Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #28

August 17th, 2009 by Wordsman


“Uhh, where are we going?” Jack asked.

Matthew was not thinking clearly.  He was using too much oxygen for running, and not enough was getting to his brain.  He was paying the price for never having been on the track team, never jogging, never owning a treadmill.  Matthew did not believe that even professional athletes were capable of complex thought while running with all their heart, but he figured that they at least could tell where they were going.  In his condition, the best he was able to come up with was: “Up.”

It may be true that the simplest answer is most likely to be correct, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be the most satisfying.  “Can you be any more specific than that?” Jack pressed.  He was no track star either, but he was much better at running and talking at the same time.  It suited him.

“No,” Matthew replied breathlessly.  Even if his brain had been functioning perfectly, his lung capacity would have kept him from producing anything but one-syllable answers.

“Maybe we should slow down for a second and figure out where we are, then,” Jack suggested.

“Okay,” Matthew agreed.  He was running on fumes anyway.  The moment the word was out of his mouth, he came to a sudden halt and collapsed, as if his friend had lassoed his feet and pulled back hard.  Matthew sank gratefully into the grass, very glad that his friend’s suggestion had jolted him out of his running trance.  There was no reason for him to continue, and there hadn’t been for the past several minutes either.  He had lost sight of the person he was chasing a while ago, but he kept running, his legs taking over decision-making powers usually assigned to the brain and propelling him forward for no reason other than the primal pleasure of sprinting.

“So where are we?” Jack asked after some quantity of time had passed.  Minutes, hours, days, something like that.  The sun was still up.

Matthew cautiously opened his eyes.  Then, when that did not immediately make him feel like he was about to vomit, he lifted his head and looked around.  “We’re on the Palatine Hill,” he said after a brief scan.  It was as much news to him as it was to his friend.

“Alright then.”  Jack grinned appreciatively.  “And what’s special about it?”

Matthew rotated into a seated position, treating his legs as gently as possible.  He turned his eyes away from the ruins to face the street.  He forced himself to stare at the blankness of the pavement while he gathered his thoughts.  He knew the question Jack really wanted to ask was, “Why are we here?”  Matthew had no answer to that.  Not one that he was willing to admit to, anyway.  So he answered the question his friend had asked.

“It’s one of the Seven Hills of Rome,” he explained.  “It’s located in the center, and some believe that it’s the first place where people lived here.  Later on it was where many rich and powerful Romans built their homes.  The ruins and excavations you can see are of the palaces of emperors—‘Palatine’ is where the word ‘palace’ comes from.”

Jack nodded.  “I see.”  The look of concern in his eyes faded, replaced by the more common light of mischief.  “So this is where the upper crust lived, huh?  All those scheming politicians sitting up here in their ivory towers and looking down on all the poor schmoes in the Forum over there?”

“Something like that,” Matthew said.  Jack’s description was closer to the truth than usual.

“Sounds like it could be worth a look,” Jack declared, standing and offering a hand to his friend.

Matthew wasn’t sure that he would be able to walk, but when he got to his feet, his legs, though sore, were not as crippled as he had expected them to be.  He continued to stare away from the hill for a few seconds, afraid of what he might see there, but when he finally looked up he saw nothing but ancient walls and seemingly harmless tourists.  No one was dressed entirely in gray.  No one was staring at him.  No one appeared to be beckoning him to follow.

He was . . . “relieved” was not exactly the right word, but it was something close to that.  He was glad that, for a while, he did not have to worry about the identity or purpose of the gray-clad figure, but he did not think that the problem was gone for good.  Matthew was beyond thinking that the person was a trick of his mind.  When he saw the figure in the Forum he had been sure.  It wasn’t a ghost, it wasn’t Jack’s powers of suggestion, it wasn’t a residual character from his Forum fantasy; the person was real, and for some mysterious reason (Matthew was sure it couldn’t be anything good) it was following him.

He couldn’t mention any of it to Jack, not because Matthew was afraid he wouldn’t believe him, but because he was afraid he would.  Jack’s madness was bad enough when he didn’t have anything to go off of other than the crazy ideas in his own head.  Matthew did not want to see what his friend could do with live ammunition.

“Man,” said Jack, staring up at what was left of the upper floors of some ancient noble’s house and then turning back to look at the Forum.  “There wasn’t anything subtle about those old Roman aristocrats, was there?  They were just a bunch of wealthy puppeteers with those . . . you know, those cross things with the strings.  Do you think the common people down there could feel it when the schemers up here stared down at them?”

“Oh, I’ll bet they could,” Matthew answered quietly.  He had felt it himself when he stood in the Forum, and he was not entirely sure that he wasn’t still feeling exactly the same sensation.

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