He sat bolt upright… startled, dazed… even a tad frightened. Where was he? What was he doing in this strange place? Why was this happening to him? Then, slowly but surely it dawned on him… he was dreaming, again. The same dream… well, are they ever the same?
If the dream and it’s outcome changes then the backdrop is always the same. Steep cliffs… desert colours… browns, tans, ochre’s… orange and yellow with traces of red, depending of the sun’s angle or the shade lines. The sun is always fierce… until it sets in the evening. Then, the sky is indigo velvet-black… the stars bright light splodges, splatters or pinpricks illuminating the night. A sickle moon always hangs over the rim of the crater.
Zach stumbles along in the dusk, trying to find a sheltered spot for the night because he knows the temperature will drop below zero, as it does at this time of the year. It is as if by some quirky law of nature that a breeze stirs after nightfall… as if the river sucks the heat from the cliffs… at first the breeze I warm… then it become rather thin, as Zach is fond of describing it. So thin… it slips between one’s ribs like a blade… hurting all the while.
Zach is often left humming the tune ’Who’ll Stop The Rain’ when the dream passes. There seems a link… yet, the music in the background in never CCR’s great song. Although the backdrop reminds of the movie the music is Pink Floyd’s ’Wish You Were Here’. In the dream the music draws him onward… into the dark night. He stumbles and falls… getting up… never feeling pain… continuing until he catches sight of a glimmer of light.
Zach is drawn, pulled, as if by invisible bonds… onward toward the flames. At first he only sees the fire… the enticing warmth beckons. The reminders of the previous few nights almost freezing out in the open are enough impetus. He cares little if he may be intruding on someone’s campfire… all he cares for is the warmth… of spending a night sleeping close to the warmth. Rest… blissful rest… after the days stumbling around in the scorching sun and freezing nights he yearns for some respite.
“Come… come… come hither… “ Initially, Zach isn’t sure where the voice comes from… he can’t see the source. Is the fire speaking? Then he sees a face peering out of the darkness… an old face… wrinkled, lined… weary… bearded… yet, a face only too familiar.
The face is that of his one and only friend from his days at university. Ronny Mason… all round great guy… fun, a smash with the girls… a hit with the boys. With his fast motorbike and loud music… Ronny the stud… Ronny the joker. How had they ever formed a bond? Zach the loner… Zach the studious introvert… the academic… the librarian, the reader of philosophy.
Ronny loved spending time with Zach… he called it his special time… time to slow down, time to catch his breath. Ronny would barge into Zach’s dorm room… demand an audition, as he called it. Then, more often than not, they would be heading out the door within minutes. Onto the bike… into the mountains. They would find a quite spot… somewhere to light a fire, somewhere for Ronny to practice his braaiing skills.
Hours later, after debating the ills or the joys of the universe, they would pack up… cleaning up behind themselves. Suitably rested and rejuvenated they would head back down the passes to the town. Ronny would now revert to Ronny the restless. Energised, ready for chasing skirt… for making music. Ronny the entertainer.
So it went for a good few years… the summers were great times. Winter’s Zach was usually too involved with rugby administration to have much time off during the weekends. That meant they needed to sneak off to Cape Town in the week, to visit the movies… like the night they went off to see ’Who’ll Stop The Rain…’ It poured that night, so… Ronny, always with a plan, booked them into a hotel after the show. Zach was cold… wet to the bone. The hot shower and bed beckoned… invitingly. On finishing his shower he found the note…
’Stepped out for an hour or so. Know a hot little number just down the road. See you later, sleep tight, all is paid for.’
The next thing Zach knew was the banging on the door. He awoke… realising where he was. He opened the door… the anxious calls of the hotel staff instantly warning that all wasn‘t well.
“Yes, yes… I know Mr Mason. Ronny… yes, he was here with me last evening… he paid for the room. No… I don’t know where he is now…” his voice trailed off as he recalled the note. He allowed the hotel manager into the room, showing him the hastily scribbled-on slip of paper.
“Well young man, you’ll have to find your own way back to Stellenbosch. We have no more news at this point but it appears Mr Mason has eloped with the girl mentioned in that note.“ With that Zach was seen out of the hotel… his damp clothes sticking to his skin like the clammy feeling of dread’s premonition clinging to his soul.
All these memories are repeated every time the dream calls around… without fail. The dream changes little… the face at the fire is that of Ronny’s… always! The outfit is a different matter… it changes frequently. At times Ronny, the wizard, with long flowing white hair and beard, is dressed as the wizard… then as a biker… in full leathers, black leathers with a red lightning bolt sown into the jacket. Then, the outfit changes into that of a bush ranger wielding a huge ax which he uses to split massive logs he tosses effortlessly onto the fire.
The ax is a symbolic thing… more a wand than a blade… it swings and trees split asunder… showering large chunks of tree onto the blaze. When the fire is roaring at its best the ax turns into a flaming flying-vee guitar… the musical ax is driven to the maximum by the wizard… always the same… the wailing echoes of “Wish You Were Here…”
The dream is always a thing of beauty as much as a thing of awe. Ronny casts his twirling spells… conjuring music from the ax and then the next second cleaving tree stumps with the flying-vee… all the while the costumes change… but never do the eyes loose their mischievous sparkle…
Zach can’t forget the dreams… the images live on in his mind, often weeks after an episode. He has come to associate the dreams with the arrival of news… usually good news. He has also come to associate the dreams with dread, a reminder of that evening… there was a knock on his dorm door. The police constable asked if he would be Zach. Yes, indeed, he was. The man handed him a package… a brown paper covered object about the size of a shoe box.
“Mr Mason was killed a few evenings ago… a motorcycle accident.” The toneless voice droned on, “This package, your name and address clearly stenciled across the front, was the only possession he was carrying, apart from his wallet containing his identity documentation. Amazingly, the package remained intact… not even the slightest mark or tear in the paper… even though the bike was a total mess.”
The policeman paused… glancing at Zach, seemingly gauging if Zach could deal with the news, “His family asked that we honour his last wishes and bring you the package as that is what Mr Mason seemed to be doing at the time of his death.” The man turned without a further word and let himself out.
Zach stared at the strange offering for quite a few minutes… not knowing if he could trust his emotions. After the initial news at the hotel about Ronny’s supposed absconding his sense of foreboding grew stronger as the days without further news sped by. He’d had a feeling that all wasn’t well with Ronny… but to hear of his death in this manner was rather surreal. Now all he had was the box… what would he find when he opened the package?
He didn’t care at that moment. He needed air… space. His next rational recollection was hours later. He found himself walking the streets of Stellenbosch… aimlessly wandering between the campus buildings. He chose a bench for a few moment’s reflection. Why was he walking? Why did he have the distinct feeling that he somehow knew Ronny was never returning… well, never in tangible form.
Hessie’s words about the Ghost of Bain’s Kloof kept ringing in his ears… “If you ever saw her, you would be left ’seeing.’” Was it possible? Did he know Ronny wasn’t returning or was it merely a hunch? Questions… questions and more questions. There may be an answer or two in that package.
He opened the thing carefully, gingerly… after returning to his room. As if the Genie named Ronny may be released… in which of his many guises? No Ronny… only a letter… and a sheath of papers… all A4 sheets, neatly written works. Songs, lyrics, poems, short stories. The letter said simply…
“I want you to have these… there may be a book in them… maybe you could sell a song or two… maybe you could just burn the stuff… maybe our friendship was meant to end this way…”
Large denomination Rand notes made up the bulk of the contents of the box. Zach’s quick estimate suggested a good few years of free study, board included, as well as a more up to date Land Rover for Aunt Gertruida. It was, however, all Ronny’s writing that was of infinitely more interest to him. He delved into the pile of notes, essays and whatever there was to read.
Three days later he decided he should return to class. His mourning period at an end, well, the days off to work things out in his head…
Now… even years later, Ronny would call around whenever he chose. The dreams were draining experiences… they were such intense, vivid affairs. The colour and light… the fire, the fireworks created by that ax dazzled. The music… of fire, light… rhythm and melody. Ronny lived on a different plane… in life and death.
Zach’s reaction, once the initial shock of waking passed, never failed to cause a heartbeat rush or two… he would glance up at the flying-vee mounted on the wall to the left of the bed… the very same guitar that appeared mysteriously in his dorm room about a month after Ronny’s passing… on the day of his 21st birthday…