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Edju - 32nd Stave


by RW Spryszak


32.

I am the worst of all men. Don't talk to me about your loneliness. I am one alone all my life until my last day at the tower.

It began with someone calling my name. I heard it from the road as I sat in my high-backed chair. I admit I was nervous that day for reasons I dare not explain. I admit I sat rigid. Back straight, plastered against the reeds and leather strips used to make the chair. I admit my body was stiff, locked into some kind of agitated but linear paralysis. But I am sure — as I was sure then — that my state of mind that day had nothing to do with it. I heard someone calling my name. And that was all there was to it.

I went to the open air window that faced the road. That same road where all the fantastic monster equipment was every other day. It was an automatic thing. Something I didn't have to think twice about. That's the window you go to when the strange machines arrive in front of the church.

Instead of the kind of contraption I'd become used to seeing, there was only a yellow box. Big enough for a child to sit in. Strapped closed shut with heavy paper tape. Brown tape. The serious kind. And from inside this I heard my name. Edju, it called. Edju, and nothing more. It was a muffled call. The clarity confounded by the cardboard and tape. It wouldn't stop calling me. I had the impression that everything around me was getting angry with the noise. The walls. The door. The bell. The air. The trees. The road itself. The workmen in the distance. The voice calling over and over was annoying to everything and everyone who heard it. I felt compelled to go down there and stop it before the whole world was angry with me.

Something touched my sleeve before I left the tower. Something didn't want me to go. Telling me to stay inside the tower. I had the feeling at that moment, but I ignored it. I raced down the winding wooden stairs and flew out to the road where the box was. Or, at least, where I thought it was.

It wasn't there at all. Gone. And, being gone, no one called my name

And my bell, high over my head, of its own accord, tolled one.

I turned back to the church and saw the bell swinging in the tower. But how? There was no one inside and I was the bellringer. I was numb for a moment, transfixed at the impossible sight.

Then the bell struck two.

Of course. Noon. It was noon and I was not at my station. I ran back to the door and tried to open it. Locked. Jiggling the great brass handle did nothing.

The bell struck three.

I reached for my ring of keys at my side. At least they were still attached to my belt. At least I hadn't been stupid enough to allow myself to forget it. I bent over to see better and find the right key.

Four.

I was sure I had the right one and slid it into the keyhole. I turned and nothing happened. I turned it again and tried the handle at the same time. No. That wasn't the way. You unlock first and then turn the handle.

Five.

I couldn't turn the key. It was the wrong key. I pulled it out and cursed the devil. I went through them one at a time.

Six.

The key I wanted had a copper tint. Old copper. Greenish, gray and black. I found two such keys. I didn't know what the other one could be for, but I slipped one in the door and tried to turn. The wrong key.

Seven.

This is when I noticed the sweat falling into my eyes. What was happening? How is this happening? I am the bellringer. I found and slid the other key with the same coloration into the lock and turned.

Eight.

There was a satisfying click as the lock released. The right key to be certain. I moved the handle and it turned easy in my fingers. I let the ring of keys go. They jangled at my side as I swung the door open. In time to hear the bell clear as anything.

Nine.

I jumped at the stairs and took them two, sometimes three at a time. And stumbled. Searing pain in the toes I stubbed. A solid crack of bone just below my knee from the hard wooden edge. For a moment I thought I would faint. Pass out from the pain.

Ten.

It was as if someone took a hammer to my lower leg but I couldn't spare the luxury of suffering. I regained my footing and limped, somehow pulling myself — or willing myself — up the stairs and to the landing.

Eleven.

Once on the landing I turned the knob on the door to my room and pulled but something was holding it in place. I did not have the strength to fight against it. My leg was bleeding through my breeches. I put both hands on the door and yanked.

Twelve.

The door let loose. It swung open. I almost fell backwards onto the stairs, a tumble that could have killed me to be sure. I jumped into my room and saw the rope. Swaying. No one there. No one in the room at all. Something had just let go of the rope. The bell swung but there was no more tolling. Only iron and rope rubbing on ancient wood. It creaked to a stop, and hung lifeless over my head, taunting me. The rope still swaying ever so slight.

I heard my name called from the road.

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