Johanna Burgmaier

The Street

I walked along the street.  It was a broad street, coloured a light dusty grey in the evening light. For itself it looked perfectly normal.
But there was nothing except the street, it seemed to stretch on towards the white horizon and beyond, the wan sky above and the country beside me seemed to vanish if you did not look at it. Perchance you might glimpse the pale shadow of a lonely tree or a small cabin out of the corner of your eyes but nothing more. When you turned to look at it more closely there was simply nothing. Only the street was real, and me on the street.
I could feel the tar beneath my naked feet. I did not remember my shoes, but oddly the tar felt good, not very hot and not very cold, without gravel to hurt my feet. And even more oddly, it felt really clean. I mean in a big city or even a town you would not like to walk barefoot because the streets are always filthy, but not this street.
I remembered I came from the little village I lived in since I was a child, but everything else, why I came here or even if I did walk all the way on foot was gone from my memory. I did not even know that street, though I always liked to go for a long walk, so I knew the country around the village by heart. And even if this street felt quite nice, there was something queer about it and it did not feel quite real. This made me nervous, the more because the reason why I was here was still closed to me. Yet I do not believe in looking back, so nonetheless it felt better to follow it.
So, without looking back I continued walking at a brisk pace. As I got nearer to the horizon, the street seemed to stretch just farther on, an endless grey and waterless stream. At first, walking was as easy as breathing, but soon it got harder, as if something was holding me back, pulling me backwards, as if the current was flowing in the opposite direction. At first, it was not a big thing to notice, but it grew stronger with every step and walking became exhausting. But I could not go back , I could not turn around, nor look behind me. For there was something: As the pull got stronger I felt a prickling in my neck, a tense ache between my shoulders and a fluttering in my stomach. All of these commanded me to turn around and look what was behind me, or to run forward to get rid of it, but I could not. I feared what would be there.
I tried to walk faster, afraid of what  could be lurking behind me,  but the more I strained, the slower I got. Step after step after step. After every step my fear of the something grew, nonetheless after a while I got even a bit curious about it. However, fear outruns curiosity, at least in most cases, so when I could not go any farther because I lacked the strength I was still reluctant to turn around. Yet, standing there doing nothing was even worse, just imagine the worst nightmare you ever had is lurking just behind you. The only difference is that you know that nightmare because you have already had it and I did not know mine. So, out of that thimble of curiosity and as there was simply nothing else I could do, I finally managed to get my feet to spin around without further thinking.
What I saw then was at first glance not really horrifying. What I saw was the way I had come along the street. What I saw was the only other person I had seen on the street since I had found myself there. He was wearing a long white robe, but it was not the clean white a wedding dress or a priest`s robe might be made of, but a dirty, bone white cloak, dragging heavily above the tar. The cowl was tugged down so far you could not see the face and the swinging sleeves were so long you could not see arms or hands either. The creepy thing was, I could see him quite clearly although he was a few hundred yards away. And just in that moment I decided I did not want him to come any nearer. Horror-struck a split second later I realized he did just that.
I spun around again and somehow I mustered the strength to go on further, to flee from this creature which filled me with dread I could not explain, not even understand. Without thinking I tried to run forward, just to get away when I felt that horrible pull again. In my head I saw him reaching out towards me with a grisly grey hand, holding me back until he was here, for he wanted something of me, I did not know what and I did not know why. Glancing hastily behind me assured me that nothing of this sort was about to happen, but it ensured me too, that he would get me anyway, coming nearer so much faster than I was able to run, however much I strained. Inch for inch I moved, I really moved, maybe there was still a thin sliver of hope. Again, feverishly I attempted to take flight. It felt like hours had passed, yet the sky above me and the half-seen scenery stayed the same. It made me nearly mad, only to be able to move not even two yards. All the time I felt him coming  nearer: A look behind showed me his silhouette against the horizon, growing taller and more and more terrifying. It seemed as if beside the street waves of light seemed to roll entwined to him, and there were moving shadows behind him, ever so much darker. Again frantically, scrabbling for firm footing, grasping the air before me and filled with horror, breaking away was still of no use because the result was just the same: not even a yard of covered distance.
He was not far now, maybe not even twenty yards. Now I could see that the waves engaging him were the barns, trees and houses beside the street, which seemed to appear to full sight when he came near them and to vanish when he had passed them. These were broken down houses, all long deserted, burnt barns and old twisted and gnarled trees, bending under the weight of age. Every step he took unveiled a new sight. Now there was an old mansion with broken windows, the paint already crumbling down, next to it a really small cabin with most likely just one room. They all seemed very old, broken down and deserted. All of this gave the impression as if everything was his to command.
Caught in that scenery, I forgot to look at him just for two seconds. Suddenly he nearly stood before me, just two or three paces away, all cowl and sleeves. Up to that point I had always thought the phrase that one`s heart just skipped a beat really foolish, but mine actually did. He smelled old and icy cold. My lungs were like caught in an iron fist and breathing made me more than a bit dizzy.
The dark shadows closed in behind him. I heard muffled shouts, coming from the flowing haze behind him, but they were oddly beautiful, black vapour with dark grey streaks that seemed to dance and twist, but never dared go past him. Yet I knew now that it was them pulling me towards them and him. “Beautiful, aren`t they? I like to keep them with me everywhere I go.” Hoarse and rasping his voice was, like a very old instrument that has seldom been used. The cold creeping down my whole body, settling there, made me stagger, but the strange pull still held me in place. Maybe I was so deep in shock now that nothing was like to frighten me anymore. However, of these short moments I do not recall any clear facts, everything is blurred. Yet I still know I answered him, the shadows fascinated me as nothing had done before. I knew if I could touch them they would embrace and caress me. “What are they?” “Can you not see them? Look closer!” He sneered at me. Still horrified of him, but fascinated with these shadows I did not refuse and looked closer.
 I suddenly saw what they were. They were shadows of women, men and children, people old and young, all grasping and reaching towards me, crying,  as if wanting me to join them, but never getting past the invisible barrier. “Why are you holding them back?” I was not able to look away, they had caught my eye, still beautiful and fascinating and quite the contrary of the cloaked creature. There was a young girl, no older than my sister had been, watching me with big eyes, all black and grey, full of emotions and yet lifeless. I felt them, they were marvellous, embracing me with their longing like the soft kiss of a lover, for the pull I felt was nothing else than that sweet longing. “You still do not see, why do you think you could not just walk away? It was because of them, if I were not here, you would be one of them now. Do you not see?” I realized he had spoken to me but I could not grasp the meaning of the words. “Why?” At that moment it seemed like a sensible thing to say. “Why? Because they want you to join them, that is why.” He sounded more and more coldly now, the ice from his voice leaking into the air, freezing me into place, making me shiver all over.
 “What if I go on now? You seem to like them, you could join them and walk with me and see where the street leads.”
“What do they want from me? I do not recognize them. I do not know them.” Maybe I still had a thimble of sense left, standing in the middle of nowhere and talking to a strange creature who seemed to come right out of a dream and wanted me to join his host of shadows.
“They are not really much, just thoughts and longing and smoke. They long for every one living, they crave to touch you, but the moment they do you will be the same. They are dead for everyone but for themselves. So how would you like it if I let them come to you? Just three paces are separating them from you.”
I could not save the strength to answer him, cold was seeping from his cloak, floating above the ground, holding me firm in its grasp. I felt the power of the shadows lurking behind him, wanting me and pulling at me so much now I took an involuntary step forward contrary to my expectations that I was already frozen into place. They were stretching out their hands, crying soft words I could not hear. The little girl reminded me ever more of my sister, so sweet and small. He was not doing anything, just holding them back, I did not know how he did that, he seemed not to feel them as I did. It seemed as if everything happening was just a puppet show, directed by him, yet I could not guess its purpose.
And then I did not know why he did not let them come to me already, for I realized that I wanted to be with them. I wanted to play with the little girl and see her laugh, see what lied beyond the horizon when walking with them and be one of that beautiful black dancing and whirling shadows. And thinking so, I took again a step further. Now I could stretch out my frozen hand to touch them, nearly, as I was still standing before the hooded man, sowing cold everywhere. The cold was in him, the cold was him, he was just cold and the shadows were warm, warm tempting folds of shadow. Yet all my fears were gone, only the shadows mattered now, I wanted them, I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be warm again. I reached out my fingers getting past him and taking the hand the little girl offered me. It was hot and soft, she drew me past him, with gentle, but irresistible strength. I still wondered how she became to be so strong, when my whole body was pulled over an unseen frontier.
 In this moment I know him in his bony white cloak and cowl and sleeves. I know him as sure as I have, until a moment before, known my name. It is gone now, together with all the names I knew once, just pictures are remaining, just memories. I am beyond now, all black vapour with grey streaks, whirling and dancing, beautiful, dead for everyone safe for me and my shadowed companions. It is as good a feeling as I have never known it before, weightless and graceful, everyone would want to be like this and now it is my purpose to show you how. But I feel him too, all the time, him to whom in the end everyone, with our help, has to submit and so I cannot yet show you, not until he lets me near you.
 
 

 

All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Johanna Burgmaier.
Published on e-Stories.org on 12/15/2014.

 

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