By Ian Rose
I‘ve been a great many years upon this Earth. I watched as the sea was born. I saw the mountains rise high and wither back, a grain and pebble at a time, to the rounded mockeries that remain. In all that time, in years uncounted, I can only remember once ever being scared.
I’d been out on my own for a long time then, sleeping away the centuries in my rocks and only waking on the odd moving day to stretch my legs and walk in the wide world. I knew the way things were going, of course; I sleep none too soundly, and always with one eye open. I watched the big folk spread over my hills and fields, cut down my woods and turn my rivers gray. It troubled me, but I’d watched the lizards come and go, and reckoned the apes could have their time too, and after they were done, I’d dance in the dust of their paltry works.
May Day it was, time of the spring move, and I woke with an uncommon restlessness. Dusk had already fallen when I sprang from my rockpile and, on barely a lark, made my way toward the lights of the big folks’ town. Glittering decorations played off the smoke of their industry to create a sort of glow prettier than anything they ever could have manufactured on purpose. They were having themselves a party, and the sound of their laughter drew me in.
A fylgia’s got no worry of being seen by the big folks. I’m less than the wind to them, and that’s how I prefer it. It’s only the special best of them who can ever see a fylgia, and only then in the last moment before they die.
After a short stroll and a hop in a puddle to wash off the road, I found myself slipping into a pub. Of all their joys and terrors, this was one thing I’d miss about them when they shuffled off. Music, laughter, free-flowing beer and whisky. I settled at the bar and smiled wider than I had in a good long time.
The barkeep was an older gent, by their reckoning. He stayed on his toes all night, keeping the glasses full and their holders talking. Whatever the celebration had been, it seemed on the wane, because every hour, the crowd diminished until only seven were left. A good number, a powerful number, and as I sipped secretly from each of their glasses, I willed them to stay on with me. I made certain the drink didn’t overcome them and kept the gaiety running well into the morning, until I had to admit, I myself was starting to feel the effects.
Over the course of that long happy night, I become fonder all the time of the old barkeep. His back had started to bend to his years, but he never lacked a smile or made anyone wait on a drink. Even better, he was slow to take away the near-empties, which further engendered him to me, as it allowed me to nick the final drops for myself.
At some point in the wee hours, his six compatriots still laughing and carrying on around him, he hunkered down on a stool behind the bar. It was the first time I’d seen him take any sort of rest since my arrival. He raised his glass, and to my great shock and disappointment, looked straight into my eyes with a kind, weathered smile.
I knew the stories of course, the way it went, but I couldn’t help feeling sad for him. The codger clearly loved his life, and I’d have healed what ailed him there and then if it had been in my power. But when you see a fylgia, you’re surely marked, and that’s a mark that takes something better than me to wipe out. I shook my head and raised my glass to him, hoping he was ready for the long ride’s end.
Then the man on the seat beside me, a lad of thirty at most, turned and patted me on the back, almost knocking me off my stool.
“Didn’t see you there, wee man,” he said, slurring and nearly falling down himself. “And how are you this glorious night?”
I hopped backward off my stool and stood on the oakwood floor, looking right then left, and one by one, every one of them turned to face me, all seeing me clear as morning. They laughed, smiled, and welcomed me to join them in one more drink. Such hospitality, from a room full of children, somehow all about to die.
The shock of it all sent me stumbling out into the street. Well, to be fair and honest, the drink had something to do with the stumbling bit, but even so, it was surprise that put me out the door at all. I wanted no more part of that fine and pretty place, with its fragrant whisky and sweet, doomed custom. I thought of blinking away to my rocks right then, but curiosity, a killer as old as I, convinced me to linger.
What happened next gave me the fright of my life, pushed the last warmth of the drink out of me and sent me blinking off to my pile as quick as could be. As I stood there in the road, the passers by – a fair number, I thought, for such a late hour – all turned to face me. One of the women in the crowd whispered to her man, maybe guessing at who and what I was. The rest just gawked, a street full of souls all marked for their end, and behind them, a light grew in the sky. It was sharper than the glow of their streetlamps on their wicked fog. It sparked across the black night like a falling star, and then turned to face right down at the spot I stood.
Well, that was about enough of that. I tore out of the place in half a blink, skipping all the many miles between their dirty city and my blessed rockpile, and when I arrived, I could barely open my eyes. These eyes that had seen the first flowers bloom, the first fish hop onto land and walk around like he owned the place, and now I don’t mind admitting, they were scared to open on the risk of catching what might come next.
But open they did, with or without my permission, just in time to see a new sun light up the wrong horizon, a bubble of light that engulfed the big folks’ city like a frog takes a fly, whole. A wave of dust burst out in all directions, carrying heat like no natural summer. Then nothing at all for a long long time, until a new sort of folk came round.
They stepped out from their flying-ships on scaly blue legs, four toes to each foot like a raven. They raised their own city in the place where the other had been, and I never again set foot there, nor will I. The newcomers have no taste for whisky, it seems, and no sounds of laughter to draw me back.
About the Author
Ian Rose is a writer and gardener by passion, but currently a web developer by trade. His work has recently appeared in Daily Science Fiction, New Myths and elsewhere. When he remembers to blog, he does so at ianrosewrites.com and can be found on Twitter at @ianrosewrites.