Existence is movement, and even the smallest, seemingly insignificant events can change the direction of a life for ever. The User’s Guide to Perpetual Motion is a series of relatively small incidents – entirely fictional – designed for me to explore character motivations and reactions and for you, hopefully, to enjoy.

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Garallion stood on the bridge, watching the waters in the river below rushing away from this accursed place to somewhere better, where there was still hope and future. He briefly considered jumping in, so that he could be taken wherever hope and future existed; but he realised that the current wasn’t strong enough to carry him, and he would only discover whether being wet would make him feel worse. He doubted it.

It had all been too much effort, too much pain, too much time, to come to this. For more years than he cared to count he had been village chief, guiding, leading, coercing and commanding through times of upset and upheaval, hunger, hate and hardship. He had even overseen the building of the bridge, which had changed so much for so many.

And now he stood upon it, watching the river run away from him, seemingly faster and faster. The road back to the village seemed ugly and uninviting. The road away seemed difficult and demanding. And so he remained upon the bridge, following the ebbs and flows of first one leaf on the water’s surface, then another, as each was carried this way and that, with no control over where or how it might end up, wondering if the dizzying displacement said more about life than any of his own beliefs ever had.

They did not want him. They did not care whether they needed him. And so he wanted not to care and not to be needed – even though he had spent most of his years caring and being needed. It all seemed as meaningless as the twists and turns of the river course; because, no matter how much the water pressed and pushed, it could never avoid its eventual disappearance in the oblivion of ocean that awaited it. What had been the point?

Travelek appeared from nowhere, his lithe, easy movement carrying him from the dusk shadows into the last of the day without warning. “For better or worse, it’s done,” he said quietly, his voice suggesting no respect within its confidence.

“Yes, chief,” Garallion replied, skipping over the poison word almost as if he had not said it.

“They voted. They want change. And who’s to say that’s a bad thing?”

“Not I.” His arms remained folded against the side of the bridge, his eyes remained fixed on the racing river, and he resisted the urge to turn away from the younger man.

“I could fight you, if you like,” Trevelek said. “Like the old days.”

“You would win,” Garallion replied flatly.

“Yes.” There was a pause. “Will you come back and eat with me?”

Garallion fought to control a sudden shudder. “Why would I do that?”

“You were chief for a long time. You can teach me so many things I don’t know.”

“It is your job to learn them now.”

“It would be better for the village if you helped.”

Another slight shudder made its way through Garallion’s chest. He felt a flutter of fear, as if he was young again. “They do not want me,” he said quietly, failing to disguise the emotion of the words.

“They think it’s one or the other, night or day, yes or no,” Travalek said, matching the older man’s position against the side of the bridge. “They don’t see the middle ground, the dusk, the maybe.” When Garallion offered no reply, the new chief let the river flow for a time before saying: “And you don’t really want to take the road away.”

river

“They do not want me!” Garallion suddenly shouted, slamming his fists onto the wall. “And you may be chief, but you do not know what I want! All of my life I worked for all of you. To come to –– this! It is my right to walk away. It is my right to demand my reward and take it with me. Why should I not go?”

“For the same reasons you gave Marek,” said Travelek quietly.

“Marek?” The name had been unspoken for years.

“Right here, all those years ago, on the old bridge that collapsed and left the village cut off.”

“How do you know about that?” Garallion asked, genuinely surprised.

“Because I was here,” Travelek said, turning towards the other and pointing across his gaze. “Fishing, on that rock, although there weren’t so many trees around it then. You wouldn’t have seen me, though. I was always good at hiding. I was always good at listening, too. That day, when the village voted for you instead of Marek, and he came out to the bridge, and you offered to fight him, and then asked him to come back and eat with you.”

“And he did not,” Garallion remembered.

“No, because the village didn’t want him, he said, and you said they thought it was one or another, night or day, yes or no.” Travelek moved closer to Garallion. “We both understant that’s not true. We both know there are hard times ahead. We both know there is still so much you can do for the village.” The next pause was different, full of new meaning. “I’ll create a position for you,” the new chief continued. “You’ll be the elder of the village. An honourable role, where you’ll be consulted for your wisdom and experience, and retain the authority of chief. Well, most of it anyway.”

“I do not feel like an elder.”

“I expect that’s part of the position.”

Travelek waited a moment, then began to move off the bridge towards the village. Garallion continued to watch the river running, its meaningless meanderings achieving nothing except marking time between its existence and its end; and then he recalled how he once loved its singing and playing as it danced for the joy of that existence, regardless of how little or long it might last, and he followed Travelek back to the village.