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Castles Burning

Castles Burning

By jlanssie

Wicked boy, walking through the street with a spade.
Laughing. Smiling. Grinning, to himself.
The black spade lay beside his bed, still stained with fresh ground. Open the curtains! - Only a little bit.- to peer outside. Keeping watch, looking at the waking world, his world. 5:am and dazed while purplish shades troubled the horizon as he looked at the park, the dull grass and static trees. Empty benches without animals, spiders nor squirrels, and the square in front of the park just as empty, were it not for the many cars parked there. It was all too awfully silent. Silence. He lit a cigarette of that cheap kind of brand that arrogant adolescent girls refuse to smoke. Equipped with a long raincoat, short hair and dirty beard, dirty eyes, dirty mind, a dirty person smelling like cigarettes and coughing.... Static! So it seemed. Looked at the houses, far away, noticing he had never been any further away than those houses. The hills bring mystery, what lies behind the boundaries of his vision? Today though, he had to go to work, laziness is not advocated by everyone. Making his way through the long street to right, where popped up the baker's, though he had never been inside to buy a bread. A shady pub, also a virgin to his presence. Street's going straight up, and next to that street lies another park. Parks everywhere. Boring, apart from the occasional house without curtains, spying on people is interesting: the madman to the psychologist and the stereotype to the sociologist, so reasoned the modern municipality-wanderer. Counting the steps he took one, two, three, ninety-nine, two-hundred, seventy-five, one hundred and thirty-six, six thousand, five thousand two hundred and forty-two. Finally, five thousand two hundred and forty-two steps, quite a street. After our hero had nearly made it out of that damned street he reached it... Another street! Fortunately, this one was shorter, only six thousand steps here. He had heard a cock, and as we all know, this signifies the beginning of a bright-brand new morning. Well, our sympathetic hero suddenly stopped. The bus stop: “Must not be distracted by cocks, otherwise, I will miss the bus!”. The cock stopped the screeching and the world was quiet and subtle again. Silence! Gates were closed, windows shut and doors locked. The people were still sleeping.
Nothing moved, but that bus. It stopped and the peasant boarded, he went to sit way in front and opposite of the driving direction, eyes on the road that lay behind them. This position made him sad, the good streets left behind at each turn, the new ones left unpredictable to him, although he had sat in this bus many times before. People popped up in every street, ranging from people he knew and some whose name he had forgotten, some whom he hated and yet others he loved, etc. The bus left the city and rode onto the highway. Faster, faster! “This is going too fast!”, he thought. Faster, faster! Not blinking once. Faster, faster! The world blended into one. Faster, faster! One colour, one shade of near-pure grey. Faster, faster!

'Brupt! He flinched when the bus stopped. There was no one to be seen and he had been the only one on the bus. Thus, he walked out and went straight for the subway station. A rolling staircase, all too convenient at some times, yet evidently, it was broken today. Annoyed. Hence, he made his way through the tunnel and took the right way at the interstection. “Nobody here either, well, all the better. l'Enfer c'est les autres”, he said. What to think when there's no one at all.

The hero sat there, waiting for a subway train to take him to his work. “My life's purpose, would there be people who just want to sit quietly, watching it all go to ruin?” There came no train, after he had thought that and therefore, he was waiting, but how long? One moment and a lifetime, many lifetimes, having died several deaths in those boring hours, waiting for the train. Dying and being born is so exhausting, but he can't stop it, it's like a compulsion. Waiting. Waiting. Dying. Being Born. Waiting. Waiting. And yes, waiting some more. He started to notice that no one had come in, during all this time. The air seemed to be growing thick, heavy. Heavy like a Sisyphean stone. He took notice, sitting in one of those ugly orange chairs. The hero tried to stop it, to push the air back somehow. Yet it wasn't the air, it was his air, the weight of the moment. He wanted to break what he saw, not one thing, but everything. Suffocate. Break. Suffocate. Break. Suffocate. Break. Break. Break. Broken.

[Scream!] He screamed and the subway station started moving. On the platform in front of him appeared a great crack. The whole world crumbled and tumbled in the chasm, and he fearfully closed his eyes. He opened the again, but saw the same thing, only the crack and rubble had disappeared. Still, the same subway station, the same platform, the same solitude. He quickly ran away, up the rolling staircase. He turned left, to escape the station, but... Impossibility? There was nothing there, at the end of the subway station tunnel. It dissolved into black halfway. He ran to the blackness, and saw “the” abyss. The hero ran away, back through the tunnel. Another way out!Thought about other exits, ran straight on to see if the other tunnel was open, but he found the same blackness, the same abyss every exit, is black, pitch black. Worse than dead ends, for the abyss seemed to go on forever and ever. Went back down to the platform where he sat in the chair. Waiting for someone to come around, someone to talk to...
“So, all alone. Kind of pathetic, right?”
“Yes, kind of.”
Staring down the black tunnel.
“Such endless darkness. Would there be an endless light tunnel too?”
“Perhaps, well, if something exists, darkness, there must be something else too, right? An opposite, a reference point. Two make sense, one alone is meaningless. At least, in mathematics. Yet I sit here. Am I alone or not? Do I make sense?”
“Never alone when you've got yourself.”
“Okay, hypothetically, if you haven't got yourself, then what?”
“You'll need someone.”
“Imagine you haven't got yourself, and you haven't got anyone?”
“Hard to imagine, I don't know. Emptiness, like that abyss.”
“Could you recover?”
“Time numbs down the violent wits to an old man's mumbling, cuts to scars, the best of all romances to … to...”, he sighed and smiled.
“Imagine though, you're already numb, then could time sharpen your wits, cut open wounds? And...”

Waiting for time to radicalise that numb moment, he sat some more. The ground started shaking and there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Closer and closer it came, it was a subway train! The hero could get of here! A hellish turmoil sounded as the subway train stopped. Our hero couldn't believe his eyes when suddenly, one of the doors, the one closest to him, opened and a man stepped out. He was well-dressed and had a Venetian mask on, with a long nose or beak, entirely black, covering his entire face. The man walked in our hero's direction and stopped right in front of him. More silence. The peasant grew weary of the silence, he wanted action! All heroes want action! All heroes need action! The peasant got up from the ground and looked in amazement, something quite peculiar about this fellow. The subway train doors closed immediately, and the train left as soon as it had arrived.

The masked man looked at him. Straight in his eyes. The peasant looked back. What is yet to come? The man approached the peasant and sat in on of the chairs next to him, the latter crept up and sat next to him. The masked man was looking to the other platform right in front of him, staring.
“So, here we sit.”
“Stuck in this moment, are you?”
“Yes, I am! I want to get out of here but I can't, why me? How did this happen?”
“Perhaps, you're not asking the right questions. How will you get out of here, thát is a pertinent question!”
“Well, do you know how I have to get out of here?”
“I have known, but I have forgotten, a long time ago...”
“What can't you remember, come on! Think! What do you know? How did you get here? Through that tunnel? Where did you come from?”
“As I said, I have forgotten, a long time ago.”
“But... What, don't you know anything?!”
“I have known, have forgotten, a long time ago” face looks downward.
Silence. Both stare in front of them.
“At least you know you've forgotten, that's already something.”
The masked man smirked.
“So, I'll never get out of here?”
“Perhaps, perhaps not, does it matter?”
“Yes, I want to live!”
The masked man started laughing loudly now.
“What! What's so funny!”
“I asked you a question”
“You want to live... Ah, I believe that's a good start.”
“Well, we're stuck here, together, perhaps you'll remember things later. We could talk anyway”
“Talk, I shall listen” And forget.
“Well, I don't know where to start...”
“Start at the beginning”
“I don't know, eh..”
“forgot the beginning?” Ironic grin of the masked man.
“No, just. All right.”

“My first memories...” Our hero, as a kid, was sitting on the bench. The others were talking about something, a new trend. He hadn't heard about this yet but knew, however, he'd know all there was to know about it in no time, as was always the case. Strange kid. As a baby he was a pain in the ass, scratched, bit and pulled people's hair, kicked their knees, tied their shoelaces together (no, he couldn't tie shoelaces) and bit of their nails. Bastard. He became friendly, as much as a kid can be friendly. Little devil. Fortunately, the schools were not Catholic.
Humour, troubling his sight.
The kid was ugly though, bad haircut, a repulsing clothing style and disproportional growth. A terrible condition, his upper body grew faster than his lower body. His legs were thin but his belly was big.
Retarded arms.
His arms were thin as well, compared to the boy's shoulders. The boy sure was something else, and always those useless arms, following him around. His funny appearance didn't make him very likeable. So, the kid had his brains, but what's a brain without a body. He remembered his mother in the garden, and she was smiling.

“So, I've remembered something. Do you feel something coming up yet?”
The masked man was sniffling underneath his mask.
Our hero sighed. The masked man, whimpered. “Yes, she died”
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
“Forget it. These memories, they bring up a feeling, of good times, of bad times. Everything seemed more glorious yesterday. Today's tediousness will someday blend with time's glorifying stench as well ...
Tomorrow, today will be glorious.
Yet today, will always be but today. In the best case, today will become a yesterday to remember. What will you remember? I remember everything.”
“I see. Now, mind if I ask you, who are you?”
“Who am I, I will answer that question on one condition, if you can tell me who you are, then I'll tell you who I am.”
“What's that supposed to mean? Do you want my name?”
“No, I want to know who you are.”
“Well, I don't know... It takes a long time to get to know someone. Well........You know what I think? I believe that you can only know someone at a certain moment, for they change from one moment to the next.”
“Ha, my thoughts exactly!.”
“I cannot tell you who I am, because by the time I did, I'll have become somebody else.”

A hellish turmoil, and the subway train stopped again. Our peasant ran for the doors and entered the subway train. The masked man was still sitting on the seat, where he smiled and waved. The doors closed and the subway train rode on, further into the black tunnel, into the darkness. The tunnel became lit though and the peasant could see the tunnel walls very clearly, he wondered who that masked man was? No time for thinking when the train slows down. It halted and doors opened from his perspective. He waited inside and sat still, waiting for the train to perhaps leave again, but the it remained perfectly still. In the station sat another man, way out in the front, who stood up and went for the stairs.
Our hero jumped out of the train and followed the man. “Hey! Hey! Wait, who are you?” The man stopped and he saw, the man looked exactly like him. More grave, the man was him! This other him, didn't seem to understand it though, he didn't recognize himself. “Please, help me, I'm locked in this subway station!”, he said. Our hero started laughing, scaring the living shit out his other self. The station lights were fading, glimpsing, went out, back on, out, on, out , on.... which made for a ghastly scene. The peasant went downstairs, back to the train where he thought about the man he had just seen. Whimpering idiot! “How could he have been so stupid?” He entered the train, the doors closed and the train left again.

The next station was very crowded, there were people everywhere. Some were shouting, others apathetically standing, chaos, in the very least. He walked out and ran for the subway's exit, which was still an abyss and there was thus no way out. The hero tried to ask people how they got here, but nobody listened, as nobody answered. They looked at him as if he was speaking an unintelligible language, a language of his own words, with a new meaning, his meaning. For the first time, saying what he truly wanted to say, and obviously they didn't understand him; how people go well together. After being tired of trying he stopped and looked around. His eye rested upon a child, sitting on a bench, all alone. He had seen this face before, but where exactly, he had forgotten.
The child anxiously looked around, left to right, and was afraid of the people or modest, rather. The hero went up to the child and strangely, he was comforted by his presence and didn't seem afraid of him at all. “Is this seat taken?”, he asked.
“No, you can sit here, … Sir, do you know where my mother is?”, the boy spoke.
“I don't know, I'm sorry. I'm sure she' be here soon and when she does, you're going to go home and everything will be fine.”
“I don't want to go home.”
“What are you saying!”
“I want my mother!”
“She'll come, believe me...”
The little kid smiled, plain happy.
“What's going to happen to you? Who is coming to pick you up?”, the kid asked.
“I don't know.”
Our hero looked surprised, intrigued.

“So, I think you're going...” The hero sat lonely on a sofa, next to his wife. “Get me another bottle of wine, please?”, he asked grumpily. “Can't you go get it yourself?”, his wife responded. “You know my back hurts lately, I don't know, yours doesn't, won't you please?”. “All right, because I love you so much, honey”, she smiled genuinely, “You know, you're becoming a wreck!”, she teased. Silence. “Oh, what, have we lost our sense of humour, grumpy old man?”, she teased some more, “Strange huh, you accused women of not having a sense of humour when you were young, and now that you're old, it has changed”. “So you admit not having been funny when you were young?”
“Indeed..”, he sighed. He opened the bottle of wine she brought him and he poured some in his and his wife's glass. Both got a little bit tipsy soon after. The old man sat thinking, he loved his wife, but wasn't happy. Life hadn't been quite what he had imagined it to be, great dreams and aspirations, flushed away by old age, or so was the excuse. Thus, he reasoned, love can't be the only goal in life... There was a quiz on TV, “What is the derivative of 5 to the power of two?”, the quiz master asked. “Bloody hell”, the peasant cursed, “I forgot! Yet I used to know these things!”. “Used to anyway... Calm down, you'll find out”, his wife answered.” The man sat looking at the TV. He fell back in his sofa, staring at the ceiling. Dreams slipped away, memories, pain and all joy. He had forgotten, he had forgotten everything.

“That's how it will go.”, the little kid said.
“Well, if you say so, there's a good chance, you don't have to be a psychic for that. By the way, I still think you're wrong.”
“Yes, because children are always wrong?”, the kid rolled his eyes to the now-flashing lamps.
“No, because... I don't know, a hunch.”
“What does you hunch tell you about this moment?”
“Are you trying to get at me?”
A mother came in, yelling, “Oh, there you are! Don't you ever are to walk away from me again!”. “Thank you, Mister, for holding him here, you're my hero!”, she pulled the child by his hand and went for the tunnel and walked straight to the darkness! “Hey Miss!”, the hero shouted, “Watch out!”. But it was too late, and mother and child stepped into the darkness and fell, all the way dow,. The hero ran over to the edge. “Heeeeelp!”, the child cried, “Help me, Misteeer!”. Our hero cried, “KID!”. The mother smiled while they were falling, she waved to the peasant, her hero. They had vanished. The peasant crawled back to the rolling staircase, he was trembling, crawled further to the platform. Someone helped him up, “Here you go, Sir.”. “Thanks”, our hero responded, “Didn't you see what just happened?”, he asked. “No, what happenend?” “I just, I, never mind”, our hero told him. He was a hero, helping a poor man up like that.

Once more, a hellish turmoil as the train arrived. The hero and the peasant boarded the train and sat next to each other. “So, you're also going there.”, the hero queried. “I guess”, the peasant said.
“Good”. “Terminus.”, it sounded from the speakers.
The train stopped and they left the train and the entire subway station, before them then laid a great plain. Behind them, they he saw seven seas of wheat. A single road led through the great plain, with seven great hills, where stood a small settlement with a large tower on each and every one of them. They looked just like small cities or castles, fortresses. Loads of light repelled the now-night as they neared the scene; further on, they saw that the cities were burning. People were shouting, screaming, some were being burned. Babies, women alike, all devoured by flames. Houses burn best, seconded by human hair and clothing. The hero, who had kindly helped up the peasant lying on the subway train station floor, was petrified, yet he overcame his fear and went to the first city to help. The peasant was still smiling and could not be bothered, for he was truly happy. Solitary, he continued, passing the hills, the burning cities, straight through the core of this landscape. He was smiling, a people screaming, but none of that matters when you're truly happy. -Are we ever truly happy?” - Someone came running from the cities, “Help, Sir! Help! It's terrible!”, the man said, gasping for air. He replied by whistling a merry tune.
“The horror! the horror!”.
“What are you talking about? It's only people burning!”
Our hero freed himself from the man's grip and continued towards the red river. The water seemed to flow from the cities, and he waded through, still smiling, until it came up to his knees. He reached out and put his hand in the water and tasted the red. It was up his torso by then, raised to his lips. He was in the middle of the river and he could taste the blood he was wading through, and still smiling... He headed for the biggest of seven cities in front of him. It was also burning, the same mayhem and chaos, buildings and cars were burning, lamp posts fell and trees had long lost their leaves. Rust, broken brick walls, nothing-concrete. The city was agony; the pits of Hades, Tartarus, with the blood river behind him and the vengeful sky was as red as the river.

People were falling from above - Men, women, young and old, ugly and pretty, etc. All burning bright red - our true hero was still truly happy. Nobody took any notice of him and he didn't take notice of them. He was at the end of the main street and saw, left of him, the port, to which he made his way. Suddenly, the world grew dark, the red had disappeared, only to be replaced by a deep blue. The solitary man went towards the docks, after a maze of halls, fences and stairways. Spotted a nice spot at the docking pier and sat down on a crate. Silence. No more noise from the burning city behind him. He heard nothing, but the sea. Calm, majestic, deep, vast. It was stretching out, with no end and no beginning. He found himself staring at the the horizon, listening to the soothing sound of the sea. A seagull shouted, and it was so very peaceful. He could stay here forever. Smiling.

I stood behind my hero, my hero and his mother's too, our hero. My hero sat on a crate and I told him “It's time”. He looked at me, nodded and we made our way to the beach, for the port had been transformed to a wooden pier. We sat on the beach and I sighed. “It's been a long road, hasn't it?”, I asked him. My hero laughed, “Yes, I never quite felt anything for that love and wine... TV quizzes, ah, sickening!”. “I know you'd hate it”, I laughed.
“Of course you knew.”, My hero replied. “The only question that remains is, would I like it?”, I asked him. “I don't know, right now you might not, but perhaps one day.”, he spoke.
“Perhaps, I hope so. It's not always easy not to like it, the TV quizzes, the textbook love, the factory music, the ugly paintings and poems, the so-called sagely men...”
“I know, alone is but alone. You have the choice, alone by yourself or alone in company?”
“What will I do then?”, I asked,
“Loathing others or loathing myself?”
“What a dilemma”

On the beach, talking under the dark, blue sky. The waves go on and on. The seagulls keep crying. I slowly turned my head around and saw, the abyss, and the darkness. We were falling, along with everything, the sea, the seagulls, the beach, until the last damned grain of sand. The both us, we were falling.
“By the way, what exactly were you doing here?”, he asked.
“Just, waiting on a train...”

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23 Jan, 2012
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