Sunday, November 27, 2011

Here at the End of all Things

NOTE: I've done something here I typically don't do. I've written a bit of my novel out of sequence. I don't like doing that, because then I feel like a moron trying to connect the ongoing thread with this -- especially since I feel like this is the ending of the story. I guess we'll see how it goes. Why did I do it this way? Well, this part of the story kept nagging to come out. And NaNoWriMo pressure is building.

 “Guilt,” Yershi said.

“Long ago, long before I met you, I had a dream. A series of dreams, but all the same dream. I stood in a graveyard. There was no church nearby. It was an old pagan graveyard, long abandoned, in a forest clearing filling with creep. I had a vial of elixir in my hands. I thought, with the sun shining brightly overhead, it would be good to use the elixir, to test it on the corpses lying buried under the stones with the curled carvings. So here and there, I sprinkled drops of the elixir on the ground, which soaked it up. Soon the curls and filigrees on the stones began to spark and glow with that purple-silver glow we know so well – yes, I may have forseen that much,” he said.

Then he frowned. “I did not forsee enough,” he added.

“Next I switched to a churchyard at night, but under a friendly yellow moon smiling down on the lightning-bugs. Again, the vial. Again, I ran through the churchyard, gay as a schoolboy, sprinkling the elixir where I would. The busts of Christ opened their eyes and smiled on me, the stone angels flapped their wings. All seemed right. All seemed well.”

“Then I found myself in a dark alley of a city I knew well. In my hand, a bloodied knife. At my feet, a cooling corpse of a man I had just killed. One I was hired to kill. I remembered him well: A prosperous merchant of fruits and vegetables, named Arthur of Kent. A rival paid me five hundred groats to kill him, for he could not bear to see the other selling his turnips and carrots at prices below his own costs. I do not remember any special feelings in killing him. Sometimes, you see, I feel pity, or understand the envy, or relish the thought of dispatching a character even the mildest bit offensive. But for Arthur of Kent, there was nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing but a slit and spilt his blood quickly as he stared up at me, puzzled, trying to speak, but fading, fading. Fading.”

“To him, I fed a great draught of the elixir, in this my dream, in this my nightmare,” Yershi said. “He swallowed and sighed with his last breath. Some of the elixir bubbled out of the slit in his throat. But as it bubbled, it sealed and healed the wound. I sat there a long time, twenty, thirty, forty minutes, watching the still figure of Arthur of Kent as his breath and pulse came back. Soon, under that yellow moon, his eyes opened. He stared up at me uncomprehending. His voice caught, he coughed. His hand reached up to feel for the wound in his throat, the wound that was gone. He realized what had happened.”

“Was he happy?” I asked. “To return to life?”

“No,” Yershi said solemnly. “He burst into tears.”

“He wept bitter tears, tears I could not fathom,” he said. “’Why do you weep, man, you’ve come back fom that place many visit but from which they never return,’ I said to him. He looked at me though teary eyes and wept more.”

“I sat on the ground with him, sat in the pool of his own life blood, and comforted him. I cradled his heat in my arms as he wept. The moon continued its journey in the sky and soon passed behind the buildings looming over the alley, casting us both in shadow,” Yershi said. “When the light dimmed, the man spoke.”

“’You see the dimming of the moon,’ he asked me. ‘You feel the absence of the light.’”

“’I do,’ I said. ‘What does it mean?’”

“’You killed me, that I grant you, and for that I hate you,’ the man said. ‘Though that hate will fade in time. But then you brought me back to life. That, sir, is the cruelest trick of all.’”

“He wept a while longer and in shadow, in darkness, all I could do was cradle his head and watch the line of moonlight march up the walls of the house across the alley, up onto the roof and finally up the chimney until the moonlight climbed up the smoke pouring from it,” Yershi said.

“After a while, I found the courage to ask the question: ‘Why the cruelest trick?’”

“The man coughed and wheezed, waved his arms, tried to stand. I helped him to his feet. He was a bit wobbly. Once or twice, he slipped on the blood spilt in the alley. ‘I was with Martha,’ he said. ‘I was with my mother and father,’ he added. ‘I was with my brother Francis, my brother Albert, all passed on before me. We were in the greenest of meadows, dancing, shouting, hugging. A reunion. True, I had life left to live here, but with my wife gone, my family gone, and only the street urchins whom I fed on vegetables and bread to keep me company, I rather looked forward to a bit of rest. It was warm there. And pleasant. And you took it from me as easily and in the same cavalier manner with which you took my life. For killing me,’ he said, ‘I now find the strength to forgive you. But for bringing me into life again while tantalizing me with a vision of the life to come, I spit at you, sir.’ He stumbled off, supporting himself on the shadow-dappled buildings, coughing into the night.”

“My dream then shifted back to the pagan yard, to the church yard, where other souls, many long since unburdened of life, wept and wailed and screamed in torment as life flowed back into their limbs but the veil of forgetfulness refused to close to conceal to them once again the pleasures and restfulness of the life that follows the one we call so precious.”

“We do not know what we do not know,” Yershi said. “As the last Roman said: ‘Everything that is known is comprehended not according to its own nature but according to the ability to know of those who do the knowing.’ I know how to dispatch God’s creatures into death. To bring them back to life, that I also know. But it is beyond my knowing, perhaps beyond all knowing, to understand what it is like to be dead yet brought back to life, without that veil closing. Only the one knows that, and he knows all.”

Rell and the Lady wept silently as Yershi finished his story.

“The abbot seemed happy to be restored to life,” I said. “What you experienced is just a dream, perhaps.”

“Perhaps,” Yershi said quietly. “Perhaps. But perhaps just as easy as it is to take life, we should not make it as easy to restore life again. We do not always understand fate, nor the will of God.”

“It is time for you to leave,” the guard said.

Rell leaped from her seat and climbed up in Yershi’s lap, wrapping her arms around his neck. He looked surprised, then patted her on the back. “I’ll miss you, father,” she said as she wept.

He returned her embrace. “You I shall miss, my little squirrel.”

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