Posts tagged fantasy
Posts tagged fantasy
The season turns. The leaves dry out and begin to fall, one by one at first and then in great sheafs. The monks come by daily… more often if the weather is wet… and carefully collect them by hand. To use a rake would be unthinkable. They collect them and carefully smooth them out, then begin the painstaking work of matching them up and ordering them.
Few of the pages are numbered.
Some are in languages that are unknown and untranslatable.
The monks regard these alien texts with no less reverence than the ones which contain useful knowledge in a readily accessible form, and though they can only guess at relationships among the pages from contexts, the make an earnest effort to order and bind them correctly all the same.
That they occasionally reap some practical benefits from the annual harvest of books is a secondary concern. The beauty of the illuminated pages impresses itself also upon the minds of the monks, but that is not what drives them, either. In drier years, the pages often lack color or ornamentation entirely, yet they are collected and curatedwith the same or more care than in more fruitful ages.
Collating and binding the pages is a duty. It is a sacred trust. Even the books they cannot use themselves are preserved with care against a future need they are sure will arise.
Where there is a book, the monks believe, there must be a reader.
The hand of God reached down and plucked the die from the stone table. The two chief angels watched. They did not breathe in the conventional sense, but if they did neither one would have dared. After all the arguing, the rebellion, the war… it had come down to this. The question would be settled once for all. Neither side was happy with the method of settlement, but they had no alternative. God had decreed that if either one questioned or complained once more on this issue, it would be decided in the other’s favor.
One chance. One die roll. They both knew the terms. If it came up odd, then humanity would be created with free will and would control their own fates, according to their means. If it came up even, then even the living corners of the cosmos would remain ordered solely according to God’s will, with every apparent choice nothing more than one more effect spiraling out from the ultimate cause.
God cupped the die in one almighty hand.
Absolute silence reigned as it was cast. It hit the table with a plunk, the only sound in the heavens at the moment. It rolled across the table and landed up against the Book of Life.
It had landed on its edge.
Perhaps a more discerning eye could detect some slight favor to the tilt, but to the angels’ eyes it was perfectly balanced exactly between two numbers.
God nodded, and behind the great screen, noted down a result.
“Well, that settles that,” God said. “I trust we can now move on to more important matters.”
In a little old house on the edge of the woods, an old woman took a tray from the oven. The delicious smell of gingerbread wafted up to her nose. She laid the tray out on the countertop and then went to sit down in her chair to wait for it to cool.
No sooner had she turned her back, though, when a little figure on the tray began to stir. It lifted first one arm and then the other free of the baking pan, and then used these to push itself up into a sitting position and free its legs. Pleased to be separated from the still-hot metal, the little gingerbread boy did a little dance… or maybe he was just trying to keep his feet from being burned. Either way, he hopped and he danced right off the edge of the tray and onto the clean countertop. He felt spry and springy, full of the energy of youth, full of the magic of life. He felt like he could do more than walk and dance… he could run if he wanted, run like the wind, run circles around anybody and everybody.
It was time for him to begin his life, to go out and see the world. He wasn’t going to stick around to be eaten, nor even to be cherished by an old woman who’d never had a child. He was meant for bigger things than that, better things than that. He knew it. He ran to the edge of the counter and looked for a way down. There was nothing there. It was a fair ways down to the hard tile floor, and he knew that he was brittle, but he was also smart. He looked around. A towel hung from the knob of a cabinet beneath another section of the counter where the freshly-washed implements of his creation were drying. He could use that to climb down, maybe, or grab it to slow his fall.
He raced over there, running and running as fast as he could. He stepped over the handle of a whisk and around an upturned mixing bowl. He pushed a measuring cup out of the way. He stepped over a sort of low metal wall… then something caught his eye and he looked down. The thing that he was stepping over was shaped like himself. It mirrored his form exactly… the arms, the legs, the circular head. It was him.
The implications of this stunned him. He jumped back, chipping his foot on the edge of the thing, and then clambered back past the other implements and limped back towards the tray from whence he had come with a sense of certain dread. He suspected what he would see, what he had missed in his jubilation at being alive.
The tray was full of gingerbread people, each one exactly the same as himself.
“No, no,” he squeaked. “I’m different. I’m not like them! I’m… I’m alive.”
A couple of the inert-seeming cookies lifted their heads up at the sound, looked at him, and then sank back down on the tray to wait.
The gingerbread boy let out a strangled sob.
The old woman, startled by a sudden clatter of sound from the kitchen, came racing in to find pieces of broken cookie scattered across the tile. She stared at them for several seconds before getting the broom and dust pan. Once it was all cleaned up, she turned to examine the rest of her creations. The missing one vexed her… there was no accounting for how it could have fallen… but she resolved not to let it trouble her.
She had a lot of work to do, after all. She picked up the icing bag, enjoying its weight in her hands.
“Let me see, I think I’ll make the first one a clown,” she said. “And then maybe a rock star. Oh, that’ll be something.”
She prided herself on making each of her gingerbread men special.
The magician pulled the stopper from the pewter bottle. Oily black smoke bubbled out of the top and then spilled down the neck to pool around its base. Gradually, the dark vapor coalesced into a solid form, that of a tiny figure with needle-sharp claws, glowing red pinpoint eyes, insectile wings, and a twitching tail. It wore a black hat with a skull and crossbones on it.
“What is thy dread bidding, master?” the imp intoned.
“Wretched spawn of the hell-pits, it is my wish that… wait, is that a pirate hat?” the magician said, registering the headgear.
“Er, no,” the imp said as the article in question poofed away in a puff of smoke. “I mean, not really. Just… just some dark glamour. It looked like a pirate hat, though. Good eye.”
“Why were you wearing a pirate hat?”
“Well, it gets boring, living in a bottle,” the imp said. “So I took up a hobby.”
“Well, not at first,” the imp said. “At first I was just amusing myself by grabbing little crafty things for myself whenever you sent me out into the world, and then I got into model-building, and then from there it just sort of… snowballed.”
“You mean you built a ship inside your bottle?”
“I think it could catch on,” the imp said. “Though I think if you got me a slightly larger bottle, a glass one, then it might be a little more, you know, functional. As a decoration, I mean. Decorative, I guess, would be the word.”
“I didn’t summon you from the hell-pits for decorative purposes.”
“Right, no, you didn’t,” the imp said. “But I’m just thinking… when I’m in the bottle, which is most of the time, you’re not getting any use out of me anyway. But with a glass bottle and maybe some kind of a display stand, maybe a nice polished red walnut or a polished mahogany… well, you’d just be getting more value. And since you gave up your soul to bind me, you might as well get as much as you can out of the deal. Right? I mean, am I right?”
“…let’s just get back to my dread bidding,” the magician said.
“Right,” the imp said. “It was only a suggestion.”
His wife was waiting for him when he slipped back through the crack that led to their side of the wall.
“Well?” she said. “Did you find anything we could use?”
“There was some leather,” he said. “All cut out and laid out for tomorrow’s work.”
“Have you made anything for our shop this day? Any clothing we can sell?”
“No clothes,” he admitted.
“Then what were you doing all hours of the night while the giants slumbered?”
“I… I was making shoes,” he said.
“Oh, well,” his wife said, brightening. “Good shoes?”
“Very fine shoes,” he said. “Of the best leather, and not a stitch out of place.”
“That’s something,” she said. “They should fetch a decent price.”
“I hope so,” he said. “The shoemaker’s family could certainly use it.”
“The shoe… wait, do I understand you to mean that you made shoes for that cobbler and his wife, and nothing for us?”
“It wouldn’t feel right, taking from them when they have so little,” he said.
“And we have less!” she said. “You didn’t even make a hat or a jacket from the scraps?”
“There… there wasn’t time,” he said.
His wife threw up her hands.
“When my older sister’s husband traded their beans away for a lumbering beast full of milk and meat, I told her ‘You won’t catch my Alfred doing that.’ When my younger sister’s husband gave away his two best axes to a man because he ‘had an honest face’, I said ‘My Alfred’s got a better head than that!’ Now what will I tell them?”
“Now, dear… it isn’t as bad as all that,” he said. “The cobbler and his wife are very kind people… I’m sure they’ll do us a good turn if we give them a chance.”
“You can wait for a good turn when our shop is prosperous and our pocketbooks bulging,” she said. “Until that day, you’re going back through the wall every night until you have something to sell!”
In a crystal cavern, beneath a blessed island of apples, there slumbers the once and future king in an enchanted sleep. He was placed there by a man with no mortal father, to rest and heal and to await the day the world would grow wide enough and wise enough to accept his reign.
As he sleeps, the true king dreams of a world where the information that was once bound in books may be copied instantly and infinitely, where learning belongs to the many instead of the few. He dreams of a world where a great leader can address crowds of nations as easily as he once spoke before crowds of people, where conquering empires are inexorably giving way to partnerships and fellowships. He dreams of a world where man’s intellect and scientific advances has begun to beat back the dire arithmetic under which the multitudes must starve to provide for the elect.
He dreams the world the way it should be, not the way that it is… but the gap between the two has never been narrower, and when the day comes that our world is enough like the king’s dream that the spell that keeps him slumbering cannot tell the two apart, he will awaken and lead us all to Camelot.
He has been asleep for a long time and may go on sleeping longer still. There has been much progress in the world, yes, but many in the world still hunger. Many lack access to the troves of accumulated knowledge. Many lack opportunities.
And even if all of those problems are rectified, there still remains one obstacle further. The path of progress is not straight, but branching, and we have not always chosen to wander down the right path.
“Fuck Segways,” he murmurs in his sleep before rolling over.
In the king’s dream, his knights have jetpacks.
The angel Gabriel had six hundred wings.
He did not fly swiflty upon them. They were so crowded upon each other, many growing out of the backs of others, that they could not hope to bear him aloft. Indeed, he could hardly bear their weight himself. He had six hundred wings, and more were springing up all the time.
He took a flaming sword and sheared off all that he could reach, leaving the smell of burnt feather and flesh in the celestial air. He hacked and he cut and he slashed until his back was a mess of stumps, and from that smoldering mass a dozen more wings swiftly arose.
Sobbing in pain and frustration, Gabriel sank down to his knees in despair and uttered a prayer, his first ever of supplication rather than praise. Would his torments never cease?
Somewhere down far below, at the front desk of a hotel, a four-year-old was being ignored by her parents and the desk clerk while they argued over a service charge. Lacking any other amusement, she slammed her palm down on the desk bell, again and again. She giggled in delight at the noise it made.
Ring, ring, ring.
Six more wings.
“Do you have real magic books here?” the boy asked the old man.
“Oh, yes,” the man said.
“Like with magic words that let you do things?”
“Certainly, among the other sorts,” the man said.
“Like, I could fly or make a million pounds of gold appear?” the boy asked.
“Is that what you’re interested in?”
“Yeah, sure,” the boy said.
“Well, then,” the old man said, ducking beneath the counter and rifling through the things stored behind it, “perhaps you are ready for something like this.”
He rose, holding a leather bound book with words pressed into the cover. The old man set the book down facing the boy, who read them aloud.
“Words of Power: The Magic Words To Accomplish Anything,” the boy said. He looked up at the old man. “Is this for real?”
“Go ahead, open it and see for yourself.”
The boy lifted the cover and flipped pages until he came to the first substantial text, which he again read aloud.
“The only words you must know and use to unlock all the power of the universe and have your fondest wishes are ‘please’ and ‘thank you’,” he recited. With a snort, he shoved the book away with so much force that it fell down behind the counter. “Load of bullshit, just like I thought. Later, weirdo.”
“Wait!” the old man cried as he scrambled to recover the fallen tome. The boy was already out the door.
The old man put the book back up on the counter, this time facing himself, and did his best to smooth the bent pages. They were quite brittle with age, though, and more than one of them had been damaged by the fall.
“Please show me the words I must use to repair a damaged book,” the old man said, and the book flipped to a different page, where certain words enlarged and rearranged themselves while others vanished. He recited the resulting formula, then waited while the book restored itself to a better condition than it had been when he’d first pulled it out. “Hmm, I don’t know why I never thought of that before. Thank you.”
The book closed with a snap, and the old man put it away.
“Of course I will pay the forfeit of a wager fairly lost,” the trickster purred. “Refresh my faulty memory, though. What was the price to be?”
“Your head,” the dwarf said, hefting his axe.
“Just so,” the trickster said. “But whatever did you bring that axe for?”
“Why, to cut through your deceitful neck,” the dwarf said.
“Deceitful, you say? Such slander! I’m not the one trying to alter the terms of the wager,” the trickster said. “I offered you my one and only head, in its entirety… if you wanted to take any portion of my neck, you should have been good enough to specify up front.”
“But how can I take your head without cutting your neck?” the dwarf asked.
“Well, now, when you figure that out, friend, you know where to find me,” the trickster said, and he turned to leave.
“Hold a moment, friend,” the dwarf said. “Since you’re such a good sport, I’ve decided to cut you a break.”
“You know, I rather thought you might,” the trickster said. “And don’t think I won’t remember your kindness.”
“I daresay you won’t forget it,” the dwarf said. “Just because it’s you… I’ll only claim half my prize.”
They tell me the book says the snake told me “surely you won’t perish”, but if he did I didn’t even hear it.
I wasn’t listening to the snake. I was listening to the tree.
The fruit called to me… it sang to me. God made man from dust and breath, but He didn’t put any music in us. He didn’t think to. When He put the tree in the garden, He didn’t realize how it would sing. God sees everything else, but He doesn’t see music, for the same reason fish don’t see water.
People have asked me about the fruit. They ask it all the time, actually, when they first get here. I understand… the way it’s written down, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It looks like the snake talked me into it way too easily.
That’s God again.
He was telling the story, of course. He didn’t know about the music, didn’t know what it did to me. Living in water, He didn’t realize how thirsty we could get.
Sometimes people are angry with me, even after I explain.
They think I ruined things for everyone. They think it’s my fault that they suffered. They’re not really mad, of course. The worst part’s over by the time they meet me. But they still want me to know that they blame me. There’s nowhere else to register a complaint, here, and not much to complain about.
It’s just a habit that some people carry with them.
Nobody ever thanks me. Nobody ever asks me if it was worth it.
If I could go back and do it all over again, I think I’d do the exact same thing. I like to say that I would have spent more time in the garden first, but I know that’s bullshit. I ate the fruit because I couldn’t help it, because it sang and because it offered relief for a thirst I didn’t know I had before I heard it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.