Where Clouds End - Martin Wolkner - ebook

Where Clouds End ebook

Martin Wolkner



An a-level student carries a gloomy, sullen guilt in his soul which holds him off from other people. His only friend is an oak deep in the forest. But one autumn in the 1990s he cannot avoid meeting a young man with a dog who tries to bring him back to life gently. But can the outsider allow this to happen? The melancholy, poetic novella "Where Clouds End" was written between October 1999 and the summer of 2000. After extensive revision it was first published in 2019 in an English and a German version.

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for my best friend: loneliness

About the author:

Martin Wolkner, born in the metropolitan area Ruhr in 1980, studied English and German Linguistics, Film Studies and a little bit of Philosophy at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and University of Hull.

He worked as a writer, journalist, film critic, translator, subtitler and director of Filmfest homochrom in Cologne and Dortmund.

He has published two German novels and a collection of German poems. An English collection of poetry will follow soon.

The novella "Where Clouds End" was written between October 1999 and the summer of 2000. After extensive revision it was first published in 2019 in English and German.


















"I long

for feelings

as deep as

the ocean,






"I'd like to feel my body

and the motions of my heart,

yet I don't feel any of that…"


He was almost out of this world. Although he still lingered on in it, there were hardly any hints that he was there, because he kept himself away, as far away as he could, from all life. The pain alone was with him. How satisfying solitude can be! What pleasure it is, if one must deny oneself everything else! What liberation, if one feels lost in life, lost in the fortune of the world!

It was still there with him and it did not want to dissolve, this pain, however much he endeavoured. The bittersweet pain was always present, and his strength was banned to that dark and secret place and concealed there, along with his feelings and memories. He was living a shadow life. He had become estranged from the light and he could not fight any more. For him there existed no past, no present, no future anymore, only pain. And to this he clung, for it was the only thing that was left to him. It confirmed again and again that he was doing the right thing. For if some day it was not there anymore, then indeed he had done something wrong and broken all his values and intentions.

But those long years of habituation had not deadened him. For that, he was much too cautious. When for the first time he had felt this bitterness, this melancholy, which had descended upon him like a black shroud, was unimportant, because that's the way things were and the beginning forgotten, like so much else from his lost childhood. Apart from the tiny spark of blitheness at his very beginning, he remembered only the heartache and he was probably even born with it. His constant companion was something valuable and essential to him, without which he would not have wanted to live on; a travelling companion that had become so vital that one followed them at the next fork of the road and made their path one's own. The pain was the only thing that there was no doubt about.

He sat in the branches of his friend, the lonesome oak, which stood on top of a gentle hill in the middle of a vast meadow. The seldom trodden path with speckles of coarse pebbles ran across the mound a stone's throw away from the oak. The hillock arose from the ocean of forests all around at the foot of it like a grass covered isle.

He sat in the crown of the tree and overlooked the landscape dominated by broadleaf forests and meadows. Somewhere almost at the horizon, the swathe of a wide motorway meandered through the countryside and destroyed the beautiful view, just as the dozen of power lines did which swung from pylon to pylon and which gave indirect evidence that possibly he was not alone in this sea.

Certainly, September had had its merits, sunny and warm, but now it was late October. The trees had turned the colour of their leaves already, early according to season, were crimson, almost purple, and had almost completely been deprived of their leaves by the storms that had raged. Even now a cool breeze was blowing through the boughs and twigs of his friend, which was strong and hardy. Its leaves had turned, but, in contrast to the others', they were still fiery red and dense. Yet it would not last much longer. Soon everything would be bare and dreary and grey like the sky, over which a thick carpet of clouds chased along. His gaze wandered over this carpet, as if he went over it for a walk. The majority of people did not like such weather; it dampened their spirits and souls. That was one of the reasons that hardly anybody went past this place. In principle, humans rarely came walking through the forest and over this meadow. This place was peaceful, calm, calming. Lost in thoughts he did not at all notice that the wind grew gradually stronger and colder, nor that it was piping a gruesome melody of farewell on the twigs of the oak. For a short moment he became aware of the wind sneaking in through his clothes and pinching his warmth. Not even this was left for him, the last bits of that which he really longed for, if he had but admitted it to himself. The more he fought against his yearning for warmth, closeness and company, the stronger it was smouldering subliminally for fulfilment. For the blink of an eye this desire sparked up again, fanned by the cold October wind, and he used all his rationality against it. That the world was bleak and cold he was convinced of, and he could experience it himself again and again, just like in this moment. In this, as in any other respect, nobody was able to fool him. He had gone through enough to know the world. There had been enough disappointment after disappointment in his life, enough humans who had abused him or deceived him or left him. Then he forgot about the yearning again.

The view on the valley was breathtaking. The blended surface of treetops below him, which were shaken to and fro by the wind, reminded him once again of the vast sea, which swells and surges and moves incessantly. The last shreds of foliage were being torn from the trees like rags of a beggar and swirled through the air like dandelion clock seeds in summer. The wind turned swiftly and swept his prey, the leaves, towards him and his friend, and veiled them in a cloud. Filled with enthusiasm for this spectacle of nature, he realised that nature was the only one allowed to give him true pleasures. Those of the world of man were untouchable for him, if he did not want to betray himself. Humans were only cruel; nature alone was beautiful in her cruelty. Even now she demonstrated this side of her, and he cherished it greatly that the leaves swirled around him sitting in the protection of the oak tree, and to know that this joyful pastime was the prelude to the rigor mortis of winter.

Slowly the clouds were darkening, while the veiled sun approached the horizon. Soon it would go down and leave the world shrouded in nightly blue shadows. For this reason it was about time that he took his leave and set out for home. Yet there was still some time left, a little bit of time which he wanted to use. In the duty of gloominess, a strong unexpected feeling of longing and sadness took hold of him. He felt the tickling in his nose and the gentle welling-up of tears in his eyes. There was a motion in him, a yearning for someone to whom he was connected, a craving for a strong friendship, understanding and sincerity, which he did not want to notice, because it was impossible for him to gratify its gravity. There was no human being who was willing or able to get involved with him in the way he was in need of, and there was no permission on his part to get engaged in any kind.

Within he heard the lamenting, stately music of a flute accompanied by a guitar, the music of his sadness resounding in his mind. It blended with the piping and whispering of the wind, which drowned out his quiet sobbing and carried it away, away from the oak over the open meadow. Tears were running down his face while he was wondering from which corner of his heart this hint had come and what it meant. The chill of the air made him sense the paths of the paindrops markedly on his face. His heart was open and at the same time empty yet full. It happened quite frequently that he felt like this, but he could never really understand what was going on inside of him. These inconsistent feelings were familiar and still…

He felt a soft touch on his left shoulder, gentle and chilly. He turned around mystified, for nobody was there with him except his unmoved friend. It was neither the wind nor the tree nor anybody who had come within reach of him, only a phantom touch that he could not make any sense of, that he had to have imagined. If he were religious, he might have explained it with an angel. But he wasn't. That would have been too nice because his belief embraced that he never really was alone. But he was sure that humans were alone. There were no god and no angels who kept watch over creation, or else he would not be sitting in this tree at that moment and be forsaken and on his own. Deep sadness filled him and wrapped him up. The loss was as fresh as the taste of the flesh of grapes on his tongue. He remembered.

Distant noises penetrated his consciousness gradually. He winced involuntarily and was startled out of his thoughts, already forgetting again. The noises were hardly louder than the murmur in the leaves at first and scarcely distinguishable from it. But they came closer, grew in intensity, and then at once he became aware of what it was: the menacing barking of a dog. But what seemed far worse to him was the fact that along with the animal a human came into his vicinity who would disconcert him in his last quiet minutes. He was riled and helpless. Hopefully, it passed quick and easy!

There was nothing else he could do except to wait and let it wash over him, if he wanted to remain unnoticed. Just don't come too close, he thought, but they did. The dog frolicked over the meadow in the twilight, barked eagerly and came close to the tree. The revolting sound of the animal roared in his head and drove away the last tones of flute. As if that wasn't enough already, it came worse: The owner of the dog left the path and followed the beast through the grass towards the tree.

He watched indignantly over the entire scene from his box seat. The dog turned around, leaped on one spot, ran over to his master, bounced in front of him, and the young man in his early twenties seemed to be amused about it!

It was the same young man whom he had seen here for the first time about a year ago and several times afterwards, one of the few who wandered to this place at all. The stranger often came in the late afternoon, but he did not come with the animal each and every time. Very rarely he strolled over the gravel path all by himself and kicked stones lost in thoughts. Never did he walk in human company.

This excessive cheerfulness of this young man was too much for him. It disturbed him, it derided him. He could not bear, if others behaved so happily. Often he would not even buy it. He was convinced that many people covered up their fears, sadnesses and sorrows with a friendliness simply put on. Everything seemed faked. Yet the stranger in his vicinity conveyed a feeling of naturalness which he could not grasp exactly. It probably originated from the contrast of what he had observed before. For the stranger appeared to have been initiated in the secret knowledge of sorrow as well, as he thought to have perceived from time to time in the last months.

Nevertheless, the current joyful outburst bothered him! He had wanted to bid farewell to his blushed friend, the security and the tranquillity of this place in peace. And then this anybody came along and destroyed everything! This was another proof that he wasn't granted any petty piece of happiness or personal rapture.

The bloke below giggled as the dog ran around him, once, twice, and then it ran in the direction of the tree. With a single clear laugh the stranger started to move to follow the animal.

He was sitting above in the tree top and saw the figure running towards him. Now it is over! Now he is going to see you! Close your eyes, hold your breath! It'll be over soon!

He took a deep breath and slowly his eyelids closed. The last sight before the darkness engraved itself in his memory: the beaming visage of the stranger. He tried to dissipate this picture. The rustling steps of the two creatures through withered grass and fallen leaves stood out from the sighing of the wind. A laugh rang out and faded away. Then a squall chased through the oak tree's leafy canopy and whispered its song in the leaves. He felt the boughs defy the force of the storm and bend unwillingly. Then it became quieter. The wind eased off more and more. It was still. No noise anymore. Not even the flute in his head. No noise whatsoever anymore.

He slowly opened his eyes. The human and the animal were gone. He heaved a sigh of relief and marvelled, as the cool air streamed into his lungs. It felt as though he had not breathed in aeons. The time in which he had kept his eyes closed appeared now to have been infinitely long. He frowned and puckered his lips, turned his gaze to the side, hesitated pensively for a moment, then slightly shrugged his shoulders with resignation. He rubbed his cold hands against each other and relaxed his posture a bit because he had cowered frantically in expectation of his discovery.

A long sigh loosened from his inside. His farewell was scuppered, his perfect afternoon had been ruined in the end. He was not able to let in this feeling once again which had dominated him a short time ago. Instead his thoughts were with the peculiar stranger, whose face was still imprinted in his memory. As much as he tried to ban this picture, he did not succeed.

The sun was already deep on the horizon. He saw the reddish spark glint through the grey clouds. It was definitely time for him to leave. With limbs stiff with cold and from sitting for a long time, he climbed down from bough to bough, and from the lowest he swung down to the ground with elegant movements. As a friendly mien he pressed his lips together, said goodbye to the oak silently by embracing the trunk for some time, and thanked it for the refuge. He only dared to show this friendliness and closeness because there were no spectators and because he was convinced that he only attributed a personality, a soul to the tree, although in reality it did not possess anything like that.

Quickly he trudged over the meadow. The wind livened up and drove clouds from the west over his head. The breeze grasped him on the hilltop as it swept on eastwards. He looked to the horizon, the wind in his face, and stretched out his arms, his hands, his fingers and sensed the stream of air tear at him. The clouds in the sky broke open and the last fiery red rays of the setting sun touched his face. A tingling shudder ran down his spine. The glowing ball was already behind the far-away trees and only the upper edge peeked over them. While the sun was setting at last, the shadows of the forest crept up the hill of grass in his direction. When they had reached his feet, he looked down at himself and watched how the darkness clambered up his body. Soon the shadow was caressing his breast. He looked up again to the sun, which departed behind the trees. He lowered his eyes, closed them for a moment, then he turned on his heels and marched with long strides towards north-northeast.

The woods were murky, forsaken and scary in the twilight hour. A little fear took hold of him as usual. His adrenalin level rose. He was on the watch and prepared for a sudden attack of a wolf, although he was rather sure that nothing like that happened.

The stranger, whom he had forgotten about during the magnificent spectacle of nature, walked back into his consciousness. The exercising of his body made his thinking get a move on, too, and he reflected on the question why this young man had such a curious effect on him, why he seemed more congenial than the rest of humanity. After more than half an hour of brooding he passed the first house that stood secluded at the edge of the forest. He walked faster to get through the poorly lit streets to his dwelling as quickly as possible. He reached the anonymous housing block at the end of the last street of the suburb without noticing the pair of eyes watching him.

He walked the path along bushes to the entrance, rummaged in his pockets for the keys, unlocked the door and went to one of the flats on the fourth floor. Faint light shimmered through the spyhole. He opened the door and his mother, walking through the corridor, stopped, turned around and smiled at him.

"You arrived just in time. Supper is ready."