The Clock Tower

April2018

The clock tower sat lonely amidst the gathering gloom, the turret thrusting confidently into the grey sky as other nearby buildings and rooftops appeared to baulk at the challenge under the weight of the storm. Bare, lifeless branches from the cluster of surrounding trees clawed at the clock tower, their bony limbs swaying and grasping without success in the capricious breeze.

The clock faces, all four of them, pelted unrelentingly by the rain continued about their business calmly, ticking in unison, one second at a time, treating the elements with a derision bordering on contempt.

Within the tower, protected by the layers of tiles, stone, insulation and cladding stood Ian Donald. In one hand he vigorously clutched hold of a piece of chalk, worn down to no more than a stump. Pale, gaunt, the scent of ill-health about him, he stood staring intently at the wall only inches from his face. The rain rebounding off the tower, the creak of the floorboards, the constant mechanical clunking and whirring of the clock’s cogs and machinery, the scurrying of rats and the erratic fluttering of sheltering pigeons; none of the sounds made the slightest impression upon Ian’s mind.

His mind, every fragment of it, was focused solely on the walls encircling him. What little light had managed to creep in through the clock faces dimly illuminated portions of said walls. Writing. Words. Numbers. Declarations. Formulas. All scrawled maniacally across every spare inch of the damp-stained structure. The chalk quivered in his hand as his eyes, ablaze with fire and fury, darted from side to side, word to word, formula to formula.

‘Bah!!’ his outburst was sudden, the chalk striking harshly off the wooden floor and dissolving into dust. ‘I must get this, I must…I MUST!’

He crouched down, staring piercingly towards a myriad of etchings scrawled slightly above an-equally-as-covered skirting board. His body was still, perched almost in a combative pose, however his eyes once more betrayed the inner torment raging in his mind. The doubt, the despair, the anguish.

A spark of optimism suddenly glimmered in his eye, his hand raised in restrained triumph. A breakthrough of sorts it appeared. He reached out, grasping for the chalk, only to clutch hold of a handful of chalk dust.

‘No no no!’ shouted Ian as his crouched form instantly mutated into a frantic, desperate one as he scrambled in a futile effort to locate more chalk. He caught a glimpse of one of the inverted clock faces as the hour hand lingered tantalisingly close to the hour mark. Desperation became panic. ‘No no no! Time! I need time! We need time! TIME!’

As the last syllable fell from his lips the clock tower filled with the sounds of the hour. Cogs whirred, mechanics shunted into gear, bells peeled. Desolation filled Ian’s skeletal features. The despondency somehow seemed to cut further and further into his pale, crevice-strewn expression.

‘Time’ he muttered disconsolately as he fell back against one of the walls, slumping to a sitting position, ‘I just need more time. Time. That’s all. For the answer. For the true answer. To correct. To…to repent…’ His mumblings drew to a close, segueing into a dry, rasping cough that competed admirably against the increasing ferocity of the storm surrounding the clock tower.

‘Time…’

Sleep followed the final whispered mutter into the ticking, creaking, storm-heavy air. His breathing was laboured, sporadic. Each wheeze sounding more painful and drawn out than the last. Time indeed was what he needed. And ultimately what his body was running short of. With each wheezing, wrenching breath, his time was slipping away.

And as the storm slowly abated and the weak morning sun shone in through the clock faces Ian Donald did indeed run out of time. His body too frail, too deprived of sustenance, too short of life to survive. As he lay slumped on the floor, lifeless and defeated, the sun momentarily lit up the interior of the clock tower. Each cog, each pipe, each bell glimmered gorgeously in the fledgling morning light. And strewn throughout the room, sprawled on the wooden floor, lay corpse after corpse. Rotting, all. Each stripped to the waist, their ruined flesh covered in the same words, numbers and formulas adorning the walls. Only where chalk had sufficed for the latter, crude blood-soaked carvings had fulfilled the duty on the scattered corpses. Close to each body lay empty plastic cups. Signs of their own downfall, of their own folly.

Signs of Ian’s folly. The leader who had convinced them. The one who had walked them along the path of salvation and led them into the arms of redemption on the day of judgment. Or, at least, what Ian had calculated to be the day of judgment. What Ian was convinced, with all his faith, was the day of judgment. Only, when the moment finally arrived, and the other believers had unflinchingly taken their step into ascension, Ian had baulked. Uncertain, unconvinced, without faith. As he watched his fellow believers slump one by one to the floor of the clock tower, accompanied by the crushing realisation that end times were not upon them, he became fixated on time. On its scarcity, on its accuracy. Above all on its relentless, marching, taunting beat.

Time was what had failed him. And yet time was what had continued to mock him. Each tick reminding him of his failure. Each tick accompanying his increasingly starved and emaciated body to its premature end.

As the sun crept higher into the clearing skies, and the branches dripped generously with the remnants of the previous night’s storm, the clock tower stood proudly once more, thrust into the air with all the confidence and nobility it had always had. Ticking. Ticking through rain, through shine. Ticking always. The keeper of time.

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Plastic Smile

It keeps you all
at bay,
this mask I plaster
on my face,
whilst underneath
the lie I’m dying,
slowly crumbling

‘I’m good’
‘I’m fine’
‘Don’t worry’
help the lie
upon its way,
fabrications
and diversions
to stop the words
I want to say

The truth is imprisoned
in my battered,
damaged mind,
as I fight to keep
it hidden,
to suppress the
fear within me

The shell in which
my soul resides
is repairing,
slowly healing,
yet the horror plays
on in my mind,
repeating
every feeling.

The Forest

The sky was vivid, painted turquoise by an invisible hand, free from the merest puff of wispy cloud. The sun caressed the morning with its warm, comforting hands, bathing everything it touched with love. A gentle, delicate breeze tickled the air. Majestic emerald pine trees stretched limitlessly with the promise of adventure and excitement still to come.

The girl headed confidently in to the forest having walked these paths so many times before. The trees, these gentle giants, cradled her with strong limbs as she passed through and under them, safe in their presence and all that nested within them. Everything associated with this place felt right to her. The sounds so familiar, the smells so comforting. It didn’t matter which path she took, she always found her way through the dense woods and back home.

It was a shock, therefore, to find herself suddenly on a path she did not recognise. She hadn’t seen it coming, was taken aback by this new route. It felt wrong, oppressive and dark. She glanced about her, desperately looking for the way back to safety, back to the familiar sounds and smells, back to that warm, cosy feeling of belonging in this place, but it was gone.

The trees, once so reassuring now seemed to be suffocating her, powerful arms reaching out to squeeze the last drops of happiness from her very being. The path was shifting beneath her as she frantically tried in vain to avoid the black, gaping chasm that was rapidly opening. Her feet began to slip towards the edge of the deep, murky, cavernous hole. Trying to grasp on to the roots of the trees, where once they were safe they now seemed to shift away, her cries for help falling on ears deaf to her plight.

She fell in to the pit as a gnawing despair and helplessness began to seep in to her body. There was no way out. Colours no longer existed. Feelings so foreign to her now dug their claws in to her mind. In a moment of terrifying clarity, she knew that there was only one way to escape from the pit, to leave the darkness, the despair and the terror behind her.

If only she had the courage.

A Life In A Day

Brian glanced down at Debbie’s hand resting on his thigh. Clinging to the fabric of his jeans. He reached out with his own hand, gently caressing and then covering hers. A move of affection. One of protection. But still he couldn’t bring himself to lift his head. To raise his eyes. He still could not, no matter how much he willed himself, meet her gaze.

A gaze that was in fact, similarly, not meeting, or looking to meet, his. Debbie’s own eyeline was also turned down, staring towards those entwined hands. A silent, bony, world of defiance. She felt separated, disconnected from her hand. It felt weightless, not of her. And still she watched it twist and twitch. It pulsed gently under the comfort of Brian’s. Unsure. Unsettled.

Both were struggling painfully to fight through the barren deserts that were their vocal chords, desperately seeking the vowels and consonants to form words. To convey feeling. But neither could. The strength, the words, both evading them.

Their hands squeezed simultaneously. An instinctive, unplanned gesture from both. One that prompted both Brian and Debbie to glance upwards. Their eyes met. Their respective gazes trapped by a fleeting movement and now rendered unable to avert. In Debbie’s eyes Brian saw desperation, hurt, appeal. In Brian’s Debbie saw the same along with a troubling darkness skirting the perimeters. One that threatened numbness. It threatened dominance.

She knew she had to speak. To allow the words to trickle from her mouth. She knew not what the words could or should be but she knew she had to be the first to wilt. He was struggling. He was slipping. She could see that. And soon she could lose him completely. However temporarily, she could lose him. And she would need him. More than ever. They would need one another. She could see he was trying, with everything he could muster, but he just couldn’t get there. She had to speak. She had to be the one to break the silence. If only. Just. The words. Words. Little things. So simple. So mundane. Transient. And yet the words. They failed to form. Stubbornly resisted. No she had to. She must. She…

‘What about…’ whispered Debbie slowly, shakily, her eyes fixed upon Brian’s, ‘what about…the time…what about the time our…our daughter…she took her first steps…she took her first steps and then fell back on her bum and landed on the cat…’

Brian looked at Debbie. A look halfway between bewilderment and incredulity. His eyes, once lost and weary, now full of the spark of confusion. Seconds, moments, of silence followed.

‘Remember Brian….?’ appealed Debbie, ‘please Brian…I need you to remember…with me…’

The look in Debbie’s eyes suddenly allowed the dimmest flicker of recognition to light up within him. Brian felt his heart sag. At the pain he felt. At the pain Debbie clearly displayed. He needed her. She needed him.

‘I do…yeah….I do.’ his voice was brittle. Strained.

‘You do…?’ something resembling hope propelled Debbie’s whisper into the realms of audible.

‘Of course I do…’ answered Brian, wrapping his hands around Debbie’s and strengthening his grip. ‘And…and…what about the time…the time when our son first tried spaghetti bolognese. Remember? It took us about month to clean that kitchen afterwards didn’t it…it was chaos…’

He forced the suggestion of a smile onto the corner of his mouth. Debbie’s eyes lit up as she felt her spirit warm. This was the Brian she needed. It was as if they were two isolated enemy soldiers slowly making their way across No Man’s Land to meet with one another in kinship and camaraderie.

‘I do,’ she said smiling, ‘and…and what about the time our daughter fell off that little slide at the playpark that day and bumped her elbow. We bought her an ice-cream from the van and then had to stock up the freezer with ice-cream and ice lollies for every other little bump she had thereafter. We could have opened up our own ice-cream shop…’

‘That’s right, yeah,’ Brian sniffed, his eyes suddenly more animated, ‘or what about our son’s first day at school. All dressed up, looking gorgeous and handsome in his immaculate new school uniform…only to find out it was the uniform for the school up the road! He was…he was mortified.’

Debbie laughed slightly, raising her hand to the area between her nose and mouth to stifle the small snort she allowed to escape.

‘Or when our daughter broke up with her first boyfriend. She cried on your shoulder so much that night I thought she would never let go of you. I thought you were going to kill the poor boy after that. Would have been harsh though. I mean, he was only 9…‘ she laughed.

‘And when our son scored his first hat-trick for the football team. I, who had coached him through years of training sessions in the back garden and stood with him through all weather for every game he had ever played, expect him to come running straight to me, his Dad, to celebrate, but no, straight to his Mummy. His Mummy who doesn’t even understand the bloody game!’

They both laughed at this. Both their grips strengthened further.

‘And of course,’ said Debbie, ‘the first time we had to pick our daughter up from a night out. She could barely walk. Underage and drunk. What a disgrace. But how funny was she in the back of the car that night? Laughing away and telling us how much she loved us. What a sweet girl.’

‘That’s true.’ nodded Brian, smiling. ‘Or when our son had his first lads’ holiday, away in Spain or Greece or some place, and he phoned us at about 4am in the morning, getting us all panicked, only for him to tell us he was missing us and wanted to come home. Haha. By the end of the week he didn’t want to leave that place did he!?’

Debbie’s smile widened further as droplets of water began to form around her eyelids.

‘That’s right’ she said with more than a little faux-affirmation. ‘And who could forget when our daughter went off to University and then came back after the first year to tell us she had met the love of her life and they were going to have a baby. Going to give us…a…
a…a grandchild.’ Her smile wavered slightly, creeping marginally over to sadness.

‘Yep…’ said Brian, struggling to catch his breath. ‘Or when our son…when our son…he…he…he got that promotion at his work. I was so proud…I was so proud of him. So proud.’

Brian’s gaze wilted, the strength instantly sapping from him as he looked back down at his and Debbie’s entwined hands. Once again unable to look Debbie in the eye. He listened though. And could hear. He heard as she spoke. Softly. And falteringly.

‘That was a good day…’ she choked. ‘No…a great day…’ she turned her head away as the tears arrived in waves. Her hand clinging onto Brian’s all the while for dear life.

‘Well…it…’ started Brian. ‘It…could have been…’

‘It should have been…’ exclaimed Debbie through sobs, ‘they all should have been’. Her eyes clenched tightly shut as she failed to fight the flow of emotion. Suddenly she felt the force of Brian as he collapsed against her. Both feeling their raw, contorted bodies writhing in sadness as they held onto one another.

As gradually the tears dried and the lights in the room became less obtrusive they felt their hearts beating back to life. Their hands still clutched together, they listened. They listened to the sympathy. They listened to the advice. They listened to the ‘you’re both still young, you’ll have another chance at this’. They listened to the ‘it just wasn’t right this time’. They listened to the ‘this is far more common than you would think’. They listened to the pity.

But they didn’t really listen. They couldn’t. What good could it do? Or would it do? All they could do was hold each other. And so they did.

They held. And still they held. To the memories they had created. To the stories they had concocted. To the tears that threatened to come in waves. And to each other. For strength. For comfort. For the lives they still had left to live.

The Longest Goodbye

‘Just go…I don’t want to see you here!’

William sighed. Orbs of light, finding their way in through the not-quite-shuttered blinds, illuminated patches of his face. A weary face. Full of cracks and crevices. One taut and contorted in a resigned exasperation.

‘Margaret, listen…’

‘Don’t bloody ‘Margaret listen me!’ ok?! I’m telling you to go so bloody well bugger off out of here.’

‘Look Margaret, I’m sorry that you feel this way but…’

‘Oh just shut up. Shut up. Please just shut the hell up you insufferable bloody man!’

William sighed once more. He grimaced, struggling to quell the familiar strands of frustration and anger welling inside of him. He looked at Margaret, appealing silently to her for calm, for common sense. Only to be met with stoic resolve. Bitterness. Hatred, even.

‘Margaret, dear, listen…’

‘Don’t you DARE call me ‘dear’!’ she spat. ‘You have no right at all to call me that! No right!’

‘But look, if you’d just…’

‘If I’d just what? Hmm? I’ve already told you I’m done talking to you, haven’t I? I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to listen to you. I don’t want to deal with you. Just go for god’s sake!’

‘Margaret…Margaret…if you’d just listen to me I can explain. I’m not here to annoy you, I’m not trying to hurt you, I never did, all I want is…’

‘I’ll scream you know.’

William stuttered slightly, winded by this latest fragment of poison.

‘I’m…I’m sorry, you’ll do what?’

‘I said I’ll scream. If you don’t clear off. I will.’

‘Oh don’t so bloody stupid Margaret, for god’s sake!’ grumbled William to himself, barely audible enough for Margaret to hear.

‘What!?’

‘What?’

‘What was that you said there? Under your breath. Like the sneak you so clearly are!’

‘Nothing Margaret. Ok? It’s not important.’

‘Ha! You’re right there anyway. Just go.’

‘No, listen Margaret,’ William said clearly as he stepped forward, visibly preparing himself for a pre-prepared speech, ‘it’s me. Ok? William. Your William. No-one else. No-one else’s. I’ve always been your William. And always will be. You need to know that. You need to understand that.’

‘Understand nothing!’ snarled Margaret. ‘You are no-one to me, ok? Get that into your skull. My William? My William?! For god’s sake, you were never my William! And I was never ‘your’ Margaret, whatever you might think or believe. Ok? Understood? I DON’T want you here. I DON’T want to talk to you. So just bloody well GO!!’

The pin-point ferocity of the latter part of her diatribe stunned William once again. He winced, took a step back. His facial expression sagged, seemingly preparing for surrender. The silence of the room seemed to prod at him, stifling his airways almost.

‘Oh!’ he cried, suddenly animated. Life, hope, instantly careering through his veins.

‘Bloody hell, what is it now?! I’ve told you to go! Go!’

William paid no attention to the venomous words being fired across the room towards him as he walked purposely towards the large teak sideboard pushed up against the opposite wall. On top of the sideboard sat a CD player. Fumbling with the controls William drew further ire from Margaret.

‘What the bloody hell are you up to now!? Eh?’

He composed himself before closing the CD player lid gently and pressing play. A few seconds of static pierced the silence before the familiar jangling sounds of The Shirelles ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ engulfed the room. That bass line. The strings. Those harmonies. Surely that would do it. The song they danced to at their wedding. Their song.

William stepped away from the CD player and moved towards Margaret as the words crept in the air. Tonight you’re mine completely. He caught Margaret’s gaze. And smiled. He smiled long and benevolently, never taking his eyes from her, as verses and choruses came and went. Looking for recognition, looking for any kind of wilting in her armour.

As the song’s final notes rang out Margaret’s glare seemed to soften slightly. William smiled wearily. He could see she was preparing to speak. To forgive maybe. To remember.

‘What…’ she whispered croakily, ‘what the bloody hell was that in aid of? Eh?! I ask you to bugger off, to go, and you blast out music instead!? You’re a bloody mad man. Off your head!’ The venom, the resolve, returned.

William’s hands started to lift in appeal before lowering again. Any hope that existed within him now clearly, and emphatically, gone. Sadness framed his face.

‘It…that’s our…it…it doesn’t matter Margaret. Just…just forget it…’

‘Well you’re bloody right there! I will! You know what…yes…I was going to tell you to go again but given you’re clearly not doing so I’ll just have a sleep. Ok? And if you’re here by the time I wake up then I bloody well will scream! And you can believe that, I promise you!’

Almost instantly her head collapsed on the pillow and she slipped into, what appeared to be, a deep sleep. William looked on with a growing sadness. Failure flooded his thoughts. Failure and rejection. He walked the few paces to the chair by the bed and lowered himself into it. His whole body hunched. Exhausted and beaten. Tears began to form in his eyes, inspired by the cauldron of frustration, grief and fear swirling through his mind. He stared at Margaret, sleeping peacefully. And the tears continued. Streaking his face like disparate imprints of waterfalls, each glistening sporadically when touched by the fleeting light still creeping in through the blinds. He lowered his head into his waiting hands. He sobbed. The palms of his hands stifling the louder of his outbursts.

The sound of the door creaking open brought him back. He harshly rubbed his eyes with his clenched fists, slightly embarrassed by his display of grief. A younger woman, mid-to-late thirties perhaps, blonde hair tied in a bun entered the room. Her smiling demeanour fading rapidly as she saw the remnants of sadness adorning William’s reddened complexion.

‘Oh William…’ she said sadly.

‘Hello dear’ came the reply as William stood up from the chair slowly.

‘Another bad day I take it?’

‘Yes it is Lucy, I’m afraid. Another bad day.’

Lucy, the nurse, approached William and laid a soft, comforting hand on his shoulder. Contact enough to convey the pity and empathy she felt for the man.

‘She did seem chirpier this morning William. That was before her nap though. She naps a lot more these days. As you know.’

‘She does Lucy. She does.’

‘Was she abusive again? Can I ask that?’

‘Abusive?…Eh, no, not abusive Lucy no. It was more hate than abuse. Just pure hate in her eyes. She didn’t seem to know me or want me here. And you know what, I almost can’t say the words because they’re too painful but…it seemed like…it seemed like, just momentarily, she did come back to me. That she was there. But you know what? The hate, the bitterness was still there aswell. That’s what hurts.’

‘William, listen…’ Lucy stepped towards Margaret’s pillow, gently adjusting it for added comfort, ‘that’s still your Margaret in there. That’s still your wife in there. Still the women that loved you and has been married to you for…for how long is it now?’

’42 years.’

‘For 42 years, yes. That doesn’t just disappear.’

‘You know sometimes I’m not so sure dear.’

‘It’s true William. That’s still the woman you love lying there. And you’re still the man she loves. I know it’s hard. Believe me, I know how hard it is for you. But you need to remember that. Today was the disease. Not Margaret.’

William wiped the last beads of moisture away from his eyes, now slightly raw under the strain of grief, and nodded slightly.

‘I know Lucy, dear. You’re right. I know. It’s just…it’s just hard, that’s all. Very hard sometimes.’

‘I know. Sometimes life can do this. It’s not fair William. Really it’s not. But we all have to find the strength to go on from somewhere. To persevere.’

‘I know dear.’

‘If not for yourself then for your Margaret. For your wife.’

‘I know dear, I know. It’s just…what…no, how…how can I carry on as normal when I’ve already found the love of my life but keep losing her? And soon I’ll lose her for good. Where the hell do I go from there?’

‘Look William…I…’

‘No, it’s ok Lucy. I’m sorry dear. I’m getting carried away. Don’t answer that. I shouldn’t have said it. It’s just been a, well it’s just not been a good day really.’

‘Not at all William, I understand that. We all need to cope somehow. And hey,’ Lucy stepped over to William once more, returning her hand to his shoulder briefly, ‘tomorrow’s a new day. And it could be a better one. For her. And you.’

‘Yes dear’ William smiled sadly and stepped towards the door. ‘Yes, you’re right. You are. I’ll see you again tomorrow no doubt. Bye now.’

‘Bye William. Take care.’

William glanced back at his Margaret, his wife, the love of his life, lying peacefully in the bed as he stepped through the door. Willing her all the while to come back to him. To return to him. To be by his side, fully and completely, just one final time.

The Leper Colony

The air.

It whistles through my lungs. Fresh. Freeing.

The sun.

It beats down benevolently. Caressing. Indulging.

I turn and the look back at the rustic gates, lodged in lairs of trodden soil. They look weak. Penetrable. As if they were never anything but. Padlocks and chains, worn and weary, hang limply from the gate’s iron bars. They speak of escape; they tell of emancipation.

I sink pointedly to my knees. Exhausted yes, but determined. Sure of the next stage. Convinced by the path set out before me. But a glimmer. The slightest of glimmers. It ricochets off a segment of railing, sending shards of light into my vision, blinding me only momentarily. Forcing me to turn away. To shield my eyes.

It shunts me into one final act of remembrance. A sullen dip into the murky pool of nostalgia.

The hillside once so full of promise. So etched in beauty. And so rapidly consumed by aberration. By ugliness. I recall the shackles. The restraints clawing at my skin. Digging into the bone, infusing my veins with poison. I remember the claustrophobia. The sickening, unending feeling of being trapped. Of being suffocated. Fully, completely and relentlessly, as each day turned to night, and night into day. The gasps punching angrily from my lungs. Dying out weakly in amongst the acrid miasma of despondency. I remember the snuffing out of hope. Easily. Indifferently. As if dampening a single match in one of the world’s great oceans. I remember the fences, the bars, the railings. I recall the barbed wire, the electrical current, the concrete. All conjoined and contorted to spell out the underlying, all-consuming and over-riding message that escape was futile. Fleeing was not an option.

Above all I remember the gates. Steadfast. Robust. Overwhelming. Their image flooded my mind, their shadows swamped my every step. They bullied me, punished me, taunted me. For my hopes, for my daring to dream, for my affliction. They seemed to pull, prod and pry at my riddled frame. Daring me to even consider attempting to scale their frame. And subsequently drowning me in scorn when my resolve inevitably dissolved. Come rain or hail, or even on the days when the sun would peek its head nervously through the gloom for nothing more than small fragments of time, the gates remained overbearing. An obstacle unable to be crossed. One not even prepared to be negotiated.

I would pick at my affliction. Scratch at my skin through nothing other than frustration. Anguish. My hideousness became an accepted fact of my life. My complexion nothing more than a cross to bear and a fact to live with. To endure. One that would, to all intents and purposes, accompany me to the grave.

I became isolated. Cut off from society. Quickly and efficiently. Cut off from contact. From consideration. From feeling. As the months grew painstakingly into years I became alone. Alone in this fortress of gut-wrenching seclusion. Out of mind. Out of sight. Scorned, forgotten. Surrounded by the impenetrable walls and gates. Travelling slowly into the darkness with nothing but my own thoughts and self-loathing as my travelling companions.

I was beaten. Broken. Used. By all accounts, done.

But then one day, the sun lingered. Not too much. Not enough to radiate the entire day with light, no. But it lingered, a fraction more than it would usually care to. It infused me with something resembling hope for the first time in a long time. Careless, thoughtless hope perhaps but hope all the same. Lying there, at that moment, in that time, soaking in the stench of my self-inflicted filth, I endeavoured to drag myself up and attempt escape at least once more. My skin, my veins, my bones, for so long so bereft, were now pulsating with energy. With resolve. Limping, stumbling, shuddering I dragged myself towards the gates. Trudging through the barren colony, forgotten and unnoticed, towards those symbols of oppression and restriction.

With a long drawn out sigh I pushed…

And the gates gave way. They opened. Just like that. Unlocked. Unshackled. Unbound. As they had been the entire time. Gates. Nothing more. Ready to be opened. At anytime. Willing to accept my courage and resolve should I have had the means to call upon them.

Opened. Just so. As if the act was the most simplest of acts a man, woman or any other creature upon this earth could have performed. And the colony, awash in all its bleak, downtrodden greyness shrunk away behind me as the freeing, sun-kissed expanse opened up before me.

And the air.

It still whistles through me. Touching each ember of my being as it travels nonchantly, and confidently, through my body.

And the sun.

It still shines. For now. At times it may retreat. Naturally, of course. But its presence will always be known to me. Will always be felt.

I pull myself up from my knees and glance back through the gates for the final time. I pity the scene, scolding myself slightly for not making the move, taking the step, far earlier than I had done. I jut out my chin as a final farewell. Confidence beginning to ooze through me. I find myself free from disease, free from affliction. Reborn. Lazarus emerged from his slumber. Daylight breaking free from a prolonged, punishing nightfall.

I turn and skip lightly down the remainder of the mountainside, confident and unafraid, ready to launch myself into arms of humanity once more.

Early Retirement

 

When I first started climbing this mountain, I’d only a vague idea where the summit was, and my map was rubbish. I’d heard a few people had climbed it before but I didn’t know any of them personally then, they were just people in story books to be wondered at.

When I began hillwalking way back in the day, my first pair of boots really hurt. I mean, really hurt. I was later to find out that they were just wrong for me: wrong size, cheap leather, rubbish soles, everything designed to torture your feet. I almost gave up before I’d even started.

I went back to the shop to discuss my problems and discovered Goretex. Thank God for Goretex. My subsequent sets of footwear were slippers in comparison and I knocked off the smaller peaks as though on a summer stroll. This one’s been tough though despite the better footwear, and I even managed to get a better map though you might never guess it from the number of wrong turns I’ve taken. Still can’t quite make out the summit with the cloud and mist coming and going.

It’s not as bad as tramping in New Zealand where the maps had a helpful warning, ‘subject to change’, written across the contours. I think even Mt Cook had changed height the year before I was there! Not much fun when the mountains change around you as you try to climb the bloody things. Made it interesting I suppose, more of a challenge.

Back home now though and this bloody climb I started so long ago. Now almost everyone I know has mastered its peak, though most of them got some sort of chairlift to the summit, lucky bastards. I’m going to have to walk all the way on my own, under my own steam, as always.

But maybe not. When I did my mountain leadership course I was always told to know when to turn back. Getting to the top wasn’t more important than you or your party’s safety and, if you enjoyed walking, wherever you got to was going to be enjoyable anyway. And there were usually good views from any height as long as you stopped to look at them.

So I stop on the ridge and have a good look around me. A large bird of prey swoops past, hunting for its young family, paying no attention to me. I can see a small herd of deer down in the glen, absent mindedly grazing, breath just visible in the cool air. It’s quiet, perhaps faint noises from other parties climbing ahead, and below. I neither see them nor care any more if I’m ahead of them or behind.

I think I can see the summit rising above the clouds in the distance, but it’s actually really nice here, right where I am. And besides, my knee’s twitching a bit and the blister on my right heel has burst. It’s been a good climb this far, not many even get onto the ridge far less scramble along to the top. So maybe I should just go back down. After all, I heard there’s a storm coming from down south, snow and blizzards likely. I wouldn’t want to be stuck up there caught up in the middle of that.

 

(Daily Prompt: Not everyone want to stay in it for the long haul.)