FOLK TALE FROM THE OLD DAYS
By Samuel Canerday
Once, there was an old man who was alone in the world. The world, as he knew it, was an interminable stretch of coast line that he followed every day. He woke up, shook the sand off of his stiff limbs, and walked down the beach, water to his left, land to his right. When night fell, he would lay down, bundle his coat against him, and burrow in the sand to try to stay warm in the darkness. He had done this every day for as long as he could remember. He didn’t remember why he kept walking every day, only that he knew he should, and he was interested in doing little else.
The years stretched on and on, endless as the beach he walked, and little changed. The sea was always the same, even in its many shapes and forms; clear or dark water, high or low tide, blue colored or green. The land was always the same, in just the way as the sea. Dead, black trees, defaced monuments, abandoned homes. Wide fields of barren waste. The man was just how his surroundings were, and he was always the same. Whether he reflected the world he lived in, or it reflected him, no one could say.
He had a vague memory of a time, or a place, much like the one he was in, but somehow so different. Things weren’t the same then, they were different. But he couldn’t ever quite remember if it was a real place, or if he had just imagined such a place and hoped it to be real. The old man kept walking, all this time. He had with him a small stick, which he used to steady his limp as he walked down the shoreline. Behind him was an endless trail of footsteps, each one on the right punctuated with the circular pattern of his walking stick.
Sometimes, when the wind was high, it would blow spray from the surf into his eyes, stinging them and causing his eyes to water. Or, much the same but far, far worse, sometimes, when the wind was high, it would blow sand from the ground into his eyes. He kept walking through all of this.
Sometimes, when the water was high, it would lap at his tattered shoes, and chill his feet to the bone. Or, much the same but far, far worse, sometimes, when the water was high, it would crash down onto his whole body, seeping into his ragged clothes and chilling him to the bone. He kept walking through all of this.
Sometimes, when the smoke from further inland was thick in the air, he could hear the loud groans of decaying trees combusting from within and screaming as the heat left their wooden bodies. Or, much the same but far, far worse, sometimes, when the smoke from further inland was thick in the air, he could hear the sound of some sort of ominous singing, and distant screaming that made him cringe with fear.
As the days melted together, the old man one day realized he could see other footsteps in the sand. They went parallel to his own path, and, as he looked back, he saw that they did so all the way into the distance behind him. He wondered where they began, and where they ended, if there truly was another person on the long beach with him. He kept walking and walking, and still the other trail went toward the horizon in the sand. Several days went by, until, eventually, the other footsteps stopped.
They ended suddenly, and no one was at the end of them. It was as if whoever made the tracks had been snatched into the air, but such a thing would be impossible, thought the old man. Or, perhaps, someone had descended from the sky and started walking, and they had crossed paths without ever realizing it. Whatever the case was, no answer made sense to the old man. As he pondered this strange circumstance, he thought how nothing had caught his interest in countless years of walking, until the day he had seen those tracks. As he came to the end of them, for the first time since he could remember, he stopped walking.
Looking up, he wondered once again at how the steps vanished so suddenly. After some time, he decided that something incredible had happened in this spot. So, he made a decision: he would rather stay in this place where something had happened than continue walking everyday, where nothing happened. Looking about, he found a piece of driftwood on the shore, and dragged it to where the footsteps ended. He stuck it upright in the sand, to act as a marker. He explored the trees further inland, and brought back piles of wood to the marker. He gathered stones and plant fibers from the sea shore. He made tools, gathered resources, and began building.
The old man eventually built a cottage, and when he had built this cottage, he heard a knock on its door. He opened it, curious, and to his surprise, there was a young boy outside. The boy, who was all alone, asked the old man if he could stay in his cottage, for it was cold and lonely outside. The old man said yes to the boy, and welcomed him inside. They made an extra bed, and built onto the cottage to give the boy a room. Ten days later, the old man and the young boy heard a knock at the door, and they answered it. Outside, to their surprise, was a woman, who was all alone. She asked the old man and the boy if she could stay in the cottage, for it was cold and lonely outside. The old man and the young boy said yes to the woman, and welcomed her inside. She slept on the old man’s bed that night, and the next morning, they began to build another cottage for her to stay in.
Ten days later, while the old man, the young boy, and the woman sat in the original cottage and spoke and made merry with each other, they all heard a scratching at the door. They opened it, and, to their surprise, there was a small cat outside, mewling pitifully, for it was all alone. Knowing that it was cold and lonely outside, they took the cat in, welcoming it into their home. They built a small hut for the cat, so that it too had its own home to stay in.
So it went for days and days, with new people coming all the time. The cottages expanded from two to several, and eventually to a whole town that prospered. For the first time that anyone could remember, they were safe, and they were happy, and they were no longer alone. The old man, of all the people in the village, was perhaps the happiest, for he was the eldest, and all looked to him for guidance.
Then there came a day where, out on the edges of the town, a great, infernal fire raged. The fire burned and burned, and showed no signs of stopping, but could not reach the village on the shore next to the water. Even so, one night the villagers could here a voice carried on the hot breeze, and it was the voice of a demon: the demon was of the old world, those who were summoned by man to ravage the entirety of the land. The old kings of the land, in order to end all war between them, brought forth the hellions to end all conflict.
The demon said that the world was gone, and nothing remained but ash; the village would share this fate, for it was the fate of all that had lived before it. The villagers were worried, and had no idea what was to be done. The old man, the child, the woman, and the cat sat quietly in their cottage, no longer able to revel in the paradise they had found.
Then, on the tenth night after the fires had started raging, the old man took his walking stick and left the village, walking toward the great fire and the horrifying demon that dwelt within it. The villagers watched as he vanished from view, and cried at his loss, for now they had no one left to guide them. All night, they could hear the flames roaring in the shadowy ear, and they could hear the demon growling, yelping, and screaming, as if locked in a terrible struggle.
The next morning, they all went outside and saw the fires had subsided completely. They followed the steps of the old man, which paced for ten steps before they disappeared completely from the sand, as if something in the sky had plucked him away. First, they marveled at this, then, as they explored further inland where the ghastly inferno had raged, they found the corpse of the great demon. Its heart had been cut out, and they dragged it back to where the old man’s steps had vanished, placing it there to serve as a memorial.
To this day, the people of the village still walk to the shrine, and they walk ten paces before dropping to their knees in humility and reverence for the wise old man, who built and left a miracle on this spot. They still worship in the name of the blind father who walked through all realms of this work , until he built a heaven for them to live.
—Old Folk-Tale from the tribes of New Providence, 2876 C.E.