Passing Trains

Short Stories... All Aboard!


The Watchman

When I left the road, and dark itself, I entered under a great canopy of trees - thick, high trees, collected together as to black out the stars. By day they separate to let in the sun, but at night they huddle together like a school of fish against the mammoth, hungry whale.

I can’t see the hand in front of my face, and here must I walk what seems a hundred miles to turn the little light by my bed. All is still and quite on the winding road, not even a leaf making a peep. I listen some more, waiting for my cat’s eyes to open and show me the way, but all I can see and hear is the salt-air in my nose. How will I make it to the little light by my bed.

Life takes us to strange places, but if you wait till daybreak, you’ll find nothing strange about this place. No, you would pay good money to be where I am, but not at night and not alone. Not under the vast canopy of silent trees where you can’t see your own hand in front of your face.  

During daylight, they call it the 17-Mile Drive, it meanders in and out to Lover’s Point, just a bit south of Monterey. It’s a private road, but at certain hours cars may pay the toll to drive its length, even where it skirts the Pacific and travels lightly around Cypress Point.

My job, by the way, is keeper, watchman, of the Italian castle. Because once there was a man who shipped it hence stone by stone and set it back together among the rocks and boulders overlooking the violent waves. Then, near two years ago, the man tried to land his sea-plane in the same tumult, and died upon all the rocks and boulders money could by.

How it was they found me, I know not. Maybe they knew you had to be crazy to sit alone in a stone castle day and night, watching.  Someone might come to steal the stones away, or ransack the long, wooden table, the hand-carved table where a dozen knights and their ladies once gathered.  I would have my dinner at that table, sometimes at the head, other times in the middle. Certainly not dining on wild boar and apples, but omelets and fried potatoes - by candlelight, lest the Italian ghosts rise and wail from their disturbed, imported places.

So, there I was, 1964, trapped in the darkest night I’d ever witnessed. Not the blackness of the mind, but dark beyond its place – even joyous, my heart beating to the silence, the sleeping leaves, the massive trunks holding them up. I’m gently waving my extended arm out in front of me, feeling for whatever could be there, I might trip off the narrow road.

There’s a light, a vehicle coming in my direction, then passes right by. All the world now a pair of receding tail-lights, to disappear. It’s even darker than before.

During the day, one or two tour buses come by to pause in front of “my” castle. Sometimes I take a heavy dinning chair and, sitting out front like I own the place, look up to wave from my unread newspaper. Occasionally I wave money, dollar bills, because they can’t tell the difference in the distance. Then they drive away, convinced they’ve seen an actual personage, a man of unassailable fiscal standing.

A week ago a very attractive lady, possibly a movie star, entered my property through the unlocked gate set in the center of the low, front, stone wall. She inquired to paint the scene, the castle, even me sat in my dining chair. She had artist materials, a paint-splattered easel, a case, and an assortment of brushes. Also a funny looking hat and frock, which only at a distance disguised her beauty. Yet, it was awkward, for what could I offer her other than an omelet, she would know I was only the watchman.  

The next day she brought a picnic basket and we dined at the great table, a beautiful lady and her strange, but handsome knight. I imagined I would protect her, too, from the fire-breathing dragons and marauding brigands. Instead we had tea sandwiches and lemonade. I told her I had journeyed an unimaginable distance to be with her, that one day we might live together on the wall of the grandest metropolitan museum.

It’s not hard to remember how long my lady was at the castle, I counted seven. Then, her painting finished, she went away and never returned. Only years earlier did I see her again, not in a museum, but up on the screen of a movie theater. And I always wondered how she found my castle, she came and went without so much as a bicycle.  Maybe I was crazy, imagining a beautiful lady in my castle.

I hear footsteps in the darkness, and breathing, and talking. Closer the words come till the speaker is upon me. Blind, I say hello, he can’t see me, he sounds frightened, he wants to know who I am. “The watchman,” I say. “How can you ‘watch’ in the pitch dark,” he protests, then trips on. I didn’t see him, maybe I’m just imagining.

The nuns used to say, “That boy is strange.” I know why they said it, too, because I failed when they expected me to pass, and passed when they were sure I would fail. Both with equal effort. In fact, I came to believe school was for the town’s young idiots, thus I had been grievously misplaced. But hear a lie often enough, you wind up sitting alone in a castle.

Not always alone, however, for below the stone-encased windows, life surged about in the waves. Otter, for example, who would laugh and climb the rocks and boulders to spy on the watchman. Also seals, afternoons lying around the pool as if it were their own private ocean. Plenty of birds, too, some curious about the cut of my feathers.

One evening around dusk, an owl, a large one, asked me why I had built such a huge monstrosity right next to the ocean. “I’m only the watchman,” I said. He leaned forward on his branch, catching the air like a graceful surfer, gliding off in the direction of richer conversation.

There were also mice, who cleaned up after my omelets. I had been given a box of traps, and dead-serious instructions, so set them about the common areas, the castle kitchen, the long dining room, the great hall. But I left them un-sprung, and the mice didn’t take advantage.

Oh, I’ve stumbled off the road, it’s that dark.

© 2006 DavidM. Molloy


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