THE Thwarted Man had a dream. He dreamt that if he opened his wardrobe door he would find a pair of golden shoes that would allow him to run for ever. So when he awoke he opened his wardrobe door, and there – nestling between old boxes of clothes that nobody ever wears – was a pair of golden shoes that glowed like fire.
The Thwarted Man was thwarted because today he had planned to climb Helvellyn from Patterdale: up to Grizedale Tarn, along craggy ridges to the summit and Sticks Pass, then down the long track from Greenside Mine as a late afternoon sun turned the snow pale gold. He had collected a pile of shiny coins for the parking meters in Glenridding, knowing that his usual parking place among the trees on the shores of Ullswater would be buried beneath drifts.
And then last night, while he sat in his dismal and draughty newspaper office in a dismal and draughty North-East town, came the news that the A66 was closed on Stainmore.
In his car his ice axe and crampons remain unused like the weapons of a slain warrior. His newly-waxed boots gather dust under a seat. But the Thwarted Man has pulled on the golden shoes, has tied the golden laces, and has dashed out into the frozen wastes where their hydra-toothed soles bite into ice.
To the west lie the Pennines, to the east the North York Moors. A cold sun hangs in a flawless sky; white fields and hills stretch to every horizon; and the golden shoes crunch on ice and snow and frozen earth.
“A heron flew over a bamboo forest – and Siddhartha assumed the heron soul, flew over forest and mountain, was heron, ate fish, felt the pangs of heron hunger, cawed the heron call, died a heron death.”
The Thwarted Man sees a wren, and he follows the wren, and the wren leads him into a wood – where a little house stands beneath silent trees.
The doorway is open, and the golden shoes lead the Thwarted Man inside. There is a fireplace but no fire, plates but no food, clothes but no people.
On a wall above the doorway is a mirror set in burnished brass, and in the mirror an apparition. The apparition says: “Know ye the secret of the golden shoes, Thwarted Man. The golden shoes will bear you to the ends of the earth and beyond. They will bear you over moors, through boglands and banks of bracken, along dusty trails that stretch to the horizon and into the red embers of the sinking sun. Seek ye that sinking sun, Thwarted Man, and run for ever.”
And you sit at your computer. You. Yes, you. In your house or your office. You sit there reading these words and staring at these images of snow and brass plates. Glance out of your window now, out across the roofs, or the fields, or along the busy streets.
Out there beneath a wide sky, the Thwarted Man still runs towards the sinking sun, his golden shoes pounding hard roads, soft earth, cracked ice. He will run for ever. But he is thwarted no more.