Universe W-2020: The Old Man’s Cabin 3
April 21st, 2020
A Square Of Paper
Sean explodes in a fit of coughing, reaching into the darkness to grab no one in particular.
His eyelids peel open, the azure skylight unblotted by the canopy brings him bravely awake. The trees are in full bloom, their leaves shining like emeralds, uncut and perfectly imperfect. For a moment his mind is blank. Then the confusion sets in, gripping him with the unfamiliar fear of being drugged and dragged into the forest. His shoes are muddy, his suit is dusty, he ran out of cigarettes two days ago, and…
“Wait, what?” Sean says aloud to himself, backtracking his train of thought. “If I ran out of cigs two days ago…” counting the days in his mind, “yet I am in the forest…” looking out to see the flora, “ah. I see.”
The memories slowly trickle through the filtration system in his brain. Sean sits on the bare forest floor Indian style, allowing his mind to process the visions. A wrecked car, a bumbling battered idiot, and attempting to question said idiot left him dazed and at a loss, sending him looking for answers elsewhere. And they were delivered too, by the hands of unexpected extraterrestrial shamanic intervention and intrusion into his office. Hymarc stands to find himself situated in a small clearing surrounded by a circle of rocks.
The stones portray various hues of purples and pinks embedded with crystalline patches of marbled quartz. A single path lies ahead of Sean, carved through the forest with a sharpened machete and leading directly towards a distant mountain, the peak of which blocks out the sun’s rays before the lowly canopy can even get the chance; he looks to his left – dense forest; he looks to his right – dense forest; he looks to his rear – sparse forest leading to a rock face. With a look of determination, Hymarc stands, dusts his suit off with a clean handkerchief that goes right back into his pocket, and proceeds down the path.
The walk brings Hymarc to something of a plateau before the path continues down the hillside into a lowly valley that reeks of swampland, even from all the way down there. He debates turning back but decides against it – if he was meant to go back, the trip would have bent the trail that way. And this is one hell of a trip… is it even a trip? It’s all so lucid, so vibrant and… real. What if… what if taking the drug had been the trip, what if Sean Hymarc had just woken up now, before he started down the walkpath? ‘God damnit,’ Hymarc thinks to himself, looking to the trail before him. ‘Get a hold of yourself, asshole.’
The further down the hillside he travels, the deeper Hymarc’s shoes sink – the air is warm, yet the ground, growing soggier by the step, is anything but. He reaches the base of the downslope before too long; here a river runs over banks of silt and clay. Sean listens closely and absorbs the tranquil white noise of the babbling brook; he doesn’t find himself in nature very often, so he has no problem taking a moment to properly appreciate it. When he’s satisfied, he tests the water with his pinky finger – frigid. Upon drying his finger with a different handkerchief than he used to dust off his shoulders, Hymarc realizes he’s being offered two options of crossing by the Dif
Zoral Tryptamine: unevenly shaped and spaced steppingstones, or a rotten-looking log.
Studying the situation carefully, Sean steps out onto the first steppingstone. It wobbles a bit then steadies between the waves; when he mounts the midstone, he scoffs as a gust of wind dislodges a widowmaker of a branch from a long-dead tree above. It plummets and decimates the log bridge, sending it down the river in fragments. ‘Brilliant Hymarc, your foresight knows no bounds. You cannot be stopped.’
On the other side of the rapids juts what a pygmy might describe as a waterfall, but short and more gradually sloped. The cascade’s long dried out now though, more of an odd hill than anything, and it rolls studded with boulders large enough to walk upon. As Sean takes step after step, the river below flows steadily.
It is atop the mound where Hymarc finds the altar. A large circle of purple and pink stones surrounds a sliver of a plateau atop the dry torrent, a deserted island, born from drought and stranded between two streams of air guided by the current of the rivers below. In the center of this ring is a structure carved from brilliant white quartz crystal, the altar, a rock ripped from the embrace of its mother and beaten and stabbed at until its true shape took form and its purpose was fulfilled, the purpose the carver chose for it, at least. Without the artist, the altar would be nothing more than an imperfect rock buried in the dirt, worthless. Pointless. It matters not though, for Sean has found it and witnessed the fulfillment of its purpose; as he approaches the altar, a curious energy overtakes Sean, an energy of uncertainty, an energy that was never really conjured and will never really dissipate, that will never be imbued into anything meaningful because nothing means anything to this energy and nothing ever has, and though Existence may mean something to some and everything to others,it will always mean nothing to someone, like a structure of belief, a carrier of subjective meaningfulness to one and objective meaninglessness to another.
Hymarc releases his frazzed ponytail only to retie it tighter. The aura dusts into the wind and he notices the altar is an off-white, not the pure white it seemed to be. But things are never really as good as they seem, are they?
Sat atop the altar are three offerings, and by the looks of them, they were offered recently. On the left, a pile of mushrooms; on the right, a square of paper perforated into four smaller squares; in the middle, a murky brew held in the petrified pinkish-white rind of an unknown fruit.
Suddenly, a rustling erupts from the other side of the mound, a monstrous bustle of bushes derooted and trees timbered to make way for something large, something with strength and shit to prove. Sean ducks down below the altar, removing a pen from his inside jacket pocket and clicking it into a revolver. Footsteps approach, heavy, as if they were weighed down by chains. The mound itself trembles along with Hymarc as the encroaching steps turn to grabs and the something large ascends the mound to meet him face-to-face.
Then, stillness, followed by a slurp that echoes into hard silence.
The instant the slurping stops, our wanderer stands, gun pointed at trees through the open air in front of him. The rind soup has been removed, leaving only the fungus and the ephemera to be chosen from. Sean, unsure of the trickery being played out around him by a mysterious drug originating in outer space, pens his gun and pockets his pen and takes a deep breath before lightly picking up the square of paper. He examines it – very clean, zero crystalline residue, and it doesn’t even smell, not a hint of olidity. Taking a deep breath, he places the tabs under his tongue and smiles at the familiar papery taste. Before he continues on, he glances down at the mushrooms and realizes they’re rotted, as if they were left out in the rain to decompose and be devoured by whatever lowly force of nature feasts upon rotten fungus.
Leaving the island upon which the altar sat, Sean proceeds to the next river. Again he is faced with a choice: jump to a sandbar in the middle of the river and then to the opposite bank, or cross a stone bridge that appears structurally unsound at best and an accidental stoppage at worst. He gingerly steps onto the bridge, but halfway across, it gives out and his shoes are filled with water. A maelstrom of self-deprecation follows.
After emptying his shoes and wringing his socks out, Hymarc follows the stone-lined path until it sinks into the terrain, once dry dirt now a full-blown marsh on its way to graduating into quagmire status. He can make out some semblance of where the path might go, but without viable trail markers, Hymarc’s wandering aimlessly at this point; at least he grips the druggy machete as he cuts further into this jungle of a trip.
See, because that’s the thing about Hymarc, he has a purpose. He acts on his own will, drives his own car. If he crashes, it will be because he spiked the wheel.
Leaping from steppingstone to steppingstone, Sean cautiously makes his way through the insect-infested swamp, the buzzing of the bugs nearly drowning out the quiet stillness of the bog.
At the end of the swamp, Sean comes to a small stream. His legs are tired and his lungs, hungry for smoke, almost persuade him to stop, but the tabs under his tongue convince him to keep going. With one final bound he clears the drip, landing with an entirely necessary roll on dry ground. His suit is dirtied, as it was meant to be. Before him rises a foothill, and behind it, the mountain. A bubble of positive self-esteem rises within in from the rainbow swathe filming over a vat of boiling acid.
Overcome with purpose, dopamine, and an increasingly intense lysergic acid diethylamide high, Sean Hymarc calmly proceeds up the foothill. The path is long and barren, what was once soaked Earth is now dust and pebbles. The further he climbs the larger the pebbles get, turning to rocks and then boulders that dwarf Hymarc himself. Sean has never climbed a mountain even once in his life, but he imagines his legs should be hurting as he approaches the top. ‘Must be the acid,’ he thinks to himself as he walks over an arrow-shaped rock. ‘With the chemical in my brain, I am truly unstoppable.’
Upon reaching the mountain’s peak, he comes to a pasture-like clearing with a cabin set back along the treeline. It is here that he shares an expectant glare with an old bald man sitting Indian style in the grass.
“I know not who you are, old man,” Hymarc calls out, firing the first shot before he’s fired upon. “But I know I must speak to you.”
“I‘ve been expecting you, Mister Hymarc. It seems like you arrived right on time, I just woke from my morning meditation. How is the lysergamide treating you?”
It is at this moment that Seans’s pupils dilate and he notices the sky transcend its physical form, clouds phasing away in revelation of complex and intricate geometric patterns that repeat into infinity. He says nothing, the expression on his face speaking volumes.
“Delightful!” proclaims the old man, turning towards the cabin. “Please, follow me. We must talk.”
Once inside, the old man leads Sean into a bedroom. Sean finds a chair and sits down, staring at the blank wall in front of him. The pattern in the wood seems to be much more intricate than it was at first glance, his eyes picking up more depth and detail than he ever could have imagined possible. The old man sits down on the bed on the other side of the room and smiles, taking out a pipe.
The old man speaks. “You asked who I was a moment ago, yet you called me by my name. I was once like you, living amongst the societized world, but I renounced that life long ago. I am known to many by many names, but for you today, Sean Hymarc, I am a being known by some as the old man on the mountain.”
Sean looks to the old man and smiles. “Seems about right. Who better to tell me who I am than an ancient man with no identity?” Sean sees the old man taking out some green herbs and shudders before the scent stabs his nostrils. “You don’t expect me to smoke that skunk plant, do you? I assume you have some tobacco to share.”
The old man chuckles. “Of course, good sir. The Cannabis is for me, I like to smoke it after venturing into my mind. I have some tobacco to share with you, but first, I must share something else.”
“Oh?” Sean says, the black holes that are his pupils locking on to the eyes of the old man. “What’s that?”
“The nature of your existence, my son.”
Sean pauses for a moment as the air stirs inside the wooden structure. The walls, once sharp and pristine, begin to blur as his mind takes off in a multitude of different directions. A feeling of intensification overtakes his senses. “I expected you to say that, but… but to hear it… it’s something else.”
A tired smile grows on the old man’s weathered face as he nods. “Of course you did, you’re Sean Hymarc. You’ve lived a life that could at one time be described as humble, spending your days living the life of a peasant as your parents attempted to do their best in a world dominated by addicts. You were the light of their life, their treasure, but you did not allow them to treat you as such; even on the day they passed, they knew they failed you. But since then, you’ve done nothing but hold yourself to a higher standard, to a standard measured only by yourself, despite the fact that the world continuously tries to drag that standard down. Unless, that is, your circumstances are securely under your own control.”
“Of course, when things aren’t in your control, you get very uncomfortable, you cannot allow yourself to be at ease unless you‘re sat upon the throne. You had to work hard to get there and you must continue to work to stay there, but this is nothing new for you. You were born from hard work, and it’s made you one of the wealthiest players in all of the luxurious New Manhattan, constantly standing in the gnawing eye of the public whilst keeping yourself entirely composed, as if you were their role model. Nay, because you are their role model. And your mind, your brain? It operates in a way that even I am taken aback by.”
Sean is not sure if the room is shaking because he himself is shaking, or because he’s willed up a quake to shatter the mountain for the things he’s being told in this cabin. The old man notices this and, trading his Cannabis pipe for a corncob pipe, begins to fill the chamber with freshly dried tobacco leaves.
“Despite the best efforts on part of the Universe, it’s all worked out swimmingly for you Sean, almost as if your life was a prophecy, scrawled in a book by a dour deity exiled from its home for thinking differently than the rest.”
The room stops shaking. Sean finds himself in a perfectly clear state of mind; everything looks as he knows it should. He steadily rises to his feet, staring into the eyes of this seemingly omniscient old man. He already has the words.
“Yes, a deity cast away by the ones who brought him into this world, and I am his revenge. That is what you’re going to say next, is it not? That this deity, scorned by the others and their inferior ways and beliefs, placed some sort of curse on the planet, and I am the result of that curse? That I and I alone am destined to take over first New Manhattan, and then the world at large, reigning in a new, structured and accountable way of life for all of humanity? That I shall crush whoever stands in my way into pitiful fragments, taking no prisoners and stopping at nothing to accomplish my goals as I see fit? That I am a god, no that I am the God?”
The old man on the mountain smiles through cracked lips and holds out the pipe, the bowl of which is packed to the brim. “I wasn’t going to say anything next, my child. Smoke Sean Hymarc, and rest here for a moment. The climb up must have been tough.”
Sean confidently takes hold of the pipe and the old man rises. The bed is lumpy but soft, as if it was daftly stuffed with leaves and grasses, Hymarc’s current state only amplifying the unevenness of the pad. The old man places a kiss on Sean’s forehead before taking his leave out the back door. As Hymarc finally satiates his starving lungs, his mind begins to wander, and he drifts off into slumber.
When he comes to, the moon is halfway across the sky.