There is a knock at the door and the old man who lives alone deep inside of the dark and treacherous wood answers.
How did you know I was here?
Heard ye knock.
I knocked. Arthur steps through the old man at the doorway and his shimmering shape glows throughout the dim walls of the rotted cabin. You’re losing it out here, old man.
Care for a drink?
The withered man closes the beaten door and the wail of the western winds fades and is shut out. The cabin the old man built himself out in the thick wood so long ago is dead inside and dying from within, the floorboards soft with decay and the cobwebs in the corners thick and white and long ignored. Broken down slowly along the years, slowly and almost imperceptibly at first and then all together at once just as the old man who lived inside of it was.
When will you be joining us?
I figure you in’t come all this way just for tea.
Thirty-six times now I’ve asked you that.
And thirty-six times now I’ve answered. Hell, more’n that. Lot more.
I can’t make you. Only you can decide when you’re ready.
You talk like it’s a done deal.
It is. This shouldn’t even be a discussion.
The old man grinds down a twisted dandelion root into a small ceramic bowl with a rounded stone, the ticky-tacky ginger guts sticking to his worn down knuckles. He scrapes the gunky contents of the ceramic bowl into the misshapen mouth of the kettle and sets it down on the burning stovetop to bubble and boil.
Arthur places an iridescent hand on the stack of leather-bound journals that rest on the chipped mahogany dining table. Some of the tired books lie open and some of them lie closed, each filled with scribblings of stories and scattered stray thoughts of the man who lives alone in the cabin.
Why even bother any more?
Bother with what?
The writing. They can do it better than you or I ever could, you know this.
I ne’er wrote for no one but myself. The old man walks over to his modest life’s work on the table and gathers up the dusty books in both arms. That’s the difrance ‘tween you and I Arthur. I ne’er wrote nothing for nobody but me.
I suppose it just seems pointless.
When will you be joining us?
Didn’t say when.
Didn’t say ever.
And I ‘tend to keep ‘yall waiting.
A pause, the uncomfortable kind even for Arthur in this transparent state.
How do you think that makes Beth and Emily feel? How do you think that makes me feel?
Feel. The man waves a wrinkled hand through Arthur and his body flickers and fades and then comes back into the full projected and hollow form.
You know what I mean.
Don’t spose I e’er will.
The beaten iron kettle on the stove screams for the old man’s attention. He sets the stack of used up journals back onto the face of the polished auburn table and lifts the white-hot steamer from the scorching coil. The whistle dies out and Arthur has a chance to speak up again.
Why are you doing this? Is it out of stubbornness? Or maybe fear?
The weak old man pours the scalding murky liquid into a bruised tin cup delicate and steady even with hands that tremble and then wafts the warm vapors of the crude verdant tea up into his nose. He lifts the battered cup up to his mouth slow and sips from the steamy brew. The constant tremor that begins in the bony wrists and shoots down to the elbows and shakes his hands rattle the cup and small drops of hot tea pitter onto his leg and singe the skin through his wrinkled and dusted pant.
Reckon I prefer the gentle sting of reality.
Perception is reality. All of those things you feel here in this cabin, joy, hope, wonder, anger, loss, loneliness, defeat, you can feel with us in the Construct and you can feel them for an eternity.
An eternity is an awfully long while.
Your health is failing.
As nature did intend.
Nature. Listen to yourself, old man. Come to your senses and do it quick. If not for yourself, for Bethany. For Emily Kate. For me.
The old man swallows down his drink and peers through Arthur into a window where the crickets call and the hidden cicadas sing from the trees.
You’re the last one, you know. The final holdout.
The old man drains the last drop of the bitter roasted concoction of ground dandelion root from the small cup and he rises with weak knees that creak to rinse it in a bucket of soft stream water.
When will you be joining us?
Fer the last time, Arthur.
People have been talking.
That what you folks do.
People have been saying you’re planning to die here, alone in this cabin.
Now why would I go an’ do a thing like that?
I’m being serious with you now, old man. Don’t do this.
Die here. You don’t have to. This is nonsense and you know it.
Livin’ an’ dyin’ out here in peace is nonsense.
When you have this option it is, old man.
You were old not too long ago yerself, my memory serves correct.
Arthur’s scattered image kneels down by the old man and the rickety bucket where he scrubs the cup clean with a tattered wet rag.
You can be young again. You can run like you used to and breath deep and move without such great effort and climb up to the highest point imaginable and yell.
The old man drops the cup into the gray waters of the bucket and stands again.
I leave, ain’t nobody ‘round to see them cookoos bloom. Trees need somein’ to howl at I reckon.
The forest doesn’t need you. The Earth doesn’t need you. In fact, it would be better off without you.
‘Spose you may be right. It don’t need me none.
I am right. Where we live, you can create the kind of universe you wish to live in. All of the worlds in these books of yours could be real. You could imagine this very wood right down to the last dry needle and branch and it would be so, and for every world you conceived millions of others would have created worlds just as colorful and diverse and you could explore each and every one at your leisure, with all of us.
The old man goes through Arthur to sit at the table and rest his legs. He says nothing and stares out the window with a wooden gaze.
And yet you still won’t come.
The old man flips through the yellowing pages of one of the leather journals placed on the table and reads through the thoughts he had so long ago and still has all those feelings of blooming creativity he had as a young man, quiet creativity now as his ingenuity dulled and his vision weakened but an imaginativeness and willingness to put pen to paper nonetheless. Even if the machines could do it better and more beautifully.
Them worlds in my books ain’t real. Ne’er will be. And neither will yours.
Consider carefully what you’re about to say. Don’t do this, friend.
World don’t need me any. Reckon I need it.
Arthur takes a step through the doorway out into the dark and treacherous wood where the old man lives and lives alone and the door is shut behind his shining transient likeness. There will be knocking again but the old man will not answer.
Hi everyone. This is a story I've been workshopping for a minute now. It's essentially my best Cormac McCarthy impression but it's got some of my own flavor to it. Definitely not a style I use frequently and I often write with a more basic vocabulary and sparse descriptions. I wrote this with the changing landscape of technology and the whole sentience of computers thing in mind. The singularity and all. I'm probably going to change it quite a bit between now and whenever but I think it's worth reading as is. But it can still use some work. Anyway. Let me know what you think, let me know if it makes you think.