A Visitor in Valhalla
by Ward Webb
“Are you going to eventually tell me your name?”
“Says the man who hasn’t offered up his own,” he laughed and stuck one hand out in greeting. “The name’s Plato. Pleased to meet you, son.”
I didn’t shake his hand, I ran inside the house and slammed the door. Turning the dead bolt with trembling fingers, I locked him outside and stood panting with my back against the thick, oak door.
I kept my eye on him as the sun slid behind the horizon and the world turned black. A ghostly shape nestled in my rocking chair, his white robes were all I could see when I peered out just before coming upstairs. He was just sitting there wide awake. The squeaking wood cried out against the porch floor as he rocked with contentment and stared off toward the east.
Shortly before midnight I brazenly opened the front door and stood there in the faded candlelight spilling through the door and out into the front yard. He said nothing. Just sat there rocking, smiling back at me as if my sudden retreat had been expected.
“How long you planning on sitting there?” That was all I wanted to know. My voice sounded odd against the still night air and that steady creak of the slats.
“As long as it takes to rest up. I figure by tomorrow sun-up I should be ready to go,” Plato answered back, his robe shifting and falling down around his feet. I stepped further out onto the porch and kept my hands perched suspiciously on my hips.
“You said your name is... Plato?”
“That’s right, and you never told me your name.”
“My name is Will. William, but everyone calls me Will for short...”
The old man stopped rocking and leaned forward in the chair. “Everyone, who?”
I realized my error and smiled even though it wasn’t really funny as much as it was sad and depressing and a confirmation of the ultimate loneliness I’d suffered through only to have it relieved by a wandering philosopher from the ancient world.
“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you Will. I’m sorry if I upset you earlier. I didn’t mean to startle you by walking up like that. I just saw the smoke and came over this way and there you were.”
“There I was, yeah...”
“I’m sure you can help me find my way to the end of my journey,” Plato smiled and eased himself back against the rail-back frame.
I propped myself against the porch railing and folded my arms across my chest. I could feel a film of sweat covering me beneath my clothes, whether from nerves or the oppressive heat, I wasn’t sure.
“I can show you how to get to the city, sure. I lived there all my life. I was there for four years after the rocks fell. Only been here two. Figured it would be less depressing upstate where at least I could still have the comforts of nature,” I rambled to the silvery figure in the corner.
“You never saw anyone else in all that time?”
“Not a soul. I spent every day of my life looking, too, but there was no one. I got tired of seeing the city I knew so well being devoid of life. I packed up just what I could carry and have been here ever since.”
Plato looked at the front of the house as if seeing it for the first time. The pale blue paint is gray in the night. The trim work which had once been white is all flecking and peeling in large husks that fall to the porch and collect like clipped toenails. “It’s a lovely home you’ve made for yourself, Will. I hope I have more luck finding people when I reach the city. What you’ve said causes great concern after such a long journey.”
I inspected him carefully. There was no way he was a hallucination, so I had no explanation for why he was calling himself Plato other than maybe he’d lost a little of his mind in these empty days since the world ended. Everything about him seemed real, and I pressed for more details. “Where did you come from originally?”
“That’s a trick question,” the old man giggled but rather than sound friendly and welcoming, it sounded dry, raspy and painful.
I continued like a steam engine. “And why are you going to New York? What’s there?”
The old man named Plato leaned forward in my rocking chair and wrung his hands in the sticky air before speaking, and when he did his voice took on a serious, thoughtful and challenging tone. All traces of the friendly old man disappeared in a breath.
“Originally I came from a city called Athens and I’ve been making my way for many years, always heading east. I have crossed the globe at great pains to wind up here on your doorstep, Will. And to answer the rest of your question — why am I going to New York? Why such a pilgrimage when just staying alive is such a challenge in these times of ours? The answer is simple. Everyone is in New York and they await my coming so that we can begin again.”
My mouth just hung open as my shell-shocked mind tried to absorb what he was saying. So he truly believed he was Plato, that much was evident. But who were the others? Why would such a crusty, tired looking old man make such a voyage?
“Who is waiting for you in New York?”
“The others. I just told you that.” he sighed as if I frustrated him with my silly, stupid questions. I suppose that was normal for a philosopher.
“Yeah, but who? And what do you mean ‘so you can begin again’? What are you planning on beginning when you get there?” I was a bundle of questions, hoping my logic and reasoning would stop this charade and he would break character eventually.
Plato simply smiled a knowing grin that spread across his face and said, “The other ancients. They’re waiting for me so that we can start over... again.”
“Start over what?”
“The world, of course,” he laughed and cracked his knuckles. The sound was like marbles in a suitcase.
“I’ve got to sleep now.” It was all I could think to say. I wanted to slide back inside and lock the door. The old guy was definitely crazy and I needed to get a deadbolt between us or I’d spend the whole night staring at him through a crack in the curtain while we both waited for daybreak.
I rushed inside without waiting for an answer and turned the lock. Checking to ensure the curtains were all pulled tight and everything was locked down, I made my way upstairs and found this book.
Copyright © 2012 by Ward Webb