Sometimes, the shadows shift, but the sunlight always falls the same. Gone and forgotten, its warmth long replaced by the cold glitter of the moon. Luminous rays awash the marble floor and the palace wall, creating grotesque shapes of chairs and tables. Distorted by the pale beams of moonlight, shadows creep and lurk, monstrosities all. There, the polished oaken surface gleams, huge and vast. Grayish shrouds cover the musty sofas and cobwebs dangle from the side. Everything appears to tower and loom before you. When had you become so small, so very insignificant? You look about and wonder, frightened by the enormity of it all. Yet you are thankful for it, for easily do you hide among the chests and the lamps. But is it any help? Your hand on the leg of a stool as you peer before you, something makes you quiver inside. Was it the slightest of breeze or the spirits roaming the corridors? You try not to care or even notice as you leave the protective shade of the stool, in search of a way out, any way out.

You stumble from shadow to shadow, looking for something familiar, something to save you from the lostness. You notice something unusual and so you approach it, you approach a gaping pit. Sensing something terrible, you tell yourself to swerve your head, to look away, but your curiosity is too great. So you peer down, into a passage without an end, down deep into the belly of the earth, engulfed by complete darkness.

In that fathomless darkness, a glimpse of gray appears and images form, as if lighted by the hallowed silver flames of candles from the long dead. It seemed a place so empty as to be nowhere. Dust of gray covered the cracking, earthen floor and swirled in the air. You search the ground, expecting to catch sight of some vermin scuttling through the heavy film of dust and your ears attempt to pick up the shrieking of bats scurrying. But there was nothing. There was simply an emptiness, and a silence and stillness that was overpowering.

A mound upon the gray ground shifts and you see it is the figure of a man, laying in the dirt, entirely covered by dust as to become part of the earth. It was as if he had been swallowed up by the earth, so completely covered with the grayish substance was he. Though it was fully coated with grime, you knew it was a living man, a mortal man. You knew it from the harshness of his breathing, the slight heaving of the body, the utter agony within him You can feel his despair, the sharp, unbearable pain. A pain of the body, but more of the mind, and of the soul. A pain so deep and harrowing as to be eating away at his mind, so excruciating as to be crushing his indomitable will with its intensity. You tell yourself that you do not feel the same pain, you cannot feel this manís anguish, but you do. You do and your own breath quickens and becomes shallow, and you become unnervingly aware of the beating of your heart.

At the same time, you could feel a sense of relief and a certain triumph within him, a sensation that was cruelly sweet. He had survived, even as he was drowning in a pool of endless pain, he knew and the knowledge was life. He had endured and prevailed against the evil, he had not been broken. There was triumph for he had beaten the enemy, an unknown but nevertheless powerful enemy. By refusing to bend, to betray his faith and himself, his very humanity, he triumphs. Then there was relief for he could now luxuriate in feeling, in experience something, even pain. You look upon him, and you see an indefinable valor, a noble beauty within him, despite the grayish dusting of dirt, obscuring his form and features.

Slowly you become aware of another figure, emerging from the darkness surrounding. Though this figure was also covered with a sheet of gray, you knew he was not just a man. At the same time he was more than simply a man and yet less than it. He was somehow a god, this sentinel of stone, here to watch over the prisoner. The leaden cast of his body was not simply dust, it was his flesh of granite, hard and rough. You look into his eyes and is startled by what you see there. It was a kindness, an expression unexpectedly compassionate and tender. Yet it was a terrible benevolence, for there was no true understanding in his gentle gaze and you knew that there was a simplicity about this creature, an inability to comprehend the conflicting emotions of any man.

"Why do you struggle so, mortal?" the words seemed to tumble from the lips of the great stone figure, but the man does not hear and does not answer, too caught up in his own torment to notice. Even if he had heard those words, there would have been no possible reply, no words to explain his need to retain something only mankind seemed to need, something beyond the understanding of this simple godlike presence.

"Here, let me help ease your pain," the benevolent being of granite continued. So he reached out a hand, massive and heavy, but nevertheless gentle. Even as you see the gigantic hand start to cover the prisonerís skull, you are filled with an inexplicable terror. But you know there was nothing but kindness and a desire to help in the stone figure, there was still something impossibly frightening in this action. As his hand tightened upon the manís head, you realized that he was stealing the manís memory, his very mind. You could see the darkness entering the prisonerís head, robbing him of his soul, of his humanity. You could see all the memories, the emotions, and the consciousness pour from the mind, into the sentinelís hands, and like precious molecules of liquid life, seep through the fingers and run into the ground, unable to be contained and restored. You watch the statue with the kind eyes gently caress the motionless head of the now senseless man and you think inanely that the hair must have once been bright and fair because of the slight curl, and all the while you are flooded with an aching sorrow. The figure of stone had taken away the manís pain, but he had taken away far more. He had taken away the manís mind, all his memories, the very essence of the man, and replaced it with an unfeeling shell of gray emptiness. You watch him lift his hand and you see the false light glowing in the eyes of the emotionless body and your heart grieves. But the stone god was fooled and he smiles with pleasure and says, with all the innocence of a child, "See, now there is no more pain. Isnít it so much better?"


A Day Remembered

The Station


The Meeting of the
Twin Moons

A Ghost Outside
My Window


Copyright © 1995 Angel Xuan Chang