Blank Jack - PrologueA Story by William 'Wulfy' Crowbourne
The short first scene of my debut novel, Blank Jack.
Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
For I had wandered off from the straight path.
How hard it is to tell what it was like,
This wood of wilderness, savage and stubborn
(the thought of it brings back all my old fears)
Canto I, Divina Comedia, Dante Alighieri
Thursday, 8th October, 2043.
JACK: Whitehorse’s face dissolved in the woods. His hands felt along a drystone wall. A fate shattered stonecraft wonder. He limped forward, pressing on his more worldly foot. The other twisted by earlier pursuit up the barren slope to a stone gateway. Time worn words engraved above the frost-gate.
Within the boundary he saw burst paving stones, a giant’s labour in decay, roofs fallen in and ruinous corner towers. Frosted cement melted underfoot as he trod the path. He groped his way through the ravaged frost-gate and past chipped storm-shelters now rendered useless. A spotted cat leapt from amongst the ruins and sat holding a fish in its maw, watching him. Decline around. Ruins abound. Autumnal leaves cracking under distant footsteps.
This was a bitter place. Bitterer than death. He did not know how he came to the ruin. He had become so disorientated. The present blurring with the past and another place. A ruffled mog mewed and licked its slaughter-paw atop sodden timbers. Dead mice littered the ground around it. The sand-cat saw Jack and stretched its claws forth like great ploughs in the soil.
Old places losing their grip on Earth. Their master builders having long since perished or departed. Around the wall a lone she-hound stood as if awaiting their return then faded again as if wrongly disturbed. The wall, grey with lichen and bleeding red rust, its stones lying in heaps and piles where moss still clung to life beneath the noose, fell away.
He stood staring through mist-woods at mud encrusted barrow-rings. Fate is mighty. The slaughter wide, many have fallen, and in the morning their stench will bring decay and pestilence. He tried to focus on the wretched waste around him. Faint forms wrapped in a feminine cloth. Footsteps closed in. And in the wilderness a rope creaked.
His mind veered between reality and pain. His empty pocket personality melting away like his easel etched face. Jack closed his eyes and hoped. Willing away time to some absolution. Don’t take my sight. He prayed like a man who has never prayed to a God before. At home her portrait stood unfinished. Her face one of many unseen. In the background he painted a waiting she-hound.
The dog came from nowhere. He lost his gains as she drove him back through the gates. He dragged his weaker foot, leaning on the stronger, as he fled to the dark woods. A place where pain grew and the sun became ever silenced. In the fading light he saw a figure coming towards him, all shadow and blue globes, a figure of learning without enlightenment.
Ravens, crows, cried about him. Distant cars mere echoes to hope. Staying still. On bent knees. Concentrating on deep breaths. He tried ignoring the pain spreading across the face. Eyelids burning. Blinking tears enflame like water on lit oil. Cold mud seeping through his trousers. A rope still creaked from a tree a few feet away. Blindness took him as he knelt in the mud. Her almond eyes, his lasting memory.
© 2010 William 'Wulfy' Crowbourne
William 'Wulfy' Crowbourne
The Cotswolds, United Kingdom
AboutWilliam Crowbourne, once known as Wulfstan Crumble and Will Tyrman, is a Cotswold based writer. He writes non-fiction for Japanese magazines and is working on his debut novel. Become a fan and m.. more..
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