Undecided XX

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
nothing really to say...

Submitted: February 07, 2013

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Submitted: February 07, 2013

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“In youth, the days are short and the years are long. In old age, the years are short and the days are long.” As a young man, I had never been able to fully appreciate this wisdom, masterfully captured by the Pope so many decades ago. Now that I was withered and frail, however, I understood the Holy Father’s cautioning undertones. But, alas, time never lapses, never stops to pity the ones who do not understand its meaning. Its warning.

There are times when the days are particularly dreary and I lay on the couch, plunged into a century of rumination and nostalgia. At times, during these long periods of remembrance, when my mental defenses are down and the dam holding back the flurry of emotions is breached, the old man’s face shimmers back into the visible spectrum, smiling down at me from above the fireplace. In the candlelight, his wise and knowing face seems all the more real as it takes me back to a certain hearth somewhere in a cave on the snow capped mountains of northern Italy.

I never really understood his intentions, his motives. Never understood his philosophy on life, through the good times and the bad times. Never understood how to ask him, for he wasn’t one to give direct answers. Never understood and never will.

However, unguided, the memories flood in by the thousands, releasing my soul from the shackles of the real world by the sheer force of that hurricane of recollection. As my conscience is lifted out of this dimension and flung into the past, my weak old body is transformed into the figure of a young man.  My strength is returned to me and my senses are heightened as the sad old shell that used to be my prison crumbles away to dust. And in this ethereal realm of reminiscence, the old man is reincarnated as I relive the decade I spent with him in the Alps.

 

“Memory... the soul from the past, the harbinger of the future, the guiding light for prosperity.” And no words could better captivate the essence of the blessing we now know as recollection. I would be nothing without it, a doomed old man, suspended in the limbo, wracked by the constant pain of relentless amnesia. Even though the memories might not all be joyous, they help us better understand who we are – by showing us who we were.

My original home, the one I still recall with vivid detail decades later, was settled in the much admired French countryside, a three story beauty in the midst of a lush green biome. To the south, the legendary Alps towered, casting their cool shadow over our fields, shielding us from the unyielding heresy of the burning summer sun.

But during my nineteenth, and last, year on that farm, the magnificence was greatly marred by the dreading anticipation of an imminent war. The day before the initial bombing, the entire countryside was struck with fear, holding its breath, waiting for the inevitable. My family members were still tending to mundane tasks, acting indifferent towards the war looming over the horizon. Nevertheless, behind the peaceful façade, panic lurked, waiting for the chance to take control.

The first night, the bombing was the worst. Our beautiful house was obliterated, our livestock were mutilated by shrapnel, and the once evergreen environment had been savagely deforested. Yet the shelling continued, like the pulsing of water in a dam, never yielding, never lapsing. The very ground itself was driven up into the air, disfiguring the once exalted landscape. 

 Before long, the countryside was a hideous blackened wasteland. Certain places were left untouched, spared from the heavy shelling, but much too few to retain the magnificent image the land once held. Everything now was just a pale reflection, a shadow of what it used to be. What it could have been.

Finally, my parents decided that it was time to leave. Even though all our wealth was stored in that property, our lives were deemed far more important. And so they went to purchase train tickets to Italy, saying they would be back in a few days. I even remember them kissing me on the forehead, telling me to watch over the others.  

Yet they never returned. Never came back for their lost children.

I was left with my brother and sister, waiting in that charred terrain we used to proudly call home. The shelling had stopped and the armies had supposedly left, as did all of the residents. We were the only ones left.

Approximately two months after the first bomb dropped in our beautiful countryside; the Nazi army broke down the gates of Paris and took control of the capitol, simultaneously launching campaigns to conquer all of France. However, no one really knew why the Germans had wasted artillery shells bombing an insignificant village at the base of the Alps. No one really wanted to know either. The damage was done. The peace shattered. The lives taken. Nothing else mattered.

But by the time the armies took Paris, my siblings and I were already gone, fled into some cave in the mighty Alps – the final protection, the last sanctuary, shielding us from the war raging outside. Unfortunately, in exchange for privacy and isolation, the mountains reduced us to primordial creatures, forcing us to lose our fastidiousness. Maybe even some of our sanity. 

However, the Holy Spirit wasn’t done handing out punishment just yet. Even though I’d lost my parents and my home, there was still a whole payload of pain and sorrow waiting ahead of me. But loss and anguish are an integral part of life. And my odyssey hadn’t even started yet.

Only mine though.

As any person knows, the Alps aren’t above danger. As a matter of fact, mountains contain a disproportionate amount of risk. The seemingly peaceful Alps were home to entire ecosystems, with fearsome predators sitting at the top. But the Fates were cruel and the design they created for the future involved the last remnant of my family meeting one of the top contributors of death in the wild.

I was out gathering food that calamitous afternoon. My brother and sister were back in the cave, preparing a fire with some matches. Everything was tranquil, like the calm before a storm. I had taken the only knife with me to defend myself. But who would’ve guessed they needed it more than me. Much more than me.

In fact, without it, they never stood a chance.

When I came back, I called out their names from a distance, fully expecting them to greet me. When no one answered however, I broke into a run, mild panic wrestling for control in my brain. By the time I got to the cave, I couldn’t make sense of all the blood, splattered around the cave and extending outside in the opposite direction. I gripped the knife until my knuckles turned white and followed the crimson trail, willing myself not to scream. At least not till the very end.

 The path ended in a clearing, where I stopped moving, gazing at the beast on the other side of the glade. My heart pulsed out of control as fear etched itself into the deepest recesses of my brain. However, I compressed my whirlwind of emotions as I proceeded towards the killer, rage building with every step. By the time the bear detected me, I was already twenty yards away from him.

Advancing, I caught sight of a body, cold and lifeless behind the monster. My mental faculties were slow and I hesitated, not comprehending what I was seeing. After a few seconds of hesitant silence, something inside me clicked. Two neurons connected and full realization crashed down upon me with the force of a meteorite hitting earth. The body was my brother’s.

Something snapped inside me and I charged the five hundred pound menace. The bear whipped around to face me and roared, indicating he accepted my challenge. However, I didn’t wait for the formalities. I just ran, swinging my knife around with an uncharacteristic ferocity, for I had nothing to lose anymore. I was beyond reason, held together in this world by fury and adrenaline alone. As the last spiritual anchor lifted, my sanity was eradicated as rage coursed through my veins like an endless river of chaos.

 The suppressed hurricane of emotions ever since the Nazi army invaded was released and like a streak of lightning, I leaped towards the bear, crackling with berserk energy. My senses dulled as my adrenal cortex forced the rest of my brain onto its knees. I barely felt the force at which he met me in midair. I was the embodiment of pure energy, no longer human, no longer sane, a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut drawing from a vast amount of boundless energy. And as steel clashed with bone, my world utterly dissolved into a blur of red and brown as my own feral screams drowned out the thundering roars of my foe.

“Only when something is taken away do you finally realize the full importance of it.” It took the pain of losing my entire world to get me to at last understand the significance of life. And how quickly it can vanish, leaving behind only sorrowful memories. But back then, I was too young to comprehend this simple fact: change is a many headed hydra, with some aspects more malicious than others. However, without change, nothing on Earth could’ve come to be. And perhaps, certain changes in my life were for the better – a question I would later ponder for decades without answer.  

“Boy.”

Deep inside my conscience, something stirred. Something that felt ancient, as old as time itself. I couldn’t quite grasp it, though, for the sliver of life danced just out of my reach.

“Boy.”

The word seemed to resonate through my subconscious mind, filling me with energy. I hesitated, gathering strength, then lunged impossibly far. My hand closed around that sliver from the real world triumphantly. A blast of multicolored light burst forth from my hand, basking me in its heavenly glow. I felt my soul returning to the world, conjoining with my body once more. The long wait was over but, alas, the pain had not yet begun. For now, though, I was alive.  

My eyelids fluttered open.

“Ah, my boy. You are awake.”

My eyes scrambled to adjust to the bright light of the outside world.

“Who are you?” I managed to croak out. Regret followed instantaneously as pain flowed through my throat, setting my nerves on fire.

“Who, me?” The mysterious man asked. “Oh, I’m no one important. In fact, soon I’ll just be a memory, a dim glow surrounded by thousands of more radiant flares. Now you on the other hand should rest.”

“No, no… I think I should get up now.” My throat felt marginally better as the pain slowly sapped away. Unfortunately, my vision was still blurred over. I propped myself up so that I was sitting rather than lying.

“Well then, have this at least.” The man turned to face me, holding out a cup of water. He helped me raise the cup to my lips. As the cool liquid trickled down my throat, the pain seemed to subside, relinquishing its iron grip on my sensory neurons. At the same time, my vision seemed to clear and I got my first good look on the mysterious man.

My first impression was that he seemed old. Incredibly so. Wrinkles covered his face like a vast expanse of sandpaper. His lips were dry and cracked, seemingly ancient. But his eyes had a positive glow to them, twinkling with a fulfilling yet somewhat mischievous light. And something about him seemed powerful, almost deadly. He seemed…

“Well, do you feel better?” The old man broke my train of thought.

Only when he mentioned it did my brain finally click. A light bulb seemed to go off in my head and the questions came tumbling out like an endless avalanche.

“Where am I? What’s your name? How long have I been out? What was that liquid you gave me? Where are my siblings?”

And as that last question escaped my lips, an unspeakable thought dawned on me, trapping me in its deathly cage. I doubled over in pain as my subconscious mind answered the question for me.

The old man’s face darkened. “Ah, I’m afraid your brother and sister did not entirely make it here.” He paused. “They are no longer with us. I’m sorry.”

And just like that, his confirmation on the whereabouts of my siblings ignited an unquenchable flame, a fire as old as time itself. During the period of time after my fight, an abominable creature sought refuge in my brain. Nothing mattered then and so I let it in. Now, with the old man’s confirmation serving as the catalyst, the creature was wrenched out of my subconscious in the form of a spectacular wildfire. The leaping flames threatened to burn through the threads of my world, threatened to cast me into a deep dark abyss from which I would never return.

The old man sighed, once again breaking my thoughts. After a few seconds, he spoke. “But remember, my child. Loss is an important part of life – a test to see whether one can triumph over despair. And those who pass are those who will ultimately prosper in this world. If you can’t remember anything else, remember that.”

Just like that, the flames diminished. The old man proved to be a firefighter, temporarily subduing the vast expanse of flames. Confusion and curiosity replaced depression.

“What is that suppose to mean?”

The old man was silent for a long time. “It means,” he finally said. “It means that the ones who succeed are often the ones who learn to keep the anguish and despair at bay. Loss and death will always exist in the world. But one can fight them off, triumph over the evils. Those who can’t… well no one would know better than you, eh?”

His words still didn’t make a whole lot of sense. However, I pushed that aside for now. “So… will you answer my other questions?”

“Ah… well, you are currently in one of the 5942 existing caves in the Alps. You’ve been unconscious for two days now. The liquid I gave you is called water. Don’t know if you’ve heard of it.” He winked at me. “And as for my name, well, you can just call me sir. If that doesn’t bother you.”

He paused. “Also, judging from the way you charged that bear, I’d say I’m the only family you have left. So I guess I’ll have to take ‘responsibility’ of you from now on. Any objections?”

“Wait… what did happen that day with the bear?” I asked, slightly confused.

“You got into a fight with a grizzly, I rescued you out. Oh, you know, the whole works.”

“But… how did you do that? It’s not possible!”

 

“Let’s not dwell too much on the past now, shall we.” The old man said. A blatantly obvious attempt to change the subject. “I finally have someone to talk to and you can learn to restart your life. Live a new chapter. I think that’s sufficient for now.”

“Yeah okay. Fine.” I grumbled. “So what now?”

“I would imagine you’re starving. Come.” The old man said, rising up. “Let me teach you how to hunt. The real way.”


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