The silence was cracked by the clicking of six boot heals and the soft padded shuffles of a pair of moccasins as we left the hostel. It was 4:15 am, and much too early for me to be navigating the township of Bruges with any sort of coherent understanding. We stopped, I'm not sure why, everyone was there. Perhaps it was because none of us wanted to be the first ones to lead the exodus from the fairytale town. The stillness was once again disturbed by a band of stumbling travelers, one desperately attempting to maintain balance on a bicycle while heavily inebriated. They were going home, and so were we, but to us it meant a different thing. We turned our backs to the merry laughter, boisterous farewells and the faint beat of Daft Punk still thumping as if calling the departed back for another round.
No words were exchanged as we set off, two leading the way, two trailing slightly behind, needless to say I was in the latter group. I was in no hurry to return to reality. The night air was frigid and crisp, peppered with miniature rain drops that didn't seem to get anything wet, but only appeared to add to the solemn atmosphere of the trek. The only sounds were the resuming sluggish footsteps, the occasional too-eager morning songbird and the squeak of my left backpack shoulder strap against the suede of my jacket. I could have easily adjusted it but my hands were jammed so far into the trenches of my coat pockets it would have taken much more than a minor annoyance to free them.
Building after ancient building passed, the way back seemed much longer than before, but no one was complaining. The forest of houses and cathedrals cleared, revealing a bridge, below it what could have easily been a sheet of glass. Water, still and undisturbed, even by the rain; reflected the fall leaves and the luminescent glow of the moon brighter and clearer than I had ever seen. I paused to soak it in. By now the group had spread out, everyone in their own heads just as I was in mine, and I realized I was alone. Another morning bird whistled in the distance paired with approaching footsteps on the cobblestone, I had forgotten anyone was behind me. I turned around to see a full head of long blonde hair look up at me from the road. I nodded to the direction of the others a whispered, "Let's keep moving." I don't know if she heard me, but if anything it was for my own motivation.
A castle tower loomed over us at the end of the bridge, like a giant misplaced chess piece, discarded and doomed to be nothing more but the subject of tourist photos and a roost for sleeping pigeons. The lights became brighter and the roads became wider, landmarks became more recognizable and my pace grew quicker. The silhouettes of my friends gazing silently at me contrasted the flood lights above the entrance of the train station. I couldn't see their faces but I could make out the exaggerated foot tapping and almost feel their shivers as they waited for me to catch up. I hastened my pace a second time, there was no more time for euphoria, it was time to go home.