The hand scrawled map glowed in Cara's palm. It was set to fade in a few minutes, to protect the drawer, so Cara rushed down the street following the blinking dots on her hand. It was pre-dawn and the city still slumbered, save for a few late-night Friday revelers stumbling home. Cara paused next to a laundromat to gain her bearings, then turned the corner and walked briskly uphill to the terminus of the trail on the map.
When she arrived, she didn't see anyone. She sighed partly with exasperation, and partly with relief. This was not something she would normally do, but things had gotten a bit monotonous. Her job needed her less and less, and she filled the unused hours not with mindless entertainment, but with questions. Most of them ultimately boiled down to 'why?' in the deepest hours of the night.
The questions seeped into her work time--and she'd often sit at her desk, staring at the fabric on her cubicle wall, thinking 'why?' Her boss, a middle-aged man who enjoyed working out and liked to talk about it at length in the empty spaces between actual conversations, noticed her listlessness. One afternoon, he pulled up a chair and sat down beside her (straddling the chair backwards with his arms resting on the back), and looked at her earnestly until she turned to face him, a little annoyed.
"Cara, now look, you seem to be in a daze--why don't you tell me what's wrong?"
"I'm fine," she said. "Really." She tried chuckling, but it seemed to come out forced, which it was.
"Oh come on, you can tell me," he said smiling. She wondered if he really thought he could be helpful.
"I'm just a little distracted. I'll try to be a little more mindful--"
"Yeah. Look I'm sorry it got to the point--"
"Oh, well we all get that way once in awhile, don't we? Nothing to be embarrassed about."
"I'm not embar--"
"It's okay," he said, then leaned into her personal space (she rolled a few inches backward in her chair), "I've got this friend, if you need a little...boost. You know what I mean?"
"I'm not really sure what--"
"You know," he nudged her arm, "pharmaceuticals."
"Oh. Ooh. Yeah, no, I'm not really into that."
"Trust me Cara, this guy isn't your run-of-the-mill dealer, you know?" he chuckled sincerely, then pressed the back of his hand to his mouth as he looked into the distance. "Actually, I'm not sure you could call what he has...does, pharmaceuticals."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, when you go up to him, you just tell him your problem, and then, I don't know, he's gone and you feel fine."
Cara looked skeptically at her boss.
"What?" she asked.
"It's hard to explain. I don't know, I mean I can't even really recall what goes on."
"I assume you give him money--"
"No, that's the thing, you don't. It's weird isn't it? Like I said, he's not a normal dealer."
"What does he get out of it?"
"I'm not sure. Look, I'll give you a map. I'll make it last until tomorrow. I'll send it as an overlay to you via email." He stood and patted her on the back, letting his hand linger a little too long. "Meanwhile, you can get back to work. Try to focus!"
He left Cara's cubicle looking slightly worried. Cara watched him walk down the carpeted expanse between the rows of cubes. He smiled and chitchatted with a co-worker then disappeared into his office. The map arrived an hour later, with a note that said, "I hope you find what you're looking for."
Cara debated using the map all the rest of the day, but at night, in bed, she couldn't sleep thinking about it. She got up early, just as the map started to fade, and decided to give this mysterious dealer a try.
She waited at the end of the trail for five minutes that felt like an hour, watching the early Saturday couriers speed by on their bikes. The birds began waking up in their nest trees and started their symphony of chirps. She felt a tap on her shoulder and jumped.
"Can I help you?" it was a man with dusty pale skin and piercing blue eyes. He spoke softly, but not entirely kindly. Cara got the impression she might be trespassing.
"My uh, friend told me to come here," Cara sputtered, "He said he hopes I might find what I'm looking for."
"And you think I know what that means?" said the man coldly.
"Maybe. I don't know," said Cara, steadying her voice.
"What is it you actually want?" said the man. He hadn't yet blinked during the entire conversation and it suddenly started to bother Cara, but she forced the feeling of unease to pass through her.
"I want enlightenment," she blurted.
"Hmmm," said the man. "Do you actually want enlightenment, or do you want the feeling of it?"
"Do you even know what you're asking me?"
"I know it's impossible, but that's the truth. That's what I want. I want it to quell my restlessness and silence my questions." Cara felt sick giving voice to the words, as if her greatest desire was revealed to be no more than the fantasy of a young child.
The man laughed gently.
"Enlightenment is questions," he said. "Attaining enlightenment is just being comfortable with that truth. You know most people come to me seeking a way to get rid of some pain, either physical or mental. Your request is a little more unusual."
"You think I'm silly, don't you?"
"Yes, but my opinion doesn't matter, does it?"
Cara looked him squarely in the eyes and tried to see past the icy blue.
"This is important," she said finally.
"Everyone thinks there life is important. And they're right to a certain degree. But anyway, I think you just want the feeling you think enlightenment brings--that euphoria you feel when you you've just acquired some new knowledge."
"I wasn't sure if I was going to come here," said Cara. "This whole thing seems a little sketchy."
"I won't deny that," said the man.
"Can you help me, or no?"
"Yes, I can. Don't be alarmed..." he pulled her to him and kissed her fully on the mouth. Endorphins flooded her body in quantities several orders of magnitude more than anything she'd ever felt until then--her mind cleared automatically of all conscious thoughts. Her vision faded to pinpricks and quietness enveloped her mind.
The man disengaged, swirl of smoke like blue dust trailed his mouth; he still held her in his arms--she was limp and still, looking blankly up at the sky. She fought to speak.
"No--actual...enlightenment," she said.
The man cocked his head and began to look concerned. Cara twitched in his arms, then suddenly grabbed hold of his jacket.
"Actual," she repeated forcefully.
"Are you sure? Because it's not like this--this feeling you're having now. And you can never go back."
"Yes. That's what I want," she said, then closed her eyes tight.
The man moved closer and brushed his lips against hers. Blue particles came away from his skin and landed on her. They burrowed in. He brushed his cheek against hers, and even more particles came free and transferred. He pulled away again, and looked at her face. Her eyes were still tight.
"Open your eyes," he said, and she did. They were icy blue and impenetrable, like his. "Do you understand now?"
"All things, yes," she said.
"This is a burden," he said.
"You can grant anyone their greatest desire, with just a kiss. And you can choose not too."
"But I won't choose that, will I?"
"No, not ever."
Cara felt control of her body returning, and she stood apart from the man. She brushed her hand against her face and blue particles showered down onto her shirt.
"They do tend to forget," he added.
"And I won't."
"But that's okay. Because even with that, I still know all the questions--"
"--and none of the answers--"
"--which is a relief, isn't it."
They looked at each other as equals, then at the exact same moment, without indicating to the other, they turned and walked away in opposite directions, never to see one another again.