Welcome to the oasis.

"I've been riding for days. Which way is it to the horizon?"

"That depends on which way you want to go and which way you will inevitably decide to go," she told him.

He asked if he could rest for a while, so she brought him food and drink and showed him where he could rest for the night. He thanked her. She smiled at him with her eyes. They flashed with sorrow and with hidden depth. He wondered what it meant, and as he slept he dreamed of her.

In the dream he stood proud. He was strong, he was powerful and he was aware. He stood beside a lake, which was at first quiet and serene, but then the lake began churning. Great waves within a whirlpool of chaos turned the peaceful lake into a storm. He did not fear the storm. He remained standing tall and proud.

He heard the voice of the woman of the oasis from within the whirlpool, calling out to him. She needed help. She was drowning. She was caught in the storm. Yet, he stood and watched as she reached out to him, asking him to grab her hand. He would not reach out, he would merely stand and wait for her to come to him.

Sensing that the dream was instructing him to help this woman, he resolved to do so. When he awoke, he went to the woman and offered himself to her.

"I will help you. Whatever you need, I am here to give it to you."

He told her of the dream and how he interpreted it. She smiled and told him he was a good man.

"You feel you are powerful and strong. You feel you have a debt to others that you need to pay, especially to those you feel are weaker than yourself. How do you judge them to be weaker? By what measurement do you reach this conclusion?"

He thought for a moment and then responded. "I am strong. Within myself I have peace and understanding. My strength is used to help others, not to hurt them. My strength is my debt to those who are not strong."

"How do you judge them not to be strong?"

"I do not mean to judge them. Within all people is strength, perhaps undiscovered. Those who are suffering, oppressed and in need are those I owe my debt to."

"And if I told you that you feel this debt because their pain and suffering are easier to focus on than your own? Is there strength in masking your own suffering so that you may instead be consumed with the pain of others? Can you not make others strong by showing them you are weak? He who does not drink cannot understand those who do. There is more to a glass of water than the water and the glass."

I am wandering amongst the ruins of a life that was a dream. Blind to all my visions, all I want is a place to rest. My life has been insignificant, just as I always knew it would be. There is a sense that I have fallen, but this is the place I've always known. Nothing higher, nothing lower, I'm just playing out the string.

Everything is moving much too quickly. I just wish it would slow down. Once upon a time I was a princess. Now I'm covered in broken glass. These princes and these knights, high upon the steeds of make believe, they don't see me as I am, just as they want me to be. They think that I am drowning, but I know how to swim.

Enough with these white horses. They don't know which way to ride. These riders think they are magnificent, the true image of a man. Why do they think that they can rescue me, when they are falling on their own? What they want is to provide a bandage, so they can climb back up and ride. Why would they presume that I would want this fate? Why would they think I want their bandages? They claim to want to rescue me, yet all they do is bleed without confessing the wounds.

Welcome to Rancho Nuevo.

"Popsicle weather," remarked the bartender as he slid a beer down the bar to the newcomer.

"What's that?"

"Most newcomers wander in from the desert, so they know they are thirsty. You've come from the oasis, so you aren't willing to admit you are thirsty."

"Where the hell am I? What happened to the oasis? What happened to that woman?"

"I wouldn't count on seeing her again, at least until you know why you want to see her again. The first beer is on the house, stranger."

"Where the hell am I?"

"You are wherever you think you are. This is my place, the Blackjack Saloon. The beer is always cold and the people are always thirsty. Everyone always gets what they came for. Drink up, stranger. You'll need it. Your journey is about to become more difficult."

The newcomer sipped his beer quietly, looking around the bar at the people gathered there. Angry men with dark faces, obscured by the low brims of their cowboy hats, were seated throughout the bar. A collection of beautiful women, their faces wrought with distress and fear wandered amongst them. Every now and again, one of the dark faced cowboys would grab one of the women, assault her with physical and verbal abuse and then drag her off.

"What the hell is going on here? Why isn't anyone stopping these assholes from treating those women like that?"

"I just pour the booze and listen, my friend. You're the one who thinks he's strong enough to save everyone. Have at it. I'll be here when you get thirsty."

The Rancho Nuevo Series: