was left standing in an awkward pose, but somehow, he remained composed, and simply turned to watch his newfound goal leave.
So it's death you fear, he thought. Very well. I will have to cleanse you of this affliction. The malady claiming your soul shall be cured, and your heart will be freed. When someone has nothing left, they obey the safety in the word of a liar.
Looks like you'll be like me after all. He said aloud, knowing she could no longer hear him. It was a simple narration left to echo through the desert. This was the testament of Bison the Redeemer, spreading the gospel of a fallen angel.
In the gentle whispers of the night, a thief could easily ravage an innocent home, raping the status quo of the family ideal. Now, some senators believe this phantom of the cold night air to be homosexuality, but in this particular stance, it was a young man unsure of much of his past, but oh-so-sure of his duty: to remove the ties to routine. In order to free the sweet maiden from her shackles of morality and hope, he must destroy the last rope binding her to innocence: a woman, lying helpless on a squished, stained mattress, caught in the tendrils of sweet slumber.
What this woman had been plagued with eluded his foresight; it was a disease he dared not to question. If such demons of fate were to leave him the opportunity to gather the Hopeless, then so be it. The surly bonds of human motivation were to be investigated in this context. Would this be the proper catalyst to set the reaction in motion?
He was able to nudge the bathroom window open from the back of the room and slip in unnoticed. Sure, it was 2 AM, but who knows who's watching? The cold air of the desert was left behind as he slinked into the main room, where two beds lay side by side. On one lay dear Erika, the puppet being chained down by the soul in the next bed: her sickly mother, sleeping soundly.
Becoming the merciful angel, he gently turned the nozzle on her oxygen tank lying at her feet. The little bit flowing would not give her long. Hank slipped silently back to the bathroom. By morning, a different angel will have consulted with her. Sometimes souls need some assistance. By destroying one life, he would help to bring another to existence. All it took was the turning of a nozzle. The vile sickness in her lungs was now slowly creeping in on her heart. Smothered by your own bodily fluids. How does one cope?
They do not. They die.
Hank slept like a child on Nyquil. The delicious alcohol content in his heart was the knowledge of a job well done. Death on one part would give birth to a new one. In the end, it balances, and karma has no leverage. The unborn child was now implanted in the womb of opportunity. All a matter of time.
By the time he woke up, a single police car had arrived. It's flashing lights bounced eerily off the windows of the Oasis, momentarily blinding Hank. He walked wearily down the walkway toward Erika's room, knowing there was at least one cop in there. But where was the creature he desired? There could be only one place
As he walked out into the desert, he smiled. This would be the simple art of lying: a skill he had picked up from his days in a corrupt villa. The damned had taught him well.
She was crying. He approached carefully, walking up from the side and sitting beside her on the rock. After a long while, he placed an arm around her shoulder and drew her into his shoulder, where she cried deeply for several minutes. As she calmed, he knew now was the time to speak.
We all die eventually. He said simply.
I realize that. she replied sadly. But I just never thoughtI never thought it'd be this soon.
No one sees it coming. Hell, I could have a heart attack right now.
I suppose so.
You said you feared death. Hank stated, staring into the desert.
Well, what about now?
no. Now that I-I've seen it firsthand
It's a lot less frightening. Hank finished. Don't you see? That's what I needed you to know. I know we've only met, butdon't you feel it?
I think so. Erika replied blankly. That understanding. Is it just coincidence that we should meet in some hinky backwater motel? That my mother should die? That
That you have the voice of an angel? Hank asked.
And you, the guitar capability. She finished.
I think this was meant to make beautiful music. Hank said.
And maybe some dark memories.
Whatever comes first. Hank sighed.
Who are we?
What about the other instruments?
We'll find them. Even in a place like this. Fate brought us here, why can't it carry us elsewhere?
Here was that lie. It was not Fate. He had manipulated Fate to his own accord. It was he who ran the show; pulled the strings. Erika was the first puppet, but who would be the next? Well, he assumed, they'd run into someone eventually; another lost soul in need of redemption and manipulation. These little events in time were only under his control. The God that had defied him long ago in a town he could not remember had gone. He was in total control.
The God of his own Purgatory.