Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash
The sky was dark and alive with incessant rain; dusk slowly fell and enveloped all that could be seen down to the sodden earth. The steel of the worn tracks, a symbol of modernity, glimmered amongst the bucolic landscape.
Candlelight flickered through the small window of the lone standing structure. The minute, yellow glow burned through the night and brought warmth, not as heat, but as a semblance of comfort.
The faint light could hardly be seen through the thick veil of water; it was the only light for miles. Hour by hour, the single flame swayed and took with it another inch of wax. The wax dripped down the candlestick and fell onto the heavy wooden desk, immovable and reliable in the corner of the room.
The rain was unrelenting. It made a pounding sound on the soggy roof like a swarm of arrows against an ancient shield. The sound became imperceptible to Robin, a part of the story he read.
He sat at the desk with a worn journal spread flat before him. The book had been given to him by his father and wore signs of his travels like honorable scars of a warrior.
Robin could feel the journey across the ever-expanding country in his fingertips as he turned the delicate pages. The words on the pages spoke, yet the condition of the pages spoke in a different voice, one of reality.
Robin made sure to keep the pages intact as he devoured each story, drawing from each one something different as he read them again and again. He knew the man through the words.
The blank, omnipotent rain breathed life into the words in which Robin consumed. The thumping on the roof enhanced each word and formed a rhythm: a song, a drum, a heartbeat.
It had been raining for several weeks atop the shelter which Robin’s father had built with his own two hands. Each piece of wood was laid, erected, and conjoined to provide a roof.
The room served as a respite from the unyielding downpour which seemed to accompany every winter. Like a field of energy surrounding the man and the cherished book, Robin relied on nothing but his hands to keep him alive.
Was it enough to stay here and live on — he often wondered. Travelers stopped on these very tracks for the cow’s milk produced by Robin’s inherited farm.
During the cold season, the rain buried the earth in a great flood of water.
Robin struggled to see any point to carry on amongst these dreary days. The room provided shelter from the elements; he was thankful for that. Sometimes in the small hours of sheer blackness, Robin stood in the rain and let the cold soak him to his core. Here, he knew he was God’s creation. Then one day, the rain stopped.
When spring came, the sun drenched the farm in a golden light. Tending to the few cattle his father had brought with them across the country filled his days; his mind could roam as far as the horizon while his hands worked methodically from dawn until dusk.
He kept his space clean as he was always told to do. He sat on his roof to watch the sun slowly fall behind the hills late in the evening. He wondered where the sun would go once it finished providing him with light. He wondered how others lived under the same light of the traveling sun.
The earth beneath his feet was all he’d ever known. A few dozen travelers were all he’d ever met, those that came aboard the train. But he never got on; he couldn’t leave this place given to him.
The book was all he had; it told stories of sacrifice and exploration of new land. It told of rising cities and the strange people who inhabited them. It told of a journey across the sea as a young boy. The book provided all the excitement Robin needed.
But something felt missing; it wasn’t his adventure. When the train rolled through town every month or so, his heart boarded the train. But his legs stood resolute as tree trunks.
The evening was unusually cold for June. A fire burned in the middle of the room, and Robin sat by its glowing embers, unable to procure its warmth. The longer he sat, the colder he became; no matter how high the flames rose, his soul couldn’t catch.
In his hand, he held the book he knew by heart, every story, every conversation, every passage; Robin felt he’d forgotten the man who wrote them, the same one buried in the earth beside the home. He clenched the book as tight as he could until its leather began to crack.
The hardest thing he’d ever done was bury his father the day he died. But he knew if he continued to stay, he was burying himself right beside him. He held the book over the flame and let go; he watched the pages catch, and the stories burn. He watched the leather blacken into dust until it became nothing. He began to feel warm from the inside out, the same warmth he felt when around his father as a boy.
And then the fire dwindled, too, like the pages of the book, and Robin stared into the smoldering flame. Outside the sun was beginning to set, and like many nights, he wondered where it was heading. He felt the urge to follow the sun. With a clear head and unburdened heart, he left.
He never came back to the house his father built.
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