WHITE HILL

by D.N. Stuefloten

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     I told them not to, when first they came; but they peered into the dark interior and would not leave. On tip-toes they entered, and saw them there, the four bearded, hard-eyed men, sitting in chairs frozen and immobile. The room about them was dark, the stillness thick as the dusk sheltering the corners. And when the four stirred, the trespassers ran, leaving me to stand there and face the hard glints that glittered like metal slivers in their eyes. I thought they would leave me alone, and go after the others, and as they came near I tried to explain, but I could see they were angry and blaming me, and cold hatred was on their faces. I turned and ran, and only my fleetness saved me, as they came cursing after me. I ran out onto the hard, chalk-white plain, and saw them follow and then get into an old weathered car, one that had been sitting out in the rain and sun so long it assumed the characteristics of the beaten earth. But it ran, and they steered it for me. At first I thought of running to a bad part of the ground, where they could not follow, but then I decided I would beat them fairly, more than fairly, I would show my disdain for them, and when the car came bouncing and heaving over the tilted earth I stood there, moving only at the last moment, so the fender missed my body by inches. I could hear the roar as it went by me, and felt the wind following it, like a tail. The white dust swirled and settled. They turned the car around, and came for me again. I watched their intent leaning faces behind the windshield, but again they were no match for me. Again I eluded them. Again I bested them. I began to lope over the ground. The air was clear, and I could see the chalky whiteness of the ground spreading to the horizon like the flat bed of an empty sea. As I ran I heard someone call out to me. I saw a young, dark man standing by a tin chest. I stopped, and answered him. He gestured for me to come. I approached, but suspiciously. He did not seem to mind. He waited until I was near, then told me to go to the chest, and open the drawer. I knelt in the dust at the foot of the chest. It was very old and bent, and the drawer was hard to open, twisted out of line so it looked like a crooked grin. In the drawer I saw some gold coins, also very old, discolored on the surface, with strange markings that I could not clearly discern, and wrapped in a piece of brittle paper was a white metal that looked like silver. It was very heavy. I looked up to see the dark young man standing a few yards from me. He gestured, and the chest disappeared.
     "Let me tell you," he said, while I stared at him,"when that money is no longer enough, you will die."
     I could say nothing to such a strange statement. He came up and took my arm, pointing off into the distance, where I could see a hill, or perhaps a cliff, made of the same chalky whiteness as the plain. We started walking to it. Long steps mounted upwards. Columns as yet topless squatted thick and plain before the stairs. The steps were hard, not at all dusty, and when I commented on it the lean young man said nothing, just took my elbow and hurried me up. When we reached the last step I stopped, in amazement, and in a little dread, for over the lip of the step, where there should have been a floor, the same careful workmanship, there was only a jumbled mass of the white stuff, rocky, some blocks half formed, a whole mountain of shapeless tumbling ruin. And over it all, scattered in confused profusion, was paper, scraps of paper unmoving in the stillness of the day. And there I saw books, my books, open and flap-eared like the wings of birds dead under the heat. It was all inert and lifeless and crumbling to the touch. I turned to the man, but he put up a hand, to stop my words. His face was dark and featureless and his hand was dark and raised against me.
     "Let me tell you," he said, "when the actor dies, so shall you."
     I tried to laugh, and put it off, tell him that there were thousands of actors in the world; but I had the terrible feeling that he meant the actor in me, and that even as he exposed this to me, I was already dying. In a moment he was gone; I did not see where; and I could only stand there, in the whiteness of the desolated land, dying, and worrying about my death.

 

Text and photos copyright D.N. Stuefloten.
Contact:
don@dnstuefloten.com

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NOTES: This story was a straight transcription of a dream. I was perhaps seventeen. I shall die, I thought, with all my books and stories turning into dust around me.

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