The Fiction of Distance

Dear sister,

I am writing to you with the hopes that this letter will reach you before Spring is over. The weather here is harsher than in the stories father used to tell us. The cold is cruel and sharp, and it has a malicious intent bordering on human nature. It somehow seems to me that, if I gave it the chance, it would tear the words from this letter and spirit them somewhere far away to keep it company. No wonder, though. When I first set foot in this town it was like stepping into one of those paintings at the Blue Gallery, where everyone seemed to have fled to the furthermost corners of the frame and the town was trying to inhabit itself by keeping a semblance of life.

The snow on the street is riddled with trails of wandering footsteps leading to all kinds of thresholds on the opposite site of which warmth and custom keep life barely awake, like small pockets of familiarity connected by lines of motion and absence. The whole town seems to be enveloped by a mantle of silence, broken only by the occasional treading of a solitary figure walking back home or the muffled toll of the church bell.

            Looking through the window of my temporary quarters, I can’t help but think about our time in the summer house with Philipp. The fixity of this place reminds me somewhat of those long days that seemed to stretch into a benign and placid eternity, when all that mattered was playing hide and seek in the moors and our greatest worry in the world was getting home on time, lest mother became upset. It is curious how, as I grow older, the silliest memories keep springing in my mind like a stubborn yet welcome bed of elderflower, while the darker, less enjoyable moments recede with increasing success to a relegated corner of my mind. With the passing of time, however, the flowers wither and die, and only those dark thoughts remain to keep me company.  Like that time when mother reprimanded you for stripping the skirt of your dress because it kept getting stuck on the bushes. As soon as her hand left her mark on your face, I could see the regret mounting on the corner of her eyes, on her other hand reaching for a daughter that she had already lost. As I ran after you ignoring mother’s pleas, I swore to myself that I would never let anyone hurt you like that again. I would protect my big sister just like she had done with me since the day I came to this world.

            Little did I know that I would be the one to break your heart again. Father was waiting for you when you got back to the house. Looking from behind the curtains, I was afraid that he would hit you, and I was even more afraid that it would be my fault. But the sight of your vanishing smile hurt one thousand times more than the blow that never came. Somehow, in ways that I would only later discover, the look in his eyes told me that he had known all along. The next day, someone came and took Philipp to the city. There were no good byes, no hugs or shared tears, just the raw and exposed finality of a pair of hands that would never hold each other again. I never told you, but I think you always knew. When I saw you and Philipp kissing among the tall grass, the unbearable thought of losing you took a hold of my mind, as I imagined you running away with Philipp, leaving me behind and alone. I guess none of it mattered after all. You left for the city anyway the next winter and we never went back to the summer house.

            I wonder if the trees miss our laughter sometimes, just as much as I miss running along the stream, holding hands with you and Philipp, and the peace of our secret spot near the bent of the river. Do you think the rocks miss the touch of our skin drying in the afternoon sun? Sometimes I wake up with the distinct sensation that it all happened yesterday, but then I feel the weight of the years bending my back and my voice ever so slightly, and I realize that that peace will never return. If only I could have made those days last a little longer…

            I hope you are well, Sabella, and that you remember me with the same fondness my heart feels for you. I don not expect to redeem myself by going out in this hopeless expedition of sorts, but to bring a semblance of peace to you and maybe even myself. I do not know what answers await on the other side of the vale, if any, but I have the feeling that there was always more to the stories that father used to tell us, and that’s what I have set off to discover.

If my calculations are any close to being right, I will be coming back home in one year. Although the vale in itself is not great in dimension, the winding path that goes through the mountain pass turns into something resembling a frost labyrinth during the winter. I must tread carefully if I want to make it back and bring to you whatever I find on the other side, even if it is only my empty hands and a heart full of remorse.

Ever your affectionate brother,

William Barker

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None Of This Is Real

It was midnight again. He had begged mum not to leave him alone tonight, but no amount of pleading and tears had managed to make her stay. He was a big boy now and he must sleep alone. There is nothing in the closet, nothing under the bed. None of it is real. It’s all in your imagination! And with that and a kiss on the forehead, she left the room and switched off the lights. He knew she might be right. Many things he had always thought to be real had turned out to be a product of his overly excited mind. Remember that time you were afraid of the monster under the sink, only to find out that it was a dirty piece of cloth folded in and odd shape? Or when you ran out to the neighbour’s to find mum because the lights had gone off and you though the shadows were out to catch you? Well, the woman in the shed is a bit harder to explain, even dad was a bit freaked out, but you saw there was no one there. Besides, you are wearing your cloak of protection, blessed by the Heaven Queen herself! He looked down at the puffy clouds on his pyjama and then up at the shelf, were the Tireless Guard kept watch over the kingdom with unblinking eyes. Even if the thing was real, there was no place safer than his room. With a sigh of relief, he gave a last glance at his vorpal sword, enchanted with a powerful charm by no other than the Court wizard, and got ready to sleep.

The Dark was looking at him. It had big, round eyes made of sick light that never blinked. The prophecy had told of its returning to the Kingdom, but so soon? He thought of calling his mum. Whenever she was close, all bad things banished somewhere she couldn’t see them and he was safe again. But he was now a big boy. He could do it alone. None of this is real, it’s all in my imagination. He reached for the floor with his small feet. It was very cold and hard, but as long as he was wearing the Queen’s cloak his heart would remain brave and warm. If the Dark was truly back, it was his responsibility to protect the Kingdom! As he clutched his enchanted sword with trembling hands, he looked the Dark in the eye. It was a cold, lifeless stare that shone with borrowed light. None of this is real, it’s all in your imagination. He started walking, towards it, armed with the knowledge that the Tireless Guard was there to watch over him, ready to slay the beast. The Dark blinked. First one eye, and then the other. His blood froze mid step as his breath stopped short of leaving his throat. None of this is real, it’s all in your imagination. There must be an explanation. There always is. The shadows are just shadows and monsters are just piles of clothes. Besides, powerful spells protected the Kingdom from the Dark, it must have found a way somehow! He faced the Dark once more and followed its gaze until the two pale spots of shimmering light brought him to the window. That was it! The moon had sneaked it in! You should have known better. How could you leave the Heaven Gate open? He raced towards the window, afraid that the Dark would grab him by his feet and pulled the curtains as fast as he could. And with that, it was gone. The Kingdom had never been in danger. None of it is real, it’s all in your imagination.

            He was ready to sleep again when something caught his eye. Two spots of immobile whiteness crowning a crescent smile of sharpened pearls stared at him from the wall. None of this is real, it’s all in your imagination. The wooden sword fell from his shaking hands. None of this is real. It’s in your imagination. As he crawled back to bed, he risked a glance at the toys on the shelf, which where as still as they had always been. None of this is real. All of a sudden, he felt small and weak in his silly pyjama. It’s all in my imagination. He covered himself with the bedsheets and closed his eyes, trying to stay as still as he could. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.  It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.

            “Yes, I am.”

 


 

/Transciption Starts/

00:00

Woman’s voice: A preliminary external examination reveals no obvious signs of aggression except for the hard to miss opening in the chest cavity. There are no defensive wounds on arms or hands or other indicatives of resistance. The clothes remain for the most part intact, with the exception of a perfectly vertical cut where the chest has been opened. Judging by the looks of it, the seamlessness of the incision suggests that an extremely sharp tool was used to make the cut, but until the laboratory has analysed the samples, I can only guess.

Sigh.

What have they done to you?

00:14

Whoever did this, they knew what they were doing. The chest has been open with surgical precision, causing the minimum amount of trauma to the body. It is almost as if they didn’t want the poor thing to suffer… I will now proceed to-

Silence.

Mark, is that you? I hope I won’t find you hiding behind the desk again when I’m done, or you will be the next body on my table.

00:16

Why would anyone do something like this? The amount of blood found in the chest cavity suggests that the poor creature was still alive when whoever did this tore his heart free from his chest. The vessels have been-

Silence.

Mark for fuck’s sake, stop it! It’s not fucking funny!

00:23

Oh my fucking– I can’t, I don’t– Who did this to you? In all my years I have never seen, I have never– Oh God, I– I must be imagining things, this cannot be, this cannot be, this cannot–

MARK FOR GOD’S SAKE, I’M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU IF YOU DON’T STOP RIGHT NOW

Static.

00:25

None of this is real. It’s all in my imagination. None of this is real, none of this is real, none of this is–

–:–

It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.  It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.  It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.  It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.  It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my–

/Transciption Ends/


 

Here Is Everywhere

I

Gazing beyond the openings of the southern hedge,

the slow tides roil the strand with worn shapes.

Strange, like a memory.

 

II

When you begin to arrange the things

and call them

this and that,

you start to forget

that the world,

and the things in it,

have no name.

 

III

Variety is an illusion born from oneness.

Difference is the mask of the faceless.

No thing exists without a name

yet

nothing in the universe has a name.

 

IV
Wherever you stand,

the world finds purchase.

 

V
Move, like an arrow shot from no bow

and you will see: the earth has no end.

 

VI

All distances are one.

 

Light and Wave

“Could you please stop doing that?” she complained, her feet half-buried in the wet sand.

With a waving of his hand, he released the tides and the tranquil waters came to crash gently against her pale ankles.

“Thank you” she said mockingly, and went back to play with the waves.

It had been a while since they had last visited that beach. It was one of their earliest memories, almost as old as their tree, but for some reason both of them had forgotten about its existence until that morning. Still, the place had not forsaken them, and as soon as they had walked within the boundaries of that distant shore, the white sands welcomed them, as if only an instant had passed, as if the waves and the tide had been waiting for them to return ever since they had left.

Perhaps they had been waiting. Perhaps the gentle breeze and the distant cries of seagulls were just that, a welcome, the relief of a creation being acknowledged by its creators.

They didn’t know and they couldn’t know for sure. In some ways, in many ways, that world was still a mystery to them, as much as they were to it.

“You lost again” he said as just another wavelet found its way between her bare feet.

~Idiot, she sent through her mind-touch (which meant she wasn’t angry yet but would soon be if he kept teasing her that way).

He smiled and turned to his old notebook.

It was a simple game indeed. She had tried to teach him many times, and every single one of those times they had ended up quarreling.

“You are doing it wrong!” she would always say.

“Why, because I’m winning?”

“No, because you are thinking!”

And then she would turn and, facing the sea, she would wait for the next wave to break before jumping once again.

Gracious, her feet would take off just as the thin sheet of water that had been a wave spread under her. For a moment, she would stand there, frozen in mid-air, a breathing statue waiting for the right time to come back to life, until the sea claimed its waters back and her feet, still dry, touched land again.

“See?”

“But that’s what I’ve been doing all the time!” he would complain.

“No it’s not! You calculate the speed of the water, the direction of the wind, the humidity in the air, the friction of your feet against the sand and then perform the most perfect jump your calculations allow you to. You cheat!”

“And isn’t that the whole point of the game? To make the most perfect jump? To never touch the water? To never lose?” At this point, his voice always adopted that rational tone he employed every time he knew (or he thought he knew) he was right.

“No boy, this is not about winning or losing, not even about making the perfect jump, as you put it. It’s about reacting, letting your body and your instincts take over you without knowing or even caring whether your feet will end up getting wet or not.”

And then, seeing how pointless it all had been, seeing in the deep of his eyes how incomprehensible that notion was for him, she would finally add with a sad smile:

“But I guess that’s your problem, right? You can’t stop knowing. You can’t stop thinking.”

After that, she would turn and face the horizon (which after that kind of argument was usually a colour between a stormy grey and a dying twilight) and resume her game as if nothing had ever happened.

In the end, they reached some kind of silent agreement, a wordless pact according to which she was allowed to play with the waves mostly undisturbed while he waited for her on the blanket scribbling on his old notebook.

He had tried to understand her game many times. He had analyzed the rules, or rather the lack of them, from every imaginable point of view but had failed miserably to grasp its purpose. Did it have any purpose at all? What was the point of deliberately letting luck and chance decide the outcome of anything at all when they could level entire continents and extinguish suns with the blink of an eye? For life’s sake, they were Gods! They were supposed to know everything, to think everything!

Sometimes, as he observed the lines of her shape getting ready to react, he thought he understood. There was something in that reckless abandon of hers, in the way she let her small body talk to the waves. Sometimes, he thought he could hear the waters talking back to her, silent, welcoming, caring. Sometimes, in that brief moment of absence in which her heartbeat almost came to a halt, he thought he understood.

But then, when the waves broke to drops and the drops turned to foam in a pattern so perfect and predictable, he remembered how pointless it all was and turned to his old notebook, where everything was orderly and clear.

From time to time, when words got stuck in his head, he liked to watch her play. Although he knew he’d never be able to understand the purpose of such a pointless game, he had to admit (at least to himself) that there was something soothing, almost relaxing, in watching her play.

It was in one of these pauses that he discovered a different way of enjoying her game. Like every god, he had learnt to appreciate the delights of destruction, the bitter sweetness in the undoing of things made to last, even if that thing was briefer than a heartbeat.

He looked at her, a dark shade against the dim light of a dying afternoon, and closed his notebook. He had to wait until the precise moment, or it wouldn’t work. Too soon and she would realize. Too late, and it wouldn’t matter. So he stared at her and, as she started the small ritualistic movements that would take her towards that careless state in which nothing mattered, he let his influence creep freely over the sands, towards the sea, an unseen breath of sheer will and silent determination sweeping and expanding.

Still sitting on the blanket, he let his mind mix with the waters, feeling every single little drop of blue, lost and alone in that vastness that was the sea. He mounted the waves, rushing, staring, studying, waiting for the precise moment to act.

He waited as her concentration built up, careless and unaware, pure wild intuition following the trail of some unconscious pattern. Watching her from both shore and sea he wondered once more at the way she let her mind commune with the elements. It was as if she was the face of a many-sided coin, ready to flip and reveal a new, previously unknown aspect at any instant.

He listened as probabilities around her started to fix, knowing that the moment was close, looking for that exact split second in which her feet left the ground and time almost ceased to be.

And there it was, shining bright like a tiny flame in the fiercest of voids, alone but not scared, completely vulnerable and exposed.

Now, he thought, and the world stood still.

A surge of pure warning gushed from her, piercing his mind, bending his shields.

He knew he shouldn’t. He knew he mustn’t.

But still, what if…?

He released the tides and all around her turned into chaos. A towering wave the shape of a wall swallowed her shape in a furious confusion of sound and foam, chewing her body with watery jaws.

When the full realization of what he had done hit him, he stood up and ran towards the shore, leaving a trail of white dust in his wake.

He waved his hand in a quick swipe and the whole sea retreated into itself, a quiet barrier of quivering waters shining in the distance.

Panting, he scanned the seabed with a single, wide glance. With a gesture of his finger, he forced the whole world into silence and listened, searching for her heartbeat. He searched through the countless tiny souls of mice and men, among the tired heartbeats of the exiled gods, in the vastness and the roots of their old tree and found nothing.

He tried to reach her through their mind-touch, lowering all his shields, shattering barriers he had spent so much time raising, almost exposing his very core to the world, just to find the slightest clue of her presence.

Nothing. No trace, not even the distant echo of her, or an afterimage. No hint or trail for him to follow.

What have I done?

Blink. A tremor in the distance. Waters quivering, coming to life. Sudden motion.

For a moment he stood there, motionless, thoughtless, speechless, watching as the waves rushed towards him with borrowed rage; a huge, massive barrier of hungry waters stretching towards the margins of the world, threatening to swallow everything in its wake.

As he tried to stop its seemingly unstoppable advance, he realized it was too late. There was no thought these waters would obey, no command they would kneel down to. It was as if every single drop had suddenly regained a consciousness they had been denied long ago, as if they had been woken up from an ancient slumber, ready to take revenge on those who had imprisoned them in their unconscious sleep.

He knew he should be afraid. He could remember the last time the elements had rebelled against them, how utterly devastating the fight had been and how they had almost lost themselves to a world they had just started to tame.

Yet there he was, watching instead of running, awe-struck as the raging waters swallowed the sun and came closer and closer. There was no time to think, no time to react, no room to-

Suddenly, abruptly, the waters came to a halt.

He tried to move, but he couldn’t. He tried to think, but he couldn’t. It was as if something, someone had taken hold of his heartbeat, pinning him down in that spot, forcing him to stand there and watch as the waters, now quiet and still, finally settled down and the world was plunged into silence once again.

There was something there, moving beneath the very surface, something great and dark, hidden among the layers of crystal-like substance; a presence, calculating, estimating, analyzing.

And all he could do was look at his own reflection. He was trapped, a helpless prey caught in amber, unable to move, to run, to speak.

In the silence of the world, under the eyes of that unknown will, he heard the rumour of their old tree, faint and reassuring. He knew it would only take a few moments to get his heartbeat back, to re-synchronize and have his powers back. But for the first time since he could remember, he didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to be in control, he didn’t want to know or to think. He didn’t know what was going to happen next and he didn’t want to know.

Uncertainty. That was the word.

The mirror broke with the sound of a thousand shrieks and he was stricken by an unseen force. He fell down, slowly, as if the air around him had suddenly got thicker. For an instant, he had the feeling that he was being gently pushed down, as if the presence in the mirror, now freed, wanted him to witness its arrival.

Shiny little particles of water floated in mid-air, frozen in a trajectory they would never be able to complete. It was only a crack, a ragged hole of clear sky against the dark background of a liquid wall. Pulsing white light poured through the breach, long thin needles of clarity piercing the dark waters.

As he finally fell down, he could glimpse a dark spot inside the cascade of sunlight, growing, increasing in size until it detached from the brightness and became a fully formed human shape.

She approached him with slow, heavy steps, as if time had ceased to matter, as if nothing mattered anymore.

“You are powerless” she said, looking down at him, wet hair hanging down the sides of her inscrutable face.

~And what are you going to do? he sent, still unable to move or speak.

She moved her hand, ever so slightly, and the world around them burst into chaos. A tempest of water and foam raged above them, behind them, around them, until silence swallowed all sound and every tiny little particle of water and light froze in place.

Without taking her eyes of his, she blinked, just once, and the whole sea started to fall on them like a cloudless rain.

Silence followed.