I was sweaty, cranky, and tired. This has never been a good combination for me, whether in the astral or otherwise, and it wasn’t a good combination then. I stared up at Sekhmet, panting. I had never realized how intense this process was likely to be, of course. I hadn’t conserved my energy. If I had thought about what she would have wanted from me at any length, I could have probably have prepared myself better. Instead, I had been snotty and bitchy, I hadn’t asked any of the proper questions, and now I was at the end of my tether. I knew time was running down for me. I had to go. This overwhelming urge to just go was pounding through me, which made the sweaty, cranky, and tired combination that much worse.
I felt like I was going to snap.
Instead of snapping, Sekhmet waved her hand and the darkened doorway lightened. I watched as it slowly lit, like an energy saver light bulb being turned on. I knew what the next series of tests were. I got to leave, but to my own detriment. Without a map, I had to figure out myself out to get out of the Duat in time to meet up with Papa Legba for the Lenten season.
I glowered at Sekhmet as I stomped over to my knapsack. I glowered at Sekhmet as I angrily pulled the flap closed. I glowered at Sekhmet as I tossed the bag onto one shoulder. I glowered at Sekhmet as I stomped through the room on the way to the door. I glowered at Sekhmet as I snapped my fingers, signaling to my netjeri – who apparently liked the name Maurice the best – that we had to get going. I glowered at her as I stomped my ass out the door and into the hallway beyond.
And that was my parting shot – a metric shitfuckton of glowering.
Okay, so I admit that the reaction and the whole bit was overrated. But I was tired. I was cranky. I was silently freaking out that I would miss my appointment with the Old Man. But above all else, I was pretty much just completely out of fucks to give. I had spent days upon days in that damn room, doing things that were beyond my normal range of astral things and without very little set up from the grand orchestrator herself. I mean, yeah, I was probably acting like a big baby, but so what? If the gods can’t handle our pissy-ass responses to things that irritate us or annoy us, then they should probably find better devotees.
As I said, I was all out of fucks.
Without thinking about it, I turned left out of the doorway and began hiking. Maurice kept good pace with me, walking right beside me. Sometimes, he would run forward a little bit and then run backwards. All in all, he was very much like an overly excitable puppy who had been left inside for a little too long. Now, he was finally able to do much more than pace around a circular stone pit with holes in the floor. Once, he went running all the way down the hallway, tongue lolling out as he ran. I laughed after him, enjoying his freedom and his joy at the situation.
At least someone was pleased.
The corridor we were in was long and lit on the left hand side by periodic flaming torches. Sometimes, I would pass by a netjeri with a strange head or walking on all four limbs, but aside from that, Maurice and I were mostly alone. Sometimes, there would be either lightened or a darkened doorways on the right hand side. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see what was going on inside of the dark ones. All the ones that were lit were open and unused. Many of them looked very much like the chamber I had just left. Some of them had other paraphernalia that I didn’t want to think about.
As Maurice and I made our way down the [really fucking long] corridor, I began to get lost in my thoughts. There’s something about repetition, and boring repetition, that can bring on the most philosophical and strange thoughts. I’ve found this to be the case, most often, when I’m doing something like washing dishes IRL. There’s something about just moving the sponge over a dirty dish, making sure that I clean out every nook and cranny, which loosens my mind enough to bring things into better focus. It’s strange how something so mindless, like walking or washing dishes, can elicit some of the most profound or intense moments in one’s life.
I thought back to that first jaunt into the Duat all those months ago where Sekhmet had taken me to the Lake of Fire. I’ve thought about the purpose behind that a few times since then, always trying to surmise what the original point behind it was. I know that was the start. I know that, no matter what was discussed or what happened before that first trip, it was her taking me to the Lake of Fire that began this process. And I had to wonder, what was the significance in going into a really lava/fire pool thing with me at her side?
Originally, I had thought that the point behind the whole excursion was for me to observe the proceedings. I think, though, that I was wrong about the original intent. I don’t think the intent had anything to do with my, specifically, but with everyone that came up to her in the Lake of Fire. The statement involved me, of course, because I was there. But instead of the statement being to teach me something important about the power of observation or the power of my own intuition or whatever the hell I thought any of these lessons might be… I think honestly the lesson was just what the gods have to go through when they make a statement regarding certain devotees.
She was showing me off, announcing to the enclave that I was something she had been working on and she was ready to unveil it. I kind of feel like it was very much as if an artist, keeping their work-in-progress covered by a sheet from prying eyes, she had finally come to the conclusion to introduce the final stages of her work-in-progress to the rest of the gods. It was like she was saying, “This is mine. I have been working very hard on this thing. Tell me what you think of it and oh, by the way, keep away from it.”
I think, too, that was the point in the first party she threw. Maybe she really did throw parties all of the time, but that first party was also a statement. And again, the statement had nothing to do with my observing everyone else and seeing what knots I could parse together with what I was seeing. Again, it was a statement of fact regarding me and what I meant to Sekhmet. It was yet another moment in time where she could show me off to the gathered group. Why in the world I merited enough attention to be shown off was beyond me. Or maybe that was just something that gods did when they had ensnared humans so completely.
But as I walked down that hallway, thinking about all of this, I was pretty sure that my being shown off the wide world of the netjeru was the point to all of that. I didn’t necessarily understand it and honestly, I’m not sure if I understand it even now. All I know is that with each footstep forward, as my thoughts wandered over everything I had been through over the last few months, it made a serious kind of sense that she would announce to the netjeru that she had chosen me for something and that she had to let them know.
Maybe it had to do with the other gods in my life – the ones that had grown quiet. Or maybe it was just a matter of propriety and that was just another step on the endless list of things that happened when gods made big decisions regarding devotees. Whatever the underlying case may be, the whole point had been less about me paying attention to what was going on around me and more about Sekhmet announcing to the world that I was a chess piece for her to maneuver as she saw fit.
Maurice was stopped up ahead, waiting for me. His tail waggled at me as I came up to him. We were stopped at a fork in the passageway. I looked down the right fork and saw darkness punctuated by occasional lit torches. I looked down the left fork and saw the exact same thing. There didn’t seem to be any perceptible difference between the two of them. I thought about flipping a coin, but I didn’t have one.
Maurice sniffed first one corridor and then the other. He wagged his tail up at me again and then sat back on his haunches, waiting for me to make a decision. With a shrug, I took the left fork.
As we trudged on, I thought about the sandbox.
When I had originally got tossed into the sandbox and had been unable to figure out what the hell was going on, I had figured it was a contest. I can remember discussing this with Devo a time or two. I thought that I had been thrown out of the palace for perhaps a perceived slight against Sekhmet or her honor and that I had to admit that slight in order to go back. As time went on, and I didn’t end up going back no matter what my mind decided may have been the slight against her honor, I came to the conclusion that the whole thing was just a contest between who was more stubborn: if I capitulated and asked for her to pull me out, then I was the loser. But if I stubbornly kept my ass moving in the sandbox and didn’t ask for the help, then I won.
But really, I would be the loser either way because I wouldn’t have ended up going back to the damn palace without her help.
As I walked, I came to realize that the whole point in the sandbox was, in a way, a metaphor for stubbornness. But it had nothing to do with who was more stubborn. As Papa Legba had said so clearly, I had been a stubborn shit and I had needed to get over that stubbornness in order to move on to the next phase. The entire sandbox was one changeless, quiet metaphor for my stubbornness, or more specifically what I was being stubborn about. I was so intent on remaining who I am and not changing as I walk this road that the place I got exiled to while I figured out what the next step was held every aspect that I was intent on keeping.
I had noticed repeatedly as I walked how quiet the whole place was. I wanted to keep to myself, remain the wallflower. An integral part to keeping that part of me is the quiet and solitude embodied in the sandbox by the lack of creatures. The only sounds that were made, outside of the wind when it was picking up, were my own screeches and hollering. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so frightened of losing myself in the changes that were coming, the sandbox would have been a little different. I’m almost sure it would have been.
No matter where I walked in that giant sandbox, everything looked the same. One dune blended into another dune and another. I could have been walking in circles and maybe, just maybe I was actually walking in circles. But the changelessness of each movement forward was what I had been most worried about. I had been so worried that by accepting the deal with Sekhmet, then I would change irrevocably. And I was so frightened at what I could possibly become – let’s face it, that stupid fucking prophecy, not-prophecy from the beginning years was probably echoing deep in my subconscious – that I didn’t want to become anything but who I already was.
Papa Legba wasn’t just telling me that I had accept the fact that I needed to get to the doorway, and probably do something I didn’t want to fucking do in order to get there, but he was telling me to accept the fact that I might or might not change. And just fucking go with it.
So often, I’ve spent all of my time, making sure that any changes to my character have been good changes on this path. So often, I’ve taken stock in everything in an attempt to make sure that my religious path hasn’t changed me irrevocably for the worse. And that’s something that I’ve always felt a religion is supposed to do: it’s supposed to make you a better person. But with all the shades of gray discussed when it comes to living in ma’at then you know, I have to admit that I was probably being overly worried about a bunch of bullshit.
Sometimes, destroying some bitches is just as necessary as making sure you aren’t a total dick 100% of the time.
I thought about the dune buggy, that bastard of a yellow thing that disappeared whenever I got too close, and felt my blood boil a little. While I told myself to calm down since it was a useless anger to have, Maurice and I took another left fork. The floor seemed to almost perceptibly be moving upward as we walked.
That damn dune buggy – what a pain in my ass. And also, yet another lesson.
As made yet another left turn, I thought about that damn thing. The dune buggy, I had assumed, was yet another lesson in shit I cannot attain or cannot achieve. I thought it was just another bit about who was more stubborn. At one point, I think I said to someone, “here is this magical item that can make your life so much easier. Look at it. Want it. Desire it. Breathe it. But nope, motherfucker, keep on dreamin’ because that shit ain’t for you.” I thought in terms of absolutes and in a way, the buggy was an absolute. It was an absolute pain in my ass and it was an absolute misdirection.
I had been focused on getting that dune buggy up and running. I had been so focused on just getting out as opposed to getting to the next phase. Each time that dune buggy appeared, I went running towards it in an attempt to get the hell out. I hadn’t wanted to move on to the next phase, whatever it may have entailed. I just wanted to get out of dodge and never look back. With each time that buggy showed up, I became more and more resigned to the fact that there was no easy way out, no matter if I wanted it or otherwise. It didn’t matter.
The point was that it was a test. It was an ongoing test to see how far I would go before I finally gave up on taking the easy way out. I needed to go the hard way – traversing the sandbox – to get to the next step. Even if I though I deserved a ride.
Even, I had to admit, the way in which I died was all choreographed with a lesson involved. How seriously pathetic is that? Of all of the damn things to have a lesson attached, death was not what I was expecting. Who in the world learns a lesson from dying? I guess I’m that lucky sonofabitch who does. And you know what it was? Face my fears.
Face. My. Fears.
Of all of the really important, magical moments a person can go through in which a lesson is attached, I get probably one of the most horrifying, terrifying, gut-wrenching moments and I get “face my fears.” I mean, I get it of course. Duh. The overall goal was to get me over myself and to get me on to the next phase and to do so, I had to go through something that I really didn’t want to fucking go through. The lesson wasn’t really just “face my fears” but also “get fucking used to it.” I would have to do a lot of new and innovative things that I probably wouldn’t like in any way, shape, or form and that was just the icing on the cake.
I snorted as I made another left turn. I was pretty sure the floor was sloping a lot more now. Maurice danced around my legs, yipping in excitement. I leaned over and pat the top of his head as he bounded right on by, jumping off a wall on his way by me. If nothing else, this was marvelous exercise for the both of us.
I was really not liking all of this damn thought-filled shit going on as I slowly, but surely made my way out of this place. Of course, that stood to reason to, I mused. I mean, of all of the places to be introspective, the Duat is kind of, like, where you’re supposed to be introspective. It was a place of change, either because the place itself was always changing to keep up with the new soul or with the new desires of the people who created it or because death was kind of one of those big huge changes people went through. And of course, it just really fucking figured that I would be thinking about all of the new and change-inducing things I had been forced to go through while going through the Duat, the biggest fucking place of changes ever.
I was already poking and prodding at things that really sucked, I might as well keep it up.
My thoughts, of course, went to the last two experiences I had gone through. Both of them had been pretty gut-wrenching in and of themselves, but in different ways.
Killing and dispersing souls was a lot of hard, pain-filled work. I had to turn off whatever little parts of me held such things as sympathy and empathy in order to do what needed to be done. I could play a good game and act the part, of course, but somewhere deep inside, each scream from my intended victim was enough to cut me anew. I had been forced to steel myself in a way I never thought possible. In case anyone is wondering, yes, it is possible to steel your soul against the entreaties of others. It just is a lot to have to put yourself through unless absolutely necessary.
And there was another change in me, I could feel it. I could feel things again. I had been so busy worrying about being empty that I had forgotten that I was filling that emptiness up with things. And instead of filling it up with things like the excruciating screams and the requests for mercy, I had filled it up with a solid steel core around my soul. I had pushed all of the things I had done deep down and steeled myself enough to get the job done.
Instead of bending like a reed in the wind, I had reinforced myself. The only thing I forgot was that even skyscrapers could bend in the wind.
And that’s where the healing work came into play. It wasn’t just healing the other souls that were paraded before me that I had to do. I also had to bind up the steel reinforcement with enough elasticity to be able to handle whatever gets thrown my way. And while I worked diligently on pulling apart the people in front of me, removing the gunk that had infested old wounds or stitching closed newly inflicted wounds, I had found ways to make me more malleable so that I could stand up and face whatever would come my way.
Things may not be as dicey as they were down in the sandbox or they were down in the Duat, but things would continue to come my way.
Of that, I have no doubt.
I squinted my eyes and focused on Maurice. He had stopped his steady progress upwards and was wagging his tail slowly at me. I brushed the dust and hair out of my eyes and looked behind him. A gateway was open. The black iron doors were flung open wide in the sunlight of a new morning. I rushed forward, excited beyond belief. I knew what this meant – I was out. I was really fucking out. I was getting out. I stepped outside and tilted my face to the sun, soaking it into my skin like a flower would. A gentle breeze caressed my cheeks.
I looked back at Maurice who was standing at the gate, stuck in shadow. “Come on, boy. I’m sure the old man won’t mind having you along,” I said. Maurice wagged his tail and panted at me instead. Silently, he seemed to be telling me that now was not his time, but we’d meet up again later. I felt sadness mixed with my relief. I had bonded with this creature so thoroughly within the Duat, more than I had ever bonded with Sekhmet or anyone else. And now, I had to say goodbye.
I knelt down in front him and wrapped my hands around either cheek. “I’ll be back for you, Maurice,” I told him earnestly. “And we’ll explore everywhere.”
Maurice wagged his tail and then stood up. He shook himself and walked away first. It was probably a good thing that he left me first. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do likewise to him.