I felt the collision drag my nerves up to my knee as I pressed my foot down and forced my weight upon it. I was still finding surprise in the pain at that point. I dared not look up from the immediate ground. I didn’t want to see it anymore. It had followed me, sidelined me and there was still more to go. I wanted to ignore it. I kept my head down, watching as the stones and grains of dirt passed beneath me.
I yearned for a drink, but I knew I wasn’t thirsty. It was just psychosomatic. My muscles burned with every step but I knew that if I stopped, that’d be it.
“Oh look at that.” I said. Nobody answered, because there was nobody there. It bent over and picked up a peculiar shaped stone. The dust dripped off it as I shook it loose. The surface was covered in small bumps and one side was a large crag. If I held it there, the opposite end jutted out and broke off into two forks. They curved around and made a bay in the centre. I realised that the whole thing looked like a rock bottle-opener. I looked at it, looking for a way inside it, but I couldn’t open it. I could only open things with it. After a few minutes I became aggravated with it and I threw it away. I watched it spin through the vastness, breaking the space it passed through. It fell for a slow four seconds. It landed without even a thump in a grassy patch on the ground. It was embedded there and there it would stay embedded.
I found myself staring at my surroundings. I sat down and unshouldered my pack. It was heavy and the straps dug into my shoulders. I was relieved, but I saw the curse controlling the blessing. Soon the pack would go back on and the good feeling would be gone.
Such was the way.
The pack was virtually empty. An empty bottle, a tin. I pulled the tin out and unsheathed the knife. It was useless. Almost blunted now, the use of it all too familiar.
Plunged into the top of the tin and then removed, I dropped the knife down. The noise rang out. The first noise in the world since Sarah was born. The last noise in the world once I’m gone.
I ate and threw away the tin. Also in the pack were a spare set of clothes. ‘I should change soon, but not now.’
My nose was wet. I looked up. My nose itched. I smelled the burning in the air.
Rain came. I threw my hood up and just like as I foresaw it happening, the pack was pulled shut and threw on my back. The straps found their chairs and the pain was brief for now.
The knife scraped back into the sheath.
I walked on.
I walked. I slept. I walked. I slept. I walked more. I slept less. Never the other way around.
Night time was loud in my head. Walking kept the volume low. God help me when I stop for good.
God help yourself.
Fire kept the wind away and the firelight brought the faces to memory. Sarah… It was too late to go back for her. ‘but it’s only a short backtrack’ No. It was a year ago, forget it. Carry on.
The shoes came off and the little luxuries smiled. The wind was louder at night, but more present in the day. I wrapped myself in my coat. The zip was broken. My pack under my head, I stared into the orange light in my eyelids and heard the sap bursting. Broken tick-tocks and I fell into the nightmares.
Sweat tasted acrid on my lips. Chapped, it soaked into the cracks. I pulled myself up. Early morning and the day was hiding behind the trees far off. Light poked through the black straws.
The fire was out, but it still smelled good. I kicked apart the pyre and scattered the ashes.
Dust to dust.
Packed up and carried on. I stared South at the horizon. Sarah was there. Maybe not at that rock, but just past it. I could feel her. She was sitting alone. She was cold. I took a step South and I stopped. ‘No she’s not. It’s too far.’ I was still, but only on the outside. Wind blew from the West.
I hung my head and walked North.
The water was still. I remembered waves and the image fractures in my head. The water was still now. I took off my pack and filled up the bottle. Full, I repacked it. I took off my glove for a minute and felt the cold. I dabbed my fingers in the water.
It was so cold.
Two fingers. Three. My whole hand. Left and right.
Waves. I made the first waves in a long time.
White-noise estuary sounds rang in my head. Ripples faded to nothing. I couldn’t make a wave big enough to save my soul. To save the world.
I dried my hand and replaced the glove. I walked along the bank until the sun was coming over me. I looked for a camp for the night.
Sitting in a corner beneath a rock, the water boiled until it was clean. It tasted good. I ate nothing for I carried nothing to eat. I blotted the hunger from my mind and prayed for the next day to bring something.
Sarah on our first date. She wore a white dress and I wore jeans. She laughed.
I slept sitting against the rock. It was cold against the fire.
Sarah on our last date. She wore a torn coat and I wore my spares. She cried.
I woke to rain again. Smelled the burning land. The sun was a pestilence and a torment from behind the curtain. I slept until it was at the zenith. The extra sleep repaid me and the pain in my legs was doubled from half-healing. If it never tries, it never fails. ‘I will be sure to be up on time tomorrow.’
I left the water after refilling the bottle. The pack was heavy still. I saw a building ahead. It was withered and dying, like everyone else was years ago. It was alone with the mountains.
I went over to it and knocked.
Nothing. I took out the blunted knife and opened the door. Wooden floors had soaked up water in places. I stepped around the weathered patches. Dusty fireplace and grainy photographs on the wall, nothing of use.
Damp bedding and empty drawers left ajar. Unmade beds and vacant cupboards. I had missed the event. I made camp in the master room. The bed was mostly dry, unmolded. I found a chocolate tin. It was full of photographs. I looked through them. None of them were people I knew. A couple of places seemed familiar, but that was before. Those places were gone now. Covered up, burnt out.
A girl in a photo stood out. She had Sarah’s smile. I thought of her now, forever smiling, laying there in the open. I saved her from the sickness. It tries to help me sleep at night, but it doesn’t work. A good evil is still just an evil.
The photos burned too quickly to keep up the fire so I burned the furniture too. The wardrobe doors first and then the armchair.
Dark green water oozed from the bottom of the mattress as I first laid on it. A spring stuck in me, but it was soft in the long run. I spread out, stretched my muscles. The fire faded and all was dark in the starless sky.
The day was bright before the sun arose and I was awake. Comfort was alien. The soft mattress was an iron maiden. I went downstairs and fell at the last step. My eyes were dying to stay closed. I conceded. I rolled away from the sun, rested my head on a plank. ‘Maybe Sarah will catch up while I’m asleep’. I regretted not keeping that peculiar rock. It would never move. It would lie where I left it and nobody would ever find her.
Night. I awoke terrified. I lashed at the darkness. Eventually I remembered and calmed down. Wind outside. I slept until daybreak.
I carried on walking North. It became steep and walking became a chore. Hours and then days were only jigsaw pieces of the month that was to be.
I stopped for a rest. Food was a fantasy and the rain hissed as it burned on my coat. Getting worse.
The valley before me, I recognised it. A painting on our wall. Sarah’s.
‘She’s all alone’.
So am I.
I sat for a long time, thinking. The rain got heavier.
The valley. Sarah. Life before. Life after.
I left my coat there and walked on.
A man walks alone amidst desolation, lamenting what he had left behind.
Published in the Lancashire Evening Post (LEP) on 5/2/2011.
It’s a bit raw and maybe I’ll rewrite it one day.