Story: “Fading Echoes” by Kyle J. Thomas

“Fading Echoes”

by Kyle J. Thomas

 

The tavern is well lit but loud, a few dozen busy people closing out their day with a trip to their favorite watering hole. Many patrons sit at the bar ordering yet another drink. The loud conversation of the Sylvani bartender and his customer draws the attention of the guests nearby. He’s tall, even for a Sylvani, and bears a striking resemblance to a cherry tree. His hair has shed its springtime blossoms for tiny budding fruit interlaced with the branches tied behind his head. He rolls his eyes at the patron in front of him and plucks a cherry from his head and drops it into the glass in front of him.

 

He slides the cocktail across the counter to the young Fairy on the stool, who laughs and claps at the personalized garnish and downs a hearty pull of his drink.

 

“You’re the best, Kirsikka!” His speech is slurred and it’s obvious that this isn’t his first drink of the evening. “This is the kind of service that I come to the Chimney Stork for. You know how to indulge all of a fey’s desires.” He grins and takes another swallow before excusing himself to the restroom. Kirsikka returns to cleaning glasses and checking stock of his bar.

“Please excuse, Scroot,” Kirsikka says to a nearby fey as he offers another glass. “He can be loud and a bit nosey, but it keeps him out of trouble.” It isn’t long before Scroot is climbing up onto his stool again.

“Alright, Kirsikka,” Scroot says. “It’s Svenday. You know what that means. Story time!” This isn’t his first trip to Chimney Stork and many have caught on to Scroot’s habit. Scroot inquires about a particular patron and Kirsikka does his best to fill in the backstory with what he’s learned from serving them and taking creative liberties in filling in the gaps. His expert storytelling leaves a listener unsure where the line between fiction and reality ends but in the experience is usually a story worth listening to. In fact, many frequent this establishment at this particular time because they’ve become so enchanted with the stories that Kirsikka tells.

 

“That one,” Scroot barks as he points a finger across the room.

 

An old human has crashed against the wall in his exit while throwing his raincoat around himself. Even with his cane, he can’t quite stay upright entirely. Eventually and with his belongings gathered, he slams the last of his drink. He stumbles out after his awkward fall and leaves through the swinging door and into the pouring summer rain outside. He mutters something and shakes his fist at the sky as he leaves the Chimney Stork this night.  

 

“That man in the green coat,” Scroot confirms. “He’s been here at least weekly for the last season. You have to have his story pieced together by now.”

Kirsikka protests but is worn down by Scroot’s demands. “Alright, alright,” the Sylvani finally agrees. “I’ll tell you what I know about him. But you have to keep this quiet, my friend, or else my patrons won’t talk to me. Barkeep-client privileges and all that. I can only indulge you if you keep my tales secret as well.”

Scroot waves it all away. “I know, I know, Kirsikka. Just get on with it.” He settles himself in his stool, ready for the highlight of the evening as Kirsikka tops off the drinks of the nearby customers so he can focus on his story.

“His name is Eron Murhe,” Kirsikka begins. “And tonight’s stormy weather makes me feel like I’ll be sharing the sad bits tonight.” The words begin to echo slightly as Kirsikka’s particular talent makes itself manifest. The rhythmic drumming of the rain against the roof gives rhythm to his story and the gentle rumble of thunder sets the mood. While most magic presents itself in flashy or more practical ways, Kirsikka has the unusual talent dramatic. His words have a musical quality to them and one can’t help but vividly picture the scenes he describes. There is no visual illusion, but his words force even the weakest of imaginations to stretch to new heights. This talent of his has made the Chimney Stork a popular place for the few who witness this. Kirsikka is frequently asked why he couldn’t could find better employment with his gift, but he seems perfectly content to hone his craft here and is in no rush to move on. Some nights he tells fables and folk tales and the Chimney Stork is packed to the gills, but not tonight. Tonight Kirsikka takes a swallow of his own drink before setting the stage on this more personal story.

“Eron Murhe was a gifted engineer,” he began. “He worked with the Mechanica Guild and the Water Guild in designing the expansion of the sewers and distribution of the water in the new Ward. Supposedly, he suggested the use of water towers to reduce the total number of pumps required for the distribution. The smishing things always seem to break down and replacing them takes time to drain the piping and get to the impellers. The way he tells it, him, a human came up with the idea to use more gravity and less mechanica. Ha! As if a human ever came up with anything half so ingenious on his own. But have you seen the water towers? The Artisans and Metalcrafters outdid themselves in making them more than giant barrels. They’re each a real work of art. Pretty good for a plan that a human supposedly came up with.”

Scroot rolls his eyes, “I thought you said this was a sad story, not a history lesson. Come on, Kirsikka! Get to the good part.” Kirsikka takes it in stride as he polishes yet another glass and places it beneath the counter. Patrons come and go but the rest of the staff know to give him some leeway when he gets into a story. The storm outside refuses to subside and Kirsikka must speak louder.

“It was at the dedication to one of the last towers that Eron met him. The Mechanica, Water, and Artisan Guilds, together, at the same function. And without tearing each other apart,” he holds up a finger to quiet the fairy before he can ask his probing questions. “Yes, a grand banquet as a meeting of the guilds. It’s happened before. You’ve heard of Octavio Dorado, yes? Well, he painted the mural on the last tower. It is a sight to behold if you’ve never made your way out that far. Beautiful colors that I never knew could exist anywhere but in my head and the landscape feels like another world. But I digress, Eron and Octavio met at the banquet to mark the completion of the water works and there were fireworks both literal and metaphorical. In the same way that the towers blended form and function, so too did they mesh themselves.” Kirsikka cocks an eyebrow coyly.

“Yes! Smooches!” Scroot cries out with a little too much drunken enthusiasm and puckers his lips to kiss his pretend partner. “This is the kind of story that I like to hear! A human and a fey falling for each other? Ha! That only happens in stories. But I’ll go with it for now. Come on, come on, what happened next? Get to the happily ever after bit.”


“This was many years ago, Eron was at the height of his career and had a long time ahead of him. But Octavio was long past his prime.” Kirsikka pauses to refill his customers drinks as he continues. “That’s the thing about humans and fey. Our lives are so different. To a man a decade is one volume of his life but to a fey it’s only a page. Octavio was a Naidi nearing his fourth century. So many humans are born every year. They grow old and die in the time it takes most of us to mature.” He leans against the bar behind him. “But the Dair only knows why we meet people at just the right time. How many stories have you heard of a fey having a friend, a lover, grow old and wither away by the cruelty of our out of sync clocks? Surely the opposite must happen as well.”

“Octavio opened up Eron to another side of himself. Eron was so wrapped up in his work and studies that he never really took time to enjoy himself. He was always focused on what work he could do and the legacy that he could leave that he never took the time to enjoy living his life instead of focusing on how he’d be remembered. He and Octavio grew close and spent his twilight years together. Eron breathed some life back into the aging Naiadi whose work had stalled in the years since his husband had passed. The Spectacle Series is said to be largely inspired by Eron and the comically thick glasses that he wore.”

Scroot is leaning forward on his stool, his drink forgotten and the attention visibly apparent on his face. Kirsikka smiles as he continues but with a small tear building up in his eyes. “They were friends, best of friends, maybe more. Well, as much more as anyfey can ‘love’ a human. And Eron was there to help Octavio through to the end. Even when he became invalid and bedridden, Eron stuck with him. He’d leave Octavio whisper jars when he went to work to remind him of small things, to tell him that he’d be home late that night, that there was food in the pantry, to take his medicine. The old artist had lapsing moments of clarity and would ask about their friends, wanting to finish paintings that had hung for decades completed in galleries, social events that happened decades or more past… and his late husband.”

“Eron wasn’t his first love. Octavio had lost Muisti Kuva some decades back. The pair were artist and muse to each other, constantly seeking to outdo the other and finding inspiration in the competition. Somewhere in his addled mind the past was blending with the present as his memory was compressing against his impending end. Naiadi know when their time is coming. Something inside of them warns them of their passing and many things forgotten, some pleasant and some painful were welling up inside of him. He warned Eron that he was running out of days, but what can a human do? What can any of us do against time?”

The bar around the Chimney Stork is beginning to feel quite crowded. Against his best efforts, Kirsikka’s charm has attracted the attention of the surrounding crowd. Bodies press against each other to hear him finish the story. “Eron returned from work to find their apartment torn apart. The sheets from Octavio’s bed were stretched across the wall.  A burst of inspiration had come across the dying Naiadi and he had to complete his final work. Across the floor, Eron found his palate. Octavio dug the drying remnants of his supplies from the wardrobe and infused them with the water of his dying body. Octavio poured himself into his last great work and turned his death into a literal work of art. On those dirty and soiled sheets was a landscape of the home he shared with Kuva. In the doorway was the handsome couple embracing. In the sky were the hasty scribbles Octavio left as he became more water than fey, ‘I’m coming to see you, Muisti. We’ll be together forever.’ Well, that’s the way the human tells it.”

The rain and soft sniffles are the only noise in the Chimney Stork as the story crawls towards its close.

 

In a shaky voice Kirsikka concludes, “Eron’s life fell apart that day. His partner gone without warning; running back into the memory of his lost love. He had nothing left but the reminder of Octavio’s final thoughts. He wasn’t the same after that day. He buried himself in his work. There were no more great masterpieces or flashy ideas. He surrounded himself with monotonous drudgery to drown out the colors around him. Not worried about his legacy anymore, he learned that the story we want told isn’t always what the world wants remembered. There are too many stories and too many memories to last through time’s grinding millstone. One among millions, a candle amongst the starry night sky. After all, we are all just fading echoes in a world filled with noise.”

The rain beats against the Chimney Stork roof and falls through the gutters. The rain drops flow through the streets and into drains. Each drop is swallowed up in the tiny rivers that are born and die in the short life of a rainstorm. Millions of raindrops forming a collective flow with no trace of the individuals that came before. Some will continue their journeys and work their way towards those brilliant towers. Others will end their journey in puddles along the way and evaporate with tomorrow’s sun. Some fortunate few drops fall onto the cloaks and coats of people who divert them from their original path, taking them down roads they never would have journeyed unimpeded.

The rain beats down upon a man wearing a green coat, stumbling with his cane as he opens the door to his home and enters. He hangs up his coat and collapses into a chair. He wipes the water from his face and looked out across his home. It is in total disarray, strewn with papers and sketches. He hangs his head in his hands and looks at the bottles on the table in front of him. The vessels are distinctly of two shapes, some brown and narrow mouthed while others more resemble jars.

He rises and approaches the table, pushing the half filled brown containers to the floor before grabbing one of the remainder. He limps towards the corner of the room and the easel there. He leans his cane against the wall and opens the jar, upending its contents onto the nearby table. With a shaking hand he takes a brush from the table and begins to work. It lacks professional talent but is infused, with passion, with feeling, with being alive. The landscape of the ward with the water tower standing silently over it, sustaining the ward with water but even moreso giving it a memorable landscape, setting it apart from its neighbors. There are many places within Ammingrad, but there is no view like this one. A view to be remembered for ages to come, that means many things to many people…

 

Fin.

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