The base of the cliff is bathed in purple shadow, swallowing the details of jagged stone edges, scampering lizards, and a boy with hair the color of wet sand. He is waiting for the madwoman of the cliffs, a woman of slate gray hair and keen eyes.
He is still and silent as she approaches, but his mind is so terribly loud.
She stops before him and says “Tell me the truth.”
She always says that.
It was unsettling at first, the way her eyes never wavered as she waited for his response. There was something demanding in the tone of her voice, in the steel of her gaze.
“Which truth do you want?” he’d asked then, for he knew there were many things true in this world.
“The truth you know.”
Funny how certain of their thoughts people can be until they stare into the eyes of a madwoman who demands truth. The boy placed his hand on the rough cliff face, feeling the heat of the day emanate from it. “The sun beats down on stone all day, and its warmth still remains for a time after it is gone.”
She nodded, and said “Good.”
But she’d said it like she expected him to go on.
And so he did, until he spoke of things he’d dared not voice before, truths that he had yet to deal with.
Today he looks her in the eye and does not waver. “There is malice, and there is apathy; the former is a ferocious giant and the latter is a terrible force.”
She nods, and there was a weariness in the dip of her head. “Good.”
And so he goes on. “They pull down on my bones and sit in ringing silence in my mind.”
She reaches out and takes his hand in a gentle hold. It was perhaps the tenderness in her touch, the sorrow in her eyes, the feel of ancient ruins beneath her skin, that made him at once fragile and resolute. Both small and immense.
Frightened and calm.
“Now what will you do with this truth?”
His hand trembles in her hold. There have been many truths told, many of them uncomfortable, but none so far had made him feel so much like bolting as this one did. He knows the answer, this is not the first time it’s been asked. Yet this time, it takes far longer for it to leave his mouth.
“I will face it, and not deny its truth.”
She nods again, watching his struggle with a piercing gaze. Her next question is different. Her next question comes with a voice hoarse from its past. “Do you know why they call me mad?”
He shakes his head, for although he suspects much, he does not know what is true.
She looks down at his hand, young and scraped up from climbing rocks, and then meets his gaze once more. There are untold stories whispering soundlessly from her, old and haunting and desperate. “They call me such because I demand the truth, and the truth is not comfortable. It is not easy. It sits unmoved, and it drives them mad.”
She slides her hand from his, and for a moment he is afraid she might fade away. “It does this because they will not face what is true. They turn a blind eye to it and insist it is not there. This is not how truth works, it cannot be undone because it is ignored. So it festers inside them, contradicting their lies, stirring up chaos in their minds.” Her mouth is set in a line of untold ghosts. “We fear what we do not know, and yet we run from the very knowledge that we desire, simply because it is not what we wished it to be.”
There is the smell of electricity in the air. She gives him a sad sort of smile, and brushes his hair from his eyes. “Do not run away from it, child. It cannot be denied, nor should it be. I grieve for how few have sought it out.”
She steps back and turns, picking her way along the cliffside until she is gone, and he is left standing in purple shadow.
A slight breeze brushes by, and he lifts his shoulders with a determined gleam in his eye. There is so little he can do with it for now, but that does not make it less true, and it does not mean he can let himself be consumed by it either. It is a strange thing to hold something so delicately.
Turning, he picks his way over broken stone. The path he takes is a worn one, becoming something like a friend to him. Lizards dart out of his path, leaving the slightest puff of dust in their wake.
His mind is quieter now.