The fire that she sat watching had burnt low, but its embers still burned with a brilliance that cast a glow on the stone walls of the room. The cat slumbered on her lap, its weight a comforting feeling on her thighs. It was becoming chilly, and she wondered how late it was.
I’m dreaming, she thought, simply. But I really should be going to bed by now. How low the fire burns, and how the frost collects on the windowpane!
The storm outside has stopped, she knew instinctively.
She did not rise immediately. The armchair was warm from her own body heat and a thick blanket lay over her thighs. Beside the cat there were two knitting needles, and she gazed at them disconnectedly. I don’t knit, she said to herself. I wonder when I learned how to knit.
Then she caught sight of her hands on the arm rests of the chair. They were wrinkled, and sported a smattering of liver spots. She looked at them for a while. And then, in dumb, helpless dream fluidity, she looked around the house, and recognised – cobwebs, and dust on the books. Dust on the floor, soot blackened the ceiling.
On her lap, as she touched his fur, the body of the cat was cold and stiff.
She rose to her feet, her knees stiff and creaking. How long have I been here? Where are my parents? The cat dully thumped onto the floor and lay still, and she shuffled slowly toward the doorway to the kitchen and pantry.
She reached the doorway, but it opened into the apartment that she shared with Mom. She looked around calmly, but with a growing sense of terror building up. Terror that seemed far away, someone else’s’ business.
Plaster peeled away from the walls, revealing a black mould, furry and alien. Water dripped from the ceiling into a puddle on the floor that was beginning to turn a chalky white. She shuffled around it cautiously. In the corner of the room, there was a pile of discarded wrappers and empty coke cans. The windows had either been shattered or bore spiderweb cracks all over them. Beyond the windows, a blackness lay over the world.
She shuffled a few feet before one window, her joints painful. She peered out at the blackness, and the voices came to her ears.
Through the cacophony, she recognised some of them this time. They came from the darkness outside. They all seemed to be calling for her, and she thought Mother?
Outside, a vortex, blacker than the darkness of night, swirled. Its centre was an orange glow.
Is this Death? But he is no coachman, no reaper. Only the ever twisting, ever furling-and-unfurling black vortex. Like a sentient eye.
She moved forward to it, and her bare soles crunched on broken shards of glass. She did not feel the bite, though she looked down at the smears of blood her shuffling feet left.
With a feeble, shaking hand, she attempted to lift herself up onto the windowpane. I barely have the strength.
Behind her, she heard a noise. She turned around, and saw a man before her. He was naked, and his skin was as white as alabaster. His eyes were closed, yet she could feel an unmistakable gaze over her.
There was something very odd about him, the way he stood. And yet, she thought to herself, why is he so familiar?
They stood there for a while, watching each other. The shrieks and cries coming from outside the only noise that broke the silence between them.
He spoke, but didn’t move his lips, nor open his eyes. ‘It’s like music, don’t you think?’
She swallowed, for her throat was parched, and her lips unused to forming words. ‘I only hear the voices.’
The man nodded. There’s something strange about all his movements, she thought to herself. He looked at her sadly and then said, ‘It’s unique for everyone. No two people hear it the same. That’s why it calls to us.’
She turned her head to look out of the window again. There were whispers and sobbing, and laughter like little bells. They drew her to them.
‘Must I go to them?’ She asked.
‘You may’, said he. ‘Many have. Many have been drawn in by what they hear or see, not knowing that it is something they already possess.’
She remembered the two creatures.
‘Where would I go if not to it?’
‘I know you’re searching for something.’
It lit up something in her mind dimly. A distant memory, forgotten shores…lived? Yet to be lived?
‘Here we are at the heart, at the centre of all things’, came the man’s voice. ‘You can join its collapsing, for it will not hold. This is the cycle and the past, and also the future, and what is. Always.’
Perhaps my parents are in there. Perhaps friends, my children, my spouse. She leaned further out, the jagged edge of glass cutting into her sagging torso, her folds of wrinkles. What if I’m in there? Younger and older, not even born and already dead.
She heard the sobbing and laughter. Rustle of tall grass, and the foamy rush of waves.
She remembered the two creatures, and the primordial face of creation.
‘Stories. They’re all stories, aren’t they?’ She asked, in her strange and rusty voice.
There was pregnant silence in the room behind her for a few seconds.
Then, quietly, ‘Yes. Though it doesn’t make them any less important, for stories are all true.’
She made no reply, but he knew her silence.
‘You already know that your story does not end here. Many miles to go before you rest, and many still more before you can lay your head down for the final time.’
She looked out again at the stories, swirling like many dust motes in the sun. Spiralling like the many arms of a galaxy. In the blackness, they called to her like a flame called to a moth. A thing of beauty and destruction.
She breathed out a sigh into the darkness, and turned away to face the strange man.
She shuffled forward to meet him, leaving long smears of her own blood on the floor. He held out his hand. He really is very strange, she thought. Their fingers – his strong and young, hers brittle and feeble – connected and folded over each other’s.
To be continued…