Chapter One The deep chime of the bell atop the tower began to sound, ding ding ding, informing the town of my arrival. I released my grip on the rugged rope, hanging heavy from the ceiling, and twisted into a knot at the bottom. The sun cast into the tower from a puny window sitting comfortably within the wall, scattering light over the dank bricks that lay before me. I came on a good day; the air was warm and I knew the village would be lively till nightfall.
I raced down the stone staircase, twisting around the curves of the tower to avoid the darkness of the shadows running around me. The sound of my own feet was not enough to drown out the pandemonium from the villagers milling around to greet me. Light began to curl around the walls of the tower as I neared the bottom, revealing the people surrounding the base.
Mr. Banks wobbled his way to the front of the crowd, tight suspenders on either side of his scrawny body complemented the dirt smutches over his button-down. Creases outlined his eyes, sunken from bearing the heavy bags that lay beneath them, painting a picture of old age over his sullen face. I came to understand that his weary appearance meant he had been waiting for me, like hopelessly staring into a mirage for water to soon appear. Nevertheless, each time I came back, Mr. Banks was just as eager to see me as the time before.
“Where have you been?” he managed in his croaky voice. “It’s been too long, son,” he continued.
“I know, I’m sorry.” My voice was muffled as I spoke into Mr. Banks’s shoulder, straining my voice to enunciate my words, ensuring that he could hear me clearly. I reunited with the rest of the townspeople, providing me with numerous endowments of hugs, bread baskets, and even a crocheted quilt from Ms. Bareland, a recent widow who inundated her days with knitting and maintaining the stray cats to overlook the loss of her husband.
The rest of the night was dedicated to recapping the most significant events to take place upon my absence from the village, the crackle of neon orange flames encouraging discussion. Between the preeminent conversations, I managed to steal glimpses of Mr. Banks, staring endlessly into the orbit of gathering and reunion that surrounded him. The brim of his straw hat, rugged and ripping from consistent use, lay precisely over his eyebrows, concealing the years of age and despondency from his face. As if looking at an x-ray, I felt as though I could perfectly see into his head, his thoughts as masses of knotted yarn battling together.
The street lamps flickered on as the last murmurs from the crowd concluded, irradiating the cottage-lined thoroughfares. A charcoal sky lay high above us, littered with dancing specks of glitter. Now that everyone else had slowly drifted from the concourse, promenading back to their homes to tuck neatly beneath their covers and succumb to their tiredness, I was left alone atop the hill. A sinister quiet crept around the corners of every frame and ricocheted over the ground, visiting with the tips of the grass and carrying pebbles within its wind. The now brisk breeze spurred dreams of dancing flames in my head, spreading warmth and slumber through my body like an infection.
Pebbles upon the footpath crunched underneath the soles of my feet. My hands were managing to carry the overload of gifts that I had received upon my arrival, while my eyes were bearing bags of their own. A deep voice spoke “Son, I got to know” while I attempted to use the points of my elbows to rotate the brass doorknob. I turned my head to, yet again, reveal a torn up, straw hat.
“Mr. Banks, what are you doing out here?”
Although it was not unusual for him to make unannounced visits, I was attempting to steer away from the inevitable conversation we were about to have.
“I’ve been restless, Jack,” his eyes remained sunken into his gruff face, “whether it be waiting for you to come back or pondering what will happen when you don’t come back.”
“I’ll come back, I’ll figure things out no matter the situation,” my words began to come out fast, almost as if they were falling out of my mouth with no restraint.
“Son, listen,” Mr. Banks gradually got to his feet, pushing through the aches of his old body, “no matter how afraid I am to admit it, I don’t think you will. You’ve been given an opportunity to create a life which you’ve always wanted. I could never forgive myself if I took that away from you,” his face grew cold and grey with each word that slipped off his lips.
“I got in, Mr. Banks.” I felt a wave of guilt and defeat come over me, weighing down my shoulders and dragging behind me.
Despite the immediate release of his facial muscles and the melancholy radiating from his body, Mr. Banks retained his composure, releasing his grip on my shoulders and removing his hat from his head. “I’m proud of you, son.” His voice was quiet, seeming to dismiss the scratch that once occupied his speech. Mr. Banks dismissed himself, turning his back to me and commencing his endeavor home.