Staff Spotlight: Jonathan Stringfellow

Dura the Pilgrim: The First Tale

Dura finds himself in the cold, foggy night of a city street alone. Lights from nearby street lamps and buildings ebb away to smokey embers. Walking over the broken line in the street, a rush of strong wind passes behind him. He recalls the far-off sounds of screeching tires and the fading echoes of screams can be heard in the night. Disconcerted, Dura stiffens his back, jabbing his hands into his jean pockets and trading looks from shoulder to shoulder as he passes toward the other side of the street. From the nape of his neck that meets with his skull, Dura feels a pain like a needle drawing blood. He says the pain is as though a string of fishline was slowly being pulled from the back of his head. Dura sensed shadows moving along the sides of the street, believing to see a dark figure out of the corners of his eyes. He says he felt concrete eyes from behind corners, hands made of fog swiping at him. Dura says he will tell of the horrors he would later see but also of how he found guidance as well. A guidance that would reveal his sorrowful journey. He passed down countless, signless streets on a moonless night. A darkness, Dura describes, that paws and licks at his mortal soul. In having no light, nor knowledge of where he was going, Dura believes it may have been hours or days long of traveling in that eternal night. Yet, though his journey had been long, he saw at the end of a street corner a glowing fiery light. As he wandered closer, the light fluttered much like a heartbeat. This light would eventually lead to a squat bar, half sunken into the earth. Large brass letters inscribed above the entrance of the bar read, “En Enfer”. The warm light, like water, flowed from the stained window glass. Dura says he had waited there a moment, asking as to why this bar was the only one open. He did not know the hour of night, yet there must be others open. Yet he never saw another light from anywhere along the street. As he descended the steps down toward the entrance, Dura says he could feel the warmth of the fire call closer in waves, and as he edged near the door, it swung open for his entrance. It was in this bar, “En Enfer” where he would meet with his guide and begin his true journey.


    I’m called Dura. I was given this name by friends and family at the age of twenty. It was meant as a token, a passing down of honor. 

    My father had accepted the name at twenty, my grandfather had done the same at twenty, and his father before him as well. 

   Yet, it was on a lonesome night, in a city unfamiliar to me, that I grew fearful of my own name. I don’t recall where I was last, nor do I remember having fallen asleep, yet as I stood in the street I thought I had woken up.

   My eyes stung and felt heavy, with a buzzing ring in my ears. I rocked on the heels, rubbing my arms and legs awake. As I began to walk across the middle of the road, I was startled and chilled by a sudden and strong flurry of wind that blew across my back.

   I heard the shrill squeal of tires and the dreadful cries of men and women. These noises were distant and muddled as if water were stuck in my ears.

    There was no car or tire tracks nearby, and I didn’t see anyone by the sidewalks either. I straightened out my back as fear played out along my spine like crashing piano notes. The sudden gust of wind and distant shrieks reminded me of the ghost stories I heard as a child.

     Stories of haunting guilt, stories of shadowy agony from the past, came back to mind. The fog rolling along the roads, the street lamps bulb merely embers, brought life to those stories. My instincts told me to look both ways before I walked across the street.

    As I crossed toward the sidewalk, I thought I was having a nightmare. I tried to rationalize and console myself, telling myself, “You’re at home. You’re in bed asleep. This is only a dream, Dura.” 

     I went on walking toward the sidewalk when I was struck with an uprooting pain at the nape of my neck.  It was an invisible fishing line being slowly jerked out by unseen fingers. Fingers I would never wish to see, yet these were fingers I could feel.

     Shadows moved at the edges of my sight, slinking along walls at my periphery. I saw people under the darkness, walking beside me, stepping as I stepped moving only as I looked away, following me.

   Eyes from the buildings surrounding me, peering out from around corners and from rooftops. Hands coming out from the sea of fog, following in pursuit. I never met with the gaze of these eyes nor felt the murky hands’ snatching, following close by.

     Had I known the horrors waiting for me ahead, I may have given in to being taken by the watchful, hidden eyes and the reach of dark hands. Though my journey was to take a dark descent, I met with a guide to lead me. A guide like myself.

     I don’t remember how many streets I must have passed and crossed, how many corners I must have turned down. I had been too fearful of the gloom that followed, the figures that shifted past me. There was no moon or stars to guide me, no reference for time. As far as I can understand, I may have traveled those streets for countless hours, perhaps even days.

    The darkness brought fear to my soul. It had taken hold of my mind, bloating out any other concern. 

    As I followed the sidewalks, I became aware of how thin my life had become, as though my end was nearing. All points of care left me save for the concern I had for my life. All efforts to comprehend were pushed aside save for the concrete beneath my feet.

   My long wandering journey had brought onto me a sight! One I had been searching for like a blind, anosmic mutt probing the ground for his lost bone. I had found light in the miasma of fog and darkness!

    I had seen its fiery glow at the end of the far corner ahead of me. I doubled my efforts, hurrying toward this newfound hope. This light did not cause me to abandon my fears, only delaying the reality for a moment.

    The light fluttered and swayed like the waves from my home. Yet this light changed orange into red, into yellow, and back again to orange again. Bouncing and pulsing like a heart’s beat or a slow military drum. 

    When I had found light, its origin, as I discovered, was from within a bar. This bar was half built into the ground as if sinking beneath the oppressive weight of the building built above. I waited, soaking in the warm light as it flowed out of the stained-glass windows like soothing, gentle waves.

    The name of the bar, written out in large brass letters, read, “En Enfer”. I had never heard of a bar nor seen one built like the “En Enfer,” but those thoughts hadn’t come to mind immediately.

    As I stood, waiting before the stairs leading down to the door of the bar, wondering why this bar was the only one open. I had walked down countless streets seeing no signs or names. I had been traveling for what may have been days and never saw a light quiet like the one coming from the bar.

    Furthermore, I saw no people. No other traveling as I had been. At least I saw no physical people, only whisps and silhouettes of what may have been people. Shadows that had invaded from my direct sight.

    I wondered what hour of night it may have been, why no other bars were open as this one was. Could there have been some mistake? Perhaps this one was the last to close? I could not know for certain.

    My fear of the surrounding twilight came back to my mind, and in an effort to save myself, I slowly made my descent toward the door. Stepping closer, the solid wood door swung open on its own command, or there was no one there to open it. 

    Stepping inside the door softly closed behind me without my notice. My reasoning was because I was within an empty bar save for the lonely bartender, and what looked to be a shaggy man sat upon a stool with a drink in hand. He wore a long, pale green coat covered in brown and black stains. He looked like an old coal miner. 

    Respectfully I approached, hailing to the man and the bartender, “Hello, my name—” 

   “Is Dura the Pilgrim, I know,” interrupted the shaggy man. He did not turn away from the bar.

    “I’m sorry, but do I know you, sir? Have we met before?” I asked, rummaging in my thoughts of names and faces, trying to recall any shaggy men I knew.

    “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, turning in his seat.

     I felt a sudden wave of heat hit me, the shock of it nearly caused me to fall backward for the door. “It couldn’t be true,” I said to myself, “this must be a dream!”

    “Are you a man, or perhaps a beast in disguise, meant to teach me in my dreams?” I asked. I huddled my arms close to my body. The bar was warm, yet I felt so cold beneath my skin.

    “This is no dream. I’m no beast, but I was once a man,” he answered. “I am a son of the lands found in the most North of East. I come from a line of merchants and priests, though I was considered an enemy of home. During my life, I have been like you are now.”

     I could not make sense of it; this was not a dream? And the phantom I saw before me was indeed the man I knew him for? 

   “Then you are who I believe you to be?” I asked, “You are Fyodor Dostoyevsky?”

    The man stepped away from his chair, clasping my shoulder with a large callused hand. His beard reached down to his chest, and his dark oak eye met with mine.

    “When I was alive, yes, I had been,” he answered, “However,” he said, his other arm reaching out and pointing toward the door opposite to the entrance. It was an old rusted metal door with small holes where bolts had been. 

    As he pointed toward the door, it creaked open. “I’ve been granted permission to be your guide through Hell,” he said. With one arm reached around my shoulders, he walked me toward the door and guided me down the stairs to the first circle of Hell.