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The Man for Whom the Bell Tolls

By Lee Russell All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Fantasy

Chapter 1

The Wanderer. That’s what they call me. But by ‘they’, I mean the voices inside my head. Perhaps the people would call me the same, if only they could perceive even the slightest fraction of what it means to be who I am. The people? No. Not, the people. The world? No. Lately it’s been getting harder for me to find the right words. Sometimes I wonder if they’re even real. The words, I mean. Who knows?


My name? Forgotten it. Long ago. But maybe, not so long ago. It’s hard to keep track of time here. But I guess ‘here’ isn’t exactly the right word.


For the sake of a precious one, my soul was torn, ripped out of my body, and cast to the winds. Of my own volition, of course. In waking dreams, I walk distant lands, lost somewhere between time and space. How long has it been? Years, months, eternities? I must have lost count somewhere. Sometimes I wonder if I’m dreaming. Do I even sleep? I can never really tell. It’s funny, isn’t it? I must have gone insane a couple of eons ago. Any ordinary man would have.


Do I regret it? No. But to be honest, I’m not very sure why I subjected myself to this anymore. A face flickers at the back of my mind. A face that I can’t recognise. It haunts me. Sometimes I reach out and try to grab it. But my fingers just slip through. Maybe it’s that face that keeps my mind alive.


The fog clears before my eyes, just as it always does.


I stand at the edge of a swamp, cradled by a bank of sand of the darkest grey. The depths of the murky waters shimmer with a lucid purple; violet wisps glimmer as they hover in the black moonlight. Great oaks tower, breaking the waves, grotesque figures of undressed succubi frozen into their ashen bark; their faces replaced with hateful scratches. Three-headed serpents coil surreptitiously around branches and outstretched arms, flicking their tongues as they stare from the shadow of the canopy. From the distance, a soft whistling touches my senses.


I linger, and soon enough, a shape emerges from the looming darkness. A boat. Of course. But ‘boat’ is most likely an overstatement. The rickety wreck groans horrendously as it slithers across the water’s surface, exhibiting copious amounts of mold and decay on its battered hull. A hooded figure, concealed by a jet-black cloak, stands upon the broken vessel, sweeping the waves aside with purposeful strokes of a massive shaft. Attached to the dry end of the shaft, a man sleeps, held aloft by jagged chains coiled around his skin.


As I watch, the boat slowly makes its way towards me, gradually coming to a stop at the horizon between land and sea. The figure pauses, then beckons towards me with a hand of bones. I peer into its cowl, only to find the rotting head of a dark horse. The creature snorts, blasting a cloud of hot miasma into my face. I recoil slightly, then, obeying the queer beast’s instructions, take up a position upon the vessel of which he commands. Nodding with satisfaction, it raises the oar, and we depart.


The unchanging scenery scrolls past as the boat skims over the still waters. I lean back against the tough wood, seizing as much comfort as I can possibly unearth. Ripples dance amongst the waves as shadows of fleeting abominations flitter just below. I know they are watching me.


Eventually, the perpetual monotony of the journey transforms the boatman’s cryptic whistling into a pleasant lullaby. Ensnared by this illusory melody of peace, the notes seep into my bones, sieving through the great archive of my memories, tugging at my unconscious heartstrings until all the fatigue frozen inside thaws into a mighty torrent which sweeps through every channel of my bloodstream. It hits me like an avalanche, and my eyelids find themselves on the verge of shutting.


The next thing I know, the colour of skin melds into my blurred vision. I will myself to attention, only to find an uncovered man standing before me, staring at me with hauntingly blackless eyes. The same man whom I saw hanging from the boatman’s oar earlier. Free from his chains, all that remain are crimson scars stitched across his flesh from which no blood seeps.  In the corner, the boatman persists in his menial task, oblivious to the world.


Suddenly, the man reaches forth and grabs my throat! I gasp for air, pulling desperately against his monstrous grip, and in one swift motion, I am swung into the air and thrown into the murky depths.


The impact sinks me considerably before my senses are able to respond. I hold my breath instinctively, but strangely enough, the sensation of suffocation fails to materialise.


Darkness fills the space around me. And within that darkness, bubbles drift by like clustering stars. I float in the eternal shadow, unable to tell up from down, or left from right.


A rumble. And with a deep growl, a humongous reptilian creature emerges from the aquatic night and stops before me. All I am able to identify are a pair of a glowing crimson eyes before the beast unlatches its maw to maximum capacity and unleashes a roar of explosive proportions!


The resulting blast threatens to blow me away completely with its overwhelming force, but with my arms crossed in a block in front of me, I am somehow able to stand my ground. As I fight against the wave, reality begins to stretch thin at the edges of my peripheral vision. Slowly but certainly, shining cracks start to form in the fabric of space itself, torn apart by the monster’s incredible power.


A second later, the creature lunges forward and swallows me whole, dragging me into an empty abyss. The cracks remain, providing glimpses to some outer universe at the parts where they overlap and peel the darkness away.


They spread, slicing my vision into pieces, and in an instant, all of reality shatters apart. I fall.


Galaxies flash past me. Burning suns. Glittering moons. Silent planets. The constellations dance in glee, twisting and turning in the divine light which seems to envelop everything.


I land softly, coughing as sand threatens to flood my mouth. Pulling myself out of the deluge, I find myself within the confines of an enormous hourglass. And I am swept away.


The torrent sucks me in, trapping me in a vortex of rushing sand. Holding my breath, I shut my eyes, surrendering myself to the sound of the flowing grains. The noise gets louder and louder with each passing moment, until I can barely recognise the sound of my own thoughts. I stretch my arms wide, feeling the push of the stream on my fingertips, on every inch of my body.


Then, silence.


I freeze, anticipating occurrence.


But nothing happens.


I twitch my fingers, encountering no resistance. Kicking my legs slightly, I experience the sensation of my body moving. I open my eyes.


Above me, darkness. Beneath me, light. And in between, the clearest, most beautiful shade of ocean blue. Gravity tells me that my body is upside down.


Gently, ever so gently, a slight force tugs at the soles of my boots, beckoning me towards the surface. I relax, and allow it to do as it so wishes. Gradually I rise, feeling my body right itself as the waves roll by.


Sunbeams caress my face as I finally break the tide. Clouds. And the high-pitched squawking of seabirds. An odd feeling manifests in my soul, permeating my entire being. Do I know this place?


“Stop, Jetsam!”


A shape bounces above me, cast in shadow by the blinding sun. Before I can react, it grows in size at an astonishing pace and-


SPLASH!


Stunned, I drop into the sea.


A quadrupedal creature not dissimilar to a lion floats just inches away from me. Boasting a regal coat of splendid turquoise and a majestic kelp-like mane of violet and blue, it licks my cheeks playfully before waltzing away through the serene waters.


I watch the beast as it darts within the ocean, enraptured by the fluidity of its every move. Climbing the currents, falling, dancing amongst the startled fishes. A king in its domain.


From the direction of the shore, I notice a second shape making its way through the waves towards me, distinctly humanoid and feminine.


A young woman in her early twenties. Liquid, emerald hair runs from her milky skin, accentuated by a pair of irises of the deepest, mossiest green. Clad in an orange swim top paired with a matching long skirt adorned with floral patterns, a worried expression adorns her features as she approaches me.


She draws a circle in the water with two fingers, one from each hand, which magically remains as a shimmering rainbow loop, before blowing it softly towards me.


The shape collides with my nose, disintegrating into a shower of mystical sparkles.


“Are you okay?” A voice echoes in my head.


Surprised, I stare at the girl.


She grins, then gestures to me to do the same.


I stare at my own hands skeptically, then slowly begin to carve my own circle in the waters, barely able to suppress a gasp of wonder as my fingertips trace rainbow pathways through the waves. Concentrating on my own thoughts, I complete the circle and send it on its way.


The girl catches it with a soft clap, “I’m okay”, and quickly signs back a reply. “Where do you come from?”


As I am about to respond, a tackle from behind sends me rolling, only to be caught by the arm before I am able to drift too far away.


I twist my head to identify the culprit, and the creature from before hovers before me, panting in an extremely dog-like manner.


The girl chuckles, “Let’s talk out of the water.”


I nod in agreement, then, following her lead, we head towards the shore with the marine lion tailing closely behind.


The warmth of the cream-coloured sand, coupled with the heat beating down from above, provides an unprecedented comfort as we finally step out of the water and arrive at the beach.


“Ahh!” The girl sighs in pleasure as she performs a simple arm stretch. “The water feels great, doesn’t it?”


Feeling no need to respond, I refrain from commenting and instead devote myself to inspecting my surroundings in greater detail.


The expanse of sand stretches far in both directions, but not to the extent of blotting out either horizon. An island. And a rather large one, at that. Up ahead, two tall precipices form a gateway towards the interior of the island: a dense, tropical forest. The buzzing of insects resonates cleanly from the labyrinth of thick greenery. Beyond, an assortment of hills decorate the landscape, and, like a jagged scar, a massive tower cleaves the sky in two, piercing the clouds.


Though I am unsure of why, a sense of foreboding creeps into my bones as I focus my eyes on the decrepit hull of the solitary building.


“Come here, Jetsam!”


I snap back to the present. The marine lion bounds towards where we stand, then proceeds to engage in a bout of vigorous shaking, spreading droplets of brine everywhere.


I retreat slightly. “Is that his name?”


“Pardon?”


“Jetsam. Is that his name?”


“Yes!” The girl declares brightly. “Isn’t he such a darling? I’ve had him since before I can even remember!”


She whistles, and, in response, the beast immediately halts its shaking and hops towards her with its own personal variation of a hug, delivering affection enthusiastically with its tongue.


“What… is he?”


“Hmm?”


“What species of animal is he, I mean? I’ve never come across such a creature before.”


A puzzled expression crosses the girl’s face. “Really? This is the first time you’ve seen a koenig?”


“A koenig?”


“That’s strange. You seemed quite familiar with the ocean so I thought that you were probably from one of the neighbouring islands. Not anywhere far away. Where exactly are you from? The Land of the Earth?”


I know there’s no point in trying to explain my curse to her. This isn’t the first time that someone has questioned my origins during my travels. For some reason, the name of my hometown has never quite escaped the domain of my mind. And so, I reply.


“I come from a place called Twillia. But… I can’t really remember how I got here. I think it’s somewhere really far away.”


“Twillia?” She bites her lip in deep thought. “I’ve never heard of such a place from the Elders before. What kind of place is it?”


And as I open my lips to reply, images come flooding into my head, as if some form of sacred, distant vault has suddenly been unearthed and smashed open. Images of a familiar place. A missed place. A promised place. A place long forgotten. A place long discarded. A place no longer known. A place known all too well.


“It’s a really nice town. The houses are all really old but they’re really pretty. There’s a clock tower in the centre of the plaza, and it makes the most beautiful sound in the evening, when the sun just peeks over the mountains and the whole town is dyed orange. I love it when that happens. My grandmother used to tell me that the buildings in my town had all been built by dwarves during the Age of the Dragons, and when they returned to the Fifth Terra, people moved in and claimed the town as their own.”


“It sounds like a wonderful place.”


“It is,” Turning away from her, I smile and gaze up towards the sky.


Everything is stained auburn. The clouds, cracked and dispersed, drifting sadly along. The sun, weary, sinking below the ocean. And the stars, struggling to make their presence known through the orange mist. Even the seabirds. their silhouettes cast in amber, hover on an indistinct line, juxtaposed between what is and what could be.


The heat is unbearable. I shiver.


A melancholic tone vibrates, tingling in the stale air. Tingling in the depths of my soul.


I turn my head. There is no doubt.


The tower standing solemnly in the distance, is none other than a clock tower. A clock tower that I know. But unlike the one sketched on the canvas before me, it is broken and crumbling, falling apart.


I drop my brush and palette in shock and press my fingers against my face. My beard is gone. I choke slightly, just as a shiver runs down my spine. And I tremble. Though I feel nothing in the channels of my heart, tears refuse to stop flowing.


I desperately wipe the moisture off, accidentally toppling my easel in the process. But with it out of the way, the girl comes back into plain sight.


There she stands, her expression gored with grief and frustration, rivulets running from her strikingly beautiful irises. At the base of her right leg, Jetsam cowers, glancing suspiciously at his surroundings.


“I didn’t ask you to do it,” she speaks.


The shadows of the forest lengthen, creeping towards us.


“I didn’t ask you to go,” she speaks, choking on her pain.


I wince as my head throbs ferociously. “Who… are you?”


The girl shakes her head, bewildered, before confronting me with the same question. “Who are you?”


I stare at my fingers, wondering. “What was I supposed to have done?”


“I didn’t ask you to go,” she says once more.


“I didn’t want to lose you!” I shout.


“I didn’t want to lose you!” she screams back, echoing.


Jetsam howls. It is an odd sound, reminiscent of neither dogs nor lions. Dogs? Lions? What am I thinking? What are those things? What? What is?


I fall to my knees. Night falls. And as I bask in the radiance of the stars, the sound of footsteps shuffling through the sand comes towards me.


I look, only to find myself staring back at me. But how do I even know that?


“Who are you?” asks the doppelganger.


“I don’t know,” I say. “Am I you?”


He frowns, then takes a few steps backwards. “I don’t know you.”


And with those words, he vanishes into the darkness.


“Get up. Don’t stop.”


I glance backwards. A middle-aged man dressed in humble clothing stands behind me, one hand placed atop my shoulder.


He smiles, a gesture which resonates deep within me.


“You promised me, remember?” he speaks.


I shake my head. “Who are you? Do you know who I am?”


“Of course I do.”


I stare at him with pleading eyes. “Tell me.”


He smiles. “Don’t stop.”


A bark snatches my attention away.


Jetsam stands at the entrance to the forest, vigilant with fear. But despite his constant shooting of wary looks, it is evident that his eyes are unmistakably trained on me.


Another bark.


I rise and go. But just as I am about to reach the noble beast, he pounces into the vegetation and races away. I follow.


Amidst branches and leaves, all that remain are tiny slivers of iridescent moonlight to illuminate the path ahead. I dash blindly through the undergrowth, tripping over stones and roots, propelled solely by the desire to rid myself of the confusion fogging the threads of my mind. For the umpteenth time, I fall. And though the figure of Jetsam is lost ahead, the distant bark that I know will always come is more than enough for me to stand and run again.


At last, I break through. A clearing expands before me, littered with short structures half-buried within the earth, their identities concealed by the shadows of the night. Jetsam is nowhere to be seen.


I tread forward cautiously, making my way towards the closest structure.


A tombstone. And as I draw nearer, the words etched across its surface slowly fade into clarity.


Here lies Eric Geoffrey, who gave his World, his Life, and his Name, for the sake of his Love and Tragedy, on the 3rd Day of the 5th Cycle of the 10th Moon and the 19th Sun.


“Mr. Geoffrey?”


Shall he forever be remembered for his Strength, Courage and Dedication in the face of all that rules over Rapture and Suffering.


“Excuse me, Mr. Geoffrey?”


“Yes?” I reply, yawning. “My apologies, Doctor. I seem to have slipped into a bit of a snooze there.”


“Indeed,” the Doctor replies sympathetically. “You have been through a lot recently. Have you been getting sufficient rest?”


I raise my eyebrows, puzzled. “What do you mean?”


“I beg your pardon, Mr. Geoffrey?”


“You said that I’ve been through a lot recently. What do you mean?”


There is a momentary pause as he gazes at me skeptically.


“Who are you, Mr. Geoffrey?”


It is evening. A familiar ring induces me to turn away from the tombstone, leading me to the sight of a quant little town boasting a solitary clock tower. With the sun just peeking over the mountains, the ancient architecture is set ablaze with marvellous hues of orange, practically glowing in the onset of dusk. But at the same time, the light reveals the dire nature of things. Shattered windows, crumbling walls. The town is empty, with not a soul to be seen. And the town is dying.


A young dog limps around miserably, sniffing at every corner, at every edge. I start towards it, but just then, a mouldering door creaks open and an old woman exits. Displaying a tender smile, she bends down towards the poor creature and offers a small piece of bread which it wolfs down ravenously, continuing to attack the woman’s palm long after the last crumb has vanished.



Granting the unfortunate beast a stroke on the head, the woman rises and sets off down an adjacent path, a bouquet cradled in her arms. Energised, the dog releases a yelp of gratitude and follows closely behind. As do I.


The narrow dirt path meanders off the cluster of buildings, descending a short distance before making its way up a nearby hill.


At its peak, the woman stops before a large stone slab and places her bouquet on the pedestal upon which it sleeps. Then, kneeling on the ground, she prays. I stand at a corner, gazing at the words carved in the stone with surreptitious eyes.


Here lies Eric Geoffrey, who gave his World, his Life, and his Name, for the sake of his Love and Tragedy, on the 3rd Day of the 5th Cycle of the 10th Moon and the 19th Sun.


“I didn’t ask you to go.”


Shall he forever be remembered for his Strength, Courage and Dedication in the face of all that rules over Rapture and Suffering.


“Can you hear her, Mr. Geoffrey?”


“No,” I whisper. “I can’t.”


With the trees gone, the giant moon is free to strangle the entire sky with its chilling embrace. It lights up the earth, revealing thousands upon thousands of tombstones scattered all around me.


“I just wanted… to see her smile, once again,” I speak, without knowing the reason why.


The graves rise while growing in number, surrounding me, imprisoning me.


“Why? I don’t understand.”


A face flickers before my eyes. A face that I know, yet can’t recognise. A face that I recognise, yet can’t understand. I lunge forward in a desperate attempt to catch it with my hands. But my fingers slip through thin air. I fall, hard, on the stony earth. And all around, the graves simply continue to grow.


“Why does it have to be this way!?”


The face is still there. Always there. Always has been. And always will be. I jump for it. I grab at it. I scoop it in my palms. I clench it. I breathe it. I hold it! I snatch it! I punch it! I catch it! I pull it! I touch it!

“Why!? Is it because i’m human!? Just a mere human being!? Who are you!? What are you!? What gives you the right to do this to me!? What gives you the right to do this to any of us!? It isn’t fair!”


But in the end, I never feel it. It never falls into my arms. I drop, panting, exhausted, begging.


I choke. “All I ever wanted… was just to be with her. Is that too much to ask? Just that little, tiny wish? Is there anything wrong with that? Why- Why can’t you allow that? Am I wrong? If I am, then tell me why! Please! I have to know!”


And all around, the graves simply continue to grow.


I look up at the face. The face looking right back at me. A sad face. A lonely face. A face that understands.


“I didn’t want to go,” I say. “But it was the only the thing that I could do.”


The graves grind to a halt, and with a mighty crack, they all shatter into pieces, leaving behind mighty stakes driven into the ground. And upon each of them, the bloodied, unmoving bodies of men and women are cruelly hung. The bodies of people that I know. And the bodies of people that I don’t. Thousands upon thousands.


My heart stops. Bile rises up my throat. But I defy the urge, and walk towards the closest victim.


Only to find the face that I’m searching for.


And yet, it is wrong, in a way that my heart fails to explain.


I reach out for her cheek, but quickly draw back when my fingers draw red marks on her skin. I glare at my open palms. They are soaked in crimson. A crimson that continues to flow. The redness seeps into my forearms, falling to the ground in grim cascades. The smell of iron floods the dry air.


“I didn’t ask you to go.”


The voice assails me from ahead. But I refuse to look.


“I didn’t ask you to go.”


Another voice, a different one assaults me from behind. But I keep my head down. And the scarlet waters are up to my ankles.


“I didn’t ask you to go.” “I didn’t ask you to go.” “I didn’t ask you to go.”


Voices from everywhere. Voices that I know. Voices that I don’t. I clamp my ears shut but it doesn’t even matter. Redness falls down my cheeks. And the scarlet waters are up to my knees.


“I didn’t ask you to go.” “I didn’t ask you to go.” “I didn’t ask you to go.” “I didn’t ask you to go.” “Ididn’taskyoutogoIdidn’taskyoutogoIdidn’taskyoutogo. We didn’t ask you to go. We didn’t ask you to go. Wedidn’taskyoutogoWedidn’taskyoutogowedidn’taskyoutogo.”


“Shut up!” I scream. “I didn’t want to go! Believe me! I didn’t want to go!”


But the noise only grows in volume, threatening to crush me with the sheer pressure of a million voices. And the scarlet waters are up to my chin.


“Forgive me! I just wanted to be with her! That’s all! Is that too much to ask!?”


The Doctor looks at me sadly. “Then I suppose there’s only one cure for you, Mr. Geoffrey.”


“Doctor?”


Ignoring my address, the Doctor leaves his stool and proceeds to fumble through a drawer located underneath his deck. The clanging of metallic tools fills the room.


“Mr. Geoffrey.”


“Yes, Doctor?”


“What if I told you that this world has a King. A King that rules over all of humanity and all of reality. A King who can change the fate of millions with the snap of a finger. A King who reigns over light and darkness. A King who determines who lives and who dies.”


My fists clench with rage. “I would kill him. For all the wrong that he has done me, and for all the wrong that he has done humanity!”


The Doctor immediately stops what he’s doing and slams the drawer shut, aiming a nervous glance at me.


I get off my chair and stomp towards him.


“Yes, Mr. Geoffrey?” he mutters anxiously, strategically placing himself between me and the drawer behind him. “Can I help you?”


“Get out of my way, Doctor,” I seethe.


“I’m afraid I can’t-”


Shoving him aside, I rush to the drawer and pull it open, taking possession of the silver dagger that had been lying within. Seven jewels of seven colours encrust its blade, exuding a splendour that can only belong to that of the divine.


“Who are you?”


My doppelganger once again stands before me at the beach, posing me the same question that he did before.


“I know who I am,” I reply.


He smiles, nods in affirmation, and vanishes into the breeze.


The sun shines overhead, but I know that now is not the time. Holding the silver dagger in my fist, I set off, sprinting through the forest until I reach the deserted town. Next, I enter the crumbling tower.


I dash up the broken steps, refusing to devote any one second to either caution or rest. I skid over the wet stone. I jump over cracks. Higher and higher I rise, climbing floor after floor of rotting architecture. From above comes the repeated tolls of the clock tower bell, refusing to be silent in defiance towards my crusade.


At last, I reach the top.


There lies a throne. And on it, a single man sits. Donning a mask, his identity is unknown.


But I know all too well who he is.


And I know all too well that he can do nothing to resist me.


Running towards him, I take his crown and slam it into the stony floor. Then, I take his scepter and snap it in half across my knee.


“Do not do this,” he speaks. “You are not aware of the consequences that your actions will bring. Let us make peace. There is no reason for any of this.”


I pause, look him in the face, and spit. “All I wanted. All I ever wanted was simply to be with her. I asked for nothing more.”


“Do not do this,” he speaks. “You do not understand.”


But there is no stopping now.


Pulling the man to his feet, I drive the silver dagger into his chest. For a moment, I simply stand, feeling my blade cut through the body of the man before me. I step back, pulling my weapon free.


He falls to the ground silently. At the same time, the mask falls from his face, bouncing across the ground with a hollow sound.


And I see myself staring back at me. Lying, bleeding out, on the ground.


“Goodbye,” he says.


“Goodbye,” I reply, a tear running down my cheek as I finally understand. No, as I finally remember.


The words we exchanged on that day.


Finally, the last grain of sand falls into the bottom half of the hourglass. But then, a hand takes hold of it and stands it on its head, just as it always does.


And the sand starts flowing again, just as it always does.


Sometimes we never truly understand anything until we crush everything with our own two hands. Sometimes even that is not enough. But even so, we are never wrong. We are simply guided by our own wishes. And that is what makes us who we are. That is what makes us human. And that is our eternal curse. But even so, we carry on.


The fog clears before my eyes, just as it always does.


And it appears before me. A world devoid of colour. A world stark and grey. A world destroyed.


Dropping my broken dagger into the sand, I take a step forward, and walk.


Just as I always do.


END


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