Discovering What Was Lost
The man called Smoke trudged across the dusty plain stopping occasionally to drive an iron bar deep into the ash and cinders. Having made his hole deep, Smoke worked the bar back and forth to widen the opening in the dead ground. He bent to the hole and placed in it an offering of life.
Smoke wet the buried acorn liberally before treating himself to a swallow of warm water. This planting of the dead land had been the labor of a decade now, off and on, and he was pleased that it was bearing fruit, so to speak. There were trees where once only dust devils danced, hedges of green and a grey that bespoke health unlike the sterile grey from which they sprang. All it had taken was accident and willing madness to help the forces of nature back into this volcano blighted landscape.
Fifteen years ago he had returned to where his life had ended. At least one, the one he cherished among all his many lives. When the volcano that had stood above the trade town athwart the mountain pass had spewed death down on all the inhabitence including his wife and child, he had died. Most of his riches were in that town in barns and storehouses and in the mansion on the square where his heart had lived. Oh Danique, would that I had been buried with you and young Quint.
Forty years he had spent himself in debauchery with what remained of his fortune. Forty years he had built from the bottom, again, making a new life for himself. Then twenty years had seen him fall in love, like a fool, and be defrauded, cockholded, and betrayed by the bitch. He’d died again, lost at sea like so many times before, washed of a life turned bitter, he’d let it all go to the bitch and her brood. It was worth the price to be free.
Or would have been if he’d had a wish to build yet another empire. Instead he wandered into the hills, a pilgrimage to a place where he’d once been happy. The wife he’d had then had not betrayed him, she’d died with their son in the explosion of the mountain. How was it that the loss of it still pained him more than the fresh betrayal?
What will a man give in exchange for his soul? The monk’s book would know. What did they say? What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and loose his own soul? Do I have a soul, thought Smoke, do I want one?
From Dust and Ashes
There is an economy, he thought, a way that this worthless ground is precious because it was my cherished home and the place that holds what remains of my loved ones. All that was is deeply buried in lava and ash. My soul longs for it.
There were no rising trees when he’d returned fifteen years ago. He was a pilgrim in a grey ashen desert then. I was lost in many ways. He’d paused for the night on a rocky mountainside, a hollow cut from the living rock. It was an oddly powerful place, he thought. This place has seen the passage of water, like an animal’s bones is fed and shaped by blood, the mountainside was carved by falling water. He ate berrys gathered from the river course before he had bent his way into the dry waste. He’d gathered a couple of wild apples too, little, green, and mean. He tasted one and regretted the little effort it had taken to carry them. He tossed it off the edge and then rolled the other across the water smoothed stone.
As he watched, the little green sphere bent with the curve of the stone floor, rolling and bouncing along, and then dropping out of sight. Curious, Smoke walked to where it had fallen and found a small hole worn in the rock surface by the round pebble that rested in the cup that now held it and the little green apple. He thought to pick the little apple out and then decided not. He was up, so he continued to explore.
Here and there were rounded stones and rounded holes in the stone floor, though none so deep as the one his apple had fallen into. Also he found shattered gravel that spoke of rocks falling from above. Smoke decided that caution might be wise and made a mental note to sleep beneath the overhang to protect from falling rock when there was no cause to fear the rain. With no firm purpose in mind he set to gathering rock, broken or rounded, and what he found he put near the apple hole. Night was falling and Smoke went early to bed when there was no wood to have a fire.
When he woke he needed to vent his bowels, and there seemed only one place for it. The hole that had received his apple took what his bowels held as well as some of the leaves that he’d thought to bring to clean himself. After the filth he kicked in some gravel and then circled it about with larger stones. In his madness he made a proclamation to the effect that here the venerable Smoke filled a whole carved out by a stone in a hundred years. It might have been a thousand or still more perhaps. Such a proclamation needed even more of an edifice so he wasted half a day dragging and arranging loose stones and smallish boulders around his makeshift privy, driven by some inspiration or fleeting madness. He determined that he must come back to see if anything would come of his foolish efforts and then forgot it almost as soon as he walked away.
What Comes of Thoughtless Leavings
Three years later he returned for the same sort of contemplation and was drawn once again to the stone shelf below the undercut cliff. What had been a place of stone and nothing more, was instead alive with water and green. The apple tree had sprouted, he saw, but only a dead stick remained of it whereas berries burst from around it at the edge of a pool of water. That there was water should not have been a surprise, since the hole he’d filled was cut by passing water acting on a stone in the hollow, but the shallow pool transformed the place. The berry’s that had begun in his hole seemed to have spread widely.
It seemed he’d caught the place at its dry ebb and now his dead stone shelf was an island of life in a wasteland. All life needs is a chance. That encouraged Smoke more than seemed possible.
And so the odd fancy of an evening and half a day inspired this great offering of life. Smoke aligned his position with a line of damp holes stretching off behind him. He drove his iron bar into the volcanic ash and bore out a place for life. Oak seed and warm water, left behind him as he quartered the volcanic plain that had buried his dreams, would let him find a little of what was lost so long ago.
That was the reason for it. The happy result was that life returned where it had been so horribly buried in fire and ash. Smoke glanced back along his line of damp holes before he drove his iron bar once more into the powdery ash. Like so many thrusts into the burned plane and like none before the bar sunk deep and then thudded off of something solid buried beneath the surface. He had found the lost trade-city of the Fire Mountains.
© Copyright 2015 L. Stephen O’Neill (UN: sonofniall at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
L. Stephen O’Neill has granted Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.