The Blind Windows
By Le Chat Noir
- Part one: The Waking Dream
A nice, cool feeling that ran alongside him, surrounding him entirely. A tinge at the senses, awareness of the silence and night, consciousness of the Void, of the nothing that has burst into existence. And that in his chest, suffocating, choking, burning inside slowly but effectively and hazy and intense yet strangely bright and clear.
A sharp intake of breath, and his hands clenched themselves in a jerk to seize a handful of the cold sheets.
Gradually, the breathing steadied into a regular rhythm. The hands moved along the bed. The sheets were made of fine fabric, and the passing of time had not degraded their softness; they felt, under his clumsy hands, like something he had once known. Or they did simply feel. Unsure, uneasy, the light fingers brushed their chill surface.
The warmth of his own breath sent a shiver down his spine.
There was something in the silence. Something to be heard; a sound all new to him again, but which he had once heard before.
The elf opened his eyes, and sat up on the bed. Untamed, his long hair fell in his face, and he pushed it away with a hasty gesture.
He blinked. Nothing. There had been nothing at all, an eternity of the Void; or maybe it had not been the Void.
The soft sound persisted. At first, in the semi-darkness, there was nothing to be seen. An old room, left untouched for many centuries. The windows shut, the wall-paint cracked; the plaster of the ceiling beginning to fall off. Yet no dust. A smaller bed next to his. On the bed the prostrated form of a child, facing the wall. Silent sobs shook the skinny shoulders, a short dark braid fell from his head; the silhouette seemed light somehow; hazy in its frame, the lines wavering as if plunged behind a wall of burning air.
There had been nothing to see, nothing to hear. No remembrances. Just a pit, an infinite pit of emptiness, staring back at him.
He watched the crying child for a few seconds. There had been nothing before the pain and the cold against his bare skin. There had been no life, no death; no thoughts. Only maybe the Night. And then still perhaps there had been no meaning for that word, no sense in mouthing it aloud because it could summon nothing but a vague fear.
He knew the child; he was certain he had seen him before.
Tentatively, he reached out a hand to soothe the young boy's tears. But the small form laid too far away, and he had to shift his position so as to reach the shaking frame.
In the meantime, his hand passed through the white silhouette as through a freezing cloud, and as his hand clenched instinctively around the palm, his fingers closed on a fistful of fleeting air.
At the place of the boy, there lay a neatly folded cloak, looking grayish in the obscurity.
A vague sequence of sounds slowly took form in his mind, not even a name, not even a word.
"Tyelpe?" he whispered.
Immediately, he chocked, as his tongue moved again against his palate, and solid air burst through his throat and flooded his lungs; making him bring a clutching hand to his chest. For two minutes, he stayed still, waiting for the burning sensation to pass.
What did it mean, that thing he had uttered?
There was a wardrobe at the back of the room. He knew it, though at the beginning he could not see. It was made of the finest wood, carved by the finest artist. It was a wardrobe. There were clothes in it, cloaks, robes, both rich and plain, but all made with the most exquisite taste. Silken shirts. Embroidered. And then there was a sun, a great sun with sixteen rays shooting from its heart that shone too bright.
It had maybe not been long. There was no counting of time. Just a state of being without really being, and a century could well pass like a single second as like a thousand eternities. There was the silence, and the feel of nothing; it was oblivion brought by the sharpest memories of all, oblivion with no one to share your tears nor smiles with.
Maybe boredom sometimes.
The cold of the marble floor sent daggers through the sole of his foot up to his leg up to the chest, and a short hiss escaped his lips as his heart felt frozen in its cage.
After some minutes, the bottom of his left foot was gradually getting accustomed to the sharp pain of the freezing floor, and he wondered whether he should put the right one down too. It was however not a real question, and hesitantly, he stood up and took a wavering step toward the said piece of furniture.
The head felt light. It was quite agreeable. His pupils dilated in order to see clearly in the darkness, though he was not aware of it. His steps were uncertain, almost dubious, but then of course it did not hurt as much as in the beginning to put one foot in front of the other.
There had been no torments. He did not know why, but there should have been torments. There should have been eyes, daggers searing into his soul, inquiring looks of pity and compassion. Why? There had been nothing. Should there have been something in place of the Void?
The wardrobe's doors creaked when he pulled them open. Of course, it was such an ancient wardrobe. It had been locked, but with time the metal work of the lock had rusted and fallen. It would not have mattered anyways. The key was just there, lying on the ground, innocently awaiting someone to take it up and use it once again, someone that would never come.
He had forgotten how soft the linen felt under his hands. Bright colors seemed fade in the absence of light to match, dirty, veiled. Absently, he shifted through the perfectly folded piles of clothing; but there was less there then he remembered. Several elements were missing, though he did not know which, and the amount of practical, daily garments severely lessened.
His palms wandered up and down the shelves, until he selected a shirt and a pair of leggings; in the darkness they were of a deep shade of red, and the shirt bore an intricate design of silver that did not shine. Only when he pulled it out and held it at arm length in front of himself did he recognize the great sun he had earlier seen.
Seen? Imagined? Thought of?
But the air felt cold against his bare skin, and so he hastily pulled the ancient garments on. There were however no shoes there, nothing to wear on his feet; he felt convinced of it after throwing a quick glance around the room. Its owner had left a long time ago, taking away as much of his possessions as he could. Still, he felt a little sorry that the previous occupant had not even left a pair of slippers there for him.
There was someone standing in the room opposite of him. He stared. The other elf looked quite young, quite frail; his uncombed black hair fell in a crazy cascade down to his waist. He wore a rich, dark red shirt and leggings of the same taint, which colour only served to accentuate his ghostly paleness. A feeling he could not quite place troubled his mind. Frowning slightly, he strode to stand right in front of the stranger, and the stranger walked up to him. Great, shadowed pitch-black eyes plunged back into his, and the pale, fair face bore an expression of mild surprise and displeasure.
With a slight push of his hand, the mirror rotated, and he was looking at its flat wooden back.
Meaningless. In fact no truth, no lies; just the verity of existing or not existing, being dead or alive.
There was a great bookshelf situated next to the mirror. It was empty. Only two books were there, lying down on the bottom shelf, old and tattered. He picked one of them up, and flipped through it absently. Some pages crumbled under his touch, and yellowed pieces of paper fell on the white floor. He replaced the book back where he had taken it.
Idly, he turned the mirror back again, and pulled the only chair of the room away from its desk in front of the mirror; sitting down, he spent a minute closely studying his reflection.
After a while, he lifted a hand to comb his hair.
It was a difficult task. The hair was not entirely straight, but fell in a mass of unruly locks, and he found it was almost impossible to get it unknotted without a brush. But all he had were his hands, and, after a long while, he finally succeeded into getting it under control.
Picking up the white cloak from the small bed, he fastened it around his shoulders. After a moment's hesitation, he also pulled the hood over his head.
Walking over to the windows, he pushed the panes open.
If it wasn't for the hood, the light would have caught him straight in the eye. But the piercing radiance, for once, contented itself with flooding the room. He felt the warm rays on his face, gently caressing.
With a smile, he turned around to look at the sunlit room. The first thing he saw was the bookshelf, empty, desperately empty, with the sunrays playing on the thin layer of dust that covered the wood.
Dust. He had not known there had been dust.
A strange terror seized his heart, and cold fingers tightened around his neck.
Dust. A thin layer of dust. Undisturbed, there, for years, centuries, millennia past. Heartbeat. One, two. The fine particles held in suspension glistened with an ethereal shine under Vàsa's golden beams.
The icy fingers, like snakes, slid down his neck, and froze on his ribcage.
Unrested at last.
Unknown tears welled up in his eyes, and, with a dash, he made it to the other end of the room, pushing the door open with one hand, and ran away from the sunlight.
His fast footfalls sounded loud and clear in the long corridor. The echo to his own ears seemed odd and distorted, repetitive thuds of his alien steps clashing with the millennial silence.
Every wall screamed back at him in dire agony.
The corridor was dark. There were other doors alongside it, great, forbidding doors of iron. One by one, as he passed, he flung them open, one by one; and, running into the obscure rooms, he harshly pulled at the windowpanes, and let the light unrest the darkness.
A mad rhythm. One foot in front of the other. And again.
He knew those rooms. Always a fraction of a second before the heavy doors gave way under his hands he knew that he knew them, every corner, every detail. There a desk, there a bed, unmade, ruffled sheets; there a forgotten book or a broken harp.
There a name. A voice. A hand.
There a smile in an absent face.
The end of the tunnel. A flight of stairs, going down. He tripped over his own feet in precipitation, and stumbled down the steps, nearly rolling to the foot of the staircase, before managing to put a hand to the floor and steady himself.
The great hall looked like a box, with serious problems of disproportion.
On each side of it, at twenty feet from the wall, stood a row of columns, ancient marble columns, once exquisitely carved; but they too had fallen to ruins and dust. The high windows started at about one third of the height of the hall, which was impressive, and reached up all the way to the top. Pale, faded sunrays fought their way through the dirtied glass. Oblique pillars of square light streamed the room.
An aquarelle of whites and greys. The silence there was even more heartfelt than anywhere else, because he knew it had not been meant to be silent.
Tentatively, almost filled with a kind of awe that was also fear, he began walking through the middle of the hall with measured steps.
But it had always been silent, from the time it was built; and if it had been designed according to the plans of a normal House, it had never been one enough to allow the wall of glass to be shattered and fall.
There was a spot of dark liquid, tainting the marble floor. Then another. Small dots of a deep, profound red, a colour that brought an unexplainable terror to his heart, and yet forbade him to look away. Then a series of close-brought, more regular spots.
He smelt it first. It could not have been that ancient. The sickening smell rushed into his nostrils, clouding his brain, altering his senses, darkening his vision. Staggering, lurching, swaying uncertainly under the weight of the nausea, he continued walking, concentrating all his mental faculties on the bare action of putting one foot in front of the other without collapsing on himself.
A shriek had been lost somewhere in the dimensions of time, its last echo resounding again and again in the closed hall. Walls too far away to be seen, but walls, walls felt, walls guessed, walls known.
Walls beyond the darkness.
A rusted sword laid on the ground, snapped in two, but he did not stop to look at it closer.
At first the iron panels of the doors resisted his failing strength, yet it was only for a short second.
The sight that met his eye was one of pure desolation.
He ran again, though he did not know why. He ran from the great building, now overflowing with golden light as the great doors were swung open. The overwhelming height of the edifice loomed over his head, in silent reproach for profaning its millenary peace and darkness. He ran from the sword, the broken sword; he ran from the chambers he had once known; he ran from the blood that marred the floor. He ran from the echoes of his own steps in the empty hall.
He ran into the ruins of a town.
Here and there, stood still the image of households and warm hearths, convivial flames sparkling bright in the fireplace. Children ran in the streets after their toddling younger siblings, calling out to them. A stranger raised a hand to greet him with a smile, before melting into a ghostly laughter, laughter…
Skeletons of dead trees bordered the way.
Shards of tainted glass slashed his feet.
White dust hovered in front of his eyes.
A sharp, shrill call resounded in his ears, nearly deafening him, and his feet stumbled onto one another, sending him rolling on the white-powdered ground.
He laid still, eagle-spread on the ground. The white-hot sunlight seared through his eyelids, forcing them to flutter open.
He saw the boundless skies stretching above his body, pinning him to the soil.