March 13, 2021

Book 3. 2nd extract

By aarondkey

I may call this England 83. But I won’t because it is called Stolid. Unedited extract from Book 3.

I opened my eyes. There were no lights. I looked around to see the eyes of the young man staring at me. Above the car the dark branches of trees hung low. We were parked in the quiet seclusion of a lay-by on a deserted country lane.

“What’s happened?” I said. “Why have we stopped?”

“I wanted to stop,” the young man answered.

“Where are we?”

“Nowhere,” he spoke with a strange abstraction, as if not thinking that I needed an explanation.

“But I need to get on,” I said, alarmed by the expression on his face and lying.

“It’d be quicker for you to wait for me. It’s a long walk back to civilisation.”

“Why have you stopped here?” I asked.

There was no answer. The young man’s eyes still fell upon my face like the burning rays of a midday sun.

“Are you scared?” he said mockingly.

“I looked at your face, and I thought that I could trust you. I looked at your face and I liked what I saw,” I said. I felt betrayed and so I talked gibberish. It did not seem to perturb him as he answered.

“And you did right to trust me. There is no one on this world you could more properly invest your trust in. I will not let you down.  Don’t be afraid. It is only lack of understanding that causes you grief.”

“I’m not afraid,” I answered.

“Then why are you eager to be gone, when there is nowhere for you to go, and no-one to wait for you?”

“What pleasure is there sitting in a car?”

“You are a seeker of pleasure then?”

“Not of pleasure but of distraction.”

“Is this not a distraction from the humdrum of your daily life?”

“Do I know you?” I asked. “Why is it that I feel I do know you very well?”

“How should I know?”

“Do you not know me?” I asked confused. “Have I met you before and perhaps offended you?”

“It would be impossible for you to offend me, and even if you had done so do you think that this is my revenge? I told you not to be afraid. I can’t hurt you without hurting myself.”

I saw that speech was getting me nowhere. For some reason of his own the young man was determined to pursue his plan, and to leave me in doubt of its intention. I felt that I might get further by remaining silent and allowing him to speak.

I was silent as I stared out into the black night. Dark trees hung above us, but beyond these the stars were bright and fresh enough for me to gather that we had left the rain behind us with our speed, or that at last the skies had grown bored of their pursuit of me.

Where? Where had I seen his face before? I asked myself. I had felt something like this before, an unreal, unstable knowledge of strangers based on nothing except an immediate attraction. But there was no lust in my feelings for the young man. I felt for him as I might have felt about an elder brother if I had ever had one. Someone who knew what I was and what my faults were and yet did not judge me. And I felt for him; a reluctant admiration, a sexless love like the love of an idea, but still I did not know anything about him.

We sat in silence and the minutes passed. There was no ancient clock to mark the passing of time with its sonorous ticks and yet my heartbeat mimicked this lacking torment.

Although I was impatient and unsure, I had not grown to hate him, as I would have done if I had felt him taking decision away from me. I was puzzled; yes, like a man on the edge of remembering a momentous dream but with enlightenment eluding me. I was numbed too. Newly woken from deep sleep.

“Do you want to walk?” the young man said.

I shrugged. I had no other options if I wanted to understand his motives.

We walked in the pale cast of the Milky Way away from the road, following a well-travelled path. Beyond the lay-by the trees thinned until we walked on open moorland. Dark shadows in the distance marked the edges of trees and of gorse but the sky was wide and the earth flat.

“Where were you travelling to tonight? Didn’t you have to be in London?” I asked, my vow of silence forgotten.

“Don’t you know? I only drove out to meet you.”

“How could you?” I snapped. “I didn’t know myself where I was going to be until I found myself there.”

“I had a premonition.”

“Do you know me?” I asked him again, hoping by repetition to get the answers I wanted.

“As well as I know myself,” he answered, and there was something like pity in his eyes that troubled me.

“But I do not know you? At least, I don’t know who you are. I can’t remember if I know you.”

“I am not offended. I do not need your remembrance to massage my ego.”

“I have never before suffered from problems with my memory. I remember every detail of my life, and I know that you played no major part in it. I may have met you. Your face looks familiar. I think perhaps that you may work in a bank or a shop that I frequent, but there is no way that you can know anything about me.”

“As you say,” the young man shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of disinterest.

“So why have you brought me here?” I asked.

“Don’t you think that this is a beautiful place to walk in at night? I thought that it would bring you pleasure.”

“I’m not enjoying the walk because I do not know why you forced me here.”

“I didn’t force you here. I drove you here and offered you a walk. You accepted both the lift and the walk.”

“I had no choice.”

“You know that you have always had a choice. Even now you could choose to walk away from me and you would escape from me forever. But you know and I know that you cannot do this because the only thing that is holding you here is your curiosity. And until you have settled that you will stay here with me.” I didn’t think that he was right. I thought in effect that I was too much a coward to be held by mere curiosity. And yet he was right in saying that the option of walking away was open to me and that I had no temptation to take it.