Of Love and Death – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 14

book 1

I jumped into the sand and appeared back where we had come from before. There were people everywhere. Some were busying themselves getting to wherever they were going. Others were just queuing in endless lines like rivers of faces. It seemed like everyone but me knew what they were doing. But then I saw a familiar face looking at me through the crowd. I didn’t know who it was but I knew that I knew him. Whoever it was smiled at me and then turned and walked away, vanishing into the crowds. I jumped up and down to see if I could see him but he was gone. Stunned by how much I knew that person while still not knowing who he was I jogged towards where he had been and was pushed and tripped my way through the crowd as I went. When I got to where he’d been I could only jump up and down again to look over the heads in the crowd but I saw nothing.

I started off in the direction I thought he had gone but I was only guessing. I rushed and pushed and chased the phantom and when I stopped and jumped again I caught a glimpse of that smiling face. He looked right into my eyes and nodded ever so. He knew me, even if I didn’t know him, so I waved him over to me but he turned away and kept walking. The crowd thinned out as I gave chase but no matter how far or how fast I went I got no closer. Then I saw he turn along a row of buildings. Once he was out of sight I ran as fast as I could and knocked several people to the ground. But I didn’t have time to stop, I just shouted apologies as I ran.

Once around the corner at the row of buildings I was met by a hill that led down into an underground area. The opening was as wide as the street and dipped sharply, but there wasn’t anyone using it so it had an abandoned sense to it. Everyone seemed to walk around it, but I heard my name whispered from its depths and ran down into it without thinking. As soon as I passed its summit my momentum overtook me. Then, half way down the hill, I realised who I was chasing. When we were kids a boy drowned in a canal near where we lived. I was only five or six at the time but I never forgot the look on that boy’s father’s face when he pulled him out of the water. We’d only been down by the canal a million times before, but after that we never went back there, not even once. That face I was chasing was the father’s. But why he would lead me into that tunnel was beyond me. I had nothing else to go on. I was desperate. Even with all the happiness that seemed to emanate from the very air of that hallowed place it wasn’t enough for me. Wherever Winnie was I was going there, no matter what. And that face was all I had to go on. Everything else was just a sea of strangers.

I ran so fast that I didn’t even feel the ground beneath my feet. I was in too much of a rush, but as I levelled out at the foot of the hill a sudden thump of something on my chest flattened me onto the ground.

“Thought you’d never see me again, eh?”

Gulping in the wind that he’d knocked out of me I stared into his smiling eyes and saw nothing. A blank glaze gawked back at me as I wheezed and just as I was about speak his fist came down on my chin. I awoke in a damp place that smelled like pine. Since I had first died I had seen nothing but clean buildings and huge rooms filled with people, all of which were void of flora. There were no forests. No flowers. Not even shrubs. But the moment that I opened my eyes I realised I was in a lush and healthy woods. There were no sounds of a normal forest though, but I did heard running water. As I tried to stand I my legs gave out.

The forest floor tasted salty. I’d never eaten dirt before but it seemed wrong for the ground to be so saline. I spat out a mouthful of grit and twigs and looked up to see that same man in the branches above me.

“You still don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“Why you’re here.”

“I was strangled.”

“Not there! Here!”

“What?”

“You don’t recognise this place?”

“No.”

“We’ll you should. It’s where you and your friends killed him.”

“What?”

“YOU KILLED MY BOY!”

“We never touched him!”

“YOU FUCKING KILLED… ”

“We were the ones that found him!”

“NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! YOU KILLED HIM! I know you killed him! He was just a BABY and drowned him and… ”

“We never touched your boy!”

“ …and now you’re gonna pay!”

“I DIDN’T FUCKING KILL HIM! I’m not your man!”

“I don’t fucking CARE what you say! You’re a LIAR and a killer and you’re gonna SUFFER FOR WHAT YOU DID!”

He lowered himself from the branch and hung by one arm. As he dangled back and forth he giggled to himself and mumbled something, then dropped and walked towards me with a mad pain in his eyes. I tried to stand again but my legs were still useless. Then I looked down and saw that they were tethered to a tree, but still him came towards me. As he walked he took a fallen branch from the ground and sized it up, then he stepped over me and swung at my legs. The freight of it and my inescapable position merged into a fever of thought that itself was pain and fear in one. I saw the branch and his hands. I saw the wood come towards me. I saw the rage and suffering in his eyes. I flinched at the last moment but the blow never landed. After a second I looked up and saw him frozen with the branch an inch from my left knee.

I looked and he was watching me. He wasn’t moving but he was watching me. His anger poured out of his eyes and I could taste his agony in the back of my throat. Then his hair lifted from his scalp and rose to a layer of stalks. His eyes looked skyward and a growl rolled from between his teeth. Then his hair singed down to his scalp. Still he growled and still he didn’t move, but the singeing took the skin from the top of his head and worked down until his head itself began to evaporate on the wind right before my eyes. His growling turned to screams but once the top half of his head was gone he fell silent. Inch by inch his body disappeared in brittle crumbs of charred skin and flesh. I was awed into stillness. Coupled with my mind not understanding and the relief of being saved, paralysed, I watched the last gust of him fleet away.

Laid there in a state of shock I stared at where my attacker had stood and listened to the breeze. It reached up from the forest floor and took the leaves and branches above me. Then a whisper came through the rustling of those leaves, “I can give you what you want.”

I wasn’t sure that I’d hear it at first. I was still in shock at having watched a man evaporate in front of me.

“Don’t pretend. You love her. I can deliver you to her.”

“Who are you?!”

“… James… ”

“Who is it?”

“… James, follow me… ”

Ahead of me a bush rustled and beyond it another shrugged as if someone had walked past it.

“Wait! My legs!”

Then another bush bounced to one side. And another. I grabbed at the vines and pulled and twisted them but they wouldn’t budge. Panic gripped me and I heaved and dragged at them, until I heard a pop and wriggled free. I looked back to where whatever it was had gone and there was nothing. No movement. No sound. I called to what or whoever it was and begged for an answer. Half thinking I’d gone mad I got up and ran at where I had seen the undergrowth rustle. Branches clipped my face and tore my skin and clothes but the hope of seeing Winnie again made the pain mean nothing as I bounded towards fate.

Hill after dell after stream after meadow led me to a field of tall grass. I leapt up and tried to glance over the grass but all I could see was an ocean of grey-green. I jumped and glimpsed and jumped and started to lose heart but on my fifth jump I caught sight of a shadow and ran like madness itself. I tripped and screamed out after the thing I was chasing, leapt back up to my feet and ran and suddenly found myself tight in the arms of an invisible force.

“You found me, James.”

“WHO ARE YOU?!?”

“I’m here to help.”

“Can you progress me?”

“I can. But there’s a price.”

“Why are you helping me?”

“I can send you on but you will remain as you are sent and you will live only for fifteen years.”

“I don’t care! Send me!”

“You should know that you will not be as you are now.”

“SEND ME!”

“You may not like it.”

“DO IT!”

Blackness. Blinding light. Then a purple glow that burned out into orange and yellow and back to darkness. Then a pale green with white. Sky. I could see sky like the sky on earth but the blue was light green. Soft clouds drifted by all but imperceptibly and the damp grass on which I lay had seeped through to my skin. Then I heard her voice. Winnie’s voice.

“I want that one!”

I rolled over and stood up and saw that she was pointing at me, but she was young, only a child. Such carefree and kind happiness on her face. I could tell it was her at once. Her eyes were the same and her head full of curls was tied up on top into a ponytail that bounced uncontrollably as she hoped on the spot with excitement. She was adorable. Innocent and joyful. No worries or horrible truths weighing her down. I was already running to her before I noticed that she was so young. And I hadn’t realised that my ears were flapping up and down against my head until I reached her. Then, instinctively, I jumped and put my front paws on her stomach. I couldn’t believe it. I could see my paws with my own eyes but my mind couldn’t conceive that they were mine. Like some waking nightmare I saw them move and knew them as my own but refused myself that truth.

That is, until Winnie’s hands rubbed the sides of my face and she squealed with joy. In that moment we loved each other again. It was different and yet it was the same. I loved her for who she was. Underneath all the years she had lived before, when I knew her, and beyond physicality, she was the one who I cared for more than any other. I understood her when she spoke but I couldn’t speak to her. I could only bark and growl and howl and whimper but having finally been reunited with my beautiful Winnie I was overjoyed. It is a strange thing to feel your tail wag, by itself.

Over the following years I watched Winnie grow and I lived by her side every minute that she was at home. Her parents almost never saw her and there was an endless procession of tutors and servants, but no friends. The only other children that she saw were family members whenever there was a large gathering but she never played with anyone, except for me. Every chance she got Winnie would take me to the garden or the woods and we would chase each other or I would fetch for her, but her favourite game was to pretend that we were married. I was her only solace in a world of crushing rules. She told me everything. All her secrets and fears, who she didn’t like, what she was going to do with her life. She loved me with all the wonder and love that youth provides.

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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