West of the Hudson, in the parking lot of a steel mill long closed sat Cassidy and a pile of reeds he pulled out of the banks of the river. Entwining the straws of grass in his hand, he thought about the river itself: slow, powerful, eternal in movement and grace. At the same time the sun set behind him, casting a glowing orange light over the landscape. Right before he completed the crude lanyard, a voice from behind him rang out, distracting his train of consciousness.
“Everyone around here knows it’s bad luck to play with the fruits of the Earth.”
At once, Cassidy turned to see a man— no younger than seventy— standing tall in the wash of the orange from the sun. Loosely fitting worn clothes hung off of his body, and Cassidy could smell a tint of liquor on his breath even from a distance. Liquor that Cassidy would likely drown himself in once the moon rose.
“So why the sacrilege in the presence of the almighty river?”
“Truth be told: I’m just passing time until the sun sets and the magic starts.”
Rumbling laughter erupted from the depths of the man’s gut. “And here I thought you were another drunk wasting his life away. Now how about you and I go on an adventure of self-discovery and debauchery?”
Going anywhere with the strange newcomer seemed like a bad idea by all accounts. Even so, Cassidy found himself intrigued by the notion of making a new friend.
“Let’s go. Obviously, I have nothing better to do.”
“Obviously, you have the mind of an ocean and a heart as big as Jupiter. Personally, I take care to avoid the average vagabond, but you are a cut above the norm.”
So the strange pairing joined forces and soon found themselves wandering around the back streets of New Jersey.
Stepping onto the tracks of the local New Jersey Transit line, the strange man began his discourse. “People always assume you need a train to make use of these lines of steel. I maintain the long-held notion that these tracks are a part of a sacred order established far before human civilization.”
Noting the swagger in the old man’s step, Cassidy listened while keeping up his guard. Night was coming on fast, and the people of Hoboken were heading in for shelter from the cold. Indeed, the wind did pick up and cut through the thin jacket Cassidy received from a Salvation Army drive, but the chill was least of his problems. Noisily—and out of nowhere— did the strange man begin to rage against a bright red ‘Stop’ sign at an intersection.
“Get a hold of yourself! I don’t need the cops after me again!”
Neglecting the words of caution from his companion, the old fool continued his tirade against the geometric shape. Everyone remaining outside looked at the pair of them with eyes of concern. No one stopped to ask what was wrong or to investigate the reasoning behind such a display.
“Death to you, Trafficker of Man! Let’s see what power you have once I destroy thee!”
Exerting inhuman effort, the old man tore the ‘Stop’ sign up from the concrete with a roar that sounded for miles. Steel twisted in the hands of a seemingly mortal man. Sounds of triumphant laughter filled the now empty streets. Distraught, Cassidy asked for an explanation.
“All throughout the history of man, a sovereign hand relied upon signs and shapes to dominate the free will of the traveler. Name’s ‘Ernest’ by the way. Can’t be wandering with a man if names aren’t exchanged.”
“Ernest, I’m Cassidy: the fool who follows you still.”
Reclining on the stoop of the local church did not bring the trouble Cassidy thought it would. Overhead hung the sacred cross of a man regarded by many as the savior of the human race. To Ernest, the very notion was superstitious rubbish. “Absolute nonsense! To think that we emerged from the primordial ooze just to bow to a pile of sticks and bones.”
Intermittently, the pair took puffs from a pipe they recovered from a drunk down the road. Narcotics came to the two via fellow street urchins and enemies of the law. Getting a proper place to enjoy these newfound goods was an entirely different prospect. Adding to the surreal conversation was the advent of the moon, full and dominant in the sky. Now Cassidy could feel the ancient lunar power coursing through his veins, greatly enhancing his consciousness and thought processes.
“Don’t you think you’re being too harsh? Religion is a source of hope and inspiration to the world. Everyone worships something. For instance, my god is the all-seeing moon.”
“Lunatic are yuh? Even for me that’s crazy.”
Cassidy shrugged his shoulders and took another hit from the pipe. THC travelled through his bloodstream and up to his brain, exposing his inner self to the world around him. Interestingly enough, Ernest refused the puff when Cassidy offered it.
“No more small talk about insignificant matters. Get ready to face down some true evil.”
Intense light burned Cassidy’s eyes as he loitered outside of the nightclub with Ernest. Noise from the obnoxious music leaked into outside air, disturbing the natural soundings of the night around them. “There lies the enemy. Enslaving the minds and hearts of the youth with soulless rhythms and colors.” Right as Ernest said this, a group of college-aged students came stumbling out of the club, yelling and cackling and adding to the disorder of the universe. Tightening his fists, Ernest approached the group with a determination meant only for generals of war. Without a second thought, Cassidy followed suit.
“I think the homeless shelter is short a couple residents,” noted one of the college students.
“I think it’s time someone showed you what it means to live. Need a lesson?” growled Ernest as he made a dart towards the group.
And what ensued can only be described as an epic clash of economic classes. Neither mercy nor ruth was given to either side during that great battle in the parking lot behind the night club. Dealing sickening blow after sickening blow to people who had marginalized him for years, Cassidy felt an urge reserved for the most primitive Neanderthal. Shortly after the fight started, the college kids ran off, intimidated by the untamed vigor of the brawling hobos. Police sirens sounded a block away, signaling the hasty exit of the victors. Looking behind at the scene of violence, Cassidy could only think one thing.
“I think today may be the greatest day of my life.”
The host stopped and turned to him. “The truth of things is that every day can be the greatest day of our lives. Indeed, the happiness of the self can be mapped from pure perspective.”
Night hung over the land like a blanket. Growing out of Cassidy’s mind was a grand flower— ready to bloom and reveal its glory to the world.
For miles and miles, Ernest and Cassidy ran in their attempt to escape the ruckus they created. Oncoming clouds signified the arrival of a short shower. Rain briefly fell on the two men, coating them in water recycled in an endless loop forged by the natural laws of physics. Mentally, Cassidy was coming down from his high in a big way. In the physical activity of flight, he could feel the drugs from earlier push themselves out of his system. Nocturnal animals filled the silence of the dark with chirps and howls and buzzes.
“Getting closer to the source of life in these here parts,” announced Ernest, pointing to a clearing in the woods just east of the nearest town, “Gab whatever tethers you have to this corporeal sham and toss them away.”
Reaching into his pockets, Cassidy pulled out all of the trinkets he kept from his life before he was laid off and threw them aside. Even the yellowed picture of his old family lay in the dirt as he made his way towards the sacred tree. All was quiet as the pair entered the clearing, coming face to face with the Tree of Souls.
“This is it, isn’t it? Power and knowledge and wisdom from all ages in one point,” Cassidy asked.
“The tree has roots stretching across the very edges of time itself. To meditate at the trunk is to open one’s self to a reality far beyond human perception,” Ernest answered as he sat at the base of the tree.
Recognizing the sacred ground he stood on, Cassidy bowed fully prostrate before the ancient holder of truth. “Now I ascend beyond the base form of man,” declared Cassidy as he prepared for a grand revelation on a cosmic scale.
A new day dawned; golden light of the sun bathed the state. Cassidy sat by the Hudson once more, twisting the reeds in his hands into crude lanyards. Railroads carried office workers into the steel trap of the city beyond the river.
“O Hudson, old and invincible, deliver me from the machinations of this cruel world. Save me from the clutches of the Standard and Poor,” said Cassidy to the elemental forces of nature. The night before, Cassidy had parted ways with Ernest after their time with the Tree.
“It has been an honor fighting at your side. May the Mother of Reality sate you with her bountiful bosom,” Ernest said as the sun came up beyond the horizon to take its place in the sky. And as much as Cassidy hated to admit it, he felt the same honor and wished similar good fortune to his impromptu friend. Negativity had plagued Cassidy ever since he was thrown out of the workforce and into the world of the bereft and forgotten. Death and aimless wandering seemed to be the only path a man like him could hope to attain. Salvation, as unlikely as it sounded, came in the form of a wayfaring stranger going to a land without sin or danger.
Perhaps Cassidy could find that land himself with enough searching. After all, every great journey began with a single step. Cassidy rose with the sun and walked the lonely road of a man who saw the true purpose and beauty of reality. Enlightenment had never felt so good.