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“Steve struts sexily down the street…” Steve sang to the beat of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” blaring on his earphones. He liked the song because it mentioned him and often changed the lyric to whatever mood fit him.
He swaggered out of the barbershop with his sleek new haircut—a messy quiff—his fitted black Calvin Klein T-shirt that made his muscles bulge, and his low-cut jeans with whiskering on the front. Steve felt like a modern, hotter James Dean.
“Are you ready for this!” He sang (off-key) at an old woman who blew a raspberry and yelled “fool!” as she hurried away.
Steve was undeterred, nothing could stop him, and he shuffled his feet in time to the music while bobbing his head from side to side.
He almost stopped cold when he saw a goddess heading his way. Oh mama, the girl was hot, with legs that went on for days, tight miniskirt, swaying hips and a bod so fine… He licked his lips and smirked. Other men glanced at her and through the music he heard their wolf-whistles. The goddess walked on, eyes fixed straight ahead and unflinching, aloof to the men’s attentions. Steve grinned, those other guys had nothing on him.
He bopped and approached the goddess while in his ears Brian May did his guitar thing. The goddess was gliding straight for him, and as Steve prepared to belt out the song and get her attention, someone pulled the ground out from under him. He hovered in the air for an instant, then fell into blackness; sharp pain scraped his forearms and knees. One earphone fell out and hung pathetically by its cord.
Steve gazed up at the round hole of light above him. A shadow passed, and he glimpsed long bare legs in red shoes; the click, click, click of high heels resounded on the cavernous walls of the manhole as they walked away.
“Hey, buddy, you okay?” A construction worker in a hard hat peeked down at him, “don’ worry, we’ll get ya out!”
Steve smelled something nasty and looked down at his feet. He was shin-high in sewage muck and his lips quivered when he realized he’d ruined his brand new Nikes.
“Another one bites the dust!” Freddie Mercury sang out of his dangling earphone, the voice tinny, yet a powerful punch to Steve’s pride.
I sat on the window-seat and glanced at the fountain at the end of the garden as it spurted cheerful gurgles; I thought about the day to come.
The sun had set and blue shadows glimmered on the water. The trees morphed into tall wooden figures, like giants come down from their beanstalks. Crickets and cicadas chirped in the warm summer evening, and, together with the soft bubbling fountain and the distant croak of frogs, they created a natural melody that filled the garden with harmonious sound.
I smiled and extended my hand with fingers outstretched as the fading light twinkled on my ring. The colorful display of reflected light danced before my eyes and I sighed, content.
Somewhere in the house a door closed and the sound of footsteps reverberated on the walls. I leaned my head on the window frame and gazed out. Another door closed and more footsteps pattered through the silent house. These last were heavy and a soft prickle of apprehension needled my heart. I knew these footsteps, and though I wanted to get up and follow, I remained seated at the window, my eyes fixed on the fountain.
Night fell and the soft path-lights illuminated the stone structure of two intertwined fish. The fountain was a tribute to the Pisces constellation whose billions of stars spun light years away from Earth.
I heard the clack-clack of high heels on the dark stone path, followed the thud-thud of manly footfalls. Two shadows appeared, and I watched as they reached the fountain.
In the dim light of the path a man and a woman met. They embraced and kissed, unaware of my watchful gaze.
My eyes filled with tears when the soft light shone on his face and I recognized the man who’d said he loved me and asked me to grow old with him.
I turned my face away; in the darkened room, I glimpsed the ghostly shadow of my wedding dress hanging on the perch.
The wedding day dawned and the servants and guests stirred.
A cry rang through the house.
The bride had vanished; her dress still on its perch, white and desolate in the morning light.
Darren lay on the meadow, pebbles sticking into his back through his T-shirt. He loved spending time among the trees and often felt he had a special connection with nature. Sometimes he thought the trees reached out to him, as if they wished to tell him a secret. He would then close his eyes and listen, but could never understand the message.
On this occasion, bathed in the warm sunlight, his mind was on the ground, how wet and cool and lumpy it was. He breathed in the grass, the moss and damp earth. With closed eyes, he thought about the millions of feet that had walked upon the piece of dirt on which he lay. Animals, insects, birds and humans, how many had trampled here?
Minutes passed, and he noticed a slow and steady thumping; he opened his palm and touched the ground. It pulsed, thud, thud, thud, louder and stronger as if footsteps, big stomping footsteps approached. Darren opened his eyes, and a shadow fell across the pastel blue sky. He turned his head to one side just as a boot stomped beside his shoulder. Another plunked down by his hand.
Traipsing boots and gaiters soon engulfed Darren; the pungent scent of leather and mud stung. The ground shook with the footfalls, and the boom of the march so near his ears sounded like cannonballs. He lay motionless, heart racing, while above him the sky turned red, and a reeking cloud of wool, metal and gunpowder seared his nostrils.
As the boots marched away, Darren sat up and glimpsed the backs of British soldiers, their long red coats, muskets, bayonets and tricorn hats fading into the forest. Darren wanted to stand up and rush after them, but the sun was too bright and the heat weighed heavy on him. He lay back down and closed his eyes.
The setting sun was casting an orange hue over the meadow when Darren awoke. He perked his ears and listened for footsteps, but heard nothing except the sounds of the evening forest. Darren walked home—his own footfalls loud in his ears—wondering whether the troop had been a dream or the specters of a long-dead reality.
I write to you from the old tavern on the edge of town. There is a hustle and a bustle around me, but all I see through the window is the old medieval castle, its ruins calling as the wind blows down the long unpaved path. It rests upon a small hill, and an old, forgotten vineyard stretches out beneath its fairy-tale turrets.
All around me the sound of cars, people, dogs, and the endless hum of generators fill my ears to the point of explosion. I close my eyes and hear only the soft breeze as it winds through the overgrown grapevines, and rustles through the trees that line the path towards the ruins. I hear the soft clop of hooves and I feel as on the threshold of time.
People here say no one goes up that way anymore. Strange things happen to all those who venture up there. Some say evil lives there, others say it’s an Angel that haunts that place.
The barman claims his neighbor’s father walked up that path at midnight, in search of the Devil. A short time later, the man and his family bought properties in and around the town. He became the wealthiest man about.
“But what good was all his money,” the barman said, “when all his children died one after another, like dominoes. Only my neighbor, the youngest, survives, and he is ill and childless. The Devil always gets his due.”
He wipes down the bar as if wiping away the whole affair.
“My grandfather went up that way,” a lady chimes in. She sits at the end of the bar, beer before her, listening.
“He and my grandmother were poor as church mice. They would traipse through the woods in rags and bare feet collecting firewood to sell. One winter night, they found themselves at the edge of the path and saw a light in the tower. The place was deserted since time began. Grandfather said the light flickered, and a voice whispered in their ear, and such images of warmth and comfort filled their minds they longed for the light. So, without thinking, he said, they trudged the frozen path. At the gate they met an angel, so bright and kind. He smiled at them and said they would never be cold again. He carried a staff, and with it, struck the ground. The Angel vanished. Where he stood, my grandfather said, there remained a spark. It looked like something shining, he said, and he dug it up. They found a small hoard of gold that night, right at the gates. They were never cold again.”
The lady smiles as she sips her beer.
“I think,” she continued, “whether you meet Devil or Angel, depends on your intentions. So if you go up there, please thank the Angel for the wonderful life he gave me and my family.”
The sun set while I listened in the tavern. I step out onto the darkened street and look at the castle. There is a light in the tower.