Strange tales: The witness

“Consciousness is what arrives when we awake and slips away when we sleep”

It was cold as the rain beat down heavily upon the thatch roof, gracefully muffling the otherwise deafening patter, keeping the inside of the tiny cottage dry. With all the damp of late and with the brutal chill, the demand for dry firewood had never been higher in this small farming commune. All the woodsman had been braving the season’s storms to harvest the fallen trees, it was being consumed so quickly and there was still not enough to go around. Within the familiar confines of his cottage home, John was not at all well, long since running out of the precious fuel. As a farmhand he was not considered a priority for the few resources and he was a man of stubborn pride, unlikely to take the hand out anyway, he had already been three nights without warmth.

When the last embers of his beloved fire had finally flittered away, the stones set within his cottage wall had grown deathly cold. Like an unseen daemon of shadow, a creeping chill grappled with him as he led beneath the comfort of dirty sheepskin bedding. That first night, he caught the heavy chested illness, now it wracked his weakening body, he rasped and coughed, blood spattered with every lurch, and each small movement sent his chest into a frenzy as breath escaped and his body battled the vicious infection. Stubborn as old boots John had still made his way to work on the farm after that first night, he even managed his quota of corn that day, ignoring the strange looks of his fellow work-hands.

Despite this pride, he could not save himself and the next day, the hard work left its mark on his failing insides as once more the merciless cold came to his door with its icy touch. He managed only a little sleep over the following nights, completely unable to leave his home, now quickly becoming his coffin. Now… he lacked even the strength to get up from the hard floor… he had fallen trying to leave his bed only a few hours ago, regretting his dismissal of those who had come to his aid asking after his health.

‘Surely others would come,’ in the morning at least, to check on him or so he had desperately hoped in those first harrowing hours. By now, John had forgotten his previous stubbornness now, very aware how closely death was, the fear had burnt away the walls he had so embraced, that he was so known for in that small community.

For these past few hours, before we met him here, upon the floor of his home, John tried to call out, to make the night aware of his condition but he was too far from his nearest neighbour. To his own shame he had barked at any offers of help coming through his barred door earlier and scorned those he needed now, more than ever.

The regret now seared deep in the pit of his belly, it spoke of all those times he had snapped, roared or pushed others away. Now he was alone, lost upon the cold floor of a home he had built with his own hands, far from those he had so easily judged. This lonely ironic place John finds himself now is one he had always (like all of us), known would come for him one day, upon a delicate thread does life hang and the ever looming face of death never out of reach. Yet never once had he imagined he would meet his fate like this.

Hours past and the panic he had first felt, gradually melted away and he moved from regret to a cathartic review of his own long lived life, time let him be rid of caring too much, about the guilt, about the many things he had not done, those few questionable decisions he had made… Like the creeping cold that had so quickly ruined his health, the night came on and on until finally it was peace which flooded through our floored friend and clarity which replaced the moaning of his mind.

So sure that he was John and that his whole had only been that of John, the whole situation had seemed very intense at first, the fear of losing himself, that all-important and powerful self. Now however, as he watched his mind’s dance, looking upon himself young and free, running through his grandfather’s fields among his friends, loved by his family, he was not so sure. Separation seemed to have occurred to him you see, no longer feeling much like John, in fact John didn’t really seem much like anything in presence of the all-consuming end, the images, the torments, troubles, laughs, achievements and those things left unsaid, undone, they all spoke of something he had been once, a person maybe?

It was at the very least a taste of something, this thing called life, an enigma that had been personality, that had developed and grown, learned to know all things in relation to that one self. Every bit of it now felt so fragile and far away in the cold early morning before the sun was to rise and he was to take his final breath. Strange emptiness, consuming everything that raised itself to the forefront of his mind forced all to disappear into the nothingness that was more present than ever, as he grew closer to what he truly was. Such a notion may seem forlorn but to John it was sweet release, all the serious tension he had born the burden over his life time seemed laughable now and so it was.

Why had he spent so much time being afraid of leaving the confines of this weird John person? He was and always had been so much more than that but it was forgotten so long ago. Even as these thoughts whirled chaotically around his mind he was not that, he was simply witnessing it, all of his life for as long as he could remember he presumed he and this process of thought, of function and incisive noise were one and the same. How could he have ever made such a horrific mistake, his thoughts turned to his mother, the woman who had named him and given him this original persona so long ago.

Here he saw it, the gradual acceptance of all of those notions… it was as if John had grown from a very human world, from the true vastness that he was fading into, John had been born and would die. But… he was not John, oh no… He could not say what he was anymore, only his mind wanted to try and figure that out and realising that his mind could be witnessed, he understood, it was his mind that had given birth to John… Within this new enlightened place, all the rest lost its importance, annoying and weighty those trivial matters he let go once and for all. Warmth filled him and he witnessed it all, as if he was looking down from above, at an unrecognizable, pitiful form that led dying upon the floor. Those toes were not his, those legs, chest, arms, and even the head, all of them now belonged simply to a surface world where he had once lost himself.

Laughter erupted and took his new space by surprise, the separation between what he was now and who he thought he had been for so long now clearer than ever as he watched a huge grin spread upon what had once been his face.

Just as sleep comes upon us and we fade into it so did sleep come one last time for John upon an insignificant farm far from friends and family… Yet he was not unhappy. For the first time since he was a child he felt liberated and free, the vast empty space that had taken him into its gentle embrace had no desire to harm, to judge but instead it was pure compassion and he was it and it him.

The next morning his two closest ‘acquaintances’ living not far, too far to hear his previous calls for help, walked together towards his hut. When they arrived they hammered on the door and heard no answer, together they ploughed their thick shoulders into the thick wooden frame until it collapsed inwards. Fearing the worse they suspected their companion to led, deathly upon the floor and lost to his stubbornness and pride…

They did not however find John, they found a man sat upon a chair smiling and watching a world they could not see.

“Is that you John?” They asked together.

“Only if you wish to call me that” this new being, clear and conscious said with a kind smile before he rose from the seat and walked past them into the warmth of the sun and embrace of all life had to offer, John was never seen again…

 

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