CHRISTOPHER’S RETREAT • by Gustavo Bondoni

On a bright, sunny summer day in 1788, Christopher put down his hammer, removed his apron and walked out of the foundry. He ignored Mr. Bristle’s shouted demands that he returned to work. After all, the shouting of his former employer was just another loud noise in a city that was full of them.

The city seemed to have become full of sound. The hammering in the foundry was just a small part of it. There was a new mill across the road whose hundreds of identical machines produced the unholy screeching of banshee legions. And the workers who tended the machines would all pour out of the building at the same time, and fill the street with their coarse language, expressing their blasphemy at the very top of their lungs. Even the usual cacophony of schoolboys and livestock and policemen’s whistles was defeated by that infernal barrage.

For a single second, he faltered, fearing that he was overreacting, but in each sound he heard the echo of Mary’s screams, the screams that had shaken his world, that took him back to the moment when the light of his life disappeared and took his not-quite-born son with it. It was not a moment he could bear to repeat, even if he could only hear its echoes in the clashing sounds.

The hesitation passed.

The air was so full of noise that Christopher was convinced that there could be no room for him, so he left his tools off to one side and walked out, to find a place he could fit.

He walked up the street, to where the mills and their legions gave way to the stately houses of the owners.  But here, too, the sound of carriages and horses and — again — the infernal whistles of the law informed him that it was time to move on.

The street turned into a dirt road, and the post jangled past him every few hours, keeping him from the silence he craved. Birds tweeted annoyingly in trees. Once, a whole regiment went by, surely with no other purpose than to stomp its boots on the packed earth.

The road went up, and his spirits rose with it. Up into the mountains, above the lakes and tree line. The birds had gone and there seemed to be a still calm upon the land. Perhaps there was room for him there. But, upon turning a corner of the path, a herd of cattle blocked his way, and upon the lead cow… a bell.

He walked off the path, along the rougher, rock strewn spines of the mounts until he came across a small ridge overlooking a tiny lagoon. It was a secluded place surrounded by mountains that blocked off the wind, and it seemed completely silent.

There, Christopher rested. And there, with no echoes to remind him, Christopher forgot.

As he rested, he listened. Without the constant noise of life and bustle filling the air and the inside of his head, he could hear the words that could only be said in silence.

He listened to the Earth and to the stars. He listened to the distant oceans and to ghosts of fallen soldiers. The voices in the silence taught him the ancient secrets of the Titans and the hidden shame of the gods. They taught him to live forever and to gain nutrition from the very air. They taught him to control the fabric of reality and to see beyond the veil of death.

Christopher sat and listened to the voices and grew fat on the thin mountain air. He listened for days, years, decades. He listened for centuries and was at peace.

One day, however, the shout of a hiker broke through the silence. It was miles distant, and only reached the ridge on which Christopher was seated because of a fortuitous gust of wind. Its power when it reached him was akin to the sound made by the flapping of a butterfly’s wing.

The thunderous noise nearly killed him. He felt a searing pain in the very atoms of his body, and he was sure that he would never recover.

But the sound didn’t repeat itself. The wind was still, and no further interruption was carried up to his retreat. Over the next few weeks, the atoms of his body healed, and the pain receded.

But Christopher remembered that day.

He could not bear to remember that day.

On a bright, sunny summer day in 2012, Christopher wrapped himself in a shield of silence and walked away from his ridge. He retraced his steps across the tortuous hillsides, and came to the small mountain path he’d walked before.

There, stood not a herd of cows, but a flock of sheep and a shepherd. He saw that one of the lambs had a bell.

Christopher gave a silent command and the shield around him expanded to give them the gift of silence. As he left them behind, he saw that they were cold, immobile, and blessedly quiet.

He walked on. Birds fell from the trees as he passed, but hit the ground with no sound. The rustling of the leaves ceased to be, forever. A row of army trucks on the paved two-lane that had replaced the dirt track of yore suddenly stopped. No men descended, and no men ever would.

The city had grown, and the mills had spawned countless progeny. But he pushed back the noise, filling the previously cramped air with the power of eternal peace. As he walked across each intersection, the city behind him went cold and lifeless — glorious in its lack of noise.

Christopher kept walking. He walked until he’d given his gift to all the living creatures of the land and the seas, and had brought absolute peace to the world. But the perfect stillness was incomplete.

He listened to the voice of silence to discover what was amiss. And then Christopher, understanding, smiled.

He banished the winds.

And he was content.

Gustavo Bondoni writes way too many stories, but he enjoys it, so that’s okay. His work wanders all over the genres, and occasionally into mainstream. Some of it even gets published.

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