Sunday, October 5, 2008

Peaks and Valleys

It's not easy being a human.

Anoak hadn't been human for long, and he could already tell that this was going to be a lot worse than he had first thought. When the new gods came and banished the old ones, including Anoak, to this frozen waste at the top of the world, he had known it would be different and strange. But he hadn't appreciated just how HARD it would be.

He had once known all, and been all powerful; now he was bound by weakness, and lacked all the answers he'd once held so easily in his head. Intelligence is something we don't understand, but it's like any other tool it can both help and hurt, depending on how it is used. Having the capacity for reason and being self-aware are great tools for solving the problems of survival. But the ability to reason also leads humans to ask questions that can't be answered.

Like, "why does it ultimately matter whether I'm eaten by predators, and is it really worth the effort to gather wood and build a shelter if I'm just going to die in a few seasons anyway?"

At first, Anoak had struggled alone with that question. He saw that others hated the obvious answers enough to devise complicated explanations for the way of things; they found reasons to pretend that there was some Higher Purpose, or Greater Plan. Like most, he tried to pretend he had the answers, but when those answers proved weak and false, he tried to simply ignore the problem. Then Anoak met Vula, and he thought he had found something that made the question irrelevant.

Among all the other old gods and new people, Anoak and Vula had something special; a bond that made them feel strong again. No, it did not bring back their magic. There would be no reclaiming of what they had been and had as gods. But now, they felt strong enough to tackle the journey that all mere humans must face.

When they began, they had a small shelter on skids, which they both pulled across the snowy wastes. They had friends in a loose group, all traveling the same roads. But then those friends began to peel off from the group, and the roads forked in ways they hadn't expected. Some left their side, and came back. Others drifted away forever.

Along the way, the children came, and Vula could not pull as she had before. She took on other duties; feeding, tending, nurturing. And as the road tilted horribly Anoak tried to adjust.

They came, though, to a rising plateau. It ascended a foggy mountainside, and they couldn't see the top. They were scared, but Anoak told Vula, "I will pull. It is not too much for me, but there is no better way to go."

It was hard work. Anoak and Vula became weary of their duties. Though they tried to remain cheerful, there were times when the food or firewood was scarce, or it seemed the shelter had been damaged by the rugged terrain. Their friends were more scattered than ever. Some drifted by alone, carrying stories of pitfalls and cliffs along the way that had claimed their partners. Some were still headed up; some down. None really stayed.

Anoak grew tired and afraid, but he put his head down and pulled. He made mistakes, stumbled over rocks on the way; he and Vula grew cross with each other and lost their tempers. The children grew, and resisted helping, wanting only to play. They would climb out and pick up a line to pull, but couldn't pull for long before losing interest and collapsing back in the shelter.

Finally, Vula was able to get down and take up a line again. They stood on a wide part of the plateau, with a steady, daunting slope ahead. It was very foggy, and Anoak warned her, "We must take care to pull in the same direction. We should not grow apart." He didn't see her roll her eyes, or realize how far away she already was.

The fog grew thick, and the children were loud and unruly. Keeping them fed and safe, while pulling the shelter uphill through the thick fog became almost unbearably hard, and Anoak and Vula could not hear each other. Sometimes one thought the other was calling out a warning, or for help, and sometimes they got turned around.

Anoak kept having trouble hearing Vula. He strained at his task, telling himself, I am doing well. I am taking care of them. Other things don't matter, if I can just keep going.

Then he heard her voice in the fog. "I'm going to help someone else, Anoak."

He felt her line slacken, and at the same time, his ankle turned, and he found himself on his knees, staring down into a yawning crack. He screamed in agony, "Please, no! Don't go!"

"I will come back. You'll be fine," she said. "This journey has been too hard on me, and I need to go try something else for a time. Someone else needs my help, and our burdens have weighed on me for too long." He saw her shape, through the fog as she moved away. He was afraid, and hurt, and felt the tug of the shelter pulling him down one way, as fear and gravity pulled him the other. And in his weariness and fear, that Question began to come back: Does it matter what you do? Will your effort lead to anything beyond more effort?

He heard others moving in the fog; friends, maybe. Predators, perhaps. Some who would help, some who would harm; almost all with false answers to that question. He knew he had to protect the children, but didn't know if he could alone. He didn't know if Vula would come back, or if she did, if she would be able to help again. Or if she would stay.

Anoak sat weeping, clutching the line, and trying to decide whether to cry out for help in the cold, dark fog.

1 comment:

Thaurismunths said...

Wow. That's quite the story Tad! In conclusion I think calling out is the best answer: Friends will come help, and predators will only hasten the inevitable. It's worth the risk. -Thaurismunths