Saturday, October 27, 2007

Very, Very Hungry

Last revision made at 3:51 AM, Tew's Day the thirtieth.
There was a time, perhaps half a century ago, though to me it sometimes seems as long ago as when the simurg ruled Sky and wyrms Earth, when visitors would come to my room late at night and dance and feast with me under the moon. This was the time when there were seasons besides winter, if only in my mind, and when I filled the night sky with singing.

That time ended for me when the visitors stopped coming, though for those others who never had visitors I think summer must have ended for the last time when the Green seized power.

I do not know what life was like before the Green, I know only that it could not have been as it is now. I do not know what it was like because I trust no one to tell me, and no one trusts me enough to tell me, and books are full of lies. The Judges (whom some call executioners when they think, foolishly, that no one is listening) have rewritten them all, as they have blocked radio signals from outside. They are fighting a war of attrition with our memories. One day all those who know what we have lost will be gone and those remaining will be as I am, orphans who remember their parents only from dreams. Then they will forget even that.

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My parents were rarely at home during my younger years – away on business or pleasure, or hiding from the Green (as were so many in those years, when it was still possible to hide), or God knows. I did not. I still do not. Finally their visits dwindled away to nothingness. They had hired a wet nurse for me when I was still an infant and kept her on as a permanent nanny until her murder a decade later. If they had known that she was actually working two shifts in the City (presumably to support a family in her home country, a loving husband and laughing children and a wrinkled mother) and only ever came back to the house at three in the morning to sleep for four or so hours perhaps they would not have kept her on. Or perhaps they would have – how much, if at all, my parents cared about my wellbeing is another thing I have never truly understood.

I was thus largely alone in the familial manse for my entire childhood. Almost bereft of contact with adults, barring the few hours a day when Nana was at home, I held only a tenuous grasp on the normal and the possible. To me, thus, the first nocturnal visits were none too strange – indeed, my child's imagination conjured no less fanciful adventures during the daylight hours.

The visitors themselves were small and man-shaped, and very bright. They floated, invariably, through the window, and their own natural glow combined with that of the moon conspired to illuminate the entire room almost as well as during broad daylight, though the shadows cast by the furniture on the walls and floors were somehow thicker and blacker. They never came on cloudy nights, or on nights when the moon was not in the sky. Only later would I think to question them about this, after I had already begun to contemplate the answer. They spoke my language, albeit slowly and simply – perhaps the better to communicate with a child largely deprived of opportunities to improve his vocabulary. They had silver fur and golden eyes, and dog-like faces, and sharp teeth that glinted like rubies in the moonlight.

We would speak, as I have said, and play games – they would hide from me, or I from them, in the bowels of the house. It did not take me long to grow bored with hide and seek, as I learned quickly to identify their hiding spots from the strange, distorted shapes the shadows around them would take, like prehistoric paintings in some long-forgotten grotto. Then they would lead me outside, and these were the only times I would ever see my neighborhood, pale and shivering in the interminable winter, for Nana would not under any circumstances allow me outside of the house – perhaps in order to shield herself from suspicion that she had somehow abducted me from my real, native-born parents, but I think it more likely that the murders had genuinely caused her to fear for my safety. She loved me, I think, as I loved her, for she was the closest to a mother that I had, and I the closest to a child for her in this country.

I should speak of the murders. It is important you realize that these were not the mundane killings and disappearances that occur whenever the Green rule. By all accounts the first of the murders did indeed take place shortly after the end of the Civil War, and I am sure that most residents of the Town at first assumed them to be attributable to the change in government – the Town had changed hands many times over the course of the war, and its residents were by that time more than familiar with life under the iron law of the Judges.

Slowly, however, it became apparent that these murders were something else entirely. The Judges and their agents were clearly as baffled and frightened as the rest of the Town, seeing in the murders the last remnants of an insurgency, of resistance to God and Law. They responded as is their wont, declaring martial law or early curfews on days following attacks, and very occasionally (and for what reason save for sheer delusion I may never understand) they accused some poor migrant worker of the murders and executed him at sunrise.

I say murders, though from all accounts most of the victims were simply dogs and farm animals. What human victims there were seemed to have been selected at random, without any apparent motive or reason. Individuals out after dark, or who lived alone, or who slept near windows were the most frequent targets. None of the murders was committed with the aid of a firearm – the victims were instead eviscerated, their bodies rent open and their hearts torn out. So savage was the butchery that some suggested the murderer fed his victims to a large dog or even a tiger, though clearly this was not the case, as some of the victims were slain while their spouses slept on, oblivious until awakened by the birdless silence of morning.

Panic spread as the murders targeted humans with greater frequency. Fearing an exodus to the City or elsewhere, and the risk this would pose to the public order, the Green quarantined the Town and withdrew their Judges. I do not know what Nana did, then, to earn money, as she remained only a nocturnal visitor to the house. I suspect she may have turned to prostitution.
And I in all this? I, yet a child, remained unmindful of it all. It was at around the time of the first human murders that I stopped feeling the need to eat.

My moonlit fugues became almost a nightly occurrence, and slowly it came to pass that even on dark nights when the visitors did not come I dreamt of loping through the Town with the cold pricking my ears and tongue. Perhaps on some bright nights the visitors did not come, and I only dreamt they did. So much of what transpired on those nights belongs to the realm of dreams, who am I to begrudge it the rest?

The visitors would perch on my shoulders and whisper to me, their voices as faint as the susurrus of a tree roused by the wind from its winter's sleep (if only for a little while, for the wind is fleeting and winter long). I could never make out their words, and I suspect it would have made no difference had I been able to: they did not seem to speak so much as to breathe into me, the coolness of their breath through my ears seeming to settle upon my mind like a mist, a mist filled with images and feelings and colors, none of them coherent save the one in the back of my mind and in the pit of my stomach, the one urging me ever forward. The object of this compulsion emitted a smell that I began to scent as I neared it – of crushed grass and of forests, of citrus fruits, and honey, and flowers, and life.

The source of that aroma was always a tree, but they were trees like none I have ever seen in the waking world. Some of them were very large, others smaller than bushes. They were vibrant and luminous, brilliantly green with flowers of red and pink and white, as though they were misplaced flora from that lost summertime that had once been ours. Their branches were wild and thick, giving the impression that they were not branches so much as leaf-bearing roots thrust into the air to inhale the gleaming essence of an alien world. If I closed my eyes and listened, and I often did, I could hear from within them the slow crash of waves against some secret shore, as if there existed hidden in each tree an ocean of unfathomable vastness.

The first tree was outside, in a silvery pasture along the edges of the Town, but others grew indoors or on roads and sidewalks (such is the logic of dreams). I approached the tree and my friends, flitting as they were between it and my head, told me (though not in words) what I was to do. I reached my hand into its bole (how easily the bark parted!), and grasped the bright red fruit that rested there, and brought it to my mouth, and bit deeply.

I bit deeply, and suddenly I was elsewhere: in a field of green and gold, illuminated not by the sun but by the air itself, air so bright and clear it might have been a jewel. I saw sheep and dogs and humans, and I could not tell which I was (for I was no longer in my old body), and I did not care. I heard the gentle noises of the animals, and the laughter of the humans, and everywhere the crash of waves, and I felt happiness.

At length I came back to myself, and I was far from the pasture where the tree had been, and I was singing to the moon. My friends had gone, sated, I think, by the world contained within that glorious fruit. I continued to sing my song for many hours, for it seemed the natural thing to do, until finally I made my way back to my bed, and the next night was the same, and the next. Sometimes the fruit would transport me to cities made of sand along the beach, to a lover's embrace or a father's lap, to the midst of a crowd of laughing children or the bloody exaltation of a childbirth. And for a while I was as happy as any human has ever been.

It was the night (a moonless one) after I dreamt of laughing children that Nana did not come home, and the day after I realized that she would never return. I wept and in my grief I drove away my visitors, and that was the last I saw of them.

When the moon is full I lie abed and look to the window and hope to see those quicksilver shapes come to lead me out into the night. But I know now what they were, and I know that they are gone forever. I have lived for too long scouring in vain the dregs of what has become life for even the haziest reflection of what I felt on the cold nights of my childhood. I am able no more. I am old and my heart is empty, and winter reigns over us still. I will sing to the moon one last time, though with the voice of a man, before the end.


Carolyn said...

Ah, I love the trees that the narrator grasps fruit out of--creepy!
I like the more developed setting and the elaboration of what the Green does. It would be even better if you could find a way to tie that into the end.
How long do these visits go on for? I had thought it was just in the narrator's childhood, in which case the transportation to a lover's embrace seems odd.
Very good!

Jamal said...

I was actually thinking the same thing with regard to trying to tie the political climate in to the Hungry Boy's emotional troubles. I ultimately settled on having the narrator kind of use the Green as a scapegoat for his own inability to find happiness (I don't view this character as being particularly honest, to himself or as a narrator), but I'm still having second thoughts on that. I'll definitely try to think of a way to tie the Green into the final paragraph somehow.

I envisioned his dreams as being glimpses into the lives of others, which is how he can have one about a lover's embrace when he'd obviously never had a lover - but, of course, the author's intentions don't matter, only what readers get out of it. Do you think I should make it clearer that he's seeing snippets from the lives of the people he consumes? Maybe I'll replace the palaces of ivory and onyx with another Important Life Moment that he's clearly never experienced at the time he's having his trips, to try to illustrate that more clearly.

Nami said...

I do, do like this new version, and you know that in my compulsive honesty when it comes to matters of opinion, that I could not lie to you sbout that. I wasn't too thrilled with the original version that you read out. This me-likee.
Just thoughts:
Maybe you could elaborate a teensy bit more on what happened the night before Nana came back, and perhaps tie that into some glimmer of realisation on the narrator's part tying up his experiences with the incidences, and then puttimg some of that blame onto the visitors.

"I have lived for too long scouring in vain the dregs of what has become life for even the haziest reflection of what I felt on the cold nights of my childhood. I am able no more. I am old and my heart is empty, and winter reigns over us still. I will sing to the moon one last time, though with the voice of a man, before the end."

Ehhh...elaborate. A little bit incoherent, as you are sometimes wont to be.

I adore the imagery by the way. Gorgeous.

Nami said...

Oh, and I updated Veils. Take a look and comment.

Nami said...

Oh, and I hope you aren't titling it "very, very hingry." You can do much better than that.