"Land of False Memory"
- Fantasy -
by Steven Benjamin
We’d been traveling for days, I don’t remember how many, before we found the old man. I only call him old because he was the oldest of us there, but it was mostly in his ways, capped off with his dark brown handlebar moustache. He sometimes wore an old woolen cap to keep away the chill from his greying sparsely-haired head. But he was strong; perhaps the strongest of us, because he’d lived in these lands and climbed these crags and mountains many times.
But he needed help, help from us, to get him to a place where he’d remember.
A day or two of aimless wondering through the cold wilderness followed, before we finally found a clearing. The old man led us to the far end of the clearing and then squinted up at the steep slope. He rubbed his arms and then grunted. He left us all behind, striding swiftly, hugging himself against the cold, his legs pumping as he climbed. He must’ve given his coat to one of the women in the team… all he had on was a dark trousers and an old pullover, tattered at the edges. We were left looking at each other, and then watching the figure move, without rest, up the slope with his hulking shoulders leaning into the breeze.
Eventually we followed up after him.
A while later we came up behind him. He was almost lying down on the ground, poking his head up over the jagged rocky ridge every now and then before hunching down again. He was busy. He felt us coming, hearing our footfalls behind him.
“I need to draw it,” he said, scanning the landscape peeking over the ridge again. He’d spread a large white paper on the ground, pinned in the corners with rocks, and was sketching a fairly decent image of what he saw, using a piece of charcoal and dirt.
Some time later, with the group huddled together for warmth, he got to his knees and squinted up at me, then back over the ridge, nodding. The sun was setting in the far horizon, the rays reaching below the cloud cover, casting his face in a burnt orange glow.
“I remember now,” came his raspy voice. “I have to draw it to remember it.” He blew his warm breath onto his dirty fingers, rubbing his hands together and them tucking them under his arms as he got to his feet.
I don’t remember much more of that night or the next morning... what I do remember is like a puzzle, the blank parts filling in as I think about it more, winding the clock back, seeing things I didn’t consciously notice when in the moment.
I remember we’d descended into the valley, coming down from the dragon’s back-like ridge into the rising mist. By afternoon the mist had cleared and there was only this odd hazy steam. We found ourselves at the river’s edge, though it was scarcely a river as the water wasn’t moving. Maybe it was a river once upon a time, but now it was more like a stagnant toxic culvert. The ground and rocks at the edges of the slope, where the earth fell away to the steamy liquid below, was a scorched pale tan colour. In the fresh sunlight at certain angles the surface of some of the rocks reflected a rainbow colouring. The chemical rich liquid was undoubtedly heated by natural underground geysers. It was a strange place that looked dead, but felt dangerous and alive. A place that sought to claim those who ventured in.