by Aaron Sebenius
I’m running from something. I never know what, but it’s always there. Sometimes I look back with the intent of figuring it out, but back that way, the sky darkens with the unwanted unknown. I do know the feel of the marshy ground as my bare feet squish through the mud, the feel of the reeds scratching my legs as I cross the shallow stream. The water is cold, refreshing with the sun beating down on my neck. I have to get away, so I run for a long time. By the time I reach the other side, the sun rides low on the horizon, but its beams have only intensified, as they often do. My pace slows, not from exhaustion, but with the knowledge that what’s chasing me will also stop for the night. I meander my way through a meadow, enjoying the smell of the grass, moving towards a gentle downward slope. As I reach the crest, I see an old manor by a cluster of evergreens.
I approach the manor cautiously at first, but it has a safe feeling to it. I know this place, but from where, I can’t remember. I take the first step, leading up to the wide porch, and my eyes are assaulted with double images. I see the manor before me, old and abandoned. The porch hangs limply, paint peeling or gone altogether, overgrown with moss and ivy. But I also see the porch as it was, a ghostly image overlain on the present, a pristine version of the same porch, well swept, hanging herbs dangling along the rail. I catch a faint whiff of lavender as I make my way up the crooked steps. I’m never sure if it’s real, or just a memory. I stumble slightly upon reaching the top step, and reach out to steady myself on a post. I feel the rough flakes of paint crumble beneath the pressure, and the smooth paint from long ago. As I make my way to the door, the boards creak beneath my feet. The feeling of nostalgia is almost palpable. I know this place, but I cannot place it. I press lightly on the door, and it swings open silently, on rusted, brand-new hinges. I’m glad it’s dry here, there’s no smell of rot, and it looks like the place is mostly intact. To my left are the stairs, leading to the upper level. I look around the rest, but it’s all vague. Not decrepit or decaying, just in disrepair, but also perfect conditions. I blink a lot; the double images are confusing.
As I take the first step of the stairs, my vision blurs slightly. I remember, and can’t help but smile. A little orange kitten bounds down the stairs, chasing an unraveling ball of yarn. I lean back and watch him play for a few moments before blinking away the image and continuing my climb. I reach the middle of the stairs, a small platform missing boards, but they don’t hinder my step too much. I shake my head as I hear a low yowl from the top of the stairs. I think it’s part of the memory at first, but it happens again, and I look up. An orange tom looks down the stairs at me, green eyes intent. Sitting beside him and staring just as intently, is Her.
“You came back!”
All of the sudden, she’s in my arms, nearly tackling me with her forceful hug. She looks up at me, the smile so evident in her blue-gold eyes. My mind is torn asunder, memories flashing in front of my eyes faster than I can keep up. I know her, but I have no idea who she is. She retreats a step.
“I knew you’d keep your promise. We can finally be together.”
I gaze back at her for a few moments, and then it all clicks into place. She’s older now, than the memories suggest, but so am I, I guess. It’s been a long time. I remember everything, all at once. The life we had, why I had to leave, why I still can’t stay.
We talk for what feels like days, wandering through the house, the tom always nearby. She tries to convince me to stay with her, and never understands that there’s nothing I would like more than to be by her side. I do so wish I could stay.