She crouched behind a short spiky bush, and waited for a sound. There was none, not even the usual discrete footfall of small creatures in the dark. A hawk could be seen, circling silently around the dark silhouette of the tower.
“So,”she thought,”This is where you died, so long ago even the stones have forgotten your name, the colour of your hair, the strength of your arms…” She relaxed her grip on the sword: there was no-one there, perhaps not even the spirit of the hero, who, in eons past, had died defending her ancestors, in this forsaken and deserted place, alone against multitudes of demons.
But she had to find out. Cautiously she started moving toward the ruin, one step at a time, a fluid and silent…
I followed the path, to the West, and toward the expanse of water visible on the horizon. The distance was deceptive, the path rose slowly, and, after a few hours walk, it became evident that I would not get to the shore much before sunset. The vegetation was sparse, and did not offer much shelter for the night. I tried to imagine what predators might roam those hills.
After another hour walking through coarse grass and bushes, I made it to the top of a small promontory, high above the sea. The sun was sinking fast on the horizon. It is then that I saw the bird: a wide-spanned eagle, I thought, almost immobile in the golden sunlight, expertly using the air currents to glide, observing, perhaps listening.
Although I was not alone, as the apparition of the eagle showed, I felt a deep loneliness:…
I know he will come, one day, or, better, one beautiful evening, a calm, unhurried flight punctuated, at dusk, by the black birds’ song, and, even, if I am lucky a nightingale’s.
They know me, they know I admire them, and they keep looking down at that fragile, elderly silhouette, on my walks. Time is soon, of that I have no doubt, for I have seen the signs. So, one of them, I am sure, will be the Messenger.
When time comes I will welcome the Messenger, if not the message. After all, I had a long life.
There is no regret, only memories, some bittersweet, some funny. He looks back and smiles, all the time listening to the breeze blowing through the bare branches of the trees. He sees the present, but his reality is in the past, although he no longer reads it as the past, rather as a possible future, or, better, a transition between futures. The present, the spectacle, he does not care much for, there is nothing there to inspire him, to make it worth more attention. In a strange way, he’s immune, to the air du temps, to the vagaries that pass for real in most people’s daily lives: he’s sheltered, wrapped, in voices, melodies and faces that are no more, but still more alive to him than the background noise “they” call now.
She observes his decline, but admires his energy, the way he polishes wood, cleans his boots, prunes the bushes, looks after the car. There is more, but she’s careful to spare those moments, those fragile bridges to the couple they once were. She observes him, does not let him out of sight too long. Best for her, is when he is at his desk, surrounded by Beethoven or Mozart, writing one of his weird and lofty stories. Then, his mind may be far away, but his cherished body is there, visible, close to her, she knows he’s not going to disappear, through the mist. Yet she cares about where his mind is: what would she do if, one morning, he did not recognise her? What would happen to both of them if he lost his sense of time, his sense of humour?
The ancient oak ponders unfathomable tales; near the bank, the shallow water reflects the evening sky. A little further the small stones shine, enticing: come to us, stranger, we are worth more than gold… Soon the sun will sink, behind the hills. You observe, immobile, waiting. Your steed, warped in your Lord’s colours, is as still as you. Silent dwarves guard your precious luggage. This is your land, and the lake is where lived the mage, he who knew how to read your future.
He took a last look at the now empty apartment: between those walls he and his companion had spent some very happy hours, but also known doubts, and even fear. Times were changing, now was the right time to go home, to retrace their steps. Looking for his lost dream had been the goal, and he had failed, in some ways. Looking across the avenue, out of the bay window, he did not concede defeat. The task remained incomplete, the story unwritten. His search would continue. He would miss this place, the city, the tree-lined streets, the vast parks and the lakes. How beautiful the country was, there, on their doorstep. Yet he aspired to escape, to hide from the beauty, to a different world of silence, and peace. He knew she was happy to go back, to her friends, to her garden. Life would be simpler. He drove carefully out and took the direction of the Autobahn. They had a long road ahead of them, landscapes they knew, places where to stop on their way. His wife was smiling, on the radio he overheard news about election fraud and forbidden demonstrations. In the past year they had not paid much attention to what was going on, elsewhere in the world. At least he had not, perhaps she was more attentive to the voices, out there, to the ripples that did not reach him. She switched the radio to classical music. The landscape was changing, they were leaving. He would drive for another hour, and then his wife would take over: they were organised, relaxed, thoughtful. He thought of their journey, back to the city from the west, three years past. Then the landscape had been frozen, the trees delicate structures of glass. He’d hoped then to discover the truth, the elusive reality behind the dream. But it was not a complete failure, contact was made, he could still hear far away voices, from a past that may have been his, theirs. His wife would soon be driving. Suddenly he was relieved: they had made their move, it was not the end of their search, only it would have to be done from a little further away. He smiled at the thought of their long rides along the Oder, the endless forests, the small villages nestled in the hills. They would go back, later, he was sure of that.
The place, their place, was so familiar, ramshackle, a little dusty. He walked to the bottom of the garden, inhaled the now moist and cool air, the small hollow was overgrown. He thought he would have to install a fence at the back, to guard against foxes and stray dogs. He laughed: this was so different, in its suburban quiet solitude, the city was far away. They would start clearing the brambles and dead plants, empty the shed of rubbish. They now had plenty of time, to plan, to decide, to work and shape the place the way they wanted. There was no rush. They would take the time to unpack, to clean the house, to make this space liveable. A place where to love, and write again, he thought. His wife was walking toward him, handed him some tools. Pruning was the word. He would have to prune, go back to bare essentials. He wondered about the gnomes, the small people, were they still around, or had they followed him to the city, and lost their way? He smiled at the idea of furtive shapes haunting the large avenues at night, perhaps hiding in the parks. No, he was sure they were still around here, spying, mocking, planning their next trick. A grey heron flew by, majestuous. It was getting dark, he must have been dreaming awake. His wife had gone back to the house, downstairs was lit. He would start working tomorrow, spend some time in the garden, then inside. As he started walking toward the house he heard a familiar chuckle. There you go, he thought, they are here all right, the mischievous lot. He would have to fix the outside light on the terrace. So many little and not so little tasks awaited him. He was looking forward to the evening. And the day after: the beginning of a new year.
It’s a narrow stream, on this side our present, on the other, the past, or an unknown future. What to chose? Staying here, where we are now, is not an option: sooner or later, but maybe much sooner, we have to step on those stones, make up our mind, and chose.
We have to be cautious, the stones are slippery, a wrong move, we may end up in a past where we are lost, or even worse: in a future where we are enslaved.
It’s lonely up here, one doesn’t meet humans too often, mostly the locals are ravens and rabbits and moles, and the occasional eagle. But I like it, this is my place, where I dream, and remember. There are sweet memories, and also dark and stormy ones.
Yes, there is a storm coming this way now. I love it, the low clouds, a drop of rain here and there, I can feel the strong winds already, snaking through my empty eye sockets, resonating in my skull. “The Old One”, used to call me the villagers, when there was still a village nearby, long ago.
Nowadays the Old One merely enjoys the peace, and the storm.
Mist has invaded the valley below, a diffused light veils the details of the landscape. But where am I? Where is this cliff? Is it day break, or dusk? Should I know this place, how did I get here, and how long have I been here, watching how many sunrises?
Finally, the real question arises from the clouds my mind appears to be surrounded with: where are you? The silence is total, this may not be my world, but what is it? Have I lost you, forever? A deep desperation creeps into my soul…
Close to me something, someone, stirs. So, I may not be alone?
“Another nightmare my darling,” you are saying, in the calm voice that always settles my fear, “You’re too hot, I’ll get you some water, and make coffee. You know it’s these drugs, a side effect, soon you’ll…