I went to an abandoned place in a snowstorm. It was behind a fallen fence of wire, snug beyond a wall of crumbling stone from centuries past, in a sea of struggling yellow grass poking up here and there through the cap of wet white like the balding head of a blonde Santa.
The abandoned place was someone’s home long ago, a farm for family very long ago it seemed. There was no longer any glass in the windows, there was no door, there was no person or persons in the yard hanging wash on the line or just sitting on a porch looking out and thinking as the blue sky roiled and boiled at the sight of an approaching storm.
It was mostly dark inside the old, abandoned house. The light that came in, powered by the reflection of sun on snow, barely scratched at that darkness and the cold air. There was an old chair positioned in front of one the glassless windows and I went to see what whatever ghost there was may have been looking at. It was just empty endless life out there buried in the in-and-out breath of a landscape I did not know.
I set the gun down on an old table once used for eating and groveeting in decades long gone. It clunked heavily as I smelled the tasteful memories of maybe a roast and its gravy and potatoes or dumplings or rolls or decorative scepters of gold-colored poison piercing a birthday cake.
I always told myself throughout life that if it ever came down to it, there was always the last resort. If the end of the road made by ruthless man was clear on the horizon, I had the power to turn around in an instant and vanish. I listened to the wind rattling the bones of this old, abandoned place. I could taste the cold in my lungs as I breathed. Perhaps I could even taste that coming last resort.
I hadn’t ever seen much of the world, but I had seen enough. I had seen enough on all the screens we get lost in, the only way to truly see the world anymore, or so it seems. I used to be out in it, years ago, my body moving like a machine beneath the smear of deep blue sky as I lost it in the Rocky Mountain Land. I was far from the Rocky Mountains now, but I didn’t know exactly how far. I just knew it wasn’t there that I was.
I gathered old pieces of furniture and stray pieces of wood from the old yard, breaking branches down from trees that stood bare or plucking dry ones from the clearer patches around them. I piled all this wood in the center of the old, abandoned house and worked a small flame into a blaze. The warmth felt good. The smoke was yanked out through big gaps in the floor of the second story and on through the dilapidated roof.
If only I could have rewritten the story of my life, then maybe I wouldn’t be here now, alone, constantly looking over my shoulder, nervously jumping at the sound of a twig snapping outside. If I could have just taken a big pink eraser that smelled like school and went at the book of my own life with a frenzy. I would blow away the shavings, scattering the ink, scattering the recording of me into a billion undecipherable little crumbs.
That is true sorrow. To know you have no future. To know that one’s life has come to an end but that you are still living within it. There is nothing else that draws a deeper well of despair than regretting every breath one’s ever taken. Especially when it didn’t have to be that way.
I closed my eyes and tried to remember the taste of her lips. How long has it been now? A day, a week, a month, seven years? Fuck. I don’t even know anymore. I retrieved my battered wallet from my pants pocket and fumbled to find the picture. It was a photo of her and I standing outside some hacienda we had rented in some far away western place. It was a photo we had some stranger take. They were nice about it.
She was wearing a yellow dress and an orange shawl or something like that. She looked tropical. She looked like a fresh piece of fruit. We were both smiling, standing close together, skin touching. I remember that my heart had always beat a little faster when she was near me. It was love, I guess. The picture was losing some of its sheen. It was showing its age. It was a memory that had become more fragile than before and so I put it away back in my wallet and I tried to forget about it for a while.
The fire crackled. Orange light bobbed around in the darkness, shadow boxing with the walls. The day was growing grayer. Night would soon fall upon me, and this abandoned piece of the scattered puzzle, and so I fashioned a place to sleep in one of the corners. Sleep. That was once something I found comfort in. Now, it’s just a dreaded chore. The wakened reality of the nights here is worse than any nightmare in sleep.
I piled more wood on the fire and settled in for a cold night, the restless angels leaving my soul behind. My eyes were heavy and strained as the reflection of the flames danced within the lenses. The silence grew more silent just before the coming of the flaming sheep.
I heard their dogs first. Deep, hollow barks in the wooded distance. My insides froze. My belly hurt with nerves. I didn’t think it would come this soon. I got up from my place and went to the old table to grab the gun. I went to the darkened doorway with no door and strained to push my vision through the veil of night. The swaying yellow glows of their lanterns were visible through the winter trunks and branches. The howls of the dogs grew wilder and more intense.
I put the barrel of the gun against my head. The metal felt cold. I cocked it, forced it deeper into my skin. I heard their voices now. I thought that was reckless of them to give me so much warning. But what did they care? Everything they did was reckless. They breathed and bred recklessness. It was their livelihood in a sense. My finger trembled against the trigger. Was it finally time to fly?
A voice rose from their small, glowing gathering of light and guns and dogs now restrained by struggling tugs on leashes. Someone was calling for me to come out or they would come in. I was standing right there in the doorway and yet it seemed they did not see me. I could tell by the wondering movements of their heads and the disgruntled looks on their faces that they were confused about something. I didn’t move at first. I did not dare breathe. Then I carefully stepped back into the middle of the main room as they slowly moved forward from the yard.
It wasn’t long before the old, abandoned house was flush with lamplight and bodies and the glint of fangs with electricity fizzing off the points.
“Show yourself!” one of them yelled. “Do it now!”
I stepped forward into their ring of light. I dropped the gun to the dirty floor, and it hit with a heavy thud. I looked at them, but they didn’t look back. Instead, they looked right through me, past me, beyond me as if I wasn’t even there. That’s never been anything new to me.
I moved through them and past them and I went out the doorless doorway and I trudged through the snowy old yard and toward the black skeletal remains of trees, leafless and revealing beneath a torchlight moon. I walked and walked and walked for a very long time until I came to a road. I looked across it and something was strangely familiar. There it was again, that same old abandoned house I had just escaped from, so I thought.
I went to it, and I went inside and then out again into the yard like I had just done not that long ago. And they were coming again, the lamplit sheep with their dogs and their guns and their tattered bloody flags like it was the Civil War or something. And it just went on like that forever and more. Some dreamy game of lost and found and lost again. Over and over. Never ending. Like horrible time unleashed without a grain of mercy.