A Walk Within Reverie
Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth. ~Ludwig Börne
He gazed out the window, watching as snow flakes drifted to the ground, leaving a blanket of white draped across the land. A strange mist wisped betwixt the trees that lined the walkway outside. There was a light rapping at the door and he gazed into frosted glass at the silhouette of his companion in the vestibule, whose arrival he had awaited. A slight feeling of dread settled upon him as he pulled his jacket on and joined the newly arrived and began their procession into the cold, thoughts consuming his fragile mind. His companion was silent, a man of about fifty who wore a long leather trench coat, that from the looks of it was custom tailored to his slim frame. Thin tufts of silver hair peeked out from beneath a topper and the man wore a long beard that made his sunken features appear grotesque in the dim light beneath the skeletal trees that lined the pathway. Beneath his arm he held an old weather worn leather volume, with strange symbols burned into the cover. His outward appearance was one of an alchemist of old or a dread prestidigitator, who had witnessed things better left unspoken. They traveled on, his home fading into the distance, vanishing in the stormy weather as if they had elevated to a plane other than that of his birth.
The ground crunched beneath his feet as the wind howled eerily in the distance. Snow falling with an odd metallic timbre that sounded like sand falling slowly onto sand; thousands of grains drifting away in the breeze. They headed towards an unknown destination step by step, deeper into unknown realms beyond the mist; only one set of tracks, the other strangely unaccounted for. His countenance was solemn as he found himself lost within his own thoughts and the other traveler let out a laugh, the first sound he had made since his arrival. He looked over at him and saw beady black eyes peering back at him from beneath the brim of the hat. A slight chill overtook him at the visage of the other man and he turned back to the footpath ahead. The trees above leaned in menacingly as the man patted his shoulder and within a sudden moment of clarity he outgrew his shadow. He felt that abysmal doppelganger fade away behind them and for a moment he felt unbelievably alone.
They came upon a grove of low hanging willows and here his companion came to a stop. Around the grove the winds whipped in a tempest, however only slow moving flakes penetrated beneath the canopy that encircled strange stones that awaited them within the center. Around them all to be seen was a white blur as if they had taken to the sky and were standing in the temples of the gods, high upon the clouds above. His partner had walked over to the strange stones and stood opposite him, awaiting his approach. They had arrived at the profane place, where beneath zenith stars whispered confessions had been given in a time forgotten to the ages. He took out from within his pocket a white mask, featureless and grim which he held out towards him. He took it from the man and placed it over his face as he approached the foreboding stone altar. Eggshell white with only a thin slit for a mouth and two gaping holes for eyes, an obscene mockery of cleanliness covering the darkness within one's soul.
“Must it be this way?”
“Yes, it has always been and always will be.” The man replied as he placed the book on top of the old stone.
“What arcane rituals demand it be thus? Once again I ask, must it be this way?”
“Yes, it has always been and always will be.”
A church bell began to toll somewhere in the distance, barely perceptible behind the shrieking of the wind around the grove. The willows swayed as the man opened the archaic book and lifted his gaze to meet his eyes. Fear overtook him as he looked into the windows of the abyss across from him. He wished to run away, back to the safety of his home but something held him there. Tendrils of mist wrapped around him like a perverse chthonic entity, leaving him frozen where he stood. He stared down in horror as his companion opened the ominous book, blank pages staring back at him. A fire burned from within the depths of the orbs that looked upon him with amusement.
“You can't escape the fate that stands before you. You must face your soul alone, for even your shadow has been cast off.”
“What if I refuse? What if I will not view preordained visions that were left upon my doorstep by unwelcome guests?”
“That which has always been cannot be avoided. There is no way to avoid that which consumes all. It was here before and shall be here after. Within a solitary reverie, a death of dreams is written beneath lonely stars upon the pages of the great book. Perhaps one day I shall join thee; however the bells toll for your name this evening.”
“One final time I ask, must it be this way?” A tone of exasperation enveloped his voice as he stared into the eyes of the man.
The man lowered his head and replied by slowly sliding the book forward. The blank pages, stark against the stone, looked mockingly back at him. With hesitation, he slowly placed his hands upon them, his eyes shut tight against whatever terrors awaited him. A whirlwind of snow consumed him as visions flickered before his closed eyes, spinning him around beneath the terrible wind. He let out a scream as he ripped his hands from the pages of the infernal book, where charred imitations of his hands remained upon the pages. Each and every line, every single crease; a record of his soul. He looked up and realized that the man had vanished, a phantom remembrance and laughter overtook him as he gazed down. The book was gone, the wind had died to a slow breeze as snowflakes slowly fell to the ground. He fell to his knees, staring in disbelief at the words that glared back at him, carved deep into the headstone that stood before him bearing his name. He couldn't help but laugh as he realized he was slowly decaying; watching as his body blew away on the breeze for this had all been illusory.
“Dust to dust” he whispered, as the church bell tolled it's final knell, snow silently blanketing the stones that stood as sentries within the empty churchyard where death let it's shadow fall.
(A Walk Within Reverie appeared in A Never Ending Night.)
Artwork by Pasta Fagioli