I am sitting at the top of a hill, beneath a tree whose branches reach up above me into the heavens. I lean against her; her warmth and life a gentleness against my back, her skin as smooth as the cloudless sky. Dusk approaches, it's colours the veil to night's countenance. I stir. There is something. There is a tug, a calling, something moves within me, a compulsion. I resist for a moment, then rise to my feet, stretching and looking about me.
There it lies, suburbia, a desert of houses in which the hill is a lonely oasis, the tree a silent sentinel. Lights flicker on in the distance. I am aware of movement and bustle, of countless lives busy in the moment but I cannot see them. They are an invisible presence in the early gloom.
I walk down the hill, each step carrying me away from solace and peace, a steady stride towards the normality of the human condition. I soon reach the bottom of the hill, walking the gentler slope past the houses. They sit there, snug in their gardens, the detritus of a day in the sunshine scattered about them; bikes, paddling pools and loungers amongst their number. I can hear the sounds of evening meals and televisions, of chatter and laughter and shouting and silence, each emanating from the open windows and front doors left ajar.
But not a single person do I see. It is as if I am the only person walking through a desolate land, as if the sounds of life have been left to convince me otherwise.
The compulsion grows in me, pulling me onwards, down streets I know towards a house my own.
The sky is both bright with colour and deep with the subtle shades of dusk, a vast span of hues and tinctures. I walk on, into the growing darkness, lights springing on from the houses around me. Strangely, there are no street lights here, the street a wall of shadows between the two rows of houses.
The compulsion grows, tugging and terse in its growing insistence. My house lies before me, the lights shining, casting a welcoming glow into the darkness. I walk up the stairs, pushing the front door open, stepping into light.
I stand, in the hallway, listening. In the distance I can hear the sounds of my family, the clink of plates and cutlery, their voices murmuring, both familiar and unfamiliar.
The compulsion is strong, an urge that ripples through my body in waves. I walk down the hallway, my fingertips trailing along the smoothness of the wall, a sudden dread slowing me as I approach the doors out on to the verandah.
The doors are glass, a deep blackness beyond. Something waits beyond, in that darkness, in that gloom. I stand for a long moment, listening to the sounds of day's end behind me.
I open the doors, and step through, walking up to the rail, my heart suddenly hammering in my chest. I look out into the darkness, over the garden.
I am not alone. Before me stands a girl, faded into the night. And she is not alone. A boy. Another girl. A woman. A man. And so on and so forth, tens, then hundreds, then thousands. They stand there, grim pale shadows in the night, their silence a counterpoint to my thunderous heart.
They stand, soundless, insubstantial, stretching off into the distance beyond my sight; a brooding presence, a weight that deepens around me, suffocating me.
I, their only regard. I begin to drown, as if standing naked before a vast amphitheatre, fear thrumming through my veins, the air tight and cold about me. Their eyes, such open eyes, reach out to me, a pleading in their gaze, a small empty whisper of a need, multiplied by countless numbers to a crescendo of terrifying inhumane silence, a wave of insistence and demand and hope that engulfs, bringing me to my knees.
They are the dead. The uncountable, unknowable dead; their souls stretching back into the untinkable past, reaching out to me with a simple, terrifying, multitudinous plea. Panic swamps me, I scramble back towards the patio doors, a wave of wordless despair carrying me through them. I flee down the hallway, tears blinding me to my way, tendrils of hopeless abandonment and pleading reaching out to drag me back, to answer their unanswerable question.
I am out on the street now, running through shadows up the street , my feet pounding, fear and a sudden hope driving me on, up the street, towards a hill where a night-cloaked tree stands grimly welcoming against the dark, dark sky.