Each morning the Old Man wakes with the sun. The house is quiet as he rises and moves about his bedroom preparing for the day. These days, the silence is disturbing because it haunts his ears with its emptiness. He quickens his pace getting dressed before shuffling out of his room and heading for the kitchen.
The Old Man pours a coffee while waiting for his breakfast, a bagel covered with Herb ‘n’ Garlic cream cheese followed by a banana, which was all washed down with a strong, black coffee. He stares out the window and watches the birds compete for a spot at the feeder like drunken patrons going back and forth to the bar. He jumps with the pop of the toaster, startled by its loud rattle against the granite countertop. Despite his dislike for the silence, he was becoming accustomed to it, making noise of any kind seems louder than it should. Shrugging off the surprise, the Old Man finishes putting together his meal and takes a seat at the small kitchen table.
After eating, he stands up with some effort, cleans up after himself, and pours another coffee into a tall travel mug. He walks to the front door and pulls his favourite jacket off the coatrack, a red and black plaid ‘lumberjack’s blazer’, as he had dubbed it – a gentle smile paints his face with the memory of how he’d gotten it passing through his mind.
Opening the door, the Old Man squints as he steps outside into the morning light, and it takes a moment for him to adjust to the brightness. Small tears form and glisten in his eyes. He wipes the tiny drops from his eyelashes, and before long, his sight returns allowing him to begin his walk. He heads to the end of the driveway taking a left towards town like he has done so many times before. For the past seven years he has walked to the village and back again each morning, except for Sunday. He knew the town’s citizens all had their opinions as to why he took that walk, but they didn’t have the courage to ask, nor did he care to tell them.
His mind wandered briefly as he considered the distance he has travelled. His morning walk was four kilometers, two there and two back, and that had been done every day of every week, excluding Sundays, for the last seven years.
“Roughly 1’248 a year, so that’s… 8’736 kilometers!” the Old Man exclaimed causing the wildlife lining the road to scatter into the forest. He stopped in his tracks, embarrassed by the sudden outburst, and silently apologized to the rabbit peeking at him from beneath the trees. Slowly the sounds of nature resume their babble, and the Old Man moved along on his walk.
But before long, the rumble of an engine intrudes on the peacefulness. In the distance, a vehicle crests a hill in the road and disappears dropping down into the valley. Even his aged eyes could tell what car was racing towards him. It was the Young Man in the Shelby Mustang who drove too fast and had the music playing too loudly. Truthfully, the Old Man was envious of the pup’s ride and his carefree attitude, because it reminded him of a time when he thrived in the fast lane and believed himself invincible from the hurts of the real world.
He was older now, though, and he was a lot less naïve. Not-to-mention, this was a back-country road that was often traversed by cyclists and those out for a walk such as himself. There were children waiting for the school bus as well, and the Young Man was putting them all at risk driving so fast. The Old Man had lost his desire for speed, being in a rush hurrying from one place to the next, doing one thing and then the other. He sought a slower pace now, appreciating each moment and finding pleasure in the simplicities of life. His wife’s passing had given him a new perspective: he now preferred the journey over the destination. The Young Man, on the other hand, he didn’t have any time to take. He was chasing glory at the end of the road and cared little for the in-between.
The car was closer now, and the music could be heard echoing louder and louder as if competing with the engine’s roar. The Old Man stared down the oncoming vehicle boldly without faltering his steps or veering from the road’s edge. Soon the two would be able to see each other’s faces clearly and he wanted to be sure the young driver would read his disapproval.
The distance closed, one walking steadily and one driving hastily, and in that moment, time slowed to a crawl. Like pouring thick molasses, the seconds turned to minutes, the minutes became hours.
The Old Man stared into the car with cold judgement, examining the Young Man closely and watched as he reaches down toward the gear shifter. The music stops suddenly, and his eyes flicker away from the road. The vehicle begins to drift onto the shoulder and still the driver’s attention remains elsewhere. Up ahead, the Old Man stands his ground despite being head-on with the car, centred in the headlights of a charging bull. He accepts his fate and prepares himself for impact.
The Young Man looks up as the bumper of the Shelby comes within inches of the Old Man. The two lock eyes. One exposes panic and fear, the other reveals the release of sadness and regret. An imperceptible smile grazes the Old Man’s face, while a look for horror becomes etched into the Young Man’s.
In an instant, time catches up and the stand-still becomes a drive-through. The air is pierced with screaming tires and the Young Man’s shrill cries as he tries to brake and swerve away. It’s too late, the sound of the inevitable impact thunders down the road. The car comes to a sudden halt, skidding sideways across the road. Seconds later the Old Man’s body comes crashing to the ground with a sickening crunch.
An eerie silence settles over the scene. The Young Man turns the engine off trying to compose himself before stepping out of the car. His knees buckle beneath him, and a sudden rush of nausea boils within; holding the open door for support, he steadies himself and waits for the weakness to pass. At last, he stands without an aid and begins a walk that he will never forget, a walk that changes his life forever. Cautiously and fearfully, he makes his way towards the crumpled body laying by the side of the road. As he gets closer, he notices the Old Man’s limbs are contorted in ways that no living human could bear without showing outward signs of pain and agony. Closer still, he can see that the Old Man isn’t breathing. It becomes obvious the Old Man is dead.
Stopping in his tracks, the Young Man can no longer hold back the rancid stew brewing in his stomach. He lurches forward violently to vomit, his breakfast splashing between his feet and splattering against his shoes. Spittle drips from his lip and a faint buzz starts to tickle his ears. At first, he tries to ignore it, but the sound becomes insistent and forces itself upon his awareness like a swarm of blackflies. It starts to take shape in the Young Man’s mind and becomes almost recognizable.
“It must be an ambulance,” he thinks to himself. “Who called 911?”
The road was empty in both directions, and the nearest house was over a kilometer away. The Young Man was shaken badly by what he had done, and until now, he hadn’t thought to call the police. Fortunately, somebody had… or had they?
Now that it was louder, the unrelenting noise no longer sounded like an ambulance. It took on a new form in his mind and threatened to spill from the crown of his head. He grabs his temples willing the sound to stop its assault, but it only increases to an intermittent wail and approaches an unbearable volume. The Young Man screams hoarsely, pulling at his hair while tears pool in his eyes as he drops to the ground. He falls to his knees before curling up into a ball with the sound deafening his ears and surrounding him completely. It reverberates inside him, tremoring through each bone like a shock of lightening before slamming against his brain.
He loses consciousness and blackness slowly envelopes him…
…the Young Man wakes suddenly to his alarm blaring, sweat coating his body and his breath coming in heavy gasps. His heart pulses at an alarming rate, and the taste of bile is strong in the back of his throat. He struggles to decipher dream from reality with the vivid scene replaying itself in his mind and the grogginess of sleep still clinging to his eyes. With shaking hands, he fumbles at his phone and turns off the maddening sound that penetrated his consciousness.
“It was only a dream,” he affirms trying to calm himself.
After a while, the Young Man’s nerves loosen with his breath settling to a steady, relaxed rhythm. Yet the vision of the Old Man’s face remains clear within his mind; there was a sort of acceptance in his eyes mixed with anger and sadness. There was an untold lesson lurking somewhere within, but it was eluding the Young Man’s perception like wet hands trying to catch mist.
As the dream slowly fades from his mind, the Young Man gets out of his bed and walks over to the bedroom window. The sun peeks over the horizon sprinkling rays of golden light over the dewy grass, while the squirrels chatter away in the background. He looks down at the twinkling hood of his prized possession, a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500, and a chill trickled down his spine.
He purchased the car from a scrapyard a few years ago and restored it to its glory – he had been driving it daily for a couple of months now and taking immense pleasure in the respect it gave him on the road. Now there was an aura surrounding it, a bad vibe that had never been there before dirtying the pride of owning an iconic car and tarnishing its reputation. The Young Man turns from the window quickly trying to shut out the ugliness.
“I think I’ll walk to work today,” he says to himself and leaves the bedroom.
He heads down the hall and enters the bathroom to wash his face. The cool water on his skin is refreshing and wipes clean the unease that had marred his dreams. He grabs a towel hanging next to the vanity and dries himself before looking up into the mirror.
Looking back at him are the eyes of the Old Man.