5. fred. fred. fred. fred.
It’s Fred Duncan’s mausoleum, but I’m in there too. At least, in spirit. It’s hard to describe, but I lost my physical body a long time ago. I became like this… I don’t know, five, six years ago. And even before that I was hardly human.
Even when I was human, I wasn’t normal. I had dreams from time to time, horrendously clear dreams that told me what was going to happen in the future. I never doubted them, but after a while I stopped telling other people about them, deciding to keep them to myself. I didn’t need to burden my village with a freak. Ream was a quiet place, and it could do without me spouting prophecy. So, after about eight years of living, I simply stopped telling anyone whenever I had such a dream.
Until that day some eighty years ago, when Fred left.
Fred was my only friend in Ream and we were close. He was two years my elder, but that difference meant nothing to us. We had graduated from the same class in Ream’s only grade school and we had played in the same cornfields and we had stared at the same ocean. Though I enjoyed messing around, and causing disturbances on a small scale, when he was around I rarely felt the need to exert myself. He would stare at the ocean and I would stare at the ocean. He would gaze at the clouds overhead and I would gaze at the clouds overhead. Fred taught me some kind of serenity, some kind of peaceful and calm way of life. I took it and adopted it, wanting to be like him, wanting to be him, the one person I looked up to.
Had he not passed that lifestyle of thoughtfulness and reflection on to me, I don’t know what would have happened.
The days dragged on. Fred wasn’t there. He was gone, off to Ebony Fields. I, Matthias Kinjaku, sat on the shore day after day watching the ocean, devoid of thoughts. Even though it was the same ocean as always, it wasn’t the same ocean anymore because he wasn’t watching it with me. The beach was deserted and, as the first month of his absence dragged on, the weather took an unpleasant turn. Even in the rain, I sat out there, watching the ocean, hoping that his words of “I’ll be back. I promise” were in fact an unbreakable promise and that some day I would look to my left and see him there by my side, his hazel eyes fixed on the rolling waves…
He told me he’d be back in a few months. Two and a half months came and went, and I got anxious. I had only a fuzzy idea of why he’d gone—there’d been some talk of a wise man curing some sickness, or other issue, or something. I only found out later from my fellow villagers that he’d been exiled. I waited for him to come back. I waited by the ocean, watching the waves but seeing his face. I waited in the cornfields, listening to the wind but hearing his voice. I couldn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t eat at mealtimes. I couldn’t focus on my work, and after a while the old fisherman told me to go home, that he didn’t need me anymore.
Having nothing to do but wait, I decided that I’d waited long enough. Three months had passed and he was not back yet. I was going to go find him. I got my parents to allow it and then set out on horseback for Ebony Fields.
As I set out, my mind was full of thoughts of seeing my friend again.
The morning of his departure, the dream I’d woken from, and the exchange we’d had were not what I was concerned with and I near forgot them as I set out riding. I knew that before reaching Ebony Fields I’d have to ride around—or over—Ebony Fields Hill, a small dot of hill topped with a shrine. Approaching the city, I expected the hill and its shrine to be the first landmark in sight. I was wrong. Even before the hill was visible, I could make out giant black stick-like things prodding the sky. Menacing from a distance, like a diabolic hand reaching out of the ground to pluck the wind’s heart out, the four rock pillars of what I later learned were the Dark Pinnacles scared me.
And I approached what had been the city and the morning of Fred’s departure rushed back into my mind and I spurred my horse on and when we reached the outskirts of what had been the city I fell from my saddle and dropped to my knees and my hands scrabbled across the ground in search of plant life but they found nothing because all there was was dirt and rock and sand and dust and there was nothing alive at all and, as I’d seen in my dream, as I’d warned Fred, as I’d feared—the city had died.
I knelt just inside the shadow cast by the Dark Pinnacles.
Again and again, I called out, shouting Fred’s name, crying for him to come out from wherever he was hiding. Before me, stretching out for miles, were the stone ruins of Ebony Fields. An earthquake hadn’t struck the place; the destruction was too thorough for that. The buildings weren’t leveled, they were obliterated. Chunks of deformed rock replaced homes and inns. Roofs and walls had become fragments littering the streets. The streets themselves had been mashed up as if in a mortar. The four giant rock pillars rose up on each corner of the city, huge and frightening. Behind me, the small hill. Atop it, the shrine. Nowhere, Fred.
I yelled his name until the shadows cast by the Dark Pinnacles blended in with the shadows cast by the earth at night. I yelled his name until the ruins right before my eyes disappeared from sight. I looked up as I yelled his name and saw no stars, no moon. Just blackness. The sky was shrouded in thick clouds, but all I knew was that I was trapped in a nightmare. I had to wake up. I had to wake up.
I turned around and staggered up the hill, feeling out my way with a hand to the ground. My horse had long since bolted, but I didn’t care. I made my way into the shrine and crawled along the floor, pulling myself forward by gripping the pews. In the darkness I couldn’t even see the stained glass window behind the pedestal at the front of the shrine, but I knew it was there. I had seen it in my dream. I pressed myself up against it, as I had in my dream, and I remembered that in my dream I remembered a dream in which I remembered a dream within which I remembered a dream of remembering a dream that I dreamt of dreaming of dreaming a dreamt dream and then this was all pre-ordained.
I laughed softly at the memory of my trying to dissuade Fred from leaving, and I laughed softly at the misery I’d felt for Ebony Fields as I’d lain there crying for it. First terror, and now this, and this was all pre-ordained.
I stood, took a step or two back from the window, and then dashed forward, jumping into it.
I felt no pain as the glass shards cut my body. I felt no pain as I fell through the window and hit the ground outside. I rolled down to the bottom of the hill in a spiral of multi-color glass and I could see even as the glass cut my eyes. The clouds parted and the moon shone down and everything around me was rainbows. Blood dotted the hillside and glass lingered in the air, refracting the rays from the moon and turning the air around me into a seven-colored bath of light. I extended my arms as I stood at the bottom of the hill. Eddies, flurries of stained glass flew around me like the snowflakes that tease the ground in midwinter on the seashore by my hometown.
And then I found myself flying, high over the ground, beating wings made of glass, trails of color disappearing behind me.
Back home in Ream, my dreams had scared some people. Thankfully, the elders decided that I wasn’t cursed. Otherwise I may have met the same fate as the people of Ebony Fields. I was marked as different because of my gift, or curse, if you will, and so when I reached Ebony Fields Hill Shrine and threw myself through the stained glass window that was it for Ream. I had finally become a demon, something Ream did not want. Fred had left and embraced some demonic transformation of his own, and now, I was following him.
And I would continue to follow him for decades and decades.
I was cursed to be a destructive power, but these ugly wings would only know one purpose—I would use them to fly to Fred. And when I meet him, I won’t talk about Ebony Fields or look him in the eye or chide him or say ‘I told you so’ or anything like that. I won’t talk about our broken promise, or the cornfields back home in Ream, or even the ocean. I’ll alight next to him and sit by his side, facing the same direction as he, gazing at the same distance as he, admiring the same mundane beauties as he. And my wings will be behind my back and our eyes won’t meet and silence will reign, unless, of course, the waves roar a little.