Yarryl scowled at the climb he still had, as he glanced up the steep hill. An ancient stairway had been cut into the rocky terrain, which was covered in pine and maple trees, with a smattering of oak and ash trees spreading their mighty limbs skywards.
There was snow on the ground, coating everything, except, oddly enough, the stairs. He had expected them to be treacherous and slippery, but for some reason that he couldn’t quite understand, they were clear. Maybe there was a caretaker that had shoveled them? Or maybe it was because there had been sun and warmer temps over the last few days, and the stones had been heated enough to melt it off.
“There’s really not a good answer here, so why do you ask? “ Yarryl said in a sarcastic mutter.
He’d already trudged up for the last 30 minutes, and though they WERE steps, and far easier to climb than if he’d tried hiking up the hill on the regular game trails, it wasn’t an easy climb at all. Some of the sections of the stairway were very steep, and even his light frame was taxed by the work it required.
He’d begun to break a sweat in that late morning gloom, after he’d left his car behind at the bottom of the hill, in the park’s midway station, and there had been a lot of fog. That had left something of a chill in the air, in the just at freezing temperatures, and despite his long coat, and hat, he shivered half the way up the climb.
He knew why he was making the climb, but he didn’t know WHY. Why was he thinking this would make a difference? Why had he even agreed to do it? Why was he not still home in his warm bed? Why was he so angry at his inability to see something obvious that was RIGHT THERE. Everyone else had. But no. He hadn’t seen it. He felt like a fool. He felt used.
But then he’d been having those dreams the last month; Every single night His nana telling him he’d promised to talk to her when he was in trouble. “But that was 5 years ago, Nana, “ he muttered under his breath. “You left us then.. you couldn’t stay.“ He said this softy under his breath. As he did, he caught site of another series of lamp posts through the fog. Maybe he was almost there? Maybe that was the top?
A new burst of energy and hope infused him with the sighting, and he surged up the steps in a rush. He was puffing like a bellows when he crested the last stair, and he was standing in a stone arch on an entry terrace, paved with flat stones, It was into the ancient temple that stood at the crest of the hill. Small statues of ancient stone, of lions, elephants, bears and bison, were stations every 10 yards or so, along the path and around the perimeter of the temple.
The structure had faded jade tiles of slate on the roof, and the walls were made of a light, almost white, pale gray stone. It was beautifully crafted, and there were panels hanging around the outside, near each shuttered window and the main double-door entrance, that were symbols for family, friendship, peace, spirit, tranquility, remembrance, and honor.
This place reminded him of wholesome things. It reminded of home, and family.
He entered the front doors, and it was like stepping into a place of quiet and reflection. The inside had support carven pillars of stone strategically placed, and beside each pillar, as well as at the back of the chamber. The stands were iron, square and had grillwork in the middle of the rectangular chamber for the candle, about six inches on a side, and a foot tall, on top of a pole stand that was another foot or so tall. They were sturdy and gave a certain ostentatious gravitas to the large candles burning inside them.
At the center of the room was a small reflecting pool, built into the floor, with a low ledge surrounding it. It was made of the same gray stones that made the walls, and a lip of the same Jade-lacquered slate tiles, that comprised the roof.
There were candle stands tall stands at the back of the room, surrounding a wide platform of white marble, which had a painted tapestry of a symbol for ‘ancestor’ and ‘prayer’ side by side.
Yarryl glanced at the peaceful chamber, and noted that, while it was chilly and damp feeling outside, inside this place, he felt warm, like he was inside a home.
His breathing had normalized on the slow walk up to the temple, and he was glad of that. Gasping and wheezing inside a place like this- he would have felt like he was committing a sacrilege to the peace and serenity that he felt now.
As he strode around the pool, he slowly unbuttoned his long gray coat, and his black shirt, which had a lace up back, was found to have come loose in the back, revealing beautiful tattoos that were covering his upper back across the shoulders and shoulder blades, as well as his lower neck. He didn’t mind. He took off his knitted cap, and shook his white shaggy mane, and finger combed it into some semblance of flatness, as he laid those garments to the side.
This was the place he had come to, as a child, with his nana, to pray and reflect. And he had promised her he would visit her here, when he needed to talk to someone. She had told him that she knew he would have troubles that he couldn’t deal with himself. She had been psychic that way – or just very wise. Or both. He was never sure just how much she knew, or guessed about him. He had never been able to fool her, though, in life.
As he walked passed the reflecting pool, a voice came from behind him. He paused, and glanced around, and saw a tall man, with sharp features and short-cropped black hair – a buzz cut, almost, except perhaps the hair was longer on the top and was swept straight back from his forehead. The sides over the ears were definitely cropped short. The man had no facial hair, not even eyebrows, and his skin looked tanned, with skin that was about as smooth as plastic wrap that had been pulled taut over a bowl. He had on a black trench coat that swept down past his ankles and a toothy smile that looked like a rictus grin. His eyes were white, and almost seemed to bulge from his skull. He was thin and nearly 2 meters tall. He seemed to have on slick looking black trousers, and a black suit coat underneath the trench, with a white, almost plastic white button down shirt with a high necked collar that was upturned and jutted out on either side of his neck almost like two prongs. They seemed to quiver like spikes jutting out around his harshly bluish/white complexion. He seemed like a shark in human form, is what Yarryl’s brain screamed at him.
He was leaning against the wall between the windows, and he cleared his throat after Yarryl had passed. Yarryl didn’t quite remember seeing him when he passed him, but he saw him now. Had he been standing there all along? He turned his head, startled, at the cough, and the man almost seemed to lurch a half step towards him, as he did.
“Hello!” the figure said, as Yarryl paused. Tall man pushed his hand off of the temple wall and clicked his teeth like he was chomping, 2 quick clicks of his teeth, as he glanced Yarryl up and down. “Is there something you neeeeeeed, young man? I am sure I can be of… serviiiiiice.. Should you find yourself in neeeeeed… (the man drew out some of his words, as if emphasizing them), I am sure I can help youuuu.“
Yarryl frowned at the odd, and strangely appearing man. “No thanks.. I just came here to .. well to pray, I guess. I don’t want to be any trouble.. “
The figure lurched another step, then two, then three away from the wall, and the pool seems to grow dark nearby, as if the candlelight and the light filtering in from outside had dimmed. Yarryl held up his hand and shook his head. The figured continued to approach, and the boy got the urge to run.
There was a flair of light from the candles all around the pool, almost in response to the dimming of the light, and each seemed to ignite some inner reserve of power, as their flames leapt to burn a full foot tall, pulsing flames that would not be denied. They blazed up outside the grating of the candle stands, and illuminating the room in a harsh white and blue light that bathed both Yarryl and the Shark-man in its radiance. Yarryl could swear that he heard a chorus of angry and powerful voices all speaking some babble of harsh rebuke that he could ALMOST understand.
Sharkman stopped his lurching steps, and held his arm up slowly, like a claw-tipped limb, and lashed out at the air. “NOOOO!!!!” He said, in a rasping, harsh voice. He clawed at the air with the other hand too, and where he did there were shadows rending the light as a physical thing, like claw marks ripping through thick paper. But each such hissing attack was met with more and more light from the other candles in the room. Then the pool started to bubble, and froth, with righteous anger, and Sharkman turned as if to face an enemy, hissing even louder, as the pulses of light, and the rising anger of the heavenly chorus grew to a creshendo, and he shouted “NOOOOO!” one last time.
And then Sharkman was no longer there. The candles in the temple, and the pool were normal again, the little flames gently bobbing in the soft breeze, glowing warm and reassuringly.
Yarryl gulped, and then walked to the edge of the pool, and saw that there was not a ripple or disturbance of any sort in the reflecting pool. It was placid and calm- undisturbed.
Yarryl ran a hand over his forehead, and he was drenched in sweat again, as if he had run up the hillside again, but twice as far and long, and he gasped for breath..
But slowly he calmed… and he turned towards the raised platform, almost stumbling.. And he sank to his knees beside a candle stand and knelt there, and almost spoke to the flame of the candle, in a quiet whisper.. “Oh dear nana.. What was that.. What just happened? Did I imagine that? I … I know I stopped doing the drugs.. I don’t want those visions any more.. Can you.. Help me .. please.. “
Yarryl closed his eyes and repeated his entreaty again, his little prayer to his nana.
And in the quiet of the temple, he heard her voice. The voice came as a whisper, as if from the flame of the candle.
It told him, in the voice of his nana, that he was supposed to hear the voices, and see the things he saw, but he would need training, and instruction. And if he didn’t, he would be vulnerable, as he was just a few moments ago, to creatures like Sharkman. Men that had been inhabited by demons – and not kind or friendly spirits of that sort, but the dangerous ones, and the mischievous ones.
Yarryl answered her back, saying he just wanted to be an artist, and didn’t want any of that. And the quiet reply was, “Sometimes, we are called to do things we do not want to do, but must be done. Sometimes we must be more than what we want to be, to become what we and others need to be, in order to do the things that can’t be done by others. Service and honor, duty and faimly. You are being called, young Yarryl. Heed the call. Fulfull your destiny.” And with that, a necklace seemed to appear on the candle stand. It was a rune of silver that dangled from a chain. It looked like something Yarryl remembered his Nana wearing.
The words filled him with an awe, and a purpose, that part of him wanted to rebel against, but his nana had never been wrong, or directed him in a false way. He’d always regretted to heeding her words.
So with trembling fingers, he lifted the necklace from the candlestand, and then opened what looked like a simple clasp,and put the necklace on around his neck. And when he heard an audible click from it, he felt a sense of peace and duty settle on him, as if from on-high. And he could hear a murmur of voices in the temple, as if the ancestors, not just his nana, but many of them, all whispering their approval.
And when he looked up, standing a few paces away, was his Nana. She was as she had been before she had gotten sick, a straight backed little woman with a wrinkled but kindly face, an iron gray bun of hair that was pulled back and curled into that tight twirl at the back of her head. Her eyes were sharp, and she had a smile on her aged face. She was short, but not dwarfish, and her outfit was a silver silk tunic trimmed in some brocade and a design of dragons outlined in the fabric in black and silver thread. She wore similar trousers, and her feet were lost in the wide-legged pants that just were above the floor. She had on that odd little straw hat that she always wore, and she smiled at him. “Welcome to the next stage, Yarryl. I get to be with you, for a time, to begin your instruction. “
“Is this really what I came here for Nana..somehow I thought I was coming for relationship advice.. Not .. not this.. “
“My boy, if the world only gave you what you wanted, when you wanted it, we’d all be wallowing like little piglets in mud all the time, and never get anything done! Now.. please.. Come with me..”
“Yes, Nana.. but where?”
She gestured at the back of the temple wall, and a doorway appeared, limned in light, that slowly opened, as if some mystic gateway to another plane were opening. Yarryl took his nana’s hand, after he stood, and it was warm and vibrant, and alive. She led him towards the gateway, and as they were stepping through, he asked, “Not that I’m complaining, but I thought you died, Nana.. how is this.. “
“All will be made clear in time, Yarryl. We pray to our ancestors, because we are still here, just in a different form.. Now.. be a good boy, and hush.. We have a long walk ahead of us. “
Yarryl smiled, and walked into the light with his nana. And began the next chapter of his life. His adventure had truly begun.
Story by: Dehrynn Shepherd
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