Preacher Man, he whistles past the graveyard, giving the crows something to gossip about. The eye the wrinkled black suit and cackle. Preacher Man knows they is laughing at him, their sable feathers all to the glory his dress lacks. He don't worry none, though. They is just birds. At least, that's what he tells himself. He composes a sermon in his head to call down God to walk with him awhile. The sun is setting, and you don't want to be alone after dark on the fringes of Hell.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley in the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...that's what the good book says, or so rumor has it. I tells myself that every morning to get my feets on the floor, and out the door. Cain't set still, evil finds you too easy that way."
The crows cocked their heads. Beaded ebony eyes with a hint of wisdom. They said nothing. Preacher Man laughed. A nervous titter disturbed the moss on the stones around the graveyard. He clutched his good book tighter. The cracked leather of the cover was stained with sweat. And maybe blood. Preacher Man didn't know. He started walking again, keeping an eye on the trees.
"Evil is not my main concern, friends!" he shouted to the crows. They rustle and murmur. "Loneliness is quite another matter. A creature of a different stripe. And it is on my trail. My trail!"
Preacher Man's voice echoed off the rocks of the valley then died amongst the cedars. He reckoned the crows cared little for him or for loneliness. The flock muttered, shifted, hunched their wings. Musical notes on the sheet music of the branches. Preacher Man shivered at the thought of unholy music, tritones twisting his mind into knots.
"I've been walking for days, friends. A mite slow, mebbe, but faster than it!" Little puffs of dust arose from under his hobnailed soles. "I've the Lord on my side, I tell ye. He'll carry me, this I know. He'll not let me fall. He won't." Preacher Man shook his fist at the birds. They laughed.
The track was rising up to the west. Farther along, too far to make out much detail, but Preacher Man could see what appeared to be a plateau. In the sky above it was a brighter spot, the sun a luminescent blob buried in the pearlescent wool of the clouds.
"Amen to that, friends and brothers. Amen. I can stay the night there." He quickened his pace, eager to make the plateau before nightfall. A slight breeze stirred the trees. Preacher Man thought he could smell rain on the wind. He welcomed the thought. His whiskey had run out three days ago, and the bottle was dry. Maybe he'd luck into a spring up there.
The grey light brightened, catching him unawares. Ragged holes appeared in the clouds, two not far apart. The clouds roiled over themselves but the holes remained open. Silver-grey sunlight speared down, washing over him. Preacher Man stopped, chilled, shivering. Behind him the crows whispered in avian argot, but Preacher Man knew they were talking about him. He turned to look over his shoulder. The inky black birds had alighted in the track, a thick mass stretching form one side of the track to the other between the rock of the valley wall and the graveyard.
The crows fluttered and stared. Preacher Man gaped. His bowels felt cold. Shaking, biting his lip, he turned his head back and decided he better start walking again. As he did so, he saw the other shaft of light up ahead along the track. It was shining down on the plateau, washing the side of the butte beside it. In the middle of the plateau, in the sunlight, Preacher Man could make out a large black shape, vaguely human in outline. As he stared the shape lifted what looked like an arm.
It curled the arm, gesturing as if waving to the man to come forward. Preacher Man gaped, gasped, dropped the bottle on his foot. A dark stain bloomed out across the front of his dirt-caked trousers. He clutched the good book to his chest and stumbled up the track.
"All this time, you bastard, all this time," croaked Preacher Man, "I's thinkin' you were behind me. And there you are, in front of me. It's enough to make a man lose his religion!"
His voice trailed off into a wheeze. He staggered up the valley. Behind him the crows chuckled and danced. On the plateau, the lone black shape crossed its arms, waiting.
Coastal notes, February 2nd. The night and the water conspire to unnerve.
Groundhog Day here at land's end, and the simulacra are still locked in combat. Tooth and nail, red in fang and claw, the hydrae come at me over the ether. I turned my back on them hours ago, staring out the window at the moon-lit liquid coal of the sea.
Still, they whisper. Imps tugging at my hindbrain, eager for reaction. Their voices rasp my eardrums in a flurry of catastrophic news and capitalistic blandishments. The one to take my peace of mind, the other to take my money. Mercifully, my blood does not boil. The faint scratchiness coming over the wireless speaker reminds me of leaves on concrete.
A colossal wave, a leviathan of water, slams the shore. Vibrations from it cause my lighter to jump, the speaker to tremble. Small and reminiscent of a Japanese stone lantern, the speaker is one of the few concessions to technology allowed in this monk's cell that is my cottage. As with many things of its ilk, its usefulness and purpose are two-edged. My electronic umbilical, it irritates but allows me to know what is going on back in the world I would sometimes rather shut out altogether. Blessing and curse for introverted information junkies such as I myself.
The wind is low this night. The usual sough is subdued, rarely making its presence known long the eaves of the cottage. When it does, I imagine a conversation between the wind and the radio. What they might discuss is beyond my ken, yet I cannot help but wonder if they share a motive to visit.
The moon, gravid and bright, waxes low in the sky. The argentine glow is diffracted by the restless skin of the ocean. Further in on the breakers, the light scintillates in the foamy curls of spray, diffusing and diffracting into uncountable diamonds that disappear into the surf. The breakers, too, whisper and moan up and down the beach. Wavelets hiss and burble, offering sweet counterpoint to the electronic anxiety offered up by the speaker.
It is dark but not pitch black inside the cottage. Dull embers on the hearth provide some warmth and tinge the air with a near subliminal glow. Reflected moonlight from the pale sand and graphite sea streams through the windows above my desk. The glow is enough to see, if not to work. This I find acceptable. I gave up working hours ago. The words would not come. Replacing them was an abstract, hazy thicket of thoughts winding around themselves, twining around the central core question I kept asking myself: Are we real or are we simulacra, convincing ourselves we are clever indeed in our wars and consumption?
Behind me, a world bent on self-immolation in a firestorm of lunacy and strife seeps through the wireless conduit, trying to pull me back into the fight. I lack the energy to get up to turn it off. I continue staring out the window, my mind and the sea becoming mirrors. The speaker whispers still while the sea groans for my attention. I breathe slow, deliberate, in spite of the simulacra and the war.
February is the honest month. The ego laid bare like the trees, all leaves finally gone through the insensate malevolence of icy wind and sheer cold. Winter is not through with us, not yet. February brings us to our knees where we implore it for mercy.
Even the sun meddles in the affairs of the heart, its white-gold rays teasing this troubled organ with warmth that never quite reaches the bones. We persist in our fantasies of life. The groundhog becomes Delphic. We do not believe in its prognostications, yet groan when the shadow lays upon the frozen earth.
On a Sunday of no particular note, it is my freezing shoes that trouble the snow and dirt. I stand alone with my thoughts before the stones of memory. The wind skirls amongst branches scratching at the sky. A sky so blue as to break the heart, empty, cold. It is the blue I imagine would have been the color of my children's eyes, had I been so lucky as to seen them open. I meditate upon the idea that in deep winter we become the trees outside our walls. Frozen, sluggish, bereft of the leaves that allow the sun to nourish our starved and hollow bodies. Hard funeral ground grants me no succor. The cold of it seeps through the soles of my shoes while the granular snow crackles and squeaks as I shift my footing. My roots are paralyzed, asleep. There will be no growth until spring.
Crows caw out raucously from the trees scattered around the cemetery. Their metallic rasps and croaks is not laughter, I think, but perhaps conversation regarding the stranger in their midst. I find strange comfort in their company, the chatter reminds me it is the children I came to visit. Snow was dimpled softly over the memorials. Twelve years of memory overlaying scant inches of white blurring what I used to know, used to see. A brief debate ensued in my head as to the necessity of brushing their graves free of snow. I say debate, but it was foregone that I would do such a thing.
My heart needed to see. These children of mine deserve the sunlight. I reached down to begin, snow shockingly cold sending a brief lancet of pain arcing into stiffening knuckles. The metal beneath the snow was colder than lost love. Their names became exposed in a winter light, shiny like the melancholy of an arctic midnight. It is a stark beauty that I cherish. My fingers trace the letters and through the numbness I feel a warmth, an electricity cutting through and lighting up the pathways to my heart. I marvel at the strength of the foundations as I kneel in the ruins of the temple.