A Man, His Memories and the Long Road Ahead

Submitted into Contest #101 in response to: Write a story about a character who always repeats themselves.... view prompt


Fiction Fantasy Drama

He walks the road alone. His cane clicks against the cobblestone, relieving his weary feet of the burden of his weight. Against the brightly burning mid-afternoon sun, his skin glistens, his chapped lips and crimson cheeks peeling off from the heat. They have been doing that for a long time now, the layers shedding off as if he is some sort of lizard, and he wonders if it will reach a point where he will no longer have any skin left. Because he has a long time until he can stop again under the cool shade of a tree, basking in the sweet relief. He still has a long road to walk. 

Twisting and writhing through the immense landscape, the road he travels is a snake, fickle and a trickster. It forges a path through uncharted lands, villages and cities, passing by sprawling oceans and fantastical forests. Although it is tiny, it is overflowing with tales told by travelling bards and wizened by the experienced feet it touches. But it is lonely; there are no other snakes, no other paths that intertwine. Only destinations along the way, no end. Perhaps it too searches for a way home. Looking down at his feet he becomes hypnotized by the pace at which his heels click when they meet the road. When he forgets how little space there is around him and becomes aware of the company of his loneliness, the vast road begins to feel like an empty desert. Snake turns into lion. It bears its pearly white teeth in warning: do not travel too far. You will not find a way back. Lucky for him, he has no way back. Never did, not really. Home, the concrete thing turned into ambition, then hope, and in turn dream.

Eventually, he reaches his next stop, a bustling metropolis filled with humming and buzzing and the faint smell of stale life. The people are curious things, they keep their heads down but they are not unfriendly. It is wonderful, it is unlike anything he has ever laid his ancient eyes on. Eager to start he sets up shop, unloading his pack and setting up his table, which he covers with a rich violet cloth. One of the many skills he picked up: purple indicates wealth, royalty. Although he might not have much besides his knickknacks and the dusty clothes that cling to him, he takes pride in his wealth of knowledge. On the cloth, he sets out his items, each one representing a new, wonderous place, each one symbolising an entire culture with only a stroke of paint or a curve of a disc. He sells what he can then he sets off again. For although he has journeyed so far down the road, a great amount of it remains untraveled. 

Each time he reveals his wares, he reflects on the places he has been. In the back of his mind, he remembers the earlier days, how he first began, his first destinations. The humble yet plentiful sprawls of huts squatting in blooming forests, the sands and the whitewashed facades. He collected jewellery and pottery from there, some of which he still has, too cracked to sell to any wise soul. Then there was the grandeur of the columns, holding the buildings higher than they had ever been, and within them were the indescribably marvellous mosaics and statues. Of all the places he had been, that one lingered with him the most, the atmosphere still clinging to his skin. In that city, there was a powerful feeling that came over him, the currents of the houses and their inhabitants willing him to float away with them, enter their daze of righteous euphoria. Perhaps why that place stayed with him so much is because out of everywhere he had been, it had been the closest to home. He has no understanding of why besides that simply complex…feeling.

Home is like a diamond, preciously unattainable. You can collect as much gold and silver, as many rubies, opals and emeralds as there are below the ground. But it will never be the same as a diamond, that thing that can withstand everything, that is so robust yet beautiful. But he has begun to worry that perhaps home is a lie. Maybe it is not a diamond, maybe the idea of it is. His resolve and ambition are what never weathers, while reality wastes away. 

Suddenly conscious, he stops. Something is wrong. The road around him is different as it always is, with the inklings of the place he was not long before still bleeding into the country. It is the same flavour, with the tall grey buildings spewing smoke like great dragons. This is part of his routine, no problems are apparent. Still, his gut has never failed him yet. He unslings his sack and begins to sift through his wares, on the hunt for any irregularities. Determined to catch this mouse of doubt, he tosses everything out and sorts through it. No one else travels the road, he has no fear of interruption. He counts and piles before realising that he is missing something. A pot, not one of his finest items but something he has clutched onto long enough to miss. Deciding he must go back, he packs his things and as he goes he realises this is the first time he will be turning back.

When he returns to the city it is different. The population wear different colours, their heads are even deeper forward, staring at strange plates that are too thin to be stone and emit coloured light like lanterns. Buildings are taller, tiny spear-like structures jut out from the flat roofs. Fingers not reaching but clawing to the sky, almost like that beloved familiar city he visited so long ago. His pot is long gone, lost in the strange reshuffling in the city. How is this possible, he thinks, I did not set off on the road too long ago. However, that tiny piece has become the least of his worries. He does not know the city he just visited. He could put it down to age, but that would be naïve. This is no natural phenomenon. 

A city dissolved around him and he is home. One of the precious few memories he had stored in the back of his mind, protected in a bottle, breaks free as the glass shatters. It is a revelation, but not some happy epiphany. No, it is trauma repressed but now relived. How he danced with them, his equals, in the light of the heavens above. His home, the home of the gods. He had been one of them, he had sung their songs and played their games. And he had lost. They had turned away from him, forsaken their promises to him when he was born into their ranks. Now he wants to laugh because they are dusty memories, mentions in his story. Forgettable. So he tosses his head back and the sound escapes his lips, the lyrical noise flowing out of him, a release of his anger, sadness and finally hope. No more keeping hope bottled up. He has set it free. The strength of his weary legs falters and he collapses onto the road, his calloused hands feel the smooth cement. They put him back. But they made a mistake, because there is his pot at his feet, cracked but very much present. Present…past…future… 

Road widens. Snake turns lion but he slays it and steps over the corpse, leaving it to bleed. The gods can keep their home, he needs none, just the road and a new friend. Time.

July 03, 2021 10:37

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.