Once upon a time in the land of Anywhere, in a world long since forgotten, in the fine and prosperous city of Anyplace there lived a man, an older man who had found his life mired in sadness and sameness.
As a child, you see, the man had been a Special Boy. An only child, beloved by his parents and a boy of Great And Unusual Intelligence who liked routine, stability and predictability. He liked numbers. With numbers one plus one was always two, but with people one plus one could be…well, it could be anything. As the boy grew he became more and more happy in the World Of Numbers – the use of which he cultivated to genius level- and less and less happy in the World Of People and others regarded him not as rude or unpleasant, for he was neither of these things, but as slightly odd and withdrawn. Consequently he never developed true, meaningful relationships with others but – thanks to the love, dedication and hard work of his parents – he had at least enough Social Skills drilled into him to Get By.
Indeed, when the boy became the man, he used his dexterity with and love of numbers to build a very successful career in Matters Actuarial.
Sadly, this career success was not matched by relationship success and the man never moved away from the family home, eventually living there alone after both his Loved and Loving parents passed away.
The years, as they do, ticked by and eventually the man reached the Age Of Retirement and, much to his displeasure, had to leave his job.
Soon the man became disillusioned with life. He had lost his parents, the only people he’d ever been able to experience true Companionship with and now he’d lost his job – a job in which he’d revelled in the simple, unambiguous companionship of numbers. A job he’d been good at and had enjoyed. He felt alone, isolated, lost. He felt life had no more to offer him expect empty day following empty day. He felt no more than an observer of a world that was passing him by, a world that he didn’t understand and that didn’t understand him. A world that didn’t need him.
A deep sadness enveloped the man. That sadness grew, malignantly, into a deep depression and each day became a torture to live.
The man decided that the best thing to would be to leave the world and resolved that he would kill himself.
To that end, he locked himself in the bedroom that had been his since childhood. He took with him a sturdy rope and a rickety wooden a chair, a piece of paper and a pencil. Examining chair and rope and distance from ceiling to floor, he quickly sketched out some Freefrom Algorithms to which he applied sine and cosine calculations to produce what he thought was very interesting equation…
C = Chair
H = Height
R = Rope
F = Flexibility
D = Drop
H – C x (R + F) + D = TTD (Time to Death)
In this fashion, and true to his love of numbers, he worked out the optimum way in which to hang himself (taking into account height from floor to ceiling, size of chair, flexibility of rope, length of drop etc. etc.) to ensure the shortest Time To Death.
Calculations done and checked, he took his length of rope and fastened one end to a sturdy rafter in the bedroom ceiling. The other he fashioned into a noose. He pulled up that rickety chair, slipped his head into the noose, and stepped up…
But…our story is not yet at an end.
For living in the sheds, outhouses and shrubbery of the man’s neighbourhood, surviving on scraps, left-overs and occasional charity was an Urban Troll. Now, Urban Trolls were somewhat of a feature of this period in the history of The Land Of Anywhere – a period in which the loathsome Greedy One Percent were once again in the ascendency, their rapacious appetites consuming everything they could lay their scaly, Devil-Driven hands on. Especially land. Land which had been in the possession of Trolls for time immemorial, which the Greedy One Percent and the Banker Class coveted for Redevelopment Purposes. This Policy Of Acquisition had resulted in many homeless Trolls, some of who had gravitated towards Anywhere’s urban area, having nowhere else to go. Hence the phenomenon of Urban Trolls.
And whilst humans are usually blind or indifferent to (or worse, take pleasure in) the pain and suffering of others, Trolls are not. Trolls are attuned to the suffering not only of their own kind but of all living creatures; a pre-requisite of their Universe-Given task to preserve All That Is Good And Decent in the world and protect Universal Harmony. Consequently, the Troll had been aware for some time of the pain the man had been experiencing and had a degree of concern for his welfare. On the day the man decided to kill himself, the Troll’s Troll Sense had gone into overdrive: she felt (for our particular Troll was a lady Troll) that somewhere near something bad was about to happen and, at the same time as the man put a noose around his neck, this Troll Sense went from overdrive to screaming alarm. She knew exactly what bad thing was going to happen and where! The Troll leapt out of a thick stand of shrubbery in which she had been tucking into a pungent feast of scraps and garbage and ran as fast as her large, incredibly powerful Troll legs would carry her (which is very, very fast indeed).
In a matter of only seconds she was crashing through the front door of the man’s house, flying upstairs and smashing through the door to the bedroom, in which she found the man – noose around his neck, perched precariously on a rickety old wooden chair which he was just about to kick away. The man turned, observing from his elevated position that there was a huge Troll with enormous, pendulous breasts in his room (it is a feature of Trolls that humans find vaguely disturbing that the female of the species has very, very large breasts whilst the male of the species is massively well endowed). He barely had time to register his surprise before the Troll had enfolded him in her huge arms, removed the noose from around his neck and plonked him down on the floor to give him a Jolly Good Talking To, as if he were a recalcitrant and naughty child.
The Troll explained to him that his Planned Exit from this life was Premature. No matter how Overwhelmingly Black the threads of his life were at the moment, that blackness would pass: there were still things he had to learn, to do, to experience. Every now and then, as the Troll lectured the man, she would reach out one of her huge hands and, with Tenderness Surprising In A Creature So Huge, smooth down the hair on his head or gently stroke the side of his face.
And the Troll said everything she said to the man with such Warmth and Sincerity and Tenderness and that he Believed Every Word.
Speech over, the Troll bent down, kissed the man on the head and left. The man no longer saw a reason to kill himself, the Troll was right, there were still things to do, life still had things to offer him and he still had things to offer life.
The next day the man decided that what he really, really needed was change, a chance to discover a new way of living. Tired of the city and wishing to escape the Deafening Silence of a home that was now just a house and the presence of people who Did Not Notice Him, he sold up and moved to an isolated log cabin deep in the woods, many miles away from the city of Anyplace and its noise and brashness and people.
There the man developed a quiet, simple way of life, waking when the sun rose and sleeping when it set. He played numerous and innumerable games with numbers, grew his own food, hunting and fishing to supplement his diet. He read and he thought and he walked and gave hospitality (in his own stilted way) to the occasional traveller who was passing through. And this different, quiet way of living was like Balm To His Soul.
One particular day, an hour or so before sunset, the man, on one of his walks, paused at a favourite spot of his: not far from his cabin rose a tall hill, wooded like all around it, and towards the top of this hill was a small, flat area of stone and grass, a clearing from which a magnificent view of the woods below was granted. He would always take a moment to sit in this beautiful spot and reflect on life. Today was no different except, as he sat there, a small furry bundle stumbled out of the surrounding undergrowth and walked towards him before stopping and sitting clumsily down on its behind, head tilted to one side, regarding the man cautiously. The furry bundle was a dog, little more than a puppy, probably a descendant of one of the many, many dogs dumped in the woods over the years, unwanted domestic pets abandoned by thoughtless and irresponsible human owners.
The man looked back at the dog, a ragged ball of brown fur with a bushy tail and pointed, sticky-up ears, and smiled. He made reassuring noises and gestured the dog to ‘come’ to him but it stayed resolutely in position. The man thought and remembered that in his shoulder bag he had the remains of last night’s stew that he’d brought with him, intending to eat it, in fact, in this very place. Perfect! Who’s ever met a dog that wasn’t hungry!
In this way, a chance meeting and the offering of cold stew, a relationship between a man and a dog began that would last for many years. At that first meeting, after the man had gained the confidence of the dog with his cold stew, he considered scooping up the young dog and taking it back with him to his cabin. But in his heart he knew that this dog was, essentially, a wild thing and it would be better if he did not try to Change Its Nature. Instead, he returned to that spot the next day at the same time, once again bringing food. And once again, the dog was there. And the same again the next day. And the next…
All in all, man and dog would meet at that same place at the same time every day for ten years. Always the man would offer the dog something to eat and the two would sit for an hour or so in companionable silence or the man would talk; he would ask the dog how its day had been, comment on the weather and what he himself had been up to. Often he would talk about his old job or his parents – sometimes this conversation would trail off to silence as though the man were reluctant to talk more, at which point the dog would bark at him in encouragement. Other times, the man’s reminiscences of An Earlier Life would bring tears to his eyes and the dog would seek to reassure and comfort the man by sitting in his lap and licking away the tears.
The man looked forward every day to meeting the dog and in time regarded the dog not as a dog but as a Furry Friend and came to love the animal. For the dog had given something he had not had since the death of his mother and father – true Companionship. The dog, too, looked forward every day to his meeting with the man, regarding him, perhaps, as a large, smooth dog or as a friend or, well, who knows exactly what dogs regard people as but, suffice to say, the dog grew to love the man as the man loved the dog.
But everything, good and bad, comes to an end and the day came when the man, who was now an old man, passed away – in his sleep, quietly and peacefully and his last thoughts, before his Soul left his Mortal Shell and journeyed across a Broad, Bright Blue Sky to That Which Lies Beyond, were of his parents and that little dog he’d met ten years before, his Furry Friend.
Later that day, the dog would go to the place where, every day for so long, dog and man had met. The dog waited and waited, stayed in that place until the sun set. But the man did not come. Puzzled and upset, the dog returned to the woods.
The next day, the dog returned to the meeting place. Again the man did not come.
The dog returned faithfully to that little clearing high up a hill the next day and the next and the next. But the man was never there. The dog did not understand why his friend had abandoned him and took to sitting in that spot where he and the man had passed so much time and howling. And every day, an hour before sunset, the dog would return to that spot and sit and howl, and that howl was full of the Pain and Sorrow of Abandonment and such was the emotion it contained that it came to the attention of Faeries (who are drawn to strong emotion as bees to honey) and Trolls and, one day, Death Himself.
Death, you see, is a busy fellow, always on the move, always with appointments to keep. And on that day, Death had several appointments in the general Time and Space around where the little dog in our tale sat howling. And Death heard that little dog and was moved, like the Faeries and the Trolls, by the Purity Of Pain it held in its Soul…
So Death made a detour from His planned route.
Death, you should understand, has two faces (remember, one of the most profound principles of the Universe is The Duality Of All Things). The first is violent, sudden, premature, unexpected. The second is welcome and merciful. As Death stood, quiet and unseen in front of the dog, it was this second face that came to the fore. For Death saw that the dog was not just howling but crying, shedding real tears from its warm, loving brown eyes. Now Death has been around an awfully long time, but even He had not seen a dog cry, and he was Deeply Moved and even shed tears of his own. He chose to do the one thing of beauty, love and care that Death can do – he reached out his hand and laid it gently on the dog’s head. The howling, and tears, came to an end and the dog’s Soul slid from its body in Joy And Liberation, burning an incandescent path across a Broad, Bright Blue Sky passing to That Which Lies Beyond where it would forever be reunited with the Soul of the man – two souls dancing together across the Infinite Vastness of The Circle Of Time, coming together and parting (but always, always finding each other) in life after life after life.
This tale is taken from my book of short stories, ‘A Curious Book’, available in ebook and paperback formats: