Don Quixote Had It Wrong
By Ian Cooke Tapia
A lazy breeze stirred what was left of the grass, and the long blades of the windmill. At the top of a lonely hill, with nothing to keep it company save the road that leads up to the garden around it, and a ditch were things man-made went to die, the windmill stood. It was massive, towering and as impressive as frost in the summer.
There were two men standing on the top of the hill, their eyes locked upon the old windmill. Both of them, understandably, were covered from head to toe in their best winter clothes: thick, leathery boots; several layers of coats and sweaters; gloves made of either goatskin or wool; colourful scarves; and some woolly hats. I was clad just like them, for the day was too cold to be otherwise, and it was almost painful to leave the lovely safety of my vehicle.
It was so cold that the moment I left the warm comfort of my car my nose went numb and my gut clenched. So cold that I felt the soil and grass crumble like glass under the weight of my boots. But there was no snow. No, the land was as dry as it could be, still holding to its colours. Cold and dry; a stark contrast with the scorching sun above: penetrating and relentless.
After so many years of living in this backwater town, in the middle of the tundra, I still had no idea how it was possible for the sun to burn your skin red, while the air brought whispers of frostbite.
I slowly walked up the hill towards the two men, whom I could easily call my friends if it wasn’t for the desire to strangle them whenever I saw their faces. Grass blades broke as my trouser legs brushed them, dew in the form of ice sang crunching tunes as my feet changed their temporal forms. The slope was an easy trek, and quickly I found myself facing their backs.
We had a game. We would agree on meeting somewhere and we would try to surprise the other, scare character-design them with a sneaky greeting. And what was the prize for such a ridiculous contest? A steaming hot bowl of broth, with slices of several types of meat, and potatoes, lots of potatoes. I silently moved behind them, but the moment I was about to make my move the taller of the two turned around.
“Not now, J.C.” Nikolai said in an annoyed tone.
Goodbye hot broth.
It figures that after so many years of playing this game we would grow to expect it whenever we would meet each other, and we would notice the sound of each other’s sneaking. I could tell the sound of Nikolai’s breathing apart from anyone by then. And I had not been the most stealthy getting to that place – the moment my car took the last curve up the hill the two knew I was coming.
“Your car makes such a racket that it is a marvel of science that you don’t resuscitate any corpses on the way here.” Roger said in a distracted and mocking tone, looking at me with eyes hidden behind an orange scarf wrapped around his face. “Get that damn thing fixed right away.” He sounded angry all of a sudden, for some reason.
I rolled my eyes at his banter and mood and kept walking. Nikolai was staring at the windmill, and he didn’t turn to look at me until I was standing right in front of his face. His eyes looked through me, his thoughts elsewhere. Shrugging, he nodded towards Roger and completely ignored my voice.
“One of these days it’ll explode with you in it, mate.” Roger was going on about my trusty old Nissan. “And it will not be nice.”
So? It is not your bloody business. I thought, but my voice said: “Nice seeing you too, Roger.”
“Who said it is nice seeing you, J.C.? You’re downright hideous.” His cackle of a laugh made a bird perched on a tree take to the air.
I stared at Roger with all the week’s frustration and anger compacted into a single look that said more than any word could ever express. He fell silent and the spark of joviality died. I rolled my eyes and started to look at the landscape around myself, convinced that talking to Roger was a complete waste of energy.
There was the windmill, yes, big enough to be seen from the next town and beyond. There was creek at the bottom of the hill, thought it was now frozen. And there was the grotto at the edge of the woods, which had become the graveyard to the town’s old electronics. It was a good place to hunt for spare parts and old engines that just need some polishing to work again.
As far as I could see, there was nothing different about the landscape. It was the same boring and monotonous setting with not a single difference. There was nothing that would guarantee me being here.
“Nikolai,” I called, and he stopped looking at the windmill. “There’s nothing here!” I paused to rub my mustache and cheeks; they were already numb and cold – I couldn’t stay out with them for too long. “Why did you have me drive all the way from the other side of town to get here? I have things to do, unlike you.” I then wrapped my scarf around my face.
Nikolai’s face twisted, and some colour crawled back up there; but before he could say anything Roger answered.
“That is why we’re here, mate.” Roger said, his arm extended towards windmill, his finger following the slow gyration of one of the windmill’s blade.
It was then that I realized a breeze had picked up. No wonder I couldn’t feel my lips and forehead. I zipped up my coats and tucked my woolly hat’s flaps under the scarf. The weather was getting worse, colder and inhospitable; just like the two sods I was with.
“Stop being such a whinnying excuse of a man and look up, now!” Nikolai interjected with a voice that sounded ragged and tired beyond his years. I didn’t quite get along with the man, but I knew him – he was worried about something; his voice always cracked when he was worried.
So I looked up at the windmill.
Years ago some local forest ranger and a rich mate of his got together and decided to put this sorry town in the map. An empty map, but a map nonetheless. Their idea? Simple: build the biggest windmill in the country; the problem with this? It was insane. But that didn’t stop them from building it, and I believe it actually encouraged them.
They pulled their resources together and for a long year worked (well, their employees did) on the wood-and-metal giant; and for a year the construction ran like clockwork. No accidents, no delays, no extra expenses. Everything was going according to their plan, until the day somebody died.
The story says that some worker fell off the windmill when a beam he was standing on broke under his weight. He fell, and fell and fell from the top of the windmill, high up, to kiss the floor with the force of a rocket launch. Standing next to the windmill, I could see the distance the man must’ve fell. I didn’t need to look at his body or what doctors said to tell you he died instantly.
The funeral, I am told, was with a closed casket.
The entrepreneurs did what was expected of them: apologized, compensated the family handsomely, ceased operations for a whole week to show a speck of social mourning; and once things calmed down they proceeded with their project. Everybody agreed that the story ended there, but the family turned out to be a nest of crooks.
They had tasted money, a little piece of wealth, more than they usually saw in a whole year and they wanted more. They filed a lawsuit claiming that the windmill was unsafe, that it was a fool’s errand, that it was the entrepreneur’s fault that their friend and brother had died, and they even started proclaiming the whole affair an affront to their religion. They used anything they could come up with, and all was for naught. No one heard their fake pleas and the courts proclaimed them for the leeches they were.
They had been a greedy folk, who had used up all their money and resources bribing, hiring, and blackmailing people to help their cause. And they failed. The family lost and resorted to what was natural to them: breaking the law. The last free member was incarcerated six years ago.
The whole affair destroyed the entrepreneurs’ dreams. Their project had been defamed, their resources depleted dealing with the legal circus spawned from the lawsuit, most workers left the project in fear of another accident… and so it was that they had to call a halt on the whole enterprise. Half-finished, and frowned upon by the townsfolk, the windmill’s construction ceased. The two friends parted ways, leaving their love-child to be pillaged and ripped apart for materials.
The windmill was left abandoned until two years ago when some fellow from out of town appeared and got his hands on both the land and the windmill itself. Whoever he was, or had been, he pulled out the resources to finish the windmill. And, while the original owners’ plan was to simply build it and have it as a local landmark, the new owner made it functional. The windmill produced food for the town, and a healthy income for the new owner, who charged a modicum sum to visit the tourist attraction. I hear the man doesn’t have to work anymore.
In the end, the windmill turned into ten storeys of sky blue wood and metal. It had three blades as wide as a car was long that almost never ceased to move. The main door was at the back since the blades were constantly moving and they reached close enough to the ground to be a danger to anyone taller than a goat.
So I looked up at the windmill blade… and I almost slipped down the hill. I looked again, thinking I had a speck of dust in my eye, but I didn’t. My eyes showed me something I couldn’t quite believe.
I heard Roger huff and then chuckle next to me. Whatever my expression was, it was laughable and ridiculous – mouth slightly agape; one eye wide open, the other twitching; fingers on my right hand moving crazily. I was utterly flabbergasted.
“Wha… what? Uh… eh!?” For a whole minute, I believe, I struggled for words and only gibberish came out of my mouth.
“Told you he was going to react this way, Niko.” Roger sounded as if he wanted to laugh more, but something was holding him back. “Mate’s not used to seeing such weird things. He is useless to us.”
I felt a hand hit me on the shoulder. “Snap out of it, J.C.” Nikolai said.
The truth is, even then I was used to weird sights. Supposed alien crashes, zombies, voodoo dolls, possessions… You name it. I lived in the back-of-beyond, where superstition was fact and gravity could still be held as a myth. Even my job required me to be familiar with the bizarre. But this was… this was not weird, just downright insane. Roger and Nikolai were talking, pointing and referring to the bloke on one of the windmill blades. Yes, a man on a windmill blade.
At first I couldn’t see anything since the blade was at its highest point, the figures darkened by the shadows created when the blade covered the sun. But it soon continued with its dance, slowly moving closer to the ground. It was then that I was able to see the smile on the face of the man who had chains tightly holding him in place.
“Hey, J.C.!” He screamed and then went up. He was tied in such a way that when the blade went up, his head pointed downwards.
“Bob.” I said matter-of-factly. I had a thousand questions in my head, but I could only think about was how he would be able to surpass this one tribute to his own eccentricity. Bob, every year he did something crazier. “How-“
“He climbed the windmill from the inside, cut a hole at the top, and then jumped at one of the blades.” Nikolai interrupted me, his voice as cold as the air. He had a grim yet amused look on his face; something told me he was both scared and proud of the crazy person up there.
“We are still trying to figure out how he chained himself to the blade – Oh, here he comes again!” Roger cried and pointed towards the blade that neared the ground.
I looked up and saw Bob holding his hands ahead of him, his thumbs up. I somehow knew he was counting the spins.
“I have no idea.” Roger shrugged. “I found him like this and phoned Niko. Then he phoned you. I thought we could either convince him to get off-” Nikolai and I gave him a stare. “Yeah… then I realised that is impossible with Bob. Or we could just watch him and hope he doesn’t end up as a corpse.”
“Actually, I got here before you did; but the sight was just too… too… him me to take…” Nikolai answered. The way his voice broke, and the sad way he stared at Bob wavered gave me the idea that he was actually worried about Bob. Which was just wrong; Nikolai just didn’t worry about anyone. “I got back home and then you called me and, well, here we are.”
Now that I think about it, after what the insane fellow did last year – he rode into town riding an elephant and had some clowns following him – I did see Nikolai having some drinks with Bob several times. Very curious indeed since Nikolai barely treated with people, and those he treated with wanted nothing to do with him after a couple of months.
“So, why is he doing this… whatever that is? And why are the three of us the only ones here?” I pointed at Bob with one hand. “Usually he has a crowd.”
“Maybe that has something to do with it!” Roger walked some feet down the hill, saying something caught his eye. When he returned he was holding a piece of paper. Nikolai, on the other hand, continued to stare at his friend, if that was the word.
What Roger was holding was a flyer. It had ‘Madness’ written in huge bold letters on the top and a poorly Photoshopped image of Bob attached to one of the windmill blades. He obviously had given this flyer some thought – it was actually interesting and made me want to know more. I looked up at him, realising that he had obviously given this around town, which means that soon enough people would start to come to the windmill to see whatever the famously eccentric Bob had cooked up this time.
“Okay, I get it now. But why?” I said, still looking at the horrible picture. “Why do all this if he isn’t giving us the theme for the ordeal? Usually, he has a reason.”
I was hoping for an immediate answer, but Nikolai shook his head and turned to stare at the horizon, where the adjacent towns’ roads met. I then looked at Roger, but he just shrugged. Did they even care about Bob? Were they just waiting for him to fall off or get tired? And if they didn’t care why the hell did they call me here in the first place?
I sighed and resigned to the questions. These two had no love but for themselves, and they cared for nothing but their own affairs. I cursed them and the cold, wrapped my torso with my arms, and turned to walk towards the windmill.
I waited for the blade to bring Bob within hearing distance. The guy smiled at me in that sweet and disturbing way that always made me take two steps back when he was close to the ground; his arms moved in the universal shrug for questioning, but before I could say anything the blade was spinning back towards the sky. I frowned, realising that our conversation would take forever.
“Bob! What in the seven blazing hells are you doing up there?” I shouted.
“Hey, Jeremy!” Bob said and then he went up on the blade. “Do you like my handiwork?” He shouted back.
“It is quite impressive.” I couldn’t help but smile; as mad as the man was, he was rather charming. “I have no idea how you managed it, though. Looks rather difficult to pull off” I paused and waited. “But what is the point of the whole thing?”
“The point, my ginger-haired friend, is to show that bloke Don Quixote that he was wrong! Utterly wrong!”
I screamed, loud, powerfully, a single “what”. I recall that moment as the only time in my life when my brain shut itself down for a second or two. His reasoning, if you could call it that, came completely out of the blue – it took me by surprise. Though, Bob saw my confusion and was kind enough to explain his logical nonsense.
“Don Quixote did it all wrong, you see.” Bob began with a jolly tone. “He tried fighting the giants – the windmills – and you can’t have a life in which you fight every majestic thing in the world! Windmills are lovely giants; they spin around all day, dancing. They don’t do anything to anyone! Majestic, I say!”
“Whatever do you mean?” I meant to be rude; it was not because I didn’t enjoy Bob’s games, but because I had had a horrible day, topped by the nasty thing that is meeting Nikolai and Roger. Besides, Bob was famous for having a lengthy speech prepared for every single deed of his. I was growing impatient; so I cut him off.
“Instead of fighting the giants, we have to be one with them. That is what I mean!” He cried loudly, laughing maniacally as the blade took him to the heavens and then back to the ground. “Why should we fight the grand things of life and go against the current, when we can embrace what is absolutely true and real?”
It took me two of the blade’s cycles to realize he had asked me a question.
“We have no good reason.” I made him smile. But I wouldn’t give him the honour of thinking that I shared his mad idea. “Except the simple reason that if we do not fight against it, things will never change.”
Rubbish. Absolutely rubbish. I had no idea what I was talking about, but I couldn’t help but feel amused; I had made Perplexed Bob frown and question his own crazy ideas.
“That might be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that Quixote was wrong!” He laughed again, falling deep into his own madness. “And I will prove to you all that he was a sorry man, a sorry, sorry man!”
I waited for him to calm down, thinking that maybe there was more to this whole ‘attaching myself to a windmill blade’ deal. Apparently, that was it. He just laughed the following three times the blade gyrated around the windmill and then simply fell silent afterward. Another trip around the windmill and the fellow simply stared blankly at me, as if I didn’t exist.
Sighing heavily I walked back towards Roger and Nikolai. I rubbed my chest with my gloved hands, wondering how was it that Bob was not freezing off if he wasn’t… Suddenly I stopped and shivered. Bob had clothes on him, right? I turned around, stared at Bob, and quickly averted my gaze.
“How..?” I whispered to my self.
I shook my head and kept on walking. I didn’t want to think about how Bob could be naked in this cold and wearing a chain around his chest. I had three layers of coats on me and various warmth-keeping materials and I was freezing!
I shook my head again, trying to get rid of all the questions that were really not my business.
When I reached the spot where my mates had been, Roger was waiting for me alone. Before I could ask him about Nikolai, Roger said that he had gone to town to find someone who would help him get Bob off the windmill blade. I doubted that would work – the getting help or getting him off the blade.
“So, what did he say?” Roger asked me distantly; he was staring at something in the direction of the electronic appliances grotto.
“Some crazy thing about becoming one with the windmill and that Quixote was wrong.”
“Who?” Roger looked at me curiously. It didn’t surprise me he didn’t know who Quixote was; the man was so illiterate he didn’t even care to read traffic signs.
“Never mind.” I rolled my eyes and he simply shrugged.
We walked down the hill, with slow steps. For some strange reason, the later it was, the colder it got around these parts. It was as if the cold ignored the climb of the sun. I just wanted to get back into my car and drive back home for some hot broth my girlfriend sure would be preparing.
“I am not getting inside this old piece of rubbish, I want to reach my fortieth birthday with the ability to walk,” Roger said; his hands slapped my car’s hood.
I unlocked the driver’s door and opened it slightly. I wanted some fresh air to enter it – my car had the distinctive stench of something rotten – but not so much that it will get too cold for the heating to work properly.
“Come on, be quick about it. I want you to go home and get that nice car your bird drives.” Roger smiled nastily.
I placed my head on the car’s door, sighed and then groaned. It was like all the stuff Roger ever told me had exploded in a single nuclear blast of resentment.
“If you don’t want a ride, just say so!. Get inside my death trap or walk all the way home!” I shouted, hands banging against my car, breathing ragged and burning by the cold. “You know what? Better yet, you are walking home!”
I don’t know why I was so angry. Perhaps Bob had affected me more than I thought, or maybe I was just angry because Roger had interrupted my day and wasted my time for nothing. Maybe it was just the hunger talking. Whatever it was, Roger didn’t like it.
Using only his long middle fingernail, Roger made a long and wide scratch on my car’s hood. How did he manage to do that I asked myself later on, back then I was just enraged. The paintjob was brand new.
He saw this and smiled.
“Oh, I am sorry.” I faked an apology. “But, don’t you ever talk to me from now on, okay? Okay!?” And with that, I got into my car and wrapped my arms around my body. Oh, warmth, I love thee.
He flipped me the finger, spat on the car and walked away.
I saw Roger walk down the hillside before he disappeared between two rocks thrice his size. I turned on the ignition and smiled as my trustful Nissan rumbled to a start. I turned the heating on, putting it to the max and placed my hands and feet just under the hot air – both my toes and fingers were almost purple.
I took one last glance towards Perplexed Bob and then pulled away from the place, slowly driving towards town. I passed some people walking towards the windmill – perhaps tourists – and saw Roger faring for a bus. The poor bastard would probably have to wait some hours. Serves him right.
As I sped through the highway, I realized something: I no longer wanted to live in a cold place. I’ve always hated cold, so why was I living in such a frosty place to begin with? I made a note to start moving the next day.
I never saw Bob or Roger again after that day. I met Nikolai once, two years after. I didn’t ask him about what happened after I left the windmill that day and he didn’t even mention it. The last thing he did for me was buying my old Nissan – I used the money to move out into another city
Strange that I had needed a naked man on a windmill blade to make me realise just how much I hate living there.