LXIV: The Last
There remains in my mind no clear notion of the length and duration of my fall, though to this day I retain the impression that it went on for a very long time. At first I seemed to be plummeting into the depths of the earth at a sickening rate of speed. I fell faster and faster by the minute. This went on for what felt like months and years.
At some indeterminate point there came a change. I sensed the rate of my descent gradually slowing. When next I was aware of anything at all, I realized that I was no longer dropping into the dark like a heavy cold stone, but rather floating and drifting on gentle airs like a feather in the breeze. Gradually it dawned on me that I had experienced something like this many times before, always in dreams: a long, precipitous fall ending at last in a soft and pleasant landing.
Slowly a sense of ease and deep comfort enveloped me. I lay motionless for a long while as these and many other thoughts passed to and fro across the surface of my mind. When at last I opened my eyes I saw that there was a wall beside me – not a wall of bricks and stones, but of paint and plaster, its smooth surface faintly overspread with the first gray glimmer of dawn. Affixed to this wall, just above my head, was a shape familiar to me from what seemed a long distant past: a small shelf covered with books, toys, and wooden knick-knacks. Under my head was a down pillow. Sheets, blankets, and a thick patchwork quilt were tucked up around my chin.
Throwing the covers aside, I sat up and looked around. I was in my own bed in my own room. Except for the stump of a candle flickering in the corner, all was softly dark. I jumped out of bed, my bare feet slapping the cold hardwood floor, and crossed to the window where I found the curtains drawn. Quickly I pulled them aside and leaned upon the sill, standing on tiptoe for a better view of the world outside.
The ground beyond the glass was covered with a blanket of pure white snow. All was still and quiet as death. The moon hung high and bright in the gray sky, and one star, huge and red as fire, shone brilliant just above the horizon. At the touch of a breath of wind three vague shapes flew swiftly out of the bare branches – leaves, I thought, though there was something distinctly birdlike about their fluttering movements. Away among the black trees two shadowy figures, suggestive of a man and a horse, were moving off slowly into the distance, fading gradually into the dusk and the mist. A faint red glow began to rise above the treetops at the edge of the world.
I shut the curtains and re-crossed the room. Then I got back into bed and pulled the covers up under my chin. Out of the corner of one eye I discerned the dim shape of a tattered book lying on my nightstand – a book I did not recall seeing there before. Looking up, I became aware of two pale orbs, like tiny stars enclosed within a pair of blue marbles, staring down at me from the bookshelf above my head.
“Is it Christmas yet?” I asked, gazing up at them.
“Hush,” said a familiar voice. “For you it is always Christmas; and for you Christmas morning is always about to rise. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.”
The two blue stars winked and blinked and faded. In the next moment they were gone altogether. The candle in the corner guttered and sputtered and went out. I spoke a word to the fleeting darkness. I yawned and stretched and blessed the rising light.
And then I closed my eyes and fell asleep.