With the wagons in a large circle around the perimeter, a few cook fires going around the large circle, and the families settling down around them, this was Leff’s favourite part of the day.
“The most exciting part of all,” The Traveller was saying, “Is when you finally jump out. The feeling of air rushing against you, the ground crashing towards you, life and death in your hands, there’s nothing else like it anywhere I’ve ever been.”
“The moment you jump out…” Said Leff, “…Of the moving, flying metal box in the sky?”
“Yup.” The man speaking, known only as The Traveller, took his fire stick out of his pocket and used it to light his pipe. “Aaah, you still have the best tobacco going.” He smiled contentedly. “Maybe it's from a leaf that went extinct or something,” he mused to himself.
Leff smiled to himself as he watched The Traveller settle down on his pile of cushions around the fire. He was the least interesting person to look at that Leff had ever seen. Leff’s people, who didn’t really have a name for themselves that Leff knew, but who were known as The Folk by everyone else, knew that to stand out, to be remembered, was key to continuing The Journey after you died. And so this man, with his grey-black clothes, short hair and nothing, to look at, remotely memorable about him, was incredible.
But his stories, and the mystery surrounding him, made him the most interesting person Leff or any of his friends had ever met. Story telling was a practised craft among Leff’s people. But The Traveller went far beyond the imagination of even the oldest Teller in their group. And it wasn't just the stories themselves. He had a way of talking that was shrouded in the unknown. Occasional comments, thoughts that no one else understood and observations which swung between deep wisdom, and pure craziness.
The Folk had got to know The Traveller well over the years. Once a year, as he liked to phrase it, like clockwork, he would arrive. He would spend a few days with them as they stopped in the Glean Mor after celebrating the spring renewal. Bringing alien tasting sweet treats for the children, wines and spirits for the adults which none of the them recognised, but swore was the best and strongest stuff they’d ever tasted. He would regale them with stories, enjoy life with them for a few days, and then he would be gone.
“How long you with us this time?” called Marl as she passed.
“Weelll… I’ll be here a few days, maybe a couple more. Maybe it depends on what you’re planning on doing with that Salmon you’re carrying,” he called back.
“Swing on over to us fire tomorrow evening, ya know ya’re always welcome.” Marl smiled as she kept on walking “One day we going to see this event ya've been waiting on all these years and ya'll manage to convince us ya're not a complete loon.”
“Hopefully not.” The Traveller's face took a serious, almost haunted look. “Hopefully not”.
As The Traveller stood up from the fire and began to walk towards the tent that was always set up for him, Leff looked up at him.
“Hey Trav,” he called. “Is everything ok?”
“Everything's fine Leff." His face was back to its normal I know something you don't know face. “It's just time for me to turn in.”
“Well good night” Leff said “Will I see you tomorrow?”
“Why, you going somewhere?” He grinned at him.
The morning dawned warm and damp as it usually did this time of year. Leff awoke early, hoping to head to the stream and catch some sprits for his breakfast. As he walked towards the stream he took a running leap onto a sizeable rock. From there he took another leap towards a patch of flowers. And then as he began to run he spotted some wild rabbits, and gave chase, whooping and revelling in the quiet and the space.
The rabbits were clouds. And Leff was falling towards them as he sped through the air. The warm spring breeze becoming a cold wind rushing against his face. The ground rushing towards him at breakneck speed. The Traveller was right, this was amazing. The sheer joy of feeling the wind, of the freedom he felt. It was intoxicating. He had no idea how much time went by, as is the way with children, the game took over. Running or flying, jumping or falling, climbing a tree or scaling the side of a mountain, it was all the same.
Ahead of Leff, or above him, he wasn’t quite sure anymore, the air was a slightly different colour. As if someone had run out of light blue chalk and decided to finish the picture with a darker blue. Leff slowed down as he approached and stood looking at this patch of colour. Was this real, or an imagined part of his game blurring with real life?
The traveller looked up from his mug with surprise written all over his face. “Can it be? Is it today?” He stood up and began to run towards the fields where he could feel the build-up of energy coming from.
“Has anyone seen Leff?” came a sudden call from the camp. “He went out early to fish and he’s not come back yet.”
The Traveller didn’t look back. As he heard the call, he sped up, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.
Leff was standing in the middle of the field, looking up at a patch of slightly discoloured air.
“Not today Leff, “ He said as he ran towards him. “One day, perhaps,” The Traveller muttered to himself as he got to Leff and began to pull him away. “But not yet. At least it’s not-” He began.
“-What…Where am I?” Leff looked around, confused. “What was that? I couldn’t look away.”
“It’s nothing, lad.” The traveller said reassuringly, feeling unconvincing. He was usually pretty good at spinning a good tale, but in this moment, with what had nearly just happened, he couldn’t think of a convincing story to tell. “You just ran around too much in the sun. Lucky I came by, really. Let’s get you back to the camp and you can have a lie down in your trailer.”
Leff looked up at The Traveller as they walked.
“Who are you?” he asked suddenly, feeling bold. “Why do you keep coming every year for a few days? Everyone I ask about you says you’ve been coming for as long as they remember. Even the oldest ones. But you look young…ish”
“Ish,” The traveller laughed. “That’s a lot of questions, lad. Some of which I’ll answer, in time.” He looked around himself as they arrived back at camp. “But not today, lad.”
“You’re going aren’t you?” Leff said as he looked at The Traveller. “I can tell. Will I see you again next year?”
The Traveller looked at Leff again, and with a smile said “I’ll be back. Every year. For as long as I need to.”