Monday, April 5, 2010

Sleeper In The Dust

This is a short story I've written earlier this year. This is the original version of the story. I wrote a revised edition with the Midwich section removed to make it easier for publication. But, seeing as no one bit, I'll subject you to the original final draft in all it's glory.
Sleepers in the Dust




The tower was the only light in the distance, so they came to it like moths. They walked for miles thorough ash-fog, hundreds of thousands for the most part. They walked alone but there were few of them who journeyed with others in couples or in threes or in fours. There was no one on the road while he walked it. He was all alone.

He came upon the outcrop of rocks at the crest of the hill. The stones were a set of cairns and grave markers. They were arranged haphazardly in a circle. Some lain on their backs, forgotten. One stone stood away from the cluster, further towards the road. It was sheer flat unlike the others, half buried in the ground. The old man sat on it, eating from a bag.

“ You following the road?“ The old man said.

“ I am.“

The old man shuffled towards his right. He patted the empty spot next to him.

“Sit?“ The old man asked.

“I’ll stand.”

The old man held out the bag. He waved it off.

“So.“ the old man said. “Following the road then?“ The old man took a nut from the bag and cracked it with his teeth. The nut fissured and he took it out, dropping the innards into his shivering hand.

“Me too. Heading to the tower myself. You from the plains?“

He shook his head.

“Me neither.“ said the old man. “From the mountains myself. I came down after the tower burned out. Lived in a place called Pots ‘fore that. Near the temple.“

The old man swallowed and then coughed into his hand. He spat the nut into the dirt and tossed the shell after it.

“Where you from?“

“Nowhere“ He said. “I wander.“

The old man nodded his head. He didn’t seem surprised.

“How many towns you’ve been in?“ He asked.

“A couple. Mostly passing thorough.”

“You like any of them?”

He shrugged. “Not really.” He walked over and sat down next to the old man and looked out at the road. Down the slope the road followed the curve of the trough disappearing into the line of trees. Ash fell heavy like fat gray snowflakes. They lay on the ground like feathers.

“Was at a place called vale.” He said after silence. “Stayed there the longest.” The old man threw nuts into the dirt, picked his teeth with long dirty fingernails.

“ What was it liked?” He asked.

“Wasn’t like nothing. Just a town. Same as any other place, I guess.”

The old man smiled at this. “Then what made you said.”

He said nothing. After a while and watching the old man spit out more nuts, he got up.

“ We’re walking to the same place” said the old man. “ We all are. How about you and I walk together? We’ll keep each other company.”

He looked at the old man then turned his head and stared down the road then he started walking. He heard the old man say something to him. He turned his head and listened.

“ It get’s lonely out there, wanderer.”

“ So?”

The old man frowned. “ I don’t got much and I don’t want to beg but I will. Just out past the woods. If you want, I can stay on until the tower. Just be with me in the woods.” He held up his bag. “ I got nuts, salt-treats and bitter candy.” He looked at the old man bony and fragile with his hallow sunken eyes.

“ Do you know any stories?” He asked the old man.

“ I do.”

“ Good.” He said.

Together they walked down the hill.

*****

The old man walked slowly, leaning on his walking stick as they made the turn. When the road level, the old man grunted and stopped.

“ Damn.” The old man flexed his knee and looked up. “ It’s alright. Let’s keep going.”

They were quiet for a long time. The ash fell in bundles. Heavy in some places, light in others. The fields were uncut of their whiteness. The plains remained stilled in the fog. He and the old man came upon a dog in the road. Below it was a man, his stomach ripped open and bleeding. The dog’s snout was ruddy red. Its teeth were slick with blood. It looked at them dispassionately. It’s big, green eyes staring out from a mountain of black fur, regarding them apathetically. It turned away and dug down into the man’s flesh. Its teeth came down around something black and meaty. It reared its head up and tore it loose, the sinew snapped like a rubber band.

They watched it eat and then they walked on

*****

They sat underneath a birch tree at the edge of road as ash drifted down between the branches. The canopy was black and heavy with twisted limbs and they strained with the weight of the heavier accumulations of soot. One could hear the distant snapping of branches and the collapse of older oaks farther in, echoing out from the tangled woods.

The old man had sat on down on log, rubbing his knee. In his left hand was a pipe with wispy smoke emitting from its belly. It had these holes and three caps in those holes. In those caps were dried wood chips, colored black, red and brown. The old man put a light to each of them and inhaled. He went to hand it off but the wanderer ignored him and looked out across the road.

“ What was that thing?” He asked the old man.

“ The dog?” The old man puffed. “ Old soul eater. Used to go by Amaranth or maybe Cerberus. Used to be much bigger back in the day, but it’s got smaller now.” The old man let out a plumb of smoke, fine and misty. It smelled of burned holly and mistle thrush. “It used to be taller than the world, but back then so was everything else. Then it got smaller and smaller. They fed it less and less. People realized that there’s scarier things than oblivion, so they stopped caring. Or maybe they realized that there is no such thing as ‘The end’. Just ‘an end’”

The old man looked at him for a moment and then shook his head.

“ Forgot who I was talking to.”

The old man watched him get up and walk towards the road.

“ Hey! Where are you going?” The old man yelled after him.

“ I see something.” He went to the edge of the road, where the tree line formed, and he looked out to the other side. The old man stepped behind him.

“ I don’t see anything.”

The wanderer shushed him and stepped closer to the road.

“ Do you hear that?” He asked the old man and together they listened. A wind-stirred thorough the trees and a flutter of grit fell on the road.

“ Can someone help me?” said the woman. “ I’m lost. I…can someone help me. I’m so lost.”

She stepped out from behind a tree and turned around. She screamed, a shrill sound like a dying cat, and then she wandered onto the road. Her eyes fluttered like startled humming birds. She looked right at them and then looked away. She took a couple of steps, rubbing her hand like a bashful child then she screamed again.

“ Help me!” She seemed as if she was going to cry, but all she let out was a whimper. “ Please, is someone out there? I know you are. I can hear you! Please, you have to help me. I’m all alone.” She said. “ I’m so alone.”

As she wandered off, he and the old man stepped from the trees into the road. They saw her turn and disappear back into the forest. For a long moment there was silence until the ash took another oak and it fell. The sound echo thorough the woods long after, like a conversation.

He and the old man moved on

*****

They saw the glade from the road and from there they saw the children. There were five of them, eyes sullen and sunk deep. They pushed and pulled and screamed and fought. They gnawed teeth and yelled, little fist busting into hard jaw bones. He saw a little girl’s nose explode when someone bashed her face in with a rock. He saw two boys hop on a third and drag him down, kicking and punching until the boy stopped moving.

“ The children are restless.” He said to the old man and the old man, and the old man laid a hand on his shoulder.

“ We should go leave.”

“ Why do they fight?” He asked as they went. The old man shrugged his shoulders.

“ Why does anyone?”

He stopped and for a moment he glared at the old man> He steeled his jaw and thinned his lips.

“ You know, you promised me a story.”

The old man turned and looked at him. A grimaced crossed his cragged face.

“ Okay.” said the old man. “ While we walk.”

*****

Lucifer was asked by God to guard the gates of Eden, and Lucifer did out of loyalty. One day, while guarding the gates, he heard singing coming from the lake. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard. It was so lovely and enchanting that without a second thought he followed it. There in the water he saw Lilith bathing. She was the loveliest creature in creation. Lucifer, who was the sun, fell in love.

God saw this. He told Lucifer to the return to the gates and he told Lilith to stay away form Lucifer, but Lucifer was in love and at night he would come to Lilith. One night he came to her and gave her an apple.

“ With this, you will know all the secrets of the kingdom. All that I know. We will be together. Lilith took a bite and then another and then another. She ate the apple down the core and knew all the secrets of the kingdom, for it was the apple for the tree in the center of the garden and it was in that tree that God kept all his secrets and his knowledge. Lucifer and Lilith made love that night under the eyes of God.

In the morning when Lucifer woke, Lilith was gone. She went back to Adam who she truly loved and though Adam would go to reject her, she would still love. Lucifer, in his anger and his hatred, threw down his sword and called to God, but God would not answer him. It was as God had planned it, all. And Lucifer knew that God had set this in motion and walked away from Eden never to return.

*****

The old man sniffed as he pinched the bridge of his nose. The sneezing fit he had was so severe he had to stop and lean on his walking stick. He watched the old man’s sneeze turn into a hacking cough. He watched the old man remove a yellow handkerchief from his pocket and blow his nose. The old man sniffed and looked up at him.

“ Allergies.” The old man croaked. The wanderer looked around at the bare birch woods and the soot covered black oaks. Ash covered the ground. He said nothing to the old man and the two continued on.

As they walked: “ Angels don’t fall in love.”

And the old man said “ Why not? They’re made out of love. Love for God. Love for light and life.”

“ They’re made to serve.” The wanderer corrected. “ Angels don’t love God. Angels don’t know God.”

“ You would know a thing or two about angels, boy.” The old man smiled and chuckled.

“ I’ve seen things.” He said.

“ Like what?”

“ I’ve seen the harpies in the suicide trees. I’ve seen the plains and the drag-feet and the vipers that turned to people and back to vipers. I’ve seen those wind-swept carried along by their lust and I’ve seen the dust-fields, oh yes I have. I’ve seen one of the rivers and the shore across it. And they were people standing on the opposite shore, looking at me from the other side. Just standing on the shore, looking at me.”

The old man looked at him with small narrow eyes and thin beaked lips, and for a while he said nothing. They just walked.

*****

He knew they had come to the heart of the forest, for here the branches formed a canopy so heavy that no ash fell. The trunks huddled close, like pillars to a temple, and rose over high until there was nothing but knitted woods and interlocked branches. The old man slept as if he was dying, with big gulps of breath and a cold inhumanity to his countenance. He never slept and so he sat on the muddy ground and watched the old man. On an overhanging branch, a raven came down and spoke.

“ You can’t trust the old man. He’ll let you down.”

“ I’m only going as far as the river to the Charon’s boat. He can cross on his own.”

“ And you?”

“ I’ll take the long way ‘round. I always do.”

The bird shuttered and opened its wing. It poked and beaked it’s feathers then he looked up.

“ Been traveling too long. It’s a fucking with your mind. You saw the woman in the woods?”

He thought back to the woman, her glazed expressions and her shivers and her fear.

“ She looked right at us.” He said. “ She didn’t see us.”

“ Because all she sees is trees.” Said the raven “ That’s all she could see. Trees, trees and more trees. She won’t see you if you were inside her.” The raven squawked and to him it sounded like laughter. The old man stirred, muttered something incoherent and rolled over.

“ Y’know, she could reach the end of the road if she wanted to. Go until the world end, ‘till she ran out of ground but she’ll never leave the woods.” The raven snapped its beak and dove off the branch. When he came to rest, it was on a nearby rock at the foot of the tree.

“ The secret is anyone can leave. They could take he road anywhere even the end.”

“ Except for me.” said the wanderer.

“ Especially you.” said the raven and flapped its wings. It flew away.

It was a long, long while before the old man woke. So, he spent the time singing.

*****

They came upon a fork in the road. The path divided into three fingers. One traveled east, the other south and then west further down into the trees. The final path, the main road, continued north. He went to walk north when the old man stopped him.

“ You hear that?” The old man said thorough his teeth. The old man notched his head to the side and listen.

He began to say something but the old man threw an arm around his throat. The old man coiled around his body, throwing himself up on his back. His threw his head back to shake him off, but the old man weighed like a backpack of bricks and the suddenness jerked him back off the road. The wander struggled to regain his feet in the moments before he fell, but the wily old sucker had put his bony shin between his legs. When he stepped forward to shift his weight, the old man scooped his legs from under him. They both fell from the road into the trees. He tried to get up but the old man was on him before he could roll to his elbows, squirming and writhing a top of him like a great worm. The wanderer tried to scream, to bark an angry curse or cruel threat that would shatter the old man’s nerve. He struck with elbows and arms and heavy balled fist into the old man’s sides, feeling his old bones jar, but for all his effort he couldn’t dismount the man. Finally, the old man wrapped his thin fingers around his wrist and held them back. The old man sat up on his chest and looked into his eyes.

“ Be still.” said the old man in a terrible voice.

“ Be still.” and it was like glass shattering in his mind.

“ Be still.” said the words, burrowing into his skull like a mouse.

And finally he stopped.
She came to through the road, straddling the white horse. Her hair was gold-spun silk and it had been comb fine and long and straight ending at the small of her back. Her eyes were almond-shaped, the color of caramel. Her skin was dark bronze, the color of gods.

Her voice was velvet rich, sounding like an ancient music box. It jangled with chords that seem artificial but sung with the love and warmth of a human heart. It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. It was purity, he heard. It was sound of purity. Slightly hollow, but still precious. Unreal but always desired. It was Truth and Love and it was Fear and Justice. It was Mercy and the Collective and the Silent Majority. Mom, Dad and Apple Pie.

He wanted to bathe in it. To be lavished by it when he was inside her and to be made whole again. And he closed his eyes and for a moment he felt nothing. Not the ground or the dirt or the rock jutting out of his back. Nothing at all. Then she was gone, disappearing down the road.

*****

The old man helped him up from the ditch. They stood square and looked at each other, then he wound back and release catching the old man on the point of the chin. The old man fell back. He seemed so weak now, so small. He stood over the old man, regarded him in silence. He knew there was no reason to be mad, but he was. He knew he’ll never see her again.

“ You’ve wouldn’t have convinced her to stop.” said the old man. “ She would have footed right passed you. She’s lost in her own woods, on her own mission, to retrieve her husband.” The old man spat and looked up. He could see the old man’s teeth were dark red with blood. “ She made it thorough the gates, each one, and she will die when she reaches her destination. But it’s something she had to do. She won’t let herself forget ever. Even if she dies, she’ll always remember.”

He looked down at the old man, his face rushed with blood and his teeth clenched out of anger. It would be so easy, he thought, so easy to hit him again. And again. And again. And again. A susurrus escaped through the trees. A branch broke in the distance, cracking with a long yowling strain. He took the old man’s arm and helped him up.

“ I’m sorry.” He said. The old man looked out into the distance and gestured toward the main road.

“ It’s alright. I don’t blame you.”

He took the wanderer’s arm and held up the two halves of his stick. The old man looked resigned.

The old man sighed and threw the two halves away.

The old man leaned on the wanderer.

“ C’mon. I’ll tell you a story.”

*****

It was winter in Midwich. This one would last for years. Days that didn’t snow were wed to clearing the barrows and moving the grains from the silos into the stores. The people huddled close around the fires in the log-houses and many prowled the ground markets after dark. Everybody drank wine.

The nightman was coming soon and Arthur had agonized over which child would be chained to the wood. There had been no disruptors or bad seeds these final years. No out and out miscreants. All the Midwich children were flawed, yes, but all irrevocably good. The witch women called them a “ pure flock”. Arthur had stewed for many nights and finally made his decision. He sat in the kitchen now and ate his lukewarm mutton.

“ ‘s wrong dad?”

Arthur turned in his chair and saw Brown-eyed Paul staring at him, clutching his rucksack doll to his chin. Paul was the younger of his two boy and, to Arthur, the more troubling.

“ Nothing, son. The nightman is coming.”

Paul seemed unmoved by this. His silence was as worrying as the steadiness in his eyes. It frightened him a little. When Arthur was Paul’s age, the nightman had come. He remembered the fear amongst the children beforehand, how it rippled out from them until they all vibrated with terror. He remember the unease he felt falling asleep, wondering if his good deeds outweighed his impure thoughts. He remembered praying to the Antecedents in the under-steeple to spare his life and that of his sister. He prayed to see another winter.

Arthur pushed aside his chair and patted his knee. Paul strolled over and clambered onto it.

“ Do you know about the nightman?” He asked the boy. The boy nodded.

“ What do you know?”

“ Auntie Nem told me that winter is when the nightman comes and he takes one child all winter long to live with him in his castle. And when the summer comes, they come back as the darkseers and protect us from wights and wind-spirits.”

Arthur nodded his head.

“ Do you know why the nightman comes?”

When the boy shook his head, his sandy blond curls bounced.

“ A long time ago, the nightman was a dragon and he ruled the cold waste to the north. One day, the dragons of the east and west went to war with the Gods in the heavens above. It was a long and violent fight, many Gods and dragons died, but finally the dragons relented when the nightman put down his sword. He was the fierce out of all of them, and without him they could never had challenge the Gods. But the nightman had lost all his family and friends and couldn’t fight anymore. He just stopped caring.

The Gods gave him a castle at the top of the world, to thank him and because they were afraid of him. The other dragons never forgave him and sent evil spirits into the world for revenge. The nightman rebuked them all and send them fleeing back into their master. But then something happened…”

Arthur looked up at the boy whose eyes were big and bright.

“ What?” The boy asked.

“ The spirits began to stalk the people of the north. The people were terrified, and called out to the Gods. The nightman felt responsible, so he made a deal with the Antecedents. Every winter he would come and from the towns he would take one child. When the sun rose for summer, he would bring the child back, and they would protect the people. Those are the darkseers.”

The boy whispered, “ What does he do with them?”

“ No one knows.” and he looked at the boy named Brown-eyed Paul.

“ Alright son, it is time for bed.”

“ But I’m not sleepy.”

“ You will be.” He said and he kissed the boy’s curly head. He held the boy up and walked into his room, tucking him into bed.

“ David is going to be a good darkseer, right Dad?”

“ Yes, Paul. David will be the best.”



He put his smock and his coat on and then headed into the center of the drift where the tent stood. The wind howled like a horrible wave. The darkness was full and frightening. He drew back the flaps of the canvas. It was warm inside, in part of the brazier. The coal burned long, slow and hazy, crackling as a flake of snow fell into the pot.

He looked at David in chains. He was sleeping on the floor. He looked skinny and gaunt. No wonder since he refused to eat. His plate of soft cheese and ham remained untouched on the floor next to him.

“ David.” He said. When he touched him, David sprang up with a knife slicing at the air. Had Arthur delayed, he would have lost the tips of his fingers.

“ David. David, it’s me. Put the knife down.”

David looked startled and lost. His breath came out in ragged clumps. He shuttered and dropped the knife.

“ I’m sorry.” He said, hugging his knees.

“ It’s alright.”

Arthur sat next to him. He hugged his son tight. David was had only fourteen years in his life but he looked older. His limbs were toned and thin. His hands were flat and wide. His fingers were long and slender. He had fair-skinned like his mother, with big brown-green eyes. Arthur named him after his grandfather. Paul called him Mop.

“ Are you cold?”

The boy shook his head. “ No. I’m fine.” David looked at the floor between his feet.

“ The nightman comes tonight.” Arthur said. David let out a sigh.

“ I know. I’m not scared.” The boy lied. Arthur held his hand. “ It’s okay.” Arthur said. “ I’m here.”

The wind howled outside, cold and ominous. The boy looked at his father. Arthur choked back a tear as he stared into his son’s eyes. He bit his lip.

“ It’s okay, dad.” said David. “ I know you had didn’t have a choice. It isn’t fair to ask people to break up their families. You did the right thing.” The boy stroked his back lovingly. He pulled his father into an embrace. Arthur felt ashamed.

“ I failed you.” He whispered.

“ No. You did the right thing.”

Then the wind rose again, suddenly and violently. The snow lashed against the canvas. The brazier dimmed and then the gold-fire burn bright white. They could hear over the wind the clatter of hooves galloping, crunching the snow underfoot. They felt Him in their souls before they saw him enter. His black presence announced Him before he arrived. The flap opened wide and He stepped inside. He stood just shy of eleven feet. His robe-coat draped over Him like a waterfall of ink. His features were as if He was sculpted from the ice itself. Though He wore thick boots, He made no sound.

He regarded Arthur momentary, His white-blue eyes settling on him, making his breath chill. He then turned to David, gaped and jaw like a frightened cat. His long thin fingers came under his chin and closed his open mouth.

ARE YOU MINE The words appeared in the mind like cracking ice. David shivered and clung to his knees. The nightman touched the chains and they fell away. Gently, He knelt and took David’s hand. His grasp was bitter cold. He looked into David’s eyes.

FOLLOW

David drooped as if he had fallen asleep. David stood with an eased, jerking motion. David’s eyes fluttered dreamingly. David looked at Arthur and a smiled crossed his face. “ Everything’s going to be okay.” He said. The nightman led David out the door and He turned to Arthur and Arthur could only breath in the cold air.

“ Be fair to him. “ The father said.

The nightman looked at him

I WILL TRY

*****

They saw the demons as he and the old man came to the edge of the woods, where the road turned to run with the river. The demons danced among three towers of black stone at river’s bank. The demons wore tanned horse-belts and stomped their hooves into the mud to a shrill nasally wail. He held on to the old man as the old man guided him to the shoulder. As the road turn to run along the river, the demons saw them and approached.

“ Dance with us.” They said. Their voices sang with the buzz of flies. They opened their mouth and he saw teeth. Sharp needle-like teeth. The demons raised their voices and threw up their arms and danced wild and free. As they danced, they circled the road.

“ Dance.” They sang. “ Dance, dance, dance.”

He and the old man watched the demon’s dance, a dark and menacing thing. He and the old man turned back toward the road.

“ Dance, dance.” The demons sang. The old man turned and his eyes were fire as he stared at the demons. The old man stepped forward, but the wanderer squeezed his arm, pulling him back. He looked at the old man and the old man looked at him and they both decided to continue on.

When they turned back the road was gone. They were surround by the rocks, the black tower of stones. Their feet were sunk in the mud. He smelled sulfur and mashed granite. For once, there was no ash.

“ Let us pass.” said the old man.

The demons ignored him and continued to dance, around and around and around. “ Dance with us.” They sang and when they sang the excrement fell from their mouth in rolling clumps. “ Dance with us.” They sang with hoarse throats, with shit falling out of their mouth.

The wanderer thought their song was filthy and beautiful and he understood the lure though he did not feel it himself. He tightened his grip on the old man who was shaken.

“ Let us go.”

“ But you will not danced.” The flies were dying and falling on the ground in shivering piles. “ So you cannot leave.” The putrid smell of their voices watered his eyes. The demons danced a little closer, a little closer. Their leering eyes were bright like sun-jewels. He looked at the old man who was shaking. The old man’s gaze was like a sword, sharp and steady. The wanderer looked out ahead and the demons were standing. Their yellow eyes were rolled in the back of their heads and their mouths were slacked open, revealing the rows of teeth going down their throats.

The old man shuttered and sputtered. Droll fell from his mouth. The old man held his arm, his knuckles whitening as aged fingers held onto his arms. The air was hot and the sulfur made his eyes water. When he cleared them, he saw the great chasms turning with the bodies. They screamed as they bathed in the molten waters and their rose their hands for salvation.

“ Lastly.” croaked the old man. “ I will leave you names.”

And the multitude echoed as one “ Names.”

The old man pointed and gave the names.

“ You are Moloch, whose black belly feeds the unborn.”

“ And you Mammon in gold and silver.”

“ And you are Baphomet, the lion.”

“ And you are Leviathan, who the sea cannot hold.”

“ You are Baal and Bali and Beelzebub and you are Legion.”

The old man sighed and pointed to the last.

“ And you are Malcuiber, and the towers are yours.”

And the demons raised their voices and made a terrible sound. The wind whipped and the smell of sulfur and the sound of the fire was all there was. The light of the pit seared him. The heat was great and it bubbled his flesh. For a moment, he could see all the great moment before him and they were unspeakable things that he will always remember and never recall. Their sounds echoed on into eternity and soon were gone.

*****

When he opened his eyes, the man was standing in the road. He was leaning on his stick, looking down passed him to the river.

“You found a new stick” He said to the old man.

“Yup. Made out of bone.” The old man reached down and pulled him back up to the road. The wanderer dusted himself off and went on ahead. Slowly, the old man followed him.

*****

The Charon came thorough the fog after awhile. They sat on the docks and greeted him. When he docked the old man handed him two coins. Some old prices never change.

“ It’s the same as it ever was.” The Charon told him as the old man slept. “ No one ever truly changes. People see the branches and not the trees in this case.”

The wanderer narrowed his eyes. He was tired of trees. He looked down at the old man.

“ Who is he?” He asked The Charon, who laughed. “Who do you think he is?”

He quietly thought and the boat pushed on.

“ I don’t know. I think he might just be an old man. But then there are other times…”

He paused and remembered the raven.

“ I saw a bird.” He said. For a moment, The Charon looked surprised.

“ Ain’t no birds.” The Charon said. “Ain’t nothing but the shore and sea”.

The wanderer sat down, his eyes looking out over the river side. He wondered what else was out there in the fog. Ash fell on his lips and tongue as the black river water crest under the hull and gently nudged the rocking vessel side to side. As he rowed, the Charon raised his voice to sing.

*****

On the road there was walking for miles and miles and miles. They stopped regularly and passed a town. He saw only four people, haggard and lost who looked passed them as if they were shadows. They traveled thorough the fog and day by day things got clearer.

It would never be all clear, he realized. Ash would always come, slowly falling down, like hope. The air would always be hazed and the distance would always be vague, black shapes. Most of all, the world would always have a tower, the destination. It spewed bright orange fire against the gray.

On the road, they saw many things. Men in seersucker suits rolling great wheels. Women making babies out of clay. People traveling great hills only to fall. Giants pushing boulders down from steep inclines. They saw man dragging a cross up a hill. The man stopped and leaned on a rock and for the briefest moment looked at them. He took his burden and walked up the hill and disappeared. A serpent found a apple in a rock and swallowed it whole. Insects found bliss and then salvation. They moved on to their prize.

They came to a man who was digging a hole beside the road and when the old man asked him what he was digging for, the man looked up and said “ My wife.” His eyes were pitch-black, color of found coals.

The road let them to a mountain and they followed it up. The ash fell heaviest here of all places. It drifted around to the height of one’s shin, but it was not cold. He and the old man rested a lot. The old man spent his time sleeping, eating from his bag and polishing his stick made of bone. When they spoke, they spoke of the journey and nothing else. Soon, they would be finished.

“ There’s something you never told me.”

The old man ate from his bag of nuts.

“ What’s that?” The old man asked.

“ Why are you going to the tower?”

“ Because there’s light. Because that’s the road. That’s where it leads.”

“ Did you make it?” Asked the wanderer. “ The road?”

The old man shook his head. “ No. No one could make the road. All anyone could do is walk it. We take the paths we want to take. We could walk in one direction or we could wander, but everyone follows their road. Everyone goes someplace.”

He looked at the old man, with his gaunt face and his hallowed out eyes and his pale skin and he knew the answer to his next question, but still he asked “ Where does yours go?”

“ The end.”

*****

She was a black figure in the fog. As she approached, she could see she was a black figure everywhere else. Her skin was pure obsidian. She was 9 feet tall. Her lips were full and red and her eyes were big and wild. Her teeth were long, straight tusk. She was radiant in her particular beauty.

She wore a necklace of skulls and in her four arms she held a sword and a bowl.

“ Going to the tower?” She asked as she stopped to talk.

“ Yes.” said the old man.

“ The light is going out. You better get there soon.”

“ It won’t go out before we get there.”

“ It might.” She looked from the old man to him. “ That’s the thing. As long as you follow, you’re always subject to the curves in the road. Programs are always subject to change, and all that.”

“ There are no changes on the road.” The old man said to him. “ Just the travel and destination.”

She looked at him and then she looked at the old man.

“ The journey is just one part. The destination is another. But there’s much more to everything than wandering. There is living. There are moments. There is chaos. That’s what makes everything work the way it does.”

The old man looked at her and for once the wanderer couldn’t read her face.

“ Chaos is at path.” The old man insisted.

She smiled a toothy smiled. She stroked the old man’s face.

“ Walk. Skip. Dance. Do whatever you want.”

She leaned out and kissed his head with her big red lips. The wander watch as she headed down the road and into the fog. As she was almost out of sight, she began to dance. Then she was gone.

*****

They came to the tower. He looked up. The tower disappeared into the fog. Ash fell in mounds. They were nearly buried in it. The old man looked at him with sad, tired triumphant eyes. He looked at the old man in silence. In truth, he felt a tiny pang of guilt to be leave of him. The cold air rushed out as the large iron doors opened, the wind sweeping into blackness. He looked at the darkness inside the tower and knew there sat oblivion.

The old man came to him thorough the mounds of ash. He came in close and the two of them hugged in the shadow of the tower.

“ No one built the road.” said the wanderer. “ But you built the tower.”

The old man smiled a fragile smile.

“ No. You did. There used to be nothing in the road except the ash and the fog. You built the tower to light the way. Then you walked the road so that others could find it. And you kept ‘em lit when they weren’t out. That’s what happens to you. What happened to me.”

The wanderer looked down. “ The raven said not to trust you.”

The old man smiled and lifted his head.

“ That’s what raven’s always do. He’s right, though, to tell you not to trust me. You aren’t me yet. Not until you walked a little further will you know what I know. Then you will learn how to name and learn how to build. Only when you learn those two things will you learn sleep. And your dreams will be great, for you will be truly tired.”

The old man gave him his stick made of polished bones. As the old man walked away, he could see him moving fine without it. The old man tossed him the bag from his belt. “ In case you get hungry.” He said and waved goodbye. The doors closed behind him and the dimming fire roared, growing brighter for a moment. It pulsed yellow-gold and burned the fog around it. The fog lifted for him and he looked down the side of the mountain at all the roads and where they lead. He turned and headed down the other side of the mountain, following the road.

The End

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