As he waved goodbye, his smiling face collapsed in exhaustion into his hands.
It’s ok…You’re ok…
It had been long. Far too long. Too beautifully, painfully long to begin to understand.
Breathe…slowly now, slowly…
He sank back into the chair, rubbing his temples. The wooden trunk before him creaked and moaned.
No, just stop…don’t…
The lid gently creaked open…
…very well, then…
Out broke a tangled network of rusted railways, humming with a cacophony of laughter, tunes, and tears. They beckoned him into himself, his inner world.
Just one…just take one…
With all the willpower he could muster, he crushed his world down to the size of a dime and balanced it on a ballpoint pen. He’d bent a few railways in the process, but at least it was all small enough that he could pretend he understood it. At least until he grabbed the first set of tracks in the tangle and began to tug.
As he slowly rolled his mind down the tracks, pulling rail by rail out of the tangle, the memories poured out on his bony fingers in a moan of relief. They burned his skin like acid as they fell, but they weren’t burning him from the inside anymore.
He had no excuse anymore. He had to untangle it.
Because he wasn’t alone anymore.
He looked to the crucifix on the wall. “Courage, dear heart…It will burn, but it is only a purging…I have already withstood these flames…”
Such a long conversation, at least in terms of its heaviness. Speaking in linear terms, it had been only a matter of minutes. But when his heart spoke, it went on murmuring for hours. It could either make the untangling delightfully easy or painfully difficult. And it always meant a new railway.
But it wasn’t something he could just stop; even as he untangled, his heart reveled in the words that passed from their lips into its lovingly prepared inner chambers. He was born to listen, to come as Simon to the crosses of others.
And yet he wondered if he would ever learn to open the wooden trunk, the doors to his inner life, before another.
“Hey, are you ok?”
No, no, no! They found it! They found you! They–
In the arms of his friend was a wooden trunk, creaking and moaning. Maybe he could–was it possible? Could anyone understand?
“Courage, dear heart…”
Could he set his world free? Let himself out?
His world began to stretch out, bend itself in a gentle arch towards this other…
…Very well, then.
“Actually, could we talk?”
“I will speak to you in the silence…but sometimes the best way to quiet your heart is to speak…Be not afraid, I have seen and redeemed your world, your life…Courage, be still…”
It’s been a long time since I tried my hand at short stories, and I’ve never really tried one in such a poetic style. But I kind of liked writing it, so I guess that’s all that matters.
Under normal circumstances (if there could be any such thing) Connely would have just raised his shield. But there was something that fought back, something that fell like an anvil between one side of his lifelong rut and the other. Something not quite like the other times.
Slowly, he lifted his shaded eyes to steal a glance at this passer-by. He had to make sure this time; there could be no mad rush, no clattering headlong, arms flailing and heart flying; the meeting of worlds was too austere for such behavior, he’d learned that (finally). If, of course, such a meeting was about to take place. There could be no certainty of that anymore, not now that his own world was buried somewhere in the shifting sands of his consciousness.
The glance was enough to confirm his anticipations and fears: their guards had come down, their eyes turned in at least a hint of interest at his own shadowy figure. He thought for a moment he saw a gleam, a spark, like the light he had so often heard of–what was it again? a star, a sun? something like that–but he couldn’t be sure; his shades had slowly grown darker over the years. It wasn’t wear and tear so much as the slow and deliberate hand of bitterness, wielding a pitch-black paintbrush in deadly strokes.
There wasn’t much use in walking on now–they’d seen him, and they knew he saw them too. He could try putting up his shield, maybe then he could–
No, it was too late now; his arm had gone all limp and tingly again. It looked bad enough from the outside, and the quivering shield left more than a few bruises. It had taken Connely years to put that shield together, forging it from broken ships that had wrecked on the outer reaches of his world and painting it carefully in the style of the day. But he’d never been trained in metalwork, and his hand was always too shaky to get the colors within the lines.
Not to mention he distrusted the thing, just like he distrusted everything else.
So he walked slowly to the group of faces now locked on him, trying to keep his cool. The usual introductions, the ceremonial lifting of the shades–
Connely reeled back, gasping, hands groping at his eyes. It was as if a billion lights had pierced his lungs and snatched away the mist hanging over his heart, like a thousand suns suddenly piercing the clouds and burning up the oceans.
They had looked on his world. Not just the stiff and proper outskirts–they had dared to look into the skylines, the slums, the steeples, the very streets themselves, teeming with life that was crying to be let outside the city walls. And yet it was so sudden that every last pulse, every internal tick, had fled deeper within to some ancient stronghold, long littered with broken memories and echoing with fearful whispers of phantoms that refused to die.
But they had seen his world.
For a moment, for once, he had a clear black-and-white choice: drop the shield and the shades and dive into their worlds as they dove into his, or stay safe behind his self-made walls and various defenses.
But he didn’t want to be safe anymore. Someone had dared to look into his soul the way he looked into theirs. Something about that was worth the fear of destruction.
So he lowered his shades and shook himself. “Sorry, the sun caught my eyes. What are your names again?”