The Waiting

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
This man lives alone in nature. He is waiting. What is he waiting for? Why is he waiting?

Submitted: June 06, 2016

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Submitted: June 06, 2016

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The Waiting

It was a gentle summer’s evening and the sea was quiet.  The only sounds were the soothing lapping of waves upon sand and rock, the occasional cry of a seabird and a breeze flowing through the field of flowers and grass that formed the carpet of his home.

Home was a large outcrop of rock that had been chiselled over the years until it had an entrance extending some seven feet into the rock.  On either side of the doorway were ‘windows’ which had been carved several inches into the unyielding rock.  Inside the doorway he lived.  It was shelter, kitchen and bedroom to him.  He neither liked nor disliked it, for he did not think about it.  Most of the time he lived out in the open but used his home when the weather was too inclement, even for him.

It was placed, more or less centrally, in a great meadow that appeared to hang above the sea.  Behind his home, several hundred yards away was a wall of sheer rock that had the ruins of a castle above them.  The wall of rock had a small outpouring of fresh water that fell to a pool below and then meandered its way through the meadow and down to the small fishing village nestled below the meadow at the seashore.  A slight track led down from the meadow to the village below. From his home he had a clear view in all directions extending to right out to sea.

He was a hermit, a recluse who had withdrawn from society and he was waiting.  Quite what he was waiting for often occupied him until tired of his mind’s unending logical reasons for his behaviour, he had ceased to guess and simply got on with the business of waiting, watching and listening.

The sea snorted spray into the air and a whale broke the surface not far from the coast.  It brought him out of his reverie.  He smiled at the whale and knew only he was watching for nothing escaped his gaze.

He had almost forgotten how many years he had spent here keeping his vigil.  He had never faltered or veered away from his task and that in itself was a source of joy for him.  This simple task had proved to be an ever-opening book of wonders for him.  He had seen and learnt so much, especially of himself, that he felt truly alive and at one with himself and the life all around him.

It had taken time but he had come to realise that everything had a story from the smallest plant, struggling for life, in the meadow to the whale that had just breached.  He knew these stories intimately for he had learned the art of forgetting himself in order to be able watch and listen.

The cost of such simple joy had been high, not only in terms of time spent learning but also in the pain and suffering he had passed through to reach where he was now.

He still remembered it all, like it was yesterday…

As a young man setting out in life, he had had tried several jobs, never really settling on any direction.  Then he had met and fallen in love with his wife to be.  It did not matter that she was the boss’s daughter, for she loved him back in equal measure.  They married and were truly happy for a time.  After a year or so his daughter, Eleanor, came along and this coincided with his wife’s family setting him up in business.  He had determined to try his hand at running a small shipping business.  It seemed that his happiness and contentment was complete.

Then gradually, oh so gradually, a discontent began to take hold of him.  It started as a kind of numbness, a disconnect that infected his work and his home life.  At work he began to feel that he did not need to do anything as those around him kept everything running shipshape.  The business was doing well but it seemed to require less and less effort from him.  After a day in the office he would go home and feel the same peculiar disconnect, for his home seemed to run itself, centring on his wife and daughter.  He began to feel like a stranger in his own home.

This malady grew and grew.  He came home later and later.  He frequented pubs and gambling houses.  When his wife grew concerned and tried to talk to him to find out what was wrong he would fly into a rage and storm out of the house and sometimes stay away all night.  He could not tell her what the problem was for he did not know himself.

Part of him knew that this state of affairs could not continue.  The only way to feed his growing gambling and drinking addictions was by using money from the business.  One day his wife’s father and his solicitor visited him and told him that they were taking over running the business.  He could no longer be trusted for he had brought it to the brink of bankruptcy.  Her father clearly did this as a way of protecting his assets.  Disappointment was very clear in his father-in-law’s face.  The result was a deep rage, far greater than anything he had experienced up to now.  It scared him and he hid in yet another bottle.  At some point, in his alcoholic stupor, he realised that by now his wife must know what had happened and he must go home.

He arrived to find the house was in partial darkness and was empty save for his wife.  On entering he could see the disarray.  She was filling cases with clothes and belongings.  He asked what she was doing, a terrible dread in his voice.  She was leaving was the answer.  Their daughter was already where he would never find her and she would follow soon.  He asked why?  Her voice was now cold and distant as she explained, without emotion, that she had enough of the drinking, debts, anger and never seeing him.  It was over and she would waste no more time on what was now clearly ended.

Perhaps it was her voice, devoid of emotion or perhaps it was the last links in the chain of his life snapping but one of his great rages came upon him, fuelled by the alcohol.  With a great cry of “No!” He sprang at her and placed his hands round her throat and squeezed whilst looking away, tears pouring down his cheeks.  Her hands came up to his.  They were trying, in vain, to stop him.  He felt an onlooker in what was happening.  The numbness he felt was the centre of his hurricane rage. He kept on squeezing until he felt her body go limp and then the rage was blown out.

His arms were limp by his sides and all he could do was stare, in a stupor, at his wife. Only now, did he realise that he had killed her and just how much he had truly loved her.

His breath came out of him in great ragged sobs at the horror of what he had done and he resolved to end it all.  It seemed fitting and proper that he should join his wife in death.

This decision had the immediate effect of calming him.  He became very matter of fact as he found a rope and threw it over a rafter in the dining room.  He then made a noose at one end and tied the other end up; making sure that it was firm.  Next he placed a dining room chair under the noose and then stood on it.  His hands trembled as he placed the noose around his neck and drew it tight..  He stood for a few moments as he felt a reluctance to continue but the vison of his dead wife’s face swam before him and so with a great cry of self-loathing he kicked the chair away and found himself suspended in space with the knot of the noose draining the very life out of him.  Panic welled up and he became desperate to stop this madness but even as he willed himself to do nothing the rope frayed under his weight, for it was old, and then snapped.  He fell heavily to the floor and darkness rushed over him.

It was in that black, semi-conscious state that the Lady first came to him.  She radiated light where there was none. She was dressed in a white gown and her long black hair fell beyond her shoulders.  Her beauty was ageless but it was her eyes and indeed her whole demeanour that demanded his attention.

“You have done a great evil.  You know that it is wrong to take a life, including your own.  You were given life for a purpose, do not reject the gift.”  The words cut into him as surely as if he had been stabbed.

Guilt swarmed up inside him and brightened his cheeks with shame.  A little of his former rage fuelled his reply,

“But what have I left? My life is in tatters, wasted.  What little that I have achieved is now gone, useless.  What purpose has my life served? Let me go and be with my wife.”

“Your life has not been useless, but you have not understood your purpose.  You have been unhappy for a long time.  Even now it is not too late.  Take heart, find courage and live your life as you want.”

“That is the problem. I do not know what I want; I have never known what I truly wanted.”  He whispered.

There was silence for a time as if the Lady was considering something.  She held him in her gaze.  He felt keenly that her eyes were looking into the very depths of his being.

“Then I will set you a task until you find your purpose.  I want you to live here and keep a vigil.”  Then an image appeared in mid-air of a hillside with a large solitary outcrop of rock and a huddle of a village at the sea’s edge.  He recognised the place as being one he had visited several times in his childhood. 

He knew that a vigil involved watching and waiting.

“How long should I keep this vigil for and what is it exactly that I am waiting for?” He asked. His curiosity was now rearing its head.

Looking into her eyes he saw such a look of love and compassion that he quickly looked away in embarrassment.

“Know that this task is not easy nor is it short.  I cannot say how long you must wait for but you will know when the waiting is over.  Know also that this task is for you and you alone.  Are you prepared to endure and wait even if it takes the rest of your life?

Then it seemed to him that here was a task whose purpose was simple and pure.  It would give him the reason to live that he so badly needed.

He did not trust himself to speak again to the Lady but simply nodded his assent to carrying out the vigil.

The Lady smiled a smile that switched on a light in his heart.

“That is good.  You have chosen life over death. Now sleep deep and awaken to new purpose and life.”

She bent forward and kissed him on the forehead and then was gone.  The darkness rushed back and he knew no more.

When he awoke the next morning the rope was no longer around his neck and he was in a blanket.  he felt deeply refreshed and on opening his eyes was amazed to see his wife asleep in a chair beside him.  He hardly dared to touch her to see if he was dreaming but she awoke with a start and jumped up, very afraid of his touch.  He could see the red marks of his hands around her throat.  She was trembling with fear.  Tears streamed down his face as he begged her forgiveness and said that he was leaving and would never bother her again.  She nodded and pointed to paper and pen, for she was unable to speak.  He passed the paper and she wrote what she could not say.

When she had come round she was all for having him imprisoned for attempted murder but then she found him unconscious with the frayed rope around his neck and she began to understand some of his pain. She resolved to stay until he was ready to leave.  For leave he must do and never come back.  He agreed and wrote a letter giving his consent to a divorce and settling his estate in her favour for he had determined to leave everything behind and start anew.  She promised that the authorities would never know what had happened here.

Then a few days later he found himself at the little village next to the sea.  He saw the cliff overlooking everything and below it the outcrop of rock that was facing towards the sea.

There he began his vigil, watching, listening and always waiting.

 

It had been a long time since he had seen the sea so calm.  Summer was at its height and warmth and light was everywhere.  Then he remembered that it was not always so.

Pain had been the currency to grow used to his outdoor life.  The first winter had been filled with a cold that he never knew existed.  The driving snow had tested his determination and courage to stay to the limit but there had been rewards.  In this time he had kept warm by chiselling and hammering further into the rock until he could lie in it protected from the elements.  He had marvelled at how the Spring had arrived, imperceptible, at first but then took hold.  The way that the life of the meadow woke up after the long sleep of Winter, beckoned by the returning light had been a revelation.  Life, in its myriad forms flowed around him and he felt privileged to be a part of such wonder.

Then there had been the villagers from below.  Curiosity drove them to see this man who lived out of a rock.  At first they had regarded him with deep suspicion, muttering and then hurling insults if they happened to come within hailing distance.  Occasionally young boys would come and throw stones at him but these he ignored even when they drew blood.  He had simply continued with his vigil.

Some had tried to talk with him.  He tried as best as he could to explain what he was about.  The village for a long time was divided in its opinion of him.  Some thought him a madman who should be moved on and others considered him a kind of holy man who should be respected and looked after.  Then a deal was struck for he agreed to tend their sheep and goats during the spring and summer months as they fattened on the long meadow grass.  In return they left him food, blankets and used clothes and boots which helped him endure the cold nights.  In time the village accepted him and even came to consider him as their own hermit.

Now the years had rolled by like the seasons and those boys who had thrown those stones in ignorance all those years ago could be heard chastising their children for doing the same.

Always watching and waiting…

Yet another autumn was rolling in. Although he enjoyed this season he was beginning to grow worried.  He knew the sea in all her moods and he could quite clearly tell that she was gearing up to vent a wrath that he had not seen in many years.  The wind was beginning to howl and the rain was lashing in from the sea.  Great waves were beginning to form out at sea and venture ever closer to the shoreline before spending themselves.

Suddenly he knew that the village was in danger of flooding or worse of being swept away in the great anger of the sea.  He jumped to his feet and went down to the village clutching a lamp.  He was shouting to villagers to grab what they could and get to high ground but to hurry as there was not much time.  Many did not know who he was for they had not set eyes on him for some time.  Some seeing the truth in his face mumbled thanks and rushed to grab what was needed and then climb up the track to the meadow.  Others opened their doors to see what the fuss was all about and seeing who it was dismissed him as a madman, saying it will blow over by morning and shut their doors in his face. 

He led what villagers would come up the track and then across to the shallow cave in the cliff face nearby that would provide a degree of shelter and safety.  They huddled in together against the cliff and the wind seemed to lessen around them as they looked out. From here they could clearly see the rooftops of the village and were horrified for they could see great waves breaking over the harbour walls and beginning to swamp the nearest houses.  The seawater was pouring into the houses nearest the harbour walls. 

One of the villagers cried out “Look over there” and pointed out to sea.  A ship, could be clearly seen, driven by the storm, her masts were down and her sails were in tatters.  She was heading for the rocks that surrounded the entrance to the bay.  Then a great tearing noise could be heard, even up on the cliff face, as the rocks outside the harbour bit into the hull of the ship.  It started to break up with an agonising slowness. The villagers could see people moving on the deck but it is clear they had nowhere to go.  It seemed that they must follow the ship into the sea and drown or be dashed on the rocks.

Suddenly he knew that this was the time that he has been waiting for, all these years.  Realisation dawned that only he knew the ways of these waters.  Only he could do something about the plight of those on the ship.  He knows that he could not just stand by and watch the inevitable happen.

He turned and starts to head down the track back to the village.  There bobbing against the harbour wall he found a rowing boat. He boarded and cast off and slowly began to row his way towards the wreck.  The sea is heaving in a maze of different, chaotic directions, but he knew the story of these waters from long years of looking and listening and he found what little there was in the way of safe channels and slowly came closer to the wreck.  Great effort is required and he is cold and soaked through.  But he is indifferent to it all having been hardened to these elements by his years in the meadow. There are six people on the deck and seeing him come they throw a rope over the side.  Finally he reached the rope and holding on he shouts for them to climb down and come aboard.  Some are reluctant and scared for they cannot see how such a small boat will survive the journey back to land.  As if in answer the ship groans and cracks start to appear in her decking.  There is not much time left.  The remainder of the passengers clamber down the rope and onto the small rowing boat.

Over the great noise of the storm he tells the men to take up the oars with him and he will steer them. Slowly he leaves the rocks and heads into the harbour.  As they pull away some of the women point back to the ship. It has now broken up and sinks into the maelstrom of sea as if it had never been.  It takes a huge effort to ride the waves.  Somehow guided by the hermit the little boat reaches the harbour and all clamber out onto land.  Wave after wave threatens to wash them back into the sea. Quickly he guides them out of the village and up to the cliff face where the entire village have now gathered.  They come to meet the exhausted survivors and wrap them in blankets, including the hermit, to keep them warm.

He can clearly see the faces of the survivors and finds himself drawn to one of them, a woman.  Exhausted as he is he lumbers to his feet and lurches towards her.  She is already deep asleep in a blanket but he sees a locket around her neck.  Why does she look so familiar to him?  He then realises that the locket is also very familiar. Without thinking he opens the locket and gasps for there is a picture of him as he was many years ago.  In it he is joined by what he now remembers as his wife and young daughter.  Then he realises that this woman, in front of him, is Eleanor, his daughter that he had long thought he would never see again.

He began to tremble with exhaustion and the shock of this revelation.  He moved away from the others and sat down to think this through but sleep rushes over him.

For the second time in his life he feels blessed in the presence of the Lady.  She is in front of him radiating a golden light, an enigmatic smile on her face.

She smiles at him and says “The vigil is finished.  You have completed your task.” 

As she said this he understood clearly that this had been his task and his alone.  It had taken years to prepare for what he had just done.  He saw now how the Lady’s vigil had slowly shaped and prepared him for what was to come.  He recognised the signs of atonement for the actions of his previous life and how his evil had now been transformed into good.  He felt as though a debt had finally been paid and a great weight was lifting.

The Lady continued, “It is time to go.” 

He smiled in return and knew without asking where it was that he was going.  He had no regrets, he was ready.

Eleanor woke up to find the storm was ended.  She was given hot food and drink by one of the village women. She asked where was the man who saved her life?  The woman pointed to a man nearby who was sat away from everybody else and looking out to sea and explained that he had taken a great interest in her locket.  Looking down she saw that the locket was still open.

She stood up and decided to walk over and thank the man who had saved her life.  Then it was her turn to be shocked by a revelation.  For she now recognised her long lost father.  Despite the age and weather beaten look of the man in front of her it was the man in the locket.  She sobbed as she touched him lightly on the shoulder to get his attention but there was no response.

Her thanks tumbled out of her, for saving her life, for ensuring that her daughter still had her mother, for ensuring that her mother still had her daughter.

Still there was no response. Indeed there was no movement of any kind.

Finally she looked directly into his face and tears flooded down her face as she realised that those eyes were not looking out to sea but were now facing a much greater horizon that she was not yet ready to follow.

 


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