Chapter 9:

Worrying prospects

The Journey

Another day passed between the two great cliff walls, where the Flock had spent the past few days. As they walked, at one point, gradually the shadows started to be substituted for a faint, slightly bluish light.Bookmark here

“We’re nearing it” said a hoarse voice.Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“The exit” his fingers pointed straight forward. Bookmark here

It was still far but, now that Gray had pointed it, Nico could see the end of the canyon. Near it, in the front of the column, which was thinly stretched thanks to the narrow path, there seemed to be a huge commotion.Bookmark here

“People over there are really excited, huh?” Nico commented. “Looks like you aren’t the only one who dislikes here.”Bookmark here

“The exit is just in front of us, obviously they’re excited,” explained Gray. “They will finally see some light after getting out of here.”Bookmark here

“Pff, people can’t even appreciate some darkness nowadays.”Bookmark here

“You know the weird one here is actually you, right?”Bookmark here

“They love looking at light so much they’ve become blind and can’t see the truth” claimed Nico in a jokingly dramatic manner. “It’s not my fault that I’m the actually enlightened one here” he shrugged. Bookmark here

“Such a knowledgeable boy…” Gray said sarcastically.Bookmark here

“I’m somewhat of a wise sage myself...”
“How can a young person like you possess such vast knowledge?”Bookmark here

“You won’t ever understand it by yourself!”Bookmark here

“Then can you please tell me from where such never seen before wisdom comes from, oh great Nico!?” Bookmark here

“You poor ignorant! It was given to me by the gods themselves! I hold so many secrets you can’t even comprehend!”Bookmark here

“What are you? A prophet?” chuckled Gray.Bookmark here

“One day, one day you’ll see it. I will be the one who’ll bring us the truth” claimed Nico, making a pose as if he was some kind of hero.Bookmark here

Gray started to laugh lightly, but quickly it escalated.Bookmark here

Not into more laughter but into coughing.Bookmark here

He coughed repeatedly, without managing to stop. His legs started to falter and he reached one of his hands to Nico’s shoulder.Bookmark here

“G-gray?”Bookmark here

He continued to cough.Bookmark here

“H-hey, wait, oh fuck where’s it…” Nico muttered as he searched for water, “Here! Drink it.”Bookmark here

Gray took it from Nico, his trembling arms nearly making the canteen of water slip from his hand. He started to drink, but tried to have too much water at the same time and choked. Bookmark here

“Gray!”Bookmark here

Gray continued coughing uncontrollably, having difficulty breathing thanks to the water. His face was starting to get red.Bookmark here

“Gray, listen, try to look up, then start to breathe by your nose, and close your mouth,” Nico started to say, trying to seem calm. “It will help.”Bookmark here

Gray tried doing as instructed, closing his mouth and looking up, towards the Sky. His coughs continued for a time, with the only difference being that now the air would hit the roof of his mouth instead of leaving, but after some time, he managed to stop.Bookmark here

His throat was unbearably dry, and he felt like at any moment he could start coughing again. Bookmark here

He was still holding the canteen with his hand, although much of the water had been spilled, and before all of this could start once again, he started to drink the little amount of water remaining inside it.Bookmark here

“Thanks, I feel better now,” Gray tried to assure Nico.Bookmark here

Gray was saying that, but he still didn’t seem like he was alright at all. His voice was hoarse, and he had his hand on his throat. Bookmark here

“Here, drink more” Nico said quickly as he took another canteen full of water.Bookmark here

“No, no, there’s no need to. One is enough.”Bookmark here

“By the time you actually drank it it was nearly empty already.”Bookmark here

“I’m saying it, I’m alright now Nico. You don’t need to worry.”Bookmark here

“Cut with this bullshit and drink it already” he ordered.Bookmark here

“...Okay” Gray sighed, as he took it from Nico’s hand and emptied the canteen in a minute. Bookmark here

Now that everything was somewhat alright, Nico finally took time to look around them. They had stopped walking since Gray started to have a coughing fit, and now people were walking around them, glancing weirdly at them. Bookmark here

The only other person who wasn’t doing this was Natta, who was behind the two and had sat on the ground silently. She had been just staring at them, without moving a finger to help them as Gray had a violent cough fit.Bookmark here

“You two, let’s go,” said Gray as he started walking. Bookmark here

He was followed by Natta and Nico, who put the emptied canteens back into a leather bag he carried and started looking at Gray again. Gray had one of his hands touching his throat, and he made low and weird sounds as he breathed. Besides that, he also was sweating a little.Bookmark here

“Hey Gray,” Nico called, with a worried look on his face, “you’ve been coughing a lot recently, haven’t you?”Bookmark here

“…I guess so.”Bookmark here

“…Are you alright?” he asked.Bookmark here

Gray looked at him for a moment, with a reassuring smile.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, I’m ok.”Bookmark here

And so he turned his head forwards again and continued walking just like normal.Bookmark here

Was he really well? This weird cough was going on for days and had been getting worse recently. Gray was already pretty old, having nearly 60 years, and it wasn’t uncommon for people at this age to have some health problems.Bookmark here

But Gray continued saying he was alright…Bookmark here

Well, at least it isn’t something serious then.Bookmark here

———————————————————Bookmark here

After so much time, the cliff walls were substituted by an empty and vast land. The shadows over the cliff walls and the darkness inside the canyon now had given way to a faint, almost ethereal light, which made the land look like a conserved dead body. Bookmark here

In the midst of all of this, someone ran towards him, barely noticeable at the distance as his figure blended together with the gray.Bookmark here

The person, whom Nico recognized as Rocco, finally reached him. For some reason, he was carrying a lamp. Besides that, he seemed also exhausted, dripping in sweat.Bookmark here

“Nico, Gray” he started to talk between his heavy breathing, “did any of you see a green ring necklace?”Bookmark here

“A green ring necklace?” Gray asked, confused, and looked towards Nico, who also didn’t seem to have comprehended very well what was going on. “No, why?”Bookmark here

“Dad lost it. He treasures it a lot, so he asked me to go search for it” Nico explained.Bookmark here

“And why did you come to us first?”
“I didn’t. I was checking around the exit from the canyon before. It was there when he saw it for the last time. But I couldn’t find anything so I decided to check if you two didn’t see it.”Bookmark here

“What are you going to do then?” interjected Nico. “Search more?”
“Uh… Honestly, I don’t think I will find it anymore, so I’m probably just going back to tell him.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I see…” Nico started to walk again as he said. “Well, if I’m going to be honest I don’t think searching around a large area like that would lead you anywhere.”Bookmark here

“Actually, I just went to search for it because my father insisted. I couldn’t care less about this ring necklace. Really, why is my dad so keen on it?”Bookmark here

While talking, all of them were soon walking again. Rocco told Nico how much time he had been searching for the necklace and how it seemed like wasted time, but they soon switched topics, talking about whatever came to mind. As they talked, Gray barely was in the conversation at all, looking happily at them as they talked. After all, it was good for Nico to talk to someone of the same age.Bookmark here

In the midst of all of this, Gray and Nico ended up deciding to visit Gian, going there together with Rocco. To make things easier, Natta also went along with them, although she wasn’t close to Rocco, Gian or anyone in their family. Bookmark here

Eventually, they got there, greeting Gian’s wife and his daughter, Maria. Besides them and Gian himself though, there was another person there.Bookmark here

“Hi Carlo.”Bookmark here

“Hi Gray,” Carlo answered with a handshake, before turning to the others who had just come back. “Hi Nico. Hi Natta. And hi to you again Rocco.”Bookmark here

Since they first met two years ago, Carlo and Gian had become close friends. And frequently Carlo would be with him and his family. Once in a while, Gray and Nico would happen to see him too, but to them he was just someone they knew, without much proximity at all.Bookmark here

With this out of the way, they turned to Gian, who was waiting for them, seated behind the brazier.Bookmark here

“Hello” he said, looking towards them with an exhausted smile.Bookmark here

They all also greeted him and sat around the brazier. The heat coming from it was weak, and it’s flames were very low. Probably they were trying to economize firewood or something like this. Bookmark here

There though, Gray couldn’t stop looking at Gian. There was something that caught his attention.Bookmark here

“So… what’s the matter?” Gian asked, confused.Bookmark here

“Oh, well… so, we met Rocco and he said he was searching for something for you, so we decided to pay a visit…”Bookmark here

“I see…?” said Gian, still seemingly confused.Bookmark here

He waited for Gray to say something, but he didn’t, instead he only continued looking at him. After some time, Gian’s wife stood up and started to prepare a meal.Bookmark here

“Gray.”Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“Will you join us for dinner?” Gian asked in a worried voice. Bookmark here

Gray opened his mouth slightly but didn’t say anything at first, before gathering the courage to answer.Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

“I see” said Gian, and his confused look finally went away. Bookmark here

The one thing bothering Gray was Gian. Bookmark here

Not Gian himself, but, to be more specific, his body.Bookmark here

For some reason, at the moment, he was very skinny, sufficiently enough for Gray to be able to notice some of his bones from the way they influenced the shape of his skin.Bookmark here

“Gian, you shouldn’t be inviting people to eat if you’re having difficulties” interjected Carlo, who up until now had been watching the exchanges between Gray and Gian. “You need to eat more.”Bookmark here

“I’m just a little skinny, is there a problem with this now?” Gian retorted.Bookmark here

“You weren’t skinny at all before.”Bookmark here

“And what’s the problem?”Bookmark here

“Every day I see you, you seem to be getting skinnier and skinnier, eating less and less.”Bookmark here

“Well, and what’s wrong with this?”Bookmark here

“Don’t go asking ‘what’s wrong with it’,” Carlo rasped. “You already admitted to me you’re going through some problems.”Bookmark here

“…Maybe I did, but you’re exaggerating.”Bookmark here

“Exaggerating? It’s not like I’m saying this just because you’re skinny or something like that. Every day I come to see you, there’s something missing, every day I come here you’re poorer!”Bookmark here

“…Everyone has their difficulties in life, right? Stop making a big deal of it…”Bookmark here

“If you keep thinking like this you’ll be starving in a few years.”Bookmark here

“…I’m not that bad.”Bookmark here

“Oh you aren’t? Well, then in a month look at anyone here and then look at the mirror. You’ll see I’m right.”Bookmark here

“I don’t have a mirror, so I can’t do that.”Bookmark here

For a moment, confused, Carlo didn’t say anything, but then asked:Bookmark here

“I remember seeing your wife using a mirror some weeks ago. What happened to it?”Bookmark here

“I lent it to a friend. He needs it for something and still didn’t give it back to m-“Bookmark here

“You’re giving things to others while you’re the one who’s needing help?! Oh fuck off!” Carlo yelled, getting angrier and angrier.Bookmark here

“Y-you see, he really needed it, and-“Bookmark here

“Enough of this mirror! That isn’t the real problem here,” exclaimed Gian, trying to get back to the topic. “The thing is: you need help, and should stop acting like this.”Bookmark here

Gian failed to reply immediately, and lowered his head, avoiding both Gray and Carlo’s gaze.Bookmark here

“…Well, but at least my children and wife are alright,” he murmured.Bookmark here

“That’s not the matter here! Only because your family is alright, that doesn’t mean you are. You need to take more care of yourself.”Bookmark here

“…I have my priorities, alright?” he replied after a long pause. “If I didn’t do things like this I wouldn’t be the only one who’s ‘looking skinny’.”Bookmark here

“Gian, stop with this bullshit. These ‘priorities’ are the very fucking problem” Carlo suddenly stood up and approached Gian as he fumed at him. “I’ve tried helping you plenty of times, but you always leave most of what I give you to your family. Maybe they wouldn’t be perfectly healthy like they’re right now, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world, and you would be a lot better.”Bookmark here

Without air after talking and shouting so much, Gian stopped to take some air. All the while, no one said anything, looking at him in silence.Bookmark here

“So stop making excuses!” he finished.Bookmark here

Everyone stayed put, looking at Carlo and Gian.Bookmark here

Cough coughBookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

Cough cough cough cough Bookmark here

Gray had started to, once again, cough, interrupting the silence. Bookmark here

He extended his hand towards Nico, and tried walking in his direction, but his legs faltered and he nearly fell into the ground, which was only avoided by Nico, who held him.Bookmark here

“Wai- cough I’m ok- cough” he said, but to no avail, for Nico was already at his side, worried.Bookmark here

“I’m going to-“Bookmark here

“I’m okay” he interrupted and sighed, “I can’t even cough a little bit and you think it’s the end of the world now…” Bookmark here

Looking at it, Gray indeed seemed to be really alright now, so Nico backed off.Bookmark here

“I was only trying to break the bad mood” Gray whispered to him, before turning to Gian. “Anyways, you sent Rocco to search for some kind of necklace right?”Bookmark here

Hearing this, Gian immediately nodded and asked to both Rocco and Gian:Bookmark here

“Did you find it?”Bookmark here

“…No” answered Rocco.Bookmark here

“Ah…” murmured Gian, disappointed.Bookmark here

“It would be pretty difficult for him to find it in such a large area, you should have known this.”Bookmark here

“…Yeah, I guess…”Bookmark here

“You seem pretty frustrated right now.”Bookmark here

“You see, the necklace was something I considered very important for me.”Bookmark here

“Why? Isn’t it just a normal necklace?”Bookmark here

Gian lowered his gaze, looking at the ground and sighed.Bookmark here

“The necklace is actually pretty old. It’s some kind of family relic, which was passed through the generations. There isn’t anything special about her besides that. But that’s enough for me to care a lot about it” he said and raised his head again. “You see, when we die, everyone from the future will walk through and live their lives somewhere different from where you lived yours. Not that this means much, after all it will all look the same. But, the thing is, there isn’t much connecting you to the people in the future, to your descendants for example. You’ll have been born, you’ll have lived your life and died, but this world never changes, it won’t have any kind of mark that you ever existed. You will be erased from this world forever, without doing anything special or leaving anything to be remembered for.”Bookmark here

Gian paused for a moment, sending a glance to Carlo and then looking towards the Sky before continuing.Bookmark here

“How I live my own life itself doesn’t matter much if all I can give to this world is the memories of me from the people I know, or better, knew, after all I will be dead, and whatever kind of few possessions I leave to my sons. That’s why I want to give my family something special to treasure about me. Be it good memories with me, as a spouse or as a father who raised them, or be it some kind of special physical possession, like the necklace,” he lowered his gaze towards everyone there again. “I also bet my ancestors thought the same, after all, in the rings of the necklace, the names of all of the main male members of the family are written, starting with my grandfather.”Bookmark here

When he finished ranting, everyone was silent, looking at him.Bookmark here

“E-eh, this is the reason,” he said and turned his gaze to somewhere else, avoiding looking at anyone.Bookmark here

“I see,” replied Gray with a smile.Bookmark here

They continued talking for a long time, before Gray, Nico and Natta came back to their tent so they could finally have dinner.Bookmark here

The last thing Nico remembers hearing from Gian was this following exchange:Bookmark here

“Is it me or Gray has been coughing weirdly and a lot?”Bookmark here

“Hm, now that you mentioned it, maybe he has… By the way, didn’t some guy who supposedly couldn’t stop coughing die a few days ago? I heard a story like this.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.