Last Man Standing

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Amos sat in front of a plate of sizzling sisig. He gazed out the window of a tiny hole-in-the-wall resto, watched the erratic traffic patterns of the Philippines that were still so foreign to him even after all these years.

He sighed. It was a heavy, dusty sigh. A sigh of resignation. A sigh of loss.

Forced into hiding by a life-long enemy, he’d fled all the way to the other side of the world. He was all that was left of his line; the rest of his family was dead. A decade ago, he’d spent what was left of his life’s savings on a plane ticket, entered the country on a tourist visa and hadn’t been able to afford an extension. Now he was an illegal alien. If he tried to leave the country for some place new, the BI would detain him, fine him and deport him back to the States, where his life would be endangered again.

A shadow passed over his table, and he looked up. A figure stood at the entrance, a silhouette against the bloated late-afternoon sun. A man. Something about him tickled the periphery of Amos’s memory, but he couldn’t have said why. The man walked in, ordered the tapsilog and sat down at an empty table across from him.

Every now and then, Amos saw him casting furtive glances in his direction. It wasn’t unusual for foreigners in small towns to draw attention, so why did the man’s looks cause him so much anxiety?

As if replying to the unspoken question, a thought that was not his own hit him in the head like a dart.

He’s coming.

The man looked up once, peered into Amos’s eyes, held his gaze. Amos caught sight of the tattoo on his right upper arm, a coiled snake with its mouth open, baring two sharp fangs. The insignia of his enemy’s inner circle. He was certain the man had meant for him to see it.

Amos’s pulse quickened.

So, he’d been found. Amos wasn’t surprised. In fact, he’d never truly expected to get away, only to buy himself some extra time. He had nowhere to go, nowhere else to hide. It would be a showdown, then. Would he be the last man standing? He didn’t know, but he had nothing left to lose. What kind of life had he managed to enjoy, so far from home with none of his kith or kin, anyway?

Amos finished his sisig, pushed the metal plate aside and walked out into the humid afternoon.

It was time to prepare.

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Journey’s End

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It was big. World-sized big. It towered over her, blocking her path. So, this was what her journey had come to. Centuries of trudging through deserts and mountains, seas and jungles, space and time, only so that minutes from her journey’s end, a stone wall could block her path. It shot up into the sky and out of sight, extended to the left and right as far as the eye could see.

She fell to the dusty ground, bowed her head and cried.

She could remember when she’d first set out, how young and beautiful she’d been, so full of ambition and drive. She cleaved to her mission with an almost childlike devotion. Then she aged. Her features weathered, until she was like many of the deserts she’d passed through on the way. Youthful optimism yielded first to caution, then to exhaustion. In the end, only gritty persistence and determination saw her come so close to the other side.

She’d faced many obstacles, pushed through quite a few toils, trials and dangers. There were times when she was convinced she couldn’t go on, when she thought in long bouts of despair that she might as well lay down to die, letting her bleached bones adorn her incomplete path, serving as a warning to others who might dare follow in her footsteps. Then she reconsidered, thinking that perhaps she should encourage rather than frighten her fellow explorers. After all, more were setting out every day for the same reason she had, to be a part of something bigger, something transcendent and everlasting. So instead she let her struggle bear witness to the fact that anything was possible, that if you wanted something badly enough you could seize it by sheer will-power alone.

And that’s all this was, she realized, another obstacle, one more test before she could finally indulge in the fruit of her labor. She only had to be strong, to pick herself up from the ground one last time.

She rose. Beat the dust out of her shirt, pants and boots. Wiped away her tears. She stared at the rock face before her, until a grim smile pushed past her ancient features.

“Okay,” she said to the wall. “Let’s do this.”

She launched herself at it, pried, picked and climbed for as long as she could. But the hard granite surface was unyielding. It dug into her skin, scratching, tearing, bleeding.

Then, just when she’d offered all her strength, when she felt she had no blood left to shed, a harsh baritone rumble swallowed the world. The wall moved down, sucked into the Earth. She watched, mesmerized, until first the sky, then the mountains beyond became visible. An entire vista opened before her eyes, a glittering otherworldly refuge of gold, silver and crystal. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

When the last of the wall had disappeared beneath the ground, she stepped forward. She’d done it. She was on the other side.

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