The October Man

by Dave Bara
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Ballantine sat in the field, spinning a long blade of grass between his fingers.

Around him were things of familiarity, things of strangeness. Behind him stood tall pale trees filled with golden fruit and amber leaves. A silver shower rained on the trees from time to time, but never was he wet. In the distance were the mountains; faded, ambiguous, unreachable.

Gray clouds covered the entire sky, yet the field was not dark. A soft blue-white light shone constantly. Ballantine leaned back in the green grass and contemplated the sky, hands behind his head.

“How long have I been here?” he said aloud. “I don’t know. Nor do I know where I come from. Nor do I care much,” he came up and rested on his elbows. “Do you know these things?” he called out.

Yes, these things I know.

“There is fruit on the trees, but I am not hungry. Water flows from the brook, yet neither to I thirst. Never do I tire, but sleep I do require though I know not how or when it comes. And dreams. I dream of many things. Do you understand?”

Yes, I understand.

“The mountains call me, did you know? One day I will wake, and I will understand why.”

Yes, you will understand.

Ballantine stood and looked to the sky.

“When?” he asked.

When you face The October Man.


Ballantine contemplated this, hands in the pockets of his faded overalls. “There is so much beauty here, but I cannot stay. The mountains, of course,” he whirled about to look at them, causing a sudden rustle through the landscape, sending flowers and leaves alike scattering in his wake.”I feel compelled to go to them, to the undiscovered country. There lies my answer. There is what I seek,” he smiled at this, then grew more serious. “Will you be very angry with me if I go?”There is no anger here.He turned back to the brook, more slowly now so as not to disturb the land. “It’s as if I was called to them from the beginning.”The beginning of what?This brought a somber smile. “My being, I suppose. Though I have no idea when or where that might have been. Here is all I seem to know.”You can stay if you like.Ballantine shook his head. “You offer me far more than I could ever ask for, my faceless friend. But I don’t feel I have a choice. The mountains keep calling my name in the wind. And I have no answer, except to travel there and find out for myself what calls me,” he stood again, contemplating once more the beauty of the field, his patch of heaven.”Will you come with me?” he asked.I am always there.

“Will you speak to me? Guide me?”

This journey must be yours alone.

“Will he be there?” he asked, almost a whisper.

He is there already.

“Should I be frightened?”

No.

“But what if I can’t face him?”

Is that not why you are going?

Ballantine nodded. “Yes. Then it’s decided. I will go to the mountains, and beyond, and you will be at my side. And I will not be afraid.”

This time the voice stayed silent.


Ballantine looked back one last time at the valley he had left behind. It had grown stark and naked and a gray dusting covered the land, as if a thousand years of desolation had passed as he walked. He would not be going back that way again.The road ahead was rocky and dark with but one narrow path through the mountains. With every step he took the road illuminated just far enough for him to see without stumbling. From time to time he saw a shadow, a form that might be, walking ahead, urging him on with the wave of a hand. It was not frightening, for he had already decided to make the journey and a companion, even a hidden one, was not unwelcome.The road beneath him rose between two peaks, a pair of jagged rock daggers piercing the twilight sky. The sky grew ever brighter as he approached the coming crest of the road. He paused and called out to his friend one last time.”Will I ever see your face?” he asked. Again there was no answer, and for the first time Ballantine felt truly alone.


A spiral city shining bright in the light of the sun lay in the valley below.Domes of gold and silver rose on top of walls of alabaster, inlaid jewels firing brilliantly against the darkness of the mountain peaks. Mosaics of cracked sapphire and emerald lined the streets in shimmering beauty. The light of a million candles searched the sky for a home, and finding no place not yet filled with brilliance returned and filled the city evermore.The road down was easy now.It seemed only a few brief moments and he was at the city gates, the harshness of the mountains a thing of the past now. The gates lay open as if they were never intended to be shut. Ballantine spread his arms wide with joy as the golden light filled him with ecstasy.His exhilaration passed as he entered the city, and found it empty. Libraries, mansions, and temples with withered gardens lay before him. More books than he could read in a lifetime, but no people, and no life. Not even a gentle breeze to move the silver leaves or parched branches of the dead trees.Now fear was his companion.


He walked the empty streets, moving from building to building, seeking anything that had life and motion. But the walls of the city remained silent and bare; gray leaves scattered across dusty bronze cobblestones, ashes of age crumbled softly beneath his feet. The city was aging around him as he walked, and Ballantine felt fear and remorse, hoping it was not he who had brought this lifelessness into being.He stopped at a silent fountain and drank from the still water in the cistern; it was bitter and the sound of the water dripping from his hand thundered like a cascade compared to the silence of the city, so loud that he almost missed the sound he longed for.The sound of life.A bird cawed in the distance. The sound sent him whirling into motion. He ran from street to street, searching for the bird, the source of the sound, finally coming to a broad boulevard that divided the city in half.Ballantine looked anxiously up and down the road, sighting a golden bird, striking in its beauty and power. He watched as the bird came towards him, wings churning forcefully, sunlight glinting off feathers as if they were made of bronze and silver. As it came towards him the city changed in its wake, the dead stone coming to life with new gold walls and green vines with colorful blossoms. It swept past him just over his head and he turned to follow after it. It swirled around him three times, leaving a mist of glittering gold dust to envelope him. The bird spoke to him as it flew back the way it had come, towards the city wall and a vast bronze archway, impossibly high in the distance.”Our silver turns to gold,” it said.”Wait!” Ballantine called, desperate for answers. “I don’t understand!” But the bird flew on, away from him.”Our silver turns to gold,” it repeated as it faded into the distance of the broadway. Sadly he watched it go. He returned to the cistern and sat on the steps, putting his head in his hands, suddenly weary with the weight of years. He lay down on the hard stone and drifted off to sleep, the city transforming around him.A land of dreams opened to him.

He walked now in a city full of life. Figures of light and shadow moved about him and passed through him, as if the souls of a thousand generations had chosen to come and dwell in the same place all at once. He ached to see their faces, but each time a shadow came close it seemed to vanish or dissipate, then reform as they passed beyond him. A circus of creation moved about him in the golden sunlit streets.The quiet chatter of the figures came to him as sound, like a distant ocean wave. It grew louder as he walked among them, becoming so loud that he had to cover his ears from the sound. Then abruptly it subsided, becoming a hum of activity as he moved through the swarm of shadows.Ballantine turned to look back to the cistern, and to his surprise saw himself there, aged and ancient, sleeping beneath the shade of the stone. Only now the fountain flowed with water, cascading in glittering green and blue and silver. He turned towards the bronze broadway, and the distant arch that lay beyond. It was there that the city ended, he was certain of it, the way the bird had flown. So he walked on, the crowds of almost-people passing him as if it were he that didn’t exist.After a time he came to a great pool of still water. Shadow children sailed shadow boats and waved to their shadow mothers as they played. He passed them all, the arch his only goal, drawn as much to it as he had been to the mountains.In the midst of it all, still some way from the arch, he noticed a reflection of orange-bright light in the water, taking on the vague shape of a man. The light shimmered in the sun and then impossibly, unmistakably, began moving towards him. He stood transfixed, the shadows of the others fading around him as it approached, gliding toward him across the water. It spoke in a hollow voice, quite unlike his faceless friend.”Why are you here?” it asked. Ballantine hesitated, unsure of the answer.”I have come from over the mountains,” he finally replied. The light being wavered, red scoring moving through yellow fire.”Why are you here?” it said again. Ballantine contemplated the question this time before responding.”I seek The October Man,” he said. The being appeared to nod its head, if indeed it had one.”All who come here do. But you are not as the others here. Who are you?” it asked.

“I don’t know,” he said truthfully. “Who are you?”

The light of the being began to dim, it began to move off, passing through the shadowy crowd as it went. Ballantine watched as the color of the city began to fade around him the farther the being went from him. Feeling his chance for an answer slipping away, Ballantine yelled out in desperation.

“Our silver turns to gold!”

The being stopped its retreat and turned towards him, its fire suddenly rekindled. “That is what the bird said,” finished Ballantine. The being replied.

“Do you seek to know its meaning?”

“Yes.”

“Then follow me.”

Ballantine went, his dream world growing vivid around him again.


The city gave way to a plain of rock and barrenness like none he could have imagined. The bronze archway lay far behind them, the shadow-city so far away that he could see nothing of it any longer. The being stopped as they approached a vista of white mist and clouds. Massive stones lay on their sides, piled in such a way as to render their meaning clear; these were stones of judgment. Ballantine felt as if he were at the end of the world.The judgment stones were parted in the center, leaving a space of hope between them and a world of mist beyond. The orange fire-being raised a limb to point back towards the city and the great arch.”There,” it said.As Ballantine looked a new figure approached, bent with age and decay. It came slowly, accompanied by a its own fire-being. The mist reached out and enveloped the new figure, then solidified. He made out the form of a woman, ancient as if with the age of a thousand years in her bones. Silver hair twisted upon her head, gnarled hands held a wooden cane as she walked, rags hung from her body.The light being with her expanded, growing brighter, enveloping her in light. A moment later and she emerged from the light and mist, taking stuttering steps towards the stones. With each movement she grew stronger.Ballantine watched in amazement as she began to change. Her white and disheveled hair turned first to silver, and then to the golden color of the sun. Bent limbs straightened and firmed, the weight of age lifting from her at every step. Lines on her face shrunk and vanished as she transfigured before him. The mist came again and surrounded her, forming new garments as she walked. She strode ever faster, ever stronger, then ran towards the stones with the vigor of new youth. She climbed the stones with a single leap and stopped, looking back at Ballantine, and smiled. The mist before her became a golden cloud, pulsating and forming, finally parting with a roar to reveal a sky of winter stars. They blinked, each of them tempting her with possibility. She made her choice, and then leapt over the horizon – and was gone. The clouds returned to their place and the golden glow faded until all that remained again was the mist.Ballantine marveled at what he had seen.”Our silver turns to gold,” he said quietly. Now the words had meaning. He turned to the being beside him and saw that the blinding light was gone from it now.He saw his own face.”You are The October Man,” he said to the being. It nodded.

“Each of us comes to this place in the autumn of their lives, and then return to the spring of their choosing,”

“You have seen all that is permitted of you. You have solved the calling of the mountains, and the city. You must return now, to your own country, and remember all you have seen. And consider; all your days are numbered, and tomorrow arrives very quickly in your land.”

“I had hoped to understand you,” said Ballantine.

“Understand yourself,” replied The October Man, “and you will give me being. And I will be here in this land when you arrive in your proper place and time.”

Then Ballantine nodded, and closed his eyes, giving himself once more to the land of dreams.

One Response to “The October Man”

  1. Very haunting and thought provoking. Very well done and enjoyable. Congrats!

    Pat

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