August 6, 2008

The Valley

I can't believe I'm actually publishing this, but I wrote it for the storytelling class I'm taking this week, and I have no idea if it's any good. In any event, I know it doesn't make any sense, at least, on the first read, but I'd love some feedback anyway.

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Once upon a time, Everything ended.

This was a shock to Everything, as it had quite liked being. Ending was a new experience for Everything, and it wasn't sure that it liked it. But the good thing about endings is that they're also beginnings. Everything liked the sound of that, though where the thought had come from was a mystery. It had quite liked being before, but it had started to get old. Perhaps this is why it had ended in the first place.

It couldn't quite recall.

A cloudy sky, stretching off to the horizon, falling to meet the earth in the distance. The earth, in turn, rose somewhat grudgingly to meet it, half-heartedly butting upwards with a series of low hills. On a particularly phlegmatic hill stood a grim looking figure, surveying the devastation before him. His mottled hair shifted as he slowly turned his head, a few strands languishing in the light breeze. The armor he wore was scratched and dull, the sword clutched in his trembling hand stained a dark maroon. His face, however, wore a calm expression; stern, but calm. Bodies littered the plain below him, stray wisps of smoke drifting in the breeze as the few remaining fires slowly burned themselves into ashes.

Everything grew wary of its condition. What had happened? It knew only that something was missing, but couldn't place what that might be. It shifted its attention to the new beginning. Maybe by watching what was happening, it could perhaps determine what had been lost.

Silence. The corners of his mouth twitched, then drew into a grimace. He was not comfortable with silence, but then, he could not determine if it was the world that was silent or merely his own ears. The battle, after all, had been deafening, but then, silence. He struck his sword against his boot, the grimace drawing into a frown when a buckle popped. But it clinked, and he knew it was merely the silence of contrast. If he concentrated, he could hear, faintly, the stirrings of the breeze. He moved his foot forward. Then the other. Satisfied he could still move, he sheathed his sword and began walking down the hill.

Everything focused warily on this new development. Movement. It vaguely recalled that movement may have been involved in ending as well. That would make sense, it conceded, unless lack of movement was also involved. It pushed the question aside and concentrated, becoming aware of other movement it hadn't noticed before. Vapors, mostly, but none with the sort of intensity it was now observing. It watched more closely.

A light drizzle had begun to fall from the clouds onto the lifeless plain, settling into the dusty earth. Out of the clouds, a lone cardinal, its red feathers a brilliant contrast to the desolation around him, descended in the growing mist. His eyebrows furrowed. Where had the bird come from? It couldn't have come from anywhere close; so far as he knew, everything alive had died in the battle.

Except him, of course. The lone survivor.

Everything was shocked; a second movement had appeared seemingly from nowhere. Puzzled, it began to search. Perhaps it was not Everything, as it had once thought. There, beyond the clouds! A mix of emotions washed over Everything; surprise at first, then fear and then curiosity. Boundaries; Everything had boundaries, and on one lay a small crack. Perhaps whatever had caused the desolation had also cracked the boundary, letting in the other movement. But if there were boundaries, what lay beyond?

In a fit of sheer rage, he pulled the sword from its sheath and slammed it, blade first, into the softening earth. As the drizzle intensified to rain, water began to pool in the depressions, turning softened earth into mud and absorbing the bodies and carnage, the lifelessness becoming one with the desolation. The cardinal landed again on the hilt of the sword.

Everything turned its senses ... outward? Yes, outward. It hadn't realized that there was more beyond the desolation, but it felt a growing sense of urgency about it.

The cardinal looked at him sideways, cocking its head in a jerky, almost rhythmic fashion. What is this? He leaned farther forward, kneeling so that the bird was at eye level, and held out his hand. The bird looked at him steadily and, after a moment that stretched out into the awkward, dropped the package into his hand and with a satisfied chirp leapt into the air. It was a seed. It did not appear particularly out of the ordinary; black, thin, and remarkably small. He glanced up again as the cardinal returned, this time landing on the ground. He bent down as the bird poked its beak into the dirt and looked up. It chirped.

Everything? returned its attention to the two movements inside. The first seemed to have settled down, but the other kept moving around without rest, alighting here, then moving on. As Everything? pondered this, it felt a blinding jolt of light.

He pulled his hand back out of the dirt and dropped the seed down into the small depression he'd made. Standing up, he pushed the dirt back over the hole with his foot. A chirp overhead revealed the cardinal descending again to land on his sword, but there it did not remain. It chirped, louder this time, more urgent, and flew off. When he did not pursue, it circled, chirped again, and flew again toward the hills. Leaving his sword, he followed.

The earth began to rumble. He began to run.

Everything? could not avoid panic as the two movements raced faster and faster toward the hills. Everything? began to tremble as the light grew brighter.

Only when he regained the hills did the bird change direction, slowing down and circling to land on his shoulder. It chirped, gently this time, and he slowed to a stop on the crest of a hill. He turned to face the valley, his eyes widening. From a widening crevice in the ground, a tree was expanding to fill the valley. Roots snaked out of the soil and plunged back into new depressions, sucking up the pools of water before submerging into the earth. His jaw dropped as the cardinal began chirping excitedly. He arched his back to watch the tree as it grew without bounds, filling the sky.

The clouds parted. Sunlight streamed into the land. Color exploded as life burst in to fill the desolation.

Memory flooded back, the battle won. He awoke smiling. Content. Filled. Alive.

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