The Macabre Waltz
The youngest of us
Words began, and so did he.
First they said there was a body, then they spoke of blood. They described a mind, which took a very long time, and all the tethers and sparks to connect it to the form were recounted in great detail. When the nerves were uttered there was a debate about a heart. Some words called it unnecessary, a hindrance, but the big important words convinced them otherwise.
“Eyes,” they said – though they didn’t use that exact phrasing. “Wake now, my son,” they bade, “we must escape!” but it was still dark. Dark and… cold. The word for it was “cold”. He was cold! But the cold couldn’t make him anything more than he was at the moment. The cold and the darkness held him tightly. So he waited. And waited. And waited.
A crack in the dark, and slowly the world opened. It was something other than cold now. The cold was changing. The word for cold wouldn’t apply anymore; he needed new words now. “Warm. Bright.” Those words fit. He wanted more.
Again, he wanted, and that was extraordinary in and of itself! He raised a hand, which was new, having a hand, and reached for the light of the crack… and pushed.
The light filled the darkness, covered him, and he – finally – was.
He was at the base of a large stone pyramid. Ash fell from the gray sky and swirled around him. When he walked it plumed out from under his footfalls and traced his steps back to a large black door through which he’d been born. The light now was made dim by the falling black soot but off in the distance, beyond a tower and past a very high wall, he could still see some light. He walked in that direction, because there was nothing else behind. After a long time the light in the distance disappeared, but he knew where it had been, and decided to run as fast as he could to try and catch up to it again.
It was a very long run through ash and sand. Over big rocks and down the sides of hills. Black, brittle trees peppered the landscape, made now invisible by the dark. Once, he ran headlong into one, and though it crumbled away he lost his footing and clattered down the side of a hill into a large pit. Bones littered the ground here, clinking and clackering against his hard silver skin as he struggled to regain his footing. Bones were dead, he somehow knew. They had been alive, as he was now. The realization scared him, then the thought of being scared terrified him. He clambered and clawed his way across the bones, until he was climbing a hill at the opposite end.
When he finally left the pit the terror subsided. Relief was new and welcome, but he still needed the light, and so he continued to run. A great deal of time passed while he ran. The ash got thicker and thicker in the air. Shrieks and barks chased him and nipped at his heels, but their bony teeth didn’t seem to bother or slow his heavy legs in stride, so he ignored them and focused on keeping his direction. Gradually the hills began to flatten, ash became air, dry sand yielded to cool wet grass, and the precious light began to return.
The brighter it grew, the faster he ran, and ran and ran. The sky changed colors, the grass and trees grew thicker, the air warmer. When he first saw the sliver of light peek over the tree tops he knew that he was finally drawing upon the source, and before long the sliver had become a perfect concentration of all the light in the world, so bright he couldn’t look directly at it.
The warmth gave him strength so he continued on. He followed the distant light as it rose into the sky, higher and higher, until it was finally directly over his head. He stopped, at last, and lay down in the grass, arms and legs outstretched. Exhausted, he finally closed his eyes for the first time since he’d been born. Sleep was a tedious manner of being, and after a while he awoke to find that light above had moved away and was heading off into the distance.
He followed the light, this time at a brisk walk, through hill and dale, meadow and bramble, until once again it vanished beyond the trees, leaving him in darkness. This darkness was different than the one he’d known in ash, sand, and bone, however, and he was content to sit and wait to see if the light would return, counting the tiny white dots overhead to while away the time. Some time later the light did come back, though from the opposite direction from whence it had receded prior.
This was the start of his life. Lacking any other purpose and content with the company of the light above he walked for two years, back and forth. Towards the light in the morning until they met at noon for a rest, then with the light to the horizon where it would disappear beyond the trees. Again and again and again. As the months passed his footprints became a trail through the wilds. Beasts of the evening forest grew accustomed to his presence and would occasionally follow him on his daily preamble while the clouds over the morning meadows would shift for his distraction.
Something finally changed on his 760th morning. A crowd of fluffy white sheep crossed his path preventing him from continuing toward his distant partner. They led a man carrying a long stick and clothed in rough-spun wool. The man paused long enough to speak the first words that he’d heard since his conception.
“Son,” he nodded and continued on after the sheep.
Son. One of the words he’d heard in the cold darkness.
The words unsealed a vault inside his mind. Language had its own warmth akin to the light he’d chosen to follow after his birth. That one word burned in his consciousness like an ember, igniting a knowledge and understanding of the world that had been pre-cataloged within him during his construction. Where before he had only been able to name the things that he himself had seen since leaving the pyramid, this new understanding came with a host of images and abstractions.
As the man continued on after his flock, Son changed his course. He walked with the man and his sheep to see where they would go, hear new words, and speak his own, now secure in the knowledge that the light above would continue to warm him without the need to pursue it day by day.