THE IMMORTAL WANDERER
Birth and rebirth
He was born in the middle of winter. His mother was only sixteen when she had him, alone in the cold comfort of an abandoned stone hut, lit only by white moonlight pouring in through the window. He entered the world with a feint cry. She gently dressed his small body in cloth and held him close to her chest, captivated by his smallness. His crying faded, and the still silence of the night echoed in the small room. His eyes were shut. He was no longer breathing. Darkness filled the hut as clouds passed over the moon.
His exhausted mother wept weary tears and passed away before the sunrise, embracing his small body in her arms.
Golden light filled the bitter air and bathed the white landscape in a honey glow. A soft chill blew through the hut and his cry began again, as if being carried by the wind, rising until it rang out far enough for a passing caravan to hear.
On a summer evening when he was five, he visited his mother’s grave for the first time. Together with a caravan guard and a cook, they went to where he was born. The small stone hut sat alone on a dry grassland. Beside it, a white stone marker sat over a smooth bump on the earth, where she was buried. He stood over it for a moment, it made him sad to see that his mother’s grave was just a lump in a field. His eyes welled up, but no tears fell.
He felt a warmth radiating from the fuzzy grass covered grave as he reached out to touch it.
The guard walked over and crouched down beside him with a sigh, before sinking her fingers into the dirt and digging a small hole next to the grave. She pulled a small apple out from her pocket and split it in half with her hands. ‘Here’, she said tenderly, as she gently took the boys hand in hers and placed a seed in his palm.
He set it down in the hole and covered it with dirt. The sky began to dim as the sun fell over the horizon.
That night he dreamt he was floating, weightless, in a void. Enveloped in a comforting warmth. A muffled heartbeat resounded out in the dark around him, sending tremors through his body. Then, the beating slowed, and the warm feeling dissipated, and he woke in the dark with cold tears rolling down his face.
On chilly nights, he’d often dream of dying. Once when he was twelve, still in the care of the caravan that found him, he dreamed he was being buried. From the bottom of the grave, he could only see the sky, in a small rectangular frame. As the sun set the sky turned a bright orange, and he watched the cotton candy clouds float by, tinged pink from the light. Dirt fell from the sky and hit his chest, knocking him awake.
The moonlight cutting through a gap in his tent, cast a band of light across his eyes. He lay awake, thinking about what he had dreamt, until the light changed from a cold white to a warm yellow, as dawn crept over the horizon.
That morning over breakfast he told one of the cooks about it. ‘Whenever you have a bad dream,’ she started, ‘whisper your nightmare into flowing water, and let it get carried away by the current, and you will never have a dream like it again.’
After breakfast, they walked over to the river near camp together. He leaned down and softly spoke out his nightmare, and as the words left his mouth he felt the dream being pulled away by the clear water.
Snow began falling softly on the battlefield, and he paused for a moment in the commotion to look up. The warm glow of the sun burning dimly behind the grey clouds. The snowflakes gently kissing his face and melting away. In that moment an arrow whistled down from the sky, and as if it was guided by something greater, cut through a gap in his armour. Bursting through his collarbone into his lung. He fell back into the mud. Blood bubbled up into his mouth with each breath he tried to take.
The sound of fighting calmed into silence. The clouds above stirred as tears filled his eyes. And just before dying, he felt an overwhelming feeling of terror.
A small parting in the clouds let through a beam of sunlight onto the white field stained with blood and dirt. Crows sang out to one another while feasting on the corpses lying half buried in snow. With a sharp breath of cold air, he jumped to life, as if waking from a nightmare. He placed his fingers on his unbroken collar bone. His wound was gone, only a scar left in its place. He slowly got to his feet and looked out over the field of corpses. Not knowing quite what else to do, he started walking.
Sat by a small stream, he leaned over and filled his canteen, flinching as his fingers met the icy water. He placed the canteen on the half-frozen earth beside him as he remembered a game he used to play with his fellow soldiers. They’d hold their hands under a cold stream and see who could keep them there the longest. He submerged his hands in the water, his fingers sinking into the soil at the bottom and knocking up a cloud of dirt. A stabbing pain ran up his veins as the dirt settled back down over his hands. And then he felt nothing.
As he slowly took his hands out of the water, a cold static burned through his arms. He placed them on his lap and sat for a moment, letting the stillness surround him. Not a sound but the gentle trickling of water and the soft breeze that blew through the pine trees.
He saw the vague shape of the castle in the distance, blurred behind a heavy mist that hung over the damp field. As he walked closer the blackened bones of the building became clearer, the main tower that sat at the centre still burning, puffing black smoke into the misty air. The men he had died for were now ash.
Looking out over the smoky ruins, a dim glow caught his eye, a sword buried in the dust, its gold handguard catching the pale light. His feet sunk into the ash as he walked towards it. Pulling it out of the ash, it was a sword he recognised. He saw beside it the charcoaled corpse of its wielder, cooked to a crisp in his armour. The ash slipped off the blade as he brought it up and he caught his eyes in the steel, the firelight casting small orange stars in his eyes. He walked to where the main entrance stood and thrust the sword into the dirt and sat, watching the tower burn, eyes stinging from the smog.
The tower released a dying plume of smoke before puttering out. The fog cleared, and smoke no longer rose from the ruins, and the full moon watched over a crisp clear night. In the distance the grass bowed as an eastern wind rolled down the meadow and as it blew through the castle ash burst into the air and fell over the earth, dyeing the land grey.
The square outlines of old stone houses sat under the dew-covered grass. A little ways away large stones sat scattered on the clifftop overlooking the tempestuous sea, marking old graves. Two albatrosses flew together high above the waves, shining out against the swirling storm clouds, rolling across the firmament like black seafoam. On the clifftop, between the graves, a woman sat wearing a sheep skin. She sang out into the stormy air in a language he’d never heard before, her ethereal voice harmonizing with the wind and sea. He sat at the edge of the graves and watched her sing. The heavenly tone of her singing reached a crescendo and just as it peaked, lightning stuck the sea nearby, followed by torrents of rain.
The song came to an end and they both sat in the soft pattering rain, enjoying each other’s silent company. His body felt light, as if floating. Her song had soaked into him, washing out the heavy feeling that clung to his heart like a slime. She slowly stood to her feet and said something he didn’t understand before leaving, with a gentle nod of her head. He watched her until she was a small white figure standing in the distance. She turned back to take a final look back at him. Their eyes met before a curtain of rain hid her from view.
A traveller who sings to old forgotten graves. The sky calmed, and he saw a small white speck barely visible under the platinum sky. An albatross, flying alone over the sea.
In the woods the darkness wrapped itself around him. With no moonlight to soften it, the night was a deep black. Fireflies floated in the emptiness. Walking through the trees, the smell of decaying vegetation lingered in the humid air, filling his lungs like thick soup with every breath. As the dark blue hue of dawn seeped into the air the trees began to take form in the night, first only the unclear outline of their trunks followed by the rough texture of their surface. Following the warmth, he moved forward, as grasshoppers chirped in the distance. Through the trees he saw the red dawn bleeding into the night sky.
The vegetation cleared, and he came to a wide field. The damp grass flashed like fish scales as the sun ascended over the horizon. The stone hut sat like a pearl in the boundless sea of grass and beside it stood an apple tree, its lush leaves shivering as the warm air passed through it. Tears fell from his eyes at the sight of it.
The warm sun hit him from both sides as he walked to the grave. The hut seemed smaller to him now, having grown since his last visit, shortly before joining the army. Going inside made him uneasy, so he only looked in through the entrance. Specks of dust floated into the beam of pale morning light that fell through the small window. The white stone walls shone eerily in the light. Next to the hut, the apple tree had grown over the grave. Its warped and twisted roots encasing the stone marker. Standing under the tree in silence he wished he could sing for her, but he didn’t have the voice for it. He began to sob. Falling to his knees, he pressed his forehead against the base of the tree and cried till the sun passed its zenith.
There he slept, curled up under the apple tree, cradled by the warm wind.
One day, the sun will rain down blinding light and scorch the earth before burning out. Everything will vanish into dust. Darkness will consume the sky as the stars go out one by one. There will be nothing left.
Nothing is infinite.
With a clear head, no longer clouded by fear, he woke to the soothing sound of the wind blowing through the leaves, like the sound of waves caressing the sand. He rose to his feet and looked out at the sun setting over the horizon, its light dissolving in the misty air giving it a red hue.
I’ll chase the sun he thought,and so, made his way towards the sunset.
He always winced a little at the sight of his reflection. Seeing the same unchanging face so many times unnerved him. His body stuck at twenty-five. Though centuries spent wandering left his body scarred with each fatal wound he suffered. His deaths painted on his body. The memory of how he got most of them long forgotten, but the one on his collarbone was the faintest, so he assumed it was the oldest.
Two Black Swans
For a time, there was a place he liked to visit. A perfectly round pond sat on a smooth field of moss. The water as still as glass, perfectly reflected the sky. He liked to take of his clothes and float in the water or submerge himself completely and look up at the ghostly light shimmering down from the surface of the water. On some nights, he’d visit and see the moon sitting neatly in its centre and not wanting to disturb it, he’d wait for it to pass before going in. During winter the pond would freeze over and the land would be covered by a sheet of untouched snow. On those visits he’d just lay on the frozen pool and listen to the low undulating of the water under the ice.
Returning to the pond one-night, the milky sat so clearly on its surface that it appeared like a portal into space. The stars started to dance on the water as ripples ran up the pond. Two black swans appeared from the dark. He stretched his hand out and the swans came over and put their heads in his palm before swimming out into the water again. He’d never seen a black swan before, he was glad there was two of them, its lonely being one of kind, he thought.
He took off his clothes and walked out to the centre of the wide shallow pond. There he floated. The swans drifted by undisturbed. He’d been wandering for a long time, and the thought of someone else like him being out there had crossed his mind often. The thought of whether or not he was actually cursed to walk alone. He didn’t like to think too much, wandering kept him distracted for the most part, but floating in the water he felt forced to confront the dark vault at the back of his mind. He sunk into the water, down until his back was touching the soft moss that lined the pool, looking up at the amorphous moonlight. He thought about what it’d be like to have someone with him, one companion to roam the earth with for eternity.
Rising to the surface, he came to the conclusion that an eternity with only one other person would be just as bad as an eternity alone, if not worse. But it would beat sleeping alone at night.
He got out of the pond, laid down naked on the velvety moss and slept. When he woke, the swans were gone.
The Well I
Sparrows danced with the wind that blew over the sand dunes, stretching out for miles. The white sand burned under him as he wandered the endlessly barren land in search of water. The sun was burning him alive. Sweat poured from his face. The sunlight stung his eyes. In his head he felt a searing pain as if a hot iron rod was being pulled through his temple.
In the distance, he saw a small cluster of earthen houses, shaking through the heat rising from the ground. A well sat between the houses, some of them buried under the sands. A gentle wind pushed from behind him as he approached it. Until he was stood over it and the winds were whistling through the empty houses, whipping sand into the air.
He tossed a coin into the well and listened, but the darkness was silent.
As he looked into the well a drop of sweat fell from his nose and held the sunlight for a moment twinkling like a lone star in the night sky, before disappearing into the shadow. Then, the wind stopped, and the sands settled back down onto the earth. An uneasy feeling rose in his gut before he felt an invisible hand tug on his clothes, pulling him into the abyss. He jumped and fell back into the scorching sand, instinctively reaching for his sword. Despite the handle burning at the touch, he held it tight. He sat keeping his eyes on the well. Deafening silence hummed in the air.
He took a deep breath. Feeling his heart beating in his chest and filled with a sudden rush of adrenaline, he ran, hoping his path would never lead him there again.
He died a few times wandering through the desert looking for a way out. Frying in the desert was one of his least favorite ways to go. Slow and agonizing, the sun’s rays like bright burning needles sinking deep into his skin. Only to wake up again. He walked for a month, seeing nothing but sand. Until he saw a bee. He didn’t think it was real. As he walked up a sand dune, he began to hear a low buzzing. When he got to the top he saw a small village on the edge of the desert. Trees grew next to the houses, and under them sat small beehives. Painted white, the bees
The morning of his arrival he woke to see the old man whose house he was staying in, talking to the bees outside. When he asked the man what he was doing the man said, “I’m letting my bees know you have come. I must tell them of the important moments in my life and the comings and goings. They get very upset if I don’t, they leave the hive, or they stop making honey, or die. We all do it, those of us who keep bees, we must tell the bees, or a penalty is paid.”
At breakfast, he tried some of the honey, it was the best honey he’d ever had. The old man put some in a jar for him to take with him when he left. No one he asked knew anything about the abandoned village he saw in the sand. They told him that none of them are dumb enough to walk into the desert. Recalling it made his heart to squeeze and the hairs on his arms stand. He said goodbye to everyone after staying for a week and gave the old man a large red jewel before he left, as thanks for housing him, and for the best honey in the world.
Walking through a snow-covered street, auroras painted the sky. During winter in this part of the world, the sun never rose. The people around him walked with stiff shoulders, tucking their necks in. Snow fell nearly every day there. The marble walls of the city reflected the moonlight, saturating the air in a pure white haze. The moonlight washed over his eyes as he walked. A throbbing pain started in his head, the brightness of the city in the night caused his eyes to ache.
He left and made a camp on the flat snowy wasteland on the outskirts of the city.
He sat by his campfire, cooking a snow rabbit he hunted earlier in the day. Most of his memories felt like dreams in his mind as he tried to recall them. Sometimes long forgotten memories would surface again randomly flooding into his mind. A lot of the time this would happen during moments of stillness. His mind was blank as he watched the raw meat burn in the flames, drying up and turning crispy black. From the emptiness of his mind, a deep memory emerged. The image of a burnt soldier, his armor melted over his charred flesh. He quickly tried to bury the thought under more pleasant memories but couldn’t stop his breakfast from rising from his stomach, throwing up over the food and fire. He wiped his face, stood up and started walking, trying to forget.
He met an old swordsman once, who lived in a small black bamboo shack on the edge of a tarn. Long red grass stood around the home and along the water’s edge, bowing down to kiss the surface as the wind blew through. The nebulous lights of the night sky danced on the lake. The swordsman was sat in the shallow water, sharpening her sword. The haunting sound of whetstone gliding across steel sang out in the crisp night air. Her grey hair hung over her face, each delicate strand glowing white in the moonlight. He approached the swordsman, whose eyes stayed on her blade until he was standing over her in the shin-deep water.
She looked up at him, “That’s quite the nice sword you have there,” the swordsman said, “though it looks quite worn.”
“Well, it’s as old as I am.” He said.
“Pah! Wait till you get my age.” She said as she stood with a sigh. He couldn’t help but smile at her words.
She held the tip of her blade in the clear water for a moment, fish swam up and kissed the steel before she gently lifted it out and sheathed it.
“You use it often?” she asked.
“More often than I’d like.”
“I made this sword myself,” gesturing to the sword at her side. “I could clean yours up a bit if you’d like?”
“Thank you.” He said and together they walked into the bamboo shack.
He stayed with the swordsman for a couple of days while she worked on the sword. They hunted together and one night she told him that she used to have a school where she taught sword fighting and that one night, her school had been burned and all of her students slaughtered. She survived and took revenge before running to live in the wild mountains, burdened by the guild and responsibility for her students’ lost lives. He told her he was a traveler. She wrote poetry and made swords and waited to eventually die alone under the tall red grass. Swords hung off the walls, she told him that each one was a replica of her students’ swords. The ones they had burned with. They hung like thin mirrors on the walls, an uneasy feeling rose in his chest at the sight of his distorted reflection on the blades.
When his sword was finally finished they walked to the water together and the swordsman brought out his restored sword, the cross guards she carved snakes, stretching out away from each other from the handle. On the pommel she placed a large pearl. The steel hummed a high pitch tone as he unsheathed it, the moonlight flashing off the clean blade.
“You any good with it?” she asked
“Not as good as I’d like to be.”
“Can I ask a favor of you?” she said.
“What is it?”
“Before coming here, I had hoped that I would one day die in battle, with my sword in my hand. Would you grant me that?” she asked.
“You want me to duel you?”
“I don’t get very many visitors up here, you’re the first one in a long time with a sword. I may not get the chance to go out on my sword again.”
After a moment of consideration, he answered, “ok.”
“There’s a place not far from here we can go in the morning. But for now,” she pulled out a bottle from her pocket, “lets drink.”
The next morning, they walked down the mountain to a small black bamboo forest. The pale morning sunlight shot through the tall bamboo. Walking through the trees they came to a wide circular opening.
“I don’t want you going easy on me. If this is gonna be your last fight, I want you to go all out.” He said to the swordsman as they walked to the edge of the circle.
They stood across from one another, and with a nod they lunged at each other. The clashing of steel rang out through the trees. The old swordsman was skilled and fast, he’d underestimated her. Backed up against the trees the swordsman lunged towards him. He slipped under her blade and she split the bamboo behind him. The tall shoots began to fall over them. They moved out of the way away from each other. The bamboo fell between them and in that moment of pause they looked into each other before he lunged and thrust his sword towards her heart, she raised her sword to guard only for his to break through her steel and drive into her chest.
The old swordsman fell, holding her sword. Lying under the black bamboo trees, without a word she passed.
A small flower stood alone on the little island floating on the water. A flower like he’d never seem before, delicate silver petals that shone like the moon. He swam out to the small island that was only big enough for one person, (and one small flower) and climbed onto it curling up into a ball around the flower. Laying on the dew covered grass he watched the flower gently moving in the wind. Hypnotized by its beauty. He was told long ago when he was still only a boy, not to pick flowers, for doing so would destroy its beauty.
He sat on the island, admiring the flower while floating along the water. The river carried the island through a dense grove, thick vegetation and dark trees filled every space in the dark woods. The island floated along the water until it came to an opening in the trees and vegetation, flowing into a large pond. Looking up, the sky could barely be seen through the dense forest canopy. The twinkling sunlight glistened through the leaves.
He’d heard of a word a long time ago, used to describe light falling through leaves. He made an effort to memorize it when he’d first heard it, it was something he’d seen more times than he could even begin to count. Yet he never got bored of the sight. It was one of his favorite things. After a week he’d forgotten the word, and after a hundred or so years the language vanished out of existence.
The island came to a stop, in the middle of the clear water. He leaned over the edge to look inside. So clean was the water, the earth could be seen through it, as if looking through a pane of glass. He turned and looked at the flower one last time before jumping into the water and swimming out into the woods.
Old bones I
The sound of crows guided him as he wandered through verdant hills. As he walked to the top of one he saw not far from him a scatter of dome houses. A black mass of wings and feathers swarm together at the center of the houses. An old man sits outside one of the houses watching the murder of crows going crazy before him.
“What are they doing?” he asked the old man.
“They’re eating.” He said.
Together they sat and watched the crows feast. He was never quite able to make out what they were eating until they were done, and they flew off leaving nothing but small bones on a stone altar. When the last crow left the old man stood and collected the bones in a small rag and walked into his home.
As he stood to leave he saw flying through the sky in the distance a great black shadow, like a giant crow. Leaving a trail of black smoke through the air as it flew over him. On the great bird’s breast was the face of lady, pale and delicate as though made of porcelain. It landed on a nearby hill and watched the village. The great crow opened its mouth and cried out so loudly that the windows of the houses all shattered onto the grass. The sound stabbed at his ears and he instinctively reached for his sword. The porcelain lady opened her eyes and shot a glare at him. His heart jumped to his throat and he drew his sword as the crow cried out once more, the sound grating against the inside of his skull. The grass underneath the crow began to rot as the smog that was oozing out of it slowly rolled down the hill. The grass withered as the smoke passed over it.
He charged towards the crow, running up the hill through the murk it was secreting. It burned his skin and eyes as he ran to the beast. Again, the crow cried out, this time sending a small tremor through the earth and up his body.
Standing under it looking at the face he plunged his sword into its forehead. The face cried out in anguish, blowing out his eardrums as the sword left a crack across her face. Splitting it in two down the middle. The crow beat its massive wings knocking him onto the mulchy grass as it flew into the air before bursting into a cloud of thick black smoke that slowly fell over the land. His sword fell from the sky and stuck into the dirt in front of him.
He stood to his feet, coughing up blood onto the dead grass. He took his sword and wandered out over the blackened hills. He died that evening and woke that night.
From a mountain peak, he watched a river of mist move through the evergreens that sat on the hills in the distance, like a great white serpent. How much easier it would be, he thought, to be a river of smoke. He watched the sea of thick trees gently swaying in the breeze. Until a cloud floated though the peak he was stood on like a white lace curtain, shrouding the hills behind it. Drops of moisture formed on his skin as the cloud washed over him.
The cloud passed, and he could see the hills and sky again. The river of smoke was gone, and the sun was setting. Before long it was too dark to navigate down the mountain, so he threw himself off, blacking out before hitting the ground. He awoke a few hours later to meet the sunrise. He lay on the grass as the birds sang for the dawn, creeping into the dark blue sky.
Heavy snow fell as he walked along a hill path. Coming across an orchard standing tall out of a thick field of snow, he walked under the trees, blood red liquid dripping from their bark onto the untouched snow. A red ring sat around the trees marking where they bled. He wiped a drop off the tree onto his finger and put it in his mouth.
Instantly a shock ran down his tongue and beads of sweat began to form on his forehead. His heartbeat slowed, beating a low thrum in his ear. The trees began to distort around him. Their long twisting limbs wrapping around him and pushing him into the snow. He tried screaming but no sound left his mouth. Unable to move he cried as he sunk under the snow, into the earth. The roots wrapped around his head as he lay in the dark cold soil.
He woke, leaning against a bleeding tree, the red liquid oozing over his face. His hands were shanking and his legs, buried in the snow, felt as stiff as stone.
Fallen angel I
A row of small lanterns sat in a uniform line in the dark thicket, dimly lighting his path as he walked down a long lonely road. The musical hooting of an owl sounded from the tall pointed trees that stood around him. Illuminated softly by the low lamplight. A high pitch sound whistled in the distance gradually growing louder as a bright light flashed through the trees in the distance. Beams of light swept through the forest, falling through the leaves like drops of rain as the light shot across the sky before falling over the trees and going out.
He walked down the road not meeting a single soul, counting the lanterns along the path. In the distance, he saw one of the lanterns had gone out. The smell of a rose sea flooded the air as he walked to it. Carried by the wind the smell washed over him like waves. He didn’t know exactly where he was, but he knew he was nowhere near the sea. The earth under his feet seemed hotter as he approached. He lit the lamp and turned to see on the road before him, a shadowy figure laying in the dirt. Suddenly, as if waking from a dream of falling, the figure jolted awake and with a great deal of effort pushed itself up to its hands and knees. It looked around and in the dark before their eyes met. He couldn’t see its features very well, only its eyes, catching the dim lanternlight. The wind blew past the stranger and he came to the realization that the heavenly smell was coming from the shadow in the dark.
“Where am I?” the voice asked.
“I don’t really know myself.”
The glimmering eyes of the stranger turned to the sky before going out like two dying stars.
“Hello?” he whispered to the dark. The smell was gone.
He sat and slept against the lantern until morning. The light of dawn revealed a scorched earth beneath him. A small crater sat in the earth where the stranger lay. The trees around it stood with their bark and branches singed. He walked along the road hoping to see the visitor again one day. To smell that lovely smell once more.
He’d heard tell of an all-white coyote that lived on a wide dryland. That ate the carcasses of all the animals that lost their way and died there. He met many travellers claiming to have seen it. Back when he was young and in the care of the caravan, one of his carers told him that he’d seen it once when he was young and travelled a lot. Saying that it turned to smoke before his eyes.
Old animal bones crackled under his feet as he walked along a dryland. Dead black trees littered the earth. The warm red glow of dawn sunk over the horizon and at the other end of the sky night was creeping into the air. A yellow vapor rose from the dirt. Wrapped up against the bitter cold chill of the winter night, he whistled a tune he’d heard once a long time ago. An owl, perched on a tree branch, watched him as he walked by, it’s big orange eyes glowing out against the night. The first living thing he’d seen in a week. The owl flew off its branch before he could string his bow and shoot it. He’d run out food the previous morning and was feeling weak. His legs trembled as he walked.
He was beginning to hallucinate, shapes floating in the corner of his eyes and figures floating in the distant mist, like bodies tied under water. The air was thick and sour. Every breath felt like swallowing cement, leaving a taste of acid in his mouth.
He felt a cold chill blow through from the east, turning to see a small white speck glowing out like a grain of rice through the yellow smog. The white coyote. He took a step towards it and it turned to face him, its mouth stained with blood. It looked at him for a moment with pale eyes that cut through the murky air. Another cold chill blew through, stirring the fog. He walked forward. The wind whipped off the rags wrapped around his face, his long black hair blew up into the air like a peacock displaying its feathers. The coyote bowed its head as the wanderer approached it. The owl he’d seen before on the tree lay dead at its feet. He crouched down and stretched his hand out, the coyote leaned out and smelt it before nudging the carcass towards him with its nose.
They ate the carcass together by a fire and when the soft light of morning seeped into the sky the coyote walked out and turned to smoke as the sun breached over the blurred horizon.
The edge of the world
The sea bulged in the distance, waves crashed into the coast, knocking stones into the air. Walking along the border where the land and sea meet, a lighthouse in the distance shone out over the water. He shut his eyes and as the light swung around and passed over him, sending a soft ping through his head, like someone tapping a triangle. Eyes closed he listened to the light at it spun over him, each time sending a gentle chime through his head. He watched the endless waves impacting the smooth pebbles that sit on the beach. Far out the trembling surface of the sea shimmers as the light beam passes over it.
He walked to the lighthouse, the southernmost point of the earth. The bottom of the world. He stood atop the lighthouse, the light spinning around behind him as he looked out over the waves. He reeled back and took a deep breath before tossing his head out over the railing and screaming out into the sea.
As he screamed he felt an eternities worth of pent up pain lift from his heart.
A harmonica wailed out across the plains. In the distance through the thin smoke that sat over the dirt, he saw the shape of an archway, diffused through the mist. Walking towards it, the sound of the harmonica grew louder in the air until he came to the archway and the harmonica was crying in his ear. He saw a man hanging from his neck. Another on the floor, sitting in the shade, playing a sombre song. A horse stood over him, eating the patches of grass growing where the archway met the earth. Through the archway wooden markers sat scattered on the land. An old graveyard. The man stopped playing and looked up, tears had washed streaks of dirt off his face.
“He was my brother.” He said in a dry whisper.
The wanderer drew his sword and cut the man down before sheathing it and grabbing his gourd from his waist, uncorking it and handing it to the harmonicist.
Together they buried the man’s brother in the graveyard as the sun began to set. They built a fire at the foot of the grave and sat by it through the night. Neither of them slept, they sat awake staring into the crackling flames.
“You play well,” said the wanderer, breaking the silence.
The man didn’t respond. Probably shouldn’t have said anything, he thought, looking up at the stars dotted across the sky. The crescent moon sat perfectly on the tip of the archway. The harmonica called out in the bitter night. He turned to the man, eyes closed playing his song. The steel of his harmonica flickering in the firelight.
At the break of dawn his song came to an end and he turned to witness the sunrise. Looking out he took a deep shaky breath before speaking, “I’m going to kill the people who did this.” He stood to his feet and walked to his horse.
“You mind if I come with you?”
“Why?” the man asked.
“I want to help you.”
“Who are you?”
After a pause he answered, “Nobody.”
Together they rode east, through a field of dead white trees. The overcast sky burned orange as the sun set over the horizon, casting no shadows on the earth. Riding along a dirt road they came upon the ruins of an old house.
“We can camp here for the night. We’re not too far now.” said the harmonicist.
“Ok. You see about starting a fire, I’ll go and hunt us something to eat.” Said the wanderer, grabbing his bow from his shoulder and heading out.
Walking low he spotted a deer standing alone in the distance. He took a deep breath, drew his bow, and fired an arrow into its heart. The animal fell, knocking a small cloud of dirt into the air.
They reached the town the next evening. Riding through the narrow streets a large building stood at the towns far edge, at the end of a long street. a watchtower grew out over its front door, looking out over the road leading up to the building. An archer stood at the top of the tower and a guard stood by the entrance.
They dismounted at the end far end of the street, “That the place? So how do you wanna play th-” before the wanderer could ask his question, the man made a mad dash towards the building, Dodging the arrows being fired at him and lunging towards the guard standing by the entrance, grabbing his dagger and knocking him back through the door before he could draw his sword.
Fuck, he thought, as he ran after the man. He noticed the archer notice him. An arrow blew passed his ear while he ran. He quickly stopped, grabbing his bow and aiming at the archer and firing a shot. His arrow split through the archer’s bow, through his mouth and up out the top of his head as his arms dropped to his sides and he fell out of the watchtower. Hitting the earth with a soft thud. He ran to the building, bursting through the doors he drew his sword. A dead guard lay by the entrance, blood spurting out of his neck. Walking through the halls, more dead bodies lay about. He walked up the stairs cautiously holding out his sword, a dark room sat at the end of the hallway at the top of the stairs.
The harmonicist was laying on the floor with an arrow in his side, “Get down!” he yelled as an arrow shot out of the dark room and whizzed down the hallway, towards the wanderer. He split it in two with his sword and ran to the harmonicist, crouching over him.
“Sorry I ran off without you. I couldn’t help myself.”
He lifted the man and carried him down the hallway. He heard the short whistle of an arrow behind him, followed by a sharp impact hit his back. he kept going, till they were behind the cover of the stairs. Together they sat, breathing heavy.
“Can you move?” he asked the man.
“I don’t think so.”
“That guy in the room the last one left?”
“You don’t mind if I kill him, do you?”
“You came to help, didn’t you?”
Using his sword to lift himself up, the wanderer stood to his feet, “Play me a song, will you?”
The man pulled out his harmonica and played a song, its sound droning down the hall. The wanderer sprinted towards the room at the end of the hallway. Another arrow flew out of the darkness and landed in his shoulder, his arm fell to his side, he took the sword in his other hand and kept charging. Another arrow landed in his chest as he jumped into the room and slashed in the dark. He felt his sword cut through something and felt a splatter of warm blood hit his face. He saw through the dark the shadow of a man falling to the ground.
With a sigh he fell, looking out into the hallway, “I got him.”
Everything went dark as the song faded into silence.
He woke in the dark room, his wounds gone. He stood and walked down the hallway. The dead harmonicist lay at the bottom of the stairs, harmonica in his hands. He took the harmonica in his pocket and carried the body out, slinging it over the horse.
He rode, for two nights, till he reached the graveyard where the man’s brother was buried. A pitch-black sky held only the full moon in its emptiness. The earth illuminated by moonlight shone dim grey in the night. Next to the brothers grave he dug another, in it he buried the harmonicist. Keeping his harmonica.
He lit a fire at the foot of the grave and stayed by it until the sunrise.
In a small city he met a man dressed in red, sitting on the cold cobblestone. Kids crowded around the man screaming and laughing with excitement. When he approached he saw the children holding out money for the man. In one hand they held a valuable coin and in the other a less valuable coin,
“This one is worth more than this one,” said one of the boys holding out the gold in his hands, “which one do you want?”
The man points to the less valuable coin and the children burst out in laughter, pushing and shoving each other to have a go giving the man money.
“What a fucking idiot!” one of the kids said.
They each took turns holding out the coins for the man, each time he picked the one that was less valuable, and the kids erupted into laughter. When they were done the children left, and the man sat alone on the street. He walked to the man and sat down next to him.
“Why didn’t you pick the more valuable coin?” he asked.
“Cos they won’t find me so entertaining if I did.” He answered showing the wanderer his pockets filled with coins, “And I wouldn’t get anywhere close to this much money.”
“Aha I gotta hand it to you, that’s pretty smart.”
“A few years ago,” the man started, “I used to be a jester for a lord. One night the castle was stormed, and everyone in it was killed. But when the enemy saw me, they thought me so hilariously stupid looking in my outfit that they let me live. That’s when I learned that life’s a hell of a lot easier for an idiot than it is for a king”
Tower of faces I
Riding along a wide salt flat, a thin layer of water sat over the land and like an endless mirror reflected the cloudless blue sky above. A white tree stump stood out of the salt, he decided to take a break, mostly for the horse’s sake. Trying his best not to look down he would now and then catch a glimpse of his reflection on the water and his heart would pound against his ribs as if trying to get out. He tied the horse to the stump before grabbing a makeshift tent from its saddle and pitching it up. Four large branches and a big (mostly) waterproof sheet, made by hand from scrap clothing and material.
He sat under his tent for a while looking up at the sheet, trying desperately to get the image of himself out of his mind. he looked outside to see his horse was restless too.
“Alright old boy.” He said as he got out of the tent and grabbed an almost empty bag of grain from the horse’s saddle and began to feed him until there was no grain left. The horse mouthed at the harmonica in his pocket.
“You want me to play?”
The horse nodded.
“Ah,” he said as he reached for the harmonica, “I’m nowhere near as good as the man that gave it to me.”
He started to play and before long the horse was asleep, and the moon was out over the salt flat and the water was gone, leaving a smooth white sheet that stretched out into the pitch-black sky. The milky way left an ethereal streak across the sky. Thin wisps of clouds floated over the moon. On the horizon a white speck stood, glimmering in the moonlight. He crawled into his tent and slept.
In the morning the water returned, and he rode out towards the shining speck in the distance. The sun rose behind him sending the night back over the invisible horizon.
Getting closer the speck grew on the horizon, into a great tower. Its opalescent walls shimmered in the midday sun. As he rode closer he saw tens of thousands of expressionless faces carved into the stone, each one unique from the other. All with their eyes closed. Clouds drifted into the tower above sending drops of water down its surface.
He glanced down for a moment and saw the reflection of the faces on the tower, looking at him through the still water. He drew his sword and looked up at the tower, the faces had their eyes shut. He rode around to the towers entrance and dismounted before it, sword still in his hand.
Standing in front of the large black doors he heard a feint sound from the other side. He leaned his ear to the hot iron and heard a pleading voice crying out to him, repeating only one word,
“Run…Run…… Run………… Run!………………… Run!”
The faces all opened their eyes at once and together began weeping. tens of thousands of faces wailing out over the endless flat salt land. The most awful sound he’d ever heard. He pushed against the great doors, but they didn’t move. Suddenly the faces reflected on the water began to laugh. In the stagnant air tens of thousands of faces cried and tens of thousands of faces laughed. The wall of sound filled his head, through the sound the pleading voice called out in his ear, as if whispering to him,
“Run.” He mounted the horse and rode away from the tower, riding for a day before the sound of crying and laughing faded in the air.
Pool of blood/Singing stone
Walking along a small mountain range, he came to the highest peak. The wind was so strong he thought it would blow him off the mountain. Looking out over the rolling hills a large stone sat at the tip. Smooth holes ran through the boulder and on top of it sat a small indentation that was filled with water.
He leaned over and looked through a hole in the stone, at the landscape framed in a small circle. The hills illuminated by patches of light falling from the clouds, shone emerald green. A breeze flowed through the hole and onto his face. He shut his eyes to feel the cool air caressing his skin. The breeze died down and he stood looking at the pool of water on the stone. He leaned over to drink from it and as he did a drop of blood fell from a cut on his lip, filling the pool with blood. Suddenly the stone began to sing as the wind passed through it. A dreadfully beautiful sound, as if the voice of the wind was singing through the stone.
He sat by the stone until his blood had dissipated from the pool and the song came to an end. For the stone would only sing with blood in its pool.
He returned many times after to hear the singing stone, giving his blood each time. Once filling the entire pool with only his blood causing the stone to sing for a month.
Cave of reflection
The sky burned gold behind a white mountain, the sun shining behind its peak. He stood at its base, a wide crack ran up the stone before him, cutting deep into the mountain. A ghostly white light emanated from the dark. He grabbed his lantern from his waist and lit it, using his dagger and a piece of flint from his pocket, before walking into the cave. He walked through the long narrow path, towards the light cutting a thin vertical line in the dark ahead. The walls rising out beside him began to narrow as he got closer, but he didn’t stop. Pushing through towards the light he squeezed into it and popped out in a great chamber at the heart of the mountain.
A bright light poured in from above, illuminating the cave. A small pool sat at its centre, he walked towards it and placed his lantern down next to the pond. Water trickled down the smooth stone walls, sparkling in the light. He walked across the wide cave to the wall and as he got closer he saw his reflection in the stone, distorting under the water. He flinched at the sight of it and took a step back, turning his eyes to the ground.
I need to get out, he thought, panicking. The sparkling walls brightened to a blinding light as a sharp pain pierced into his head like a cold sword. Unable to see, he took a deep breath, closed his eyes and sat.
He’d open his eyes every so often, only to be met with the shadow of his reflection looking back at him through the pure white light. Only it wasn’t sitting like he was, it was standing, shrouded by light it stood like a black silhouette. He sat in the cave, eyes closed, and thought about his life, what he could remember of it.
I’ve become a lonely wind, he thought. Then, when he was done thinking, he cleared his head of all noise and swam through the cool emptiness of his mind. The light seeped through his eyelids. He saw pale red. The quiet ambience of the cave cradled him in a serene sound.
A drop of water fell from the dim light above and landed with a cold snap into the pool. He opened his eyes to see the bright light had finally faded. The once menacing reflection on the wall now stood clear. His face covered in scars, a particularly deep one ran around his neck. Another drop landed in the pool. He saw himself, clearer than he’d ever seen himself before. He stared into his sunken eyes. The more he looked the more their gaze seemed to pierce through the flat stone. His heart didn’t race like it usually did at the sight of himself. His eyes no longer brought an uneasy feeling, but sadness instead. No longer was he afraid of his reflection. He used to be afraid that he’d never change, that every time he saw himself he’d see the same face looking back at him, but now, after barely even recognising himself, he saw not an unnatural thing, but a very tired man. Another drop landed in the pool and with a blink of his eyes the reflection disappeared.
He saw the crack in the wall from which he came and left the cave of reflection.
The Well II
The sun burned blood red. The white sands reflected blinding light into his eyes as he wandered. A village sat partially buried in the sand, white beehives sat empty by the old homes. There was nothing there. He continued until in the endless sand he saw a cluster of small houses, a well sitting at its center. The one place he hoped never to wander into again so long ago. The memory now long forgotten he curiously walked towards the houses.
A feeling of dread rose in his chest as he walked, but he didn’t know why.
A dark shadow fell over the town as the swallows flew overhead, swirling in the air before landing on the roofs of the houses for a moment. Not a single chirp rang out from the birds. A howling wind spun through the houses, circling around the well. His heartbeat started going in his ears as he approached it. He placed his hand on the cold stone and a guttural groan wailed out in agony from the deep. His legs gave out beneath him and he fell onto the searing sand. The birds fell from the houses, landing dead on the burning sand.
He pushed himself to his feet and drew his sword, looking at the well as the groaning continued. A rumbling dread stirred in his stomach and his hands shook. He felt a cold invisible hand grab him by his clothes and begin to pull him towards the well, dragging him across the sand. He slashed the air in front of him and the grip loosened.
Then, he remembered he’d been here before, a few hundred ago. He ran into the safety and shade of one of the old houses and sat on the sand that filled it. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He drowned out the wailing from the well, and for a moment he sat in pure inner silence. Not a single though floated through the river of his mind while he sat there, until one, I mustn’t run away.
He stood and sheathed his sword before walking out of the house towards the well. He knelt down and took a hand full of sand and tossed it into the well. Hoping to fill the grave with sand and drag whatever sat the bottom out. I got all the time in the world, he thought.
After days of throwing sand into the silent void, he heard a sound from the deep. The quiet sound of sand falling over sand. Sparrow bones lay scattered around him. I’m getting close, and just as the thought entered his head the groaning sound started up again, louder than before the terrible agonising cry spun around the village, stirring the sands around him.
Just then a shadow erupted from the well, the voice screeching out as it shot out into the air and floated back down over the well. A dark spirit both beautiful and terrifying at once, stood before him. Standing over the well. He drew his sword and just as he did the red sunlight shone off the blade, piercing the shadow. It let out a cry and black snakes began to spill out from the it’s wound onto the sand. He thrust his sword towards the shadow but missed as it sprang up into the air and flew out over the sand dunes.
He stood looking out over the horizon where the spirit flew. Black iridescent snakes filled the village, some feeding on the sparrows lying dead on the sand, some slithering into the shade of the old homes. He took one in his hand, looking into its eyes, and he thought he probably should’ve just left, instead of forcing a spirit from its well.
He met an old blind man who lived in a cave at the summit of a tall mountain, overlooking rocky peaks as sharp as swords. As he walked, he heard an echo of a voice rolling through the jagged mountain range, unsure what it was saying. He reached the highest peak and saw a cave, a warm orange glow coming from it. The blind man sat at the back of the cave talking into the fire he was sitting beside. The blind man’s grey eyes, like an overcast sky, looked up at him as he walked by.
“Hello,” the blind man said.
“Hello,” the wanderer answered.
“I don’t get many visitors up here, who are you?”
“Just a wanderer.”
“You’re welcome to sit with me,” the man said motioning to the ground.
“It must get pretty lonely up here,” he asked the blindman.
“No,” he said “I speak to the grass, to the wind, to the trees and animals. The mountain takes care of me.”
The man stood and walked out to the edge of the mountain, standing over a long drop he spoke, “I know where every ledge, every stone, every crevasse sits on this mountain.”
“What do you do up here?”
“I listen,” he turned and walked back to sit by the fire.
“Listen to what?”
“To the whole world.”
They sat together in silence for a moment, listening to the wind blowing through the pointed mountain peaks. The crackling wood, burning in the fire. The call of eagles and hawks echoing out through the thin air. The sound of trees growing out of the earth, and the sound of decay. Of life decomposing and returning to the soil.
“What does it say?”
“It says that one day we must all return to it. It says that we are all ephemeral. Every flower, every animal and every mountain that stretches up to the clouds is destined to return to dust.”
I sure hope so, he thought, looking into the flames.
Fallen angel II
Climbing a mountain, he stopped to see butterflies drinking from a dried puddle of blood on the stone. Darkness swept across the land as the sun set, the mountain peak still shining in the last bit of sunlight before night fell on the earth. Climbing to the peak he lit his lantern to light his way and just as he did a feint smell wafted down from the mountain peak, a smell he’d smelt before. A rose sea.
He quickly ran up the mountain, the smell getting stronger as he climbed. Silhouetted by the moon the stranger stood at the top of the mountain, looking up at the sky. He approached from behind and watched the figure as it stretched out its arms. Suddenly an immense light fell from the dark night over the stranger. The wind rushed by his ears and as he looked on the shadow shot up and disappeared into the light. Leaving the delicate smell of a rose sea on his clothes.
Old Bones II
The sun fell over the fissured hills as the dark blue night crept over the east. Old abandoned dome houses sat on the dead earth. Wind blew through the old dirt homes, their windows blown out and the belongings of those that used to live there lay scattered about. A layer of sludge seemed to sit over the earth, sticking to the bottom of his shoes as he walked. On a stone altar at the center of the houses, old human bones lay, almost dust.
Two crows call out to each other from the roofs of the hoses. Walking into one of them he saw the walls rotting from the inside. White moonlight cut through the window and cracks in the walls, illuminating the interior of the house. On the bed he sees another skeleton, almost dust like the other, he lays down beside it. A worn tapestry hung from the wall, showing a great black bird with a human face on its chest, a man standing under it holding out a shining sword. And along the edge of the image is written:
“On this land where his body has fallen, the grass will never grow again.”
All things end, he used to think. Hoping that one day he too would end. But now, after being alive for so long he thought he’d wander the earth till there was nothing left but him. Alone on a barren rock floating through space. Till all the starts go out and the sun consumes the earth. Maybe even then he’ll survive. Floating through the cold emptiness of space. The feeling that everything he loved about the world would eventually fall away from him. That he would outlast it all. Everything will inevitably pass, and he will remain. It filled him with sadness.
He returned, by chance, to a long-forgotten grave he once frequently visited. The apple tree stood alone in the distance, on a wide dryland. The sea of grass that used to flash like fish scales in the sunlight was now a dead field of dirt. The small hut that sat next to the tree was now just a pile of stones.
Walking to the tree he reached out to touch it. feeling an old familiar warmth radiating from it. Running up his arm into his chest. He wrapped his arms around the tree and felt the warmth soak into him. Filling him with a tingling sensation. He took a deep breath and felt a cold tear roll down his cheek.
He climbed up onto the pile of stones and pulled out the harmonica from his pocket and began to play. A song he’d heard long, long ago. A song so hauntingly beautiful it caused the skies to cry. The stones he was sitting on began to skip around him as he played his melody. The sound of the wind blowing across the dry earth, knocking dust into the air accompanied his harmonica. Together with the wind and rain he wailed.
A Moths Dream
He once dreamt he was a moth, fluttering towards a small yellow light in the night. He flew through the dark, conscious only of his existence as a moth, unaware of who he was. He few towards the infinitely distant light in the dark, with no other thought or desire than to reach it.
Then he woke, himself again and he lay awake and wondering if he was then a man dreaming of himself as a moth, or if he is now a moth dreaming itself a man.
Venus and Jupiter
There seemed to be less stars in the sky than there used to be. Venus and Jupiter shone bright against the dark blue night. Though he still looked only twenty-five the burden of wandering the earth for eternity was beginning to weigh down on his heart. All of his memories where faded. His body dressed in scars. Time had withered away at him and he had grown numb.
There were fewer people too. He never really liked civilization before, preferring the wild, but whenever he wandered upon a town or city he’d feel a sense of excitement at the different types of people he’d meet. Now, he’d wander into abandoned ruins reclaimed by nature and hollow homes. The few people he did meet were often cruel and unkind.
Last night he dreamt a hostile and confusing dream. The earth surrounding him looked dead and decrepit, in his heart he felt no final destination. No end in sight. I want it to end, he though when he woke, tears rolling down the side of his face as he looked up at the empty sky.