The lone figure struggled through the coal-black night, the burden on his back bowing him as it took the force of the wind that was blowing, unhindered by land, all the way from the Siberian Steppes and forcing the man-beast he had become to stoop so low…The thought reminded him of the time, many years ago when, as a sallow youth, he, like many of his generation, had read a book about a creature such as this and, mistakenly, assumed it was about him…but in this, his 50th year upon the Earth, it seemed that it might indeed have been written as a warning to be heeded only when circumstances brought him to such moments of reflectivity.
The man was descending the last few steps to the sandy shore below, upon which he hoped to find refuge from the tormenting forces of nature with which he had become embittered by his recent battles…The soft, dry particles gave way beneath his World-weary tread and he sank to his knees in silent prayer as the realisation sank in, like his feet, to the sheltering shore.
From this semi-prone position his eyes, now seeing clearly for the first time in an age, gazed around the gloom, picking out strange dead-men boulders of smooth stone amongst the gently shelving beach that ran to the strangely silent sea below.
After a few moments gathering his breath and his wits, the semi-exhausted wreck rose slowly and ungainly to his feet and, walking parallel to the lofty heights he had just left, made his way Eastwards towards where the Sun, in several hours time, would rise again to mock his shape, his appearance, his ragged-clawed crab-like self.
As he rounded the curving sweep of this coast, this storm-wrenched cliff-closed strip of hope between land and ocean, his foot hit something hard and he let out a cry of pain…As his head bowed to look at where the impact between his bony toes and the rock had occurred, he saw a ring of pebbles, each carefully placed aside it’s neighbours and in the heart of this hearth lay the charred remains of sailor-bearing timbers from wrecks of time gone by, the ship-coffins of souls who embarked upon the waves ignorant of swimming and paid the price in sacrifice.
Fire!, this was the remains of mankind’s great Promethean gift, the illumination that transformed the night from demon-domained terror, that gave warmth, food and comfort down the generations…but, alas, this one was long-extinguished. He clawed at these vestiges of vessels, tearing at them as he sought, with frantic imperative, the seat of the flames that had once been in this spot.
As his soft-hands, for it was his mind that had done the heavy work all these years, reached further into the bed of burnt offerings, his eyes caught a brief glimpse of colour in the deep, dark blackness of the night-like nest…Again, a speck of deepest red, like a tiny Mars in a Moonless sky…Embers! He reached a hand into the pocket of his once-handsome coat and there, deep in the recesses of the torn lining, felt the lint-like ball of fluff…Withdrawing slowly, he placed the miracle of microscopic fabric next to the spot where the planet of promise had been and then, blowing as gently as if into a lover’s ear, as he cupped a hand tenderly behind, he murmured the nearly-extinguished residue into life.
Slowly, but discernibly, the ruddiness spread through the fibres, and suddenly a tiny flame leapt into the air. Swiftly, but carefully, he pulled yet more threads from his coat until, with a smile of relief, he was able to place tiny splinters of wood into the now-glowing, now tiny flaming heart of this signal of hope.
Eventually, after he had gathered more timber from above the high-water mark, a friendly, warming fire was chattering away merrily and the traveller’s soul leapt in delight as his good fortune.
Having ensured that all was well, weary but happy, he lay by the hearth and was half-asleep when suddenly he noticed a green glow forming in the midst of the flames and, to his utter surprise, suddenly there appeared a gorgeous lady, dressed in fine green cloth and wearing her blonde locks like a golden crown…but she vanished almost as quickly as she had formed.
Upon waking, he realised that the fire was out so, with the warm Sun on his back, he carefully gathered the glowing embers into a cupped rock, bound the rock to a strong stick using thread from his clothes and carried on his journey, carrying the talisman-torch with him, to be used that night and every subsequent night for so long as he could stir the embers into their magical life as he continued on his journey across this strange, new land…
(Note: I have long-enjoyed reading Hermann Hesse and felt like attempting this brief ‘homage’.)