“It’s my birthday,” said Faith.
“We knew. You told us before we left. In Santa Fe Rory and I bought you a present.” Allen reached into the limo and pulled out a generic driver.
“We should hit some balls,” said Faith.
“Yeah, come on, Rory.”
“No, you guys go ahead. I’ve got to follow the goat.”
“Whatever, dude. Go into the desert and strip away all that’s holding you back,” said Allen.
“Yeah, Rory, deal with the aches, stresses, and pity,” added Faith.
Rory waved to them and as the darkness of the desert swallowed him up, he thought he heard Allen and Faith talking about doing something after they ran out of golf balls. Neither knew Tuscan, so they would probably have to just drive around. Ahead, he saw the goat and jogged until he caught up with the bearded one.
“Where are you going, little man?” asked Rory.
“We are starting that ultra I told you about. You are a candidate for a Common Dante journey. This run will feel like an inferno, purgatory, and Hell, but you’ll make. Stop talking and run.”
Rory thought he would be funny, “Every journey starts with an alpha step.”
“Not funny. Stop trying so hard. Besides, we left Lao-Tsu and the others back in New Kent cleaning up a yard. Shh.”
Rory was never a stellar runner, but he was determined to see this part of the journey through. They ran through the night side stepping cactus. Rocks and loose sand filled Rory’s shoes and caked into the goat’s beard, but they kept going. The day brought an intense sun and the imposing presence of a jagged mountain. The goat never slowed and headed up the mountain. Rory followed singing Fleetwood Mac’s “My Heart Beat Like a Hammer” and the blues gave him power. He felt the anguish in the guitar and he new the song was inspired by a greater pain than the one pounding in his chest. Then the goat stopped.
“We are halfway up the hill. Let’s rest for a minute,” said the goat.
On the ground next to Rory was a rusty horseshoe. He picked it up and began flipping it his hand.
“You know, Mr. Goat, that some people hang these over doors to catch the good luck. You’ve got to hang it with the ends up for it to work.”
“If you think you need luck, we may need to run a bit more. Let’s go.”
Rory tossed the horseshoe aside and started up the mountain again. This part was the steepest and most strenuous. Once on top, Rory and the goat found a nice place to sit and watched the sun work it’s way across the sky. Fabulous pinks and purples radiated an effervescence that left Rory in awe. Night started to claim the day and a lizard joined Rory and the goat on the rock. Soon, thereafter, a woman who was covered in desert dust and carried a bottle of tequila joined the three of them.
“Ah man, we just missed the sundown. Hi, my name is Tabitha.”
“Hello, my name is Rory and this is my friend, the goat. He doesn’t really have a name and sometimes he talks, but I’ve been following him since I left Williamsburg and here we are.”
“Weird. I’ve been following that lizard all the way from Williamsburg. Did you go to Lafayette? Wait a minute, you and I graduated together. You’re Rory Donaldson.”
“And you’re Tabitha Smith. Wow, long time, huh?”
High school had been the last time Tabitha and Rory had seen each other. They kind of ran in the same circles, but they weren’t really tight. Rory was confused as to why she would be on the mountain with a lizard so he looked to the goat who ignored him. As they talked Rory realized that Tabitha was a genuinely good person. They shared the tequila, but neither was looking for the eye popping drunk agave can unleash on a soul.
“You know, Rory, in high school you tried to hard to be cool. How’s that working for you now?”
“I don’t know. I’m wandering. This will sound weird, but I feel like Pontiac. He wanted to protect his people and stand up for what was right, but in the end someone to clubbed him in the head.”
“I’m not sure why I’m here, but I know this, who you were is not who you are. You seem to be carrying a lot of unnecessary labels. Be yourself. Your spirit is bountiful. Good luck, Rory.”
“You too, Tabitha. Thank you.”
With that Tabitha and the lizard headed back down the trail. She left the tequila which Rory used to help him sleep in the desert. In the morning he woke like an egg leaving it’s ovarian home. His alarm was really less ovulatory and more the result of the goat batting him with his cloven hoof.
“Let’s go, we’ve got to get back to Allen and Faith.”
“Mister Goat, how come you never talked to that lizard?” asked Rory.
“I can’t talk to myself. Duh.”
Where there should have been pain, trouble, and sorrow, there was none. Faith had told Rory to be careful of aches, stresses, and pain, but after talking to Tabitha Rory felt free again.
“You know Mr. Goat, Tabitha was a seven,” said Rory.
“That’s right. On your scale, she was a seven.”
Rory explained, “She’s a diode, positivity going in one direction.”
“And what direction is she sending you?”
“I’m not sure, but I bet you have an idea.”
The goat nodded.
“Why a goat and not a lizard?” asked Rory.
“Do you remember that time you were standing next to the paddock with the goats at the animal rescue place and that mean goat came over and put his head on your shoulder?”
“You weren’t scared. We knew goats were something you could accept. So here I am.”
They ran all the way back to Tuscan.