Still Flames

There is a woman called Anaïs Nin. She once said:
"We don´t see things as they are. We see things as we are..."
"How are things then?" I ask you.
Because, whatever you might think, these are and stay...


Polvo broke a piece of frozen saliva from his chin and threw it into the gleaming whiteness around him.
What in the world had he been thinking!?
For three and a half hours now he had been ploughing uphill, struggling against the deep snow and the almost ultimate exhaustion of his strained body.
`I should have stayed down there!' he thought to himself and looked back to where he had been coming from. Deep down it was, the valley with the little creek which was frozen to the core, more cornering than winding through the winter landscape now. He knew it had to look like a crack in some ice-floe from up here, but he could not see it clearly. It was smeared up behind a milky blanket which had layed itself upon his eyes and brain after not having eaten for two days and not having slept for even longer. He turned his head to look upwards and cleaned his nose into the snow. Thank God, it was not all too long to go anym...his thoughts were silenced immediatly when he noticed a faint smell in the air.
Was it possible!?
Something thick and grey rose up behind the ridge, patiently, like it knew that it had all the time in the world to go as far up as it wanted to. It took him a short moment to really grasp what that meant. When he did he stormed upwards as fast as he managed until he could take a glimpse down the other side.
What was down there made his heart want to dance and wave and yell around in his chest, telling everything and everybody how happy it felt! Because there was a village there, with houses that seemed to him like the most beautiful things he had ever seen in his entire life! And look at how the chimneys smoked away a some sort rhytm even which was as dilly-dally as a rocking chair besides a fireplace! Yes, just like tranquil grandfathers with their pipes they seemed to draw in a breath from time to time and then calmly released a raunchy piece of used air. Some of them even seemed to cough!
`Cough!´ Polvo thought light-heartedly and started giggling. `My grandpa used to cough like that!´
He remembered the almost dead face of his father´s father, when he was sitting in his armchair, holding a stuffed pipe in one hand, his head in the other, more a brownish lump of still living flesh than anything else, which clumsily tried to coordinate the movements of both hand and head in order to put the pipe into his mouth. Polvo could also remember the broad, childly satisfied smile everytime the pipe had finally reached its destination and because he remembered, he fell into outright laughter and freed himself of all the concerns and doubts about his own survival that had accumulated on his shoulders during the last couple of days.
The irritated cry of a grouse, though, calmed him down again pretty fast and he watched on for a moment as his thoughts vanished with the bird flapping away. He tried to focus again and to imagine how it would be to enter one of the houses down in the village, but he failed doing so. His brain was empty, no thoughts, nothing, just plain emptiness. So, for lack of knowledge of a better thing to do, he let himself fall into the snow, face first.
"Finally!" he whispered into the flakes. There was a tear, a drop of his own hungry life, creeping down along his cheeks, slowly, eventually merging with the snow.
Then he stood up, took off his fur-coat, turned the leather to the outside and placed it on the snow.
"Finally!" he yelled into the freezing air and ran for it.
Little ice crystals stung in his face and caused quite a bit of pain to him as he raced downwards on his jacket. But he could not care less! Down there were houses with warm fireplaces and warm food, so, the hell with it!
He shot into a pathway between some of the smaller houses and stopped after a couple of feet. He got up, cleaned the coat from all the snow and put it back on. The leather felt a notch too cold, he found as he just stood there for a little while and listened.
Nothing. No sounds of distant conversation or foot-steps or dog barks, for example, no wind blowing through the narrow pathways, nothing..nothing but the chill of pure silence.
`Fair enough!´ he thought and picked a door that was hidden behind a thick curtain of icicles which had grown to size on the doorframe.
He went and knocked and went in.
A wall of hot, steaming and, most of all, disgustingly foul smelling air raced over him as he opened the door a little. Polvo was literally pushed back by the stink and grabbed the doorknob to keep steady.
"Somebody died in here or what?" he asked into the foul air.
Hesitantly, he opened the door a bit further and stuck his head in.
His chin fell down to the floor in amazement as he looked at the one room in the house, the one, gargantous room with the monstrous column in the middle to support the roof. He looked up. He could see the uncovered undersides of the tiles and the rotten planks they rested on some twenty feet above ground and he glared at them for a while. There were just the tiles, nothing else, pretty boring it was, apart from a dead bird squeezed into the the planks and the rugged chimney coming up at one point. His eyes followed the chimney down again towards the fireplace. There was a...well, it had the shape of a normal kitchen knife, but it was the size of a little, medieval sword! And it rested on a couple of horrendeously thick nails that had been rammed into the wall next to the fireplace. Polvo could not resist and walked over. He lifted the heavy knife out of the nails with both hands and tested the blade with his thumb.
"Bly me!" he said out loud. You could cut a piece of paper into two layers with that thing! Goose-bumps tickled all over his skin and made him feel a little shaky as he cautiously put it back and turned around to face the room. He had not been noticing the lighting before, for some reason, but now he recognized a huge mass of candles that covered the whole room like a pattern of little stars flinged together too closely. Polvo could see them flickering away, giving rise to a complex display of moving, wait a minute! Nothing flickered here!
Like a three-dimensional still life the candles´ flames had apparently searched for a good spot to lick at and had been caught doing so. They stood right there in mid-air, poking out into the room in the most akward shapes! He walked over to the nearest candle which stood next to a lumpy looking, brownish thing that had a strange aliveness to it. He did wonder about it for a mere split-second. Then he reached out for the candle.
The flame was not moving, alright, but it was still hot! He turned his head. The fire under the chimney was no exception in its motionless unrest, leaving the impression on Polvo that this might be a suitable time to get a little frightened.
He was not frightened, though. If anything, he was starving and paced straight towards a row of shelves on one side of the room. Without even a glimpse of hesitation he ripped open some of the jars and gulped down dried fruit, brined eggs and cured meat until there was no tomorrow. Further and further he worked his way through the shelves right into one of the corners. There was a fat, old clock standing there. Polvo glanced at the pendulum while stuffing another piece of meat down his throat.
`Of course!´he thought. `Why should it move anyway!"
And then, the world became dark.
"Are you out of your mind, you little twat?" an aching voice smoked at Polvo out of the darkness.
"Who? What?"
"I said: Are you out of your mind?" the voice barked again. "That was my food for the rest of the winter, you lousy creep!"
Polvo opened his eyes and tried focusing on where he was. The room seemed oddly small to him now, moving back and forth before him like a drowning boat in a storm. In addition, he himself seemed to wave around as well, sitting on some sort of chair or something...with his hands tied behind his back.
"A creep! Yes, that´s right, a creep! That´s what you are!" the voice ranted on. Polvo began making out a face behind the dizziness, a wrinkled face, as pale as pale faces come, old.
"You creep!" the face said. Polvo looked past the old man at the shelf. All of the jars he had opened. None of them were completely emptied, though.
"What am I gonna do with you now, huh? What am I gonna do?" the old man continued and spat onto the floor.
`Aargh!´ Polvo thought. He stayed silent, though, as the old man harpooned him with his eyes, and spat again into the little spitoon that was standing there. Polvo heard the ancient voice becoming as calm as the eye of a hurricane when it continued speaking.
"Do you have a name, young man?" it asked.
Polvo nodded.
"You do?" The old man could not help sniggering all of a sudden. "Now, that´s something!" he cracked out laughing. "A young chap with a name!"
A bewildered Polvo hesistantly joined in the laughter as the old man visibly relaxed.
"You have a name! I don´t believe this, you have a name! Breaks into my house, eats all my food and, above all, has a name...hahaha....what am I gonna do with you, huh? A young man with a name! What, huh...?"
The old man shut up all off a sudden. He shut up, appearantly unsatisfied with himself and wrenched his face into a gruesome grimace. His eyes focused on Polvo whose laughter died out slowly, breath for breath. The old man nodded unnoticeably and had a sparkle of relief in his eyes for the slightest of moments. Then he got right into Polvo´s face, with his eyes once again drilling into the young man like a daemon looking for the chance to steal a soul. Polvo felt his blood trying to freeze under the stare and began shivering in his ties.
"I think", the old man whispered next to Polvo´s ear. "I think I´m gonna have to..."
" name is Polvo!" Polvo stuttered desperately, looking away to the wall next to the fireplace. There was no knife on the nails anymore.
"Polvo, huh? Strange name, that!" the old man said and pushed the pointy end of the knife through the cloth against the younger man´s skin. Polvo backed off into the chair as much as it was possible for him, almost knocking over backwards in his attempt to escape from the much too distinguished sting on his belly.
"Well, then Polvo...stand up!"
In a sudden buzz the blade flew around Polvo and bursted the ties open with one cut. Then the old man stepped back a little and let Polvo feel his own body. He had some difficulties regaining control of his muscles and it took a while before he actually could stand up.
"I´m...I´m sorry!" he said.
"Been wandering, lad?" the old man asked ignoring the apology.
Polvo nodded again and watched the blade tingling in the old man´s bony hands. The old man was all too much stronger than he looked for Polvo to like the situation at all.
"And I guess you have been wandering for quite a while, huh?" the old man continued, smirking dangerously,. "Guess, you haven´t been eating for a while, huh?"
"Oh, come on, I know your kind!" the old man spat again. "Going out in the winter, ts! You young people think you´re the greatest! Greater than the mountains, greater than the winter, you think you are!"
"And then what happens, huh?"
The old man scanned Polvo from head to toe.
"You know, I have found better ones than you up in the mountains!" he said. "All frozen dead to their fingertips, they were! What a shame, that is! All those good, young men!"
Polvo´s eyes fell on the clock in the corner. Its pendulum swang away like nothing had ever happened and looked up up. The clock-face, a circular wooden plate that had some numbers scratched into it, was completely black, not uniformly black as if painted by somebody with a brush, no, but black in the sense that little couloured streams of liquid had been allowed to arbitrarily run down the plate and fill the wood with not just a coulour but shadows as well. There was a red gloom to it when the candles´ light flickered at it right.
`Looks a bit rotten!´ Polvo thought and sniffed the air when he noticed the hands. He hads to go a little closer. There actually were digits on those hands! Polvo had never seen something like it before. To check he held one of his own hands next to the clock-face. The fingers of the clock-hands were a little shorter than his own but the resemblence was strikingly present and... God, did it stink in here!...and apart from them being a bit on the swollen side and, in addition, rather pale, perhaps, they were looking just like his own hands. In terrified fascination Polvo watched them creep around the clock.
"You´ve got nice hands, too!" the old man grinded at him suddenly. Polvo spun around. The old man stood there patiently, weighing the knife in his hands, almost grinning around the mouth now. His eyes told another story, though. They literally pounded at Polvo and seemed to feed themselves on the younger man´s anxienty.
"Where...where did you get these hands from?" Polvo asked and nervously turned his head to look at the clock once more. The old man did not say anything in response but led his leathery middle finger glide along the blade, barely touching it. Polvo watched in horror as a drop of cruelly dark red blood pushed out onto the white skin as the old man retreated the finger.
"It´s a good knife.? the old man smoothed. "One can do a lot of things with it."
Polvo again looked at the clock-fac. He felt sweat coming out of the pores all over his body, slowly but persistently soaking his clothes.
"Yes, that´s true." the old man continued. "A lot of things. Except carving can´t carve things with´s more of a cutting blade, this!"
He smeared the blood dripping from his finger on the edge of the blade. Polvo shuddered as he saw this. He followed a drop of blood that slithered down the cold metal like a tiny, poisonous snake looking for something big to bite. The old man watched, as well.
"I like to cut things, you know!" the old man said, coming closer, his voice getting louder and louder as he spoke. Polvo backed off. "What I don´t like are people who break into other people´s houses, Polvo! What I don´t like are people who eat other people´s food without asking!"
Polvo stumbled over a chair and fell backwards in his attempt to get away. His head banged on the floor as he fell and for split-second he was paralyzed. The old man stepped over him and bent over, smirking.
The word came rumbling up from deep inside the old man, silent at first, hollow. It crept up, becoming more and more perceivable, louder, stronger and stronger, feeding on Polvo´s frantic fear of life until it rolled over the young man like a bone-shaking avalanche of epic proportions.
"Gotcha!" the old man fluted and laid the blade of the knife at Polvo´s throat. He touched Polvo´s face with his finger. Blood was still coming out and Polvo could feel the old man smearing it over his cheek. He tasted salt on his dry lips and cold sweat covered his whole body as he desperately tried to think of something to do. But his brain had run away and hidden in the depths of his conscience, afraid of having to witness the death of its owner.
He felt sick.
He was sick.
The old man shot back trying to avoid Polvo´s unvoluntary assault. He looked down at himself with the smirk in his face turning into a smile. The attempt had been successful.
"First, he can´t get enough and then he doesn´t even wanna keep it!" the old man said and kneeled down next to Polvo. "Come on! Stand up, lad, don´t eat things twice!
He helped Polvo to sit up and hit him on the back a couple of times. Polvo coughed out what was blocking his throat and stared empty-eyed at the old man who stood up and went outside.
"What was that for anyway?" he asked Polvo, while collecting a little snow outside of the door. "I mean, look at my floor now! All that gribbly stuff! Disgusting!"
Polvo said nothing, recuping slowly in a puddle of his own inner self. The old man went over to the fireplace with the snow and started melting it over the fire in a little kettle. Polvo watched the flames flicker and slowly began realizing what he thought had happened. It felt as if a single cell somewhere down in his belly started trembling, pushing others to tremble with it, eventually causing his whole body to oscillate in sync with his inner feelings.
"Oh, got goose-bumps?" the old man continued, smiling now. "Nevertheless, you know, this is serious! I mean, why didn´t you just ask, huh? You could have just asked!"
" wanted to kill me!!!" Polvo bursted out.
"I did? How do you know?"
"You had that horrible knife right at my throat!"
"And you wanted wanted to...I saw it in your eyes, you wanted to..."
"What did I want?"
"...and then you even said you´re gonna have to..."
"What?" he filled a wooden cup with the newly melted water and went back to Polvo. "Didn´t say anything, did I?"
Polvo took a sip.
"But..." he stuttered. "But, you wanted to..."
"Let me ask you a question, Polvo: Did I kill you?"
`Huh! I knew it!´ something screamed inside Polvo.
`Shut up!´ he told whatever is was and considered the old man´s question.
"No." he answered cautiously.
"No..." the old man repeated raising his voice. "I mean, you come in here, don´t even care about me sitting there, walk around in the room, still saying nothing...and then you just go over to the shelves and rip open every single jar standing there! God, I had every right to defend myself and my property, don´t you think?
He took a deep breath.
"I could´ve killed you!" he said.
", you weren´t...."
"Oh, yes, I was here! And you know what? I would have given you something to eat, too..."
Polvo´s brain spun like a whipping-top trying to understand what was going on here but somewhere, deep down, he began feeling a little safer. It seemed as if something down there had already understood. His brain had not, though.
"But what about the flames?" he asked.
"What about them?"
"" the confidence in the old man´s words hit him like a slap in the face. ", they weren´t moving when I came in here!"
The words sounded somewhat silly to him as he spoke but the old man just scratched his chin.
" long haven´t you been eating, you said?"
"Two days!" Polvo answered. "Haven´t been sleeping for even longer!"
The old man said nothing but let Polvo´s brain wonder in utter silence. None of them spoke, with the fire crackling solemnly in the background and the candles flickering their patterns of light onto the wall and everything else.
"Sorry!" Polvo said after a little while.
"You really thought, the flames weren´t moving?"
Polvo nodded weakly.
"Even after you touched the candle next to me?"
Another nod. The old man sniggered and patted him on the shoulder.
"It´s alright, chap! You gotta believe in what you see, right? What else in the world can you believe in if not in what you see, right?"
"I guess so."
"You should be a little more careful next time, though!" the old man said.
"I will!" Polvo promised, missing the point.
"`Cause at the end of the day, your perception is made part of your belief, too, young man!"
"I did never intend to kill you, Polvo!"
The old man noisily sucked his finger. Polvo hesitated.
"You´re still not convinced, huh?" the old man continued. "Go on believing I wanted to kill you, if you must, but do yourself a favour and keep in mind that if not everything you still determine what you believe a great deal yourself."
"Listen..." Polvo began.
"", listen...I´m really sorry!"
"Oh, don´t worry, lad! I´ll cope."
Polvo reached into his pocket.
"See, I´ve got some money! I can..."
"Stop that!" the old man interrupted him. "I had my little revenge." He stepped up a little. "And if it makes you feel better, lad: It was fun!"
"Well, I´m glad you had fun, at least." Polvo said resignantly and let his head sink. The old man patted him on the shoulder.
"Nana, young man! Just ask next time!"
"I will, I will!" Polvo hurried. ", is there really nothing I could do for you?"
The old man glanced at Polvo with a little sparkle in the eyes.
"You won´t give up on that bad conscience of yours, huh?"
Polvo stayed silent.
"Well, there is something..."
"Something actually did die in here, you know..." the old man said and looked up to the sealing.

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