Matt Callaghan closed his eyes and imagined he was somewhere warm, laying back on a reclining chair and sipping a nice, cold beer. It wasn’t his beer, he hadn’t brought it – someone else had left it there sitting in a little fridge. But far from being a bad thing, Matt imagined that this was actually enhancing the overall experience. Nothing in the world like free beer.
“Open your mind,” came a soft, melodic voice, low and gentle – not a command but an invitation. “Detach from your physical tethers, that which binds you to the here and now. Disconnect from the eye which sees the world, empty, and find that sight which sees through the waves of time.”
Underneath his eyelids, Matt rolled his eyes and tried to imagine himself taking a nap. Maybe if he concentrated hard enough on letting go of his earthly tethers to being awake he could pass out and sleep through this unbelievably boring waste of time.
After he’d finished breakfast Matt had hung around chatting with Wally (who seemed nice) for a while, then scrapped his plate off and dumped it in the soapy water bucket near the kitchen. At this point nobody had come forward with instructions or anything, so he’d played Tetris on his phone in the Hall for an hour before meandering back to his room to check if maybe someone had left something for him there. They hadn’t. Matt found this a bit puzzling, but he figured hey, maybe whoever ran this place was being nice and giving him some time to sleep in, on the assumption that he’d probably not yet be attuned to the Legion’s crack-of-dawn schedule.
As 10:15 rolled around, that notion begun to look less likely. Matt found himself wishing he’d packed his computer instead of all these clothes – his eyes were starting to hurt from looking at the tiny phone screen, and there was only so much Tetris a man could play before he went legitimately insane. So he left his room and wandered, not so much looking for someone to tell him what to do as expecting them to emerge at any minute.
Being by this point quite bored, Matt had almost been tempted to ask one of the budding superheroes he passed if there was, like, an office or something, a Legion secretary or administrative official who could tell him where he was supposed to be. He didn’t, obviously, because he didn’t actually want to go and do whatever the Legion wanted him to be doing – but still, it was kind of weird. Matt wondered if whoever had designed this “self-paced learning” system had ever considered someone self-pacing at zero.
Just before 11, Matt wandered down and outside into the pale autumn sunlight and lay in the field for a bit and watched the clouds go by. Then about five minutes later he stopped doing that, because grass is itchy and clouds are boring and he wasn’t even vaguely intoxicated. Instead he went back inside to the Hall and made himself a toasted sandwich.
I feel like I’m being watched, thought Matt, wincing as the hot cheese burnt his overly impatient tongue. The Hall looked mostly deserted and apart from the odd ‘oh there’s the new kid’ looks he couldn’t see anybody sparing him more than a passing glance.
That’s when the man in black had appeared.
“Mr Callaghan,” came a voice, and Matt had spun around to see a fifty-ish-year-old bald man with a broad chest and tanned, leather-like skin standing behind him wearing what could only have been a black bed-sheet folded into a toga and a necklace of large round wooden prayer beads.
“I am Selwyn,” he said, his voice a low, calm hum that washed over Matt’s ears like a warm wave, “I have been assigned to assist you.” He glanced down at the half-eaten sandwich steaming cheese onto Matt’s plate. “Good. I am glad to see you have already had breakfast.”
Well technically this was lunch thought Matt, but he refrained from saying anything so as not to appear rude. He got up from his seat and extended his hand.
“Matt, please. Mr Callaghan is my father.”
Selwyn did not shake it but instead placed his palms together and bowed towards Matt, the beads draping from his neck. “And it too will be you, in time. We all walk the paths our parents pave.” He slowly straightened his back, a serene smile on his hairless face. “Although names are fleeting forms in which we trap and fracture the unity of the world.”
Matt had no idea what the heck that meant or how to respond, so he just nodded and tried to arrange his features in a way that looked interested and mildly impressed. If Selwyn was expecting a response, he didn’t show it.
“Come with me please,” the big man spoke, turning and seeming to glide towards the main entrance with a grace unusual to a man his size. Matt hurried after him, feeling clumsy and confused.
“Who are… where are we going?” he asked as they flowed through the corridors and up a flight of stairs. The middle levels seemed less crowded now than when Matt had been wandering them before.
“Who am I? Or where are we going?” mused Selwyn, his smile unchanged. “One might say that to know the first answer is to know the second.”
“Um,” said Matt.
The robed man laughed. “Excuse my philosophising. My thoughts have a tendency to wander, in tandem with my mind. It seeks abstraction, I fear, to holiday from the omnipresence of reality.”
“Um,” Matt reiterated.
“Forgive me,” he laughed again – a sincere, jolly sound that Matt couldn’t help but find endearing, despite having literally no idea what the man was on about. “We traverse the physical world to reach a room on the third floor of this structure, which has been prepared for our purposes.”
“Our purposes?” repeated Matt, not sure if that was ominous or not, “What’re ‘our purposes’?” But the large, weathered man in black robes appeared not to hear him.
They rounded several corners and passed through several halls with east-facing windows enjoying the brunt of the morning sunlight, Matt trailing along behind Selwyn, who flowed serenely forward, his bare feet treading noiseless footsteps. Finally, Selwyn turned left into an already open door and Matt followed him inside.
They’d arrived in a large, square room with a high paisley ceiling, pale wooden floors and full‑length ornate bookshelves painted the same deep blue-green as the walls lining the two sides not taken up by high windows. The room itself was bare and open, illuminated entirely by natural light and offering a fantastic view overlooking the grounds. A variety of large, colourful cushions and an assortment of candles and incense burners, all melted through various stages of their respective lifespans, were strewn across the floor. Candles were also aligned haphazardly in front of the worn books along several rows of bookshelves. “Should I...” started Matt, glancing at the door then back to the bald monk for cues. None came. The man simply glided into the middle of the room and turned to face him, smiling vaguely, his head tilted slightly to the side. “I’m just gonna… okay then, yeah, close this…” Matt declared after a few seconds, and he gingerly shut the door.
Selwyn opened his palms face up. “Do you see better in light or in darkness?” he asked sincerely.
“What?” Matt replied. He struggled to figure out if that question made sense, but before he could be completely sure Selwyn saved him the trouble.
“I have always found I see better when I can feel the sun’s rays upon my skin,” he said calmly, “For it aids in preventing disconnection with the world which my soul seeks to explore.” He turned and gestured to the long velvet curtains which stood drawn at either side of the windows. “But your sight may function better when freed from such distractions.”
“Ah…” Matt stumbled, out of his depth, “Curtains open is fine.”
“Very well,” Selwyn smiled. He didn’t ever really seem to stop smiling to be honest. “Please be seated.”
“Wherever pleases you,” he replied. Selwyn sunk down onto a large maroon cushion in the centre of the room, his legs folding together. Matt hesitated for a moment, then flopped down into a big blue bean-baggy one.
For a few seconds, the man in the black robes simply sat with his eyes closed, the sound of his gentle breathing intermingling with the distant noises of the Academy. Then slowly he opened his eyes and stared calmly at Matt.
“The name I have been given is Selwyn Kersey. You may use it if you wish, or you may refer to me in another way which you prefer. I do not mind.” He paused and drew in a deep, rolling breath, seeming to savour the very taste of the air. “You are the first of your kind, Matt Callaghan, to walk within these walls. You possess a rare and unusual gift – but I suppose the same can be said of many who come here.” He gave a small chuckle as if that was supposed to be funny.
“Nevertheless,” he continued, “The intangibility of your power-” Matt’s heart sped up, “-poses some conceptual difficulty as to how best assist you in its cultivation.” Matt let out a tiny sigh of relief. Selwyn appeared not to notice, gazing as he was contentedly out the window at the fields and forest below. “Of all the Ashes, I was thought best able to help you navigate the visions which come to you. They believed, perhaps, that my clarity of sight can be passed on to you.” His smile did not waver. “I offer no guarantees. An infinite void exists between all people, a chasm of thought which true understanding can never cross, for to truly know another mind is to know the infinite, which our limited lifetimes deny us comprehending.”
Matt didn’t really know how to respond to that.
“But I will impart what I can,” Selwyn continued after a moment’s pause, “And you may take what you please. Wisdom cannot be given, but may be seeded for an open mind to nourish. Close your eyes.” He leant back. “And clear your thoughts. Do not try to think of nothing, for the trying in itself is thinking. Simply let go of thought and feeling and embrace, as it flows through you, the aether winds of the universe.”
And so it went. For an hour and a half Matt sat on a big fluffy cushion feeling his butt-cheeks go numb while a barrel-chested, leather-skinned monk – who honestly may have been the happiest, most contented person on Earth – talked to him about utter nonsense. For the first ten or so minutes, Matt was afraid that Selwyn might, at any moment, stop and start asking him for specific predictions, but the man never did, and in fact seemed quite unconcerned when, at the end of their meditation or whatever it was, Matt truthfully informed him that he had witnessed no clairvoyant visions whatsoever.
“I thought as much may be likely,” he said, his words still projecting the impression of someone who was a little rusty on the finer points of human speech, “Your sight is far more ethereal than my own, and changed by the viewing – of course it for the most defies substantiation.” He paused. “My mind wanders through space, while yours treads through time; the former fixed, the latter fluid – presumably, we do not truly know. Regardless, the difference may prove insurmountable. Or it may not. Ours is organic growth, not a path down which to chase progress.”
They rose, Matt stiffly. “Make sure to stretch,” said Selwyn, in what was possibly the first bit of practical advice he’d given, “The body can cramp after sitting for so long.” He then ran Matt through a series of leg and upper body stretches during which the monk demonstrated a level of flexibility Matt would not have believed possible for a man his size.
“Can I ask a question?” asked Matt as he pulled his arm over his head.
“I would even encourage it,” answered Selwyn, again in a tone that made Matt think he was making a joke but unable to be a hundred percent sure. Regardless, Matt took his reply as affirmative.
“Why do you wear all black?” he said, moving into a quad-stretch. A small part of him was concerned about unintentionally disrespecting the large man’s fashion sense but on balance he felt it was a pretty fair question – and of all the people he’d met, Mr Kersey seemed the least likely to get offended about anything. True to his suspicions, Selwyn simply smiled.
“All Ashes wear black. It is our way.”
“Right,” said Matt, because that didn’t really answer anything, “And what are ‘Ashes’?”
“Ashes,” Selwyn replied simply, “Are what remain when something great is destroyed. By themselves, they appear as dust in the wind. But this is an illusion; for their presence can nurture new life.”
He turned and glided towards the door, leaving Matt feeling more confused than before.
Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).