Slowing Down

They’re waking up when I come into town. Shopkeepers, housewives. A few beggars. This town doesn’t have very many—I remember that from the last time I came through. I’m not sure they like that sort.

I probably look like a beggar to most of them. My shoes are getting thin around the soles, and my jacket’s been threadbare for, oh, nearly a hundred years now.

They don’t make things like they used to.

I head for the pastry shop first. This town has an impeccable pastry shop, and if I remember rightly, it’s run by a very sweet young lady with a streak of gray in her hair. I don’t make many friends on my rounds through the country, but I’ve always counted her as one of them.

Her daughter answers my knock. Her daughter with the cold eyes and ash gray hair. Her mouth pinches when I ask about my friend, and she tells me that particular grave is more than a dozen years old.

I’ve been gone longer than I thought.

I mumble apologies—and my condolences—and buy three sweet rolls and a chocolate bun, although the smell in the shop isn’t nearly as heavenly as it was years ago.

The price of time, as they say.

The woman’s sharp gaze fastens on the pennies I’m counting for her, and the silver coins mixed in with the coppers cause her eyes to widen greedily. I want to laugh. I want to tell her that those particular silver coins won’t bring her any luck or happiness. They never have for me.

But I don’t. I pay for my meal and wander on, munching a sweet roll and studying the town. It looks worn thin. The streets are thick with dust, and the buildings slump wearily, although I’m willing to bet they’re not half so tired as I am. Nor half so old. I’ve been charged with bringing the life back into these places—this town and about a hundred others scattered all over the western coastline. I travel to them each in turn, leaving pieces of my soul behind, and they never used to get in such bad shape while I was gone.

I think I’m slowing down. Getting old.

A thousand years as a cursed man will do that to you.

Quite a few of the shops in the main square are empty and boarded up. People left, I guess. They must have gotten tired of waiting for the grass to grow and the flowers to bloom again. The fields around the town are nearly dust themselves, but that will change soon enough.

I sit down by the fountain in the middle of the square and finish my bun. I used to rush through the towns, when all of this first started. When I was a young, newly murdered conquerer, and the gods sentenced me to spend a thousand years undoing the damage I’d done to the western coastlands. I’d rush through the town without stopping, flipping my silver coin into the fountain as I passed by, somehow thinking that if I hurried, I’d get through a thousand years a little quicker.

I’m not in such a hurry these days. I’ve got time to buy a few sweet rolls, talk to a few drifters, maybe make a friend if a shopkeeper doesn’t mind my worn-out coat and whiskers.

They don’t last long, those friends. I learned that the hard way. I miss them when they’re gone, more than I ever missed anyone when I was alive. I don’t think I appreciated life the same way back then, but I’ve grown to treasure the moments a little better now.

A thousand years as a cursed man will do that to you.

I brush the crumbs off my coat and dig a silver coin out of my pouch, dropping it into the fountain before I head off on my way. It’ll be raining soon, probably before I get out of town, and before the week is out the trees will push out new leaves and the flowers will be blooming in the hollows again.

I can’t wait around to see it, of course, but it’s nice to know the trip was worth the effort. Maybe I’ll shuffle a little faster this time around, and get back before the last of the day lilies die out.

I have a friend who might like a few on her grave.

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