Thursday, April 20, 2017

In the Desert

The Traveler finally made it to the base of the escarpment he had seen throughout the day on his march across the hot desert sands.  Once again, he had found the shade necessary to protect him from the crucible he had been cast into by servants of a system that had previously controlled virtually every aspect of his life.          

But even in the shade, the heat played tricks on his mind and made him think of things that would otherwise remain locked away.  The memories of what brought him here weighed heavy upon him during these times.

It was something he could never forget.  After all, his life was this way because of it.  He had been found guilty of acts that had turned him into a ghost in the eyes of friends and family alike.

He had been sentenced to banishment. 

It would always come rushing back to him during these few moments of respite; always thinking of where he went wrong.  His parents had told him that his lack of respect for “authority” would get him into trouble one day. 

Once again, he wondered what made a person into an authority figure.  These people had not always been in such positions.  The Traveler had reached the conclusion that how much ass one was willing to kiss on the way up as well as the ability to backstab your competitors played a major part in moving up the ladder.  The Traveler now thought that this was a big reason for the collapsing empire he had been removed from.  It’s what happens when the most characterless and ruthless of people are allowed into positions of power.

Due to this observation, it would hardly come as a surprise to know that the Traveler had cut out the tracking device beneath the skin of his right hand within the first few days of his banishment.  But as usual, there was a price to pay for his non-compliance. There would be no drop zones for food and supplies.  He would have to live off the land. 

Also, he had been threatened with more disciplinary measures by those who had brought him here if he failed to follow their rules.  Strangely, he had seen no planes at all after he had been flown in. 

At first it was difficult for him.  He had run out of the water he had been given on his third day in the desert.  He could locate no more.  But on the next morning, he awakened to find a cache of supplies next to him.  He had heard nothing the night before. 

Over the months that followed, the supplies that kept him alive continued to be left for him but in lesser amounts than before.  As his skills in foraging for food as well as finding the water holes improved, the amount of supplies left for him decreased.  It was as if his benefactor knew what he needed. 

Earlier on, the Traveler had received a note in his supplies simply stating, “Twenty-yard perimeter.”  Afterwards, he walked a circle around his campsite each morning.  There was not always supplies, but there would always be some indicator that they had been there, although he never saw any footprints.  He soon understood that the location of his discoveries pointed in the direction they wanted him to go.      

The great expanse of desert had taken him many months to travel across.  He had lost weight during this time and he was in much better physical shape than before he had been sent here.     

The desert had also changed him spiritually.  The open and distant landscape had affected him in a way that had also opened his mind.  If not for the loneliness he sometimes suffered, the Traveler would have been content in accepting his fate.  But he was also curious to find out who was responsible for assisting him in staying alive.

One day, he came upon a strange rock formation.  Upon approaching, he now saw that it was a cave.  Sitting just outside the opening was a man with a long-flowing beard.  The Traveler could not help but notice a look in the man’s eyes, but he couldn’t understand what it meant.

“So, you finally made it,” said the Old Man. 

“You were the one sending me supplies?” asked the Traveler.
The Old Man smiled.  The Traveler noticed that the Old Man also had a scar on his hand that was similar to his own. 

“We’ve been helping you out until you got on your feet, so to speak,” he said.
“You’ve been watching me all this time?”

“Let me discuss other things with you before I answer that,” said the Old Man.
“Okay,” replied the Traveler.
“You were banished due to what you wrote on your blog” said the Old Man.  It was not a question.

“Yes,” said the Traveler looking him squarely in the eyes.      

The Old Man nodded. “Why did you remove your chip?” the Old Man asked.  “Did you think you could survive without them sending in supplies to your location? 

“I didn’t care,” the Traveler said angrily.  “I’d rather be dead than dependent upon those bastards.” 
The Old Man laughed.  “If it makes you feel any better, you would have died anyway waiting for them,” he said.  “They never bring supplies.  They also figure that you will remove your chip anyway as this would be consistent with the nature of those sent here, so they don’t keep track of you either.  As a matter of fact, their entire program ended months ago, right after they dropped you off.”

The Traveler thought for a moment.  “Is that why I never saw any planes?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the Old Man.  They don’t bring in prisoners anymore.”  

“Why did they stop?” the Traveler asked.

The Old Man laughed.  “I suppose they have more important things to attend to now.  Your country of origin is currently fighting both a civil and world war.  And it looks like the government is losing both of them.  The guerilla warfare going on at home is disrupting their control system.”

“Damn,” said the Traveler.  That’s the same sort of stuff I wrote about on my blog.”

“Yes,” said the Old Man.  “And you were not alone.”

“How many other prisoners have been brought here?” the Traveler asked.

“Come with me,” said the Old Man.

The Traveler followed the Old Man into the opening of what turned out to be a massive cave.  The Old Man picked up a torch that shined a sort of light that the Traveler had never seen before as it lit up the entire cavern.  They entered a sort of labyrinth. Without the Old Man’s assistance, the Traveler would have soon become lost. 

Upon reaching daylight on the other side, the scene opened to a huge lush valley with a great river running through the middle of it.  The Old Man led him into the village.  The villagers looked up from their labors as he approached.  He noted that each adult carried a scar upon their hands.  The children, all of whom had been born here at this oasis, were free from these blemishes.     

“You must understand,” said the Old Man, following the Traveler’s gaze.  “We are all rebels by nature.  That’s why we were sent here.”

“You know,” said the Traveler, “When I first was brought here to the desert, I felt bad that I had let down those close to me by being labeled a criminal.  But after my travels in the desert, I now know that it was they who were the ones that were wrong.  At least I tried to alert others to the approaching tyranny.  They just laid down for it.”

“And now they suffer the fate of not heeding our warnings; the same inner warnings that they also denied,” said the Old Man.

The Traveler shook his head sadly.  Looking around, he now realized that the villagers had become quiet and were watching him intently.  Their gaze was the same as he had first seen in the Old Man.  Yet he still did not understand.    

The villagers soon returned to their tasks.  “People look happy here,” said the Traveler, continuing to glance around.

“Yes,” said the Old Man.  “It’s much different than where you came from.  We don’t have systems to run people’s lives anymore.  We help each other here.  We build each other’s homes taken from the timber,” the old man pointed to the stand of trees in the distance.  “We grow our own food.  We live simple lives.”

“How did you ever find this place?” asked the Traveler.

The Old Man began walking and motioned for him to follow.
The Old Man led the Traveler deeper into the village until they came upon two large wooden buildings.  The tallest one held a tower.  The energy emanating from it was enormous.

“This is the type of tower first created by Tesla,” the Old Man said.  “But perhaps it goes back further than that.  We have scientists here that now help maintain it but they did not create it.  It was here before anyone arrived.  At least anyone who was still alive.  I know this because I was the first to be led here.”

“What do you mean?” asked the Traveler.   

“I have more to show you,” the Old Man said leading the way to the next structure.  This building contained a giant mainframe computer. 

“Just as you, I was directed here through artificial intelligence,” said the Old Man.  “But unlike you, there was no one else here when I arrived.”

“How could that be?” asked the traveler.

“We’re not sure,” said the Old Man.  “But there’s more.  On the edge of the village, we have a hanger housing the drones that are powered through the energy of the tower implemented through the A.I. of the computer.
The Traveler thought for a moment.  “So, it was the drones that brought me supplies?”

“That’s right,” said the Old Man.  “We always knew where you were because of them as they are also equipped with cameras.” 

The Traveler thought for a moment.  “I noticed that they took me on a circuitous route to get here while I was in the desert,” he said.  “Why did they do that?”

“You needed more time in the desert to burn out all your false beliefs.” 

“You know, I thought I was going to die,” said the Traveler.  “I would have died without the supplies.”

“How did you feel about that?”
“I was afraid at first,” the Traveler said.  “But I came to terms with it at some point.  I mean, supplies or not, the heat alone can kill you.  Like you said, I needed the time to burn out the ways of the world I came from.  The systems of that world had nothing to offer me other than their demands for my blind obedience. 
“Yes, it was bad even when I was there,” said the Old Man.  “And that was fifty years ago.  I don’t want to think about what it’s like to live in that kind of society now.  In the end, this “civilization” we both came from used its technology for warfare as well as feeding the hive mind its distractions in order to hide from the atrocities committed in their name.” 

“Were the others brought here for the same reasons as me?” asked the Traveler.

“Yes,” said the Old Man.  “They were all activists of some kind, standing against the system and exposing the corrupt motives of those who served it.” 

“And now they are all here.”

“That’s right,” said the Old Man.  “We were brought here to their desert purgatory while they flew back to the hell of their own creation.”

“It looks like your creation is better,” said the Traveler looking around the village. 

“We have found balance in our lives,” said the Old Man walking over to where some of the villagers were planting a garden.
“We utilize the technology that we have been given, but we also understand the importance of staying connected to the earth.”
“But how did all this come out of the desert?” The Traveler asked incredulously looking at the lush fields and the river. 

“All we know is that whoever developed the technology also created all this,” said the Old Man. 

The Traveler nodded. “So, everyone here has come out of the desert except for the children born here?” asked the Traveler.

“Yes,” said the Old Man.  “But when the children come of age, they too will travel into the desert.  It is a type of vision quest for them.
“You send them into the desert?”

“Yes,” the Old Man replied.  “And not only the children. You could probably guess this, but we have almost no crime here.  We practice the non-aggression principle and wish only to live in harmony with one another.” 

“But for those who have become unbalanced, they go back into the desert, most often of their own accord.  The desert burns away the dross in our character.  The time you spent out there was the time you needed to burn away yours.”
The Traveler realized that this was true.

“How did you know the amount of time I needed to spend in the desert?” he asked
The Old Man was silent.
“You didn’t know,” said the Traveler.  “The computer did.”

“Yes,” said the Old Man.  “Or whoever created it.” 

“But how can that be,” asked the Traveler.

“We have no idea!” The Old Man laughed.  “But it knows just the same.” 


As the sun began to set, the villagers came together once again to more formally greet their newest member and prepare the evening meal.  They had already built a small house for the Traveler as they had already known of his upcoming arrival.     

The Traveler was now finally able to read the faces of the villagers.  It was a look of respect (something he had been unused to seeing where he had come from).  He also understood that, along with himself, they too had suffered greatly for remaining true to themselves. 

Back in their old world, they had left a trail of lost relationships with friends and family and jobs that had come and gone, as most they had tried to reach preferred to remain with their cozy little lies rather than heed the warnings of those who stood before him now.  To various degrees, these men and women had all endured the isolation and derision from the mindless masses in the countries they had been banished from.   

But most importantly, they had all come out of the desert.

“Namaste, my friends,” said the soul who had reached the end of its journey.  “It’s good to be home.”

The Old Man smiled.



  1. A great story with a hot cup of tea on this dreary day.

  2. Thanks Patrick. Wanted to see what it looked like to have a friendly "ghost in the machine" for once.