Windows were alight in the streets. I listened to the howl of a wolf, but to my surprise it was a trumpet player crooning in the night. Though his trumpet was as luminous as the moon, its timbre was dark. A searing note became a melody. I stepped towards him and he met me with eyes like coals.
In the windows, faces were peeking through drawn curtains and blowing out candles.The cry of the trumpet was the only voice in those wandering lanes.
‘Why do you play music out here alone?’ I asked. Someone slipped by, as silent as a shadow, before disappearing into a shadowy enclave. I wondered, mindful of my pack, if the trumpet player was a crook. Denizens of midnight streets are too often the quick hands of thieves.
‘This was once a vital city. It was a hub of trade and music, but those rivers are dry now.’ His voice followed after his melodies like a wizened and acolyte. ‘The wealth remained, but it is now the hoard of a our dwindling population. They drink, consume, and sleep, while a slow devastation grows out of sight. I play this trumpet because nothing else stirs in the avenues that lead to the core of this town, where the reality lies. You can see for yourself, down this stairway and through the narrow pass.’
There was an archway. I stooped to enter and descended, picking out each step, my hands pressed against the stone. At the bottom was a doorway which led to a courtyard. I was impressed by majestic oaks along the perimeter, but they were just bones of reaching branches. I then caught a sight so startling that I wanted to flee, but where else could I go? An enormous figure lay in the dark. I conceived the body of a gigantic man, skeletal, sprawled over the cobblestone. Drawn by a flicker of hope, like brief floral sweetness. I came up beside him. He did not shift or acknowledge me. The moonlight had painted him in silver shades – soft strokes upon black skin. He was so huge that I could have nestled into his hand, but he was twig-thin. He was naked in the night and I could see the skin of his chest pulled tight over his ribs. His arms and legs were like long branches with knots at the joints. I walked on and stopped near his head I noticed the soft heaving of his breath. With the sound of my footsteps, he turned his head to look at me. A kind eye opened, the lid lifting to reveal the solemn expression of the night, the whites an ivory accent in the dark. The expression took me in, and I understood the gloom on the city and the wail of the trumpet. Then I discovered that trickling from the other side of his head was a stream of gold. I walked around the giants skull and found that he was the source of the gleaming river. It drained from his ear into the guts of the city.
At that moment, a tall man emerged from behind me. He was immaculately dressed like a guest too late for a party. He slid toward me, his eyes glinting like volcanic stones. Taking shelter under the giant’s fingers seemed an attractive option, but I remained standing.
‘It’s a cool night,’ said the man, ‘and you must go.’ His shadow fell over me, and I looked into a pair of snake-cold eyes. I turned to face the giant and felt a chill as this visitor leaned his face beside my neck, uttering into my ear. ‘We offer an abundance of exquisite homes. You could live well here.’ The giant held my attention, like the sinews that lined his neck beneath a profound jaw, and I returned to the doorway, up the narrow pass and found the desolate streets, which now seemed almost warm. My horse was gone. The sky, flicked with crumbs of light, would be my company – the moon too. I retrieved a travel gift I had forgotten, a flute. Raising it to my lips, I began to play.