Push. The stone begins to retreat. He presses through bleeding teeth. Sweat pisses from his forehead and shoulders and runs down his back. His calves bulge and pop. He can hear the tendons strain against the fibers for the millionth time. The stone retreats another inch and his shoulders threaten to dislocate. They will. He has felt them. It has happened thousands of times in the past. His elbows hold, but as he presses, his back arches, and his body begins to fold.
This is a mistake. He has felt this before as well, lost count how many times in fact.
One disc slips and pain rips through him like electricity. A second begins to follow suit. His hips could straighten this out and he tries, but that calls for the legs and knees to aid him and that isn’t going to happen in the world of hurt he is living in now.
The stone retreats another inch and his back releases with it. The leverage is gone and the stone is not stopping now. He knows the next move and with his last bit of energy he spins out of the way for the two, three, or four billionth time and dives. He just gets himself clear as the stone rumbles past. He turns and watches his nemesis roll away.
He drags himself off the ground to his knees, stops and begins to weep.
His weeping is quiet and breathy and the tears come from his eyes running in waves. When he can no longer hold back he wails in frustration and sorrow into the hot desert wind. His body is already reconstituting and as a compulsion, he stands. Still weeping, his body moving like a marionette, he is taken back down the hill while rivulets of tears run down his robe.
He cries the tears of the damned, the lost and the lonely. He glances around as his body takes him back down to the starting point. All around is desert, wasted and hot. Nothing is living or moving, but him and nothing has for as long as he has been here. He doesn’t pray for forgiveness or for mercy. He ended that after the first decade. Here, it is never been dark, it has never been night, it has never rained nor has it ever cooled. Day in and out he has pushed and strained. He has worn a groove into the earth and he knows every inch of this stone.
His stone. It has crushed body parts. It has flattened limbs only to have them regenerate a moment later and with them, the same the compulsion to return to the bottom of the hill and start again. Push.
Push, he breathes and the stone moves weighting not much more than a feather. He takes the first step and the weight begins to accumulate. He presses on. His feet treading the same path he has walked for… How long has he been here?
In life he kept his own counsel. He trusted no one. He was cruel and a trickster, but he was charismatic and cunning, with a charm that could make friends with the Devil himself. He once fooled Mr. Death and trapped him for a time. He made an enemy out of God.
The endless sleep of true death was far too good for the likes of him for he was powerful. And so, this… A special purgatorial realm was created for him to be left and forgotten about for a moment or forever. Which was it? Those two always get mixed up.
The hill was straight and not very steep, but with each step the stone gained more weight; five pounds, ten stone, a hundred kilos here and there. It was perfectly rounded so it rolled easily in the groove. He walked, pushing it, feeling the weight increase. A few hundred thousand times he had tried to turn around once he was near the top. Press with his back and use his legs, for he had clearly gotten stronger over the millennia. It was to no avail.
He might slip and lose a foot, but it would come back a moment later. He’d slipped countless times, had his arms, shoulders and legs crushed, but they too came back. He has never died however. He had never been completely crushed. His body has been mangled beyond recognition, but never his head. For he wants to live, he has always wanted to live and if he is to live for eternity in this place pushing this stone up this accursed hill then so be it. He would still be living.
He pressed. In the strain and the heat the sweat poured down his face and began to burn his eyes. The tears only came in the aftermath. They came in the frustration. The tears had only begun a hundred years ago and only came as he watched the stone roll back down the hill. Something felt different now.
All of a sudden the tears began as he pushed. Why were the tears coming now? He stepped forward, pushing the stone watching the chipped bits and flecks he recognized on the stones surface as they moved through his blurred vision.
He cried the tears of the damned as the stone became heavier. He splayed his palms wide and dug in with his hands as the weight increased and the stone rolled forward up the hill. How long had it been? It was countless.
He did not pray for forgiveness. He did not care to be forgiven. He felt his legs beginning to strain. He had been cruel and faces began to run through his vision. He imagined their blood on his hands as he pushed the stone.
Step, his feet were starting to dig. His calves began to bulge. The tears were running now for who he was, who he had been and what he had done. They ran for his self-righteousness and his complacency. He bowed his head and pressed the stone as the sweat began to piss from his forehead. The tears and sweat ran and dripped off his nose. He didn’t pray. He apologized, for what he had done and who he had become.
He used his head, had he ever done that before? The stone moved higher. His body was locked and straining. His joints were crushing and his tendons were taut and holding fast while his muscles and threatened to pull. He opened his mouth for the first time in decades to speak and found he had forgotten how. He pressed and the stone rolled, getting even heavier. The tendons squeezed and sweat squirted from his skin as his muscles burned.
Forever? An understanding suddenly came to him and more tears began to burn from his eyes. He didn’t speak to God, or the gods, for he cared nothing for them or their rules. He released a scream of pain and frustration and sorrow. Not for himself, but for those he had wronged. He pressed. The stone moved forward.
How much had he been given? He had been a king and he had squandered his power, his rule. He had demanded supplication from his subjects. He had stolen. He had murdered and he had raped. He was worse than even he had ever believed.
He opened his mouth and screamed again in frustration and memory and pressed. The stone rolled higher, getting still heavier. The weight on the top of his head was crushing his neck. He breathed and suddenly felt eyes on him. Were they judging him, or where they only bearing witness? It mattered not at all. He was in judgment of himself. What had he become and why?
He pressed and the stone moved as his body burned and his joints crushed. His face was awash with tears and sweat and his neck was strained on his shoulders. He screamed again forgetting how to make any words at all. More eyes were on him. He couldn’t see them, but he knew they were there. All his transgressions were bearing witness to this final reckoning.
What was that? Final? Yes final, for he would succeed this time or he would allow the stone to take him. He pressed and the stone moved. His body was in flames, riddled with strain and leverage as the stone gained even more weight. It was now threatening to crush him. If it retreated an inch he would be finished.
He could not speak, but his mind remained sharp and finally, suddenly, after a millennium’s millennium he apologized for his transgressions. He apologized to the eyes on him, to the witnesses to his redemption and his reckoning. He cried out again and pushed with everything he had left and the stone didn’t move.
Why was he put here, to roll the stone forever? How long had it been and how long was forever? Forever was somewhere between a moment and eternity and where was he now? The fire in his body overtook him and all at once he felt his muscles release.
There was a moment, a moment of tears and blood and sweat where he could have moved and started again. In that moment he decided he was not deserving of this, for even this torture was living, it was maddening, but it was living. He could have stepped to the side and begun again and if that be the case he would die this time, and die again and again the next time on into forever. His body collapsed and the stone which now weighed tons began to roll back.
He felt it happen. He felt it all.
His back crushed with his neck. His knees turned an odd angle and this time the blood came fiercely as his skin split. He was quite literally flattened and everything that was inside of him was squeezed into the outside.
His head went last and he was still aware when it did. His skull was hard and it twisted as it rolled. His eyes were granted a moment’s vision of those who bore witness to this reckoning as tears still poured from them. Then the skull went. His brains left him as the stone crushed it and rolled down to the bottom of the hill.
The emptiness and the forgiving endless black only lasted a moment before he returned. The pieces of himself reconstituted on the hill and he took his first step as a weeping marionette. He looked around to the audience as he descended to the bottom. He breathed and placed his hands on the stone still weeping and still apologizing as a hand rested on his shoulder.
He turned to face a man. He had once called the man friend and he had betrayed him. He had his friend beheaded. Then he raped his wife and his children as well before selling them all into slavery. The wife and the children were there as well and countless others he had wronged. There were hundreds of them and they all stood with him each placing a hand on the stone and together they all pushed. He continued to weep as he walked up the hill, pressing on the stone that felt as if it weighed nothing.
Near the top he began to feel some weight, but the mob of supporting forgiveness pressed forward and the stone rolled up and up and then stopped. One by one the helping hands were removed until he stood for the first time with no weight threatening to crush him. He dropped to his knees, resting his head and keeping his hands on the stone.
He wept now more than ever in the past. He wept for the mercy and forgiveness that he did not deserve. He wept in thanks and made the ground muddy with his tears. Then one by one he removed first one hand, and then carefully he removed the second. For the first time in forever he felt the weight of pain, the weight of the horrible atrocities he had committed and the immense foreboding weight of guilt leave him. He wept and screamed his thanks to the heavens as dropped to his knees and the stone stayed.