Thursday, January 18, 2007

Barrett Greenfield: Excerpt from Chapter 11 "Heresy"

Far in the south, beyond the Ullnich Sea, is a sparsely populated land where the people are more savages than man, living in rude huts in the midst of sullen jungles, or wandering in tents across endless desertland. Few of us have beheld these lands, for the climate is harsh and unforgiving, and the gods strike down intruders with maladies of an unconquerable nature.

But upon occasion, hardy souls will venture there by sea, or by braving the mountainous isthmus that binds the great lands together. Rarely are these journeys fruitful, and most are remarkable mostly for the wild adventures reported by those who return.

Decades past, a score of men returned from an expedition that had numbered over a hundred. The survivors were soon scattered back in the places of refuse from which adventurers are spawned, but a remarkable tale was heard from some of them.

This tale was told to them by a tribe of savages of the jungles, whom their leader had befriended and with whom they had dwelled before making their attempt to return to the known world. They passed this tale on as curiosity, little thinking of its import, for clearly it is merely an admonition to the savages own people.

Deep in the jungle, the savages say, there is a rolling land of sparsely wooded hills, where the searing humidity of the jungle does not take its toll, but the deep rains keep all lush and fertile. Why this land is not settled is never mentioned, perhaps being such an obvious implication of godless mythology that it bears no further comment, but this land is looked upon as something of an earthly paradise.

It is not the land that is so remarkable, but the event that occurs once each century in this place. From within the earth, crawling through the thick and supple loam, emerges at the first full moon a strange and alien people. Each one lies dormant for their allotted time, sustained by unknown powers, and gestating slowly in the womb of the earth. Some common signal, or some rhythm of the earth awakens them, and they crawl upward to emerge, blinking at the light.

These creatures are as like to you and me in physical form as they are different in their nature. Beings more like gods in their beauty, but childlike and naïve. Within the confines of their hidden land, they crawl one by one from their slumber, and ordered by an unknown force, they begin the construction of their civilization anew.

From the strewn stones of the valley they construct their villages, till the land, hunt the game, and gather the fruits of the jungle to sustain them. The women of their race weave beautiful cloth into garments of strange cut, while the men fashion jewelry and statuary to please them.

Once their villages are complete, and the crops prepared, all work is put aside. These people fall to an orgy of feast and copulation that is sustained, unabated, for four months, but in a strangely monogamous way, with these seemingly uninhibited people pairing in a sustained fully consummated troth. At the end of this cycle, the females lay their fertilized eggs in the central chambers of each village, and the following day, they, each with their male partner, take up the eggs and return them to the earth where they are nestled deep within the ground.

The people then return to their amusements, casting aside all relationships in an unbounded series of lustful and gluttonous encounters that continues until, one by one, their bodies begin to fail from the excesses. As they die, the fewer and fewer engage in ever more indulgent acts, until the last of them are consumed.

Peace returns to the rolling hills, and the signs of habitation sink into the earth, the bodies of these aliens moldering and feeding the carrion eaters of the jungle.

This tale is remarkable enough, but the savages added another element. It seems that one year, months after the last of the aliens had died, one more struggled upward out of the loam. This male blinked in the sunlight, as all the others had before him, but when he cast his eyes upon the valley, he was stung to the heart. All about him was the wreckage of the few bright months allotted to his kind. Skeletons and decomposition marked the landscape. The fields were barren from the last harvest, and the game driven from the woods. The trees were picked clean of fruit.

But none of this was such a blow to the alien as the wretched bodies of his race, and the landscape dotted with the buried eggs of the generation that was not to come for another hundred years.

Whether by some fluke of his own internal cycles, or some vicious trick of nature, he had awoken after life had already ceased, and now walked a cold, dead world, moments too late for any purpose he might ascribe to his existence, and decades too early for any reprieve.

The alien considered all of this, and for a long time, walked the lands about the rolling hills, picking out a miserable existence in the plundered land, fingering the trinkets of the great orgy and pondering the cruel joke.

When at last it occurred to him that by the innate logic of his nature, he had survived for over a year in his desolation, he tried to understand how this could be so, when he knew that his urges told him to work, then breed, and then die. Was his continued existence part of the torment of his fate, or were the short lives of his people a needless part of some primal urge, an urge that could be checked, leaving his race to work and breed and live to work and breed again, extending their lives beyond the brief, perfect pleasure of the few months into a glorious march into time?

He wondered and thought, and for a time was eased by this prospect, by the realization that this epiphany could save his people the agony of their brief lives. He grew resolved in his fate, finding satisfaction in the thought that his suffering and loneliness were but a small price to be paid for the immortality that his realization brought him. For many years this buoyed his thoughts, as he marked the time that the next generation would arise from the soil.

But as those years passed, a grim fear began to creep upon him. He saw his skin grow paler, and felt his strength begin to seep away. His reflection in the surface of still water showed lines forming on his face, and his hair grew thinner. Yet only a score of years had passed since his birth.

When he finally realized that he would not live to greet the coming generation with his message of salvation, he wrung his mind trying to find a way to pass the message along. But there was no way to communicate to the future. His race had never needed a written language, as all they had needed to know was bound up within them when they emerged from the earth. The concept itself took years to fully formulate in his mind. He thought of devising marks upon the stones that could be set in communal places like the sites of springs or the bases of trails into the woods, but in the end he knew that when his people returned, they would have no thoughts for deciphering cryptic runes on the stones, if they even recognized them. Their only thoughts would be to work, and breed, and die.

Within a sad year of this revelation, the succor of death came upon him. His body was eaten and rotted away, and his bones were trampled into the earth from which he came. And at the next cycle, his people emerged from the earth. They toiled upon the land, bred in their inconsistent monogamy, and drowned themselves in ecstasy.

As you can see, this story is typical of the tales of savages, for it leaves obvious questions unanswered. For example, how did this story come down to the natives at all, if this alien died alone and without witness in a lost and unreachable land. But to emphasize this is to allow for possible credulity in this story, which is obviously lacking any basis in reality. This story must be taken at its face, as a moral guide for the savages, although its meanings are myriad.


Standifer Evasto Visum said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Xavier Martel said...

I deleted your comment from my most recent post, as it was compromising. Anon, mon ami, anon! I, for one, do not want the powerful forces at the Ministry of Art to find out that I am one of the leaders of the Cognitive Artists Guild, as such would bring immediate and retributive justice.

That being said, thank you for the comments about dialog. I should have followed literary standards and utilized quotation marks, for the entire excerpt from Chapter 11 is a monologue from a high priest of one of the pagan religions that Barrett encounters during the Candide sequence.

Standifer Evasto Visum said...

Xav: I revisited this with clear head this morn.

On my last visit I read as if some teacher of English - today, as consumer of fiction.

I am satiated like an alien after an orgy.

Well done!