"I AM AN IDIOT!"
The cry echoed over the unsuspecting cityscape, rebounding off the walls of neighboring skyscrapers and careening down long canyons of cement, shrill and desperate from the lithe figure that stood upon the edge of the twenty-three story apartment building.
After having finished this announcement, the man wiped the spit from his lips and retreated to the stairs.
Jack Ivans was not a happy soul.
And having his friends and family suggest he see a psychiatrist certainly didn't make him feel any better about himself. So, with mindless certainty, Jack stumbled out onto the street in search of a bar. Maybe alcohol would make him feel better about life. Of course, if this statement had ever truly been revealed within his mind, he would probably have realized how stupid it sounded. But he was a stupid man. Wasn't that what had started all this in the first place?
Slipping through a crack in the wall against the beating of sound and light, he found himself in a downtown club. Perching himself at the counter, he ordered 'whatever he's drinking', pointing to a tattoo-plastered, soggy-bearded bear-man.
Jack was in no mood to think right now. Thinking would only result in the realization that he was stupid. So he did not think because he was stupid. Somehow, this seemed to make intelligent sense.
Receiving the frothing mug with both hands, Jack began the night with a vengeance.
Several hours later, he was the center of attention, his hands flailing about with story-teller precision, knocking glasses from the counter, and narrowly missing his raucous crowd. They slapped him on the back, bought him more alcohol, and generally sympathized with him by getting absolutely wasted.
"I told my boss to screw it!" Jack roared with laughter.
His new-found friends roared right on back, and the bartender raised an eyebrow.
"And do you know what he did? He FIRED me! Right on the stinkin' spot!"
"You don't need no boss!" came a cry from the Pale One. "You're your own boss!"
Jack was being increasingly put off by the Pale One's input, but he managed to gulp back his response and give the group a fluttering gaze. The Pale One had been offering random shouts every so often, and they always managed to stand out amidst the cries from the rest.
And so, when the night began to wither and die, Jack was rather nervous to find himself sitting alone with only the Pale One at his side.
"You know?" muttered the Pale One. "Your stories were inspiring to us all."
Jack winced. Those words did not fit well with the atmosphere or pounding headache of noise.
"They reminded me of a man I used to know. I failed him, I did. But even still, things come back to me from when he was trainin' me."
Jack was quiet. He would rather let the Pale One talk to a brick wall all night.
"But before he was gonna train me, I was sayin' things similar to what you've been sayin' all night. Maybe he should train you. Getcha life on track, nomean? You say you hate psychiatrists right?"
"Hate 'em all. I don't need 'em," Jack spat.
"Well this guy eats 'em for breakfast. He's a wise guy. A right ole wizard with golden teeth and a smile that makes him fly. I betcha, if you go find 'em, he'd take you on and train you up right."
Jack couldn't quite grasp what the Pale One was telling him, but at the moment, he was barely grasping his sanity. And so, his interest began to peak like a flaming rocket, until he finally asked, "What's so great about 'em, eh?"
"He's got his ways, ya know? He lives as his own. Doesn't take no one from this world of rich pigs as his boss."
"Good for him."
"S'very good. And he could show ya his Way."
Jack frowned. "His Way?" he asked. "Wha's that?"
"Way of Life, man."
"That sounds bloody sassy man. There better not be any of that meditation crud."
The Pale One jerked forward in sudden laughter and slammed his head against the counter. Then, from the floor, after having collapsed from his chair, he silenced his giggles and said, "Oh fudge. That's how he tricks ya! He asks you to close your eyes and empty your mind. You start thinking, 'oh no, not this crud', and then it happens."
"Can't tell you man. But you can find out for yourself."
Jack moved from his stool and put his hands on his knees to steady himself and to also look the Pale One in the eyes. "Where can I find this cracker?"
The Pale One narrowed his eyes, as if sizing Jack up to see if he would have enough courage...or enough brain cells to remember an address.
"Go to fifth street. Between the dance club and the steak house there's an alley called Durrow Alley. Follow it until you pass a green dumpster. There's a door in the wall to your left. Knock three times before entering. Then you gotta find your way through the dark. And I can't help you there. Eventually, if you survive, you'll find a curtain of beads. His place is through the beads. But careful not to make a single sound when moving through them beads. I know, it's nearly impossible. But don't make a sound. And then you just gotta introduce yourself to the empty room. He'll appear when he pleases."
Jack's face had gone from intent to incredulous to utterly dumbfound as this instruction was rattled off from the tongue of a half-conscious stranger. But he was determined. "Oi," he said. "I will begin the journey at once! The night is still young."
Jack left the Pale One where he sat on the sticky bar floor and stumbled out onto the street. He couldn't remember why he was going to find this mysterious man, but he was determined. It was a quest. It was four in the morning and he was drunk, but he was going to succeed nonetheless!
Somehow, the Way was lit with little dancing lights in his mind's eye. All he had to do was follow them to the hide-away dungeon on the farside of sanity to meet a mysterious old man. And that would solve all his problems. Wouldn't it?