The stranger shakes his head

13/09/2022

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“Today is the fourth day since I set off.” The old traveler stares at me. His cold gaze sends chills down my spine, I can’t help but stare back.
“Today is the fourth. See, there were countless days in my journey, but I only count four.” The old man continues, pointing his callous finger in some direction, “the first day I was born. The second day, I met a squirrel. The third day, I burned my house. The fourth day, I reached my destination.”
“I know you’re looking for a new beginning. A glorious path to a legendary adventure. But do you know how your story ends?” He pauses to pass me his beer as he says this.
“After all, we’re all heading to our ends.” And with that, he starts walking away. Leaving me behind once again, and the rest of the world, forever. I want to follow him, just to ask one more question, but the words don’t come out. My body remains frozen and motionless as I try to think what it means to be an end. I am no hero of mine. No one will see my adventure ever come to its conclusion. So, instead, what do I do? I start walking away too. To my fate, I suppose. The sun shines brightly against my skin. I watch the birds fly above. Their wings spread across the sky and their song rings into the air. There are so many different sounds around me.
A rustling in the leaves. It is loud enough that even the birds stop singing in surprise. The noise doesn’t belong here either. Someone is approaching the village quickly. They’re coming closer and closer until they finally reach where I am standing. The stranger looks almost exactly like me. Almost, I mean. His hair and eyes are grey, not purple.
“What are you doing here, boy?”
“Nothing in particular, just enjoying nature. It is nice to finally get some time to relax.” This was the last thing I intended to say but it slipped from my lips regardless. This was going to end very badly if I didn’t act fast, “I’m leaving now, good luck!” And before he could reply, I take off running to my destination.
I sprint through the village gates and continue running until the town disappears into the horizon. After a minute or two, I slow to a walk and look ahead. I have nowhere in particular to go. All I know is that I need to find someone. Some person who can tell me what the hell is happening to me.
My feet carry me deeper into the forest. I follow a faint trail, one I haven’t used in years. Before long, it leads me to a clearing surrounded by trees, and at the center of the clearing is a small cottage. I’ve never seen this place before but I still approach carefully, like every night would reveal me to be trespassing. Maybe there really is a spirit living here? It wouldn’t be the worst thing if it was a spirit. Then maybe they’d give me answers instead of staring blankly. With a deep breath, I push open the door and step inside.
The house is dusty but well-maintained. There’s an odd smell in the air but other than that, everything seems to work perfectly fine. Noticing a small staircase near the front door, I make my way towards the steps but suddenly stop. Something catches my eye on top of the stairs, right above the entrance. At first glance it looks like nothing, but when I raise my head and inspect it, I notice something strange. A red string, tied to an empty spot on the top of the stairway.
A memory comes flooding back to me, memories I thought I had forgotten. Memories of a small brown child playing outside, running around as the wind swept their messy black hair across their face. Memories that seemed far away, lost among thousands of others I’ve held onto, but eventually I found them. Memories of a little girl in a green dress, smiling brightly. My eyes begin watering as I close them. The memories are blurry, faded and hazy yet clear all the same. They remind me of my past, a past filled with happiness, laughter, and love.
Before my thoughts can go any further, I feel a strong hand land on my shoulder, snapping me out of my memory. I turn around, finding myself facing a man I’ve never seen before, a tall, broad shouldered man who has a kind smile upon his face. “Do you live here alone?” He questions kindly, his voice low, “I apologize for the intrusion, but… Do you happen to know anyone named Kageyama Tobio?”
His voice brings a sense of familiarity to me, “No,” I shake my head, “Should I? Have you known him?”
The stranger shakes his head. He then pulls a small slip of paper out of his pocket and hands it to me, “This is the address for my friend and I believe you may be able to help us locate her.”
“Your friend? Do you mean Kageyama’s mother?” I take the note. She must have passed away, which was sad, but it isn’t uncommon.
He nods, “Yes,” I read over the piece of paper, “It would appear she lives in a village about five hours west of here. If you want to travel through here safely, you’ll need to get moving now. It would seem that the road is closing up. The sooner you leave, the better.”
“Are you sure?” I ask him. He shrugs, “If you change your mind, please let me know.” I nod at him gratefully and he returns it. The two of us exit the house and he closes the door softly behind him.

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