I am a Scribe. But more than that, I am a Storyteller. I make lives.
I wonder what my last story will be? I am approaching those days, for sure. Bittersweet.
My desk is in an open space and my chain clanks as I write my words. The vaulted ceiling above me is made of carved white ribs that arc and hold the roof of the writing room, like Atlas's frame, bent over me, stopping the sky from falling in. I would quite like to see that sky, to have it topple on my head, to scan its wide expanse, for the sensation. I would breathe it in, fill my withered lungs with it, and make them as light as clouds.
This room I am in is like a small cathedral without the stained glass and the reverence. The walls are cold: grey stone blocks, roughly hewn, moist, positioned hundreds, thousands of years ago. Or so it would seem. There's no fancy carving here to make this space a joy or a horror. It is a bland space of no distractions. Most of this room is in shadow and those secret nooks will never be visited by me, tethered as I am. I am singular in here. Only grains gather in this room, small pieces that find themselves here from the outside, and little flakes of me.
There is a small rectangular window, high up on the south facing wall, where light is allowed and it sends its streaks optimistically across the floor during the day, varying its intensity. On days of warmth, dust motes dance erratically in the layered light and I watch them, jerking, envying their movement, their freedom to be them: little remnants of life, playfully pushed on the thermals of the sun.
Sometimes, the light barely manages to reach in at all and the room is one of perpetual twilight. Those days are long and my eyes ache, watering with the strain, my fingers seeking to it rub away. I find the light when it is here enlightening: my stories are brighter on brighter days.
I am an old man. I cough and wheeze, and I feel the presence of looseness in my muscles, a slackening all over as my body prepares for my soul's evacuation. My fingers are thick: tree twigs, knotted and uneven, with skin like bark, dotted and mottled, distorted over time and with the repetitive demands made of them. Unlike the rest of me, they are tight and difficult to bend. Stained too, with the ink of my labours and the transfer of all that I feel onto paper. They cramp, my fingers, and my mind wanders more, the keenness of youthful synapses and their taut focus escaping by degrees, replaced by grey hair and lines.
I dream a lot more; not at night, but in the day. I am absorbed in what I do, so much so that it transports me to places, situations, times past and it is getting more and more difficult to bring me back. The Master has previously held me tight but I can feel his grip is slipping. Is it because I am approaching my death?
It is always cold in here but I wonder if this is me, not the place. My flesh diminishes into folds, like a battered old accordion, and the air seeps out, whistling softly and discordantly.
I don't know how long I have been here. I did not know this place existed until I was brought here. You think that you craft your own life, that you make choices, that you are holding your life by the scruff of the neck and shaking everything out of it, like a child with a bag of toys, to see what curiosities lie there but you do not.
The truth is that your life is mine.
I am the creator of your existence, bidden to do this by an unnamed Master. Not God. Not Fate. Not Destiny. By my writing tool do you become and it is at the behest of another. I am a powerful magician, used for my gift! My words are indelible. You cannot score them out in any way. Once the ink is on the page, so that life begins.
That is the truth of it.
I wouldn't mind getting older if my life was my own but here, the slowing down as you head towards the ultimate stop brings no comfort or softening of days into rest and relaxation. Days here are the same: wake, eat, write, eat, sleep.
They want to squeeze all of my stories out of me like a sponge until I am wrung.
It is the writing that keeps me going. It is my sole remaining reason. I have conquered the fact that I am being made to do it and I have come to enjoy it once more, revelling in the product of my imaginative cogitations.
It is my lifeline in an existence which is not my own but exists to create yours.
I see no-one other than my Keeper and my Master. My Keeper cannot talk. He has no tongue. He cannot hear. He has no ears. He does not need his senses. He is here to guard me when I appear here and watch me write. His expression is blank and he shows me no acknowledgement, no warm regard, no human contact. He is an automaton. I know this because he was one of my creations. His name is Mason. It is a cruel irony to me that had I known that I was crafting my own Keeper, I could have made him garrulous or a joker, wily and stealth-like, but instead, true to my part in making a life, I gave myself someone soulless, a shell of a man so good at his job that he will never deviate from it.
It was a bleak monotone day when I wrote Mason.
I did not give him that name: Mason. It was presented to me on a scrap of paper. That is all I get as a starting point, a name, and from that initial stimulus, I let my imagination roam over the word, creating a mind map of possibilities which I taste, and savour and swallow or spit out; which I can take in my hands to fondle or repel; which I can listen to as they plead for happiness, and either embrace these or ignore them - I wield the power.
But I identified him as one of mine as soon as he appeared. You always recognise the children of your imagination.
My time before here is hazy but fragments remain and drift into focus in my mind like floaters on my eyes. I was a writer of sorts, a dabbler with words, a hobby artist. Storyteller was my alter ego. It was as natural to me as breathing, to take words as my clay and mould them into characters.
I remember times, when they came to me, of people, my people. People I had crafted in my mind and transposed to paper becoming flesh. When they started to appear before me, I wondered if I was losing my mind. It was like I was the audience to my own plays, day after day, echoes of my words and people I had envisioned mouthing words I had written for them, coming at me like ripples at first, and then in waves, an onslaught of Barbaras and Petes and Michaels. I questioned if I was imagining it - but of course, I was. That was the wrong question.
I wonder who my Storyteller was, who crafted this life for me - the bastard. Maybe they didn't have a choice. Maybe they had to create more Storytellers. I don't pretend to understand. I don't know where I am - I don't know how I am being kept.
I only know what I am and parts of what I was.
I was snatched away. My characters did nothing to save me and I was put to work, given a purpose. I was a natural resource which needed to be mined before I was exhausted.
This knowledge has resurfaced more and more in the past few days. It was not as accessible before although I could feel my mind reaching for it like a tongue for a seed stuck in a tooth. But I was only allowed material for writing fodder. Nothing was permitted entry into my emotional consciousness unless it was filtered or diluted. Am I drugged? Maybe. I just don't know. Was I wiped in some way? If I was, it was with a dirty cloth because some things have remained sticky.
I sit on a three-legged stool. My robe scratches at my skin. I have a callous on my wrist where the movement of this cloth as I write has rubbed a mound. It is rough too, like the fabric that formed it. I am proud of this deformity as it is proof of my creating. Every word I have written has contributed to this mass. It is hideous to look at and yet, like a captured raven kept as a pet, it is intelligent and sinister company in equal measure.
Today, it is cold and my canker itches. I give it a scratch as the brazier spits, its meagre warmth dissipating before it reaches me. The smell of the burning coals is my companion on cold days as my fingers cramp and ache. I am always here alone, except for my stories. And Mason. But he is of no consequence, a statue, a blankness, a sentinel only.
Sometimes I tire of existing only in my own head.
I make lives. I am bidden to write by my Master, whose name I do not know. This is meaningful as I could write him a life if I knew what he was called and he would not like the life I would devise for him.
Today, he enters and as always places a name infront of me. I have no context for this name. It is my responsibility to craft something. I sit and I think until inspiration comes and then, with my words, I start.
A birth, a childhood, a coming-of-age. An achievement, a failure, a honed out career. A marriage, a childbirth, a greying-of-hair. An illness, a success, a conquering. An end, an embarrassment, a snuffing out. New life, new people, new challenges. Until the ultimate challenge of them all: death.
These are the components of my stories, the tools of my trade, the scaffolding on which my words hang. I try to make my lives contented, full of positivity: the warmth of a sun-filled meadow; the sweet fragrance of candy floss; the vista from a conquered peak; the smoothness of a pretty pebble; the enveloping of loving arms; the saturation reached from an attentive lover; the fizz of celebratory champagne; the indignant welcoming cry of a first-born; the softness of cashmere; an embrace, a kiss, a kind word.
I try to be kind in death too, writing one with dignity and poise, surrounded by loved ones. It's not always possible. Dark days affect me. I try not to let them but when it's cold and the shadows are deep, they creep, their scaly sharp-nailed fingers poking and prodding, leaving their dark trace to leak into my words. I try and repel it but I am not as strong as I was. Have I ever been strong?
Today, the paper contains the name "Alfred". It is a name that I have had before. It may be a name that I have again. It is a name that makes my heart flutter. Rarely, I get this sensation and it prompts me to explore that emotion. Memories provide windows and occasionally, I look out. What I see brings pain and pleasure. I know that the name "Maria" is important to me. A face, smiling and fresh, curl-framed like a Rococo cameo, with bright, intelligent eyes comes towards me, strawberry juice on her lips. Beauty, kindness, sensuality - these are the sensations that filter through from this reminiscence. I am filled when I see that face with emotional sustenance that can buoy me for days. Alas, it wanes, dissipating with each of my breaths until she is smoke in the air.
They wipe the specifics of your past life but leave you with impressions. A taste of a succulent fruit; a feeling of warmth; a saturation from pleasure. And likewise, the coloured spectrum of emotions that consume: red rage, green envy, yellow sickness, pink embarrassment, purple passion, peach warmth, blue coolness to name just some. And then like an artist's palette, these are blended and dabbed with a brush or a knife and transferred to canvas.
I've noticed that these impressions are growing stronger than they were before and they are gaining weight. They have faces and features and personalities and I remember them. They are real.
Who is Alfred? Is he of significance to me? My father? A friend? A brother? A lover? Or is he just another figment of my imagination?
I am alone, Mason stands, and I contemplate the name infront of me. I have written the lives of many Alfreds, I know. Kings, singers, poets, players. It resonates with me more intensely today but I know not why. And then I remember. A dream. A recent night-time foray into delight and distraction. It was a name that was whispered in my ear, seductively and with passion - yes!
Alfred. It is a distinctive name. One of poise and wisdom. Old-fashioned but could be more modern - Alfie. What affectionate name should I craft for this Alfred?
I feel a chill. It is a dark day today. I can sense the oppression of the grey. It is making its way into the room to bully the shadows where the spiders lurk. I tuck my hands into my robe while I think, hoping that the cramps will ease so that I can write clearly and precisely for Alfred.
Let's imagine a life. Let's imagine a life away from here. Let's imagine a life that transcends mine.
I start to write, intermittently flexing my hand while I scribble furiously on the page. The frame is set:
Alfred is born to loving parents, in a house where laughter lives and energy pervades its space. He has a tree house and cuddles and toys. He has a little sister, Florence and she is devoted to her big brother. They create adventures together. They love to collect bugs and hold hands when they walk together. They are a true pair and know that they will always have each other's backs.
Alfred goes to school. He works hard and plays hard. He gains many friends and one important one called Mason, who is loyal and supportive as well as being enormous fun. They are like brothers and Alfred is grateful for the camaraderie and steadfastness of his friend.
Alfred goes on to university where he meets Maria, the love of his life. He knows that it is she who will share his life. She is adventurous in many ways and he feels like he has found in her a piece of himself that until then he had never been aware was missing. They marry and have a child, Alfie. Florence and Mason are regular visitors and Alfred is gratified to see that his two favourite people in the world besides his wife are falling in love.
Parents pass away having lived long lives and Alfred grieves their passing and misses them enormously. He visits their graves and keeps them alive in the remembrances he has of them by telling his family funny tales and warm episodes of shared joy.
The children grow and have children of their own as do Mason and Florence. It is a good life for Alfred with limited health problems and difficulties and he is grateful for it. He retires a successful, accomplished man and spends his free time writing and creating objects of beauty from wood. Maria is by his side.
They explore, travelling the world, living more lives through what they see and taste and hear, their senses revelling in the experiences they have and the people they meet. They see it all - mountains, beaches, wilderness, deserts.
They age and Alfred loses Maria. He remembers her. He keeps a photo with him at all times - Maria in a headscarf wearing sunglasses in the red of the desert, laughing with her head thrown back, dunes basking in the dying rays of the sun, light shafting through the photo like an epiphany. He remembers capturing this and wishes he could be there with her now.
Her loss clouds his memory and his remembrance of things in the latter part of his life become less distinct. He feels like he is being imprisoned but he knows not what it is. Each day is a chore, a struggle that he must work through, to get completed. He feels chained and enclosed.
Alfred passes away with the memory of Maria in his head, the photo in his hand, smiling contentedly with the knowledge that he will soon be with her.
I am pleased with my conjuring. It has brought something alive in me.
When I am done, Mason comes to me. He knows the difference between a pause and a conclusion. As he walks towards me, remarkably, light pierces the window, and he enters its spotlight. He hesitates in its warmth. I have never seen him falter before. Despite his robotic nature, I feel a pang of feeling for him. He reaches for the paper. He pauses. I look up at him, surprised by the hesitation. He is looking at me. He is holding my gaze. His eyes have never rested on me before. He has always gazed dispassionately at some vanishing point in the distance. His face creases as his hand takes the sheets. A smile?
This cannot be.
The light has increased. I can feel warmth, intense warmth. It enters me and lifts me like the swell of a wave. Where is it coming from? My chain shatters into millions of metal shards, tinkling like treasure on the stone floor.
And then, a dramatic shift! Twirling and swirling, I am caught in a maelstrom of atoms, tearing apart the existence I know. I cannot see clearly but lines once defined are melting! I am in a kaleidoscope of colours and flashes and I am dizzy with excitement and fatigue. The room diminishes, ribs above are wrenched apart and Atlas is sacked as the sky smashes through the roof. Mason's hand is on my shoulder, steadying me like a familiar friend. My face is peppered with little sharp darts, like desert sand. It stings beautifully. I am overwhelmed and I falter. I lean into the first human contact I have had since...
I close my eyes from the sensory onslaught until it stops. It is like an attack of invigoration, tempered with uncertainty. I do not know what is happening and I am torn between joy and fear. The heat on my old skin is like a blanket. I am warmed to my depths, the surprise at release infusing me with a heat that is creeping.
And then she is there.
Infront of me, throwing her head back, sunglasses on, curls escaping from a headscarf. I hear her laugh. I hear her laugh!
She retreats from view, the sands merging and separating, whisking her vision away. The air becomes dense with orange spirals and I am standing without her. A sharpness enters my chest that turns my legs to water, which evaporates in the intense desert heat. I am lost! What cruelty is this?
But then I realise that I am not alone. There is Mason and his hand still rests on my shoulder, my friend! I will not fall while he is here. He places something in my hand but the sand's blur obscures it from my view.
And then he is gone and the secure presence of his human touch, his helping hand leaves me in limbo. The sand settles, no longer waspish. The ridged dunes emerge. Burnt ground. The heat haze ripples and distorts the air, like a funhouse mirror. It is stark, this landscape but it is full too with the love of memory. The sun caresses my hollowing cheek, lightly strokes my wrinkled brow and tickles my laughter lines playfully, like a harpist's fingers. Its fullness embraces me.
There is no noise. It is me. Alone. But I hold something in my hand and I realise that I am not alone. Maria is with me. The photo! And then I remember my writing and I remember my ending, the ending to Alfred's story.
Was I Alfred? My body sings yes and I have split, like powder to follow my love, my Maria and so, by some magic, my end is reached as a Storyteller as is the rewriting of my story and the ending I prescribed for myself:
Engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.
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About the Creator
Mum, blogger, crafter, reviewer, writer, traveller: I love to write and I am not limited by form. Here, you will find stories, articles, opinion pieces, poems, all of which reflect me: who I am, what I love, what I feel, how I view things.
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