The Flight of the Lonely: Short Story (2020 words)

There are tentacles coming out of the fire. Large flame-like things that act of their own, outside of the inferno that devours the walls of the old cottage. It was her home. It had been her home for so long, she hardly remembered anything else – but now it is destroyed.

What stood sternly so long, as things sometimes do, is now quickly vanishing into thin air, the dark smoke drifting into the air, uniting with the dark clouds above. She can’t do anything but stare at the phenomena, crestfallen she feels an unhinged desire to just give into whatever is in the flames and let it eat her up too, but instead she falls backwards on the wet moss. She can feel the cold creep up on her immediately and it wakes her up from the mental slumber. 

She turns and starts running. She can feel the flamed beast chasing her, can feel its burning heat behind her, but it has a hard time following her through the river and so she runs in the creek, the water splashing all around her. She stumbles several times on big rocks, hurts her knees and her hands but gets up again, thankful for the damp and the cold wind and she runs until she can’t hear the flames whispering to her anymore.

His words. His voice. 

She allows herself a moment, sitting in the creek letting the cold water wash over her. It is impossibly cold, but better the cold than the flames that chase her.

She looks around the valley, sees the cottage burning down, the flares reaching the sky as if there is a wild will behind it searching for her. She always bore her superstition quietly, like most who live off the land, but this is beyond any superstition, beyond stories of trolls in the canyons and dragons in the sea. This is a malignant evil she doesn’t want to confront.

Her valley is surrounded by mountains in three directions and in the forth rages the artic ocean. It isn’t always a safe place to be, an avalanche took half the town that used to be there while there was still herring in the sea and people willing to live isolated.

When the last people left the valley she stayed behind. It wasn’t exactly out of love for the valley, but she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. It was like staying in a loveless marriage where the friendship was still too strong to break the bonds that had been created, or so she imagined, but what did she know? She had never been married, not to anyone or anything but this valley.

And so she had stayed alone.

Until the man with the black eyes showed up. He wore a traditional wool sweater, grey, like the weather, and she could hear the promise of company in his words. She didn’t trust him at first. It was hard to trust someone who appeared over the mountains and told her that he had come to seek solitude but was happy to find it with her. She didn’t believe his words, but she welcomed him in her home none the less.

It wasn’t exactly that she started to trust him, but he became a part of the valley and a part of her home and there wasn’t much she needed to trust him with but the part of her soul that fell in love with him.

It wasn’t intentional, love never is, and she didn’t understand until it was too late. The ten extra kilos she carried had never bothered her before and she had hated herself for her vanity. The way her clothes looked on her had suddenly become an issue. She wore clothes to be warm and comfortable, but suddenly everything started to matter. She found herself in front of the mirror miserably trying to find some form of femininity that had long since been swept away by the extremity of the weather, loneliness and the conditions in the valley. When the summer came with warmer climate and its extreme greenness she tried to make a dress out of fabric someone had left in one of the houses that had survived the avalanche.

It was a miserable failure and he found her weeping in the field high above the farm. She tried to hide it but her eyes were red and her mood dark. She found herself looking into his eyes and wishing to God, the devil or whoever would listen that she didn’t love the man staring at her.

“Why do you cry?” he had asked her slowly. He did everything slowly. It wasn’t laziness, she had gathered that, but a sense of slow ambient minimalism seemed to dominate him. He did everything with quiet ease, and although it frustrated her at times she quickly realised that rushing him didn’t help at all.

She stroked a tear from her own chin, but didn’t say anything. It was useless to lie to him, she didn’t even know where to begin but she didn’t want to confess the truth to him either. She had hated the feeling inside her because hopelessness accompanied everything she did. She had lived there alone for so long, trudging forward in the sole purpose of surviving another winter, seeing another summer, greeting new lambs into the world and seeing the sun set behind the mountains. She hadn’t known how to talk to him, so she spent her time listening to what he had to say.

He told her stories in the evenings when all the chores were done and there was nothing left to do but sit through a few hours before it was time for bed. These were strange stories but she had enjoyed listening to him talk, even if the stories sometimes didn’t seem to have any point at all. She particularly remembered a story he had told her of his mother, who had ten children out of wedlock and had been an outcast but tolerated because of her ability to interpret dreams and banish ghosts. She had been called upon whenever there was a disturbance in town or to make sure that a particular dream wasn’t an ill omen of some sort. The rumour around town was that her children were all fathered by different men, each child a gift from them to his mother for her services.

She had expected him to follow up with the story of what his father had done for his mother, but if there was such a story he didn’t tell it and she didn’t ask. And now she suspected his father was the devil himself. Sometimes she had felt they were from different worlds and that they didn’t quite speak the same language even though they understood each others words. But they enjoyed each others company, she knew that not by the way he smiled at her when there was no reason to, but by the way he always made her coffee in the morning, and always exactly the way she liked it.

This morning there had been something new in his eyes. Something new and hasty and she hadn’t liked it. She didn’t know, never found out either, if it was something within him that suddenly changed or if he, like his mother, had powers beyond what she was used to. She didn’t know if what happened had been his fault, or if he just foresaw it.

He hadn’t told her in so many words that something was coming, but he behaved in a way he hadn’t before. His stride was quicker, his eyes flickered towards her and he handed her his grey wool sweater and told her to wear it, that it was hers now, that he didn’t need it where he was going.

The flames were born of his dying body. She saw them appear where his heart was, saw them sprout out of his body like buds in springtime, born of death like so many things do. An impossible gestalt tread forward in the fire and threatened to devour everything around it. She saw a hint of something in his broken eyes and she called it love, because it was easier now that he was gone to call it what it was and always had been.

That look he had given her countless of times before, the look that hadn’t died on his face as he gave his last breath to warn her.

“Run,” he’d said.

And now she runs, runs over the moss, up the mountain trail that leeds to other people, other things, civilisation or so she hopes. She runs, looking back only occasionally to behold the wild beast born of the fire. She sees it break loose, a fiery creature stumbling its first step and then like a giant cat growling and then like a wolf howling, and then it runs after her, first stumbling, then walking and then it is running.

And she hopes she can run faster. Hopes that whatever might have been reborn of him in this beast will spare her, give her the head-start she needs.

He told her once that there were impossibly many souls in the world, so many that someone like herself wouldn’t understand or believe it. People living on top of each other in cities larger than God, people living and people dying and here she was living in complete solitude except for a man who she had loved, if ever so briefly, if ever so secretly, a man she now isn’t sure existed in the first place.

She runs up the mountain, over the creeks. She is wet and cold and she runs until she sees the houses on the other side of the mountain. Then she falls to her knees on the rough stone, waiting, catching her breath. 

The beast appears behind her, quick, ravenous. There are no tentacles surrounding it, those belonged to whatever was behind the fire, on the other side of the fire, but this beast is a child of this world and it sniffs into the air with dismay and then it prepares to attack her, not like a wild beast but like fire, flames burning all around it until it is just about to engulf her into its heat.

Then she starts running again, and in her footsteps she leaves vapours of her loneliness that devour the monster easily.

When she comes down the mountain she stops in front of the first house, afraid to knock, afraid to ask for help, afraid to face whoever might live here – afraid to face the fact that nobody might live here, though it looks inhabited. She is terrified that he lied about the big cities and all the people, lied to keep her happy and comfortable. Maybe the entire world is now bereft of people, each soul swept away in a avalanche bigger than anything she has ever seen.

Maybe he lied, because the man in the grey wool sweater was nothing but a figment of her imagination, a soulless entity born out of loneliness and out of her father’s old wool sweater that she now wears. Her own lies, she is now sure. 

She knocks, frantically and yet it is as if her movements are as slow as his always were. Slow and steady and she can feel a strange vibration in her body, the calling of the wind, the calling of a thousand desperate souls that want her to keep them company in the ghost valley forever, want her to live in the the valley of the fog now and till eternity.

The man who answers the door has a receding hairline and wears a grey wool sweater just like the one she’s wearing. He took his time answering the door and is holding a cup of coffee in his hand.

“My mother always told me you existed,” he says, “I didn’t believe her until now. Come in.” 

She looks up towards the mountain again. There is nothing left of the fiery creature but a strange smoke that drifts off into the sky and vanishes as she steps into the cabin and takes the cup he hands her.

The coffee is just the way she likes it.

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Copyright © Eygló 2016

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