Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Contest Entry · #1943593
contest entry. Weird... it's just weird.
|When Things Grow Cold|
Jacob told me a story once about a tree. At the time I didn't know what a tree was. He said trees were made of wood, which comes from the ground. I did not - still do not - understand trees nor wood beyond a conceptual level, but I understand the ground well. I am of it and it is of me, so it is the one part of this world I can understand. But where was I? Oh yes, the tree. The tree stood on a hill above a village. A village is a place where there are people like Jacob. I have never met these people, but I am told they live there.
One day, this tree on a hill was feeding from a hot ball above the earth called the sun - it just hangs there, apparently, and trees often feed from it. Well anyway, as the tree fed from the sun, a creature landed on her. The creature was called a bird, and it made a bunch of harmonious sounds which were put together in a peculiar pattern called a song. This bird was special because he sang songs better than any other creature in the forest. In case you didn't know, a forest is a place with lots of trees and creatures like birds who sing songs. The outside world must be a marvelous place.
As the story goes, the sound of the bird's song was so beautiful that the tree stopped her feeding to listen and think about it. This is not something trees often do. In fact, she had never ever done this before, even though she had lived a long time.
The bird noticed the tree was listening, and he was very proud. After all, he had never even heard of a tree listening to a song before. It was quite a compliment. He sang even more beautiful songs, and the tree loved them so much, she also began to sing. The sound was beautiful. From the village, people heard the tree and the bird singing, and they all walked up the hill and gathered around the tree. They were very excited and impressed, because trees don't often sing, let alone sing so beautifully.
The tree and the bird continued to sing songs together over the following weeks, to the enjoyment of all the villagers, but one day the tree grew sick. She had been so busy singing, that she had not fed from the sun and was starving as a result. The bird asked her to stop singing for a while and feed, but the tree refused. She thought the songs were too beautiful to stop, and she was afraid that if she did, even for a moment, she would forget how to sing. Soon after, she died. The bird was deeply sad. In his whole life, he never sang again and the forest was silent. Dying is something that happens to creatures, trees, and people. It makes them quiet and still and cold.
Nothing lasts forever. That's what Jacob thought the story meant, but he said he wasn't sure. I do not know what the story means, but I feel that Jacob was wrong in this interpretation. I think it must mean something else.
Jacob also told me I am like the tree. I do not see how. I am made of stone, not wood, I do not feed from the sun, and I cannot sing. I also do not believe I can die. This might be a sad thing.
The first sound I ever heard was not birds. It was water dripping onto stone. Where I live there is only water and stone. It is cold, but there is one place on one side that is warmer. After I first heard the water, I felt the warm spot in the middle of all the coldness. Regularly, it would go away for a time, but it would always return, still in that same spot, warm again. It seemed to me a great thing, and I liked it very much. I could not say I liked it, I had no words then, but I thought about the warm spot and wondered why it was warm and why other places were cold. I wondered this for a long long time.
One day, I heard a noise that was quite unlike the sounds of water dripping, or of the gusts of hot air that sometimes made their way into my home. It was a warbling irregular sound coming from the warm spot, but far away. "How curious," I would have said to myself upon hearing it, if I had the words back then.
This is what I heard:
"Hey, runt," said one voice, rough like stone.
"Ya' little bastard baby. Where ya' goin?" said another, higher pitched.
"You gonna cry, baby?" said the first voice.
"Go on, cry for your whore mommy," said the second.
Then I heard some loud thwumping sounds, thwump thwump thwump, and a crash. A deep moan pierced through the air, and there was laughing, the tinkling laughter getting lighter and lighter until it winked out of existence. The moaning stayed close though, until it became more of a whimpering sound.
This was quite exciting for me. By my current reckoning, I had been conscious for at least ten years, and this was the first sound other than water, wind, and collapsing stone that I had heard in all that time. So many wonderful new sounds! New cadences and tones, riddled with meanings beyond my wildest imaginings. I knew that even after the moaning and the whimpering died away, I would be able to consider these sounds for another ten years. What did it all mean? Was the sound part of this warm spot I could feel on my face, yet not touch or know? Were there other's out there like me? So many wonderful questions. They were a delight, a burst of heat after so many years of the cold.
Yet before I could even begin to think and conjecture and wonder at all of this new information, something else caught my attention. The whimpering stopped, and I heard another sound. The thing that had whimpered, whatever it was, was coming towards me, making little snuff snuff noises. I could feel its approach through the reverberations of its footsteps on the ground, and for the first time ever, I was afraid. Perhaps this wonderful new thing was not so wonderful. What if it was coming to end my thinking? It was an odd thought that came from nowhere, but I was frightened nonetheless.
It stopped just before me, not seeing me, and began to make odd sounds again. It's voice was soft and warm and very unlike the other two voices I had heard.
So many sounds rushed out of it and bounced around the halls of my home. In each I sensed a purpose alien to my world, and every bit of my existence became dedicated to understanding what this purpose was.
In the hour that passed, one sound came more than the rest. It was the first word I ever learned, and it was such a magnificent word.
"Why, why, why?" said the thing before me, and I grasped the meaning of this word almost instantly. It was the name for everything I had become, the source of my being. I came into life and thought and I wondered because of this "why" word, yet I had never even known its name! There is such power in a name, and upon learning the word why, I understood more about myself than ever, because I knew what questions drove me forward. Why was I here? Why could I think? Why, why, why? The word intoxicated me with possibilities.
Before I even knew what I was doing, I spoke. I spoke. My voice, foreign to my own senses, rumbled out and filled my home with the excitement of the word, "WHY?"
"Who's there?" said the thing, in a pitch much higher and tighter than before. "Is it an echo?" Then the thing raised its voice and yelled, "Echo!"
"WHY?" I thundered back, triumphantly. Communication! I was doing communication with something else besides myself. Oh, glorious brave new world, my heart (if I have a heart) was burning, flushed with the warmth of discovery.
The thing screamed and ran away. All was silent again, and cold. I had done something horribly wrong, I realized. Somehow, I had scared away the only other conscious being I had ever met. I moaned out my regret with another few dozen whys. Oh it was cruel fate that my understanding was limited only to this one word, a word thats very function implies the existence of something else left to be discovered! It was irony, pure irony, and it baffled me and stung.
Yet I considered that maybe all was not lost. Maybe the thing would come back. I could be ready then. I could undo the harm that I had done. I had memorized all of the sounds the thing had made, and I set to work learning them, in and out. Their meanings were more elusive than my first word, but with work I began to get ideas, little inklings of their true selves.
Weeks passed before the thing returned. It stepped lightly, carefully, so that I could hardly hear it, but I had been waiting and I was ready.
"Hello?" came the voice. "Is anyone in here?"
Nervousness, another new emotion, swept over me. I could not speak, I was frozen by the horrible thought that I would say something wrong again and my chance would be lost forever.
"I know you're here," said the thing. "Are you a spirit? A demon? Either way, I want you to know that I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid."
"Why?" it came out as a whisper before I could stop myself. Fear gripped me again. Would it run away as it had before?
"I knew it." It said. "It wasn't my imagination. I'll tell you why I'm not afraid of you. It's because I am not afraid of death, anymore. That's why. Do your worst, demon. I do not fear you."
Strange. So strange. These were new words. I had not considered their meanings before.
"Am I, demon?" I asked. Was that what I was?
"You don't know?" the voice asked back. It was less confident than before.
"No," I said. "I am. I know not."
"Where are you?" it asked me. And I told him. He walked up and put his hand (I later learned it was called a hand) on me, and oh there was warmth there unlike the warm spot. So much more alive than anything I had ever known.
"Please. Help. Me." I said.
"Okay," said the thing.
His name was Jacob. After our introductions, he came to me daily and taught me about words and the world they describe. He told me about the boys in the village that bullied him because his mother had never married, and he told me about the girls in the village he liked. He told me stories, too. Some were of his people, like the story of the tree, while others were written by a great man named William Shakespeare. Those stories were my favorites.
But more important than the stories, Jacob taught me about what I am. He said I lived in a cave in a valley near his village. He told me that the warm spot I had wondered about for years was the mouth of the cave, which opened up to the outside world and a hot ball of fire in the sky called the sun. I asked him to take me to this world, but he said I was too heavy to move.
"What am I, then?" I asked.
He described me. "You're, well, made of stone, I think. You're about five feet tall, one foot wide, cylinder shaped, and there are all these strange markings carved on your sides. I've heard myths about stones like you. They call you Weirding Stones, carved by giants in the time before civilization. They say you are magic, but I have never heard anyone say you can talk."
I knew now what I was. I was stone, a Weirding Stone. This was an answer to a question I had thought of for years, yet it only made more questions, and the whys were still unanswered. Why could I think? Why was I here? Jacob did not have these answers.
But even though this distressed me, I was happy. Jacob came every day, and we spoke for hours of many things. I came to lament his departures, and rejoice at his returns. He was the warmth in the cold dark abyss, life in my world of un-life. I began to fear nights, when he and the spot in my cave that was warmed by the sun's light were gone.
I loved him, dearly, as my savior and friend.
Years passed, my consciousness grew, and the world around me began to take shape in my mind. I understood that there were certain senses Jacob had that I did not, such as sight. I too realized that I had something he did not. I found that if I concentrated, I could feel the earth around me, as if it were part of me. It was like I had a limb that had been asleep and suddenly was awakened. It was not there and then it was there, and I the master of it. I tried to tell Jacob exactly what it was, just as he tried to tell me what sight was to him, but here neither of us could understand the other.
Gradually, I began to notice slight changes in Jacob. His voice deepened, and assumed a tone of conviction it did not have before. He laughed more readily, a gruff, haughty sound, and his visits began to get shorter, while his attitude became more reticent.
One day he didn't show altogether. It was terrible. I feared that the boys from the village had beaten him up again. But no, he said they had stopped that a long ago. Then what? Why was he not here with me?
I found out the next day.
"I'm getting married," Jacob said.
"Why?" I said. He laughed. Laughter can be such a cruel sound at times.
"Because that's what people do," he said.
"Will you miss other days, like yesterday?" I asked. I did so calmly, I held back the pain and betrayal that I felt.
"Well, sure," he said. Oh, the ruination I felt in those two short words, and yet he continued, nailing shut the coffin. "I've got responsibilities now. I can't just go off and talk to a stone everyday, can I? What would Maribell think of me?"
Maribell. The name of evil, I was sure. She was the source of this abominable turn of events. I hated Maribell then, with all my heart I hated her. She was taking away my warmth, my savior, my friend. I would be left with just the cold stone and the darkness. At that moment, I wished all of the curses of Caliban on her. She was the wizard, the siren that was taking my island of solace away from me.
"No," I said.
"You cannot marry her. You belong to me."
"You can't be serious," said Jacob. "Look, I'll visit from time to time, I might even bring Maribell here, but I can't stay. I can't talk to a rock forever."
Anger, fear, envy, malice, such things whirled around inside me and warped themselves into one gravely word, "Why?"
I started before he could answer. I reached out to those ghost limbs of mine in the soil and shook with all of my might. I shook the bedrock and the ceiling and the walls in a cataclysm of rage. My intent was to block off the cave entrance, but the entire cave collapsed. Amidst the crash of falling rock, I heard a distinct crack, and then it was warm. So warm, spreading like water all over my home. Raw life, I drank it in. Oh horror, am I a demon after all?
The warmth faded quickly, and Jacob was silent. Death is a thing that happens to creatures, trees, and people. It makes them go quiet and still and cold. Jacob told me, briefly, about death. But there was one thing I forgot to ask him. How long does it last? He said nothing lasts forever, so how long does death last? I speak to him now, as I have for the last two hundred sixty two years, waiting for the warmth to come back, for my friend to return. I have patience and eternity. I can wait for the cold to become warm again.