Short Story Written By Christian J. Ashliman
The dense, thick smell of Christmas pines wafted like a swirling blanket over the crowds, filling the air with a cheerful spring of holiday season. Bells could be heard ringing, jingling in delight as the little ones ran up and down the overly populated sidewalks, with a light pitter patter scattered against the heavy thumping of moving foot traffic. In the distance, caroling was picking up, growing in number and volume as the gleeful singers gained more traction. Dusk must have been on the western horizon, felt by the warmth of sunlight cracking through the cold clouds, bathing his face in a tingling radiance.
The small bag of dog food weighed heavy against his arm as he moved down the left side of a chaotic sidewalk, keeping his palm pressed towards the icy stone wall that lined the street, belonging to one of many infinitely rising skyscrapers that formed a tight forest of buildings. It was easy to get lost in a concrete jungle like this one, especially during seasons of holiday or heavy tourism. A hazy, doughy smell filled his nostrils, as the smell of various pastries, breads, and Christmas delicacies poured out onto the pathway. The bakery was a welcome sign, for it meant there wasn’t much distance left to go, and not much further to carry the bag of dog food that seemed to be getting slightly heavier with every step. Stepping under what must have been the overhang of the local pub, he felt a warm breeze power down across his shoulders, providing second wind to his bone chilled body. He had felt this sensation many times, as he made it a habit to cross under the ceiling heater that warmed guests entering the bar, as often as time would allow, especially during the winter months. The corner turned, and with it some of the noise from the crowd, which began to wane as the temperature descended, and night swallowed the cityscape.
The bumps of a city corner felt rough against the bottoms of his feet, and he stood waiting, shivering in the frigid air. A bleating chirp sounded, and he stepped across the icy street, making his way towards a quieter section of the city. Free from the chatter of large groups, stomping feet, or virtual droning, the park was quiet and muffled, like a pocket in space amidst chaotic borders. Some heat from the inner cracks of the city had escaped to the openness of the parks location, but he didn’t mind; it made for cleaner, fresher air. The bench was coated in a thin layer of frost, melting under the weight of him as he sat down, placing the bag of dog food at his feet. He placed a finger and thumb to his lips, and let out a sharp whistle, echoing against the trees and walls of the metropolis. Some distance away, a small jingle could be heard, similar to the ringing of keys on a chain. The brushes swayed, as a small, dog leapt into his lap, licking his face and yelping here and there in excitement. He let out a short laugh, and leaned back with a smile as he scratched the mutt behind the ears and belly. After several moments, the dog rolled off his lap, and stood near his feet, panting loudly.
“Ah yes, food, is it?” the man said, gazing at the dog with a smirk. He reached out, pulling the bag of food up onto his lap, and tore open a corner. Drawing a handful out, he held it towards the dog, who starting frantically eating the meal. The man gazed off in the distance, seeming to be focused on something beyond what was before him, humming a small tune to himself under his breath.
Always, they say, for the time is now gone
Until, I say, I can go on no more
For that is the battle, that is the fight
Onward looking, through the dark night
Always, they say, for the race is now lost
Until, I say, I can push on once more
When the challenge is beat, and the triumph is won
We can look back behind us, setting the sun
The mutt finished eating, and was now prancing around his feet, making short yips in exuberance to the surprise of a good meal. The man scratched the top of the dogs head, rubbing the metal token that was tied around its neck, devoid of any carvings or indentations denoting the dogs origin. He always thought it was curious that the tag felt so empty or plain, and didn’t fully see the point in the metal piece to begin with if nothing was to be printed onto it. Much of what lay beyond the park had become silent, as a light snow began drifting down, landing tiny flakes upon his face and coat. A growing darkness flooded the air, as night took hold on the landscape. The dog patterned off through some low-laid bushes, loudly yapping to himself as he went, surely to return before too long, for the promise of food was all too tempting. Alone again. How could one wander amidst so many others, even speaking to some, existing within this full and complete world, but feel as alone as he did at that moment? This question often left him pondering and puzzled, for the answer was ever elusive. Loneliness was something he had grown accustomed too, not quite something he enjoyed. Although, there had been times long ago when solitude was desired more so than it was in these days.
Long spans of time seemed to pass and sway, as the creeping cold from a bitter night swept through each layer of his clothing. At once, he rose to his feet, shivering with a stark step, and began trekking down the western side of the park, towards rising structures beyond the trees. He crossed back into civilization, noting the quieter hum of the city, much lower than it had been earlier. Warmth from the city streets and side shops blew past him, as he stepped carefully down the way. Laughs, light, and love could be felt pouring out of dinners, pubs, and local shops, and he imagined how it would all look. He was sure he could see Christmas Eve signs, lit up with bright colors of the green and red he once remembered. He saw deep pools of twilight and mystery loom in the sky overhead, just like he had remembered, with small gleaming pure starlight glinting in the great beyond. A sunset melting over the horizon, down past the western expanse, sinking with a bright orange glow that inspired. The smiles that shown on faces around him in the days of long ago, the smiles that he never would see again. Smiles turned to ghosts, images long forgotten, pieced back together through a strenuous recall. How he longed for such days! Of rolling fields, where the green meadows met the running rivers and babbling brooks, splashing over smooth stones of gray and white. How he longed to gaze at the sun one last time, or see the swaying trees of the park, painting back and forth against the midnight sky of a brisk winters night. But these times were swept away, lost to an age old event that would never leave him the same.
Blackness filled his vision, never leaving, only filling everything that he remembered about his past. This darkness brought with it a creeping shadow in his mind, reminding him of past memories filled with color, hope, health, and love. Other senses heightened, to make up for a loss of vision, but it wasn’t good enough. His mind was lost in a grip of darkness that never ceased. He droned on humming, taking small footsteps leading down a subtle street-way.
Blackness, darkness, sweeping, calling
Draining from the endless crawling
Across the floor, across the room
Across my mind, it did loom
When at last, I saw a light
A chosen flame, burning bright
It is my soul, for me to fix
To end the darkness, and all it’s tricks
Easier said, and much harder done
The coming storm, is next to none
Out beyond, on white-gold petals
The ink of pure joy, and happiness settles
For it’s there you are won, and finally whole
The journey is run, with honor-bound goal
Here at the end, here at the finish
We forge ever on, and never diminish
Songs taught to him by figments of his past imagination, or perception, of a mother-like figure in his forgotten memory. Songs that he never forgot, although found much difficulty in believing these days. A tear slipped down his cheek, as he replayed episodes of a life long ago, when struggles had been different, and pastures were far more green than the discouraged experience he found himself in now. He slid down the brick wall he had pitted himself against, slumping into a crouched position, with his face buried in his matted gloves. He wished to see it again: the rising moon against a pale, dark sky, filled with white light that bathed the shadows, chasing away the darkness beyond the hills. The wispy fog, glowing in the street light, flooding the greats halls of roads and alleys, winding around each corner like a great maze. The twinkling lights lining every shop during Christmas, and the shine of golden and silver tinsel adorning banisters and railings scattered along the streets. He wished to view the top of the highest building, out across the ever growing folds of society, into the infinite mist of the unknown and uncertain, just one last time. To never be scared or swallowed fully by darkness again, to have a glimpse of light, pure and whole; that would be his wish. He set his head back against the rough surface of the building, wiping away a tear or two, searching through wet eyes as if hoping his vision would decide to return at such a moment.
He found himself rising to his feet in an instant, feeling his way down the path, and in through the main doorway of the large brick building. A slight delay in searching for a way to reach the top of the building, brought him to an elevator on the far side of the lobby. Pressing the highest floor, he rose to the 12th level of an unknown structure, and stepped out of the metal box, listening for any signs of doors or pathways leading to an outside balcony. A slight cool brush of air prompted him to travel down a brisk hallway, getting slightly more cool with each step. The door to outside was heavy, requiring two hands and decent strength to heave open, letting in a rigid gust of midnight breath. He stepped out, and took in a large gulp of the air resting above the city. Placing his hands against the stone walling that surrounded the balcony, he leaned forward and stared out across the atmosphere, sifting through the black nothing that encapsulated his view. He bore his head down against his crossed arms, wiping his swollen, rosy cheeks against a dirt-stained jacket.
He dozed into a light dream state against the sullen night. Small piercing points of light burned into a black canvas, as oceans of golden fire poured in. Swashing to and fro in a frothy sea of mesmerizing heat, the light filled him with adoring revelation of love and comfortability. There he stood, upon the shores of bewilderment and adventure, the world ahead, across a plain of deep green grass, scattered with glowing flowers of wonder and excitement. Rising up beyond the bluffs, stood towering mountains of capped stone, peering over the lands below with awe. Rays of sunlight shone through the tree branches, glittering off the leaves and particles floating in the wind, swept away by natures pursuits. Within a valley dipping into the earth out westward, thick brush could be seen lining dirt pathways, leading down towards a small village-like gathering of homes. There were sounds of cheer and smiles, laughter, and dancing all around the buildings and structures that dotted the scene. He felt at home here, within this creation; this painted dream in a world away from worlds, separated from the reality that was truly his own. He laid there on the 12th floor balcony; an unknown man with unseen troubles, on an unknown building, of an unknown city.