A man walked. Well, he was almost a man. Mostly, he was reptile, wandering across the asphalt, barefoot and dazed like a wounded animal. His clothes were long since torn off by the brush he had stumbled out of only moments before. And when he had walked past them, the cattle continued to graze, recognizing this almost man as they might recognize a rattlesnake; not a threat, unless he came too close.
The Sun had roasted the almost man’s skin clear off, peeled away in large red circles all over his emaciated, naked frame. His gait was wobbly, and I could hear him mumbling whatever incoherent nonsense that his reptile brain could command. What a sight. What a sorry, pitiful sight.
I followed him, though he never would know.
As the almost man was passing over the road ditch, he stopped for the first time seemingly in days, simply surveying the land. There must have been some spark of sentience left in him, because he then turned his body down the long, hot road. Perhaps there was a memory stored somewhere in his reptile brain, a memory of long drives and traffic jams; those things that any human being would know.
I watched him trip and fall over an upturned rock. On the ground, he kept on with one hand, and then a foot. One foot, and then a hand. He went along the ground like this, kicking up dust and disturbing fire ant mounds. He increased his speed when the first tandem bite was felt, then stood again when his elbows began to bleed from the scraping. Maybe he did remember, somewhere deep in his reptile brain, that crawling was for the wild beasts, not the animal Man.
The almost man walked on, delirious with thirst. As I was near him, I could sense the dizzying thoughts flitting here and there. Rain. A water hose, transformed into a snake. A river. A faucet. The drip, drip, drip of melting icicles. He was hot. So very hot. And tired, and blistered and starving. This poor, almost man would not live another day– two days at the most.
I wondered what I could do for him. He could not see Me, could not feel My cooling breath for the stifling heat. If he fell again, he would not feel My arms circling him, but only the hard, sizzling asphalt. He was too far gone now to remember even Me. This poor, almost man who had once been so sure of his journey.
Necessary, he’d deemed it when leaving his perfect little wife, and their perfect little son, in their tiny, tiny, tiny little village. But now, thoughts of family were replaced by cravings for critters crawling in the dirt.
The almost man reached down, grasping a juicy, juicy cricket that had hopped onto his leg. It was so very juicy. I could taste its bitterness on his tongue. He was Mine still, after all, and would soon die in My loving embrace. He always did prefer sweets. It seemed best that he would not remember this final meal.
I could see it in his glazed and inhuman eyes. Death was near, so I pleaded with Death. “Not yet,” I said. “Not this one. Not here.”
And Death replied. “The whole of Earth is the Great Graveyard. All places are equal. All death is equal. Life comes and goes, and men may not choose their time.”
And I commanded Death. “Not here. Not now. Not yet. I choose. He chooses nothing.”
And Death yielded, grudgingly, saying, “Because You lead the souls down the final road, You alone may choose for this one who is Yours. But, when next I come for him, be prepared, for not even You may stop Me.”
And Death fled.
Onward, the almost man walked. On and on down the asphalt road. At last, the Sun was coasting down below the trees, and I heard his involuntary sigh. Was it relief? Or was it just another animal noise? I wondered, even in my pity.
He was grunting now, a furious and frustrated sound. A sound of despair, of humanity breaking down yet again, perhaps. I tried to comfort him in his unease, but still his mind, the mind I had cultivated all these years, was gone. I looked into his eyes. If he’d had even a drop of moisture left, I suspect it would be pressed out in tears. Though there were no coherent thoughts, I felt the raw emotion of a living being, nearing its end.
Not this one! Not yet! Not now! I repeated this to Myself, and to all those dwelling nearby. This one has a little wife, and a little son, and a little time yet to live in this cruel world of humans. So, I called out in that silent way that only My kind can… and was thus answered.
Down that long, hot, desperate road, two lights were ever-brightening as the distance closed, driven by a maiden fair, with Sunset sparkling on her raven hair. And she was one of Ours, brought here by her Master’s power, to save His Brother’s mortal child.
As the vehicle came closer, this, My almost man, fell to his knees, and then onto his side, no longer feeling the pain of burnt flesh, nor the ache of sore, torn muscle. He breathed in shallow gasps, completely undisturbed when the two lights were fixed upon him, laying like a deer in the road.
But he would live. Another day. Two days. Three. And on and on for the duration of his most grateful life.
Thank you, Hermes Psychopompos. Thank you, Thanatos. Thank you, Apollon Agyieus. Hail and Praise!