A sharp, wistful pang stabbed through Thorston’s chest as he gazed across the sprawling fields. The tall grass swayed in the breeze and he could smell the faintest trace of salt on the air; while he could not see the ocean from where he stood on a low rise, he knew it to be close. He longed for a place where he felt comfortable. A place to call home.
It had been many years since he left his family, and in that time Thorston had met many people, some he could name friends. But it was not quite the same as the bonds of lineage. He counted himself fortunate when he met Bria. His sense of feeling unmoored had lessened. Her bright dark eyes did much to dispel the gloom he always carried with him.
Of late, though, he felt those storm clouds gathering. And Bria, too, had sensed it.
To stave off what he knew to be inevitable, Thorston agreed to travel with Bria across the ocean to the far country of Polanco.
This most recent village was so small as to be without a name. Truth be told, Thorston found Polanco dotted with many such places. It was a primitive country, lacking in numerous amenities he took for granted, but the Polancans didn’t seem to mind overmuch. In fact, their contentment in simply living had bled off somewhat to him.
Thorston’s spirit was restless.
“Are you coming?”
Thorston started. He hadn’t heard anyone approach, lost as he was in the corridors of his mind.
“There’s a wonderful bakery in town.” Bria tugged gently on Thorston’s arm.
“I’m not hungry, thank you.”
Bria, undaunted, continued. “There’s a magnificent stone in the village square. There’s a cleft through the middle and village elders say you are cleansed of sin when you pass through the hole to the other side. It sounds fun.” She smiled. Expectant.
Thorston forced a smile. “Thank you, no. I find this field with the broken wall cutting through it somehow soothing. If you don’t mind, I’d like to tarry here a bit longer.”
Bria’s features dimmed. “Well, don’t be too long. We need to be on the road south within the hour. Find me in the square when you’re done here.” She perched on her toes and kissed Thorston’s rough cheek.
Thorston grunted, reaching for Bria as she departed, but his fingers trailed through her black hair. She did not look back.
Clouds drifted across the sky, darkening the summer field and rousing Thorston from his reverie. How long had he been gazing across these grasses, musing on the shattered length of stone wall that wound through the green like an anachronistic serpent?
Galvanized by the memory of Bria’s words—how short a time ago, he knew not—and by meeting her to continue their trek, he turned and strode toward the small village with long strides.
Dirt path soon gave way to paved stone. The laughter of children at play sounded gently in Thorston’s ears. He cast about for Bria but did not find her. He was positive this was the village square. The place was not that big, after all.
He’d lost track of time. But why would Bria leave without him? Surely she couldn’t be that dissatisfied with their life together. Thorston hurried through the nameless town in search of his traveling companion, as clouds converged overhead.
His sweep of the village led to the great cleft stone Bria had mentioned. Thorston didn’t know how he’d missed it before. The rock was as large as she said; it seemed almost as though the village grew around the stone.
Thorston stepped to the great stone and traced his hand along its surface. It was smooth and warm. He eyeballed the rift in the rock and recalled Bria’s recounting of the local legend. Squatting before the crevice, Thorston peered through to the other side. He was surprised to see the grasses he had recently departed waving invitingly in the bright sun, lush and green.
He straightened, puzzled. The field was nowhere near the center of town. How could he spy it through the rock? And wasn’t it cloudy? Thorston walked around the other side of the stone, only to see a baker closing up shop. Was this the bakery Bria had invited him to?
Thorston returned to where he had previously stood before the great stone. He looked about the surrounding area once more for Bria. All he saw were townsfolk going about their business; many of them smiled at Thorston and wished him well when he met their eyes.
Cleansed of sin, eh? Thorston thought, remembering Bria’s words. Perhaps my sin is not appreciating what I already have.
“Climb through the rift, she said,” Thorston mumbled, slightly embarrassed. He looked to see if anyone watched, but no one paid him mind. He bent, and with some difficulty squeezed through the cleft in the rock. It was cool and dark. His shoulders scraped stone and more than once he feared he would become wedged inside and never be free.
It was Bria. The way sound echoed inside the rock, he could not tell whence her voice came. An irrational panic rose in Thorston’s chest and his breath came in gasps.
Thorston tried to backtrack out of the cleft but could not. All he could do was continue through, no matter how difficult.
After what seemed an interminable time, Thorston emerged from the stone on all fours. He stood and stretched his aching joints. He was full in the middle of the field outside of town. The grasses whispered in the wind and the salt tang of the distant sea tickled his nose.
His bemusement soon gave way to contentment, to a sense of peace. Thorston did not know what had happened but did not seek to question it. There was but one question.
He turned. Bria, dark hair blowing, waved to him.
He was home.
— Michael Burke