Stories

“Slenderman isn’t real.”

A story by Raksha Keller

“Slenderman isn’t real.”

That’s how this story starts. That’s how this story will most likely end. I don’t lie. My name is Raksha, and this is my story.

Slenderman isn’t real.”

Helen has said this a variety of times to me. I nod vaguely and she cries out in frustration. I silently watch her fume, her round, pudgy pig face red all the way to the roots of her bleached hair. She looks me in the eyes and I return her stare. She’s pleading with me, but I don’t care. She wants me to say a lie; but I won’t do that. Obviously seeing my resolution, she stands up, and storms out of the room. I hear her screaming at my fiancée that she couldn’t help me, that I was a lost cause that should be abandoned. Reaching for my untouched coffee that lay on the side table aside the couch I lounged on, I stir in some of the provided sugar and wait for Jer to come and get me. When he does, his eyes show exhaustion. A stab of sympathy hits me. That’s all from my yelling at night. Hardening up quickly, I give him one of my legendary cold shoulders. I told him he could leave me; he refused, therefore his well being was no concern of mine. He seated himself beside me on the psychiatrist’s couch.

“Why? Why won’t you admit Slenderman isn’t real? What could you possibly gain by keeping up this charade?”

I scoffed at him and his weakness. Was he really expecting me to soften up, lie, and tell him I would stop playing a game that doesn’t exist? As if I would play such a useless game. He knows I don’t play in something that doesn’t benefit me in return. He didn’t say a word as he got up from the couch, but just as he was about to walk out the door, he said it.

“I’m calling it off. Our engagement, our relationship. Everything. I’ll file all the paperwork, and send it for you to sign. I’ll tell your family.you just keep obsessing over things that aren’t there.”

And with that, I lost Jer forever. I didn’t care. He didn’t believe me, no he didn’t want to believe me. All because of his fear. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life with someone that weak anyhow. I rose from the couch, dusted off my jeans, and sauntered to the dreary day in Seattle. Rain clouds were forming in the sky, ready to pour at given moment. I fingered the large kitchen knife, the lone item I kept in my handbag. A drizzle began to rain over the town, but I continued to walk east. Towards the woods.

He was already there when I arrived. His suit was extraordinarily dry, as if the rain found him as revolting as I did. His snake like arms dangled , barely scraping the forest floor. He accessed me in silence- I didn’t think he was blind, but I always had to remind myself that he could see me better than I could see him. I guess I would never get over the feeling that he was wearing some morbid Halloween costume. His long tentacles were absent, for the time being, and one of his long arms stretched towards my face. His spindly finger explored my face and my ody, without ever touching it. I didn’t hide the repulsive shivers it caused. Finally, it seemed as though he was deep into the trance, or enchantment, or whatever this monster could feel. I dug deep into my bag to unsheathed the knife, and I plunged it into his chest. He didn’t look as if he were pain, then again, he didn’t look like anything. His face was still glued to my body as I screamed. My legs couldn’t support me anymore, but I stood. His gaze literally wouldn’t let me go. I felt blood seeping through my clothes, slithering down my torso.

My knife was plunged into his chest, yet it wasn’t him I had pierced. The forest began to black out. I realized that I wasn’t fainting; it was Slenderman. His tentacles weren’t absent, but were winding through the trees, dodging my vision. A slimy cloak enfolded me, and Slenderman’s face became a smile, full of razor incisors faced me. I understand why people like Helen don’t search for monsters, or deny their existence. People like her realize it before people like me. She understood me, or better yet, the monster inside of me.


Decay

A story by Richard Saxom

”Am I going to die?” The kid asked me as he was being rolled into the operating theater.

It was a question I’d heard a thousand times before, but answering it truthfully hadn’t become any easier, even after years at the hospital.

”Of course not, we’re gonna fix you right up.” I lied.

He’d been crushed in a horrific car accident, and though we would put all our effort into saving his life, hope was a limited resource. The fact that he even remained conscious despite losing most of his blood was bizarre enough, but after ten years on the job nothing surprised me anymore.

The anaesthesiologist quickly put him under while we scrubbed in for surgery.

Damien would be the surgeon, a specialist in poly-trauma cases, and I’d assist. No sooner had we opened him up before we shared a look of disappointment; There was no chance in hell he’d survive through surgery.

Despite our lack of faith, we tried our best, but after only half an hour on the table, his heart gave out.

”How was he still alive when he arrived?” Damien asked.

He pronounced the time of death and left us to clean up the mess. I took the responsibility of cleaning the kid up for the morgue, a task I’d committed to countless times before. It wasn’t something I personally enjoyed, but to me it was my final chance to pay respect to the dead.

The kid couldn’t have been more than fifteen, and as I’d hear he was just learning to drive. Unexperienced, and attempting his first drive on a slippery road, he managed to steer off into a ditch. His father died on impact, but he himself lived long enough to face surgery.

As I put the needle to his open abdomen, his body twitched for a moment. I retracted the needle in surprise, wondering what had caused a post mortem spasm.

Then the boy suddenly gasped for air as his eyes shut open, he let out the most violent scream imaginable as he suddenly returned to life.

”Help me!” he begged with a guttural voice as I stumbled back in panic and slipped onto the floor.

I called for help and the rest of the team came running into the operating theatre, each panicking as they witnessed the dead boy scream on the operating table.

His spine was fractures, so though he yelled in agony, he could do nothing to move. The anaesthesiologist quickly attempted to sedate him while we checked his vitals. Despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, his heart had not started beating again.

He was supposed to be dead.

I started chest compressions, desperately trying to get his heart going. I cringed to the sound of his ribs cracking beneath my hands, and the boy’s screams turned to gargles as he was unable to gasp for another breath.

“He’s not going under!” The anaesthesiologist yelled as he gave the kid a second dose of propofol. Of course, without a functioning heart, there’d be no way for the drug to flow through his veins, even as I tried my best to pump for him.

After an hour of compressions, the chief of surgery had intervened, and ordered us to stop. At that point we caused more damage than we helped.

”W-what’s happening to me?” The kid stuttered, still conscious.

None of us responded, we couldn’t find any words to describe the horrific sight before us. Most of the staff had left due to the sight. We’d faced many challenges in our career, but nothing quite like this.

”What’s your name?” I asked, despite already having seen it in the file. I just wanted him to focus.

“Brian Dawson.” He responded.

I took a deep breath, doing my best to keep my composure.

”You were in an accident, Brian.” I told him.

His eyes darted frantically around the room as he started to realise where he was, he tried to lift his neck, but due to the spinal fracture he was completely paralysed.

”I can’t move, I-I can’t move.” He cried.

I walked closer, standing directly above him.

”Brian, your heart isn’t beating.” I said.

The chief of surgery, George, grabbed me by my shoulder and whispered into my ear.

”We need to isolate the OR, whatever is happening here is beyond us, and it could be contagious.” George said.

He rushed into the preparation room picked up the phone. Through the glass door I couldn’t hear what he said, but I assumed he was calling security to shut down the ward.

”W-what about my f-father?” Brian asked, trying to hold back tears.

I was taken aback by his question. I’d just told him his heart was destroyed, and that was essentially dead, yet his first concern was regarding his father.

”I’m sorry Brian, he died on impact.”

He sobbed quietly.

“So, what’s going to happen to me, I’m going to die, aren’t I?” He asked.

I didn’t know what to say, I’d never been in any similar situation, so I just gave the only answer I thought mightbe of some comfort.

“You’re not alone, I’m staying here until the end.”

George had been quick to shut down the operating theatre, and the Centre for Disease Control had long since been alerted to our situation. We had nothing to do but to wait, and pray to any God that Brian wasn’t contagious.

I had already been exposed, so I examined Brian, checking for any chance of improving his situation.

“Can you feel this?” I asked as I checked all his limbs.

“Not a thing.” He responded. “But, it hurts so much on the inside.”

“Where exactly does it hurt?” I asked.

“Everywhere, please do something!” He begged.

I gave Brian a dose of fentanyl, but without a heartbeat to move the drug around, I had little hope it would take any effect at all.

To keep him distracted from the pain, I asked mundane things about life, what his hobbies were, family stuff. He was smart enough to realise my intentions, but went along with it, either out of fear, or because he actually hoped someone could save him.

Hours passed while we waited for someone to tell us what to do, half the surgical staff had been put into quarantine, terrified that they might be infected.

Finally the CDC arrived on scene, fully geared in hazmat suits, They allowed us to roll Brian into his own space; a pre-operation room had been evacuated, so he could stay somewhat comfortable. The rest of us would be put into the surgical office while the situation was being assessed.

I decided to stay with Brian, no one should have to suffer alone; Especially with the CDC agents probing hime with all sorts of needles, enthusiastically taking samples.

The only reason they allowed me to stay, was because I kept him relatively calm.

***

We talked through the night, after the procedures were finished I couldn’t sleep, and I doubt Brian was physically capable of it.

“My eyes feel a bit weird.” He said.

“Do they hurt?”

“No, the edges are just kind of blurry, it’s weird.”

I left to talk to George who was still working around the clock, calling around, making sure the other patients were redirected elsewhere.

“What if we put the kid on a heart, lung machine?” I asked.

George put the phone down for a moment and sighed.

“Then what? He has no functioning liver, his aorta is cut into pieces and his intestines shredded, even if we got him a new heart, he’d never survive.” George responded. “Just keep him company while you can.”

I knew he was right, but some of my professional knowledge was put aside due to the insane nature of the situation.

“Doctor!” Brian shouted.

I rushed to his side.

“I-I can’t see!” He stuttered.

I pulled out a flashlight and examined his eyes. Both pupils were unresponsive, and his eyes had started to almost deflate, which was one of the stages of decomposition.

Brian had started to rot.

“Please, I’m so scared.” Brian was a brave kid, but he started to lose his composure just like everyone else in the ward.

I kept talking to him, but the inevitable truth was that if he kept decomposing, he’d soon lose all his senses, all the while being conscious to experience it. As horrible as it might sound, I begged that it might finally allow him to pass on.

We kept talking. I asked him if there’s anyone he wanted to call, but as I already knew from the others: Brian’s mother had died during childbirth, and his father had been in the same accident as himself.

As we talked, Brian’s voice kept getting louder, as if he was struggling to hear.

“Are you hearing me alright?” I asked.

“What did you say?” Brian basically yelled.

His hearing had deteriorated within minutes, going from impaired to deafness, before I could even begin to help.

With him being blind and deaf, we no longer had a way of communicating. No matter my attempts, I couldn’t comfort the dying kid, and the CDC quickly decided that my presence had become unnecessary.

Brian kept screaming in terror and agony after I left. For each passing second his own body started digesting itself, and nothing we could do would take the pain away.

By the morning, his screams had silenced.

I barged into the room, much to the dismay of the agents. Brian was hooked up to hundreds of cables, monitoring his heart, brain, muscles and vital values.

Of course, his heart showed no activity, and the decay had progressed to shut down all his muscles. He had quieted down not because the pain was gone, but because he wasn’t able to scream anymore.

The only part of his body still working, was his brain.

“What the hell happened?” I asked.

“Get him out of here!” One of the men demanded.

The other man complied, but went outside with me to explain the situation.

“You don’t have to worry about it being contagious, we’ll lift the quarantine in a moment.” He said.

He looked weirdly somber as he spoke those words.

“What about Brian, what will happen to him?”

“He’s still conscious, but he has no respiratory function anymore. So we have no means of communicating.”

Brain was still alive. Blind, deaf and dumb he had to suffer in loneliness, unable to die.

“How long does he have to suffer I asked?”

“We’ll know more when we move him to our specialised facility.”

The senior CDC agent demanded that his colleague kept quiet before they could tell me anything else.

They left with Brian, covered him in an airtight capsule, so no one would see the horrors that had just occurred within our surgical ward.

***

As soon as the quarantine was lifted, I headed home to write up my letter of resignation.

I had a well connected contact within the CDC, but upon trying to get more information, he claimed no such case had even been presented to them, that no one had ever been admitted to their facility under the name of Brian Dawson.

About a month later a lawyer, accompanied by a doctor, showed up at my door with a bunch of documents; All regarding doctor-patient confidentiality.

The lawyer looked tired, worked down to the bone, as if he’d made many such trips before. He asked me to sign the documents, and to never speak of this again, saying I’d lose my medical licence if I did. Not that it mattered to me, I’m done in that field for good.

I was given an injection by the doctor, he told me that Brian’s disease was not unfamiliar to them, and that it was extremely contagious, but only upon death.

He explained that half the population is infected with a disease that keeps the brain conscious for hours, even days following death. Brian’s case was special in the sense that he actually retained some motor function, and was able to speak to us.

The injection given was not a cure, it’ll only prevent me from spreading the disease, but once I die, I’ll suffer a fate similar to Brian’s.

I just hope someone will stay with me when it happens.


The Chimney Man

A story by Pen_Phantom13

My dad built his dream cabin in the southern Ozarks back in 1991, a reward to himself for achieving early retirement. The damn thing took nearly a year to build, what with the county having to actually build the road to my family’s property at the top of a small mountain. I was 14 at the time, and yes, we were wealthy, but the cabin didn’t reflect that. It was simple, unlike most of the monstrosities you see in places like Aspen these days, and at that age I was ruined into thinking that I’d rather live in a city, where I’d have an easier time being spoiled rotten. I despised being there, to say the least.

We moved into the cabin in midwinter, a couple of weeks before Christmas. Everyone was excited, except me, to be moving in to enjoy Christmas morning in front of the big-ass fireplace my dad gloated over. Amelia, my little sister, was six at the time, and she was elated that Santa would have such an easy entry point- our old house didn’t even have a chimney. Looking back, the first day was an omen. But there was no way we could have known.

We pulled up to the cabin around noon on December 12th, my sister playing Kirby’s Dreamland on her Gameboy and me listening to Nirvana on my Walkman. Again, I was not excited. Mom and Dad were chipper, as usual, and it was grating on my nerves. My dad wouldn’t shut up about how he’d had the fireplace hooked into the central system so that all the heat would be distributed evenly throughout the house. We all began unloading what we had in the back of the Bronco, everything else having been moved in (at great expense) a few days before. My father’s annoyingly happy face drooped into a mild frown when he shouldered open the front door.

“Looks like the movers didn’t care too much about the new carpet.” He said sarcastically.

There in the living room, starting where the wood floors ended from the foyer, was a trail of footprints in the carpet, apparently made with soot, leading from just in front of the entry, to the fireplace, to the back door. I snorted at my father’s comment, which earned me a side-eye for the ages from my mom. We sat down what we were carrying in our respective rooms, and of course, I was tasked with cleaning up the mess while my dad called the moving company to complain.

Whilst I was scrubbing (and fuming), it occurred to me that if the footprints were in fact soot, that it would be hard to explain why the fireplace had already been used in a brand new cabin. At the time, I assumed that there had to have been a test run by the builder to ensure everything was in working order. It took me about an hour to bring the carpet to my parent’s satisfaction, and then I promptly went to my new room to continue wallowing in my teenage angst.

That night, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched in the shower, that someone was standing just on the other side of the curtain. I tried to ignore it, but the feeling worsened when I closed my eyes to wash my hair and face. Finally, I pulled back the curtain, feeling foolish for being such a wimp. Of course, I found nothing unusual.

I wrote my paranoia off as just being pissed off from the move and didn’t think much of it. I didn’t have another strange encounter for several days, but about a week after I got the shower stalker vibe, Amelia let my mom and I know about her new friend at the breakfast table.

“How did everyone sleep last night?” my mother asked, trying to get through my solemn disdain.

“Fine.” I replied, through a mouthful of scrambled eggs.

“I played with the man behind the curtains!” Amelia exclaimed, “I told him that he would be in big trouble if he kept getting the rug dirty.”

“Oh that’s wonderful, honey,” my mom said, “I’m glad you’ve made a friend. Tell them I said thank you for not getting any more stains on the carpet.”

It made me bitter, listening to my mom placate my sister while I was in social isolation. Mom just kept sipping her coffee, and reading the newspaper that Dad paid extra to have delivered out that far in the wilderness. There was no fear in my sister’s voice, and neither of us even remotely considered the possibility that her new friend was anything more than imaginary.

Later that day, I was taking some folded laundry to my sister’s room. I put it in her drawer, turned to walk out, and I saw them- two charcoal shoeprints under the window curtain, as if someone had been hiding there. Initially, I disregarded them as leftover from the moving crew, just like the others. I ignored them- “Let Mom clean them up.” I thought to myself. But it kept nagging at me- I’d helped Amelia get settled into her room, and I would have noticed them. They weren’t there before.

I still don’t know why, but I never told my parents about them. I ultimately did go back to clean them up, and carried on. Amelia surely had made them somehow as part of her “relationship” with her new friend.

That night, December 23rd, I had trouble sleeping. The feeling that I was being watched had returned shortly after the discovery in Amelia’s room, and I hadn’t been able to shake it. I hadn’t admitted it to myself yet, but a microscopic part of my imagination had begun to suspect something amiss. At 14, I still hadn’t quite squashed my fear of ghosts.

I kept looking across the room, into the back of my open closet, half expecting someone to be standing there, their shoes covered in black dust. I felt shame for being scared. But finally, I drifted off sometime around midnight.

I still can’t remember what woke me, I just know that my sheets were damp with sweat when I came to. I felt again that I was being watched, and I began scanning the dark room through my blurry, just-waking-up vision. I followed my curtains down to the floor, and saw them- soiled, black feet poking out from beneath them.

I jumped a bit, then rubbed my eyes and looked back. There were no shoes, but the curtain was moving ever so slightly. I looked at my closet door, which had been shut without a sound. Cowering, I pulled my blankets over my head, knowing that if I pulled them down, something would be there, sitting at the end of my bed. After a while, I tried to sleep, but couldn’t.

Of course, I was blamed the next day for the dirty tracks to and from my room. They began and ended in front of our fireplace, just like the first time, but they clearly led to my bedroom closet and back. My parents gave me a big speech about how I needed to accept my new circumstances and start treating everyone and everything with a lot more respect. I didn’t have the energy to fight with them. All I could think about were the footprints and the thing that had spent the night with me. I just rolled my eyes, and accepted my punishment- clean up the prints and then no Walkman until I straightened up. It wasn’t like they’d believe me, so why say anything?

I scrubbed the carpets that day in a daze, remembering what Amelia had said a few days before at breakfast. My thoughts raced for rational explanations, but I kept arriving at this strange amalgamation of ghosts and Santa Claus. Despite everything going on, I still had Christmas morning on my mind, just like anyone that age. Yet, by the time I had finished cleaning, I had resigned myself to try and sort out what was going on. I would start with my sister.

That night, after an almost silent dinner, I went to Amelia’s room to do some gentle prying. As I rounded the doorframe, I found her staring up at the ceiling vent. The floor around her bed was covered in that morning’s newspaper.

“What’s all this for?” I asked, trying to remain calm despite already knowing the answer.

“For the man that likes to hide in the curtains.” she almost whispered, “I told him I would keep the floor clean…he doesn’t like leaving tracks because he’s afraid I’ll have to leave if Mommy and Daddy find out about him. He said that if I did that for him, he’d take me to visit his house- he says that there are lots of other kids there I could play with!”

All of this she said as a matter of fact, as if she and the “man” had been friends for years and I should know these things. I almost lost what little cool I had left, my eyes widening and my mouth opening to scorn her for being so naive, but I caught myself, resolving to try and solve the mystery on my own, without shaming a six year old. As appalling as it was, I decided to use my sister as bait, to catch whoever (whatever?) was leaving the damned footprints in the carpet, and possibly planning a kidnapping.

“Okay,”, I began, “just make sure you tell Mom and Dad that all the newspaper is for watercolors or something, that way they don’t get suspicious.”

“I will!” she replied, enthusiastically.

Thank God Amelia was six and didn’t need a lot of explanation. I left her room with terrified curiosity, wondering what Christmas Eve would have in store.

For what seemed to be the hundredth time, I lay in bed, unable to fall asleep. I watched my clock tick for seconds, minutes, hours. I knew that should anything actually arrive in Amelia’s room, I’d hear the crumpling of paper. I also knew that Amelia would be awake, desperate not only for her new friend to come out but also for the sound of sleigh bells. Just as I began to drift, sometime around one in the morning, I heard it- the sound of rustling newspaper.

I hoisted myself out of the sleeping-awake twilight I was in and ejected myself from bed, too stricken with urgency to consider being quiet. I landed on my floor with a thud, and immediately I heard my sister whine from across the hall.

“Please, don’t go! No! Come back!” she cried.

I raced out of my bedroom, older sibling protective instincts at full tilt, and into the hallway just in time to be stopped in my tracks.

A tall, willowy silhouette stood at the living room end of the hallway. The thing (man?) stood so tall that it stooped, bending at the ceiling, using its long, spindly arms to brace against the walls. The lunar glow coming in through the skylight was just enough to show me that it was uniformly pale, almost paper white, and without clothes. I stared up at what I though should be its face, its lack of features slightly disorienting. It had two indentations where there should have been eyes, as if there once were sockets but skin had been stretched over them. I thought I saw a small slit that must have been a mouth. I began to notice that its body seemed thin, almost two dimensional, and then it moved.

I gasped, as it moved with unnatural motion, as if its joints were the result of being creased and folded into a box, using its abnormally gangly arms to balance on the floor and lurch to the living room. For a moment, I considered just going back to my room, but I’d come too far. I summoned what little courage I had and edged towards the living room, peaking around the corner of the hallway’s end.

In the moonlight, I followed the trail of greyish footprints with my eyes up to the fireplace, where the twin doors into the hearth stood open. I caught a glimpse of a limb being retracted into the chimney. I just stared, not daring to move, not daring to breathe too loudly or deeply, lest it come back for me. Amelia broke me from the trance.

“Don’t hurt him.” She whispered meekly from behind me.

I spun around, startled, my heart thumping in my chest. We locked eyes for a moment, me not believing what I’d seen, Amelia not comprehending why I seemed so disheveled. Finally, I found words.

“Go back to bed, Amelia.” I stammered.

“No! He won’t hurt you! He won’t!” she started to tear up.

I kept finding myself unable to speak, as if this thing in our fireplace had stolen my vocabulary. I just kept standing there, watching Amelia weep as if I was taking way a new puppy. In my head, I was sprinting, trying to weigh out the options.

I took Amelia by the hand and went to the hallway closet for my dad’s Mag-light. I crept back to the fireplace, Amelia mercifully not fighting my grip. I sat for a moment.

“Amelia, if anything happens when I look up the chimney, you run and wake up Mom and Dad, do you understand?”

Amelia nodded.

I took a deep breath and I leaned back into the fireplace as I turned on the flashlight and looked up.

A sheet white face met mine, the creature hanging upside down and craning its neck to face me. There were no eyes, but a round black hole for a mouth, gaping to reveal a seemingly bottomless oblivion.

I scrambled out of the hearth, and collapsed there in the floor, waiting for it to come out after me as my chest heaved, but it never did. At some point, I got up, ignoring my sister’s questions and pleading, as a numb, thoughtless state came over me. I took the fireplace matches, doused the carpet in lighter fluid from a kitchen cabinet, and set the carpet ablaze. That place be damned.

Amelia and I never told our parents what happened, and I can’t remember much of what happened in the immediate aftermath. After hundreds of hours of therapy, the only solid thing I can retrieve after looking up the chimney that horrifying Christmas morning is sitting out in the snow with my family, pulling my knees to my chest as we waited for the fire department from a distant town, Amelia wailing about her friend burning alive. By the time the fire trucks got there, the cabin had burned to the ground. None of the firemen even bothered turning on their hoses.

The therapists tell my parents that I’ve got repressed memories as a result of being so miserably sequestered from society at time when social development is paramount. What a bunch of bullshit.

Amelia wouldn’t talk to me for a long time because from her perspective, I’d murdered her friend. A few years later, she began to comprehend. We talked, we reconciled, and we agreed never to speak of it.

The fire was attributed to a likely electrical problem within the system that distributed the heat from the fireplace. I guess small town forensic scientists don’t know what accelerants look like. My parents never quite understood why Amelia was convinced that I had caused the fire when the fire department said otherwise. It strained us for a while but eventually I guess they just let it go as Amelia’s vivid imagination.

The day after, we were allowed to sift through the smoldering rubble to try and salvage anything we could. All that we found were a set of footprints that led into the woods and didn’t return to the house. We followed them but eventually they disappeared abruptly. My parents don’t know who they could have possibly belonged to, but…

Amelia and I do.



He Who Wanders

A story by Simon Simonian

I missed the scorching wind of Andalusia. How it pours sunlight onto your face, toying with eyelashes, flattening dry sand against cheeks and milling around hair. I missed the smell of the valley and that ripening softness of Muscat fluff glistening in the afternoon breeze.

From up here, I can see the house where I grew up. I see white chapels tucked into grape orchards like pawns scattered on a chess board. I can see patches of asphalt on El Jardinito Road hailing from the old town through dappled rocks, then waning behind the horizon with erratic headlights of beat-up trucks cruising along.

One of the pit stops along Ed Jardinito, where truck drivers stop to relieve themselves, marks the starting point to this wavy trail. All covered in blotches of spindly grass stalks and flaxen sand, the trail is barely noticeable at first. Truth is, no one even cares to notice it. Why would truckers taking a blitz-leak care to check on a mucky trail leading to God knows where? But I do. This is how I got up here, to the top of this hill, where I am standing now. I’ve climbed all the way up here, so I can finally end it all – all these years of vagrancy and fugue, exile and fear. This is where it’s all going to come to an end.

But for now, I am enjoying the view of the valley unfolding below. I am sipping the air of what could be my final memories.

He will show up soon. He always does. Like a shadow, he’s been following me right on my footsteps, always there, behind me. And there he is!

His limping figure appears behind the sharp bend off El Jardinito. He looks up and he sees me, then stops for a moment to catch his breath and leans on his cane, as if assessing the remaining trajectory for this final stretch, then resumes his walk. Or should I say, “resumes his agonizing trudging”. Years of endless chase took a toll on his body. No wonder. How long has he been chasing me? Ten, twenty, thirty years?

He is slow. Methodically slow. But for once, I will not run. I will wait. Right here, behind this rock. I will finally come face to face with him. This sharp Swiss knife blade I am holding in my hand will soon lance right through his neck bone. Yes, that’s what I am going to do.

This ends here, at the dead end of this sandy trail atop the hill overlooking the valley with its white chapels and Muscat orchards.

Funny. After all these years, I still don’t know the real name of my chaser. I always called him what master Borges called him

“He who wanders”.

He who wanders, listen. I will kill you.

* * * * * *

Borges. The Borges. I idolized him when I was in college. Many did, but I was different. It was 1961. I was an average lazy learner at the Universidad Laboral de Córdoba, floating around from one semester to another with barely passable grades. I had very few friends and almost no interests. One can say that I had an early form of an identity crisis.

Besides chugging Anisado, my only other passion was Literature. Latin American Literature. Borges and Neruda were at the forefront. One could only imagine my excitement when I saw a pamphlet hanging on the wall of the Literature faculty.

Spaces were limited. But who cared? It was the man himself, Jorge Luis Borges, coming to give us a lecture followed by an open panel of questions. Like a maniac, I rushed to the auditorium hours before the lecture. I was the first in line and when the doors opened, I got the front row seat. The auditorium was packed with drooling chins of young self-proclaimed prodigies, awaiting the arrival of the great one.

And there he was, the blind Lord of Literature, walking upright onto the stage with a cane and his loyal assistant right by his side. Standing ovation. He nodded and made a “thank you, please be seated” gesture.

Then he began. The lecture was dedicated to Spanish writers, I cannot distinctly recall if it was Cervantes or De Vega. It truly made no difference. Somehow, I managed to sit through his entire lecture, which lasted over three hours, and remember nothing. He talked slowly and methodically, pouring honey into our ears like Segovia’s guitar, with his absent eyesight affixed on the ceiling.

And then it happened. Something that caught me completely off guard.

Before closing the day, Borges was about to take questions from the audience. Of course, I raised my hand and so did about hundreds of other students. One of Borges’ assistants whispered something into his ear, which made him smile.

“It is an honor for me to be in front of an audience of young people, but our time is not infinite,” he said with blind eyes still pinned on the far corner of the hall. “For that reason, I will randomly pick questions from five of you.”

I have never won any prizes or lotteries in my life. When I played poker or blackjack, I lost far more than I won. I knew my limitations and that turned me into an average apathetic person, rarely trying to outdo oneself. And so, sitting still with little ambition – I got used to that.

Until that moment. When I saw Borges pointing his finger in my direction, that came as nothing short of a shock.

“Me?”

“Yes, young man. Senor Borges picked you. Step forward and introduce yourself,” said his assistant.

I did not know what to ask. So, I quietly mumbled my full name.

“Fernandez Augustin Navaro”

Borges shifted his gray-shaded pupils in my direction as if reacting to a sudden buzzing of a fruit fly.

“Fernandez Augustin Navaro. Navaro. Haven’t I met you once before, young man?” he asked.

“No, senor Borges. I never had the honor.”

“But you will. We will meet again, Senor Navaro. You and I will meet again. But for right now, what is your question?”

The rest of the day was foggy. I don’t even remember what question I asked, it must have been about him winning the Prix International, not sure. And maybe not important. No, not important at all.

The greatest writer in the history of mankind called me by name and then that bizarre unreal thing he said about us meeting again. When?

* * * * * *

Nine years later. In 1970.

And there I was – a somewhat-promising journalist in one of London’s somewhat-scandalous tabloid newspapers. Every week my name was featured on the second page alongside with celebrity chronicles and vile rumors. My paycheck was decent enough for a small studio flat by Manchester Square. After years of having been pent-up by directionless studies, you could say I became something more than an average. Or at least that is what I believed.

That day (it was early October, arguably the best season in London) began as usual. I ate my chic breakfast consisting of two scrambled eggs, ham, toast, and dark roast coffee at Barrymore’s Diner and was ready for a pleasant walk to the office. It was shortly after 8 am, and I was in no hurry.

My route was the same as it was every day: pass the square, right turn on George Street, left turn on Thayer, another right on Marylebone. My thoughts that morning were all preoccupied with the piece I was working on, so I was slowly making my way through the square when something caught my eye. Or rather, someone. At first, I did not pay much attention to him, no more than I did to anybody else who idled at the square that morning. Hippy rascals with soiled hair playing guitar on every corner was a common theme in those days, and London town was certainly no exception. So here was another one of those misunderstood love proclaimers, sitting right behind the gated area of the square. Striped worn out jacket, heavy cap, sandals with clots of woolen socks sticking out. A common hippy bum as anyone may have thought. I thought so too except this one had something that made my intestines churn. I didn’t know what it was, but once I saw him, I felt the irresistible urge to instantly walk away and never see him again.

The way he looked at me, that gloomy frown that made me think of a line from Oscar Wilde, “that fellow’s got to swing.” There certainly was something outer worldly about that “fellow.”

His eyes, as if carved from a rock below his forehead were mercilessly drilling thousands of tiny holes through me. I added pace. As I turned back one last time, I noticed him slowly walking towards me. Past the gates of the square, onto the street, paying no attention to screeching tires of honking cars. Walking right towards me.

He’s just a bum. No, he is not.

Just another one of those unwashed hippies. No, no, run run run!

George Street was empty like in post-war bombed quarters. I could hear my brisk footsteps. Or was it the drubbing of my aorta against the chest? He was catching up.

Run? Don’t be silly. Yes, run. First slowly as if you’re trying to not show your chaser that you’re scared. No, not scared, more like in a hurry.

Why am I running? I can take him out with one punch.

But it really wasn’t about that. It was my first experience of that feeling, which I can only describe as some sort of primordial sense of fear. Panic. Dread. Unexplained sense of looming doom arching above you like a dark figure with a scythe.

I ran. I ran faster than my feet could move. As I turned the corner on Thayer, I paused and looked back, fearing to see him right behind. Scrambled eggs, toast, and dark roast coffee were about to make their way back up through my esophagus.

Wiping the sweat off my palms onto my pants, I bent forward in a protective position and looked around. Empty windows of George Street were checking me out like a toddler witnessing parent in a cowardly act.

Whoever that man was that incensed me into this uncontrollable panic, he was now gone. Shame on you, Fernandez Augustin, I repeated to myself while making futile attempts to enthrall palpitation to subside. Shame on you. I mumbled repeating that word. Mumbling turned into whistling that song by “Magic Lanterns”. Shame, shame. I whistled, acting calm and self-composed. I sang without knowing words only to convert my mind to something else. I sang so others wouldn’t notice me shaking.

I climbed the stairs of my office building. Three at a time. Third floor. The familiar smell of typography oils calmed me down. Safe heaven. Shame on you, Fernandez Augustin Navaro.

* * * * * *

Even now I question myself whether my journey to madness began on that day or was it underway for many years. Madness that creeps in and recedes in tidal waves. Is that how it usually happens?

All I know is that an hour later I was laughing at my little moment of weaknesses.

Preposterous and rubbish, my thick Andalusian twang spoke to me. The idea of being fully checked out by a specialist did cross my mind, and I immediately thought of Doctor Patel in Camden Town. He’d give me a comfortable medical diagnosis like a panic attack and prescribe some white pills, I thought.

Little did I know that the day had more surprises in store. The unnerving script development continued in a more eerie fashion when my boss marched to my desk with a pack of printed paper.

No, Navaro you are not going to see Doctor Patel in Camden Town who will make a judgment call on your insanity. Instead, you are going to do an article on Jorge Luis Borges’ new book. He is making his presentation today at London Public Library and blah, blah, blah.

I forgot about the panic attack. The thrill of seeing Master Borges again, nine years later, was surreal. Moments later I was sitting in a cab on my way to the London Public Library, scribbling all possible questions I should be asking him. El Informe de Brodie? Other books? Forget it! I knew very well what I would ask.

I paid the cab and galloped up the marble stairs leading to the hallway, where the Master was about to hold his new book presentation. I elbowed myself through the crowd of journalists to occupy the coveted front-row spot. Quick inventory check: wallet, j-sack along with the omnipresent Swiss knife. Seconds ticked leisurely on my wristwatch. Four more minutes.

Forget this morning’s sickness. Forget Dr. Patel. Collect yourself, Fernandez Augustin

* * * * * *

“Navaro! That’s your last name, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Yes, Senor Borges. But how do you..?”

“Nine years ago, in Cordoba. I told you we would meet again. Do you remember?”

I nodded rapidly completely forgetting he couldn’t see me. Stupid.

“Perhaps,” continued Borges, “it would be more prudent for us to speak privately after the conference. I invite you to have coffee with me. You like Colombian coffee, Mr. Navaro? I shall see you precisely at 6 o’clock at the address that my assistant will provide.”

His blind eyes were still affixed at the top far corner of the hallway, far above all the congested sharp-penciled critics and arduous followers of his divine writing. The attention was now all on me, as revealed by hundreds of photo flashes from behind. I thought of all the explaining that I would have to do tomorrow. How does Borges know you? Are you friends? You were raised in Cordova, are you his illegitimate son?

Back then I did not know.

Answers came later.

* * * * * *

Memory is a tricky animal. As I gaze over the valley and satiate my lungs with familiar smells, I cannot think of anything specific. Vague and elusive memories of my childhood home. And these orchards, these white chapels and the old town itself – nothing but an incomprehensible sensation somewhere down there, below the chest cage.

I close my eyes and let the sun twirl around with tinted specks of mosaic light. I am trying to focus without looking. Alas, nothing comes to mind. I’ve been robbed of my memory. You!

I cast my eyes at the trail again. He is closing in. It’s hard for him to walk upward, and yet I see that determination in his eyes, in his tight grip of that wobbly walking stick, in the way he periodically stops to catch his breath and eyeball the remaining distance. I am not going anywhere. Five? Ten more minutes? Come and take me, old man. If you can.

I almost see his facial expression under the heavily pronounced frontal lobe. It’s a grin. It’s an expression that says, “We shall see.”

* * * * * *

Once I read an interview in “The Morning Times”. In it, Borges was portrayed as extremely humble and minimalistic. His house was depicted as a perfectly organized space with easy access to everything. Books on the shelves (judging from the admiration of the columnist, there were lots of them) were organized by theme and by title. Dictionaries and encyclopedias were grouped together on the same rack, so he could find them easily.

In another article, dated 1966, I read that when Borges travels, and those travels were quite extensive, he carries a whole rack of books along, some of which may not even be read.

When I entered his hotel room, that very bookrack was the first thing that caught my eye. I stood perplexed at the multitude of titles, most unknown to me, when I heard the door swing wide open, and there he was entering through the doorway with a leisurely swinging cane.

“Ah, Senor Navaro, how kind of you to visit this old man!”

I took a step towards him and produced some gibberish like “pleasure is all but mine”. He half-smiled and pointed his hand to the chair.

“I know you will quite enjoy the taste of Colombian dark roast.”

Borges sat down and leaned slightly backwards, without releasing his cane.

“Do you know the biggest advantage of being blind?” he asked and answered immediately. “Blind don’t need light, so my utility bills are way lower.”

He laughed at his own joke only to be interrupted by his assistant carrying a tray of aromatic coffee poured in two small porcelain cups. Amazing how the very idea of drinking coffee instantly changes your mood before you even take your first sip.

As I was readying to go on a pre-scripted monologue of expressing my gratitude and honor, Borges jumped right into the action.

“I will get right to it, Senor Navaro. About you being here and about me remembering you. I know you have many questions. I will attempt to answer some. Some, but not all. When you leave this hotel, there will still be some questions that you will have to find answers to. On your own.”

He gently picked his cup of coffee and with hand somewhat shaking, took an artistic sip. Yes, I had questions. So many that my brain membranes were buzzing in bewilderment and disbelief. Here I was, sitting in the room with one of the greatest writers, who happened to mysteriously know my name and

“Have you by any chance read my ‘The Book of Imaginary Beings?’” asked Borges.

I have. Many times. I read it in Spanish, when it just came out. Very recently I bought the English translation in some shabby bookstore off Oxford Circus. I read that book far too many times, but never in its entirety, mostly starting on a random page. Just as Borges had intended it to be consumed by his readers.

“You see, Senor Navaro, that book was, and perhaps still is, a never-ending work in progress as human imagination has no boundaries. I have included what I had researched over ten years ago, then recently expanded and republished with more figments of collective human imagination. But the book is merely a small subset. In a way, the book writes itself. In some form, it’s a labyrinth, an endless one, a living one, where every corridor and every room is never the same. What I had always wanted is the book to reflect the labyrinth in our collective subconsciousness, the force that drives our minds to craft. For that reason, all the creatures in my book are strictly fictional. Mythical. Am I not boring you?”

“Not at all. I understand, Senor Borges.”

He nodded and wiped a coffee grind off his nose.

“That book, as its title implies, is all about imaginary beings. Tales, legends, folklore. But one thing that no one knows is that I had originally intended this book to include one more being. A being that goes by its Latin name Quietus Est. It appeared and disappeared across many cultures, sometimes centuries apart. Very little is known of it, but what I found was indeed astonishing. First, this being is physically no different than an ordinary human. You may say, it is human in many ways. As I studied this entity, I became more and more agitated. I could not stop. Like a madman, I was trying to learn more and more, but very soon the excitement turned into another feeling. Fear.”

“Fear of what, Senor Borges?”

Borges eyesight shifted from the corner of the room straight on me, as if he could perfectly see me.

“Fear of what I had uncovered. That Quietus Est is not a myth at all.”

He attempted to take another sip, but his hands started shaking, so he had to put the cup down, spilling some of it on the saucer and around the table.

“Pardon me, young man, I am trying to maintain composure. But you have not tried the coffee”, he said wiping his mouth and forehead with a knitted handkerchief.

I raised the small cup and took a sip, disregarding the aromatic fumes of Colombian beans drifting down my internal gorges.

“Pardon me sir, but you are saying that the imaginary being called Quietus Est was not imaginary. Is that why you decided not to include him in your book of imaginary beings?”

“Only in part. Fear came from the realization of what it would mean for mankind to know about its existence. You see

it’s no secret that we are all well aware of our eventual demise. We all die. But imagine what would happen if we all stared right into the face of death every single day of our lives and knew the time that was left for us in this world. Death not as a vague concept portrayed by middle-aged artists, not as a folklore tale of a grim reaper. But as a real living entity that stalks you and walks around showing you a ticking clock counting down minutes and seconds. Getting closer to you with every second, trying to grab your hand. Running from death is worse than death itself.”

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

“But I shall talk no more. Allow me to give you my scribbles from years ago. These are unedited in their raw format, so please pardon the poor language. It’s right there, in the drawer. You will find a folder with a yellow piece of paper. Read it aloud, while my ripe old body attempts to catch a breath.”

I opened the drawer, as he instructed, and found a yellow piece of cursive handwritings carved in Spanish with some Latin phrases. The scribbles were short, less than a page long with marks and scratches, but most of this was very much decipherable. He must have written this himself half-blind, I thought. What caused him to do that and not dictate to his assistant? I unfolded the paper and began reading.

Quietus Est

It is said that one shall not know about its own ways and times of demise. The imminent passing is only felt by those that are either terminally ill, and even so, they don’t possess the knowledge of when and where, or by death row inmates awaiting the exact day and time of their execution. Lack of such knowledge coerces us to exist. Sumerians believed in a certain deity (the word “deity” was scratched and replaced with “demon of death embodied in human flesh and bones”, which again was scratched and replaced with “entity”), whose sole role was to stalk its victims and inform them of how much time they have left to live. Per the ancient “Book of Dead”, which was discovered as a set of clay tablets, typically buried in corpses, only those that are “luminous” can see the deity (again crossed out twice, replaced with “demon”, then with “entity”). The “luminous” ones are thought to be either people with high spiritual powers or vice versa, the cursed ones, condemned by priests. The reference briefly reappears in some Egyptian manuscripts, but in later writings is replaced by Anubis or – in rare occurrences – by Horus. The writings again depict this unnamed being as an eternal human who never sleeps, but always wanders. What’s strange is that neither Sumerians nor Egyptians ever gave the entity a discrete name. However, the latter rare findings during Dark Ages refer to him as Quietus Est. The only depiction of Quietus Est was that of an ordinary human standing next to a sun clock, which was used to measure the time that the chosen one had left to live. From time to time Quietus Est stalks the chosen one and, when cornered, moves hands of the clock forward to shorten the lifetime. If the chosen one cannot escape, then his time eventually runs out.

The very last reference was found in

“Enough, Mr. Navaro. You understand the idea. Now on to the main question. Why are you here?”

He drew closer, and a dull shadow from a lamp cut right through his elongated forehead.

“Quietus Est is an eternal wanderer who is always with us, the timekeeper who sits at the edge of the stage with a ticking watch on his wrist. The greatest gift given to mankind is its inability to see him. When I lost sight, I thought blindness was a blessing in disguise. But one does not require eyes to see the wanderer. What eyes cannot see, ears can hear and skin can feel. I hear him. I feel him. You are here, Mr. Navaro because you and I are the luminous ones…”

Borges paused and asked me with a trembling voice: “Mr. Navaro, you saw him too, didn’t you?”

Cold shivers that have been accumulating in my lower back rushed up my spinal cord in millions of explosions. Nausea formed a massive ball of air in my throat, and for a moment I struggled to breathe. Desperately trying to cease the thumping inside, I pushed words out.

“I saw him today.”

* * * * * *

How do you get used to the notion of being a passerby on this Earth? Ordinary humans do not have to get used to that. We have that built-in protection layer, that safety cork in our brain membranes that separates the realization of being mortal from flooding down upon us. It allows us to breathe the air. It lets us exhibit this extraordinary, yet sacred carelessness. The mental block that denies the laws of life on a primitive emotional level even for the keenest scholars. The indecipherable Tetragrammaton is shown to us in every step we take, in every cup of Colombian coffee we sip, in every word of wisdom that we collect from books. Every second we bypass the sinister tick-tock and hear the name of the God being whispered into our ears. And yet we, humans, turn around and whistle “Shame Shame”, deceiving our own self-cognizance. And that, as Senor Borges called it, is the true blessing. Those who possess the name of the divine being are doomed. Knowledge is madness. Knowledge is inexistence. Knowledge of death is worse than death.

We sat in his hotel room until early morning, the two luminous and doomed souls. Our casual exchange of words was amplified by the ticking of the clock. It was dawn when I noticed Borges nodding in his sleep. His left hand was still resting on the cane and his pupils were shuffling behind shut eyelids.

Borges was dreaming.

So must have I.

As I was exiting the foyer of the hotel, I hid behind the column and looked around the street. It was empty. Bleak light of street lamps drew strange crossbeams on pavements. Early October leaves were gyring in closed circles like witches around the fire.

I was looking around, hoping to not see him.

He wasn’t there. But he was. I felt his presence not very far from me.

* * * * * *

Muscat orchards – they resonate inside like echoes of a guitar string heard from a deep alcove, but nothing particular comes to mind. I am trying to shift focus from one object to another, but my nomad memory is lost in endless labyrinths. You took my memories away from me, didn’t you?

Wait, mortal. Wait five more minutes, and you will know the answer, I hear in my brain. He is talking to me now. I can see how the long uphill walk is wearing him out. But what are pain and tiredness when you’re crossing the finish line?

As Borges warned me, “Do not ever come close to him. Do not look him straight in the eyes. He will always be near. His watch will be ticking. If he attempts to catch on, run. But he will forever follow. In a way, he will be like a shadow of you.”

And I ran. And he wandered. I evaded. He followed.

He came too close to me in my hotel room on the second day after my long night in Borges’ quarters. The fool in me still thought that escaping from him would be as easy as moving into a new flat. Or checking into a hotel. So I did just that. It was some shabby hotel minutes from my work where I decided to spend a few nights just to think things through.

That evening, and I remember every minute of it, was my first face to face encounter with him. My room, B6, was on the basement level. As I stumbled through the dark hotel corridor, trying to find the key to my room, I felt his presence, but my ignorant foolishness dismissed all mental warnings and turned the keys. As the door hinge squeaked, I took my first step into the hotel room. A street-level window was casting two thick yellow streaks of light on the floor carpet. I smelled dust and spider webs.

He was in my room. Sitting on the edge of the bed with a rope in his hand. A thin white blanket was covering his head like a shroud around a statue. I stood in a stupor like a paralyzed insect. An avalanche of sweat gushed from every pore of my body. With hand twisted behind my back, I was feverishly trying to twist the doorknob. He got up from the bed with a groan. He took a step towards me.

Hand too sweaty to turn the knob. Open it. Open!

He grabbed my wrist.

Open! Run!

The stretched corridor of the hotel basement flashed like random shots of a silent movie. Run! B5. B2. B1. Run! Staircase. Up! Exit! Run!

“Your time is coming, Fernandez Augustin Navaro!” a whisper crawled into my ears. “Coming, coming!” hissed the wind.

I ran until my legs gave in. I fell down somewhere in the outskirts of the town, passing out in an alley amidst rubbish until sunup.

My madness has begun.

In the days following my first face-to-face encounter with Quietus Est, I’ve moved out of my London flat. I had some savings, enough to tramp town to town, continent to continent, doing temp jobs here and there, sometimes sleeping on streets. He was right behind me.

Even if I didn’t see him for a month, I knew he would soon catch on. It would be only a matter of time for him to pop up somewhere

on the opposite side of the street, in the next car over on the subway, or madly prying through shutters of windows in the house across.

My attempts to speak to Borges were futile. How does the blind master live with this curse, I wondered. How does he manage to evade his sinister follower?

I had questions. Far more than I had anticipated. But Senor Borges was already on the other side of the globe. I wrote him letters. He never replied. I tried calling hotels where he stayed. Unavailable.

The books that he wrote, I bought all of them in attempts to find hidden meanings. What if he had secret messages for me inside his writings? The Book of Sand, Dr. Brodie’s Report

I even searched his earlier writings, analyzed every word. Pointless. Futile.

Until 1983. “Shakespeare’s Memory.” His final book, as it turned out to be.

I was somewhere in Eastern Europe when I bought the book. Immediately I began my scrupulous study. Letter by letter, page by page, analyzing every space and every punctuation sign.

And that’s when I found it. The answer.

The answer was the story itself. The story that did not require much study or decryption. All I had to do was read it. I knew I had to come face to face with Quietus Est like Borges did, but not before having to go through the life of an exile. That’s what Borges had intended me to do. Such was his final and only message to me embodied within his last story. A story written for the public, but intended for my eyes only.

The story was that the protagonist receives memories of Shakespeare. Memories that overwhelm him, overpowering his own. He forgets modern day cars and engines, instead remembering faces and names from some distant past, memories he has never known. Memories that belonged to another man.

“In a way, he will be like a shadow of you,” Borges told me that night. Slowly but surely, my shadow was becoming me. That’s why I can only vaguely remember you, my childhood home. Him or me, no more running. It ends here.

* * * * * *

Few more minutes, I say to myself as I look at the watch. There he is. He is out of breath. Beaten, tired and bent by the weight of his own arid body. One last push, old man, and we will meet.

I am hiding behind the rock. His footsteps on gravel and sand, I can tell them from any other footsteps in the world. His breathing, wheezing and crackling. I am counting to five.

He knows where I am, but he is too tired to take that last step. Let me take that step for you.

I am staring at his face, wrinkled like leaves of an ancient scroll.

“Time’s up, Quietus Est,” I am telling him.

He is not fighting back, and my Swiss blade finds a comfy spot below his Adam’s apple. I am going to finish him now.

Popping sounds are coming out from his flabby throat. What are you trying to tell me, old man? Let me hear your last words. I am easing the pressure to let him talk. But the sounds that come out not words, but laughter.

“You, you are confused,” he says. “You’ve got it all wrong. Let me, let me help you understand.”

I am letting him sit up. He is coughing blood. One wrong move and he’s dead. He wipes the blood off his lips and nods in understanding.

“All my life I have followed you,” he begins slowly. “It’s a miracle I have come this far and lived this long. Ever since I left Cordoba, I was a ticking time bomb. I was diagnosed as suicidal. Doctor after doctor, therapies, specialists, prescription, yoga – I have tried them all. Some helped for a while, and the disease subsided, but then trolled back with a new stronger wave. It’s this disease that nests here” – and he points to his head – “forcing me to look for a way to end my own life. It all began in London, on that morning when I was sitting on the bench in the middle of that square, feeling the disease gnawing on my brain. My first attempt was in that hotel, room B6. I sat on the bed in that dark room for hours with a rope in my hand and a blanket over my head. Death opened the door and stood above me in the darkness of the room. Oh, how I wanted my pain to end! But it was not meant to be. Not then, not there. I had to live on. Ever since that day, it was a cat and a mouse game between us. I chased death, and death would always slip away. Until now.”

He pauses, rubbing his flabby neck, then points his finger down the valley and continues: “I was born in that house. I remember every moment of my childhood. My parents, my toys, my school. I remember playing hide and seek with my cousins in Muscat gardens and dosing off to Sunday clergy in that white chapel. I remember Eastern rugs being washed on the street and the smell of grapes. My name is Fernandez August Navaro. And you, you have no true name, but they call you Quietus Est. The one who wanders.”

Filaments of scorching infernos have been ignited all over me. The fire sets off inside my eyelids, spreading over to all facial pores and trickling down my body.

“Lies! Imbecile lies!” I roar.

“Look at me,” he says, “I am an old man. And you? Still young and strong as you will always be. You have not aged. Now think more. What do you remember of your childhood? Shakespearean memories of random sounds and smells are all you have gained from me. Master Borges knew who you were. He cracked you, and then he tricked you. He made you think you were me. That was his way of evading you – by not revealing you the truth until his final breath, final book, final story. You are the one who wanders. And those memories you have – those are my memories. And now that I have told you who you really are, you must finally finish me.”

I have heard enough of his fibs. I am throwing my knife away. I shall not require any blades to finish him. With hands clenched around his thin neck, I am strangling him. I hear him squeal as the grip tightens. I feel the crackling of neck bones between my thumbs. I see him gulping the air in warm convulsions. He looks peaceful.

I sit on his chest and watch his last breath picked up by the wind, carried down the valley to the gardens, passing by the white chapel and the house where he grew up.

The scorching wind of Andalusia is pouring sunlight onto his face, toying with eyelashes, pounding on cheeks and gyring through hair. He must have missed the smell of the valley and the ripening softness of Muscat fluff glistening in the air.

I am rewinding my wristwatch and walking downhill along the wavy trail, my thumbs still sore from killing.

I am taking small step sideways. Once I reach El Jardinito Road, I will hop on the first bus, and from there I will travel west. Or north. Destination will never matter.

Anywhere is where the roads take me.

Me, the one who wanders.