Ruins of Spirt
by Christopher Gaudino
1- (1st act) Intro
There is this palace in the town we grew up in that doesn’t have any reason to exist. Its foundations rest on terrain too weak to hold it, and its walls crack with every breath of wind. Every part of it is in ruins. The cellar is reportedly drowning in rain water collected from decades of neglect, and it’s rumored fish swim in it, but no one has confirmed this; in fact, nobody ever goes there anymore.
The town itself, and not just the palace, had been on the decline for years. Before I left as a teen, twenty five thousand people lived in the surrounding hills. Now that number’s dropped significantly, but not without reason. Most men and women of working age find occupation only in the agrarian industry, and nowhere else. If you don’t fit in the local business, or aren’t willing to, it’s better for you to leave. Most young people did.
2 - I went away, but soon found out something was missing
Amy and I left at the same time to pursue our careers.We used to be friends, but we both moved abroad in separate places. And yet, no matter how far away I went, there was a feeling stuck in me. Somehow, despite my growing happiness with my life, I felt drawn back to that place I had once called home. If it hadn’t been for that, I doubt we would’ve met ever again.
3 - We came back and went to the place which had given us most joy
I saw her for the first time in years at the train station when I arrived. Coincidentally, we. had been traveling in the same carriage without knowing. I didn’t recognize her at first. Once I did, I approached her as she was waiting for the bus to take her to the hotel. We hugged, expressed our surprise in seeing one another, and then decided to continue talking over a cup of coffee. Amy told me she had returned because she missed the area, while I used what little family I had as an excuse for my arrival. I don’t know the reason I lied, but for some reason it felt easier than telling the truth. It didn’t matter, as we decided to have dinner together in order to
relive our youths.
We finished eating and I offered to walk Amy to her hotel. She accepted. It was as we were passing a small bridge where the surrounding hills came into view that we saw the palace. There on a distant hilltop it stood quietly like a slumbering giant. It was like seeing the ghost of your former self. We agreed we would go there the following day, and we did.
4 - (2nd act) We arrived there but it wasn’t the same
We drove down the road to experience the soft, calming night ambience we so fondly remembered. It was a short trip to make. I drove up the hill until the paved road ended on a dirt path that was impassible by car. Then, just as we had done many times as kids, we cut across the forest, and climbed upwards. A light fog submerged us into a world we had scarcely visited in recent years; it felt like revisiting an old dream. I remember turning to Amy and joking about the fact I couldn’t remember ever getting there this way. “Everything’s changed,” she said to me.
The palace, once reached, left much to be desired. Three stories tall, largely made of stone, bricks, and what remained of a surviving wooden roof, it showed itself with none of the charm I remembered. Much of its walls were either ruins or completely gone. It looked, at least from the outside, on the brink of crumbling down on itself. It made sense that it seemed bigger as a child than it actually was in reality.
5 - Was this place ever any different?
We didn’t have any intention of observing it from the inside, so we sat on the grass and faced the palace as we talked. We discussed the people we had known and didn’t see anymore. When we didn’t speak we listened to the woods. The trees seemed to follow the noises we made. Years before I used to regard this silence as luxury. Now, as Amy and I were surprised into an awkward pause from discussion, I felt it was oppressive. From The raspy calling of a distant deer, to the sudden crack and fall of a branch from its tree; all of these increased our growing discomfort. I started to wonder how it had ever been enjoyable. When Amy called the place “creepy” I agreed. As she and I sat quietly a question remained unsaid: “Was this place ever
The lights I noticed first. Through the window on the second floor a warm yellow light burned as if a dozen candles were lit within.
“I thought this place was abandoned,” Amy said.
“It is,” I replied.
“I thought the stairs were unusable. I must’ve been wrong.”
“Even if they are, I wouldn't climb them. They will break as soon as you step on them.”
We never left the sight of that strange light.
Amy turned to me and gave me a smile I hadn’t seen in ages. “Do you think we could take a look inside?”
“We can’t climb up there.”
“You don’t remember much. We used to go there all the time. We found those old swords in the hall one day and fenced with each other, don’t you remember?”
She grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the front entrance. “Come on, let’s see what they’re up to.”
The first floor was completely empty of any furniture. We came through the front door, which I was surprised was not barred, and quickly found the stairs. It wasn’t as dark and damp as I had previously remembered. Even the dust levels were acceptable for being abandoned as long as it had been. Amy was the one to notice the trail of footsteps marking the floor. following them we reached the stairs, and then the second floor. I climbed with some hesitation, but despite the wood squeaking at every step, I made it upstairs.
Amy continued urging me on. “Let’s check the next room,” she said.
6 - No proof of our stay remains
As Amy walked into the room ahead, I took the opportunity to study where I had walked into. The long table dividing the room in half was splintered where part of the roof had come crashing down on it years before. It seemed to have remained unchanged for decades. For years a thought had reassured me that here, in this ancient place secluded from the world, everything stayed the same. My childhood, carried away in the winds of time, had its perfume lingering within these rooms. I breathed in the magic in the air quietly, then looked again.
The walls, covered in shreds of wallpaper and encroached upon by mold, bore a resemblance to flesh rotting off the bone. The long red and gold drapes, that had streamed down the walls like fiery rivers, had now lost all their color, gray and chewed off by moths. I didn’t remember it being that way when I was a little kid. Back then this room was full of color, warmth, furniture, and everything was still in good condition. Me and my friends - whose names I cannot even remember anymore- had explored it in the same way I did now, and I thought I would’ve found evidence of it everywhere, from the old swords we used to fence with, to the wooden planks barring the windows we had etched our names into. At least this was what I thought. The wood had rotted the letters away. The furniture had been removed. As children, we used to climb in through one of the large windows and spend most of the night here. We told each other stories and played games. Entire afternoons we had spent playing catch and drawing figures of different shapes on the mud. Nothing remained to pay homage to my memories. Now in a bad mood, I walked away to find Amy.
She was staring at a burnt painting when I found her. The floor was covered in broken glass that shattered under every step. I avoided touching anything for fear of cutting myself. Above us, through several holes, a full moon shone light through the broken-down roof. I asked Amy what she was doing.
“Do you remember this painting?” she asked. I didn’t. “It was a wreck when I first saw it. I remember it exactly the same way as it is now: all blacked out and covered in holes. It was something awful.”
“Nothing changed then,” I said.
She faced me. “But I fixed it! Me and you, we had put so much care in restoring the colors to its canvas, replaced the damage with new material, and so on; hell, by the time we were done it was an entirely different picture.”
“You must be remembering it in a different room.”
“No,” she said, “I’m positive this was it. Has there been another fire in the time we’ve been away?”
All around us wood splinters still covered the floor, all of them unmoved in decades.
“Perhaps you imagined painting it.”
“I remember doing it though, with you.”
We turned to the painting again. Burnt to a crisp, there was little remaining of the canvas to give even the smallest impression of what the image had been. Only parts of the wooden frame remained.
“How could we have repainted it if it was in these conditions?” I asked.
“I don’t know, I just remember that we did.”
“Could we have imagined it?”
“I’d remember if it were the case,” she said.
“Yeah, so would I,” I lied. There was nothing left that hadn’t turned to ruin with the course of time.
She said: “Have we been nostalgic for a place that’s never existed?”
After that Amy was quiet. When I thought of approaching the subject again she had already walked out of the room.
7 - There’s children in the palace
The next was another bedroom similar to the one we had just left. When I approached it something thumped in the distance. Footsteps sounded from the main hall.
“Let’s explore this floor, then we can leave,” Amy said. She sounded angry, or maybe just nervous.
Once we reached the doors we peeked inside.
8 - Children
There, five children standing in a circle together, playing fencing, and we knew then that there was nothing frightening about the place. We decided, finally, that it was the time for us to leave. I doubt we would ever return. This place we remembered had no right to exist anymore. In a chair nearby these children’s names were carved, just like ours had been, on mortal wood.