Oliver wasn’t sure how long he’d been walking, but he guessed it’s been around an hour and a half’s time. The dirt road had taken him over the foothills and through a shallow valley before it gradually blended into the desert floor. It was only then, after the strap of his duffle bag had carved into his aching shoulder, that Oliver realized the road less traveled, was so less traveled it had never been finished. The path literally disappeared and led to nowhere.
All you had to do was get back to the freeway.
Oliver dropped his duffle bag. All you had to do was follow the standard formula!
The accountant reviewed his recent litany of life-altering mistakes.
A guy comes to you with an “investment opportunity” that sounds too good to be true. You take it. It is too good to be true. The woman you love tells you she’ll be with you always. You marry her. She dies. A book inspires you to travel the world to find yourself. You do it! You return more lost than ever. A goddamn cab driver, a cabbie, of all people, tells you all the answers to all the questions you ever had in life lay at the end of a fucking dirt road that leads to nowhere! You believe him! You walk the path!
“What the hell is wrong with me?” Oliver screamed at the night sky, now barren of stars and covered with dark, swirling clouds. A storm was moving in. The accountant dropped to his knees and sobbed.
I don’t want to do this anymore.
I can’t do this anymore.
As he sobbed, so did the sky. A thin bolt of lightning was answered by a distant rumbling, inviting a light rain. Oliver relented, collapsed onto his back, and stretched out his legs, letting the cold desert earth become his moistened bed. The rain picked up, pelting Oliver’s body as he closed his heavy eyes. The accountant felt his body sink into the ground, melding with the Earth from which it had once sprung. Dust to dust. Mud to mud. Oliver didn’t care. He was tired. He seeped into the muck. Sleep came to him instantly.
There was only the void.
Oliver’s eyes shot open.
He squinted from a bright sun that beat down on him from a clear blue sky.
How long was I out?
Oliver’s body radiated enormous heat. His skin felt tight and blistered by the sunburns on his exposed arms and face. His muscles and joints screamed with an unholy aching from the slightest twitch.
You’re dehydrated. Find some shade, you idiot.
A shadow stepped in, blocking out the sun. Oliver strained to focus on the outline of a man wearing a cowboy hat towering over him. The man’s silhouette felt very familiar to Oliver. Why?
“So you’re the latest,” said the man, his wispy voice hinting at an advanced age. The shadow tilted his head as if to size the accountant up. “It’s always interesting to meet you folks face to face.”
Oliver lifted his head to look around. There was no car or truck or any transportation within sight, just miles of desert brush. “Wh-where—?” Oliver’s parched throat and chapped lips could hardly utter the words.
“Where did I come from?” the shadow politely finished. “That’s not really the point now, is it? You’d be better off asking where I’m going. And whether or not you’re coming with.”
Oliver struggled to sit upright and have a better look at the man. At first glance, he would’ve thought him a cowboy. But the overalls and plaid shirt didn’t really fit the motif. “W-who—?”
“Who am I?” the man finished again. “You should know. We’ve met before.”
You’re the farmer, thought Oliver. The farmer from my dream! That explained the attire, at least. Oliver coughed, trying to speak.
“Yah, you remember now, don’t you? The dream. I’m sorry about that, by the way. I didn’t mean for any of it to happen. Like so many things in life—it just did.”
Mean for what to happen? The dream?
The farmer offered a hand and helped Oliver to his feet. Now, on equal footing, Oliver could properly examine the man before him. He guessed the farmer was in his seventies, though he stood as firm and as tall as any man half his age. His eyes were gentle, and he spoke with a half-smile that never faltered, as if the farmer savored and cherished every waking second of the moment in play.
“The others before you—I’m sorry about them too,” continued the farmer. “I just need to do what I need to do, Oliver. Then I’ll be out of everyone’s way. I’m hoping you’ll come to understand that.”
What happened to the others? What do you need to do?
“Maybe you’ll even be able to help me. That’s my hope. What I’ve seen, what I’ve learned. It’s such a simple, fickle thing, but easily lost. Time will tell if the seed takes root.”
A tiny digital alarm chirp prompted the farmer to look at his watch. “Oh, there we have it,” said the farmer, clicking the alarm off. “Our time is up. We’ll see each other again, Oliver—I pray—as friends. They’ll try to turn you against me like they did the others. You just stick to your guns and do what you think is right. That’s all I can ever ask. Whatever happens after that, well—happens.”
The farmer grabbed Oliver by the shoulders in a fatherly, comforting way. “You ready?”
Oliver, all of a sudden, felt very weak. He steadied himself and nodded.
“All right then. Here we go.”
Both Oliver and the farmer disappeared in a flash of white light.
(Copyright 2014. Dave Cravens.)
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