A storm raged outside our small, one-bedroom house, sheets of water thrashing across the recently-tiled roof. The storm shutters rattled with the unrelenting wind, but it hadn’t been the weather that woke me from fitful slumber. Of that I was sure.
My uncle, rummaging through an old chest near the kitchen, turned and frowned as I appeared in the doorway. “It’s just the wind, go back to sleep boy.” His tone was stern, but tired. Resigned, perhaps.
“Uncle, what are you doing up this late?” I asked, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, not content to return to bed with the something scratching at the back of my mind, a question I couldn’t form into words. I knew there would be no more sleep tonight, and deep down I worried that my uncle felt it too.
“There’s a storm coming,” he sighed, relenting at least a little. “And maybe it’s been here a while. Tonight I have to do something about it, something I’ve been trying to run away from for a long time.”
I didn’t understand what he was saying, but I did see the familial sword and shield he had pulled out of the chest. “Uncle, will you be safe?”
He shook his head with grave solemnity. “Bar the door child, and whatever happens, whatever you think you hear, don’t go outside for anything. This is not your fight.”
“I love you, and swore to your parents that I would raise you properly. I hope I’ve done enough.”
“Uncle,” I began, but couldn’t think of the words. Tears made my vision blurry.
“Goodbye, Link,” he said, pulling me into a tight embrace. “Bar the door, and stay safe.”
Laying in bed, unable to sleep, my uncle’s words, and the pain in his voice, running through my mind. The storm outside intensified, cruel thunderclaps punctuating the unceasing downpour. The back of my right hand felt warm and I idly scratched at it while trying to imagine what my uncle meant. What had he been running away from? What fight?
The small cabin had been our home for years, almost as long as I could remember. There were glimpses of memory, fragments and pieces, of long travel with my parents before coming here, but nothing about where I was from or what made them flee. Nothing of what happened to them after they placed me in my uncle’s care.
My eyes snapped to the shuttered window. Had I heard someone out there?
I rose slowly, still in my bedclothes, and pressed my ear to the glass. It was wet and cold, buffeted by the terrible storm. There was only the sound of wind, and rain, and my own heartbeat thudding heavily in my chest.
“Please,” a small voice said, faint and distant, behind me. I spun and saw someone – or at least a hazy outline of someone – kneeling in the bedroom doorway. She looked to be praying, crying, and eventually looked up directly at me.
“Please, Link – the castle. Only you can stop him. Please.”
The apparition and her haunting words faded as I stood, dumbstruck. The castle wasn’t far away, less than a mile, but the pounding rain would make the midnight trip a treacherous one. And what would I tell the guards when I got there, “a ghost told me to come, so here I am?”
My mind ran through every possibility, every explanation, when the realization dawned that I had already gotten dressed in my sturdiest clothes, and stood facing the very same door I promised my uncle I wouldn’t open.
Her voice – there was something about her voice. Something true, something real. Something terrified.
I took the small hooded lantern from the old chest, drew a heavy cloak tight, and followed my uncle into the howling unknown.
This story is inspired whole-cloth by the opening scene of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, released in 1992. It remains my all-time favorite video game for the sense of awe and wonder it provided, of grand adventure and purposeful exploration.
The header image above was taken from a collection by KvMartin.