Tonight he had purpose. The number was to be twenty…twenty of the best. Or at least the best he could find. The twenty were to be found in the water; in their place of rest. They will be part of the offering; an offering that must be made.
Out to sea he realizes he must go and in the horizon an aged wooden boat, similar to a small, rotting schooner appears to him as a specter of the sea. His Dark Captain greets him at the peer and waves him aboard as a servant would greet an expected guest. It is known that the Dark Captain, shaped as a shadow of a large pirate, will guide him through to the soon to be chosen, with his oar in hand, steering through the salty, dense, and suffocating fog.
There were others fishing. He could sense it though he could not see them, these competing fishermen. Their presence weighed down the air as though a final plea, a plea for life, was soon to be heard. The pressure mounted as the urgency was palpable. And soon his lottery would be chosen.
And there they were, floating like underwater rows of corn. Souls, the ghost of weathered men and women made of oily liquid and illuminated smoke, familiar yet not. Vast fields of past experiences sprinkled the sea mirroring the starry night above in darkness, silence and spectacle. The harvest was to be made both quickly and with utmost certainty. He, the waterfarmer, the fishermen, must choose his bait wisely and throw back the unworthy catch, for there would be only one offering.
The selections were to be made through the senses, not just of those senses of the physical world, but of the metaphysical as well. He must feel their energy, their being and emotion, their wisdom and sin, what made them who they were and what will make him part of them, part of one. But how would he know? Understanding the task at hand but not the how, he fished, reaching his hand as far as he could toward the water touching soul after soul, each time rejecting yet taking a part of them with him as though he were collecting letters to home from lonely soldiers. Catch after catch is made and thrown back…until he finds one and another…each choice made filled a hole in his spirit, like a mathematically perfected piece of a whole. He now knows that these chosen few represent his past, his present and most importantly, his future.
As each undeniable link is made with these lonely souls, each one manifests itself onto the Dark Captains schooner, slowly floating upside the boat, over the edges and into their place in the pews much like mercury finds itself. Only these souls start taking shape into ghostly men and women with cloudy and hollow eyes, skin of liquefied pearl, and strikingly faceless. They begin to slug into a pool at the bow of the ship. As the souls gather they begin an entangled embrace, one after another, taking a liquescent shape.
At the base of the creation, broad backs and strong chests stack in rows and depth to solidify the structure above six stacks of feet, hands and knees. A backrest of sturdy shoulders begins to form. Armrests made of thighs melt together with the smooth curve of breasts at grips. The heads and bones gather at the top of the nine-foot design creating a complex helixed catacomb revealing the shape of an incomplete but great throne of pearly iridescence. This beautiful architecture will be his offering.
The boat is almost filled with the remaining faceless twenty, each one sitting at the inside edge of the pews when the Dark Captain points to a massive foggy wall slowly approaching. Time is running out to finish the harvest. The Doctor will soon have his gift and his future may be granted.
He is lost in a nauseous stare. His fever has peaked now and his energy is seeping through his pours as if it is an August afternoon in the swamps. As they prophesized, the pounds melted away, thirty-seven of them in fact. Food would no longer be a pleasure but a chore. The shivers, fevers and cramps were undersold however. And he still has his flowing silver hair; a miracle by its own standards. Their poison was effective in its side effects but the results are an invasive surgery away. The visitation to his bladder tends to take an unkind path; as though the cancer and its’ treatment were not penance enough. Now he finds himself struggling to make the simplest of movements as he rushes toward the emergency room for time feels as though it is slipping away.
The hospital is unusually quiet today. He notices there are no ambulances under the canopies and the parking lot seems empty. The entrance way is exceptionally bright as well as it leads down a narrow hallway walled with frosted glass. There is a nurse at the end of the path waiting patiently for her patient in front of the triage desk. Strangely there are only three people sitting idly in the large and bright waiting room, each with an expression of angst, uncertainty and desperation. The nurse, dressed in white scrubs and red lipstick simply points toward the waiting room with a smile and a nod. He knows the Doctor must be coming out soon.
Walking with an ethereal gait, the extraordinarily tall and slender Doctor approaches the room wearing a long white and buttoned doctor’s coat and pressed white pants. He greets his patients with a smile and clinched hands.
“We all know why we are here don’t we?” the Doctor asks. “Which ever one of you four brings me the best offering will be healed. Those who fail, do so, for as you know, I only have the time and inclination for one. Tomorrow your presentations will be made here. Go now to the water’s edge, the captains await.”
He, the patient, did not understand. Had he not given enough to the Doctor? His tortured body, broken spirit, and dignity were only the obvious tokens he had bequeathed to this Doctor. Yet the price has not been paid? The other patients did not seem to bother with such tawdry questions. None of it mattered, all that mattered was the prize at hand and that the competition had begun.
The elderly schooner breaks through the dense fog and a shore emerges. It is dusk now. To his left and right he can see the other three patients on their boats, each distinctly different from the next. He shares glances of guilt, pity, sadness and hopefulness with each of them; the emotions showing on his face as one would if they locked eyes with someone who had just lost someone. Three will fail. Three must fail.
Having drifted ashore over large rocks and steps, the bow of the boat flattened out making a ramp leading to newly paved asphalt roads. Each boat had its own empty road leading in the same direction. In the distance up the large and wavy hill was no longer the hospital but the Doctor’s office surrounded by a magnificent cityscape sculpted by mismatched sized skyscrapers and crafted as though it could fit in a gigantic snow globe. This is where the offering would be delivered.
In unison, the remaining souls gathered behind the throne and lifted it up onto their shoulders and began to march in a two row procession off the schooner. He quickly noticed that there was a soul missing from the middle of the procession that he now was forced to fill. Had he made a horrible miscalculation? Would the Doctor notice the error? His color, while sickly, was more vibrant than the faint oyster shell iridescence of the ghosts. Surely the Doctor would notice but what other choice did he have? The other patients were marching as well, each carrying something in the front of their procession, yet invisible to him. The scene was that of a New Orleans jazz funeral; intensely sad and heavy though awkwardly festive and beautiful. Yet he was the only patient to not be standing alone at the end of their marching party.
He was confident his offering would still be enough, regardless of ritual.
They soon reach the top of the hill and each march meets at the foot of the steps of the Doctor’s office with their invisible offerings. The office resembles the exterior grandeur of a city museum. While there were no parade goers on the street, the vast buildings were littered with strange figures cramming out of open windows for as tall as the eye could see. Their faces expressionless, yet body language showed a childlike wonder, grappling for a better look at an execution. The Doctor stands at the top of the elevation with a welcoming smile while taking in the spectacle of the event, pleased.
The Doctor motions each patient forward with their offering and gestures them into his office. A shared expression of panic and qualm waxes over the other patients as they climb up the steps, each behind their procession and the last to enter the large arched double doorway entrance. After a few moments, each patient returns outside to the landing and each with an evacuated gaze. The Doctor finally locks eyes with him and calls for him to present his offering sending unease and hope shivering down his spine.
The procession of souls begins to march up the stairs with the incomplete throne at the lead. The throne was not brought inside like the other gifts were. It was placed in the middle of the landing at the top of the steps directly in front of the Doctor and out in the open for his guests to admire. One by one the remaining souls morphed into the throne, each adding a different element and final touches to the masterpiece of his subconscious imagination. Towering over the Doctor, the throne shined with what appeared as glowing and pulsating white marble. It fluttered iridescence with every heartbeat for it was living architecture. At the top of the backrest, the helix hummed with the wisdom of the collective souls as though they would forever be guidance for its owner. It was complete, immaculate and divinely sublime. This throne was him, his shared soul with those chosen, his life experiences and combined energy from the life-forces webbed throughout his life. It was his purpose, revealed and stunning.
The Doctor leaned over and whispered to him, “It’s beautiful.” Taking a lap around the glimmering throne, the Doctor sensually caresses it as thought it were water at his finger tips. He steps forward, arms thrown to the sky to his guests and yells with rebellious and incredulous tone, “IS THIS NOT BEAUTIFUL?!” All of the guests shrilled in excitement and quickly floated out of the windows, twisting up into the overcast sky, into the raised fog still lingering from the morning. The Doctor, clearly pleased, turned back at the patient and gave a wide smile full of large white and perfectly capped teeth.
Drunk from the intoxicating vision of the moment, unease somehow penetrated him at the sight of it all. Then sobriety hit him as he thought to himself, “Why were twenty needed but only nineteen used? Why am I in the procession and the other patients were not? Am I part of my throne or is the throne made for me? What am I truly offering here?” As the last question rolled off his tongue he began to melt away, turning into a puddle much like his collection had done before creating his masterpiece.
“You prayed to be healed did you not? Healed of pain, suffering, embarrassment, burden and uselessness? I am granting you answered prayer. You have brought me the finest of offerings and I warmly accept!”
His head now nearing the floor to top off the puddle of self he has created, angst and dread fill his soul. His thoughts spoke to the Doctor one final time, “Who am I to question Your judgment, Your will? And yet, at my end, I still have questions…” The patients’ puddle flowed purposefully and split toward all six legs of the throne with his final piece, his head, solidifying the base of the left leg; his skull poking out just enough for the Doctor to rest his heel, in comfort.