The soft muzzled cough brought Alice back from being lost in her usual daydreams.
It had been months since she had walked freely about the streets. Even longer since the blind run through the dark forests of another world.
If this insane self-imposed quarantine had to continue for very much longer, Alice was going to leap back through into the brightly lit hall beyond. Once there she was more than willing to try her luck at some other random doorway.
“What then?” muttered the low voice of the sage.
Alice could tell he was talking more to himself than to her.
Alice replied anyway, “Anywhere but here.”
The look of the old mages floor length beard partially muzzled by a soft swath of mask looked ridiculous. The rope ties for the ears could not reach so Alice had helped him braid the ends into the facial hair just beneath the cheeks.
The effect gave the ancient librarian a hipster grunge look.
The ink stained hands of the sage had been hard at work rubbing his face again. Either an allergy from the ink that now tinted his nose or from the dreaded Covid virus had been making the elderly gentleman wheeze and cough. He had coughed enough times that Alice had demanded the face covering.
The sage grumpily complied just to silence her complaining.
The whole request struck him funny since it came from a woman wearing no clothes at all…
The doorman had been busy hanging invisible signs about the hall. Each had been hung so that an individual entering could see them with little effort. He was certain when the complaint department was called he would be found blameless in the spread of such ignorance. Each entry had been clearly marked with a request for a mandatory fourteen day quarantine, and each infectious destination properly marked.
The Gatekeeper had even replaced his usual Welcome mat with one that read, “Masks Required”.
“Yes”, he thought, “in a reality of inexistence the flattened curve wasn’t going to catch him in another surge, hoax or not.”
Pat sat watching the falling leaves. The peace autumn brought was a welcome change from the dry hot days of summer. Still the thought to lay naked in those golden rays made his pulse quicken with youthful memories.
“The seasons change with the turn of a word,” he whispered to the quiet room. Though there was a large crowd, no one heard him.
Pat was aware that the sentence could be thought of as political, as well as environmental.
Opinions were changing. Impatient populations desperate for a miracle.
Come November another four years of greatness would be chosen. Hopefully one that meant the destruction of a party founded in racism. If not then things weren’t going to look too good for the home front.
It had been bad enough that this man-made virus was unleashed by corrupt policies of the criminal elite in the attempt of a one-world-order coup.
To have to suffer under the heavy-handed tactics of the cosmopolitan could lead to an actual armageddon between good and evil…
Pat watched the falling leaves. The beauty was not wasted on him. The mix of yellows and reds drifting down. Sometimes in soft spirals, sometimes in a direct glide. Individual leaves and groups all randomly blowing about with a kaleidoscope of color.
None of the meaning was missed.
Everything had a purpose;
Pat just had his own preference in how things should end.
All this change from the green leaves of one tree. Nothing was ever missed…
Words had become unwelcome aliens to him. During the long, lonesome days of summer verbal expression was of little importance. Even the occasional jotting of notes and poetry had all but disappeared from the watcher’s daily habit.
The absence of human company had begun to void all progress socially made in the early spring months. The warming heat and longer days allowed the once tight knit group of vagabonds to expand out into newer territories. Though beneficial for the group it only drew Pat deeper into isolation mentally and physically. Soon the weak feelings of trust, compassion, and fellowship would all be forgotten. Replaced by an insane anger and hate for the world as a whole.
Change was what the watcher hated most. Wether it was the sun, the season, a simple object out of place, any altering to the system was to be avoided. Only hunger and the need of shelter could drive him back into society, and force a change to the routine.
If only they knew or understood the danger. The thing they felt most at ease with had died a very long time ago. That person had laid buried in some shallow grave for more than two decades, a victim of some forgotten war. The only protection he could give to them and himself was a wall of apathy. Any attempt to break through would almost certainly unleashing the daemons within.
Enoch knew first hand what now walked the earth. The thin cloak of flesh and bone did little to conceal the seething hate and rage boiling within. It is to Enoch that the watcher often thought of. Not since the desecration of Babel, the rise of the Sumer and Olmec ziggurat, and the cataclysmic drift of landmasses had the host of legions been at peace with what he was.
Ah the good old days. Before Moses and his big ten, and the writing of the lesser others, “Pat” had beta tested every one of them with a few still in need of repeating.
How had the worm turned. Robbed of the freedom of the æther. Imprisoned to never touch the quintessence. Left to lay dormant beneath the ever increasing weight of invisible chains. The punishment was fair enough. The watcher knew he was given a very lenient sentence. After all eternity and infinity were going to be a very long wait anywhere he could be placed. This bit of community service on Ki wasn’t without it’s pleasures. The irony was because of those pleasures he was being chastised…
Pat sat waiting.
The clock on the wall had long since died, and now forever marked it’s death at one twenty-three.
It was post meridiem. The watcher knew because he had watched that last hesitant movement on August 5th as he had witnessed the first energetic second back on June 3rd one and two-thirds year ago. The time then was five seventeen post meridiem.
The uselessness of keeping “time” was as pointless as having two heads attached to one heart. When the “time” came both would get there at the same moment.
(Somewhere a small chuckle could be heard. Though the sage only wrote the story as it unfolded a turn of a phrase by his own hand could make him still giggle.)
(Old men often laugh at their own jokes while the rest of the world looks puzzled. – editor note by the author)
Left undisturbed the clock on the wall would never grow old, never change. Though the dust of ages piles up upon it face, and the corrosion of the batteries spreads to eat away within. The clock would never know or feel the changing hour
Pat was very much the same. Forever stuck at one twenty-three p.m. Physically corrupted, mentally deranged, but for the spirit always the same. Time had stopped. The movie that he saw was forever set on a loop. The actors in it always moving along, developing their character, then when the plot line needed a twist a new star would appear as the older one faded from scene.
It mattered little. The movie was set upon a continuous loop. The stage would reset, the actors would take their marks, and somewhere stage right a voice would be heard saying “Action”.
As many loops and layers of film and tape were to be used, a good actor could always improve his skill. In that one hope both the author and watcher had learned to count upon. They both had witnessed enough footage left behind in the cutting room floor.
Even now Pat knew it was time to splice, exit stage left, and in the following drop of the curtains listen to the sounds from behind the props.
Echoing footsteps upon a wooden stage.
The traveller gazed up at the midday sky. Overhead two blazing suns burned down to earth. This was the first time he had ever seen such an event in his lengthy lifetime. For the traveller to acknowledge that fact was a scary thing. He had thought he’d seen it all. Now here he was stranded in a reality of time that quite honestly looked to be the end for his career and the rest of creation.
The only intelligent voice in his head was uttering the word fuck, fuck, fuck. At the moment all the other voices seemed in agreement.
After an eternity of quietly contemplating the situation one of the voices pointed out that as the earth rotated only the larger of the two orbs seemed to move in the arc. The other seemed to become more of an oddly formed orb which reflected more than it seemed to be burning. A few other voices began to chime in with agreement, and after a lengthy discussion it was agreed that fact was true.
“So we’re good then?”asked the traveller.
“No.”said the leading authoritative voice. “It’s probably a massive meteoroid. Even the fact that there still isn’t a visible smoke trail may mean it’s further above the stratosphere than it looks. We are screwed.”
The sound of sneakers running away on smooth concrete and then the loud slamming of a metal door was what Pat heard first.
It was a familiar but funny sound to hear over the speaker system. It reminded him of his high school days and the loud racket one could hear over the public announcement system will the principal was going over the days events. Those were the glory years for sure.
On this occasion though, Pat was a good twenty years older, and working in a tower miles away from the originator of the sound. As a joke Pat was buzzed up on the speaker. A familiar voice on the other end began a rant that unless privy to the joke itself would sound very offensive to the receiving party. The joke would have been hilarious to Pat, but as fate often intervenes it was not Pat that first answered the call… It was Pat’s boss
After a three sentence rant of blasphemy and expletives Pat’s boss began shouting expletives back and yelling “Who is this!” back over the speaker.
The only reply was “If you don’t know mother-fucker”, and the sounds of tennis shoes running on concrete right before the slamming of a door.
Pat tried not to laugh. He knew that the anger would soon enough be turned towards him.
“Do you know who that asshole was?” the boss asked.
With the straightest face Pat could muster, “No sir. I’ve never heard that voice before.”
Alice slowly slide through the small sized opening. At first what she thought to be only a thin gap she had discovered to be a hinged door. With a little coaxing the portal could easily be made to open out wider.
Alice thought how odd to have a door hidden inside a tree. Even odder was the fact she knew it couldn’t have been there before. The door opened into an immense room with vaulted ceilings that the tree she had sheltered in could not have held.
Cautiously Alice looked out into the room. Fully aware of the funny old man that even at this moment was busy wolfing down strawberry treats and having some sort of discussion with the thin air about him. Perhaps if she kept in the shadows and used the massive stacks of books between the two of them as cover the old man wouldn’t realize she was in the room. By the way the food was being consumed Alice knew speed was going to be of the utter most importance.
The doorman was partially surprised. It wasn’t a frequent thing to see the sage away from his writing. It was even less frequent that the sage would share a tasty strawberry glazed donut. Later the gatekeeper would blame those events and the sudden sugar rush as the reason he was surprised for a third time.
Even as Alice stretched out into the room she realized something wasn’t right. Where shelves of books and piles of scrolls should have been there was suddenly nothing.
Nothing was actually not quite right. There was a brilliant white, a worn mat, and a strangely uniformed man eating a pink colored pastry that at the moment was shedding rainbow colored sprinkles about the area.
Both Alice and the doorman stared blankly at each other. Neither seemed to know exactly what to do at that moment.
Alice was the first to take action. In a dead run Alice leaped past the uniformed man and on into the doorway behind him.
As quickly as she had come the trespasser disappeared into the next. In all his lifetime the gatekeeper never had this happen to him. He was pretty positive the Author would already know. What that meant wouldn’t become clear for a great while.
“Oh well”, he thought.
The gatekeeper scarffed down the last of his donut. There was going to be a long wait until the next one…
The dreamer dreams in lingering thought of reality unending and stories yet untold. Painted visions of peopled cities of different make that rise and fall like the breath in sleep.
Here there is no ticking clock to arouse the slumbering Buddha. No changing season to cast alarm to those senses that watch the sky for rain.
The dreamer dreams of reality unending, and of stories yet untold…
Pat watched the passing traffic. All the drivers going by shared the same emotionless blank face and self absorbed gaze. It didn’t take a detective to see their minds were distracted by secret thoughts of what they wish to do to the other assholes driving. Occasionally one would act upon that emotion and swerve into another lane. A succession of honks and horns would immediately erupt from the offended then the offender. There was nothing entertaining about watching it.
Across the street a mother and daughter were just exiting a white SUV. The child looked to be six years of age, very short, and very thin. The mother was only two feet taller, slim waisted, with a half starved but fit build of a runner. The black yoga pants she wore left little for the imagination to guess at. Perhaps she was in her early thirties. Nowadays it was becoming more difficult to guess a woman’s age. Even the daughter, depending on the size of the father could have been twelve years old and malnourished.
Here too was nothing of interest to the watcher. Maybe if the woman had red hair or was a large busted blonde Pat would have given her a much more intensive observation. Instead his attention went more to the little girl and what was held tight in her left hand.
A long slender ribbon tethered a bright red balloon to her. Recently bought or gifted the elastic shine of it’s red bobbed back and forth under the tension of her pull. The nearness of the slow moving traffic sent it eddying this way and that above the girls head.
Pat watched as the two figures disappeared into a resale shop. The red balloon bobbing even as it faded from view in the store.
A silent prediction was made that upon returning the red balloon would be absent, and the little girl’s mother would be dragging her by that very same hand. The pleasant expression upon their exiting the white SUV would be gone as well…
A dark cloud lurked upon the distant horizon. It looked like more than just a small rain shower on the way. A stiff breeze blew past. The storm was going to be strong enough to carry a mix of dust and leaves with it.
The traveller looked impatiently over her shoulder then back to the approaching storm. The sun was already a soft rose colored orb drifting down behind the tree line. It looked to be a cold damp night with still more distance to make before she would feel comfortable enough to seek shelter.
The look of the path ahead was of one well tended and high trafficed. The chosen route would be an easy one to travel. Still the uncertainty of the present and her purpose here was an annoyance. It had been to many times that the traveller had been caught in the open that they would ever allow it to happen again.
“They”, she repeated out loud. The host was still attempting to override the situation she now existed in. This insanity had the tainted smell of witchcraft. Whatever daemons had possessed her during the night and coaxed her sleeping body into this unplanned pilgrimage was not going to continue without fighting it the whole way. At the moment she had to admit to the sensation of being thoroughly screwed and a bit out of control. The voices inside her brain, and constant hallucinations overlaying the real world were enough for now to keep her following the path “They” had chosen.
They continued further into the wildering darkness. Like the insanity of voices, and the deepening night, the enveloping woods soon swallowed her up from the world she once new.
Pat watched as the sun slowly sank behind the grey clouds of rain. Even now the rosey reds and brilliant rays of gold were becoming muted by the storm.
The once invisible homeless became active moving about. They shuffled by with cardboard tucked awkwardly beneath the arm, strips of plastic or confiscated garbage liners clinched tightly against the blowing wind.
Pat could see the same lines in their faces and hands as his; The same age worn stains upon clothes, tired odd sized boots and shoes worn brown with neglect.
“How many times has it been?”, the voices asked.
As if in reply one green eyed transient looked nervously back over his shoulder.
“To often” came the reply blown upon the wind.