The Sentinel

He stands alone on the hill, the soft lights below him, watching.

People go about their lives, suffused in the warmth of their fires. Only a few know he even exists, a lone sentinel, freeing their minds from the terrors of the dark woods behind him. He doesn’t mind; he isn’t there for rewards, or accolades, or even recognition. He is there because he must be; it is what he was made to do.

In a room lit by fire and love, a little girl asks if the sentinel will be all right, and is answered by sad, knowing smiles. This will be one of his last nights above, if he survives it at all.

He is overcome with exhaustion and his shoulders sag. He has watched over the village for as long as he remembers, and, if he had heard the family below him, he would know they are right. This was likely his last night.

A desire for sleep suddenly tries to overwhelm him, and he fights it off. If he must go tonight, he will do so fulfilling his duty. There are frightening things behind him that must stay there; nightmares, secrets, and forgotten fears. He crumples a little more, but holds to his resolve.

A cool breeze restores him, somewhat. Not enough to make him stand tall again, but he knows now that will never happen. He just needs to make it through the night. When the sun rises once again over the village square, he can rest, his work done.

A stray dog, wandering from nowhere to nowhere, lays against him, sheltering against the wind. It licks him once in gratitude and once again in sympathy. After a few moments, it leaves.

The song of a snow bird rouses him from a deep contemplation. Had he slept? He didn’t think so. The village lay safely below him, still tucked into its valley. There are fewer lights now, but that just means the people are asleep, trusting their lives to their lone sentinel.

Gloaming came, and as the world grows lighter, his body becomes heavier. Finally, the sun peaks above the far hill. The sentinel sees it, smiles a soft, inner smile, and falls. His duty done.

December 1, 2020; Melt, from the Chinese ideogram, Rong.