Once upon a time, not far from now, a small planet was veiled in semi-darkness. Humans of a kind lived under a vast cupola strewn with tiny sparkling lights. Space had no dimension, and time was measured by sleep and dream-cycles. The stature of a man, woman or child was crouched and bent, like the shrubs covering the land. Diets were meagre, consisting of crushed insects, seedlings and roots. And for warmth everyone huddled close together in caves.
Great pleasure was derived from ironwood, the rarest of plants, with leaves that warmed the body when chewed. Those gifted in finding the plant called themselves light-seekers, for reasons shortly explained.
One such seeker, a young woman called Lila, was a renowned ironwood huntress. She would disappear from her settlement for many sleep-cycles, driven by the promise of yet another encounter with the red glow of the plant, her reward alone, since the glow vanished once the leaves were reaped. Attempts to dig up this rare plant with its root and cultivate crops near settlements had been in vain. Ironwood did not settle anywhere but wandered unpredictably from place to place.
Great honour was attached to bringing home a harvest of leaves. They were consumed in the ‘great chewing,’ which animated the hearts of participants, and made them burst into song and dance.
Our story begins when Lila had been hunting for three sleep-cycles, without success. Despondent over her bad luck, she was overcome with awe at the sudden appearance of brilliantly glowing object, no bigger than the head of a new-born. As if teasing her, the object drifted almost within her reach. The glow of ironwood paled in comparison to this astounding light. Colours sprang up all-round. Insects were drawn to its radiance, their tiny bodies shimmering. Lila gazed at her hands being doused in gold. Yearning to touch the mystery, she crouched cautiously forward, but the light escaped, and each time Lila advanced, it receded a little more. Often times Lila lurched forward – only to clutch air. She spent her entire strength chasing the small orb which promised an expanded world. Stumbling on, she was oblivious to all but the brightness ahead. Whichever way she turned, the glow was before her, just out of reach.
When Lila was discovered by the people of her settlement her condition aroused much interest. She was speaking in delirium about what she had witnessed. Words so spoken were believed to come from divinities, embodied by water, plants and insects, powerful spirits known to visit people in their dreams. So it happened that the light-seeker’s revelation spread instantly throughout the tribes, and great portent of meaning was attached to the glowing object. Everyone was convinced it really existed. And sure enough, soon people begun to see the orb bouncing above shrubs, and in turn felt compelled to touch it. They fared no better than Lila, yet their desire remained, undiminished.
Clever minds devised coordinated methods. People teamed up. One reached out towards the light while another stood opposite, ready for the catch. The trick failed, of course, since the light simply passed out of reach sideways. The next idea was to create circles at a respectful distance and cautiously close in on the trophy. These events were set up with great attention to detail. Specialists offered refinements to the ritual. However, as you might guess, the instant all hands reached out, the orb floated lazily upwards, a small span beyond the longest arm. Societies developed strict rules of engagement and complex theories about the orb. To differentiate their activities from the commonplace light-seeker, they called themselves truth-seekers.
Drifting ever higher, the mysterious object grew in size, and the desire of truth-seekers to touch its light intensified, and with it the limbs of these small peoples stretched, their spines straightened, and their imagination took flight. Plants, too, reached upwards. Shrubs became trees and the fearless among the community climbed the trees as soon as the glowing object popped over the horizon, because by then, the cycle of its appearance could be counted upon.
Once the orb passed higher than the highest tree, the innovators among the communities promised future rewards to lesser endowed folk and employed them to cut down the trees and build tower-like wooden structures.
Before the approximate time of the light’s arrival, the owners climbed the towers to await their chance. But no matter how daringly the height of towers progressed, the wonderful orb of light slipped out of reach. Higher and higher it moved, growing in size, and, increasingly, warming the planet. New animal species appeared, and new plants, some of which were farmed. The towers found more mundane uses. Other curiosities were invented, all with the aim to get closer to the mystery. The glowing object became the guiding principle of every enterprise on the small planet, and was invested with divine power, replacing all previous divinities.
While the now blinding light was adored and venerated, darkness was shunned. Days brought riches, nights reminded people of their dim past and aroused fear. Whatever could not be distinguished in clear light became suspect. All respectable activities were focused on understanding the light and finding ways to somehow partake of its power. So it was that people who still ventured into darkness were mistrusted.
One such night, had you been there, you would have been startled by cries of joy resounding from a hill. Wanderers beheld a pale shimmering globe. Memories were stirred, of a time when it was still possible to gaze into the heart of the beloved light without being blinded. Gripped by profound longing, a growing band of old seekers regularly ventured into the darkness. They puzzled over why the twin globe changed shape and periodically disappeared, only to re-emerge, waxing from a curved shard to full roundness.
Before long, they venerated the glowing disc as the divine mother of the unknown, whose coming and going altered the rhythm to time. The new divinity was angrily decried as sacrilege by those who saw it as a betrayal of the bright and bountiful deity of day.
The two kinds of believers did not see eye to eye. Secretive clans claimed having been touched by the pale mystery, though were unable to elaborate on what possible benefit the gentle light might hold. Incredulous stories spread, laughed at by the now established beneficiaries of ingenuity and industry. Seekers of the night who sincerely tried to share their experiences were ostracised.
Let us relate an incident, told by a witness. One clear night, so it goes, a group of seekers arrived on a level rock above a deep pool of water to watch the round ghostly orb fill the night sky. To their surprise its perfect replica appeared in the still water of the rock pool, beautiful, beyond words. Those present gasped. One young woman, who resembled her ancestor Lila, the legendary ironwood huntress, exclaimed, ecstatic, ‘This is it!” and dived headlong from the rock’s ledge into the heart of the glowing reflection. The orb scattered into a mesh of glittering stars, forming circles upon circles across the pool. Friends stared open-mouthed as the silvery light slowly retracted to gather itself back into round brilliance. Night’s divinity had re-assembled and rested quivering on the water’s surface. There was no sign of the young woman.
To break the unbearable tension, all assembled started talking, expressing what they thought they had witnessed, not hearing the soft footfalls. Quietly, from surrounding shadows, the young woman stepped into their circle. Her skin gleamed, illumined, as if she had absorbed the mysterious light. Questions drowned her, everyone was eager to know her secret, but she had lost her voice. Instead, a silent gesture planted itself into the memory of each man, woman and child standing there on the rock. The seeker pressed her right hand to her heart.
She had many silent followers, as had many like her from there-on after.
~ end ~
My conscious mind is unconsciously magical, while my unconscious mind is irrationally pragmatic. – Ashen
I’m curious as to what my readers make of this fable, which I wrote over three decades ago. In the wake of a few some strenuous years, I’m beginning to unearth the treasures sitting in my files. Bear with me.