An incipient fog began forming in the air again. The shy blue colour of the sky was now fading into a dazzling grey gloss, and the sun was not more than a faint glow seen through an opaque glass. The dragon’s breath was coming inexorably, extinguishing the already fading light of the sunset. The clouds came down to the earth crawling on the streets. Everywhere he might look, the contours of cars, lampposts, trees, houses and people, all began to lose strength and fade. Things within the world were diluting into a blur through those fogged mirrors, out there on the streets, as they had been doing for some time inside him, inside his own mind.
Sitting at the table he had prepared to study, in front of those nearly opaque windows the living room of the apartment had, he looked for some time at his own reflection on the windows. He recalled how he had been feeling just a few days ago, days now seeming so distant, while watching the numerous pages full of notes that laid scattered over the table, untouched, as if their absentee owner was just pretending to study them. By then, he thought looking at himself on the mirror, just a few days before, disgust and disorientation had crushed him. He recalled the rough feeling of those countless hours of sad wandering. In a short period of time too many unpleasant things had happened to him, he had felt lost and his mind had clouded, like water in a bottle when jiggling, or like a street flooded with fog as the ones outside. For a time he was only able to glimpse within himself a shapeless blur, an accumulation of jumbled feelings that, amid a never-ending storm, clashed occasionally producing some beam that illuminated the stage only for a moment, just to let it all dim immediately after. It could be said a dark cloud was within him, a dense fog similar to the one now expanding on the streets. Those days he used to look abroad with misty and shady eyes, and saw the world as a diffuse, blurred distant and unreal macula. Lacking heat, he felt himself greatly cold, a cruel and crushing cold.
But now everything was different.
The first day he arrived to the apartment, he remembered, it was exam time at the university. One of his aunts, who had always lived outside, was about to move to the city due to her job. For certain reasons he never came to understand very well the negotiations this lady had to deal with to sell her old apartment and find a new one in that city did not go quite well, with the bad luck she found herself, at one point, having to wait a while to take possession of her new apartment, as certain refurbishment works had to be carried out, at the same time she had to join her new job, a series of circumstances that led her to temporarily rent a small apartment in the suburbs. His aunt was single, and because of this, and because of the constant comings and goings she had to make both in order to move places and sell her old house, that small rented apartment remained empty and neglected most of the time. And such was that poor lady’s situation when finally the moment to move to her new home came, and at that point, having already moved most of her belongings, and being about to settle down permanently and stop frequenting for good that sad little apartment she had had to rent temporarily, she was still bounded for one month due to the last rental she had already paid.
That was the situation when his mother and his aunt met for a coffee and a chat. Amid a vivid conversation among two sisters, mostly dominated by the tribulations and the details of the one who was moving, the time to ask for the family arrived, and without any hidden agenda his mother just mentioned him,proudly commenting that her studious son was about to start a new season of university exams. The sister, hearing this, and largely thanks to the sympathy she had always professed towards her nephew, immediately offered her lonely apartment to be used for studying if he so wished, arguing that, after all, it was a waste to have a month’s rent without taking any advantage from it.
And so, when his mother proposed him the idea, he accepted immediately. He had never seen nor had trodden that apartment before, it was in the suburbs and in her aunt’s opinion was not very welcoming also, but he did not care: the city was not so big as to be too costly in money or time to reach here or there, and he was only going to spend a few days there. This being the case, once he had already accepted the offer, his generous aunt explained to him the address of the house, and gave him a copy of her own keys. She also told him that henceforth she did not even think in sleeping there anymore he could even use her bed and spend the night there if he pleased. He was delighted, and after thanking her with sincere affection, and offering himself to help her moving her remaining belongings, he grabbed the keys and put them into his pocket with a sense of hopeful relief, not knowing whether it came just from having found a quiet study room or a sanctuary of solitude in which to forget about the rest of the world for a while.
The afternoon he arrived at the house for the first time a dense fog was also forming in the air, remembered now while gazing through the windows, imagining almost effortlessly a very similar scene. He was standing on the corridor on a city bus, holding himself with his right hand while with the other, as he always did when reflecting, was tearing his short beard, meditating about his own problems while watching the street through the fogged windows, looking nowhere and completely unaware of the other passengers. Then, and as he used to do so often those days, he was thinking about how to take control of his own life again, after all that had happened to him. But where to take the strength from? That bitter feeling… She had failed him, his friends had failed him, even his studies seemed a waste of time to him by then. Perhaps he really knew more or less where he wanted to go, but he lacked courage, and given the situation, given his mediocre life, he did not intend to wait confidently for a miracle to happen, something or someone who could suddenly rescue him or wake him up stimulating and guiding him towards a promising future. No. Waking up was something he had to do. But it was hard.
When the bus arrived at the right stop he got off politely dodging several people. And then, he remembered now very clearly, he encountered her. Getting off from the bus at the same time as him there was a beautiful girl who seemed more or less of his own age, brunette, piercing dark eyes, who gave him a long look that seemed sincerely interested. Noticing this he looked back, but that searing cold he had inside by them instantly killed any hint of happiness in his heart. He could not say or do anything, not by fear, but simply because he had no strength to pull his frigid apathy away. The girl seemed to redouble her attention towards those muddy and torn eyes that were looking at her, surely because she sensed something on the other side, something that seemed to interest and move her, and probably a small hint of empathy raised in her chest. But after a few steps in front of the bus, and after some hesitation, the young lady finally walked away in his opposite direction, though without ceasing to take a last look at him. He in return looked at her for a moment, perplexed, but discouragement fell immediately on him like a stone, and began to walk toward the apartment, yet quite affected by that fleeting encounter, a mere instant which, however, occupied his thoughts for a while as he neared his destination.
That look, he thought, was so warm, and it seemed that both had been so close for a moment… For a second he strongly desired that stranger who had just gone in the opposite direction and whom he will probably never see again. He would have liked something to happen. But then, seeing himself alone again, just sighed and a vague sorrow filled his heart. He decided to set aside that encounter for his own sake, and forget it. However, and as usual, trying to ignore it did nothing but hiding it awkwardly behind the tangle of emotions and ideas that filled his mind, preserving it until later, when it would raise up again with unusual intensity.
Meanwhile he had kept walking. The fog thickened visibly, a cold and sticky humidity with it, and by feeling it in his numbed cheeks he buttoned up his coat to his chin, stuck his hands into his pockets and walked faster. However, at the moment he turned the corner he must turn in order to reach the apartment he could not help but stop for a moment while observing with apprehension: in front of him a block of perfectly ordinary apartments stood up, but in front of it there was an ominous net of tangled sinewy tentacles silhouetted against the iridescent glow of the atmosphere, what he could distinguish after looking closer as the bare twisted branches of a huge and impressive tree that rose to the sky like the fingers of a bony and mephitic hand, standing guard in front of the building in which his new lair was.
When he entered the entrance, leaving behind the dark tree still silhouetted against the grey sky through the glass doors of the door, he observed the interior. The building was old and run down, and it was cold even inside. The walls were splashed by water stains and chipping. The gateway and the stairs were in an eternal dim light, and the wind howled cavernously in a constant and reverberating echo of irregular intensity as a result of some untraceable airflow. He walked through the entrance, still dimly lighted by the dim gleam from the outside, and slowly took the stairs to the third floor. There, in that dark landing, very sparsely lighted by a small skylight, he found two doors, the left for his aunt´s apartment, the right for the house next door. He did not hesitate, and headed the former, but suddenly stopped. He thought he had heard something similar to a scratch noise from the other door, the first time he heard something alive since he first penetrated the building, and could not help feeling alarmed. He paused a moment as he looked over his shoulder, paralysed, wondering whether there was someone on the other side looking at him. But as he heard nothing but the howling wind in the landing his alarm eventually faded, then he opened the lock, turned his head to take one last puzzled look at the dark landing and closed the door behind him.
He had a good first impression from the apartment. It had a bathroom, a bedroom, a kitchen, a small lobby and a living room. It was small. With only ten steps from the front door the end of the house could be easily reached. Furnishings were sparse and rudimentary, and it was also not decorated at all, for her aunt had already removed nearly all traces of her presence, but despite all that he found the house kind of welcoming. It was sufficiently spacious, warm and clean. That same afternoon he settled the living room to his licking: He pulled a table and a chair close to the windows, from where he could see the big tree of bare branches surrounded by fog, and put there a lamp, leaving the other elements, sofa, table and TV in their original location. Then he spread his notes on the table, took a last walk around the house to get acquainted and relaxed and began to study. He studied and studied and studied until it was dark, during his breaks looking through the window to see how the mist was gradually swallowing everything until nothing could be seen more than ten meters away. He studied sitting at the table or taking short walks. He studied across the living room, the hall and the kitchen. He studied until it was late, until he could do it no longer. So weary physically and mentally, left his notes, looked one last time through the window and laid on the sofa thinking peacefully about his own problems.
He sighed. There he was finally, in his aunt’s apartment, while the world out there continued its disturbing progress. He relaxed. The mind no longer distracted by worldly matters turned its attention towards murky speculations. He listened the silence. Finally he had some silence. The silence he was looking for. And that silence, as expected, made all those things boiling in his mind more audible. Too many bad things. His wounds were still bleeding. And it was always the same, he always ended up tormenting himself while lying somewhere, always feeling the same entrenched distress. He was always alone, lost, and divided into two: one part willing to join the world again and resume his life, the other one repudiating a reality lacking of any incentive and leaning into solitude and fantasy worlds infinitely more enjoyable. The worst, he thought, was that it seemed as if those two parts lived further away from each other day after day.
Suddenly a loud and clear meow reached him from the other side of the door, from the landing, shattering both the silence and his ramble. He listened intrigued. Meow repeated several times. He woke up, crept toward the door and put his ear on it, but that did not improve much his hearing. Meows, meanwhile, continued, so after hesitating a moment, he opened the door, and there it was, on the dark landing from which he had arrived, barely visible due to the almost non-existent light from the skylight, a beautiful black cat with huge sparkling eyes quietly staring at him from the ground.
That cat had made him company since then. Now, as he recalled everything, was having her under the table, entangled between his legs while lovingly claiming some attention, so exceptionally beautiful and loving as she was the day he found her. For a moment he looked away from the infinite and bent to pet her once again, to play with her incredibly soft and shiny fur. The cat meanwhile, complacently let him do, looking at him with those amazing eyes of her, with an indecipherable and almost human expression of attention and curiosity, the same she had dispensed him from their very first encounter.
<Where did you come from?> he wondered back then. Already at the time, that night, as he stroked her back on the landing, he had immediately wanted to let her into the apartment, but thought it best not to put strange animals on a property that was not his, and decided to go home, since he could no longer study anymore, so he left her wandering in the landing as he dressed, and after frolicking a bit more with her he woke up, turned off the lights, closed the door and walked down the stairs, turning his head to see whether the cat followed him or not. However, and contrary to what he expected, she stared at him from the landing, still, until he lost sight completely.
He walked inside the dark and shabby building thinking that the mysterious cat would probably be hearing him from upstairs. It was dark in the hallway. The few yellow lights down there were already lit, because night had fallen some time ago, but they were few, weak and faint, and some were flickering defectively stunning his view and creating a disturbing play of light and shadows. His squeaky footsteps echoed in the ceramic floors, forming a strange cacophony together with the dark howling wind. When he finally reached the glass doors of the entrance he could not help feeling some relief, but he was startled when he went outside. The opaque mist covered everything, so dense it seemed to float and wriggle between its own shreds, and surrounded by that creeping and sinister dark cloud there was the tree, standing strong and overwhelming, lurking menacingly in front of the doors, some of its branches resembling one-hundred-fingers bony claws ready to catch its prey.
Recovered from his initial impression, he began to walk slowly, while warily looking at the tree. But after a few steps, without knowing what impulse had pushed him, he turned to look at the portal, and there, through the glasses, and just for a second, he thought he saw the black cat staring at him from the inside, with those big, sparkling eyes fixed on him, just for a moment before turning swiftly and disappearing into the shadows of the building´s corridors.
That very night he had that dream, the beginning of everything: He was coming home, walking through the cold and dense fog on the streets same as he did on his way back home that night. The fog thickened more and more, to the point he literally could not see where he was heading to. Then the tree, that dark and menacing tree standing in front of the house emerged in the distance. He approached amazed, not knowing how he had ended up there again, perhaps thinking it was a different tree, but while approaching it, the only visible thing he could see in the fog, he saw at the back the glass doors of the entrance to the apartment. And after these, in the dark, staring at him with those enigmatic eyes, the black cat, right before she turn around and get lost in the shadows. After that he, still puzzled, tried to find his way home again, but after a while he realised he was lost again, and again he could see nothing in the distance except the tree and, behind it, the entrance and the cat still staring at him before disappearing again. That happened several times, always the same, until once, while approaching the tree, he felt an overwhelming sense of unease. Shaken, he looked at the entrance, expecting to see the cat again. But there, behind the glass, amid the gloom, there was a girl, a beautiful girl of shiny black hair and big deep eyes that seemed to sparkle like cat eyes, looking at him with eager curiosity. He froze first, but then began to walk toward her. Then she stepped back and his face began to disappear in the darkness, looking at him both scared and sad, as she did not stop looking anxious. He started to walk faster to reach her, and when the face was about to completely fade into the shadows, beyond the windows of the entrance, just as he was about to reach the doorknob and go after her, a horrid crunch sounded behind him, and before he could react the mephitic branches of the tree preyed on his body and dragged him back into the fog.
He jumped awoke, his chest bathed in sweat while gasping. The sheets had entangled over his body, and he angrily put them away. Rays of thin winter sun penetrated through the cracks of the shutters of his room. A peaceful evening atmosphere helped him to relax, but he could not keep his thoughts from the girl´s face. Was hers the same face he had seen on that young girl who yesterday got off from the bus with him? They looked alike. Certainly yes, they were the same. But not really. <Clearly, the bus girl had no cat eyes>, he said to himself, and laughed nervously before falling asleep again. However, nothing was ever the same since he had that dream. He did not go to the apartment that evening. After his lessons he went back home because he had to work with his computer and needed network connection. He finished later, he went bed and slept peacefully, but even then he already knew that dream he had had last night had not completely left his head.
(read the second part of this tale here)
(lee este relato en español aquí)