As I stand at the beginning of the downward slope that will lead me from the business park where I work to the Lugaritz train station, but that will involve me dragging my sore body through the cold night, hurrying from streetlight to streetlight along a route likely frequented by scurrilous strangers, I realize that I have signed up for a tortuous ordeal of Homeric proportions.
Didn’t I own a car, a Renault Laguna? Why did I abandon my trusted mechanical friend, that only intended to save me from having to degrade my legs by walking all the way down this dark and forbidding road? That’s the kind of villain I’ve become: someone who betrays a loyal partner, condemning it to become a rusty pile of scrap.
Now, as my breath puffs in white plumes, I’m forced to trudge through the bitter cold with my hands stuck in the pockets of my corduroy jacket, stepping on the remnants of puddles that may have contained human blood. Even as I slog through the underpass towards the distant tower of an apartment building, the freezing wind ruffles my hair and pricks my exposed skin, causing the wounds in my heart to bleed afresh. Why did I abandon the safety and warmth of my office for this arctic adventure?
In the stretches between the lemon-colored cones of light that the streetlights cast on the pavement, the world is plunged in a dense darkness. I’m forced to progress between a row of parked cars and the overhanging branches of a dense thicket, that exudes the pungent smell of rotting leaves and that likely hides prowling predators like sabre-tooth tigers and feral vampires. Amidst the shadowy gloom, over the sound of my footsteps, the wind whistles, and from the trees comes the rustle of their branches as they sway back and forth. The world seems barren, drained of life except for those of us that have become more ghost than human, but if I closed my eyes I would still see the many people I’ve hurt: the friends I abandoned, the lovers that I used and discarded, the strangers that I slashed open with my claws. I wish I could listen to the melancholy hoots of the owls as they flew across the stars in their nightly hunt, and the howls of the wolves as they roamed the darkness searching for prey. But as much as I long for the company of other creatures of the night, I must stick to the sidewalks to avoid having a pair of fangs sink into my spine.
At this stage of technological advancement, I should be able to teleport to my apartment with some app on my phone. How have we human beings kept busy for hundreds of thousands of years, or however long we’ve been burdened with these soggy lumps of jelly-like fats and tissues inside our skulls, that we have failed to research a way to jump from a point of spacetime to another instantly?
As I trudge through this netherworld while the wind buffets me from behind, I spot the round road sign indicating a speed limit of 30 kmh, the harbinger of the bend of the road that leads into the first residential community on this side of the outskirts.
A sudden burst of light blinds me as if someone had pointed a flashlight at my eyes. I blink and shield my vision, but it takes me a few seconds to adjust to the source of such brightness, that is hovering over the sidewalk three meters in front of me. The ivory white glow is pouring as if through a jagged hole in an invisible wall.
I close my eyes and shake my head to dissolve this hallucination, but the light passes through my eyelids. I shift left, towards a parked car, and the light disappears. I sigh in relief. When I step back to the center of the sidewalk, the light returns.
“What the hell is this?” I mutter. “A will-o’-the-wisp? The spirits of those who were murdered by crazed vampires?”
Now that my eyes have grown accustomed to the light, the trees and parked cars have become silhouettes cast in an eerie and dismal grey. I take a deep breath, then I inch closer to peer through the luminous crack. As I lean in, it breathes a tropical warmth on my face, and my nose is flooded with the pungent odor of sea spray.
Unknown colorful shapes flicker in the ivory white radiance, as if I had come out of a tunnel into the daylight, but when I focus my vision, I find myself staring at a lime green field. On the right side of the frame, a grove of palm trees stands tall. Their trunks are striated diagonally, and their fronds, that resemble feathery fingers, are bending in the breeze. In the distance the field breaks off, and a sapphire blue sea extends to the hazy horizon.
I feel like I’m inside a painting displayed in an art gallery, where the patrons would spend hours admiring such a vibrant work of art framed in gold.
On the left side of the view, about twenty meters away from my standpoint, twenty fair-haired men and women, teenagers and a few children are hanging out near an unfinished edifice made of cyclopean stone blocks. The men are wearing wool tunics, the women linen undergarments and strap dresses that reach the ankles. They are barefoot.
Their gazes are following the movements of a man maybe in his mid-twenties, who’s wearing a red baseball cap, a pewter grey T-shirt and khaki cargo pants. The breeze carries his warm voice, but I can’t make out the words he’s uttering. He’s holding a metallic staff in each hand, and with the right one he’s directing through the air a megalithic, rhino-colored block of stone, that is floating as if weightless. The man tilts his right staff to aim at an unfinished wall on which blue lines of light seem to depict the outline of the missing blocks. As the floating block descends, once it touches the blue lines of light, the block rotates until its shape matches the outline, fitting with the adjoined block like a puzzle piece.
When I gape back at the urban magician, he’s chaperoning the crowd of viking-looking folks in a direction close to my standpoint. I gasp, stumble backwards and fall on my ass. The light has switched off; I’m staring unblinkingly at the darkness of a cold October night.
My arms and legs feel numb and heavy as if they were made out of cement, and my thoughts are flying in circles. When was the last time that a hallucination disturbed me this much? It felt like I was intruding into a scene that I would be prosecuted for witnessing. Wasn’t my mental health supposed to improve, now that Jacqueline is taking care of me?
I let out a long sigh. I should give myself a break. I’m an unstable monster who festered in a hole of solitude and despair for most of her life, only to have been rescued by a mommy eager to hold me tight against her formidable bosom. I’ve been deprived of Jacqueline’s presence for an afternoon of overtime, so my broken brain has slipped over into psychosis.
I crawl away from the spot where the tear in reality was hovering. Deep breaths, Leire. You just need to follow the route that will get you home.
Author’s note: this chapter ended up being the shortest in the entire novel so far. I somehow still have 13,000 words of notes waiting for me to render them into the remaining chapters. The number has kept going up consistently, which in part is a good thing (I must really want to experience this whole story, because my subconscious keeps coming up with notes for it), but on the other hand I’ve been dealing with this madness since October of last year.
I finished watching ‘The Northman’ like three hours ago. Tremendous film, one of my favorites in a while. A well-researched movie set in AD 895, when people thought very differently, and the actors don’t behave like they were picked from a LA street. Also, those two moments involving a valkyrie gave me chills.
A coworker has told me that they are setting up a three-months-long contract and it will start in a week. They’ll likely call me for it. Ever since I’ve known that, I’ve felt antsy and like my time is running out. I should spend most of my waking life writing, but I became an adult plenty of years ago and adults are supposed to do meaningless, exhausting shit to add more money to their bank accounts at the end of the month. Can anyone pay me a living wage just for existing, so I can focus on my obsessions full-time? I’ll provide regular massages and sexual favors if you don’t mind that they’ll come from a bearded, unkempt crazy person.