In Pursuit of Destiny
A wretched Figure, in his middle years, marking time in the shadows of a vast Cathedral, turned and looked about him, as the streaming crowd brushed past, oblivious to the skepticism mirrored on his face. But even as he stepped aside to grant them leeway in their careless haste, he turned within himself in a silent prayer that voiced his skepticism rather than his holy fervor. "Oh vain pretenders to a Supreme Power that pays no heed to the pleas of this wretched life, but burdens it with needless strife and needless sorrows."
Viewing thus the mortal scene, Scorto pondered with heavy heart the decision to stay his hand or pursue the suicidal deed. But even as he stalled for time, his cold resolve nudged him ever closer to the Gulf, where Life and Death contested for the suicidal fires burning in his breast; the One to quench the flame with a wistful breath, the Other to sustain it with a noxious gust. But each contested with equal strength and sentiment, embellished with sugar-coated promises that seem the more sardonic as the sugar flaked away. "Your tears," sighed Death, "are mine alone to dry-dry them as the seas are dried beneath the blistering sun, and its bed converted to a bleak terrain as desolate as my own domain. Your defects and diseases unyielding to the power of Prayer or the surgeon's skill, in me alone will find relief, like as relief that comes to a drought-stricken region when a fiery brand ignites the brittle grasses and the gathering winds suck up the heat and feed the flames and speeds them on, till Nature, burnt and blackened, lays prostrate on her smouldering bier and no sound of beast or song of birds disturbs the air and all is silent and desolate, such as the utter desolation where me and mine forever dwell and deem it most inviting as a Haven from your earthly hell."
But even as these fearsome promises found their way into Scorto's anxious mind, in cold indifference to the fearful threats, he dispatched this answer to the pleas of Death:
"Your doomsday promises are most exciting to my ear in that they carry the conviction that what lies beyond this wretched life is the Oblivion I most desire. And if such obliteration of my Being is your promise, better you should sooner and not later, cut the cord that binds me to this earthly life. For in my view, human wretchedness far outstrips its pleasures both in duration and in its mass application."
But even as Scorto sighed in proud satisfaction of his sophistry, he felt a tug, which though gentle in its force, seemed rooted to the umbilicus of Earth, and the vast assemblage of Life. And while pondering its intent, a pensive voice called his name-"Scorto," and again, "Scorto." But seems now the beckoning was less a voice than the murmuring of the south winds caressing the sun-swept fields with newly-minted breezes, or the whispering of a maple whose brittle leaves danced in cadence to Autumn's divergent winds, or the melodic hiss of a Springtime shower sprinkling kisses on the sprigs and flowers. He paused, standing in doubt of this ill-timed assault upon his fractious mood. But even so, the nearer drew the voice, the more inviting its refrain. Restraining the turmoil that ruled his humor, he wistfully listened to its liquid tones which echoed the rippling waters of a mountain stream winding its way through a virgin forest. And more he heard as song birds and crickets minced the air with sumptuous melodies and clicking castanets. Then, drawing nearest to his ear, the voice again addressed him.
"Scorto, your visit here is brief, brief as the flick of a match that sputters, flames, and dies, even before the cigarette is torched. And what beyond me is your destiny, if destiny there is, is hardly mine to divine, though I dare suspect that when your flesh and bones are spaded neath my grassy bosom, another birth may yet render you immortal. But here on these scenic fields, where my regime holds sway, the tears you shed are shed in vain, and the shames you suffer are never lost but wear like broken blisters that burn and heal but leaves the scar that mars your name. And your pangs and sorrows will ever well-up like a silent spring whose waters run like a never-ending stream. But even so, your plight invites no sympathy of mine, for the relief you seek, in violation of the time table of your natural demise, will bear me the disgrace of an unwanted Mother, and you the stigma of a defective son. In all, your missteps and not my delinquency have brought you to the brink of this most ignoble of all solutions. Hence, all my skill and perseverance, fair and forceful, will stand to deter you from this wilful act."
Ending its solemn utterances, the voice heaved a sigh of relief and vindiction, then departed, trailing away like an echo resounding through valleys, fields, and forest. Scorto stood silent, his mind involved in the dilemma of the uninvited Dissenter. But soon as his sensibilities waged equal war with his dilemma, he broke his silence, not with words that flail the air, then fall limp upon a sterile tract, but with solemn murmurings that swore an unrelenting pursuit of the rumored Destiny.
Thus, even as the voice departed, leaving Scorto to his own devices, he raised his head and scanned the heavens, albeit doubtfully, and uttered an automated prayer, fed into his brain by holy-robed hypocrites. But scarce the invocation passed his lips, he sensed its futility and hear withdrew his suit, but his ignorance and stupidity prevailed, and thus, braving his own hypocrisy, he exhibited the goodness in his heart, loosed his tongue and dribbled honeyed words to Him whose favor he invoked.
"Oh Lord, to whom but you can I turn, to bail me from this dismal condition? In you have all my thoughts been centered, as my sole relief from this Earth's unjust burdens. All my sins and all my crimes are in your view and grieve for pardon, if ever sins and crimes are pardoned when repentant tears stain the sinner's heart. Who most deserves your favor than he who defends your love and extols your readiness to forgive? And who serves you best than he who displays the miracles that prove your omnipotence?"
Thus, like a con-man who pours on the con to delight the sucker whose purse he eyes, so Scorto poured it on sweet and humble, seeking to bend the Mighty One, but answer was none, for neither sign nor signal nor tug of pious thread nor still small voice was heard from heaven, hell or wherever. Nor did Scorto slacken his efforts, but grubbed along on Hope and Faith like a dumb beast grubbing for food on a sterile plot. And Time moved inexorably on, indifferent to the squandering of Scorto's prime, though erasing as it sped along, the hypocrisy that stained his mind. His false repentance thus repudiated, he probed the heavens anew and dispatched this plaintive plea to his unseen Host.
"Oh Father omnipotent and benign, is there no deed or act of mine that would serve to draw you from your secret sanctum for sign or signal of my destiny, if my due is overdue, in recompense for Hope and Faith and ceaseless Prayer, the thieves of all my waking hours that first my days and then my years devoured? Of what worth is it to pursue this life, so over-brimming with tears and sorrows, and forever to be begging the relief of the elusive, if at the close of this life's fixed term all is cast aside like a shattered atom into the infinite wastes of space and matter, with nary a stitch preserved or surviving in contemplation of a destiny beyond this state of mortal serfdom?"
He ceased his bitter entreaty, exhaling a heavy breath that lingered in the air like a disembodied spirit reluctant to return to the turmoil raging in his breast. But answer was none, and time moved on, shattering minutes by the hour, and exacting new conditions from his ever-dwindling resources. But he yielded to neither Time nor Trial, for Time he knew was not the price, nor Trial the measure of the stakes he sought. Diverting his thoughts from the long fix upon the interminable heavens, he cast about for a lofty clime upon which to hang the idle engines of his mind, but in its stead, he roused a sleeping viper whose sting dispersed a fiery fluid which burned him with frustration's ire and re-ignited Suspicion's smouldering fires, and forthwith Faith withdrew her sceptre from its honored heights, while Hope dissolved her lustre in the gloom of night in a vain attempt to elude Suspicion's spotlight.
Floundering like a rudderless ship, impoverished Scorto communed his plight to the shadowy centers of the vaunted Psyche:
"I've probed the heavens from verge to verge, bared my shame and made repentance the ledger of my sins. With Hope dissolved, and Faith deflowered, and with the test of Prayer's power past its right of trial, what lead or sage advice is yours to give, if as is rumored among the Learned, yours is the source of unimagined power and untapped beyond a bare ten percentum?"
A long silence followed Scorto's pitiful appeal. Then, of a sudden, a rattling sound grated his internal senses, followed by a low agonizing moan and a stench that reeked of syphilitic decay. Then, a voice, crackling with age, and vying to be heard above the rattling chains, spoke its melancholy piece:
"Beloved Wretch! Your aspiration exceeds the limits of my power to deliver, notwithstanding rumors to the contrary. And though all your efforts were strained to the maximum of their breadth and range, your explorations of my vaunted domain will yield you not a vein of wisdom, heretofore untapped, but a harvest of Deluders and Perjurers and worse, a nest of fiendish Malefactors of such ferocity and tenacity that even now I writhe in the slavery of their despotic rule. My sage advice to you, beloved wretch, is to restrain your aspirations and venture not too near these viperous reprobates. I long have sought to rid me of their reign, that in my ripening state a fair inheritance would be yours to gain. But these vile usurpers remain entrenched, dooming me to a life in chains and you to the deadly pollution draining from my veins."
Ceasing its disconsolate babbling, with a sigh that echoed through its cellular chambers like the castanetics of a deadly rattler, it slowly withdrew to its murky quarters, bowed by the disorders afflicting Scorto.
Scorto stood mute, delaying his response when no ready thought could express his mingled pity and his will to condemn. Then, flexing his sinews, he took a swipe at the tyrant of rule and ruin.
"Liar, braggart, deluder! At your behest I've shorn me of my mortal pleasures, driven back the forces of Comfort and Ambition, stifled all my cravings at the price of near sterility, and groveled in the muck of Prayer; and now like a sniveling mountebank, you confess your fraud and add the threat of dire consequences if I dare adventure beyond the fringes of your bankrupt realm. I've staked all my waking days, and assembled all my available powers to track and vindicate the wherefore of my Being, which Being makes no sense in the absence of a destiny beyond this mortal stint or bears no memory of me and mine when wearily my flesh and bones are shed. Not all your threats nor all your sanctimonious tears will endure against my will to probe your uttermost chambers in search of some bare hint of my rumored destiny. And since in life I choose to emulate my death, what threat is left that could inflict graver trial?"
He said no more, but boldly thrust himself within the Psyche's lair. "Here," he mused, "in this vast complexity of wits and instincts Creation surely must have cached the seeds of profoundest Truth, and, here, too, in this maze of unexplored chambers, a means of communication to His high office is most probable, in justice to mortality's needs and grievances; and here, too, in this"--but even as he grasped for words to add a final compliment to the Psyche's exalted rank, a baneful breed of ruthless Malefactors, Malice, Vilification, Envy, Bias and Contempt came hurtling out of their cellular nests, spewing their deadly virus with such vehemence as near discouraged Scorto from any further probings. And others, more subtle in their thrust, Greed, Ambition, Vice, Leisure and Pleasure, all masquerading as noble aspirations and avocations, gnawed and clawed at him like vultures tug-o-warring for his flesh.
Startled by the Psyche's corrupt and polluted state, he withdrew in horror, and deferred his project to a more propitious date. Regaining his composure in the passive atmosphere of Thoughtlessness, he turned and sought for counsel, but to whom could he refer himself for counseling when the Counselor was himself the author and begetter of his disorders?
Thus dangling twixt two mistrustful sovereigns-the one mortal, the other Divine-and too weary and disheartened to confront their matchless strength, if not their matchless impotence, wretched Scorto shrugged his shoulders at the Thunders of heaven and earth, bowed his head like a luckless wretch, then with a sigh reminiscent of Life's final heave, fell into a deep comatic slumber.
Intuition at a given time, discovering Scorto where he lay supine, nestled nearest to his side and gently laid her head upon his breast, listened for a sign of life. Relieved to hear his heart still beat, albeit more faint than raindrops on a grassy mead, she sidled over to his ear and whispered in a crucial hint that settled in his dream with the tenacity of a leech.
"Scorto," she exhorted, "take this," thrusting an unsheathed dagger in his half-closed fist, as a prelude to her speech. "Take this," she repeated, "and spare no single solitary enemy-Sentiment, Desire or Idol-from its lethal edge." Here she stayed her tongue, withdrew with a heavy sigh, then disappeared like an abstract thought, in a jungle of troubled notions.
As when a Dreamer, his dreams to nightmares turn, wakes of a sudden, paralyzed with fright, but finds relief and breathes with ease soon as his awareness adjusts to the friendly surroundings, so Scorto awakened from his deep comatic sleep, as the cold steel touched his sweating palm, bolted upright, petrified by the stern exhortation, though confident that all was but the fabrication of a troubled Psyche, but stiffened, and his throat with dryness strictured when instinctively he forward thrust his arm to verify his empty palm but eyed the Blade loosely cradled in his quivering fist. Groaning in the agony of the hour, he took a painful reading of the Psyche's power and thus found reconciliation in the imminent slaughter that Intuition in her crucial hint had ordered.
But even as he scanned the Psyche, and gripped the Blade for the initial strike, a sense of utter isolation leaped into his Heart, and thus brooding, she gave vent to her despondency and dearth of nourishment.
"Lonely as I am, is there yet another niche even more stark than the loneliness that now is mine? Think you that my emotions are so cold and sterile that all I own and cherish could so easily be discarded, and I to still survive, as like a flame unfed by fire? Must you your Blade at random swing? Cannot you discern and slay the Vile and spare the Fair that to my filaments cling?"
Haunted by this heart-rending stint, Scorto thought to compromise the crucial hint. But even as his mind revolved about her fair suggestion, he honed the Blade that would dispart her from her deep affections. Yet even in his hardness was he troubled to respond to her lament.
"Lowly as you are, and with a more consuming loneliness in store, I cannot help but sympathize with your despair but if now I deviate from Intuition's sage advice, the price of my offense would count against the dwindling balance of my mortal life. Yet to dissipate my days hungering for all the nourishment you crave prompts me to moralize-
"What aim is there so high or so priceless of its worth that needs be purchased at such a cost? And who exacts the price?"
But even as he turned away, pondering on what next to say that would satisfy the Heart's dismay, a new Element surged up from the Psyche's profoundest depths that roused Scorto to invoke this plaintive plea to the vague promptings of Destiny:
"Oh to plant for but an hour a steadfast heel in some desolate soil, where no thirst is known that needs be quenched, nor ever the seeds of appetite sown."
With this, a sense of longing to escape the confines of his mortal frame gnawed assiduously at his brain, and another plea sighed up from the depths of the troubled Psyche.
"Oh to rid me of these incrustations of Desire, fair and foul, for but a little while, and to slip unfettered to some far off land where the crush of Discord is an alien burden and Anxiety an unknown entity."
He stood as one perplexed, for it seemed the will to kill and a wish for death were bound up in the grave request. With this he grasped his Blade, shot a parting glance at the world about him and turned upon the Psyche in a cold and calloused attitude.
Swift along its inner walls he moved, his flashing Blade held low and nearest to his side, to shield it from the Psyche's searching eye. The first to hove in sight was Envy, staggering neath the weight of her complaints. Startled at the sight of his flashing Blade, she sought to flee, but stumbled in her flight as Scorto came down swiftly with the strike, and splitting her where Nature split her thighs and sending her hurtling down a deep crevice, shrieking like it were her last.
Espying another, with inflated lungs, who spread her Malice with a flaming tongue, he by-passed the rest and took up the chase, pursuing her from place to place, in a zigzag race, ever so close that he felt her heat but never so near to employ his Blade. Breathless now, she slackened her pace, but Scorto, still fresh, came up with a rush and drove his Blade through the base of her spine just as she gained the edge of a cliff. Stiffened by the force of the deadly blow, she flipped headlong down its precipitous side, amid a flurry of shrieks and cries.
In rapid gait he retraced his steps back to the cellular nooks nesting the Psyche's baneful brood, his fervor mounting as he sped along. But even before he gained its approaches, a lewd quartet-Bigotry, Contempt, Vilification and Derision, came swarming out of their polluted nests with tongues aflame and claws distended, busy at work defaming and condemning whatsoever and whomsoever perambulated in the Psyche's harried household. Gaping in horror at their ruthless aggressions, he disposed of each in rapid succession, with a swipe of the Blade, and a well-placed boot and sent them headlong down a steep incline, where all as one gave a blood-curdling shriek which shook the Psyche from its base to its peak. And more he found in caverns and caves, while others took flight to escape his Blade. But all as one were marked for the slaughter, and one by one, Jealousy, Spite, Malevolence and Slander went down in order, denuding the Psyche of her rank disorders. But even as Scorto took delight in this slaughter, goaded by an urge to complete the purge, he eyed the Fairer with suspicion and fervor. But the more he eyed them, with his Blade at play, the more he sickened at the thought of their slaughter, for all looked on with tender expressions, firing his affection for the last, but most cherished, of his earthly possessions. But alas, Death conspired for her due and Scorto, in a brooding mood, primed a dirge in expectation of his own internment.
"Must I depart forsaking all I love and cherish? Must I eject the Fair as meanly as I've dispossessed the Foul? These few Fair crumbs that I've retained are but the grant of sovereign Earth and serve as but the barest of nourishment to justify my mortal worth. Is there no end to your harsh demands, no bending of your pitiless stand? But since the hour is late I will accede to your demand to reduce the Psyche to a desolate land. Yet, since this whirling Earth has served to nourish me from afore my prime-like as a selfless mother nourishing her child-I beg a short delay to inquire of her willingness to release me from her ties."
Thus, though haunted by a lust for life and reluctant to forsake the world for the dark uncertain, still a mounting thirst to forsake his mortal confines seized him and led him to invoke the Earth to surrender him up, to whomever it was and at whatever price, so that neither he nor Destiny could seek a refuge in a feeble alibi.
"Oh Earth, rally me all your strength, that from your bosom flows, and loosen me my roots entangled in your breast, and leave me free to engage these of Fair distinction, whom though blameless, clutter up the household of my mind, and hence when stripped of all my goods, I may more pleasing be to Him who would receive me."
In remorse and dread, he turned him to the dark uncertain, and Oh! what a sickening reluctance seized him at this unwilling farewell. In the going, he wished he were returning, yet in his unwillingness he seemed most willing. Yet he hesitated and pausing, listened as Ambition, Hope, Faith, Prayer, Pleasure and Leisure made signs to him of their fidelity and good intentions, and the woeful eyes pleaded remembrance of their lifelong friendship. But brushing aside his ties of sympathy and respect for these fair inmates of the Psyche's household, he grasped his Blade and with resolute will, resumed the slaughter by Intuition ordered. Coming upon the trio of Hope, Faith and Prayer gathered in a huddle like three conspirators discussing their base relations, he thought to take them by surprise, and circled round their leeward side lest they sniff the danger and take flight. Down low he bent, like a predator savoring the scent, but still too distant to accost the prey.
Inching forward twixt a gaping chasm and a deep ravine, his shadowy form moved unseen by the exalted trio who seemed engrossed in complimenting one another for the victims each had fleeced. He paused as nearest to the circle he approached, to ponder on how to execute the triple slaughter with the least of gore and uproar, whom to mark for the grim pursuit if his plan fell through. Viewing the stance of the ignominious trio, he shifted his own and took the advantage of a nodular furrow, and, bracing his foot upon a jutting stake, he leaped with grace across the furrowed space. But his mid-air flight caught the corner of their eye and panic stricken by the sight of his flashing Blade, they swerved from their place to scramble for safety. But the swerve was too sharp for the limited space, and of the terrified trio, only Prayer escaped, as Hope and Faith, untouched by the Blade, rammed one another with a resounding twack, and as each grasped the other in a desperate clasp to avert the chasm that stood at their back, their feet slipped from under, and over they plunged, splitting the air with blood-curdling shrieks. With a sign of relief he turned from the site to track down the culprit that sought safety in flight.
Scanning the passes twixt the furrows and crevasses, he espied a bent Figure moving in haste along a hidden path that led to a cave. Doubling his speed to cut into her lead, he moved within distance of discerning her features. Cheered by the sight, he took stock of his Blade which lay lax in his hand, for his signal command. Keeping close to the side of a nodular row, he drew up to the cave unseen by the foe. He paused for a moment to witness the sham of Prayer at work in a fawning stance, invoking the heavens for aid in her plight. Patiently waiting for her sham to subside, he honed his Blade on his leathern thigh, but the rasping sound gained entrance to her ear, and up she bolted, pallid with fear. Wildly scanning the immediate terrain, she caught a glimpse of Scorto's frame as he caught her eye and read her shame. Hysterical with fright, she raced for the cave and stumbled inside by the force of her flight and was quickly swallowed by the bowels of night.
Reproving himself for his careless indulgence, he pumped his Blade on a scaly nodule, as if it, too, should share the blame. Regaining his composure he bolted from his place and with a single bound, gained the mouth of the cave. Once inside and its darkness tried, he picked up the trail by her sounds and scent, and soon found himself on the heels of his prey. Extending his arm to its maximum length, he probed for her spine with the tip of his Blade, but Fear took a hand and replenished her strength and she zoomed out of reach with a horrified shriek, but no echo resounded to her shrill intonation which hinted to Scorto that the cave's exit was contiguous. Like a wily predator at play with his prey, he slackened his pace to insure her safe exit and grant her a respite from his hot pursuit. In seconds few, the darkened cave yawned to the light, and out she flew, like a bat out of hell. But the exit proved on the face of a mountain less than a metre from a precipitous cliff. In sheer desperation she dropped to her knees in a last ditch effort to abate her speed, but the pass was too narrow to consume her thrust and over she plunged in a cloud of dust. Scorto at length from the cave emerging, advanced to the ledge and peered over the edge. Espying a heap at the bottom of the pit, he viced his Blade in his leathern palm and inscribed an epitaph on a rock at his side.
"Here, in this festering pit of the human Psyche, lies the limp remains of its most ignoble invention; born in its cesspool of ignorance and greed and nurtured in the sentiments of its wants and needs. She was bought and sold for silver and gold, but reaped her indebtedness in counterfeit coin."
A sense of uneasiness crept over Scorto at the near vacuity pervading his Psyche, but even as he gaped at its vacuous state, his vision was drawn to a distant sight, where high upon a precipice, involved in the night, stood a lonely Figure, staked to a cross, His head all bloodied by a crown of thorns, His lips contorted to a vapid smile. With all, He seemed a familiar sight, long embedded in the Psyche's stratum.
His uneasiness diminishing as he hardened to the sight, he averted his glance and stared blankly at the night, even as he fingered the handle of his Blade and mauled it about in contemplation of the deed. But overplaying his antics, the Blade slipped from his grasp and bounced with a thud toward a distant crevice and there hung precariously on its jagged lip, teetering its weight in favor of the pit. But even as it strained to over-balance its weight, seemingly anxious to descend the slit, Scorto took after it with a sudden lurch, but missing the handle, he grasped it at random, gashing his palm on its cutting edge. A trickle of blood oozed over the Blade that never before had tasted gore.
Scanning the varied patterns of approach leading to the pinnacle of fame or shame, he marked a path twixt two nodules of equal height and breadth, that from its base to its topmost grade was studded with ledges, as regular as steps. Its topmost grade which Nature had in her haste shaped, was strewn with rubble and heavy with dust, at which juncture stood a steep incline, its face all blotched and crinkled, stood out like a specter of a blighted temple. A narrow ledge rimmed the steep incline, and upward jutted to a level with the Figure, standing statue-like on a pedestal of aged slate. On this path deciding, he first shot a glance at the storied Martyr on the distant height, then moved hastily down its narrow track, covering ground with the alacrity of a jungle cat in callous pursuit of a savory snack.
Gaining the base of the bulky nodules, he began his ascent, his eyes fastfixed in a mindless glance upon the faultless symbol of the Divine essence, and his every step a rhythmic stride synchronized to culminate in the fatal strike. At length, rounding to the farther side of the sacred mount, he secured his footing on a jagged ledge and exerting his maximum strength, leaped the gulf of Hesitancy that scarce allowed him to infringe upon the sacred ground of so famed a Deity. Low crouching on the height, profound in proximity to the lone survivor of the Psyche's malignant sum, Scorto readied for the ultimate strike, his shanks tense for the spring, his Blade thirsty for the plunge. With upraised arm, sans a stint of emotion, he bolted for the Token and down came the Blade with an herculean thrust. The Token shuddered, tottered, then tumbled with a deafening roar, and the visual of Christ lay shattered in the dust.
Nearest to Oblivion he stood, than Life's last breath heaved against the gates of Death, asking for admittance to the cosmic wastes. Now with fingers clawing at Limbo's walls, Scorto scaled its side, and standing precariously atop its height, lingered momentarily twixt Infinity and the siege of Chaos. Seen was the gulf profound and nothing there he saw but loss and loneliness, the dread vacuity of Oblivion. Beyond the Gulf, in semicircle round about the desolate Psyche, stood the baneful breed, straining like leashed dogs, striving to regain their lost domain.
Now uprisen from her ethereal couch, implacable Justice swept across the yawning Gulf, and preluding her massive strokes, unfolded the listing Will within Her subtle grasp, rendering it incapable of any wrongful or shameful act.