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The Absent Sentinel

Photograph by Iacopo Pasqui, Story by John-Paul Pryor


Dreams turn into days and days turn into dreams, as the blank white sky provides a projection screen for his lonely anaesthetised imagination, always somewhat fleeting and distant, and yet ever more relentless…


He sits alone in this vast, timeless haze.


With unending patience, he feels his bones freeze once more to his skin, and with mute longing, aches to ask the mountain, once again, where has he been?


He can remember labyrinthine corridors of light.


He can remember the glittering broken mirror and the silver pool. He can remember the blue-eyed terrors at the edge of being.


He can remember tiny new faces, rippling upon the face of silver water.


But he can only ever remember such things for a very short time, before the emptiness, and the following, returns anew.


It is not for his mind to truly recall the journey, or for him to ever step into the silver water… He is simply the watcher on the mountain, forever waiting to catch passing souls in the electric rain, like so many tiny shards of glass.


He has caught many.


He has taken many to return.


In brief moments of clarity, he tries to hold on to the notion that he has been lucid like this before, freezing silently into the chair upon the mountain-side, as his memory glimmers, and fades.


These luminous snatches of time, allow him to remember a time before cold bones and endless waiting.


He remembers the deep warm red mist that once travelled through his veins – a mist that would tell him there was nothing left but sorrow, the lifeblood of all emotion, entreating him for sweet release. 


He can recall the screams and explosive clatter, the desert sun and the death machines, spurring him from one kill to the next, until his very identity shattered into a thousand black pieces, and he found himself strapped down hard, countless injections twisting the real into the unreal – lost in a maleficent sideshow of being, haunted by visions of twisted bodies and pain…


In these moments, he knows he once inflicted so much pain.


He remembers releasing the flowing mist from his veins – the freedom of flight, and the moth, flickering dark in the hospital strip light. 


But these moments all came before..


He was now here, upon the lonely mountain, forever waiting – his bones slowly freezing, over and over, and over again.


This stasis was the deal that had been struck for him by the blue-eyed terrors at the edge of being, and he conceded to them, in his penance, to remain – a mute and frozen liaison, lingering in the space that lies between. 


He is trying to hold on to these ever-passing memories when darkness, once more, pads its way slowly into his view.


Not that his keeper, and guide, is ever very far away – somewhere in his distressed mind’s eye he can always feel the gaze of a mass of blackened fur, panting bleakly upon the mountain wind.


This sickened, tired growl of a bear, bondsman of the doctors and the needle in his spine, keeps him in eternal check, sitting now before him as he passes from consciousness into shivering stupor­ – its tiny black opal eyes always the last thing he sees, as all slowly fades from sight and mind into the blank, white sky.


He sometimes tries to speak before the fading, and tell the bear that he is sorry, but his words are evermore trapped in his mute throat, like pain in a silent howl.


When the bear appears, he once more hears the voices – floating on electrical currents, crackling, distant and wan...


He can no longer remember his name. This is simply the effect of the treatment. Where was he when they picked him up? The prayers? It may have been the Middle East. How many dead? They sounded like the prayers of a whole city… No. Following orders. Do you remember? Keep him on the medication. Morphine. Has he been moving? It’s unlikely. No. He killed them all...


It begins to rain upon the mountain, and after a period, he feels fresh souls begin to splash warm upon his frozen skin.


He wakes from dark reverie.


His mind empty.  His body broken.


He rises slowly from the chair, cupping the sharp falling shards of rain in his now thawing hands. In his palms glitter so many departed souls – some beautiful, some darkening, some shining.


He waits until his hands are full, and stares ahead into the deep black eyes of the bear, which rears up on its hind legs and grunts majestically at him to follow.


He somehow knows where they will go, but he does not know the way.


He follows along a frozen path of deep song that winds slowly down inside the mountain – through corridors of glinting blood rainbows, and slivers of nothingness, where a thousand spectrums of colour clamour for light.


They walk ever downwards, the notes from the path singing of some wild place unknown.


He passes a broken glittering mirror where the bear stops him for a moment. Turning to face his reflection, he sees only a lone grey wolf.


The bear pads darkly ahead, and, after all time, they reach the tattered edge of a small silver pool–far beneath the earth, where the mountain itself sings in electrical extremis.


Somewhere at-hand in the near darkness, are gathered the terrors at the edge of being, their light blue eyes piercing deepest black shadow.


The darkness is broken by a growl.


He unclasps his hands, pouring out tiny crystal souls that flash like so many silver fish upon the water, as primordial past and distant future coalesce into deathless, boundless electricity – charging souls that now make their way to a new birthing, and return.


He smiles… He cries… Darkness…


Dreams turn into days and days turn into dreams, as the blank white sky provides a projection screen for his lonely anaesthetised imagination, always somewhat fleeting and distant, and yet ever more relentless

John-Paul Pryor is an arts writer, creative director and editor whose work has been published by a number of leading style magazines, such as Dazed, AnOther, Port, Author, Flaunt and Tank, among others. He has also edited and written frontispieces for a number of books, notably AnOther Art Book (Steidl), Making It up As We Go Along (Rizzoli) and We Can’t Do This Alone (Rizzoli). His debut novel Spectacles was published by Seabrook Press and has been described as “A dreamlike vision of a lawless dystopian future London, focusing on several characters embroiled in an ultra-violent society and Videodrome-esque psychosexual matrix” (Dazed & Confused). His recent forays into fiction include a fourteen-page prose poem entitled Lost Kingdom, published in EXIT magazine, the erotic short story Let’s Play Twister, Let’s Play Risk, published alongside Lydia Lunch in the New York compendium Visceral, and a monologue for a short film by the German artist Katja Meyer entitled Lights, which premiered in Paris at ASVOFF 10. He is currently the Cultural Director of Mortimer House, Fitzrovia and is working on his second novel. Follow him on instagram @johnpaul_thesirensoftitan

Iacopo Pasqui explores the relationship between man-nature-landscape and social behaviour. He has won numerous prizes and competitions including “Giovane Fotografia Italiana #07” at Fotografia Europea Festival in Reggio Emilia (2019), in 2019 he was appointed among “Futures Photograpy Talent 2019”. He won the Leica Talent 24x36, 2011/2012, Contemporary Landscapes and Places in Transformation – Artist residency in Italy promoted by MiBACT and GAI, 2017.

 Follow him on instagram @iacopopasqui

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