Playing Stories — Chapter 38: Angels

Chapter 38: Angels
from the 2006 album “All Angels” by All Angels
handed to Quentin at 23:59, 11 July 2019


And through it all she offers me protection
A lot of love and affection, whether I’m right or wrong

“Xylophonists are really cool, don’t you think?” I said, dropping a coin into the case that lay open under the bench. “They always seem to know just which blocks to hit or something like that.” I paused, waiting for a response, but no sound came from the woman standing next to me. Morgan wasn’t even listening to me. Her eyes stared down the platform as we moved towards the Fussen train, a million miles away from the train station and the two of us.

“You’ve been very quiet since we arrived in Munich,” I sighed. She said nothing, only robotically pulled down the seat next to me. “Is everything okay?”

“Zero messages,” she muttered under her breath. “Three days gone by, and still nothing. You’d think she’d at least read the messages I sent her.” She kept her eyes on the floor. She had a way of wiggling her feet when she was nervous, and she was desperately willing them to stop doing that now.

“Aww… she’s still ignoring you? I thought you were over all of that…”

“But it still doesn’t feel right,” she said. “It’s not supposed to be…” She trailed off as a bunch of tourists entering the train. Even though she was already speaking in barely more than a whisper, her voice was now at subsonic levels and most of the words were lost in the ethersphere. I thought of asking her to speak up, but what good was that going to do? Besides, pushing her would have been the last thing I’d have wanted to do. She must have known that she was inaudible, because she looked around and stopped talking. “Yeah, it’s okay,” I said. Maybe it was better to just let her steep in her thoughts for a while…

Countryside scenery sped past in our miniscule little train. At Fussen station, it was a long hard wait for another bus. The Asian tourists behind us were all grumbling, and I could hear a couple of them outright complaining in their own language how German railways were inefficient. Morgan and I stood at the front, as she shuffled from foot to foot and I looked anxiously down the road for any sign of the bus that would take us to Neuschwanstein. Finally, a bus: as soon as I was in, Morgan pushed me deep inside the bus, towards the back where you face the engines and the scenery as it pulls away from you. I just managed to snag the window seat before we sat down. Behind us, people kept on flooding into the bus. Bodies filled into the seats opposite us, filling the air with chatter in a hundred languages. Some of them looked briefly at Morgan. The aisle began to fill with people, forcing their faces in different directions. Morgan was beginning to shake. Something was coming on. I stood up, vacated my seat and she scooted towards the window, away from everybody.

“Damn, I hate crowds,” she breathed as I sat back down. She was quiet for a few seconds, before looking at me. “Thanks.”

“Every time,” I said. Maybe it was even true.

Fussen gave way to German fields, then to mountains that loomed high above us, a carbon copy of the ones you always see in postcards. It took a while, but I saw Morgan beginning to relax — nothing calms down the nerves more than German mountain air, right? After a while, a castle gradually revealed itself in between the trees: straight out of fairytales, deep inside the woods.

“Germany really is a pretty place,” I sighed as we looked up at Neuschwanstein together. “The air’s fresh, the people are nice…” Now that we were far away from the crowds, she seemed to be slightly more relaxed. She even smiled a bit as I rattled off facts, knowing deep in my mind that she’d probably heard them before. But her silence persisted, and soon I decided to shut up for a bit. We had a view to look at, anyway…

Hiking up there was tough. More than once Morgan asked me why we couldn’t just teleport up there, as some other people were doing, she said. She knew what the answer would be, of course, but I still smiled at her. Fifteen minutes passed, then thirty, but we seemed no closer to the top of the hill. Sometimes both bags were with me, sometimes we swapped so that she had my lighter tote. Bit by bit, the castle became larger and larger — almost infinitesimally, as Mo said. It was taking so long that I was really beginning to think that we’d made a terrible mistake — but then we went round a corner, and there was nothing but whiteness and clear-cut corners, towering over us as Neuschwanstein’s full bulk asserted itself in one big sweep. Below us the plains and villages glimmered, the Sun sparkling round every house; above us the castle stood austere, a marble giant holding up the skies. It all looked like something that one would build in their own dreams or fairytales, and we stood there, gawping for a long time, seeing this impossible structure held up by the elements, swimming in the air of someone else’s dream. I looked at Morgan, trying to gauge her reaction to this place — her mouth was open, a sense of bliss and wonder on her face. Seconds passed, the whistling of the wind the only thing I could hear between us. “Right, let’s go down,” I said finally.

“I thought you were gonna walk in and explore,” said Morgan. She sounded disappointed.

“Just too much effort to go and book,” I said. “Besides, I’ve seen pictures of the inside, and if you’ve seen one castle you’ve seen them all — come along, there’s somewhere else we can see this place better —” I heard her tut. Was she getting impatient? “Anyway. No need to spend twenty euros on going in when you have something better here.”

King Ludwig’s castle was in front of us now, as we stepped onto the bridge he’d built especially for looking at the castle from afar. Here, everything looked perfect — just the right amount of distance from the cliffs that held up Neuschwanstein, just the right amount of spray from the waterfall that bellowed underneath us. A perfect scene — and yet Mo only seemed to have eyes for the castle. “He built everything up here just so he could get away from everyone he didn’t like. A misanthrope, like you,” I said, giving her a side-glance, just to make it clear it was a joke, mind.

“Ludwig sounds like an awesome guy,” she said, rolling her eyes, and then she walked off the bridge. Just like that. As if she was flipping the bird at my advice. I couldn’t help wrinkling my nose.

Maybe she just didn’t care. Maybe she took me for granted and I was still just somebody who came along at the right moment. Maybe I should just walk away after Munich, go back to a place where I would at least be talking to people who responded or who really cared. She’d been there occasionally for me, yes, but that was out of luck. Would she have done the same anyhow, without me trying to cheer her up so much? I sighed. Mo was always bad with showing how she really felt. Maybe she just needed time.

Now we were heading down the valley. The waterfall we’d seen at the bridge now thundered down beside us, a chorus of nature that never seemed to stop. I had to shout to her occasionally, and even then I wondered for a bit if she’d gone deaf. We stopped at an outcrop of rock, a boulder that hung about eight feet above the river. I got out my camera and trained it on Morgan, who immediately bolted to the other side of me. “I’m not letting you draw me into this.”

“Oh come on,” I said. Maybe I sounded a little irritated, because she flinched, and I hastily added, “but of course, if you don’t want to do it, it’s okay. A chance of a lifetime to get back at Laura, and you throw it away?”

“Please.” At least she smiled. Then she gave me a small playful shove, and I stepped back, towards the raging river that both of us had forgotten about.

Quite what happened next is something both of us are still arguing about. Perhaps I really wasn’t looking where I was going, or perhaps it was the small shove that did the trick. But I know that my foot slipped, and my only memory is Morgan’s piercing scream as my arms flung out and gravity pulled me away from her sight.

Reader — perhaps you are expecting that I tumbled into the river, and perhaps those of you who remember Morgan’s superpowers will expect that some daring rescue was mounted, some ingenious cooperation where she saved me from the roaring waters. Only half of that is true. Not a drop found its way onto my skin, as I simply found myself on a lower outcrop of rock, gazing up at Morgan’s panicked face. She had thrown herself down on the rock, her elbows were bleeding and her hair had fallen loose around her, and she had stopped screaming by now but I could see feel her heavy breathing on my face, barely three inches from mine. Her mouth was still slightly open as I pulled myself back up and scrambled up next to her. But when I turned round to face the river that had so nearly taken my life, I couldn’t find it — or any recognizable form, at least. You could see the caps on the frothing rapids, yet they weren’t rapids anymore, just as you couldn’t possibly call this a river anymore — not when it wasn’t flowing. It was like everything in time had stopped: I looked closer, and saw the droplets quivering, the waters shiver. Yet it was still held back, held back by Morgan’s outstretched hand, commanding the waters to stop, a dishevelled Moses holding back the tide.

Still she lay on the precipice, breathing heavily. I looked around quickly. There was only one other person coming down towards us, but he was smiling and looking up. He hadn’t seen. Nor had anybody on the bridge above us noticed. We were the only two people who had seen her. The floods began to rebel, and I gently pulled her back from the edge. The river broke free, the water flowed as they had for thousands of years. And for the first time since I’d met her eight years ago, she broke down and cried, and then I was sitting there on the rock with her and struggling to hold back the tears myself because I never knew how deep those wounds had run, how far she’d gone to let herself not be hurt by Laura and all those people around her, and now everything — every little cut she’d gotten in her heart — was cascading out of her in one big burst.

The two of us sat on the boulder, her arm on my lap, mine around the shoulder. I have no idea how long we were there, wallowing in our own miseries, but slowly the tempest quietened and she was grabbing her tissues. We stood up. “You okay?” She nodded. A brief glance at me, then away again. “Thanks, Mo. Sorry you had to save me again.” I chuckled slightly. The tension was already coagulating around us again.

Under her breath I could hear her muttering a string of words. Was she cursing or was she just calming herself down? I saw her feet, dancing on the rocks again. “That’s the fourth time I’ve had to clean up after you this week,” she said. She allowed herself a brief smile. “Don’t mention it.”

We didn’t speak all the way back to the castle and on the bus back. What was she thinking right now? Perhaps she had lots running through her mind. I couldn’t stare at her now — I don’t know why, but something just told me we couldn’t — okay, just one glance. We caught each other across the seats, just for a quick moment — and then it was gone, and we stared into the infinite space once more.


It took me quite a while to come up with this. I’m bad at writing, ain’t I?

Look, I know that we’ve like had our arguments on this trip, but still. I have to say. I’ve had fun. I really don’t want us to go back home tired and arguing. So can we just concentrate on having fun tomorrow? I want to make it special.

Hope you’re sleeping better these days.

E

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