It was a cold morning as he awoke to the sound of the wind. The curtains were open and he stared out of the old window. There was a thin crack that moved diagonally from the top of the window down to the left corner just below an old brown book that was resting heavily on the window sill. The spine of the book was facing away from him and he couldn’t remember its name. As his eyes followed the crack up from the book, he could see the grey clouds gently moving through the sky. The sky looked like it was ready to rain. The kind of rain that would be cold and soaking. The kind of rain that seems to take days to dry from your bones.
His bed was warm and his room was still and quiet. Had it not been for the slow movement of the clouds through the window, his room would have looked frozen in time. He breathed deeply and hoped that he could stop time just for a few moments. He could feel her warmth next to him as her body was slowly and gently rising and falling as she slept. For her, time was standing still. He imagined the clouds moving through the windows and washing slowly over her body as cool, lifeless waves of grey. Nothing could wake her in that moment, not even the darkening skies. He wanted so much to be asleep again and unaware of what was to come.
He slowly rolled over and faced her. Her eyes were delicately closed and her eyelids flickered as she dreamed. Her beautiful auburn hair fell across her face and wrapped around her neck like a warm blanket. A few thick strands of her hair were resting on her eyes. He wondered if she could feel them. There were feint wisps of her perfume in the air next to her but he could mostly smell her. The real scent of a woman. He breathed deeply and let her fill his lungs. He held his breath for a moment. The coldness of the room was behind him but he could feel the warmth from her body touching his face. It was a moment he wanted to hold forever. The clouds patiently watched him through the window as they marched across the endless sky. They told him it was time to go.
In slow and deliberate moves, he got out of bed. He didn’t bother looking back because he didn’t want to go back. The cold light poured through the room as he got dressed. He looked over in the corner and saw his bag that he packed the night before. It had all that he needed…some clothes and journal which was empty of words and full of his thoughts. He left his crimson scarf draped over the chair. It was as much hers as his.
He quietly opened the door and walked out with the sound her deep breathing fading behind him. And as the sounds of her sweet breath faded, so did some of his memories of her. He knew he had to forget her…all of her….to move forward. He paused. It was a terrible and sweet memory that he knew held him and tortured him. He had to go now and not let this moment pass. A moment in time. It was everything and nothing at all. With all his strength, he shifted his weight forward and fell forward endlessly into his next step and his body began moving, separated from his head and heart. A sudden wave of deep sadness moved across him and tears began to fall from his face. He didn’t bother to wipe them as he looked down and could see a few tears falling to the dark floor.
He hurried down the stairs and found his coat hanging lifelessly on the hook by the door. He quickly wrapped himself in his thick coat and opened the door. The cold morning air pushed against him and he walked out of the still quiet house and he closed the door behind him. It closed behind him with a gentle thud. He knew it would never be opened again. He didn’t bother looking back as he walked down the sloping path towards the gravel lane that crossed in front of the house. He glanced up and saw the grey clouds again. Some of them seemed to reach down and pull him along as they moved across the sky. The sun was barely up above the horizon but he couldn’t see it. The clouds masked it. It was the kind of early morning light that only a few people notice. And he did.
He could feel the house behind him getting smaller as he walked. The memory of her didn’t fade, though. In some ways it grew stronger and louder. The warmth of the bed and of her called to him as his body cooled from the damp morning air. He longed for her. For the warmth of her touch. For the sense of familiarity. For the safety in her arms. For the sense of stillness, he felt only with her. And yet, he walked. Step by step. His movements quickened as he tried to leave her behind. But she stayed with him like a trailing, long, dark scarf that was wrapped around his neck. His moving faster only tightened its grip around his neck. It was an inescapable feeling of being pulled back. He could almost feel her dark eyes looking through his back and her long, slender hands reaching for him. He wanted to look back but didn’t. He resisted his desire to look back at the house. He knew it was standing there, resting heavily upon the hill and watching him. And her presence in it made it heavier still. So heavy that it might fall through the earth and into an eternity of darkness. He had to keep moving. He walked faster as tears tumbled from his eyes and as his heart began to ache.
The ground below his feet was uneven and jagged. He had to focus as he walked so he wouldn’t fall. As he walked, he thought about what might be ahead of him. It pulled him forward. He reached the bottom of the hill and a heavy, thumping rain began to fall from the grey skies. His hands were cold and he slipped one of them into his pocket as the other one held on to his bag tightly.
The long dark road lay ahead of him and in the distance he could see the feint outline of the forest. It was surrounded by a dense mist that looked like blanket laying heavily on a sleeping body. He wasn’t sure what waited for him in that patch of trees but the path to the port wound through the forest.
He couldn’t let go of the feeling that he wasn’t feel alone.
He kept his head down and watched the road just a few feet ahead of him. He didn’t want to look up but he felt the trees getting closer. For the first time, he felt hunger not for food but for something else. Almost a longing. It was a cold empty place within him that he’d struggled to fill his whole life. It was a place that was barren. As he walked, he tried to distract himself by counting his footsteps. But it was fruitless because every few minutes he would lose count and have to begin again. Still, the counting helped even though it was mindless at times. It gave him a way to rest his thoughts.
The skies above him travelled long above him. They seemed to be following him. Watching and waiting. He wondered what the wind and rain must feel like in the clouds without the ground to support him. He knew they would toss him around like an old red kite loose of its human companion. There was no sense of control for the kite. It was a victim of the winds and rain. The only thing that kept it together was that it moved with the storm around it. That frightened him.
He looked up and saw what seemed to be a face in the clouds. It was just a few dark clouds momentarily coming together to form two eyes. Then, as quickly as they formed, the winds moved them into shapeless wisps of smoke high above him. Oddly, he still felt a watching stare above him. It sent dreadful chills down his spine.
He wanted to rest but he knew he didn’t have time. The boat would leave without him and he didn’t want to miss it. It would be three days before the next one would leave the island and he wanted to go. It was his only escape. He wanted to stop to rest but he couldn’t…he wouldn’t. His feet moved faster now. Almost unconsciously stumbling forward towards the approaching trees.
As the dark forest came into focus, he slowed a little. A chill crept over him as he looked deep into the trees. He’d felt this before. It was something he knew but didn’t understand. Something that conjured very old feelings within him. It was primordial energy he could barely describe. Not fear but something worse.
The sky above him was beginning to swirl and churn as the storm approached from behind him. He could smell rain. It was not on top of him but close. It was the smell of rain carried by the wind. The air cooled. The sky darkened and it felt to him like a giant wave about to crash over him. He knew it would be pointless to resist its immense power.
There was an opening in the forest like an old doorway. It was the only way to make his way through the trees and the only path that wound through the dark woods. He tried to walk faster but he knew his quickening pace would be swallowed by the forest. He walked with his head straight but with his eyes down. Not daring to look much farther than a few feet ahead of him. He thought that if he didn’t see the trees around him, they wouldn’t exist. He thought that all that existed was all he could see and nothing else. He was wrong.
Deep in the forest, it stirred as it sensed another being entering its domain. It was asleep but still paying attention, like a sleeping dog that jumps to attention as soon as its master makes a sudden movement. Its old body creaked and groaned as it slowly and painfully stood up. It was an ancient and dark creature devoid of anything good. The forest around it was dead. Not just dead but like it had never lived. It was eternal hopelessness. It was the sum of all suffering. It was a soul eater. It knew he was in his kingdom.
He walked a steady pace, not daring to slow down. He knew the boat would wait but not for long. The path through the forest was the only way to his escape from the island and on to his future. His hand gripped the strap of his bag tightly as it creaked under the growing pressure of his closed hand. He looked down at his right hand around the shoulder strap of the bag. The knuckles on his hand were white as the blood drained from its straining joints.
He moved through the forest along the path carved through the canopy of trees. It was very dark but not pitch black. The sky flickered from lightning that was far away but getting closer. As the sky lit up, he could see the eerie shape of the trees. They were black and distorted. He imagined the roots plunging deep into the ground like one hand trying to reach the center of the earth. The branches above him looked like a tortured and grotesque hand desperately reaching up to the heavens. It was a timeless battle that would never end. Two parts of the same soul…one seeking the center of everything and the other seeking the skies above.
The trees watched him walk. As a boy, he had heard stories that spirits lived in the trees and they begged passers-by to release them. Innocently laying a hand on the trunk of the tree would allow the spirit to escape and to torment its liberator. He knew it was an old story and one that was most likely a foolish one. Despite that, he decided to avoid the passing trunks as he walked and instead he tried to focus on the sound of the ground below him. As he took each step, he could hear the ground crumble below him as small twigs snapped and bent under his weight. He breathed deeply and he could hear his heart beginning to quicken. He could almost feel his veins straining to contain the blood coursing through them. From time to time, he looked behind him to see how far he had traveled. In the beginning of his journey through the forest, he could still see the feint opening through which he entered. As time passed, the opening dissolved into the jumble of trees. He was deep inside the belly of the woods now. He was small and surrounded by the shear enormity of the forest. He walked but he didn’t know if he was making progress. At one point he stopped and began to wonder if he had been walking in circles. He held on to the thought that if he stayed on this path, it would eventually lead him to the waiting boat. He hoped he was right.
He had been walking for over an hour since leaving the warm bed and his body was cold and aching. He was hungry and thirsty. But he had not brought anything with him to eat or drink. His hunger was masked by his growing fear. He felt alone. Desperately alone. He felt like the only person the face of the earth. His heart and soul were breathing heavily and his legs were now walking unconsciously as he strained to keep moving forward. He felt himself separating from his body. It was an all too familiar feeling like falling off a cliff and desperately reaching for anything to stop the fall.
He didn’t want to lift his gaze but he did. He looked ahead down the path ahead of him in a futile attempt to see the end of the forest. But it was nowhere in sight. Instead, he saw something else. At first he thought it was a small tree swaying in the building wind. But the trunk seemed to move like it was stumbling forward. His heart sank and a cold feeling moved over his body. He knew what was approaching. He wondered if he had accidentally touched a tree as he walked but he had been careful. He looked down because he hoped that not looking up would make it disappear. But he knew in his heart this wouldn’t work. He felt tears building in his eyes and he clenched his jaw in hope of holding on to his composure. His fist gripped even harder around the strap of his bag. His mind raced. What was in his bag? What did he have that might protect him? But there was nothing that would help him. He stopped and looked straight head in a brief and fleeting moment of defiance. But this courage moved through him and away from him like an echo. His heart was racing now. The rain began to pour from the suddenly opening sky. He could see millions of tiny splashes from the raindrops but they made no sound. It was almost as though the forest swallowed any sign of life.
He wanted to scream. The kind of scream that comes from deep within a soul. One that comes from a long time ago. His mouth opened to let out the raging energy inside him but before any sound left his body, it was swallowed like it was pulled back by something within him. He was desperate and paralyzed.
He dared to look up again. The creature was moving. It was clear it was not a tree or something similarly harmless. The creature was not walking like a human. Instead it was lumbering forward using three of its four legs or arms. It reminded him of an old man stumbling forward using a cane. It was big and seemed to be very heavy. Oddly, it did not make a sound as it lumbered forward. Each of its steps should have caused a loud crash on the forest floor but instead, it’s movement was eerily silent. The lightning in the sky illuminated the forest floor in silvery grey for a brief moment. With each flash of light, the floor of the forest seemed to change and twist. The floor around the creature wilted and stopped living as it consumed life around it. The creature was devoid of love but it was not hate. It was a terrifying, soul eating black hole.
He looked up and saw the deep indigo sky hidden behind the churning clouds. He wished he could release gravity’s grip on him and float up through the storm clouds and into the welcoming peace of the night sky where it was safe. But, instead, his body felt heavier as each moment passed by and he thought the ground would swallow him whole. For a moment, he thought that being taken by the dark bowels of the earth would be a better fate than facing the creature. He was hopelessly stuck and frozen in this place. His mind raced and his heart felt like it would explode in his chest. Sweat poured over his head despite the cold night air and the now freezing rain. His entire body was burning with fear. He wanted to cry but he thought foolishly that rain would just wash his tears away. He waited for his fate as the creature drew closer with each distorted and horrible step it took towards him.
The wind shifted direction and began to blow from behind the creature and towards him. He could smell it. It was the stench of a thousand lost lives and dreams. The smell burned his eyes and he tried to rub the acidic vapor away from them. Deep within him, a single thought emerged, “be strong”. But as soon as he heard it, he didn’t believe it. He knew he didn’t have the strength to resist but he felt compelled to try. The more he tried to muster the strength, the stronger the awful smell became. He thought he would die. He knew he would. These would be the last moments of his life and he wanted the end to come quickly. It was torture for him to wait and he didn’t want to experience these moments just before death. He longed for escape. Not from the creature but from life itself. The creature was eternal and he was not. He knew that now. A deep sadness enveloped him at that thought. The creature was now only a few feet away.
It stood up straight and it looked at him. Its towering body was horribly twisted. It was covered in the worst kind of skin. Not skin but more like cooling rock that floats on a lava flow. Its shape was not human but it had what seemed like legs that supported its immense weight. It was fear, disdain and cruelty all shaped into something resembling a face. It was tortured and filled with pain. He saw it grunting and wheezing as it leaned forward to take another step. Yet it remained silent. It had long and bony arms. At the end of them were skinny and misshapen fingers. In its left hand, it held something. At that moment, a terrible and silent bolt of lightning ignited the sky and the forest below it. He saw the object in the creature’s hand. It was a knife with a long and jagged blade with a blood red handle. The creature opened its mouth to speak but only deadly silence tumbled from the opening in its head. He could see its teeth. They were like daggers. They were specks of white covered in a black, tar like substance. The creature was over him now. It slowly raised its arm and held the blade over him. He dropped his bag and the noise of it hitting the ground behind him was the only sound he had heard in what seemed like an eternity. It was so far from the warm bed and from her. He longed for her comforting embrace.
He knew this was the end.
He looked up at the blade. It was waiting and the waiting was torture. He looked at the creature in its eyes. They were red and fiery. Its eyes were the only thing that resembled life but not natural life. They were filled with rage and sadness. They screamed at him with a thousand voices. They both waited and he listened to his heart thump louder and louder. He was desperate with fear. His mind turned to the empty journal in his bag. He had so much left to say but he’d said nothing. Instead, he always found a reason to do something else and the words had to wait patiently to be released from his heart. All those wasted words.
The creature leaned forward as it’s body slowly fell forward towards him. The blade seemed to hang in the air behind him as the tension built in its arm from its lurching body.
The sky rumbled and churned and pressed down on him as it watched the unfolding moments.
He looked at the blade of the knife as the shape of the creature faded from his focus. It was not the creature but the blade he feared. It was long and rough. It looked like a bolt of lightning from a comic book. Nothing like real lightning but something imagined. The edges seemed to be dull but sharp enough to pierce his skin. It was mostly silver and with unmistakable stains of what seemed to be old and dried blood. He wondered how many other lives this blade had claimed. The blade looked at him – almost like it had eyes. His heart slowed as he watched the knife and as he stared at it, it’s shape stopped resembling anything recognizable like looking at a table like you’d never seen one before. All meaning disappeared from the blade and it became a shape that simply existed in the world.
He closed his eyes as he felt the creature and the blade above it coming towards him. He breathed deeply as he accepted what was to come. His conscious separated from his body and he could almost see himself from above. He lived in the moment in between his heart beats. The moment expanded slowly then began to flow out from within him. It began to cover the ground around him and then finally it enveloped the creature and him. It quickly filled the space around the trees and in a moment it had filled the forest and the whole world.
The blade crashed towards his chest and his unprotected heart as its journey drew to an end.
And then. Silence.
He woke up face down on the forest floor. The rain was falling all around him. His body was cold but alive. He didn’t understand how. He began to weep as his still and empty body rested on the ground. He turned over and looked up at the sky above him. The trees reached up around him and seemed to stand still as they touched the sky. As his eyes began to focus, he noticed they were rhythmically and gently swaying with the wind. Back and forth in perfect motion. They swayed as the wind blew. They swayed as the forest moved. They swayed as the earth spun on its axis and as it moved around the sun. They swayed in an eternal motion. As he watched, he felt his heart beating with them in beautiful harmony. He watched the trees and listened to his heart grow together in their unending dance. He struggled to his knees and lifted his eyes to the sky and breathed in one, slow deep breath as if to take in all of creation. It filled him. It healed him.
The night had waged its war on him but it was over now. The sky was dark as the rains fell from it as tears poured from his eyes. He was alive.
In the distance, he could hear the splashing of water against the bow of the waiting boat. He was close to it. He got up on his wobbly legs. He looked down and saw his bag lying next to him. He leaned over and picked it up and slung it over his shoulder as he began to walk towards the boat. He knew he would make it in time. He knew the boat would carry him forward to his next home, wherever that was.