Thursday, October 1, 2009
I'd been told that this feather, the multicolored feather of an unknown bird, was a wellspring of untold energy, if you could find a shaman. The shaman were the only men in existence who could tap the untold power of the feather. My problem was, I was in a cave. All around, gray walls of stone reminded me of my isolation, that I was powerless to escape on my own. And where would I possibly find a Shaman here, in these depths? But I had to try.
I don't know how much time passed after that. Time didn't matter, neither did thirst or hunger, it was only the feather, and the shaman. This was my only hope to get back to them.
Then I found it. How beautiful it was, but my mind quickly brought reality back to me - soon this cave would be filled with burning earth, with the flaming lifeblood of the earth, and when that happened, we would all die.
With an intensity borne of total desperation I sought the shaman, the one being who could give me escape and blessed passage from my solitude. In every crack of every corner I looked, shouted, begged, and then to my unending relief, I found him. So strange it was to see him there, sitting placidly on a rock in meditation, a shaman in a loose-fitting brown robe that covered everything but his hands and his gray-brown head of hair. I don't remember what he said, I only remember fumblingly handing him the feather, tears coming out of my eyes. Quickly and effortlessly the shaman took the feather and began transforming it, taking the individual fibers and turning them, taking from the random collection of color and creating order. Every fiber that touched his hand became a colored stone shaft that bound itself instantly to its neighbor. Furiously his hands turned as he chanted, instructing me on how to use the stone in a language of no words until finally, it was finished, a square that fit in my hand.
Without thanking him I bolted to the place that I loathed, the boundary between myself and my family. As I ran I felt the rumbling of the earth beneath my feet, felt the veins of the earth opening, and I prayed I was not too late.
They were there, where I had left them, and my heart nearly stopped at their sight. I raised my hand with the stone held high and spoke, the power of my word shattering the invisible barrier that held me from them. Just as I did so I saw my daughter stumble into the fire, saw it bubble and burst as it adhered to the skin of her face, neck and shoulder. She screamed in innocent, guiltless torment as she clawed at her face. Again I spoke and held the stone high, and the horrible fire flew from her, leaving charred skin. I ran to her and picked her up, cradling her burned body in my arms, but now more of the fire was rushing up. I raised the stone, and violet bolts of power burst from it, suppressing the flame.
"Let us go!!" the fire roared, and probed for a new place in the cave's floor to find release, again I thrust it back. "You cannot win! Let us go!!!" Again and again I felt their coming and thrust them down, each attempt coming more quickly than the last. I felt the uneven dryness of my daughter's burned face against my skin, and I swore that I would never give up. LET US GOOOO!!!!! The flame raged, simultaneously ramming many different places in the cave floor, thirsting to consume our flesh in fiery ecstasy. But I would not. I could not .
Then I heard someone whispering in my ear. "Dan." The whisper spoke clearly. Immediately I thought it was my wife, who had been sick, and that she needed help. My eyes flew open and looked - but I saw not a soul in the bed with me. Then my stomach turned sickeningly, and a chill ran down my spine.
They had won.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
This night breathed differently. What strange sounds came from the place where order had before reigned. Yes, this night breathed differently, and there would be consequences.
I sheathe my sword and start to run. The wind whips hard at my ears, almost painfully. I smile, and run faster. Land rushes by me so fast that even my eyes see barely anything but blur. But it doesn’t matter what I see. I could be running blindfolded, it’s all the same. I know. And I feel.
In a moment I arrive at my destination. The inn stoops low over the ground under a wide roof that squats over its charge like an ogre intensely jealous of his treasure. What smells, and what stench. The wretched place is not fit for the pigs that die here to fill their owners’ bellies. But here is more than just a wretched inn. And none but I know it.
My sword again leaves its comfortable sheathe, sliding with a snake’s slither out of its crack. They would be here soon, I knew. It was only they who knew of me, and only I who knew of them. But that would not last long. Quickly I pour my energy in. The heart of my stony being resonates with a fiery intensity.
The night’s breath again comes, and my enemies’ location screams at me, begging me to approach. But I remain still and silent, and no breath moves within my body. This is perfection. This is indomitable majesty.
All at once they burst from the ground, scattering dirt and rock as they explode into the air, ready to smite my ruin. And as soon as they exit their tunnels, they die. My sword slashes beautiful fine lines of death along pointlessly armored necks and backs like an artists brush in red paint, slides cleanly down and through as they burst up and out. One by one they die, unable to utter a sound, unable to defile my transcendent mastery of their passing from sentience to oblivion.
And then all is finished. At least, nearly all. One of them still remained in its tunnel, quivering and twitching in fear as the realization of its inevitable fate strikes ever deeper at its hearts.
An inquiry of my stone reveals the precise location of the craven wretch. Forward and two paces to the left. I take a silent breath, and my body propels itself upward and to the left. My sword rises above me like a cobra’s head, poised to strike with angry and terrifying precision. In perfect unison my feet hit the ground as my sword’s tip bites into the earth. No sound followed, only the slight easing of the sword’s passing as it found material softer than the dry ground around it. I stand again, retracting my cobra’s fang from the earth. Now they knew no more.
“Mom, are we there yet?” came a sleepy voice from the back seat.
“Not yet, bud.” The car fell again to relative silence, pervaded only by the hum of the tires and the dull whisper coming from the turbocharged v8 a few feet in front of us. I was myself fairly sleepy. Six and a half hours is plenty for some of our species, but I for one do very badly with less than seven. Drowsily I mused to myself about the childishness of the question just asked by my nephew. I remembered when I myself had tired my parents with similar questions, intermixed with occasional observations of how long this trip was taking, how hot or cold it was, and so on. Amid my musings came again the soft blackness of sleep, and time disappeared.
I awoke quite suddenly to the music of Smash Brothers Melee being blasted across all eleven speakers in the car. Trumpets rang, violins brought a tremolo to grand heights and then fell again, contrasting the triumphant singing of the hundred person choir that stayed at a steady fortissimo. Normally, this music inspires a certain excitement in me; Super Smash Bros. Melee is arguably my favorite video game of all time. But this morning, I regretted the fact that I was in a car with people far younger than myself who also love this game. My niece and nephew are eerily able to simply ignore fatigue and tact entirely in pursuit of another KO or the bestowal of a few more trophies. They simply could not have missed the fact that my younger brother and I were fast asleep when they decided to fire up the gamecube. I was sitting directly to the left of my niece with my mouth open, emitting a loud, pungent breathing sound. But what is tact, when there are new fighters to be discovered? Can one doubt the immense satisfaction that comes upon defeating an overgrown and version of Bowser, the King of the Koopas? Of course not. And so, brushing the cobwebs out of my head and mouth, I brandished my controller, and got to smashing.
My grandparents’ house was now mere minutes away, but I was all but oblivious. I was dueling my younger brother Joshua, and for the first time in at least seven matches, I was winning. Smash Brothers Melee matches, or Smash battles, as we call them, can truly become very engrossing; they are furiously fast paced, and require such intense concentration and amazing timing, that the outside world often fades into an unrecognizable and unimportant blur of time and space that remains unnoticed until either the battle is at an end or that unimportant blur imposes itself forcefully.
“Daniel!” came the ringing voice of my sister from the driver’s seat.
“Yeah? What did you say?” I intoned mindlessly, eyes still glued to the 11X6 screen.
“I said, can you get your stuff together? We’re just about there, and I don’t want you guys goofing around for ten minutes when we get there just getting your junk together.”
“All right,” I said in a resigned tone as my brother struck the fatal blow to my struggling fighter. I set the controller down, turned off the gamecube, and began picking up the remains of my makeshift breakfast and various other bits of trash and victuals.
We soon arrived at my grandparents’ house, and after some heartfelt greetings, we set directly to work. The task at hand? Split and stack three and a half cords of firewood, pick apples off of five heavily laden apple trees, harvest the grapes, and take home at least one of the many forty pound-plus banana squash growing in my grandmother’s garden. The labor force? Well, I had a strong suspicion that ten minutes in, it would include everyone but my niece and nephew, who are two well-cushioned youngsters. But to my surprise, the more I asked them to do, the more they exceeded my expectations. It was not easy work, either; while my ten-year-old nephew obviously lacked the strength or the coordination to do any of the splitting, he willingly pitched in in the stacking of the wood that Joshua and I and my grandfather had split.
After helping for a while with the wood stacking, my sister, my grandmother and my niece took to the less physically demanding labor of harvesting apples. After a while, I looked over, and I saw something amazing: three generations of women of my family, working together to take in a harvest, each working with the same level of commitment and speed, including my niece. It was an oddly nostalgic moment for me…My grandma is getting on in years, and her body is steadily giving way to the irrevocable flow of time. Her once straight back has become bent under the weight of thousands of difficult days, and a hip injury of long past has sadly left her with a broken gait. We don’t know how much longer she will be able to walk, or see, or breathe…I suddenly thought then of my grandpa. I glanced at him quickly as he stood in the cloudy light, and I nearly choked on my own emotion as I wondered how many more winters this precious man would be preparing for.
“Daniel!” my brother shouted through the noise of the splitting machine. “You all right?” I shook myself out of my reverie, only then noticing that I was staring blankly at a log near my feet.
“Yeah…” I yelled back, picking up a good size log to put in the machine. “I’m fine.”
Soon it was lunchtime. My grandma had gone to great lengths to make it delicious and filling for everyone, including my niece and nephew. This was a task indeed; even my sister has difficulty finding things that her children will eat reliably. But eat they did. The lunchtime conversation went fairly steadily between my sister and my grandparents, with the rest of us mainly interested in replenishing lost stores of energy. Suddenly, to the surprise of everyone, my nephew spoke.
“Food tastes better after you’ve worked hard.”
“Yes, it surely does.” My grandmother agreed. And the conversation continued. That was the second serious surprise of the day that came from a young boy whom I had thought I knew very well. At ten years old, the young man had certainly done a fine job of gaining the respect of his uncle.
When the time came for leaving, we gathered around the car to give the customary round of farewell hugs. The clouds that had been steadily darkening as the day wore on were now finally shedding their first heavy drops of rain.
“Thanks a million, you guys.” My grandpa said. “We appreciate what you did more than you could ever know.” My grandma echoed his words, and gave us all a long, tender hug, insisting that we come and see them more often. We all agreed that that should be the case. And then we got in the car and drove away, waving to them until we could not see them anymore.
Even after they’d faded from my vision, I kept seeing them both, my grandma, bent and aged as she was, working hard next to my sister and her daughter, my grandpa, solid as a stone wall despite his years, standing, ready to split another log, in the dusty, golden light of a sun about to be swallowed by the coming storm.
Now, much later, I still see them there, as brightly as though it were yesterday. Time will, of course, march on. But some things are beyond even the long, grasping fingers of time’s influence. Some people will never be subject to its corroding and destructive touch. And some, one must hope, will never forget them.