Come with me into a summers night and this country lane, where we walk atop the grassy ribbon that rolls out between two deep furrows. Look about, see the moon minted world of the gentle wilds where fireflies dance in meadows and night breezes carry the scent of cut hay and sun baked earth.
It is not far from the village to hear, but, looking back over our shoulder into the darkness of this night, there is not a glimmer of light from the cottages on the fringes of the village, nor can we hear the usual clamour of voices from the Airman’s Rest beer garden. It’s no wonder this gateway into the lands beyond is so overgrown, it is as if it doesn’t exist in this world at all. #
Elsewhere – A kingdom sleeps
Long fingered hands tighten straps in silver buckles and settle bulging bags around the muscled flanks of a snow white horse. The raven haired Rider’s purple and gold cloak ripples as he mounts and urges his steed from the sleeping stable.
The clop of hooves echos in the otherwise silent courtyard. He glances back at the white towers, turrets and halls that have been his home for as long as he can remember…
It is with a heavy, yet resolute heart that he turns to the west, and so the quest is begun. He spurs his horse out into a night full of stars. #
The feel of the desiccated gate post under our fingers calls us back over the years into that elsewhere, that-once upon a time’ summer, To when we first came here. This gate is the portal between a world of reason, and a secret world of thickets, woodlands, and the elsewhere. #
Elsewhere – A city of the dead
The desert is white in the starlight. A freezing wind carries grains of sand to fetch up against the tombs, temples and houses of the dead. The Rider shivers. It is as if he is the spectre here, the wraith, the ghost haunting from the other side of some dark veil.
Clicking his tongue he turns his horse and they ride into the night leaving the necropolis of pyramids to the ever shifting sands and the desert eons. #
Beyond the gate we follow the line of a hedgerow that straddles a deep dry ditch. In our young and pioneering days, with borrowed blades,
improvised tools and our own hands we burrowed here, creating a secret place in a secret land to hide from the bewildering rules of an adult world. #
Elsewhere – An empire crumbles
Olive skinned soldiers in sandals, tight tunics and steal skirts are on the march. The moonlight reflects off polished helms and in worried eyes. They know that their savage civilisation is falling and, from what The Rider has glimpsed in the gladiatorial arenas, he is glad. He moves on west… Forever west, to where she waits atop her prison.. #
… And here might be a place to rest, But no, for this is not the end of our journey, for that lies beyond this copse of trees; A black mass in the moonlight.
Elsewhere – A city burns
His hair is now struck through with white as he watches the fires dance. Rats, previously snug in the crevices of this city stream away, eyes black and determined, long bald tails trailing in the ash of the civilisation that they brought low.
The flames reflect in the tears that run silently down his weather beaten face. He does not know who he cries for, this damned city? Himself? He is tired. #
On nights where the wind howled, and the walls of homes seemed as thin as paper, we would whisper of the witch that lived out beyond the gate. We would talk under blankets of sightings and ,
how it still scuttled across the countryside, gobbling up lost, wicked children like marzipan. #
Elsewhere – A metal dragon
The iron dragon, a tangle of pipes about a great barrel of a body, lets out an exultant scream and exhales a great plume of steam.
The rider’s hair is now the colour of his mount. He gallops along side the dragon and gazes in at the poor souls that have been swallowed by this leviathan. They peer back through a membrane of polished glass, their newspapers, packed lunches and fellow passengers forgotten. #
After a time, even children stopped going beyond the gate, drawn away by the exciting world that was unfolding beyond the lane, where civilisation was exploding with new ideas, new mysteries and, even better, new answers. The mystery that stands tall beyond the gate could wait, and this was how the soft silence of the countryside reclaimed one of its last ancient secrets.
We hurry forward, eager to see the tower with no windows an no doors, and to gaze up at the spectre that faces forever east, as if waiting for something, for someone.. We may even stretch out a tentative finger, as we did as children, and touch the hair that falls in long dark tresses from the top of the tower, to pool into a nest of midnight upon the earth. #
Elsewhere – A world at war
A moon, clotted of blood, glares down on a field of horror. Metal serpents, in the hands of men, chatter fire, slow moving behemoths belch smoke and crush the bodies of the fallen beneath glistening, clanking tracks.
A flash of white, and The Rider is amongst them, a silver sword held high, slicing down to either side, the horses hooves kicking high and cracking skulls.
Over the thunder of battle, the screaming of men for their god, for their mothers, no one can hear The Rider’s roar of frustration, nor can the Rider hear the scream of the great white horse that now runs with crimson.
We hurry around the last thick tree trunk and it is before us. Our feet scuff into stillness as we look up and up at the tower, still huge, even from the perspective of grown up eyes.
But now , all that dwells there is moon shadows and night gusts. As if in a viscous nightmare, we move to the tower’s blank base. A single filament; a white strand lingers. It alternately lays itself upon the stone, and then with the merest breeze, it lifts, twists,
describes long serpentine motions before finding rest once again. We reach out and pinch it from the air. In this moment the white hair seems to stretch on forever, though now it has no end, and is devoid of the mystery to which it was once attached. … she is gone.
Elsewhere – Journey’s end
The Rider, long since having become The Walker on that fateful night so many years ago, sits hunched over a wood slatted table outside a tavern. His cloak of rich purple and bright gold has faded. The Walker is often mistaken for an ancient beggar, swaddled in a raggedy blanket.
The Walker squints to the West, to journey’s end, but sees nothing out in the night. Maybe this quest was nothing more than a fantasy, a lie.. A life wasted on shadows.
With a final sigh of disappointment, the Walker slowly collapses back off the bench to land in a halo of spectral white hair.
In the beer garden of The Airman’s Rest someone sees, someone shouts for help… But the Walker does not hear. Unseen, tucked snugly into a flowerbed, packed neatly in fragrant cool soil,
the witch smiles. It had been worried about nothing after all. The girl would remain in the tower. He was the last.
Now, no prince was coming to save her.
It slithers away and into the deeper night. It thinks:
“I deserves a yummy treat,”,
and it knows just what it will have.
As we make our way homeward, our feet and heart heavy, fingers toying with the snow white hair wrapped tightly around our left wrist, we leave this mystery to the night, to the wilderness. Maybe the world was never that fairytale that we first saw all those years ago on that soft summer night because, we now know, in the cold, hollow chambers of our hearts, that there are no happy endings, and there never were.
– The end is close.
A bed of tight white sheets in a room of white walls. A smell in the air that, itself seems to be bleached of colour. He blinks slowly and turns his head. White hair. Long long-white hair, he notices the hand neatly pocketed into his own, as if it has always belonged there. “But, I was supposed to save you..”
the prince’s voice is cracked with age and disuse.
The woman, her face lined, but no less beautiful for that,
raises an eyebrow and leans over the hospital bed; Her cool, sweet breath tickling his ear… “Well you were taking your time… I got bored of waiting.” She leans in further and lowers her voice.
As their lips meet for the first time, and,
what will turn out to be, the very last time, neither of them see the mad glaring eye peering through the gap under beneath the door. to the crack under the door.