Shrugs and grins like James Dean. Yeah - another prompt.
|The Narrator sits in a gathering gloom, watching shadows run around the room. A corner table lamp throws a pale and feeble light the color of parchment upon the face of his companion.
Though she is not young she has fewer years than he, and she has very good ears. He watches her light a long thin candle, whose flicker reminds him of a younger time.
“I will tell you a story.”
The Listener smiles, and leans forward. Ears become sea shells.
“A small boy is running through a dark forest. He is six years old, and he is terrified. Bent upon one purpose, to escape. The forest is a cartoon gone wrong. He is racing as fast as he can, but cannot run fast enough. The path he is upon twists and turns endlessly, close, too close to angry trees with great yawning faces of hardened, darkened, weathered, withered skin, trees whose limbs become thick arms ending in long gnarly fingers, cruel claws that scrape and scratch and clutch at his clothing. Their feet are thick roots sprawling upon the winding path to trip him. Down he goes, then up again, running as if pursued by demons. It is so dark he barely sees, except when lightning flashes follow a rolling thunder that booms and echoes like cannon fire. A sound that stifles his screams, like it could swallow him alive. Tears streak his face and mix with a cold and heartless wind that moans with fury in his ears. His clothes are torn to rags. His arms and legs and face are caked in blood, yet the greatest wound resides inside his heart. The stench of rotten decay fills his nostrils. This forest can go on forever, but yet his heart holds the desperate hope that it does not. He holds it, like a precious thing that his life depends on. Because he knows it does. ”
The Listener leans further forward, and asks in a voice as calm as moonlight,“Who is this small boy?”
The Narrator draws in a long, deep breath. “Myself.”
The Listener's eyes sparkle in candlelight.
“What is this dark forest?”
The Narrator smiles,“ My life.”
"Ahhh." Her breath matches his.
The Narrator speaks now with closed eyes and open heart.
"On and on flies the boy. Running for his life. Terror jumps from heart to soul, a mindless dread when he hears the footfalls that come from behind. Though he was alone before, now he is alone with someone. Behind him, determined to catch up, is a presence, a phantom, dark as the night itself. A tall dark stranger, all steel and sinew, closing the distance, bent upon one purpose. His eyes never leave the small shape before him. He can smell the fear. Upon his head is a Spanish hat. Around his shoulders a long cape swirls and snaps. He wears a mask. He looks like Zorro, but no hero is he. He is the villain who will catch this boy, and keep him in the forest, forever."
The Listener leans forward so close, their foreheads almost touch.
"Who is this tall dark stranger?"
The Narrator pauses, then speaks in a voice not heard before, "Myself."
Silence pervades the room. A breath, a heartbeat.
"Go on," she whispers.
"And now the final showdown. Like a dance with death. No escape from it. From him. It is all so unfair, isn't it? Short legs cannot outrun long ones. The pounding heart and legs of the boy, and the grim pursuit of the one behind. That's all there is. Breath coming in great ragged sobs. Trees leaning in closer, stabbing at tear-blinded eyes. There is no mercy, here. The taste of blood is the food of fear. It feels like death. Desperate in flight, like prey before a predator, the boy gasps, weeps, stumbles - and just when he feels that hand reach out to take hold, feels the icy breath freeze against the warm, wet fever of his own sweet sweat, as if surrendering life itself...
...he bursts suddenly into sunlight. The forest is gone. The stranger is gone. Blinking, astonished, almost stupefied by joy. He is free. Looking up at a clear blue sky, lying flat on his back in tall waving grass, he drinks in the intoxication of perfumed air, and wildflowers, bees, birds, buzz, drone, and sing all around him. He rises to his knees and far across this heavenly meadow, he spies someone.
Instantly he's on his feet, and running again. Faster, yes, than he ran through the forest. But now he is not running from. He is running toward.
Long yards distant, sits an old man upon an ancient tree stump, cloaked in purple robes, covered in moons and stars and planets. Upon his head a tall wizard's cap, the head itself covered in long white hair and whiskers. Buried somewhere within twinkle the warmest, kindest eyes. The old man leans like the friend of his soul, upon a stout and sturdy staff, no less!
The boy sprints that last furlong, and from three feet away launches himself straight at the old wizard, whose robed sleeves open wide to enclose him, and into whose arms the boy melts, like a diver into water. When the boy feels those arms close around him, well then, he knows a thing. A simple thing. He is safe. From all the terrors of time and madness, from all the dangers he could ever possibly imagine. And all the unimaginable ones. Those, too.
And in this moment, the boy feels a love he had never known before - and hasn't known since. Love, like he could never believe was real in this world, or any other. Love, for this old man."
The Narrator pauses, to muse upon love. A candleflame jumps shadows around the luminosity of his eyes.
The Listener leans back and looks upon him as if gazing into some starry night. Seashells become ears. Eyebrows curl like curious caterpillars. A soft smile spreads slowly.
"Who is this old man?"
"Can I know who he is?" she tries again.
The Narrator awakes as from some reverie, and answers like a riddle. "You know who he is."
She can hardly contain her impatience. "But...do I, really?"
"Of course! He's the grandfather." The Narrator laughs.
The Listener's laugh matches his own. "Your grandfather?"
Her hand waves across the space between them, like a windblown sail. "Whose grandfather?"
"Ah," he chuckles. "The one whose grandchildren are not yet born."
Now she is truly puzzled. "But how can he be...?"
And then, in a tiny quiet voice, carefully spoken, "Who is the grandfather, really?" Her understanding is dawning, then.
The Narrator drops a smile, just as a small boy would drop a seashell upon a shore. Loved - then given back to eternity.
And quietly whispers one word.
(a true story) [ word count: 1148 ]