Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Spirit, by Helena Drdlova

The Spirit
Synopsis: A short story about two lonely beings, one night in the shadows and lights of Brno and one accident that changed everything.

Every city in the world is just a tangle of stories – the tales of love, hatred, passion or sadness. Tales written by the life.
They are the same wherever you go, from narrow streets of Mumbai to boulevards of Paris, from freezing Moscow to parched Johannesburg. And it was the same in Brno, city in the very heart of Europe, shaped by long and dramatic history.
Every city in the world has its stories. And every city has a spirit who guars it, who creates its genius loci.
Hidden in the stone walls, parks and ancient buildings, he was the spirit of Brno. Without name yet ever-present and everlasting. He fought against Swedes, hated Nazis and protected Brno from every other stranger that came to hurt it. He witnessed thousands of stories every day, every moment.
He was the Spirit of Brno.
But he never expected to play a role in any of those stories. He was an observant, not a participant. He never felt anything towards the mortal beings… Until he saw her steps out of the morning train. It was the moment of his fall – a moment he would never want to happen differently.
But let’s take it one thing in a row.
The international train stopped with racket and squeaking brakes. Crowd wildly poured out of the coach. She was among the last which got off. Standing on the platform with her huge orange suitcase and sleepy eyes, she looked strangely vulnerable. As the train doors closed and it started to move, a sudden panic appeared in her face. Almost as if she didn’t want to stay here, to be left behind…
Claire took a deep breath.
Come on, girl, it’s gonna be ok. Everything is perfect. No need to worry…
But the feeling of discomfort remained.
It was her last stop on the trip. A dream-come-true trip through Europe finished here in Czechia. Tomorrow she will continue to Prague and then home, but for some reason, she insisted on seeing this little brother of the country’s capital.
But as she stood on the platform and that strange feeling was eating her from inside, she doubted whether it was a good idea.
Then a sudden wave of weakness hit her, blowing her consciousness away. The last thing she saw was the hard ground awaiting her body…
He realized the first step she made, as he realized every newcomer. But for some reason this girl caught his attention, with her curly hair and trembling spirit.
And then she suddenly collapsed on the station, with crown closing mindlessly over her.
The decision was short. He stepped out from the stone walls and legends, materializing a human body. Catching her just before her body hit the ground.
„Miss, are you ok?“
She blinked and stared into a pair of soft brown eyes. Strong arms helped her to find balance. Their owner was a man in black sweater, brown-haired, his face totally unremarkable. But his smile was warm as sun at the peak of summer.
„ I just felt a bit faint,” she murmured. “It happens to me… sometimes.“
„Next time be more careful. If you fell down there, it would be very dangerous.“
She nodded and opened her mouth to say something. But before she found a voice, he was gone, lost in the crowd. As if no-one was ever there…
She wandered through the city the whole day, perceiving the life around her, touching ancient buildings and trying to imagine their stories. At the very end of the day, when sun was almost gone, she finally turned her steps to Petrov.
There were no streetlights and the whole place was swallowed by darkness. She watched the huge cathedral hanging against the darkening sky like some giant creature. She touched the cold stone and felt like it’s moving under her fingers…
„Hey, lass!“
Turning around, she saw a group of young men, laughing and whooping. Her heart stopped for a moment.
They were dressed nicely, but it was Friday night and she could smell the alcohol stinking from them. She lowered her eyes. If I stay silent, maybe they leave me be…
But then the first boy laid hand upon her.
„Let’s see what we have here…“
She wanted to cry, but nothing came out of her mouth.
„Get off, you bastards!“
The shout was like a knife cutting through air. She raised her head to see a young man, stepping in front of her, as if he just loomed out of the darkness. The gang was surprised as well, suddenly much less chilled. They murmured some harsh words, but then disappeared. Claire felt her heart beating like a drum.
Then he turned to her. „Are you okay?“
It was he, with the same soft eyes and face of a stranger. His voice was unexpectedly low for someone so young. She managed a cautious smile.
„Thank you.”
„I told you to pay attention. “ He spoke fluent English, with no sign of accent. „There are places you should avoid in the evenings.“
„I just wanted to see the cathedral… I met you on the station. You are stalking me or something?”
“It was just a lucky chance.”
“I’m Claire. What’s…”
„No,” he shook his head. „Just return to wherever you sleep tonight, okay? And this time, pay attention.”
All her courage was gone. What’s wrong with her that he doesn’t even want to hear her name? Is he angry?
„I’m not. Just go.“

How could he…?
„I… thank you anyway,” she murmured. When she raised her sight again, he was gone.
She was… astonishing. He watched her disappearing in the night, yet still felt her steps on the cobblestones, soft breath in the warm spring air. Beat of her heart. He leaned his back against the cathedral’s wall and sank down, down to the branched consciousness of the city.
From here he could watch her every step. It was foolish, stupid, dangerous… Yet he could not help himself.
Though the city’s senses he followed her through the streets. Her gaze was fixed on the ground, eyes filled with tears.
She did not look down the street, just stepped into the road. A sudden wave of faintness, as if someone cut the puppet’s strings…
Then a sound of brakes, desperately trying to stop the vehicle that suddenly appeared at the corner.
The world exploded in shock and pain. And then, there was nothing.
She caught her breath and started coughing. The certainty of here and now returned very slowly.
Someone was watching her.
Again. He seemed to be worried.
„What… what happened?“
„It’s okay. Everything is okay.“
You bloody liar. The girl was dead, her body lying broken under the wheels. But her soul, suddenly torn out from the body, refused to accept the truth, and so she could not see it nor leave immediately into oblivion.
„I know you. Who are you?!“ Her voice was tightened with panic.
He touched her hand, expecting her to fight back, but she did not resist.
„I’m your stalker, do you remember? I saved you at the train station.”
“And in the cathedral.”
“That’s right. But now we must go, little one.”
Anywhere to hide you from the sight on your own dead body.
„You are a tourist, aren’t you? Well, take it that you just met the best local guide ever. Come with me and I will show you places you never forget.“
Over the centuries of his existence he spent many interesting nights. But none was like this one.
They walked through the city, from one end to another and then back, blind to everything but themselves. She told him about her life abroad, in a strange country beyond the sea; talked about her dreams, plans and desires.
He told her in exchange every story he knew about the city. He made her smile, laugh. Forget about that street and that car and the terrible clash that ended her life.
They walked through the night. Once the sun rises, she will remember, and then her soul vanishes forever. But now she was with him and as he held her hand, he could almost call it happiness.
„You never told me your name.“
„I don’t have any.“
„You must have a name.“
„I had a long time ago. But I didn’t use it since… So it disappeared.“
„It must be sad.“
„Not so much,“ he lied with a soft smile. „You know, no-one ever asked about it.“
„I do now. And if you don’t have any…“ She turned to him with a playful smile. „Could I give you one?“
That was… oh, unexpected.
„You want to?“
„Of course. Everyone deserves a name. I will call you Eerie, because of how strangely you always appear and because I don’t believe you to be just an ordinary local. And for these very nice eyes you have.”
“You like my eyes?”
She bent her face and blushed.
“Of course I do.”
The night was warm and mind-twisting. He remembered her in his arms, kissing her on cheek, then lips… They danced through the night, walked under the trees of Lužánky, admired the ancient beauty of Mahen theatre, screamed for fun in the empty streets.
They were enjoying, fooling, living. It was all he could give her before the end comes. And for him it was gift as well.
But at the end of night must always come a day.
An end to everything.
Because they returned to the street where it all started. And she remembered.
It was already empty from ambulance and all the rubbernecks, but still dangerously familiar. And he could just watch her face changing, as the cold realization finally reached her.
„I… You… That street… There was a car. It hit me. I… died?!“
A wave of panic. She studied his face in desperate search for answers.
„Yes. Your body died here,” he murmured.
She made a silent sob. He took her hand.
„Don’t cry, little one.“
But I died!“ Her voice was trembling with desperation.
The feeling of helplessness hit him. There was nothing he could do for her, his sweet strange girl from the mortal world. Despite all the powers he possessed, against the death he was as helpless as any other.
He could just… be with her. So he hugged her and whispered stupid, empty, calming words… And to his surprise she stopped trembling. She was still crying, but the protective wall of his arms made the burden somehow smaller, easier to carry.
„Come with me,“ he finally said. „We still have some time… And I want to show you something.“
The rising sun was color of a copper, showing its fingers above the horizon and filling the world with bright light. They sat on the old stone wall bounding  the courtyard of Špilberk castle, and looked down on the slowly awakening city.
The view was inhumanly beautiful.
As was she, with bronze hair and pale skin, gently contoured lips and eyes that looked so alive. The idea of letting her go was more and more unbearable for him.
She turned to him and showed teeth in sad smile.
 „It’s magnificent here. But I guess the time is over. So… How will it happen? Am I just going to … disappear?“
She tried to be brave, but her joking was a poor cover for grief.
He never knew what was it that made him say the thing. Maybe the way she looked at him, with heart torn to pieces, yet determined not to ask for pity, scared to death, but still fighting… And maybe it was just her presence, her hand closed around his own, the smell of her hair and her face printed under his closed eyelids.
„Claire, wait.“
„There is another way.“
„What are you talking about?“
„You said you love the city. Many times. That you would do everything to stay here…“ He grasped her hand. „Your body may have died, but your soul is still here, in this world. You can stay.“
„But… how?”
He breathed out slowly.
And explained.
She watched him with increasing understanding – and increasing fear.
„No, you can’t…“
„There has to be one soul passing the Gate today. No-one cares which one it is. The only thing that matters is the number. You can take it as my last gift.“
„But this is your place! You can’t be gone. Who will take care of the city?!“
„You will. You already love it. I can see that you will guard it well.”
„No! You are the Spirit!“
He clutched her hand harder. „Listen to me, little one. I don’t belong to this world any more. I lived far too long. Now it’s your turn to take my post.“
„But I don’t know what to do… I never ruled a city, you fool!“
“Fear nothing, Claire. You will do as much as you can, and the city will help you with the rest. You will be the best Spirit it ever had. And you will enjoy at least some kind of life. You will be happy…“
„But you won’t be here,“ she gave a sob. „How can I be happy when you are gone?“
He was silent for a moment, suddenly unable to speak. Then he felt her hand slowly touching his shoulder. He embraced her.
„I don’t want you to leave,“ she whispered, again and again, every time sticking a sharp dagger deeper into his heart.
I don’t want it either. Everything I want now is to be with you. But you gave me a name… And now I want to pay back.
With that thought, he finally found the strength to leave her embrace. Her face was wet with tears.
„I will never forget what you’ve done for me. I… thank you.“ She kissed him on the lips, softly, with tears still trickling down her face.
„Goodbye, Claire.“
„Goodbye, Eerie.“
And then suddenly… Her arms were empty. He was gone.
But there was another presence. Bodiless, but very strong, twining its tentacles around her mind. Strange, but calming.
She closed her eyes. Suddenly a wind appeared and played gently with her hair. A sign that the city is present, that is dwells within her.
She united with this strange presence. And in that very moment, she became the Spirit of the city, the guard, the invisible initiator of all its actions, as Eerie before her.
The tangle refilled with yet another strand, yet another story. Destinies twisted, roles changed.
And Claire, once mortal girl, became the Spirit of Brno.

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