The Village of Whealbrook (II)
Sam Martone

You return with your father to the village where everyone knows his name, where everyone knows your name, too. It is the same as when you left it: the landscape unaltered, the houses in their familiar places, the villagers repeating what they said to you before, not a word out of order. For a moment you thought you might return and find everything changed, walls fallen, foundations uprooted, your name forgotten, but no: you are home. Strange things are happening in this village, as there always are at the beginning: books moved from table to floor, a vanished wine glass, unknown names scrawled in hotel guest books. Outside, it is still colder than it should be this time of year. That is when you notice him, the man who was not here before, the only person who seems out of place, out of time. He is standing outside the church. He wears a tattered blue cloak. His arms and face are covered in scratches and scars, bruises and burns. There is something familiar, something funhouse-mirror about him -- he looks almost like your father as a young man, but there's something else, too. He has a voice, a voice unlike yours, one that knows how to say words besides Yes or No. He asks to see the glittering orb you found in the tower. Show it to him, but only for a moment. Do not be distracted. Watch for any sleight of hand. When he gives it back to you, he tells you to take care of your father, he tells you not to give up, and then he is gone. Here, in this village, at this moment, it is easy to take care, there is nothing to give up. If you look into the orb, its golden hemispheres seem dulled, and if you squint, you can almost see yourself, an older version of you, dehydrated in a desert city, waiting for a bus to come. No one else can see the things you can. Return again to the secret place you found before, that small pocket of a universe, that place covered in snow, the source of all this cold. Learn to pick locks. Navigate palaces of ice. Find the flute that can bring spring to the world. As you put the instrument to your mouth and begin to play the tune lying dormant in your fingertips, you realize what was so familiar about the man outside the church: something in his brow and nose was like your father, yes, but his eyes, his lips -- they matched the woman in the photographs framed throughout your house, they were your mother's. The ice palaces with their frozen locks melt into floods and chill your ankles. Leave this secret place, wet and renewed, with a certain certainty you will return someday. In the village, spring has finally come, the air is warm. You don't understand who that man was, where he came from, where he went, but something has been set in motion. Something has been fulfilled. Something in the world is trembling. You find yourself suddenly afraid that the season you have heralded will be too hot for you to live through.