Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Short Story: Where from?

In the beginning, there was already a question.

The ones who lived in the oasis. Their skin, translucent and paler than the moon's ghost. Sometimes the sun could catch a glimpse of their beautiful skin, usually sheltered beneath the canopy of trees. Seraphic hands might touch that pale skin, shoulder blades or a limb, as one of the dwellers there hesitated on the edge of that canopy, before disappearing back inside.

The oasis. Vegetable patch. Honeyed garden. Where the fruit rotted in its place on the bough. The canopy dripping with wine and cordial, an endless, dizzying inner ferment. The trees dripping white sap, sugar, semen.

Beings of all kinds were there. In the shade of the canopy, in aching corners, they would come out to life. In the spaces of silence, when the pale figures who ran here and there lay down to rest, they would come out to life. One day there might have been a wasps' nest. Another day, a crow that could read its own entrails. Or a mouth that drinks up the canopy and drowns before it can talk.

These beings could have been the beginning of many things. But for whatever reason, the shade of the oasis, and its endlessness, soon forgot them. All we know is that they had come and gone before the pale figures awoke.


The canopy opened onto a desert. The sand so dry and hot that to place one's foot upon it after the cool earth of the oasis, as the pale figures often would, felt like the exquisite jolt of an unlawful trespass. And then, after returning to the shade of their familiar world, they would carry the sensation a few steps further, and it would redouble in their faint minds like a neighbouring presence: the first breaths of conscience.

A great flurry beneath the canopy. Something is venturing beyond its border, and it is one of the pale figures. This should be one of the times of rest, when the pale ones sleep and other, madder wildnesses are able to stir. The others look on at their brother's progress, and they are filled with horror, hatred, and fright. The sun catches sight of a shiver as it passes along the ranks of the gathered watchers, despite the steady warmth of the light.

There is an expectation for the first time, and for the first time something outside of their usual being and rest: a sight.

Every step that the lone walker took on the sand caused him to stiffen momentarily. When his quivering had subsided enough, never subsiding completely, he stepped forward again. The shadow he cast behind him sprawled like an idol thrown upon its side. When he turned to look at his shadow, the walking figure thought he saw the neighbouring presence he had always felt near the threshold of the sand.

As the shadow fell towards life on the sand, its sibling was born in a moaning corner of the oasis. It gripped the bark of a tree with clever hands, climbed into the canopy, and refused to die.


The pale figure on the edge of the desert, underneath an empty sky. Viewing this hole for the first time, away from the nets of the canopy, the pale figure thought he would fall into it and that his plummet would never end.

Look at the sky, we say, and you cannot fail to summon to yourself a question.

And now he stopped, and he stayed where he found himself. And after remaining there for some time, he decided that it was good. With the others watching, he threw up handfuls of sand. His clever hands, made for grasping food and flesh in the dark, now fashioning a shape out of the sand. He made a hole. At first, only wide enough for his feet, but when he had stepped inside of it he continued to dig, until the hole was deep enough for a figure of his size to sit in it. But he still swept the sand with both arms to either side of his body, like a bird sinking, and even as it is sinking taking flight. Soon, he had submerged himself entirely, and even though the sand in that spot where he lay immersed seemed the same as the sand lying everywhere else, it had undoubtedly been shaped and forever altered by that figure's hand.

At first, nothing further happened. The pale ones gathered at the edge of the oasis felt the fingers of the seraphs and the fingers of the sun pressing upon their eyelids, and with sighs of relief they returned to their home, its rest and its docile, empty wisdom.

But after their departure, much happened and remained unseen.


In the hours after their retreat, the one who had departed from their company embedded himself ever more stubbornly in the desert floor. He would not move, even as the sand pressed upon his eyelids and his chest. He refused to move, even as the sand crept through orifices of nostril, ear, mouth, and anus, towards his shuddering innards.

Like an iron weight the sand pressed down upon him, and as it did so he felt the breath of life depart, and his penis grow thick and turgid, churning the sand as the rest of his body succumbed to the weight. The more the sand squeezed his ribcage, the thicker and harder he became. Until, like a weed, stubbornly ugly and stubbornly alive, it burst out of the sand and pointed at the sky. Like the tusk of a long-dead beast, uncovered by the endless subsidence, he poked skywards, quivering and laughing blindly in the breeze.

At this moment, a dribble of semen might have issued from it, and brought forth the first desert orchids. This might have happened, but it did not.


The ones who retreated into the oasis, slept soundly for a space. They would rest together, often embracing, or reaching out suddenly for a body nearby if a nightmare had taken hold.

When they awoke, the shadow's sibling hung out over the canopy above their heads. This being was the first they ever saw, the others having come and gone in the hours of their rest, even though their moans and chatter would bubble up into the pale ones' dreams like warm air from an underwater volcanic fissure. The being filled them with fear, and yet their hearts were afflicted for the first time with love.

All of them stood and gawped. As the being looked down, they all stared up.

It was the clever hands of the being that they couldn't help but watch. Picking fruits and flowers and leaves from the canopy roof, the being fashioned them into sights unknown; frightening, many-limbed and violently coloured, it was as if the being had plucked out the visions they often saw during their rest. And as he made these images, the being would lay them out along the branches where he crouched.


The pale one in the sand was squeezed dry of breath. His innards so invaded by the sand that there was nothing between him and the desert itself.

And now he found that, after some time had passed, the only sensations he had were to be found in that part of him protruding from the sand. The consciousness he still had dwelt wholly in that dry, shaking root. No sight, no sound, or smell, but the feel of the breeze and the warm air on that part of his skin still exposed to the sun.


A woman approached from across the desert floor. She had been wandering for longer than the longest utterable time is long. When she crouched down to clear her bowels, she could have been mistaken for a mountain a long way off.

Her body threw itself in every direction beneath a rag of sackcloth. Her eyes turned sand to glass, and all creation sped away from them. Her thick hair towered upon her skull like a pillar of broken rocks.


The being under the canopy sat among the images he had formed. All of them grouped as if in session and judgment on the pale ones looking on. And then the being, lordly, began to teach his audience the names of each different creature he had made. And the pale ones thought that the creatures on the branches watched them reproachfully, as if reproaching them for everything they still had to learn.

The pale ones remained mesmerised by the being's clever hands, still weaving and shaping as the being shared the new names. The hands and their movements seemed to beckon the watchers, as if through a newly opened door.

And then at last the being stopped and stood up on his high perch. The mouths of the pale ones were slightly open in awe, as he rubbed himself vigorously. Eventually, with the spasm of a fish successfully caught, he showered his seed upon them.


The woman saw that pitiful worm in the sand and made for it at once. It can't have been what she had been searching for, she thought. But it's all I've ever found.

When she came to that chosen spot, and began to lower herself upon that abandoned object, the sun was already declining towards dusk.