FLASH FICTION - The Prayer Gate
The heavy thud of his own boots, muffled by the dust which was everywhere, and the lumbering walk of a former soldier who was no longer carrying enough weight on his shoulders - these were nonexistent to him as he moved forward, numbly as if carried by a conveyor trolley on a movie set. Sights and sounds detached and tunneled around him. He felt himself shrinking smaller and smaller.
Like the small boy he once was, he tugged at the soiled garment of a blind man who sat under a sparse tree next to the Prayer Gate.
"Can you tell me my future?" he queried, putting a sandwich into the blind man's gnarled hand. The blind man's donkey idly lipped the sandwich as the man returned to Peter a few-toothed grin.
"But it is the past you wish ot uncover," said the blind man."Is it not so?" Peter nodded, and the blind man began rocking side to side, caching the remains of the sandwich somewhere within his robes.
"I told you not to come back for me, but I knew you would come." The voice which came from the blind man was not his. Bells tinkled, and tears caught in Peter's throat as he recognised the voice of his beloved Sania. "It is cold in this place. Why did you come for me?"
Peter's hands made a futile motion, and his lips trembled. He never figured out how they could pull this trick - generations of cripples from the desert, always next to this gate - but it was here he had come after so many years specifically to see it. He came to be taunted like he had as a young boy seeking the mother he'd never known.
Sania had never been within a continent of this place. She'd existed in another place, in another war, on another battlefield, and he'd loved her for lifetimes during the week they'd spent in close proximity during training. He'd loved her for ages during the hours he held her while she bled out onto the battlefield, snow falling into the blood of his comrades pressed into the once-lush greenery. Snowflakes had sparkled as they fell into her wounds and melted, as they clung to her eyelashes, sparkled like the dust surrounding him now. When help arrived, they'd had to pry her from his arms, because of both the cold and his fierce clinging to her love.
"Why did I live?" Peter asked Sania, through the blind man. This time his mother answered him.
"My son, you must always live. Do it for me, so I have not died in vain. I love you, my only son. Do it for me. Please, go now. Please, there are those whom you still can help."
"Don't go..." Peter fumbled through his pockets and found a few coins, which he pressed into the blind man's hand. "Don't go...I need to...you...I want you to ask how I am."
The blind man's voice answered, cackling.
"Many people pass through the Prayer Gate, seeking that which they have lost. Do you know why I came here?"
Peter crouched, present, suddenly aware he was no longer a little boy, and leaned closer.
"Why did you come, old man?"
"I came here to tell you these things cannot be found. And you pay me for it." The old man laughed again, leaned back against the tree, and closed his eyes - in sleep or in death; it didn't matter which.
Peter remained crouched for a minute, and prayed to his God there are the feet of the still old blind man under the tree at the Prayer Gate. And then he rose and left, the weight of his conscience properly heavy again.