There's a house on a hill at the end of the world
Where the open road reaches the sky,
With its floorboards that creak under secrets they keep
And the weight of each traveler's goodbye.
There's a house where the spider webs string up the sun,
Where the winds of the world start to blow,
And it's here that is home to the hearts on the run;
To the lost souls with nowhere to go.
- Erin Hanson
A/N: This story will be first of many I write about fragments from the life of a man named Edgar. If you find yourself wondering about plot holes/ implications in the story, they're most likely intentional. The more I write, the more will be revealed :) Having said that, I'm not a perfect writer, so if you find any mistakes, do let me know. This story and its characters belong to me, and are completely fictional. I hope you like it!
P.S. The inspiration for this story comes from this prompt:
Grey clouds covered the night sky like wisps of smoke after a large explosion. A gentle, chilly breeze lilted through the air and carried with it the scent of wet mud and grass - an indicator that it would soon begin to rain. Apart from the occasional chirp of a cricket or the buzz of a dragonfly, the forest remained mostly quiet. Not another soul seemed to stir in the vast expanse of tall, burly trees that night - the world had long since been seduced by the lull of a peaceful slumber. The forest, at that moment, was the epitome of tranquility: an untouched, self-sustaining entity, existing by itself, in perfect harmony with itself.
But then again, Edgar had always been the harbinger of disruption, hadn't he?
Painfully aware of the crunch his worn out combat boots made every time he stepped on dry grass, Edgar slowly walked along the poorly constructed path that had been paved smack through the middle of the forest. To be fair, it wasn't a path that was frequented very much, and so it made some sense that the poor soul who'd been tasked with making it had done such a shabby job with it. They hadn't made that much of an effort, really – it wasn't even a proper road. It was a dirt path running straight from the edge of Farmer Solace's fields through the thick forests to the largely unoccupied outskirts of town. A long path, mind you, but an undeservingly shabby path nonetheless. Nobody maintained it, which explained the grass that had eventually grown back along it, and Edgar sure didn't feel like volunteering for the job anytime soon either, but as the weight of his prosthetic leg made itself abundant to him with every step he took, he found it hard to sympathize with the makers of the shabby, old dirt path. If you were to do a job, he reckoned, you ought to do it right if you're going to do it at all. No point in troubling an old man such as himself on a dark winter's night because of how shabbily you'd done it.
Had he been older by even a year, Edgar probably wouldn't have been able to walk along the path as steadily as he could now. Not only had it been paved very shabbily, but also with tons of bumps along the way. Luckily enough, he had his trusty old walking cane with him to feel the ground before him as he walked, but occasionally, the bumps on the path, or the lack thereof, caught Edgar by surprise, and combined with his steady momentum, almost succeeded in felling him. Every time he almost fell, it felt as though the wind had been knocked out of his lungs. It wasn't long before he gained the inkling he might have been a bit too old to journey amidst the forest alone, but he'd already made it more than half way to his destination. And besides, if anything, it was probably just the irrationally fearsome part of his brain trying to convince him to turn around. Edgar knew what he'd set out to do that day, and he had to do it. This time, there would be no excuses.
A few leaves hanging limply from their trees rustled loudly against the steadily growing gust of wind. Edgar couldn't help but notice how much it sounded like the chattering of bones as he walked past them. The thought brought with it the unpleasant memories of his service in the military nearly 55 years ago, but for the first time in perhaps a decade, Edgar didn't bother pushing them away. What was the harm in reminiscing about past memories when he was due to become a memory himself soon?
The civil war had been absolutely devastating. He'd just been a small town boy, with the promise of a new life in the cities on the tip of his tongue. Oh, if only he'd known better, Edgar would have stayed right where he was, in the miserable little shack he'd called home for 19 years. No amount of grumpy old priests or eccentric technicians would ever have been able to disturb him as much as the war in the cities had. Oh, if only he'd known…
The thing people always told you about the city was that it was the place to make your dreams come true – where the thin sheet of glass hovering around you called life could be transformed into a mosaic window reaching out into happiness and success. Big houses, fast cars, fancy clothes, quick money…they reduced the very effervescence of the city into a commercial lifestyle.
But what they didn't tell you was that the city was also full of cruel, mind-numbing evils waiting for you at every next corner if you weren't well connected enough to evade them. What they didn't tell you was that everything came with a price and that the currency wasn't always money. What they didn't tell you was that happiness could only be found within the self, not outside of it, and so the mosaic window actually reached into an abyss of deceptions and mirages instead, fragile to break and impossible to fix.
Edgar's first month in the city had been hopeful. The second disappointing. The third, he went to war.
Gray clouds and voices were what he remembered the most about the war. Everywhere he looked, he'd see gray clouds. Floating in the air, obscuring the battlefield, rising from fired weapons. Grey clouds. It was hard to forget the feeling of sheer terror as the sound of a gunshot rang straight through your ears, and all you could do was wait, frightened out of your mind, to see whether the enemy had shot the soldier beside you or blown off a part of your body. What was worse was the cacophony of voices that bled through your ears all throughout your service. When you were fighting it was a mixture of whispers and muffled screams and when you were sleeping, it was the coarse voices of doctors and nurses comforting the wounded and the dying. With each passing second, Edgar had been reminded of his own imminent mortality and the expiry date stuck to it like a price tag on an item for sale. The stress he'd incurred as a result haunted him till the very day.
There was only one other significant thing – a vivid memory – etched into Edgar's mind that originated from the war, and it was of the day he'd lost his leg. But the experience and all it had entailed had left a grave mark upon Edgar's mind and consciousness and before he knew it, he'd pushed the memory away.
All his reminiscing must have taken more time than Edgar had thought, for with every step he took, it became more and more apparent to him that he'd reached the end of the forest, and his final destination, the local cemetery.
It hadn't changed much since the last time he'd paid it a visit.
The cemetery was as lovely as solemn a part of Edenbrooke. As Edgar walked out of the forest, he was met by a large, fancy white gate about a hundred meters away from the last tree he'd passed by. The gate was surrounded by a large fence on either side that confined the area of the cemetery to an appropriately sized circle. Having been constructed about a century ago, the gate was significantly old, and made a loud creaking sound as Edgar opened it. He could hear a group of birds flying away from the noise as he closed it shut once more. Sighing, he paused to stare at the forest one last time before carrying on.
Was this really to be the last time he'd see it? True, Edgar didn't have many happy memories from the past, but some of his most precious ones were from the times he'd spent there. The sound of little boys laughing whole-heartedly as they played hide-and-seek amongst tall trees, the feeling of a single bead of sweat dripping down his neck as, lost at night, he tried finding his way back home, and the heart-stopping bliss from kissing the one he loved for the very last time as hid his heart and his love in a woodpecker's nest by a secret cave…knowing how his life had come to be, Edgar wouldn't dare re-visit those days of innocence, even if he could. He had no right to, he believed. But God, were there moments when he just couldn't stop the ache of longing from filling the void in his chest. Each memory represented a whole other possibility of how his life could have taken shape, a broken 'what if,' and it pained him to think there was a future he could have had where he could actually have been a better man – a future where he could have been happy.
Even a shabby guy like him.
In a twisted sort of way, making his way through the graveyard felt like coming home from the war. Only this time, the people he held dear were waiting for him where he'd expected them to be. Starting from the most recent graves, Edgar made sure to look for those of the people he'd known, and to say a quick goodbye to them as he moved along. The particular headstone he was headed towards was one of the oldest ones there, and so he had plenty of people to catch up with before he reached the end.
80 years, that was how long Edgar had roamed the Earth. And never, in all those years, had he felt as unburdened and light-hearted as he did now. Edgar made sure to look for the graves of the people he'd known, and with each goodbye, he poured out a bit of the remains of his heart into them. He didn't know whether the people underneath (or above, if you wanted to get technical) could hear him, but he hoped they forgave him his sins if they could. He hoped they could hear the words he didn't say as well, the unspoken thoughts that had plagued his mind for years. He hoped they understood. He hoped, and he hoped, and he hoped, in these last minutes, for somehow, his acceptance of the end had given him hope.
Oh yes, it was fitting indeed, for the shabby old man that he was.
And then he reached the grave he'd been heading towards.
"Annabeth Richards," he whispered. "I'm finally here, darling, I'm finally home. I hope you don't mind I'm a bit late – heh – but this is it. Forever now. Just as promised."
A single tear rolled down his cheek as he fell to his knees beside Annabeth's grave. For the second time that night, he hoped the dead could hear him.
"Do you remember I'd promised to take you the new worlds once I returned from the city? We'd planned to travel the lands, sail the seas, and find a new meaning for this life we'd been given. Oh Annabeth, I've visited every corner of this world! I've seen all there is to see, and let me tell you, dear, it's not pretty. Oh no, it's not pretty at all. No matter what you do, no matter whom you trust, no matter where you go…all that's waiting for you are lies and deceit. You think you're life's finally beginning, you stretch out your wings, and within seconds they'll cut them off and push you to the ground. They lied to me, Annabeth, they lied to me! All my dreams, all my promises…they were all for nothing. For nothing! Oh the things I've said and done, dear, they're horrible. Horrible! But I had to…I had to, dear, I had to…"
Edgar was sobbing now, his head tucked into his hands. He'd rehearsed this moment many times since he'd returned from the war. He'd planned out what he wanted to say, and how he wanted to say it. He'd worked so hard to maintain his composure as he'd walked to the grave, but now that the moment had finally arrived, he'd broken down completely. Human nature never seized to amaze him. Even now, as he laid down all that was left of his mind, body and soul next to the person he'd been afraid to face for so long, Edgar couldn't help but marvel at how his body had disobeyed him. It was, he supposed, fitting after all.
Trembling, Edgar eventually looked up at the sky. The first rays of the sun were threatening to take over. How long had he simply been sitting beside Annabeth? When had he stopped talking? Time had seemed to blur in between.
"Hello darkness, my old friend. I will be with you before the sun arrives."
It was much later, at noon that day, that Edgar's body was found. He'd shot himself in the chest with his pistol, dressed in his old army cloths, beside the grave of Annabeth Richards, who'd died 60 years before.
He wouldn't have guessed it, but Edgar was missed tremendously by the children of eastside Edenbrooke. They helped organize a large gathering, with all the townsfolk present, to remember all he'd taught them about choosing right from wrong. They also helped make his house a memorial to recognize his service in the war, and the tales he'd told of the days that came after. Not much had been known about Edgar's life, but what was public knowledge had been engraved on a plaque in front of the same. The house stood strong for generations, and as a symbol of the destruction of war, attracted the hearts and sympathies of people from all over the world in the decades to come. Not much farther away, was his grave, fitted in right beside that of Annie Richards'.
It's curious, how people can get so caught up in the footprints of their past that they forget about the ones they leave as they continue to move forward.