“It cannot be seen, cannot be felt, cannot be heard, cannot be smelt, it lies behind stars and under hills, and empty holes it fills, it comes first and follows after, ends life, kills laughter.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
He sat atop a grassy hill and watched the winds caress the treetops of the autumn forest. Like yellow waves, they rolled against the lake and collided with those of the water. He rested his back against an old oak tree. It had few leaves left on its branches that were twisted and broken by storms long-gone. Down its trunk ran the burnt crack of a lightning strike. The tree was not tall, but its rough and mossy bark told the tale of many centuries passed since it had been a lone sapling on the hill. Alone on the hill as he was alone in the world.
A faint smell of ozone lingered in the air after he slammed the rocks together. He sorted the crushed hazelnut’s edible parts from the pieces of shell and put them in his mouth. A flock of waterfowl took off from the lake toward the sun that was soon to set. Its light reflected off the surface of the water like a rippling mirror. He ate another hazelnut as the call of some being echoed between the trees.
Out the forest came a slender animal with a gray pelt. Its long and voluminous tail hugged the ground as it cautious about the surroundings half crept, half sprinted to the edge of the lake. It stopped and looked around before it lowered its head and drank from the cold water. The large ears shifted as they scanned the surroundings for the faintest of sounds.
Time and toil had made him numb to beauty. He was dead inside, and his only fault was to crave more from the sunset. The loneliness tore at his soul. The constant struggle for survival made his bones ache with fatigue. He was too weak to live and too scared to die. And he heard the void calling.
There was nothing left to keep him in this world anymore. Time had lost all meaning. He used to have a stick where he carved a mark each day. There had been a thousand before he burned it a cold winter night. He never cared about doing it again. He had become content with not knowing how long he had been in this world. The illusion of brevity made it all less painful. A decennium, two, a century, an eon. He did not know. To him, it was an eternity where he could not see the colors of the sun reflecting off the butterfly’s wings or hear the singing of the birds in the meadow. He could not smell the flowers blossom in the spring. It all seemed colorless and dead to him. Not even the total solar eclipse of yesterday gave him any aw as it drenched the world in darkness.
A gust of wind woke him from his contemplation, and he got up and looked at the tree, studying it like he had studied no other tree before. He took out a rope of braided plant fiber from his bag. It felt coarse in his hand. He tied a slipknot best he could and threw it over a large branch that protruded out over the ground. A bird took off from the foliage and circled the tree before landing again. He tied the rope’s other end around the trunk and backed away a couple of steps to admire his work. A gust of wind grabbed the rope and it started to rock back and forth like the pendulum of his will to live. He stood for a while, maybe longer, and watched the rope’s enticing movement. His eyes were focused yet unseeing.
Again, the call of the animal echoed over the lake, and he snapped back to reality. He climbed the tree and out onto the branch and put the noose over his head and tightened it. He sat swaying with the tree while the light faded as the sun crept behind the treetops.
It was if he waited for some divine intervention to convince him to climb down or to push him. He hoped for the latter to override his fear of leaving the pain behind and descend into the painless void. Into the cold metaphysical bed where he would find rest. But the pain was all he had. It had become his identity and soul. He took hold of a small branch and leaned out. He let go and leaned out further. A gust of wind rustled the dry leaves and he pulled back and clung onto the tree with all his strength. Tears formed in his eyes and ran down his cheeks. The winds swept them away as they fell.
It was dark when he still sat waiting at the crossroads between life and death. The winds had seized and everything was still. All was silent but for the howling of the beasts in the forest and the hooting of the bird in the tree. It watched him watching the moon drench the forest in its pale blue light and how it made the lake into a ghostlike portal to another world.
There were no more tears to shed. He took a deep breath and removed the noose from around his neck, and let it fall toward the ground. It stretched and bounced and swung back and forth. He climbed down the tree and untied the rope from around trunk and lowered the noose closer to the ground, and tied it again. Then he sat with his back against the trunk and stared at the lake.
The morning redness over the eastern forests foreboded another day. He got up and went to the rope and put the noose over his head, and leaned into it. The friction burned his skin as the rope tightened around his neck. His airways became compressed. The pressure against his larynx made him cough as he continued putting his weight into the rope. His breathing turned into ever fainter wheezing. He bent his knees until his feet barely touched the ground. His eyes were wide open. He groaned, and his arms cramped and contorted before falling limply down by his sides. It was as if he froze in that position. Silent and still.