The long walkers

A very short story:

None of them knew how long they had been walkers. Once there had been a librarian who walked with them, pushing his rickety handcart, full of its accumulation of little books called ‘diaries’, ‘calendars’, knotted string and notched sticks, piled on top of the even older volumes saved from the time before. He had tried so hard to keep a record of the days, by whatever means available, as the world changed.

He would read to them in the long evenings, myths and stories, songs and incantations, random fragments from their past. They called out for their favourites – ‘we want Riddles in the Dark, we want St Crispin’s Day! We want Closing-down sale.’ They liked the rhythms of the orphaned words, whose faded, floating meanings evoked long lost magics: ‘refrigerator’, ‘television’, ‘discount’, ‘door’.

They had buried him in the end, along with his cart, as it was ‘not to be removed from Sainsbury’s’.* And no one else could see the point of dragging the awkward thing around, full of useless objects. They had left the once-smooth roads long since, as the tarmac turned to potholes and the places the roads took them were emptied of scavenge-able stuff or disappeared under rising waters.

They marked the grave with a cairn and carved his symbol on an ancient tree nearby. They thought he would have wanted that. A song was written to remember Sainsbury and his place. Those were the best-kept records now, songs and skills, repeated, stored in minds and bodies, in rituals. But even they could be corrupted, and Sainsbury’s song named no place they could find again, if they had wanted to. Ancient trees will fall, with wind and winters; cairns subside.

The brief span of linear time was ended, that age of progress, of permanent change, of growth and destruction, of borders and wars, of history. The world returned to its eternal circling, summers come and go and come again, nothing new under the sun. The walkers wandered, passing and re-passing. Sometimes Sainsbury’s song was sung, and for a while the librarian walked with them again.

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*For international readers, Sainsbury’s is a British supermarket chain.

Copyright © 2014 Fliss Watts

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