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Dirt

Lin Prisbrey


     Where he awoke now, he did not know. It was dark; his knees, half a foot from his eyes, could not be seen. At least he thought they were there. He wasn't sure--his body told him he was in a fetal position, but lately it had been known to lie.

     He righted himself and wiped his eyes, thinking that would help, and cleaned his face of the dirt he had just been lying on. He gathered his widely scattered thoughts and reached for his wrist, intent on finding out what time it was. He found his wrist bare, but slightly sticky--Blood? he thought--with granules of dirt and a few small rocks.

     He reached behind him and, finding the wall, leaned back. Okay, guys. Joke's up. What's going on? Come out now. He thought that some of his buddies may have decided to have fun at his expense. It had happened before. "Hey! Yo! Anybody!" But all that came back were echoes.

     Did I have too much to drink last night? Did I wander away and fall in a hole? He strained his eyes, searching in vain for any shred of light. If I fell, the opening has to be around here somewhere. He ran his hands on the bare ground around him. Nothing but the expected dirt and rocks, including what felt like a jagged elliptical rock on his left close enough to use as an arm rest. He leaned on his arm. "Alice?! Are you in here? Come out, come out where ever you are!" He smiled slightly at his joke. At least he thought he smiled.

     He raised his head and let his arm fall off the far side of the rock, perhaps cutting it, but he wasn't sure. His arm landed on something that seemed foreign in his current landscape. He pulled his arm back, being careful not to disturb it if it happened to be alive. He listened, but couldn't hear anything. He tentatively placed his hand on it's familiar canvas and pulled his backpack to his lap. Ah, that was nice of them to leave me this. Now let's see what they left.

     He reached in the bag, groping for something he could recognize by touch alone. He soon discovered that he had light in his bag. A standard sized flashlight. He flipped it to the on position, praying that the batteries were still good. "Paydirt!" he said. He shone the light around, noticing his dwelling--a cave with a path leading to his left and one straight ahead. He could see know sign that any life had been there recently, except for the disturbed dirt around his position. He thought the walls looked like every other cave wall he had seen--exactly none. Except in pictures.

     His joy at finding light was short-lived. The flashlight flickered a few times and went out. "Jesus-Fucking-Christ!" What is this shit!? It's like a bad B-movie. Now all I have to do is wait for the creature to appear and then… He remembered the lighter in his pants pocket and, to his joy, it was still there, along with his cigarettes. He looked in the pack--seven left. And they always said that smoking would kill me. And now it just might save me. He had started smoking on a regular basis a month before, so the lighter should be fairly new. But he had a nervous habit of playing with the lighter, striking it and letting it go or striking it, watching the flame for a while, then letting it go. He did not know how much longer he would have light. He struck the lighter, illuminating the cave once again. He started searching his bag, finding everything in it that was there the night before: CD player, headphones, CDs, and Candide by Voltaire. He zipped up the bag after tossing his cigarettes in and stood up, pulling the bag onto his back.

     Okay "time to get out" of here.Left or straight? Left or right? Straight-slash-left--which one?Don't know where I'm going to, don't know where I'm coming from. Blue wire, green wire, red wire… "Left." He took three steps then stopped, glancing around the cave just to make sure he wasn't missing anything. He didn't see anything new. Maybe I should Hansel-und-Gretel it. He made a point to drag his right foot while walking. Never know when I may have to get back here.
 

     He awoke some time later with a sharp pain in his head and one in his left ankle. He did not remember falling asleep or what had happened. He stood up, but could not place any weight on his left foot. He searched his pockets for the lighter; it was nowhere to be found. On his right he discovered an incline, causing him to think that perhaps he had tripped. That would explain the head injury, he thought. He could not see it, but he felt the stickiness of blood on his fingertips. If I fell, the lighter should be around here somewhere.

     He searched on his hands and knees for what felt like hours. As much as he did not want to, he finally gave up looking and sat, leaning against a wall. He had been distraught over the loss of the lighter, but now a new fear crept in: Hunger.

     It's just now starting, he thought, so I couldn't have been stuck here or passed out that long. He knew there was no food in his bag, but checked it again anyway. From his search for his lighter, he knew that there were two ways to go: up the incline to his right or down the gentle decline to is left. He could barely put weight on his ankle, so I can't easily go up. He knew that he needed to cut down on the amount of calories he was burning, and the left path would help with this.

     He tried walking, leaning on the wall, but before long he ended up crawling. He didn't know how long or far he had gone when he heard the sound of water. It wasn't much, no roaring rapids, probably not much of a current in it. But it's water, for Christsakes.

     He discovered that the water was close by almost falling into it. He had been crawling, hearing the water get slightly louder, when his left hand missed the intended dirt, reaching instead the liquid. The first thing he noticed was that it's cold. Damn cold. He pulled his hand from the water--an instinctual reaction. Soon his hand was back in the water, soaking up the gloriousness of another day's survival, the power the water, and the water alone, possessed.

     He drank. It had been a long day--or perhaps more--and he was tired. Must Sleep! he told himself, though it would not be long before the hooks of exhaustion sunk deep.
 

     He did not dream, but he thought he did.

     The new man's face was lit by the small flame of a match pressed against the nearly pencil-thin cigar in his mouth. The light seemed to only illuminate this man's face, stopped by his well-worn cowboy hat and the too-deep black on the other sides. He wasn't anything special to look at--a three-day-old beard, long eyes squinting despite the consuming darkness, too many crow's feet at the corner of those bright eyes from being in the sun too much, average nose, average mouth--but he could not stop staring.

     I know you.

     "Yeah."

     Where?

     The man remained silent, the only noise exhaling.

     What's your name?

     "I've gone by many. None ever really stuck. Mostly, I'm just referred to as the Man-With-No-Name."

     Ah, now I know who you are.

     In his mind, he sees the man nod.

     Why are you here?

     "The question you need to ask is why are you here."

     I've been here for quite sometime. I don't know why. I woke up here. I found water. I have no food. Are you going to help me?

     The man stays silent.

     Are you going to help me?

     "I can't."

     Why not? You're the man that can do everything. I've seen you cut a rope with a bullet to save a hanging man at a hundred yards. I know you can get me out of here.

     The water seems to be getting louder.

     Jesus, what was I thinking? You're just a fucking character! A creation by a writer! Why the hell did I think you could help me? Why couldn't I get a real person here?

     "Because they exist outside your head. But you're asking the wrong questions." A noise, like the man standing.

     Then what are the right questions, amigo?

     "Let me lay it out simply for you, all right? You don't need to know where you are. There's no trick to get out of here, there are no skills needed that you do not already possess. All you need to know is why you are here. Then you will understand why I cannot help you."

     Why now, of all times? You've never let me down before.

     "I've never helped you before."

     He thinks. Perhaps not directly. But you still function as an object-desire. That has helped me before.

     "Kid, I'm not a good idol." He paused. "You've heard the proverb before, right, about leading a horse to water?" When the man spoke again, in whisper, it sounded closer: "The water is not real."

     The man was quiet after that. No sound had been heard that would signify him leaving, but it was so quiet that he questioned if the man was still there. He felt the man's presence until he again passed out.
 
 

     The sound of the water had become monotonous and sinister, so he decided to block it out. He reached in his bag and grabbed his portable compact disk player and the music.

     So what is appropriate music to die to? he masochistically asked himself.
     "I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company." The voice was soft and familiar. He could tell that the owner of the voice was compassionate, like an old friend. It was not the man-with-no-name.
     I don't have any Mozart.
     "A buddy of mine had a thing for Hank Williams. That would probably work."
     No, no Hank Williams either, but I have the Stooges.
     "Ah. Oh well. It doesn't matter. Music doesn't really exist, you know. I mean, it does exist, just not like you think. It doesn't exist on paper, it doesn't even exist on those fancy compact discs you have. Music doesn't even exist when it is played."
     Then where does it exist?
     "It exists here; in the heart. If you can't feel the music, what good is it to you?"
     Then how do you explain all that pseudo-emotional shit that they market today?
     "Not everybody is smart about it. Not everybody realizes the power of music."
     Ha! Is it powerful enough to get me out of here?
     "Perhaps." The voice waited for the word to sink in. "Music provide hope, no matter where you are. It changes people's moods. It stays with you. They can never take that away from you." The voice paused. "You know, I once had a friend say to me 'Andy, hope is a dangerous thing. Hope will drive a man insane.' I respected that man a great deal, but he was wrong. Hope is the only thing you and I and everyone else will ever truly have."

     There was a long pause. "Do you realize that, of the twenty years I spent in prison, almost one whole year was spent in solitary? The Hole, we called it. It was a lot like this. Dark. Quiet. We occasionally had some food, though. Do you know what I did during those long hours in the dark?"
     Tried to figure out how to get out of there.
     "You're a smart guy."
     I know how you got out, but that doesn't do me much good here.
     "Are you sure?" He envisioned a small grin hanging in the middle of the darkness. "Fortunately for you, you have an easier time than I do."
     And why is that?
     "I had walls of solid material to deal with. All you have to do is answer a few questions."
     Let me guess. Why I am here.
     "I see that he has already been here. Good guy, he is."
     I don't know if I would say that. He's turning bad, perhaps. The voice laughs. How exactly does that help me? If I know why I am here, how can I get out of here?
     "The questions are the same. I can't explain it, it's just something you feel, like music."
     What doe that mean?
     "Look at this water here. It's not two feet from you. You can stick your hand in it. You know it's real, right? But what if I told you that it doesn't exist? You wouldn't believe me. And you shouldn't believe me. But what if I told you that a stream fifty miles away didn't exist. You have no good reason to not believe me."
     What does that mean?
     "This water here may or may not be real. No one can tell you otherwise. The water in your head--that's what doesn't exist; you make it up and feed it with your own mental tears. The Man-with-No-Name reminded you of a proverb. He wasn't talking about physical water. The proverbial water is a metaphor. It doesn't exist."
 

     He awoke from a fitful sleep to the sound of a new voice, even more familiar than the last.

     "Herr Mozart likewise kept me company."
     Oh, shit! Stay away! He thought, but he could not move, nor could he maintain his fear, his body relaxing automatically from exhaustion. Stay away! I know you!
     "Isn't it ironic that I tried my whole life to be remembered through my music, but it takes a movie to truly make me immortal? It does not matter. One must do what one must do to further the ends." He sounded closer. "Can you say my name? Just once. I just want to hear it spoken by someone who remembers me."
     Salieri.
     The new voice sounded pleased. "Now tell me, why are you afraid of me?"
     I'm not afraid of you. I'm afraid of what you represent.
     "Ah, yes. But I don't think that's quite it. Do you?"
     Will you just leave me alone? Please?
     "Do you not want my help? I can get you out of here."
     I don't trust you.
     "You should. You know why I killed him and you know that you don't have the same faults."
     Then how do I get out of here?
     "I know the Good and the Banker were here. What did they tell you?"
     I must know why I am here.
     "And why are you here?"
     I don't fucking know, okay?
     "Oh, I think you do."

     Something clicked, a moment of clarity. He thought back to the exploits of the Man-with-no-name and Andy. He had admired both of them, they always came out ahead not because of luck, but because they had the skill and determination necessary. He thought of Salieri. No one could argue that he had the determination. But the skill…it almost worked. While the first two men succeeded, Salieri failed--it is a thin line that these men walk between the two extremes. Salieri's skill did not match his determination, causing a deep feeling of mediocrity. 

     I--he paused. It's the same reason you are here.
     He felt him smile. "Your sin is the same as my sin. Don't worry, I absolve you."
     That's right?
     "Yes."
     Then how do I get out of here? They said that when I knew why I was here, I would be able to get out.
     "Do you remember what else they said?"
     Something about a horse and water.
     "Didn't they say that the water is not real?"
     What does that mean?

     "I can't tell you. I can, however, tell you what the water is. When you or I or anybody suffers from that peculiar sin that infects all of us--especially you and I--there are three ways that you can remove it. First, you can be the best. You've tried, I know, that's why the man-with-no-name was here. I compliment you on trying, not many people do. It's hard work. The second way is apathy. If you don't care about the sin, it has no effect. Most people choose this way, it tends to be the easiest. I could not. Andy could not. You can not. There's something about you, my friend. You will not allow yourself to take the easy way out. Like me, you are a bit of a masochist. It's not a bad thing. In fact, I believe you see the down fall of taking this way. By taking the apathy-bridge people harm themselves even more. Most people use apathy to silence this as well. You understand the infinite regress of apathy. I commend you. The third way is what I chose. For me, it was fairly simple.

     "I do not envy your choice: impossibility, indifference, or suicide. No, my friend, they were right. The water does not exist. The water is not the sin. The water is the choice."
     I see.
     "I only realized the answer too late…
     It is no sin at all.
 
 

     He awoke later in his own bed, sat up, but did not open his eyes. 
     He smiled.
     "It's going to be a good day."
 

     Ooh--I've been dirt, and I don't care…
     'Cause I'm burnin' inside…
     Do ya feel it when ya touch me?…
     There's a fire.
          - The Stooges, Dirt (from Funhouse)
 

Acknowledgments: Farmer, Sarah Brunker, The Stooges, Hollywood, Clint Eastwood, Coca-Cola and Jean-Paul Sartre.
 


 
 
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