At dawn, before light, we bathe in a cold creak with rising mists, and at water’s edge is an old forsaken cabin with the front door caved in and windows smashed out. Its exterior is prolifically graffitied, the entrance hall and living room littered with dirt, refuse, though the bedrooms have mattresses on frames with springs, and were not so messy or filthy we couldn’t tidy them up and rest with ease and some degree of comfort.
Bathing, we scrub ourselves coarse with pumice, as any bars are bone-dry and merely produce scum, cleaning up best as the discoloured animal-based soaps allow. Raw and chapped from the stone, skin feels like paper crinkled within the careless pleating of bound pages. However, I recall the ice-melt from receding snowbanks up in the mountains, and am glad to know sun will shine hot and day stand clear even in the springtide cool.
Sunlight is peaking through the dark mantle of trees surrounding in the valleys sheltering the cabin and false lake. In the dimness a little way off is Alcibiades, who in chagrin appears weaker this morning, this especially in the exercise of clandestinely attempting to cowl manhood - made ever fragile since immediate moral⸮ defeat.
Seeing him, I think about how one feels sometimes in a changing current and start thinking on things one remembers to consider after shifted tides, such as the decolonization of dichotomy, and then how little good social victories did to make way before the end, and that it all matters not to Alcibiades whose mind now is blotted with black memory.
Black memories are the hardest of any to integrate, of course, and he is a sheep without flock in fields foreign and potentially dangerous, but I may yet help shepherd him.
‘Please, I can’t help being sorry, Henry,’ he bemoaned in the evening like a bled pheasant. ‘What if he died - if I had gone so far, enough to finish him?! What if I killed?’
‘Damnit, jackass - you did not do a damned thing at all!’ I’d finally rebutted, slapping him solidly across the face, breaking a blood vessel in stricken cheek.
His eyes were wet and the horrific expression on face far more twisted than anything I deemed he was guilty of. In the hour that followed I told him a million things which often I ruminated on myself, that I may or may not have believed, yet nonetheless were true and which mental was incapable of successfully computing. Presentation of how mind portrays past is far more nefariously intrusive than the reality of it ever was, and dark remembrance will squash you plumply if you don’t buildup the proper mechanisms.
I know how it will probably play out for him: day forth always to check for something, this-part that-part another-part, most former parts substituted to acquiesce compulsiveness, capitulation to a demand fabricated inside ribonucleic structure.
With clean shirts and rudimentary supplies siphoned into an old cork backpack, we start into the hills in the direction of a village portended by hiker signage to be three kilometres northwest. Soft, modulated daylight blankets the satyr’s forest. Bygone an hour of mindless trekking, we are upon a modest lake, and a swimmer treading an inlet.
She is dark, beautiful and nude as she climbs out of the water where we spot her through the trees. Her articles for dress are aground before us, and I realize the past few days have been delirious though wonder, and as she comes closer know it to be true.
The girl plucks a towel hanging from a nearby branch, wraps herself and with a haughty, nymphic reticence steps towards us as if perhaps we have not yet seen her. She seems ready to pounce, bent, face messed up angrily, then retreats opposite of us.
She is without a doubt the young woman from the fighting pits, who spurned the drunken soldier and whose plight had spurred the very real clash at the recreational battlegrounds. Now, poised across from where we stand stupidly, she brandishes a spear-hewn oak branch with a thick-bladed, red-rusted dagger tied to its end with tape.
‘We are sorry - quite sorry,’ I say. ‘I promise we mean no harm.’
‘It’s you - you’re the whole reason I almost killed someone,’ says Alci.
This grave proclamation might be the most honest thing I have ever heard - not in technicality but in delivery - and as too the girl senses this she lowers the weapon. A white gown now she is wearing billows softly, see-through in the morn breeze with shrouds of fog clouding the air around, somehow Herculean amidst the pre-afternoon exposure.
‘We fought in honour of your dishonour, caused by that soldier’s indecent and ignoble offence,’ I say. ‘Some died and there were many others certainly injured - worst of all will be the intolerance of the military-government to the public challenge this entire affair tenders nationwide. Surely, we are marked for death. Could we help another?’
For a moment she considers us intensely, a pretty girl with cut jaw, nice skin and large eyes, then departs along the footpath way she disappeared prior. Momentarily we follow, assuming she meant for us to, and come out of the lakeside wood unto large granite steps inlaid on an ascent towards a white-blue cottage above. She is roughly halfway towards the place, silent, steady, wind pressurizing the silken fabric of gown against her naked sprinter’s figure, goes inside at the threshold, closes the wooded door.
As we loiter, several minutes later she emerges in maidservant pants like hospital scrubs and a knit woolen turtleneck sweater which bulges at the throat. Atop the stone slab entrance platform, she looks over us as a duchess might behold peasants afield.
She waits. ‘You may come up,’ she says.
We go up slowly and slightly spread out, as men will in certain circumstances where women could be vulnerable, in order to signify a lack of ill-intentions.
‘Why are you here?’ she asks abruptly, directly before us inside underneath a low clay-based ceiling.
‘Deserters,’ answers Alci. ‘There are many else who quit, informally.’
‘We were never really a part of it, regardless. Not seriously.’
‘You must make me believe you very quickly if you expect I shan’t boot you out of here right now.’
Her accent is velvety French in the European way with a hint of something less revealing, obscure. There’s a table further within, in an alcove room aside the kitchen, and I nod to signal this as a space for us to confer, reveal all she might want to know.
Our discourse ensues into the evening, at some point trust is a given and by dark, like reunited friends, we light candles and chat into the night about things usually spoken of with broken hearts, swapping what might only be considered war (horror) stories.
‘I fled along the embankment soon as I got free of him,’ she elucidated. ‘Then I think some others did, as well. I don’t know for certain. It all was bonkers.’
‘That soldier was a motherfucker,’ posits Alci.
‘Maybe, though I’m not so sure it was his fault. Nor the boy inside who once was inducted into this shit. By this point he’s at the stage of just outputting input.’
‘Of course, I would feel totally elsewise if the outcome had been different. I have an old friend who would be rather eloquent on the matter, I imagine.’
‘Oh yeah,’ I say. ‘What would her take be?’
‘She is an astral medium - a spiritual scientist, also. Her belief is the worse the trauma, bigger and darker ego. That psychopaths were once chieftains - genetic descendants of great warlords, commanders.’
‘So evil is a karmic, soul thing?’
‘Evil is made-up, I feel. She spoke of reincarnation. That we are all of us soul and ego developed to prevent insanity, yet certifiably instills and reinforces it.’
‘Amen,’ I say, and look at Alci, whose mind is kilometres adrift.
‘We do bad things but it washes away in spirit. And if the more and worse wrongdoing we’ve suffered, more and worse we shall commit.’
Later she sits, when it is truly late, reclining with legs crossed on the table and bare feet in candlelight, dictating about the mess we find ourselves in. About xenophobia that took over the conservatists in wake of what was happening elsewhere, such as in Germany where protective masks became built so big, and beaked at the nose, they resembled doctor’s masks of plague periods centuries ago. Poor refugees like lepers bringing the sickness of catastrophic mutated strains, when there could be any sort of unique affect per individual, and the survival to death rate verged close to an even-keel as ever.
Thus how conservers became fascists, and all this violent dread a shroud made visible and totally transparent in the lightning out the apertures of their weapons, the evacuation measures and bombing of the near whole southern peninsula. Social services inundated and civil rights programs polluted with the same anti-refugee rhetoric, this fear-mongering eliciting anarchy the exact polarity of what it claimed to stand for.
‘You lived down there?’ she asks aghast.
‘For a while. East as possible - farther north. It was safer, somewhat built.’
‘An iconoclast. The new-age hipster. Talk about dark tourism in a time whilst holidays are forever no more. We were also in Paris at the same time, too.’
‘Yeah, I realized we must’ve been.’
‘What is your favourite thing about the city?’
‘Everything. Especially Montmartre. Its hills, cafés, the structures, museums and the Seine. Anything about it. Except for when it felt like false Paris.’
‘I think faux Paris will always be the one in your head,’ says Alci, whose face is in his hands on the table, until now seemed to be sleeping.
‘It is and yet also isn’t,’ differentiates Jacqueline. ‘Paris isn’t so. What have you written, yourself?’
‘Nothing of consequence or prominence.’
‘My friend wrote something very good, unpublished. He called it Life is Gunpowder in Glass Jars and did an installation to unveil it. Its opening line, scribed on the wall, which is all I remember, went something like this: Truth is the shock pads to revive a stoned heart - transparency a skeleton key to illuminate the dark matter which is human ego.’
‘Alas, my dear friend has found a worthy title for the debut novel that is never finished, nor anyone ever allowed to read or critique: The Righteous Ego.’
‘It already has a title.’
‘Is it a good book?’ asks Jacqueline.
‘It is at least as good as that is,’ I reply, pointing a finger, eyebrows furrowed.
The exhibited work is a printed replica of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers which you may find on a wall in any quasi artsy abode. I think about his insanity, wishing I could create works in my madness as well as he did. Though, prose is singularly more abstract.
‘In terms of replication, maybe. Or is it original?’
‘It’s original. But how could I tell you how good something I wrote is?’
‘I bet it is truly good,’ allows Alci.
‘Thanks, man. How about your films?’
‘They were documentaries meant to give voice to those across the Mediterranean. My father was Algerian, as I told you, he was a defense-attorney and if he had his way I’d probably have ended up in a firm or business, a lowly executive without a clearly defined purpose in life. This hell we live in gave me my purpose, ironically. He had not much purpose and when he tried to speak, in France, they labelled him a political dissident and sent him to the Corsican torture brigades. He lost his mind in solitary, my mother moved there to be close. She is a fear-minded woman and always preferred heavy stone walls to the bright lights of the city. Don’t worry, she lives nearby, not at the prison itself.’
‘They still keep him there, even now?’
‘No. He is there because it is necessary for his safety. It was split and part converted into a ward for lunacy a few years past, nor was he ever physically tortured. He was mad long before and as his offspring I truly have a touch of it, as well.’
‘Me too,’ I agree.
‘No matter how terribly the mind howls and the body aches or feels nothing at all,’ she says, revealing teabag burns and lines of scars on the lower portion of her wrists, ‘you must never harm yourself. It is the biggest mistake you might never get to regret.’
‘Not my speed. More silent anguish without recourse.’
‘Good,’ and she smiles sidelong, mischievous.
‘Jesus you two,’ says Alci, clearly bewildered.
‘It’s good fun,’ she says, humbly. ‘And nicer to discuss than ignore.’
‘It’s enough to make the minstrels weep,’ Alci offers.
‘What else can we do?’
‘Exactly,’ I say. ‘And if someone talks about it, those impressions and sensations which could lead them to bad decisions are not so overpowering at present.’
‘It’s just like how the feelings, thoughts, intangibles steeped in the works of writers and artists are imprints of memory which they do not know is disremembered.’
‘Epigenetic or karmic?’ I tease.
‘I had a friend who killed himself after the last Oxi Day,’ Alci admits. ‘Amidst the bloodshed, military declaration during the marching parades due to the demonstrations.’
‘I am sorry,’ she says quietly.
I place a hand on his shoulder.
Shortly after he heads into one of two rooms equipped with bedded mattresses, oil-lamps, and wardrobes with clothes on hangers and folded in drawers. It seems this dwelling still has part-time residents; Jacqueline broke a window. For myself, through a narrow archway adjacent to the dining room is a living space with a foldup couch.
In these late hours I learn that Jacqueline was born in the year after Alcibiades. She had a tumultuous childhood in different places and started crafting cautionary motion pictures at sixteen with her group of friends, receiving underground acclaim. Although, this was done whilst they were still teenagers. Additionally, Jac speaks glowingly about how she would have pursued an undergrad in sociology and literature with consecutive years for an MA course. Now she has friends in Greece who try making it through to the north.
In the black of night, I waken with a start from a series of disconcerting noises issuing out the bedrooms’ corridor. The masculine sounds are full of dread - feminine ones of disconnected ecstasy, inhuman meanness. It is a reminder to times not remembered though felt, and you re-realize that inside is trapped the heat of the desert and cannot find the means to unlock yourself. To get up, go over, take a look would spell the folly of letting loss of control. These exclusive overtures end dismally - melancholic apologizes and angry, accursed crying - then my consciousness drifts away like a phantom in the shadows.
About the author
Young writer, filmmaker and university grad from central Canada. Minor success to date w/ publication, festival circuits. Intent is to share works pertaining inner wisdom of my soul as well as long and short form works of creative fiction.