1 – Here was Slovakia

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever. – Ecclesiastes 1:4

Every step Henry took towards the south heightened his anticipation of crossing the arbitrary border of Slovakia. Even turning to the east or the west as part of the route to his destination peeved Henry.

If I could fly, Henry thought, I surely would be there, even at this moment.

Every step of Henry’s made him recall memories. Otherwise indistinct trees or boulders became distinct to Henry in some way. He could not put exactness on them, but he was convinced that that peculiar old pine tree had been there all those years ago, and that boulder, too, had remained in place for all this time. He was tempted to open the Memory Box from his bag to help verify this trivial claim, but he decided against it. Stopping and removing something from his bag would halt his progress south.

Henry hoped to find something that would confirm he had crossed into Slovakia, or at least what remained of it. In the last century or so, borders became an archaic method of establishing place and jurisdiction. Therefore, Henry could not know when he crossed into his favourite ex-country. The road under his feet exists, but when would this road once belonging to Poland, an ex-country, become a Slovakian road?

Henry remembered his friend, Jan.

“Jan, you fool,” Henry said aloud and laughed. “You would know where we are. If you were here now, I’d bet my rations that you could feel the ‘shift in the air,’ as you’d say. You fool.”

Jan, a friend, would say that he would feel a “spiritual heaviness” when crossing into Czech, an ex-country, and yet another feeling of “frivolity and moral blaséness” when standing in the Netherlands, an ex-country.

That fool, thought Henry. “You’re an astute fool for devising such a theory.”

Henry carried a brisk pace as he ventured south. Originally from the United States, Henry had spent the majority of his adult life venturing Europe, an ex-continent, experiencing its peak years of culture and strength and its dwindling and decaying decades. Grey hairs were on Henry’s head, but wrinkles and other signs of age did not prevail over his complexion. Tanned brown, like his clothing and rucksack, Henry was also tall and of solid but svelte build. He did not care to eat heavy or sweet food, which assisted in his svelteness, but he did love beer, the contributor to his solid frame. He would accredit his athleticism of yesteryear for leaving him with his large but healthy frame.

The walk south continued into dusk, and still Henry had no sense of his exact location. In his mind, he continually cursed the circumstance of not having a satellite navigation device in his possession. He would mock those who used them in the past, but, as Henry said aloud to himself, “now I must eat crow.”

“It would be swell to know where I am,” Henry said. Finally, a truly identifiable landmark rose from the horizon. He then thought, “ Boy, that rocky hill sure looks familiar. I’d be willing to bet a white castle once sat upon there!”

The hill captured Henry’s attention – it served for Henry as a relic containing countless stories and experiences, all his own. The road guiding Henry south curved around the hill. Irregardless of the road, Henry concluded that this hill deserved to be stopped at and admired.

“Without a doubt – yes, sir – this is that hill. And up there, was a castle,” Henry said.

That castle was a favourite landmark for Henry. As a youngster, when first travailing the mysterious regions of Central Europe, an ex-region, Henry was awestruck at how the rocky hill appeared to have grown from the meadow, rising like a tree perhaps 100 meters into the sky and, instead of a rocky crown or grassy lawn at the top, a castle chiseled itself into existence there. The outer walls of the castle ran uniform with the walls of the rocky hill. When standing at the base of the hill and looking up towards the tips of the castle’s turrets, there was never an obvious way of how to get up into the castle. For Henry, who did indeed once see the Great Pyramids of Egypt and the Colosseum of Rome, all ex-monuments, this obscure castle in Slovakia was a true wonder of man’s handiwork.

What would a castle be worth if it did not have a city or a village to watch over? thought Henry. He slowly pivoted around in a circle to see that no trace of the city remained. It was eery for Henry to know that there once stood houses on either side of this road, and that shops and churches served the people of the village.

“All gone,” Henry said. “Quaint, unassuming homes made of stone; churches of wood with bronze bells shining like the sun and singing hourly tunes. All of these things, plucked from the earth like flowers.”

Henry used his memory banks to rebuild the village as he remembered it. It had been many years since he last traveled this way, and his visual reconstruction of the village was confused by other villages and cities he adored. He could not, in his mind’s eye, keep the model of the village in place long enough to fully appreciate it. This failure made Henry sad. He was thankful and gleeful, though, like a young child on its birthday, that he could remember the castle that stood on that hill.

“I’m glad I remember you,” Henry said, gazing up at the top of the hill. “Otrava,” Henry called out the castle’s name.

Darkness fell. Henry pulled out a light from his bag to show him the way down the road. His mind stayed on that castle because it opened cascading stories and memories from Henry’s life. The journeys to friends, the meeting of and drinking with old men in dark pubs, and the sits in nature. There was also a study of some kind? Henry thought. A study of a book? With people. They were good people. Good people looking for answers.

Henry’s fever daydream about the castle made him completely unaware of his current journey. He suddenly found himself at the doorstep of his destination: Ruzemberok, Slovakia.

To chapter 2.