He looked out at the sea and spied the joy of the wind. The freedom with which it quickly rushed, brushing everything with its invisible fingertips, rustling the grass, flicking the sand, and rippling the water brought a smile to his weathered face where the cracks of time settled in long ago. Not like the ocean, though, or the wind, or the golden sunset balancing itself on the water’s edge at the horizon. All of that was timeless–not eternal, but unaffected by the passing of years. No, it would not last forever. One day, the sun would swallow all the water, evaporating it in its immense heat, burning away the world before collapsing into a dark vortex of nothingness, leaving no more wind.
A sad thought on the surface of things, but old Ernest didn’t let it hold him. That was the way of things; that was how it was supposed to happen: every story has an end. He couldn’t imagine a finale more grand or glorious than the gold and red blazing inferno of the sun eradicating the worlds that spun around it for so long, creating their own stories, like children flocking after their mother. In that light, existence sure seemed beautiful and it made him feel honored that he was allowed to be a speck of dust in the sandstorm.
That was Ernest, though: always looking at the bright side.
“Nothing brighter than the sun,” he muttered.
The world around him was quiet beyond the lapping of the tide. He soaked it in, feeling alive in his own dream.
“Was the world this silent in the beginning? What a nice place it must have been.”
The long, tall man stood like a shadow on the shore, his shaggy white hair swaying back and forth in the coastal winds. He didn’t know someone was watching him from down the shoreline. People on that stretch of sand were rare, which is why he often came there.
He couldn’t see the person, but he felt them. He didn’t know what he was feeling, but the presence was eerie. His arms begin to tingle and he got the urge to look around. When he did, he saw a black shape moving in the sand.
He squinted to get a better look. Whatever it was, it was moving fast. He guessed it could only be human.
In less than a minute, the shape was within earshot. Ernest called out, “Can I help you, stranger?”
The person’s laughter was cold. It said, “I am no stranger. Not to you.”
Ernest fixed his eyes on the outline, hidden in the glare of the unrelenting sun. Once the face came into focus, his jaw dropped.
“I see you know who I am,” the man said.
“My God” said Ernest.
“Not quite,” the man replied. “I knew I’d find you.”
“I’ll be damned.”
“That may be true. In fact, that’s why I’m here. It seems we still have a debt to settle.”