The Tower

Mr. Benson lives all alone in Northbrook. Enamoured with the vision of a black tower out by the waterfront, he sets out to investigate...

Northbrook's sea-port is ancient. It is a narrow slit of activity in the middle of a vast span of desolate grey beach. It was the first thing built, and may be the last thing to fall. It is marked by the sound of solemn buoys that drift restlessly to and fro in opaque waves, by dreary grey stone and rotten wood steps, by white-washed cottages and stores stacked asymmetrically on the slight incline to the town, by the stink of fish and the thousand yard stares of the sailors and fishermen who work close to the oddly cloying salt air that often washes well into the town during the stormy season. Rust clings to the metallic fixtures of the place stealthily, like a fine coating of moss or malignant algae. Several huge steamers sit dead and disused just before one's line of sight is lost into the fog that exists always beyond the port, and sometimes around the feet of city dwelling labourers. There are distant fog horns in the winter that echo in the slim dark alleyways that exist further inland, both equally lost and lonely. Stories abound in the mutterings of old men on the pier of tales their grandfathers were told by their elders, of what passed out of Northbrook, and of what crept in, of what stands there, and what sites they stand in, and of what once occupied those sites. The cold ocean inspires no comfort in the residents, nor respect, but vague and distant disquiet. It is rare to find any man or woman on the the cobbled pathways after dark, moon or not, and only silent, secretive shadows can be seen passing from the inquisitive gleam of street-lamps whose light barely illuminates the town, who many are of the opinion was not built, but grew.


From his garret room in the apartments far inland, Mr. Benson could see far out into Northbrook. It was a large city, a great city, with a storied and colourful history and more than enough cheap living space he could afford, should the need to migrate overcome him. For now, he sat here, in the highest, cheapest, coldest, but most spacious room in the apartment complex, whose walls were close, if not ready, to crumble inwards. Mr. Benson always listened for the stressed groaning of the building around him. They came more frequently in the night, so Mr. Benson slept during the day. He was awake, however, for the transition of day to night, and it was during this time he took a seat by the eastward window and stared across the city, from the storied lanes and courtyards wherein once great men walked and talked, to the brooding shroud of the sea whose only utterances were lost fog-horns in the cold of winter nights. Mr. Benson was very much enamoured with this port, and dreamt dark things in the brilliant sunshine of summers and frenzied visions in the longer nights of autumn when the world around him died. So enamoured was he that in his hours long studies of the place beyond his grimy window, he would often settle on that furthest point of Northbrook, the pier, where the buildings and streets seemed to come to a point, with the aeon old beach and ocean around it.


Now, Mr. Benson was a painter by trade and spent many days attempting to capture a peculiar image he glimpsed at the point the ocean met the dreary stone pier. It was that of a tower or minaret, jagged and roughly hewn, silhouetted even in the displaced light of grey rain clouds. Many half-finished canvases littered his room, stack against walls, thrust into empty drawers or strewn about his painting area. Always, Mr. Benson stared and forwent his work, simply watching clouds drift above it and fog gather below it. It might have been a church once, when North rook was young. It might have been only a steeple with no bell, but Mr. Benson liked to imagine it was a church that fell into the waves, whose bell rung with the currents. Mr. Benson wished nothing more than to visit this tower, this church or minaret. This temple of his nightborn fantasies. He likened it to the great, displaced shadow of an elder monolith from before the time the land around it was called Northbrook. He dreamed of it many times and each dream was different. In some dreams he would wander through a black labyrinth and the tower's gates would be open for him at the end, in others he was pursued through Northbrook and in certain dreams the tower watched him approach. In the frozen winter, the decaying autumn, the brilliant summer and in the verdant spring, life revolved around that short time when the mists would become not mirrors but windows, and he would see, existing seemingly from another world, the tower. He would see it for a short time, until it melted into the dark of the night. Mr. Benson wondered how he never knew of the tower before. He had lived in Northbrook all his life and had not once seen it, until he came here, to the crumbling garret room atop the lofty peeling wood of the apartments, until he saw out of the tiny, grimy window wherein flooded diffused, jaundiced light at the best of times. The smoke from homes below and the smog of the inner city had encrusted his small window and only added to the dreamlike quality of the image. He would sometimes open the window outwards and take in deep breaths of the odd Northbrook air. The wind was strong here, and he tasted the fish from the port, the smoke of the suburbs, the people of the inner city, the malt of the breweries, the faint odours of bakeries and he would hear, displaced from him alone, the voices of men and women and children who existed oblivious of the tower.


After a monstrous fortnight of unrest in the unseasonably cold autumn, with a chill from forgotten northern wastes descending upon the city, Mr. Benson made it his quest to seek out the tower in the frozen fog. Be it sunken church, decrepit lighthouse or dim fancy, Mr. Benson would find it and set to rest his endless musings and half-formed observations that never did justice to the images and dreams of the tower. Out of the crumbling garret room, out of the creaking old apartment and through the haunted streets of Northbrook at night, Mr. Benson wandered the maze of the city and took in his decidedly dank surroundings. He lived close to the sea-front, that most ancient part of the city, and it had come upon him in older times that the wetness and saltiness and sense of immemorial heaviness had infected the inward land somehow, so that as the town grew with each member, the loamy state of the wood and slick algae of the wharf stones had crept ever inward, the ocean determined to reclaim all of Northbrook, in any way it could. It fought an endless battle with the timeless hills with their even older sentinels, their standing stones, whose grass was wont to take over the railway very quickly if left unchecked and the ivy to crawl over farmhouses and even store-fronts. Lichen and moss and weeds existed in the corners of the alleyways the sea didn't touch. Northbrook, it seemed, was allowed to exist. The buildings inland were large and towering, some peered over themselves and a few of the oldest wooden structures were bent in a way they formed half tunnels, so ruined and tiny were the streets. Under their shadows did Mr. Benson walk, and he felt humbled by the weight of their age, and he shirked from their discontent groans at his passing, as if he were disturbing their long, tenant-less rest. The cobbled streets were uncomfortable to walk upon as the cobbles themselves were quite displaces in this part of the city from the thick clumps of weed and grass that jutted forth, grasping for the life giving sun like tendrils from the inner earth. The overwhelming feeling of time-born oppression was omnipresent here and Mr. Benson, if he strained his senses enough, could almost discern the sounds of the city centre, where people lived, where there was movement and laughter and breath, where wind blew in the streets and there were no grey blankets of cloud.


The way to the sea front was choked with mist. The light from the sun was wholly displaced and dimmed by the storm Mr. Benson saw coming in. It would arrive tonight and perhaps wash away the salt and dank ocean smells. The air buzzed faintly with it's coming, and it was exciting. The pathways here were wide and banked with low stone buildings. All were uniformly dull and unpainted, thrown together from bits of the other buildings – a sort of antediluvian slum, unventured into by people for decades. The work of rats was evident. Mr. Benson listened for their scurrying and clawing. It was very quiet here. The sky swirled imperceptibly above. The ground was sloping ever more downwards now. Mr. Benson was on a hill at this point, and he took in the heady air and studied the houses about him, which all looked like their placement had been cast by a haphazard dice throw. They seemed to almost grow into each other in some parts. Some rose above others and were thin, others were low and squat and wide and even terraced in places. Somewhere, far off, a flute was being played, monotonous and whining. Of course, around all of this, there played like a horde of slow smoke wraiths, the opaque mist. It stayed low, mostly, kicked up by indefinably air movements so that it washed over the low buildings and walls of high buildings like the waves of a ghost ocean. It was all very cold as well. The mist played at Mr. Benson's legs and froze him, so that he moved very swiftly now, past the silent slum and down to the water front.

There were people here. Furtive, dark folk who did not look at Mr. Benson. All long coats and hoods over crooked figures whose faces were hid by hats or thick bushy beards. The mist was a thick fog here and from the ocean he could only hear the sonorous tolling of buoys and fog-horns. The buildings here were held up by rotten wooden supports. The stone was stained green and black in the places the dull grey did not show. Mr. Benson passed a low chapel and stood for a moment, inspecting it. Its doors were barred and the windows replaced with iron shutters. It bore no steeple or bell tower. The chill was heavy here and Mr. Benson pulled his coat close to himself. He had very vague memories of a childhood spent playing at these docks when his parents brought him down here, where carnivals and sea-side attractions drew lively crowds, where old and new couples sat before the great blue ocean deep in fond remembrance or hopeful premonitory fancies, where children laughed and ushered parents to stalls with colourful sweet things or great rotund men with canes bellowing boastful magic tricks or rides on rickety machines. But that was some time ago, and Mr. Benson could only try and create them again with the fog's shapes and his own distant memories. The restless washing of the sea instilled a sombre mood in Mr. Benson, and it was then he shook himself of darker musings on times past and set about searching for that object which drew him from his quiet existence in the high garret room. The tower at the waterfront must be found, he thought, and gave wordless respects to the primal ocean before him and its fondness for dredging up the past.


Along the seemingly endless waterfront Mr. Benson found a small store, its walls white-washed and with a painted wooden sign, the only fresh thing in the entire place, reading 'Orne & Waite's Bait and Tackle'. He saw inside the small shop window two aged grey men, both bearded and balding. Each wore a similar jumper, one grey, one cream. One had more hair than the other, which was tied back in a ponytail with a bald spot on the top. The other man's hair was thinning and receding. It was cut quite short, but his beard was longer and thicker. Both faces were heavily lined, chiselled almost. They did not look at each other, nor did they speak, but each face carried deep within its lines of venerable memories that formed an unspoken bond. Mr. Benson took time along his walk down the cold, lonely waterfront to ponder the relationship between Messers. Orne and Waite, if Orne and Waite they be. Of course they were. Orne and Waite were old names in Northbrook's water district, the names of families whose members included distinguished sailors who not only kept the port strong during wars and depressions, but helped it grow inland. They kept fish and gold and spices and labour flowing so that all could know the good times to be had in the city. The fortunes and futures. Those moved inland and the waterfront retired while the city forgot about it. Oh yes, business came in through the ports, surly dock worker unloaded crates, but it was not the bustling marketplace it once was. Where many empty husks of buildings given over to storage stood, there once was an arcade. Mr. Benson remembered going there as a child, often after the carnival, if it was open. It housed books, coins, music, clothing, postcards, games – many things. There was history to the waterfront, Mr. Benson knew, but it wasn't all old memories of sailors, carnivals, arcades and childhood...the river for which Northbrook is named, The North Brook, or colloquially, The Dark Run River, flows out from the hills to the ocean here, and there are many old and strange tales of things coming from the ocean to the hills, and indeed there is no doubt in Mr. Benson's mind that less savoury things once did flow both ways, to and from the ocean.


There was suddenly a set of steps, and Mr. Benson found himself going into the maze of alleys and fisherman's cottages that lay away from the immediate waterfront. It was a great curving, sloping path dotted with buildings and old foundations. There was something of a town square here. There was a pentagonal courtyard flanked by a few tall buildings, two of which seemed to be actively inhabited in some fashion. In the middle was a pillar bearing a plaque, badly worn and rusted, left to the ages. Mr. Benson thought it might have born the name of a captain of general, but couldn't be sure. He rubbed and touched the rough metal and thought about the once distinguished figure for whom this obelisk was wrought and forgotten. This led to the last section of the crescent road he was on, past dusty old homes with wooden shuttered windows. The roofs here were discoloured and the houses themselves peered over the walker, sightless eyes of windows glaring behind their shutters. These houses were all worm eaten and wooden and toppling, splintering and sagging – the very eidolons of decay. An unwholesome green foetor had crept into the edges of the wood and it seemed to Mr. Benson that a single rap on the door would send the façade crumbling inwards into a thick, damp dust. Isolation seemed complete here; no wind blew, no feet stamped on cobblestones, no voices spoke, but eyes watched. The alien sense of life came to Mr. Benson in a pair of red-rimmed and sunken sockets of a fellow seemingly so wholly given over to imitation of his surroundings, he could barely tell if the man was alive or not. A shuddered blink gave Mr. Benson the answer as the thousand-yard stare of the man, whose age Mr. Benson felt would be impossible to determine so drawn and covered in wiry hair was he, gave into dull interest as Mr. Benson spoke very quietly, inquiring about the tower at the waterfront. From his front door, the weary man swallowed, gazed beyond Mr. Benson, then into his eyes and finally made a sign with his hands as he slid the grimy door closed with all the energy of a vine creeping across the wall of a manor house, but as soundly as a wave crashing against a cliff, as the rotten wood seeped into itself with no sound at all. Mr. Benson did not give chase.


Time was heavy here. The crescent road opened out from the ramshackle houses to an overgrown, almost marshy slope of dirt and weeds. The air was thick with an unpleasant salty taste and was dense with fog. Mr. Benson found it quite hard to breathe, almost as if he were underwater here. Despite the fog he could see, more or less. Above him was uniform grey, below him was a dull green and brown. He would have believed there was a concrete slope here once, but so far taken was it by vegetation it didn't matter. There were tendrils of greasy sea-weed clawing their way up from the ocean which Mr. Benson could hear was very close. He heard waves growling upon some shoreline very near him. He stopped. His thoughts raced back to his garret room for a second. He turned around slowly, wary of the slick ground beneath him. He looked back and stared over the tottering houses and ancient alleys into the city itself. Not even here could he discern any of the life of Northbrook bleeding through. He scanned the jagged horizon and damned if he didn't see, almost brought to his attention, his own crumbling apartment block. It was far – very far, and tried to see his own window, but couldn't make it out. He turned back then, to the object of his quest. He walked, warily, into the fog and to the shoreline of this long forgotten place. He felt this was the first place they came, the settlers of ancient times, the first place strange men in strange boats set their feet. It seemed the ground hadn't changed at all. Mr. Benson fancied he was walking in their footprints, but backwards. He felt a sudden rush of cold water on his legs and flinched, but then settled down and absorbed the sensation of his shoes squelching in the mud. He took a single step forward and mindlessly drove the fog from his face. As his hand left his vision, Mr. Benson found himself quite surprised to be standing before the tower. It was quite vast. He looked up as far as his neck would allow him, but espied no top. It was chiselled perhaps, out of black stone. It did not shine, it did not gleam. Mr. Benson gingerly ventured a hand out and brushed his fingertips along it's surface. Its stone was rough, but not separate. It seemed to be a single, uncarved monolith if anything. Mr. Benson stood quite dumbfounded now. Somewhere, not here, there drifted the sound of a foghorn to some other place, not here. It was almost as if Mr. Benson had caught the sound by mistake and broke the silent sanctity of the tower's surroundings.


For what seemed an age, Mr. Benson existed, dumbfounded by the tower, at it's existence. It was a primal monolith born out of antediluvian Mu, a relic of lost Lemuria, a sinister secret from sunken Atlantis. The hands of men did not rear this tower of singular uncarved black stone. Rigid and rough, asymmetrically eaten away by the ages into the grotesque form it took now. It had haunted his dreams and fancies and he was here...what did he do now? Slowly, Mr. Benson drew the small diary he kept in his pocket and a pencil and began to sketch the tower in the small pages until the pencil was dull and the pages filled. He sat on the loamy slope that went down to it and noticed the tide coming closer to him with each passing page. It came to be the time when the sky began to lose its dull grey colour and started sinking into a featureless darkness. Mr. Benson, arm quite tired and pencil almost useless stood up carefully on the quickly soaking mossy covering and looked up again at the tower. It stood as silent as ever, motionless. It was beginning to meld somewhat into the darkness behind it. The sea beyond was starting to get violent. A storm was approaching and Mr. Benson decided he didn't want to be in it, so backing away into the crescent street, he bade a awed goodbye to the tower as the night fog encased it in its opaque ghost-wreath.


Mr. Benson's walk back was far different to his initial wandering. Northbrook was much stranger in the dark. The shadows here were quite deep, in that most ancient part of the city. He had pondered on the nature of this place, often remarking to himself how it would be the perfect place for an artist to live. He had once heard the philosophies of another painter, a genius in his field, who had disappeared quite suddenly and mysteriously, leaving behind a macabre oeuvre of daemonical paintings, most of which were destroyed, but some still existed. The painter had surmised that places such as the waterfront district in Northbrook were ideal places for an artist, for these places have had time to pick up sensations, events and memories. Indeed, the waterfront has stood for many centuries, and has seen things which would make a modern house crumble into dust. The waterfront did indeed feel very different, especially now at night, when the look of gloom and oppressive decay was veiled by the inky blackness cast by the layers of crumbling buildings. There were no street lamps around this area, for it was very old and electricity had become a problem to get out here. Mr. Benson guessed that most of the locals in this particular area, for the busier waterfront areas do indeed have electricity, used candles and lanterns. Every so often, Mr. Benson would swivel his head around to catch the faint glimmer of an oil lamp in a shuttered window or hear the sound of a match being struck in an alleyway beside a house. Mr. Benson regretted not having a light source of his own, but it wasn't completely dark yet and he believed he could find his way back easily enough.


Mr. Benson was not a particularly nervous man, and the area wasn't especially known as a place of anti-social behaviour or crime. All of his dreams and fancies from summer days and autumn evenings came back to him one by one and he remembered unsavoury things he had created for the place he saw from his garret window. Skulking shapes in the shadows, bat-winged devils flying high in hordes through the clouds and across a fat gibbous moon, half-amorphous things crawling from sewers and into the windows of sleeping folk. Forgotten ghosts of lovers, malignant revenants and hungry wights. A certain oppressive pall fell about Northbrook as the now brightening moon was swallowed by a bank of deep navy. Mr. Benson looked out the window in the veil beyond his home and to the tower at the pier. Silhouetted against many layers of shadow and mist was a vague shape, a primal monolith which stuck out like a black beacon.


The shadows and grey blanket of sky were dispelled the next day and Northbrook was able to see the dawn which had steadily and uninterruptedly crawled from the Eastern sky since time began. When the sun was at it's zenith, the beams awoke a sleeping Mr. Benson who caught a chance glimpse into the town from his bedroom which sat opposite his study, opposite that grimy little window. Mr. Benson focused on that window for a moment before, without thought, jumping up, dressing himself, grabbing an easel and painting supplies and rushing out of the apartment. He stepped into the blinding rays of the fresh afternoon and winced from the transition of dark hallway to bright street. He was unused to these odd sleeping patterns, of being diurnal, and so hurriedly moved from the lively streets about him to the pathways that would lead him to the tower once again. He worried about finding the way again, he had only a vague impression as of which direction to take, but decided that if it was meant to be, it was meant to be. He blocked the noise of the world around him, of rumbling motors and footsteps in haste and excited voices. Easel underarm and brushes and paint stuffed into an inside pocket, Mr. Benson ran a hand through his hair as he decided his way on the go and simply began gravitating to the waterfront, however far he may be from his destination. He moved through a Northbrook which he hadn't seen in a very long time. In the sunlight, in the life of people, the city looked quite different. The ancientness of the buildings wasn't oppressive, but stoic and grand and stood out individually. There were no bending rooftops forming tunnels and broken cobbles. It was quite a nice city in the sunlight. The slim, dark alleys held only trash bags and boxes, there were birds perched on the rooftops, shop fronts were open and bustling, old men smoked pipes on benches and well dressed young folk with the bright glimmer of life in their eyes went about in jovial crowds. How different, thought Mr. Benson, this place is in the light of day, and how much so from the waterfront? With the help of the street signs and a few slopes that afforded a distant view of a shining ocean, Mr. Benson moved towards the cold waterfront and to his tower.


The land sloped a bit more as he descended into the more quiet areas of Northbrook. Mr. Benson lived in the city centre, more or less, and always dreamt of a small home in the residential areas...but he would never give up his view of the tower. Even here there was more life than he had really thought possible. It was an idyllic scene of children playing and parents on doorsteps and people with pets. The cynic deep in Mr. Benson, unaccustomed to such sights, inwardly scoffed as he sought his prize of which he had dreamed and saw, and wished to see again. He would catch the tower now perfectly, not on a dull pencil in a small notebook, but on canvas in paint, in all the different shades of darkness that made their home around that place. Mr. Benson looked at the houses. They were fine structures, definitely, high and mighty and looked of an older design, a much older design than he believed still existed within the city that wasn't a government-protected edifice. And the street was lined with them. Wealthy folk, indeed. Mr. Benson didn't remember coming this way the first time, but it didn't matter. He would find it regardless. He had the whole day ahead of him.


Many thoughts languished in the head of Mr. Benson. This wasn't the Northbrook he knew, no ghosts or spirits had taken residence, these houses hadn't seen anything yet, the wood was fresh, the air was clean and the streets immaculate. It did strike Mr. Benson as decidedly odd, but Northbrook was a modern city after all. No matter. It once again became a maze as he moved out of the places where people lived and into the warehouses and derelict buildings. The streets here were cracked and old and Mr. Benson felt more at home, in a way, here. This he had seen and he followed it. This was familiar. He spent quite some time winding his way through these places as the sun moved closer and closer to the west and the shadows of the buildings around him became longer and darker. After cutting through several alleys Mr. Benson found himself in a familiar place. It was a square, a court, in which was a curious monolithic memorial with a plaque. He was quite near. He stood by it and looked down the crescent road. Even in the light, this place looked tired. It didn't want to be awoken by the inquisitive light of day, casting rays where the vermin scuttled away and the dark folk shuttered windows tighter. Let me be, said the city. Mr. Benson was inclined to do so. Without words or sound he drifted down the paths taking in the sights which grumbled in a fitful slumber. He felt quite close to this place.


Mr. Benson appeared now before the tower again. It was concealed within a thin mist that played about the irregular cylindrical walls. Mr. Benson set up his easel and prepared his paints. He was unsure as to how he would capture how and what he felt on canvas. Before him stood mystery - ancient mystery – which wallowed in the muck of the waterfront, out of sight, jutting from the cold grey ocean, an unnatural beacon. It was undoubtedly built, but Mr. Benson was not fully convinced that it was by the hands of men. The waves echoed. The air was chill and damp and slightly opaque. The sky was, again, a uniform veil of grey. Set up uncomfortably on the loamy slope that led into the waters, Mr. Benson put brush to canvas and began to paint the tower.


In the intervening time, Mr. Benson produced fifteen paintings, his best, if he was not mistaken. Three were studies of the tower in different light: once in the morning when the cloud was actually dispersed slightly, once in the daytime when all was grey and once at night, when all was black. The rest were fanciful depictions of the tower in various landscapes and imagined purposes. In the canvases now lining an entire wall in his room, the tower sat in a primeval swamp, an alien city, a darkly shining void, a crumbling graveyard and one was beside the apartments Mr. Benson lived in, the tower dwarfing them. For each painting he had gone down to the tower again, mapping his route and memorizing it, each time seeing the path from the living city to the half-dead waterfront in a different light. He had dim ideas of moving into one of the derelict buildings so he could be closer to the tower, for the waterfront is the place where an artist like Mr. Benson ought to live, but never really considered it. Mr. Benson still maintained a healthy fear of the waterfront. Despite his near daily wanderings, it was still a labyrinth to him, not even half mapped. He had a path and, for now, he would he stick to it.

For now.


In his later walks down to the tower, Mr. Benson had began to notice movement of a kind in that silent portion of Northbrook, but nothing wholly tangible, just a sort of sensation or perception of movement. He had seen the wood of the buildings, rotten and falling inwards, now almost bulging outwards, not looking new, but - and this sounded insane to him - nourished. Over-nourished, even. The cobbles in this intervening time, he had really only noticed recently were very much sparse, with great weeds and grass jutting from between them, displacing certain ones entirely. In the houses, the over-nourished houses, Mr. Benson would, on calmer days, discern a groaning and shuffling from deep within their confines. A growing, almost. Once he had taken a wrong turn when the weather went bad and he had ended up in a graveyard whose grounds were nothing less than a mire, stinking of age and of uncovered corpses. Through the short, grasping, finger-like reeds, Mr. Benson very much tried not to search for any of the interred, but couldn't help himself. The bodies that had made it to the surface were plump and veined, not new, but like bloated, fleshy bubbles. Indeed, about the whole area now, the air had changed from the familiar cold to something he couldn't compare to humid, for it was too close, but not quite so.


One day, Mr. Benson procured a camera. Having had produced several rather exquisite paintings, in his opinion, he had decided to take a picture of the tower as testament to it's existence, a picture which would hold no bias which an artists rendering might. Although by no means a photographer of any degree of skill, Mr. Benson nevertheless revelled in the setting up of a camera. He had decided to get a proper night's sleep this time, so that he could awaken before dawn and travel down to the tower to capture it in as many different shades of light as he could. This day, he took what he believed was a more direct route through the more crumbling avenues of the waterfront. Along these new, untravelled dark alleys, Mr. Benson espied his usual route, winding around this one, and he caught glimpses of it that made him stop, but none more so than the town square. From his shadowy alcove amidst a few husks of cottages that had been built with the strategy of a child's play blocks scattered across a room, Mr. Benson saw the pillar, this time surrounded by a low bonfire whose flames acted like a ward around the monument, and around this there stood shapes, human shapes, guessed – hoped – Mr. Benson. They swayed with the fire, silhouettes all facing inward, as far as he could tell. Mr. Benson was quite taken aback at this display of celebration in the silent city. He watched them throw indistinct objects on the fire. He continued on.


At last he came again to the tower, upon which was beginning to fall the first rays of sun. He set up his camera with all the necessary adjustments and waited for the times he deemed right. And there were many. Light and shadow played across the jagged surface of the tower weirdly and fascinated Mr. Benson. After what he felt was an age, he put away his camera and admired this tower, his tower. Content with its secret, he left the loamy, sweet smelling slope and walked back his usual route, with the sun setting, somewhere, awaiting the time he could review his photographs. Sometime later, back in the darkness of his garret room, in the chill autumn air, Mr. Benson looked over the shots he had taken. They had been developed from his neglected film camera by a process he followed very closely yet remembered so little of from the time he learned these things in the college. At last they were finished, a testament to the ages and he would store them away from prying eyes. Mr. Benson then looked upon the photographs and his fancies were stopped dead in their tracks. Quite clearly, in the later pictures, where the tower met the water, there was an archway. A tall, thin archway. A thousand thoughts flashed through Mr. Benson's mind at this point and an overwhelming sense of anxious confusion flooded him. How could he have not noticed this before? It was impossible, there was no aperture there, yet...the night was young. He didn't dare go back down at night. Not even for this discovery, this revelation. But of course he did.


Down the winding streets, the maze of the cluttered cottages, the fungal cobblestones which had given way to slabs of uncarven rock and thick vegetation, past the putrescent grave yard and the singular painted monolith in the pentagonal town square whose low, squat buildings all faced it, down the crescent dirt track and to the loamy shoreline whereupon the oil black waters lapped, in which stood that vast, jagged, haphazardly built tower into which led a vicious triangular slit in the stone, more like a wound than a defined archway. It was, of course, impossible, but it nevertheless existed. Brazenness and an unthinking excitement almost led Mr. Benson to enter the waters who shone with an aura of green in the new shining gibbous moon. There came no light or sound from within, but an infinite void of darkness, a cavern that led on forever in no direction. It was a worshipful edifice. What was he to do? Mr. Benson walked forward into the grasping ocean and put his hands upon the portal and ran them down to make sure of their reality. The blood that flowed in an angular tributary down his arm reassured him that he was in fact seeing a real thing. Mr. Benson stepped back for a moment. He turned around and looked back over Northbrook. He looked back over the huts of the waterfront, of the outcroppings of stone that had yet to be moved and built upon, over the high buildings of glimmering night-mystery whose occupants dreamed old dreams, over the broken ground and into the heart of the city, who battled silently with the encroaching ocean and invading hills, a battle masked by a veil of life and civility and excitement, of people and routine whose movements were but as falling grains of sand in one great dance around the inevitable end of Northbrook, be it by ancient country or elder ocean. He looked back over all and saw, standing out as the last familiar landmark in all of Northbrook's history, his apartment, its crumbling walls groaning their last in the night as the weight of ages fell upon it, his own faded window, staring out with its cataract of unpolished grime. With a slow turn that churned the waters below him, Mr. Benson laid a hand on each side of the archway, breathed in the clean, cold, salty air of the waterfront, which in time past and to come would herald invaders and settlers, and jumped into the darkness.


Yes, this is the place for an artist to live.

The End

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