Midnight Run

Where the road forked, for the first time I turned to the right, and that meant no more streetlights. I dived into the shadow.

On my right was the bay. From the north side of the promotory, I could still trace with my eyes the way I’d taken, now shining under the evenly positioned streetlights and from the covering snow like a loosened white ribbon, highlighting the winding coastline. But all were overshadowed by that Christmas tree in the distance. It was standing at the end of the wooden mooring, sticking out to the sea. It was a potted tree, but not a sapling anymore: it had enough needles and branches to hold all the lights dangling from it, and had a trunk up to five feet, strong enough to meet the darkness beyond. Even from here, those lights were glowing ever more brilliant that I thought they were moving closer. But they weren’t. I was running away from them, from the beacons in the night’s vastness.

The sea was quiet. The island was quiet. Everything was quiet except for my pattering footsteps. I ran forward on the icy, slightly heaving terrain. I was a little scared. I remembered at my young age, there were nights when nothing made a single sound at all, not even the bugs hiding beneath the garden earth. I used to think, as I pulled the quilt up to my nose, how the night itself would attack me, had I been outside the house, when the bell struck midnight.

Something were moving. First I thought the sound came from the woods, but I saw nothing. I turned my head towards the sea and looked down, not daring to stop my pace, and saw several swans gliding along the shore, passing me acceleratingly in opposite direction. If I could hold my breath now, I would, like the time when I stood on my house roof watching silent shooting stars crossing the night sky. The swans’ bodies were covered with white feathers, and were moving a steady motion, as though being careful with disturbing the smoothness of the water. The scene looked so unreal that I thought they were white pearls rolling on a boundless black velvet.

I knew I was coming near the west side. I met the bend turning left, and suddenly I stopped in the track. The snow crunched under my moss-green mountain boots as I turned around. I stared at the front, and slowly, one feet at a time, I stepped backwards, on the scattered shadows on the snow. The lights were fading away behind the trees and thickets as I moved. The moment the last trace of lights was nowhere to be seen, totally swallowed up by interlaced leaves and branches, heaps of snow on and above the ground, and maybe darkness itself, I realized, as I stopped abrubtly again, this time in backward motion, that I was finally alone.

I thought about it for a while, but not too long for the sake of thinking, of recalling something. And I had to keep moving to warm up my body. It’s freezing cold out here. Flashes of memories and the upcoming future past through my mind, sharper than ever, but then turned into a blur of slideshow, somehow ridiculous, somehow unimportant. As I took my breath, one after another, colder but deeper, an inner peace came up my mind, cautiously, and would finally identify itself with its surroundings. I set off again.

It’s the glimmering snow and the gurgling sea that gave me the sense of where I was now. But as of where I was going, I depended on my memories. Countless times had I circled around the island and followed the locals in daytime. We never bumped into each other, even though the path was not particularly wide. Either they or I spotted someone on the way, and we could always find, or fight for another way to turn to, acting our most natural acts, just to be on the other side of the woods, or down to the seeshore. Now the rocky coastline was covered mostly under water. As I ran past, I listened to the sea swallowing the rocks up and throwing them out, gently and repeatly. Just a month ago or so, a couple were walking on those rocks with their bikes, and they watched the surfers flying into the sunset glistening on the lowered sea. Now their silhouettes were still there, a part of the darkness, a part of the rising sea.

I reached the Big Rock, the westernmost part of the promotory. The sky appeared as a gloomy segmental dome melting towards the ocean. A continuous patchwork of clouds hung from one side to the other like murals on the ceiling. No stars came out tonight, and of course no moon and wolves. The rock was sitting right next to the water. Thousands of years ago it might have a convex shape, but now it had been carved into a concave, sloping down to the sea, with flat areas for people to pass or sit on. People stayed on the Big Rock after the snow melted, during the summer time, when autumn passed by, and before the snow arrived again. All the crevices were gone now, only footprints left. A deck and a stair were built at the front side, and people swam in the ocean all year long. I slowed down as I crossed the silent Big Rock, pondering how much it’s worth to spend a lifetime just sitting there, watching the sea change with seasons.

I stopped again after leaving the rock for a while, this time drinking some water. With the bottle in my hand, I had to remind myself to refuel my body in this cold weather. It made you forget all the tiredness and focus on everything but yourself. I felt stronger than ever before, and I must keep in mind this was the time when everything was most likely to break down.

Nobody’s around. And I doubt any creature was around, if there’s anything alive in the woods. I was in total solitude now. I tried to think what this meant to me, but I couldn’t. I looked so unimportant in this untamed wildness that I felt I might disappear like those creatures. I tried to reflect on the local environment, the history, as John Connel did when he ran all the way through the Longford countryside, but I felt unqualified to do so, since I was a total stranger in this culture. But somehow the fact did not stop my heart from gaining comfort from around, from the city and nature. So maybe I was freer than I thought to observe and describe things in my own way, with no pressure to blend in.

I took the phone out of my sea-green parka. It showed that only thirty minutes left before midnight fell upon the southern coastline of Lauttasaari. This part resembled in the map the epiphysis of a bone. Now I was circling around the west part of it, heading for the sunken part in the middle.

The fact of running on a snow-covered, night island meant that you’d better stay on one track. But even with the possibilities of being tripped over by who-knows-what, the monotony of staying on this single path gave me the urge to dive into the darkness on the sides. In summertime, the terrain would change completely the moment you decided to be adventurous. A second before you were on firm soil, the next moment you were out of the woods and were hopping on the rocky coastline, balancing on curved surfaces one after another, before rushing into a less traveled, softer trail, filled with decayed lives. It had been months before I truly realized how fertile and harmonic the island’s geology was, when golden leaves were falling all over the dark brown peat. The path winded through the weeds and shores and huge rocks, like a mosaic of galaxy staying still in the upside down night sky, taking me further into this ever-changing wilderness. I was surprised to hear the ground echoing back with each step I took. The idea of being invited to the orchestra of nature pleased me, and my legs beating an upbeat rythme felt stronger than ever.

The path seemed to change its texture now. The snow felt softer, but less crunchy. My feet sank a bit deeper as I moved. It’s better with some snow here, I thought. I could barely walk here before the ground froze. The trick of running on a sandy beach was to let the ground absorb the body movement. If you tried to pass like a ninja, you would probably fall down. And it was hard to tell at the moment where you might end up. The covering ice stretched from the high woods to the empty beach and to the sea, floating innocently like a white blanket hanging on the outdoor clothes railing. Occasionally a crack would reveal itself out of the hidden pattern on the surface but then disappear, and it was hard to tell if it was a crack or just shadows. Only the sound could prove its identity. It came from under the ice, a tiny, distant burbling sound, like the slow version of heartbeats patients could hear when cardiologist rolled a cold probe over their chests, a watery bumping sound. The swing and the signboard had no choice but stood in loneliness in the middle of the darkness, with indifferent towering trees sparsely surrounding them in half circle. The place felt almost sacred, unearthly. I slowed down to walk over and pulled the swing. Its stiffened body creaked as I brought it up backwards in the air, its coldness felt before I released it from my gloved right hand. I left the spot immediately. I took a glance back when I reached the edge of the woods. With everything else in sight motionless, the scene would forever be playing in my head, a pendulum of inertia swinging on the late night beach.

The restaurant near the beach was sleeping in silence. The place was fashioned by the elevated cabin and a continuous horizontal glass facade, with slender wood columns reaching down from the eave, creating a shaded area for people to dine in warmer weather. Now all the outdoor tables and rattan chairs were taken into storage, and the fancy clone-shaped indoor stove where people would gather around in daytime was left alone with its glass shell, without fire, transparent.

Here was the end of the transportation spine that started from the center of Lauttasaari, called Wavulinintie, where I lived. So I could’ve cut my journey here and went straight north, back to my warm cozy flat. The faint lights that were illuminating in the distance hinted at the break, the quitting, and the time. But there’s something else I’d like to see. Something I doubted I’d have any more time and courage to come back and remember. Life seemed to be filled with dream-like incidents that if you didn’t push forward and follow the impulse and record the subsequent results, they were most likely going to disappear forever. So I tured away from the north and went on into the other half of the journey.

I was becoming conscious of my breathing now, which I hadn’t had much thought for the last thirty minutes. I was aware of how irregular and mindless it was. My mind always wandered on its own into some place I didn’t know, deep inside the forest when out for a run, and in the end, there were only me and my body’s surviving mechanism left. Most of the time I embraced this opportunity to be fully a part of the wild nature, and it was only nature that welcomed a person who often forgot himself. The air was warmed up in front of my lips and stopped to wet the cloth piece covering my mouth. I wiped my nose occasionally with one hand, so the sticky matter would only freeze on my gloves, not my philtrum. That being said, I was rather comfortable with the winter air in this forest, on this island, in this country. It was silent. It was cold. It was clean. It was all by itself. And it was trustworthy.

There she was. Right there over the sea, hovering in the darkness. The skerry laid exactly where she was the first time I met her, with one half-closed eye of granite above the sea, her eyelashes of birches and poplars and pine trees still, no fluttering without summer breeze. Sisä-Hattu was her name, strangely wearing a hat in the middle of the night. If Antti was right, she would probably always be there for the next hundreds of years, never drowned, never losing sight of the world, constantly rising away from the water. But that would be a gentle move in the sense of human chronology, like falling snow on the palm in a big city. Like the ebb moving away from shore in one night’s dream. Like everything else of the island caught in my head even in my shortest stay. And people got to do things they really wanted between the changing. I stopped at the place where the sea once parted before me, but rised back in just one week. At that time the locals looked as surprised as me at this biannual biblical wonder, and they walked through the shallows and damp moss, biked on the glistening pebbles, reached the skerry and looked around, and turned back to see how their homeland had changed over a year. And I followed those people, as I noticed some oaths being carved on the edge of the rocks, and made some wishes. I was no longer in a rush. I knew the sea would keep our secret, till the day I came back again. Nature always waited for me, even in the darkest season. If I were to describe what I saw here now, I would say it looked very much like the bottom of my heart. Instinctively, I drank the last few of my water, put the bottle down to a shallow that escaped the frozen, and refilled it with tears of joy.

I hurried up and past a fenced area, opened to the sea. It was an dog park, empty now. Never had I stopped here before, and tonight was no exception. I couldn’t bear watching people playing with their buddies, reminding me how lonely I was, and the fact of my buddy not being able to be here with me to embark on a fresh new sniffari. Besides, something was more urgent now. The only thing I had time to take with me as I left the park was a glove, hung on top of the fence like a hat on a rack. It’s been there for months, maybe for years.

I was ascending to a hill top. I could see it right there high above me by some faint light. I hit the ground with my boots, firm but not too much to slip. I reached the end and turned left, then right, zigzagging onto the top, where a birch tree stood and a bench underneath. I walked to the bench. Its surface was loaded with snow of roughly three inches. I shoved them away by hands, leaving a space slightly bigger for one person. I sat down and waited.

The prairie of ocean unfolded before me, clear and unbothered. I took a deep, foggy breath. It got wiped away by some mysterious force, and leaving the cityscape far beyond even more clearer. The rythmn of the city skyline resembled a flat, long, slightly uneven skerry, so when it was reflected on the still water surface, it became a gigantic submarine floating on the horizon. I could tell apart each section of this machine whale, where matrix of countless tiny windows shined like scales. Ruolahti was its name. Just as I was getting lost in the scenery of fantasy, something moved.

I immediately turned, and searched. I should’ve looked for it, I thought. Behind the birch, half of its body hidden, was a white rabbit. It stood like a snowman, watching me. I said nothing. My hand reached for my pocket. But it disappeared when I took out my phone and waited for it to turn into camera mode. I sighed, staring at my screen. The time was 23:59. Then the midnight struck.

I hastily turned back, staring at the horizon. Nothing. For a moment I thought I had missed something, or totally mistaken. But right then a sound whistled through the air, for a few seconds, and silence. Then the silence exploded, radiating in the sky a bursting palette of burning red and harvesting yellow and colors in between. The city and the ocean shone all the way of its lifecycle until the last trace of sparks revealed a group of swans hidden on the sea, and disappeared. Another firework launched. Then a third one. A forth one set off. An endless celebration played here and there before my eyes, as I carefully put my phone back inside the pocket. I tilted my head, looking at the city, imagining Titanic gaining its rebirth, surfacing off the coast after more than a hundred years, and couldn’t wait to tell the world.

From the corner of my eyes I saw the rabbit again, and I almost gasped. It was sitting right next to me, its body sinking(or melting) into the snow pile I left. Its dark round eyes were staring at the fireworks, ears straight up in the air, twitching as each set exploded. Its pure white fur was dyed with every color in the sky.

So we sat. A long time passed before the sound ceased, because occasionally another person would let off another set somewhere, reminding people to keep the spirit of the new year on and on. Maybe it was meant to be forever.

I looked at the rabbit again. It was sitting patiently, waiting for everything to settle down. It had probably been waiting for this the whole year, I assumed. Is it the same one I’d seen under the streetlight at that night? Could it be possibly following me all the way up here? I was lost in thought.

It was too late to stop myself before I jumped off the seat and ran to the edge of the hill. The rabbit sprang up too and rushed behind the birch, into the darkness. I never saw it again. The terrain went straight down under my feet. I stood firm. I swang my bottle to my back, then threw it over my head towards the ocean. Eight seconds, I remembered. It hit the water, splashing a tiny, sliver dot on the infinity of the ocean. Before long it sank, faster than anything doomed to sink. I had no idea how long it would take to reach the bottom of the Baltic sea. And how long it would sleep there.




WordPress.com 標誌

您的留言將使用 WordPress.com 帳號。 登出 /  變更 )


您的留言將使用 Facebook 帳號。 登出 /  變更 )

連結到 %s


%d 位部落客按了讚: