It was dark in the marsh. The trees, vines and creepers grew thick, so that this place was forever in deep shadows, from soft muddy ground to the tight leafy canopy above. It rained a lot, water pouring down through the darkness, creating pools and puddles all over the ground, or splashing down softly in the marshier areas, some times turning them into small ponds.
In the everlasting twilight, small animals occasional moved. No birds flew. It was quiet and still, save for the occasional tripping of water from drooping branches.
The creature had been there for a long time. A long, long time. He seemed to vaguely remember that there had once been others of his kind in this place, but he did not know what had happened to them. He only knew he had been alone for a long time.
He was an odd creature, of a kind that hadn’t been seen by other eyes for many years. He moved on a single long foot or tail, like a slug, but his body wasn’t soft and slimy, rather it was tough and leathery. From the base rose an upright torso, and two strong arms. Then a long neck, the head dominated by a finely chiseled face with large, deep dark eyes. Small twigs and branches had become wedged in between the folds of his hide, splaying out like wings from his back, like antennae from the sides of his head.
He lived deep in the center of the marsh-forest, moving slowly over the soft ground, avoiding the ponds and puddles, eating leaves and berries as he passed. Some times he would talk to the few small animals, squirrels, foxes and the like, that some times passed through the marsh, but they never talked back.
Some times he would sing, a sort of low rumble that ebbed and flowed, up and down, like the waters of the swamp itself. But the singing wasn’t really right without other voices, different tones to mix together.
Mostly he stayed in the heart of the marsh, near the small lake where they all used to live. He remembered that it was far away from there that the others had disappeared. Some times one or two, some times many at once.
As it grew later and the shadows deepened into darkness, he went back to the lake. Not far from it there was a sort of small stone hut-his home. He crawled inside, curled up and drifted to sleep.
When he woke up it was twilight again. He lifted himself up and stretched. He looked around at the empty marsh. He was getting tired. He was old, and that was ok, but now he was lonely as well. The darkness had never bothered him; in fact he didn’t even realize that was what it was, never having seen anything else. Nevertheless, he missed the others; he missed talking and singing, he missed their faces.
He sighed, and decided to go wandering again. Not that he really had much choice. There was little else for him to do; but mostly, he hoped he would find…something. He hoped that he would meet one of the others again, or find someone or something to talk too. He didn’t want to be alone anymore.
So he went out, heading in a direction he hadn’t been for a while. It was even dimmer than usual today, but his eyes were adapted for that. He wandered for a long time, going always in roughly the same direction. He ate a little as he went along from a large bush of tangy, dark berries.
He went for a little while longer, moving further from the lake than he had been for a long time. Shortly, he saw something strange up ahead. It was like a pale yellow triangle; coming down from the trees…maybe, it was something hanging from one of the trees.
He kept going, curious now, heading toward the object. He drew closer, and saw that it appeared to be transparent. It was…strange. He stood right beside it now, but “it” didn’t really seem to be an it. It was as much an object as…a substance? Like pale yellow water? And it was bright…it hurt his eyes to look at it now, but he could see right through it. Tentatively, he reached out to touch it…but there was nothing to touch. He tried again, with the same result.
It was strange…he found he could see the area around this…thing…much more clearly than normal. The colours of things around it were stronger, and their outlines sharper. What could it be?
He looked up towards the canopy, at the spot that the triangle seemed to be hanging from, and saw that it was hanging…it was…flowing down from a small spot empty of branches. It was almost like water flowing, except when he touched it, there was nothing to touch. Where was it coming from?
He made a decision. He would find out where it was coming from, and what it was. It wasn’t as if he had anything better to do.
He knew he couldn’t get up to where the whatever-it-was was coming down from, so he started to move in the general direction. As he moved away from it, he noticed how dim it got, it seemed to be darker than he remembered it. Soon his sight was back to normal however, and he kept moving, trying to follow the path of…whatever it was.
After a time, the trees and foliage began to thin, and more and more of the strange triangles appeared. They came from different angles and in different sizes, but always point-upward, as if they were flowing down from somewhere.
He looked up, and noticed that the canopy of leaves above was not quite as thick…he could see pale spots between them. If he kept going, hopefully he would be able to find out where whatever-it-was was coming from.
As it turned out, he was right.
He came out of the trees. He nearly panicked; he had come out into a place very alien to him. There were still trees, but only a few here and there. And it was bright, so bright he was blind at first. It took him a few minutes to be able to see clearly. What nearly drove him to panic, though was how very open it was. There was nothing above him but endless blue with some sort of big white objects moving across it. And almost exactly in the middle was a huge sort of circle, that seemed to be made of the same stuff as the odd triangles he’d seen in the forest. It was almost like a lake in the sky, and the yellow water flowed down through it and over everything here. He knew it wasn’t water, since it was warm but had no real feeling or texture like water did, but he didn’t have any other name for it.
He was paralyzed with fear for a moment, being so exposed, and he huddled down and covered his head with his hands. He stayed that way for several minutes, but since nothing terrible happened, he wasn’t attacked and he didn’t fly away into all the empty space, he stood up again. He looked around, and he realized…it was beautiful!
He kept traveling for a ways, looking around him at all the things he’d never seen before. He didn’t even have names for many of the things he saw.
After a little time, he came upon a huge tree, the largest he’d ever seen by far. He realized he was very tired, and hot too. That strange giant lake in the sky was pouring its hot water over him…he wasn’t used to it, and it was wearing him out. So, he decided to stop and rest under the tree, since it would shelter him from…whatever it was really called.
So he got up under the tree and lay back against its huge trunk, and rested for a while. Here beneath the tree it was pleasant, he could enjoy the new sights and be a little more comfortable.
As he sat there looking around, he realized that the big blue space up above, must be where the rain came from. He had thought before that maybe it came from the trees, soaking up the water then letting it out again, but that was only because he didn’t know where else it would have come from. Now he knew.
After he had rested for a bit, and eaten some of the delicious red berries that grew on a tangle of thorny vines nearby, he set out again. The land around him was starting to get uneven, sloping up and down as he went.
He traveled a little while longer, and then as he came down from a small hill, he saw a large lake sitting at the bottom of a depression of land. There were trees all around, although not nearly as thick as back home. It was much brighter.
And all around were small stone huts, much like his own, and he saw many creatures of his kind moving around the shore or playing in the water.
He was overjoyed, and moved towards them as fast as his foot could carry him. As he drew near, he called out, and they all looked up at the sudden sound. One of them, came up to him and embraced him. He recognized him; he had been a little one when the others first started to disappear, but he couldn’t remember his name.
“I’m so glad you finally found us, Zeren,” the younger one said. “I don’t know if you remember me, my name is Aldon.”
“I do remember you,” Zeren replied, still rather bewildered by all this. “But I thought everyone was gone…what happened?”
“We found all this,” Aldon replied, gesturing at the area around him. “More of us began wandering to the edges of the marsh, and we would see the light shining in where the trees get thinner, and followed it out here.”
“Light? You mean the yellow water that flows down from up there?” Zeren asked.
Aldon smiled. “Yes, but it’s not water, its called light. It comes from the sun.” Hear he pointed upward, toward the great yellow “lake.”
“So that’s what its called,” Zeren said, “I knew it wasn’t water, but I’d never seen anything like it before, I didn’t know what to call it.”
“It was the same way for all of us at first.”
“How did you learn the names of these things?”
“From the Humans and the other creatures here, there is a small Human town not far from here.”
“What are Humans like?”
“Maybe you will get to meet one soon, merchants from the town should be coming here some time tomorrow.”
Zeren sighed heavily.
“I wish that I had come out sooner,” he said, “I’ve been alone for so long, wondering what happened to all of you.”
Aldon hung his head.
“I’m sorry, Zeren,” he said. “Each of us that found our way here became fascinated with all the new sights and sounds…we figured that eventually we would all find our way out into the light. It seems like everyone did, except you, Zeren.”
“Well, I am here now,” Zeren replied, “and I am glad I came and found everyone…I want to see all the wonderful things you talk about.”
Aldon smiled. “Of course, we’ll make sure you see everything.”
He was true to his word. Over the next few days, Zeren saw many of the wonders this place had to offer. He was taught about all the things and phenomena he had never encountered living in the marsh.
He met the Humans, odd-looking folk who moved around on two separate limbs, and draped things over their bodies to protect them. Most of them were very kind to Zeren and the others though.
After a while, though, Zeren started to long for his home. This new place was beautiful, and he wanted to see it again, but the marsh was his home, his place.
He went to Aldon, who seemed to have become the leader, and told him he planned to go back.
“Why would you want to do that?” Aldon asked.
“Because it’s my home,” Zeren replied. “I will come back though, often. I will ask the others if anyone would like to come back with me.”
“I suppose you can ask, but why would anyone want to go back to that dark place when they could be here in the light?”
Zeren nodded. “You might be right, but I’d still like to ask.”
So he did. He went out among the others of his kind and spoke to them, asking if anyone wished to accompany him back to their original home. None did. Many turned their backs on him, or called him crazy for wanting to go back.
“I hoped that I wouldn’t have to be alone anymore when I found all of you again,” he said to Aldon.
“Then stay,” the younger one replied.
Zeren shook his head. “I don’t want to permanently leave my home. I just don’t understand why all of the others seem to hate that place so; it’s where we came from.”
Aldon sighed. “It may be, Zeren, but what does that matter if we’ve found a better place?”
“It isn’t better, Aldon, it is just different, and new to us. It’s beautiful here, but back there is beautiful as well. I want to move through both. I just wish I didn’t have to move through one alone.”
“That is the price you pay for being stuck in the past,” Aldon replied.
“That could be, but I wonder what the price will be for you forgetting it.”
Zeren was feeling a bit torn, and didn’t really want to leave yet, so he moved around the village for a while. Most of the others didn’t talk to him, or even acknowledge him in most cases. Despondent, he wandered to the outskirts of the village, and saw something strange. In a clearing near the water, there was an area filled with small round or oval stones set in the ground. They had names carved on them. They were not graves-his kind had no need of them-and so he asked one of the others what they meant.
“These are to remember the Lost Ones,” a young female told him.
“Yes, since shortly after we came here, every now and again one of us will go missing, never to be heard from again. We think they must find some new place, beyond here, just as we came out of the darkness, into the light before.”
“Interesting…thank you,” Zeren replied.
As the day drew on, he wandered to the Human village, wishing to see it again before he returned home. He wandered about the place for a bit, occasionally speaking to the Humans.
As he passed by the large dwelling that served as the leader’s home and a meeting place for the village, he looked through the window and saw Aldon speaking with the Human leader. On impulse, he ducked around to the side of the window, and tried to hear what they were saying.
“We’re going to need another one some time in the next month,” the Human leader, whose name Zeren thought was Dilvan, was saying.
Without hesitation Aldon replied, “I know exactly the one for you, my friend, don’t worry. Very soon we will add another stone to the Shrine of the Lost Ones, and I’ll be rid of Zeren’s prattle forever.”
“I’m glad it’s working out so conveniently for you this time,” Dilvan’s voice said.
“I will have him brought here in a month’s time, and you can perform the procedure,” Aldon said.
Zeren backed away from the window slowly, and headed down the road towards the other village. He planned to confront Aldon, but not here.
He went down the road a ways, and stood in the middle, waiting.. As Aldon came up the path, he waved to Zeren and smiled, as if he were happy to see him. He didn’t realize Zeren knew better now.
“Good morning, Zeren,” Aldon said as he drew near. “Can I help you with something?”
“You can tell me exactly what you and Dilvan were talking about, and how you’re planning on getting rid of me,” he replied.
Aldon face immediately turned hard.
“So you heard that, did you?”
“Yes, I did. What is going on between you two?”
Aldon sneered. “A bargain, of course.”
“What kind of bargain, Aldon?”
“The Humans live short lives, much shorter than us,” he explained, “but they found a way to use one of us to extend their lives by double or more. Of course it kills the donor in the process.”
“How can you possibly do that? Kill our own kind so others can live longer?”
“And so we can stay in the light,” Aldon replied. “The human leaders were repulsed by us at first, but when they found out what they could do with us, they agreed to let us stay, if I allowed them to take a few now and then.”
“So you lied to all the others, and convinced them that the “Lost Ones” go on to someplace else, just like coming out of the marsh to this place.”
Aldon smirked. “Exactly.”
Zeren shook his head. “I won’t let you keep doing it,” he said, “our people have a right to know the truth, so they can decide for themselves.”
“Go right ahead, Zeren,” the younger one replied, “but they won’t believe you. Most of them already think you are strange for wanting to return to the dark.”
“Maybe so, but I am still going to tell them the truth; then at least they can decide to believe it or not.”
Aldon laughed as Zeren moved away down the road. He came to the village quickly, and climbed atop a flat rock situated in view of most of the dwellings.
“Listen to me, everybody!” He cried. “Something is happening, and it’s being hidden from you!”
As he spoke, the others began to gather here and there around him, faces turned toward his voice.
“What is it?” Someone cried, far off in the back.
“Your “Lost Ones” are not lost,” Zeren said. “Aldon knows where they went, and now so do I!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Ever since all of you came here from our home, individuals have gone missing,” Zeren continued. “You all believe that they have gone on to yet another new place, but it isn’t so. The Humans discovered a way to take our long lives to extend their own; Aldon has been giving them members of the village for years now, in exchange for the humans allowing you to remain here!”
“Not true!” a voice cried from across the way. It was Aldon, appearing pained and very angry. “Zeren, you are bitter, and your bitterness is causing you to fabricate a story to justify it.”
“Are you really going to lie to everyone again, Aldon?” Zeren asked.
Aldon shook his head. “It is you who lie,” he said. He turned towards the people once more, and raised his hands. “My friends, so overcome by his loneliness was Zeren that he has come here and created a story to try and persuade you all to go back into the darkness with him!”
“No!” they shouted, “We’ll never go back there!” another cried.
Aldon turned and gave Zeren a look. “Just as I said,” he whispered.
Zeren hung his head, then looked up.
“I am going back to our home,” he began, “and any of you who wish to come with me are welcome. You can choose to stay or go, as you wish, but know that if you stay, you might be the next to go missing!”
He turned towards Aldon.
“I will go now,” he said. “There is nothing else I can do to stop you, but now I trust you wont be trying to make me disappear…it would look rather bad for you now I think.”
Aldon nodded. “You’re right, Zeren. But if you should ever return…”
Zeren hung his head. “Yes, I know.”
And so he left, and made his way, sadly and slowly, back to the marsh. He stayed for a while, wandering through his old haunts. After a time, he explored in the opposite direction, and found a sunny meadow where he would some times go and watch the sky. He had come to understand that some times being yourself means being alone for a while.
|25 Oct 2008|| Anonymous|
No comments? This was very interesting...I’m not quite sure how to explain it.
But I liked it very much!
|4 Oct 2009|| Rhodri McCormack|
I love your stories