A faded pink watchtower presides over a soot and dreary village along a sloping gray hilltop. Here is the city of Essum, famed for its ancient watchtower, which beckoned the ships at sea and the caravans on land.
I arrived at Essum by train near nightfall and took root in a tavern- also dreary, with specks of warm light on the tabletops. It was off-season, when the sun rose only slightly over the sea each morning before resigning early. Though the heavy snows had yet to come, the ground was already hard and dead and the last leaves had shriveled into false cocoons for winter.
There was a ferry that would be taking me home soon and I waited in a vast chamber beneath the tower for hours as the ship inched toward me on the horizon. It felt as if the tower and port moved towards the ship that morning, that land was breaking sea to taste a sliver of day. A family of four waited across from me, two children slunk on the wooden benches, waiting for the clerk to arrive in the station and put on a pot of coffee. They’d made the trip before, I could tell, for they’d packed and dressed well, better at least than my awkward layers pulled too tight and itching now.
With the ship’s delay, I walked the steps up to the top of the tower. From there, you could see the villages strung out along the road like neurons stretched at the end of a fading memory. This was the last dendrite before forgetfulness, and the top of the tower cast shadows on some past that these villagers were trying to forget. With the rocks crushing against the breakers, we were moving faster than ever now, and this would be the last of land before the end of the continent. Surely man had discovered islands beyond here, places where even that sliver of day was unknown in the winter. But I could not see any from here.