Pilgrimage. Short Story.

“Who dares enter the-”

“Relax, it’s only me.”
“Oh. Sorry, I didn’t see you coming. Thought you were another one of those people.”
“Those people?”
“Yeah, you know, hopped up on the idea of adventure, off to rescue a loved one, what ever their reasons. This used to be an easy job you know, stop anyone getting out. Now I’ve to worry about people getting in! I keep telling them to hire another guard, but they won’t”
“You don’t need someone else to help, how often do people try to break in? Or even out for that matter?”
“That’s not the point. It would be nice to have a bit of company, someone to talk to, someone to help pass the time.”
“I keep telling you to start dating.”
“Yeah, who am I gonna find around here huh? What about that sexy rock over there, or maybe that one, or perhaps that vast, barren wasteland would be good for a quick tumble.”
“You need to branch out. You get breaks, go to a bar or something.”
“An hour of free time every hundred years isn’t exactly conducive to starting a relationship.”
“Have you even tried to find someone?”

“Well, yes and no.”
“How can it be yes and no? It’s one or the other.”
“Then I guess I haven’t.”
“How are you going to find a nice girl if you don’t even look for one? Next time you’re one break, at least strike up a conversation with someone you fancy.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“There’s no supposing, do it!”
“Ok, yeah, you’re right, I will!”

“I better get going, I’ll see you later, yeah?”
“Yeah, cool. I’ll be here either way.”
Samuel continued walking, he knew that Gabe wasn’t going to talk to anyone on his next break, Samuel knew exactly what Gabe would do. He’d sit where he always sits, fret over how little time he has for a break, then by the time he was done fretting and ready to actually do something, the break would be over.

The rocky terrain started to transform slowly, a puddle here, a puddle there, flecks of dark green plants growing in the clefts of rocks. As Samuel walked he scanned the area, most things knew better than to attack him, but the creatures here were not the brightest. The ground started to soften from the rock, turning into sludge which gripped and pulled at his boots. Anyone who tried to cross, at least those who had no reason to be in the swamps, would be pulled under quickly, left to drown for eternity in the dark mud. The groan of wood filled the air, followed by a loud crack as a tree fell over, the other trees blocked Samuels view, but what ever it was it was big. He quickened his pace, few things were that large in the swamp, and anything that was would be extremely dangerous, even for him.

“Oh, Samuel, it’s you. Sorry. Didn’t recognise your scent.”
“Bert, I was wondering what was making all that noise.”
“Yeah, I’m over the whole stealth thing, the fear is too tasty to pass up, marinates through the meat, makes it tender and juicy.”
Samuel nodded but didn’t stop, “Sounds good, I’ll have to try it some time.”
“You should.”
The large yellow eyes that stared at him from the trees faded until they were suddenly gone. Samuel felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. He knew Bert was still watching him, probably waiting for an opening. Samuel didn’t slow, Bert was nice enough when he wasn’t hungry, but when he was you didn’t know which Bert you were going to get. Best not to slow.

He didn’t encounter anything else in the swamp, at one point loud, harsh shrieks filled the air and Samuel knew that Bert had gotten his food. The screeches continued on longer than they should have, Bert seemed to be playing with his food.

Samuel wiped some of the sweat off his forehead, the scenic route was tough going, still he had to do it at least once a year, usually he did it twice, just to be sure. He was already half way there, with the grasslands stretching out ahead of him. It looked peaceful, but the grass was hungry. If you weren’t careful it would ensnare you, wrapping around your feet and dragging you down. Samuel scanned the sky, looking for any of the birds, but there was no sign of them in the deep blue sky. Samuel took a deep breath of clean air before starting, the air in the grasslands smelled wonderful, like flowers and fruit and freshly cut grass, but it was intoxicating, making you drowsy. The pull of sleep wasn’t as strong for Samuel as it would be with others, but if he wasn’t careful he could give in.

He was halfway across when he started to feel sleepy, he took a deep breath, then regretted it as his muscles started to relax. Samuel started walking again, realising he had been standing still for a few minutes. He had been so tempted to sit down, just for a moment. The Grasslands seemed more potent than he remembered. He could see the edge of the mountains just ahead, his legs were heavy and each step seemed more difficult than the last, the grass started to become patchy, the even deep green of the grass gave way to lighter spots with bits of bare earth showing through. As the ground started to slope upwards, the drowsiness began to wear off. A few feet onto the mountain and he remembered to check the sky, it was still empty. Above thick white clouds obscured the top of the mountain.

The trail that Samuel followed was easy enough, going through the mountain rather than over it. The path was safe, nothing here would attack him but he kept his guard up after the Grasslands. It shouldn’t have effected him that much. He came across nothing dangerous in the mountains, only the remains of those who tried to escape. Some pleaded, some reached out weakly for him as he passed. Samuel didn’t slow or offer assistance. The creatures of the mountains fed on those who tried to escape, if he tried to remove a food source, they would attack him.

He stopped when he reached the other side of the mountains, taking a deep breath of the thick air. It was soothing, reminding him of childhood and days spent running in and out of the hot springs.

Samuel continued his walk, the trail turning into a path, lined with the undying. Ahead of him was the Black Tower, reaching up to the sky. He didn’t pause to talk to anyone, he wanted it to be over with. However much this place reminded him of his years as a child, he still hated it. Once he was done he would be free to do as he pleased until the next time.

Ahead of him was the large door, it glistened red in the light, above it were several men and women, spikes driven through their bodies to ensure they would constantly coat the door in a fresh layer of blood. As always he winced slightly as he opened the door, the slick feeling of blood sticking to his palm, even though it remained clean. He stepped into the tower and felt relief wash over him. It was done.

About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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