The Enigmatic Stranger

When Georges had grabbed Christophe’s attention, he explained the situation:

“We are going to take the aerial pathway from the hand-glider. You have never before...?”

“No,” Christophe told him.

Thus, standing in the crisp air of a cold Belgium hilltop, Georges began to explain how hand-gliders operated. Christophe, listening with intent ears, felt his insides squirm. They really were quite high up...

When the wooden bird was strapped tightly to Christophe’s arms, he still nodding his head to Georges’ instruction, the young man followed his host’s lead for pushing off the escarpment. For a moment, the sudden blur of serene blue and moss green was dizzying, but Christophe righted himself as instructed by Georges from the second hand-glider ahead. Christophe felt his heart shoot with panic and rich adrenalin. This was...amazing.

There existed a lightness beneath his soul that was only accessible through the flight. He smelt the clarity of the air; he let his senses be torn away in the fine undercurrent that spun him around. The contraption itself was marvellous.

Verdant rolls spilled out below his feet. Had his hair not been gelled as usual, the wind would have run strands out of place. The gale was uncommonly strong, but, of course, that was to be expected. At the edges of his periphery, Georges sailed, beaming. They both called to each other in joy.

The two men cut through the air at maximum velocity for the streamlined shapes of the gliders. Their large, green shafts looked clumsy, but acted so much better than one would have expected, for the canvas-stretched sails caught the updraft and carried the two vehicles over the landscape.

The men shared their joyous glances, circling the hills in a wide circle.

Georges neared, though how he could steer, Christophe couldn’t conceive, and yelled, “we’ll catch this draft and then land, eh, Christophe?”

“All right,” Christophe called in return.

They swerved and dipped as the new air-current seized them in its spiral. In his chrysalis of cold air, Christophe absorbed the picture of the flowing Belgium landscape; a sliver of a river wound its way in and out of the paths, which he followed attentively with his eyes. A black speck of dust grew from the grass, artificial. It began to sway from side to side, where the sway became a wave the nearer the men flew, and the wave evolved fingers to indicate a hiking stick curled in one. A soundless mouth shook in unison.

It’s a person, Christophe noted, grasping the wooden bar that lay above his head and steering the faux-bird down in the foreign traveller’s direction.

In an instant, Georges followed suit, and soon, they two were clambering out of their hand-gliders to greet the stranger. From the touch of rural themes in his casual wear, the man had been used to taking to the countryside before, whilst his eyes beamed out a quicker temperament.

Upon seeing them, the man ran a hand through tussled, black hair.

“Helloa,” he said in an old-fashioned tongue.

“Can we help you?” asked Georges. “Are you lost?”

“You are not lost, sir,” Christophe declared.

“Not exactly no,” the gentlemen remarked. His soft French stuttered a little, but it was clear that he had once been well educated in the language. “I knew where I was going, but I seem to have mis-trod my steps. It’s been a good while since I have trekked these Belgium hills, you see.”

Deep green eyes entreated Christophe. He searched them, but found nothing but truth in the appearance.

“We were heading back up to the centre of Bruges ourselves. Would it suit you, sir, to journey back with us?”

“You know the way?”

“My companion does not, but I do,” Georges told him.

“Then I think I shall accompany you. I hope that’s not too much trouble.”

“Not at all. If it comes to the point that there is no space in the motorcar, I will happily let Christophe drive you alone. I know these hills well.”

“Oh, a motorcar? I am impressed!”

“You prefer a Hackney Cab still?”

“Indeed, Monsieur...”

“Beladore.”

“Ah. Lawrence Woodcock.”

As they shook hands, Christophe detected a spot of something different on Lawrence’s fingers, a light dust of chalk. How careless! When the latter released his hands, he rubbed them – almost subconsciously – against his slacks.

It could have easily been nothing.

Christophe had, for all of five minutes, possessed that fine opinion, until he saw Lawrence’s eyes flick towards a flat of the mount, hardly any Mary-hole, but something which had been excavated and then re-covered by shrubbery hedged from nearby. Suspicion raised Christophe’s eyebrows.

Georges led the two younger men down the broad escarpment in long footsteps torn by gravity; his world waiting for neither – and no other – man. Only when the party had reached the base of hills that were morphing into mountains did Christophe understand his circumvolatum, in retrospect obvious. There, the motorcar awaited them, its hot body gleaming in the afternoon sunlight. Had it been a waste of time to enjoy himself in this way? Christophe hadn’t yet decided.

“They say,” announced Lawrence, as if he had read Christophe’s mind, “the productiveness of an afternoon comes from the amount of amusement gained in that afternoon.”

“Yours has been productive, I hope,” replied Christophe.

“All the better for having been found.” Still, Christophe didn’t think it would have been so difficult to find one’s way around the hills, especially since they mostly mimicked each other.

“Ah, gentlemen. I was right in observing that the ‘car only takes two. It seems that our journey back will be divided, Christophe,” Georges pointed out.

“Georges, are you sure that you will not...?” But Monsieur Marette shook his greying head.

“Do go on. I am very happy to sort my own way back. In addition, I have a feeling that I left part of my hand-glider on the hilltop. Leave yours with me and I can deal with both. You certainly won’t be able to drive with that thing in your way.”

“Ah.” Christophe hadn’t thought of that. He lugged down the canvas sheet from off his back.

“Thank you. You have the key I provided you with?”

“Oui, Monsieur.”

“Then we shall see each other in the eve’. Good day, Christophe. Mr. Woodcock, a pleasure.”

“Pleasure.”

“Good day, Georges.”

With a nod, the two men watched their fellow traveller turn and begin to whistle as he ascended the mount, two coloured wings upon his back from the gliders. As if he were about to take off, Georges turned sharply at the top, and soon he was less than a speck of colour.

The End

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