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The One Who Waits
Someone is waiting, at the end—the middle—the beginning of the road.
This short fiction piece comes to us from Marisca Pichette. Marisca collects fragments. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Magazine, Fusion Fragment, Apparition Lit, PseudoPod, and PodCastle, among others. Her speculative poetry collection, Rivers in Your Skin, Sirens in Your Hair, is forthcoming from Android Press in Spring 2023. Find her on Twitter as @MariscaPichette and Instagram as @marisca_write.
This piece was originally published by the (now defunct) Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow in 2016. Their website is no longer online.
Somewhere, there is someone waiting. This is not a tale of loyalty; they have not been waiting long. It is merely a notion, a fantasy, if you will—that somewhere, someone is expecting.
Who? Only they know, and it is futile to ask them.
“Comin’,” is all they’ll say to your question. “’S a-comin’.”
Do you press them further? Perhaps not, for their face is so set in concentration, it seems as if they themselves are pulling that unknown object along through time, patiently passing the hours in wait.
To us, of course, it may seem long. It may be days that you are there with them, waiting and wondering what it is you are waiting for. The end of the world? For here, in the middle of nowhere, it looks like the end of the road. The universe, ever expanding, has turned around. Now it shrinks, contracting and folding up on itself like so many disused Slinkys.
Slinking its way back to the beginning of Time.
Back to the one who waits.
Perhaps that is why they stand, staring off with such conviction, such total belief in their gaze. They give you the sense that they know exactly what it is that’s coming, and they won’t give the surprise away. It is not that they are withholding vital information—merely that they do not find it necessary to tell you. Let that be a comfort, for things not worth knowing are not worth worrying about, either.
Or does one wonder further, torn apart for the want of knowledge? Things we cannot see swiftly fill our eyes, ever thought about and dwelt upon in the small hours. We try so hard to know everything that we forget what we have known in the pursuit of what we can’t. Why has the world made us so? Perhaps it is the creaking of universal springs as they expand ever outward that pulls our hopes and dreams along, seeking new things.
Or maybe it is the shudder of a collapsing galaxy that urges us to act—quickly! Find and learn all there is to learn, for soon there will be nothing.
How odd that we cannot be content to stand beside the person waiting and not inquire as to their business in waiting there. We see them and we do not accept that they are alone and merely lingering for a short time in expectation of company of some kind, but presume, asking numerous questions about who and what and when and why…?
No wonder you are ignored when you repeat your demand of “Who?” For you it seems so urgent, this longing, this desire to know all that is before you. But to the one who waits, it is not at all about urgency and time. They have waited for minutes you don’t remember, and bear memories you couldn’t count. They know what is your business, and what is their own. Waiting is not a chore, nor a topic of discussion.
Especially not with you: a stranger.
Dawn will still come if the name is not given out, the mystery left unsolved. Others will pass this world’s end, and go along their own paths, heedless of the one who stands and stares with such purpose into the distance. Seasons still come without the answers you seek. Why shouldn’t they? For the one who waits is just human, after all.
At least, that is what you must believe. For around who else does time turn, wearing away nothing of that determined face? The clothes they wear are so plain that they could be from tomorrow or two thousand years past. They have a weathered complexion, but do not appear old. It seems that they are completely untouched as they stand, solitary in their watchful vigil—ever expectant of something undisclosed, some companion unspoken.
Any answers you get will be curt, and yield nothing of their motives. Perhaps they have none, you decide—and stand simply to stand. They are a spectacle, nothing else.
Yet, of course you cannot believe that. Something in their eyes convinces you of the error of that path. The one thing you can tell is that here, in the middle of an endless field, cut only by a worn and weary road, there is nothing to be lost in waiting. For here stands the one who knows, and you are inclined, despite your burning questions and misguided opinions, to stay, and wait with them.
You will gain nothing from conversation, for they have nothing to give. Instead you stand, and you listen. You look out across the persevering field, and you listen. Sounds hardly above silence fill your ears, and you barely notice the passersby as you wait. Colors spring from the even gray of the landscape, creating a vibrant spectrum you missed in your first coming.
As you stand, you wonder why you ever longed to move so fast. What was your rush before you found yourself here, constantly dwelling on the things that were around you, not contemplating what was to be?
In standing, in waiting, you feel suddenly as if you’re waiting for nothing at all. A strange notion descends, and you are shocked by the simplicity of it. Instead of working, instead of talking, instead of running and laughing and worrying—you are living. Purer than the varicolored setting and clearer than the mottled sky above, you are living. Nothing grand, no embellishments; just breathing and observing.
It occurs to you that you have never stopped before, never truly halted all breathless activity to experience what there was to see. In your haste to know everything, you realize how little you learned. In your desire to study it all, you overlooked the world.
Somewhere, there is someone waiting. They do not stand tall. They are not indignant or impatient. They have little to say. They will not bother you, on the road that leads from nowhere. But they may watch you as you pass, taking in your gaze and holding it for a long, long time.
In that moment, it will take all of your will to forget your tasks, and to pause for a moment to inquire what it is that is worth so much rushing, and whether there is something to be said for standing, and seeing an empty landscape fill with details, one by one.
They will not ask you to stop, nor beg you to stay. If you demand to know the reason for their vigil, they will only reply,
“Comin’. ‘S a-comin’.”
Perhaps you may feel a little satisfied, and a little enlightened by what you saw and heard. Then you are likely to go on your way, forgetting the details you briefly glimpsed in that boundless field, ever extending outward on stretched springs. Your world will continue to grow, and you may not remember that somewhere, there are things you could never learn, and sights you can never see again.
But in that place, there is someone standing.
They know what they see. They have seen it all. They know what they hear; they hear it every day. They have not been there long, but perhaps it seems so. If you ask them the way, they may tell you more than you asked, though their response will be short. They do not move from their place, and always, they are watching.
And they wait.
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