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Free-write—House of Cards

Written 11 Apr 2017 by D. Ben Knoble

A house. A strange house, built of cards. Ready to topple in the wind and yet never seeming to fall. Not some childish card tower built on a coffee table, but a true house, with wall and a roof and doors. The blue-patterned card backs faced out towards the silent forest. On the inside, who knew what lay? No one had ever set food inside. It was closely guarded, this house of cards, by the superstition of old wives’ tales and an ominous “Beware” sign posted on the road before it.

The once-villages in the valley nearby were now nothing more than decrepit boards and long-forgotten dolls, laid barren by the same strange repulsion centered on that house of cards. Something in the forest warned of a strange presence: no animals chittered, no leaves stirred, nothing breathed. The whole world held it’s breath in a moment of still, silent waiting. Nobody came here.

How do I know? What do I know of a long-forgotten, abandoned valley in a far away land of mountains and mist? What could I know of such entrancing nightmares… not enough, it seemed. The deepest mysteries have hearts of impenetrable thickness, un-knowable without traveling deep inside them. I know this house of cards, delicate and yet braced against a mountain’s thunderstorm, guarded and yet with the door standing wide open, because once I journeyed to its depths. Yes, I, the unlikely traveler, crept unnaturally through a forest, afraid of my own noise. I passed the empty walls of old ruins and the relentless stares of gnarled trees. I came to that sign, saw its warning. Dare I say I ignored it? No, the folly. I heeded it well, and was cautious. I tread slowly, still, a shadow of unseen clouds. I kept my eyes to the ground, never looking at the house, avoiding its entrancing invitation. I was patient but unwavering. I could not stop or I would be consumed by the strange power of that open door, and I feared I might turn and run. In which direction, I could not be sure.

At long last, I found myself upon the doorstep of a flimsy porch. It wasn’t inviting, not the way the door was. The porch had born the brunt of storms, charred by lighting, molded by moisture, some of the cards bent or torn. I forced myself onward. So close, and yet to what? What lie in the center, openly daring intrusion and yet forbidding it? I stepped over the threshold. My eyes to the floor, I nearly didn’t notice it until I stood in the middle of the empty room. I was surrounded by the walls of card faces, and as they stared at me, eyes un-moving, their hearts beat as one in a steady, age-old rhythm. I felt drawn to them, and yet repulsed by their gaze; they implored me silently to come no closer, to back-step and distance myself from them. But I could not—I had dared come this far. I would find my answers, settle the mysteries.

I turned to examine the opposite wall, and imagine my surprise to find a solid rock of black granite at the base of a pedestal. I can’t think to have missed it, only that it had clearly always been there. I bent to pick it up, and felt it faintly pulsing in my hand. Slowly, not the same as the now-increased tempo of the heart-walls. It was faint. So easily missed. But I knew it, I knew it in my heart of hearts, in the soul that beckons to the sky and the earth and demands the million other living things know its vibrant colors, in the gut that drops like a small, solid rock. And I could do only one thing—I engulfed it in the love I sought for myself, and I was overcome.

What came next, how can I hope to describe? The cards flew apart, finally gusted in by the wind, perhaps, the sun shone down on a forest that hadn’t known life in aeons, and a brilliant chorus of birds erupted into the sky, singing an ancient song in time with the beat of that stone—that red stone! No longer black, it shone a deep red, a pulsing heart, beckoning to the life all around it. And I, I was captivated by it. I thought to put it on the pedestal, but why? Was it so perfect that it should be put on display and guarded by a flimsy house of paper? No, see, it is chipped, just at the top. It has other scars, invisible fault lines that I have found in my many hours spent with it. But that gives it the beauty, not that silly “eye of the beholder” nonsense, that all-encompassing, all-enrapturing beauty. The beauty the world over recognizes for a split-second reflected back at them in those rare moments of piercing sight that all too quickly disappears. And that beauty, that I took from the now alive forest, and I returned to my house of cards. I tore down the walls and rebuilt them with stone, painted them a bright red. I built a wide porch, and a rocking chair. And I sit there now most days, rocking with my worn and chipped heart, and I smile. I lose myself inside it’s crevasses and the contours of its surface. As for my valley? Bathed red in a sunset unmatched save in Eden, it flourishes.

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