This is my second contribution to the magic realism blog-hop being hosted by author/blogger Zoe Brooks.
It was written after work today, in a flash; an allegory born without much gestation (or editing); just so I could share something more during this hop. I hope you forgive my spontaneity.
For a list of participating bloggers, please see the links at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!
The Unknown Storyteller
by Karen Wyld, 23 July 2013
I stretched out my arm, moved to the left a few steps, and stretched my arm even further. Turning, I held my arm straight out in front of me. Still nothing. From out of nowhere, the laughter of a thousand voices surrounded me. I looked around and saw no-one. Thinking I had imagined the sounds, I returned my attention to the mobile phone in my hand.
‘That won’t work around here.’
Turning in the direction of the voice, I saw nothing; just a scattering of autumn leaves being carried away on the winds. Wait. There was something else, something more. Perhaps someone approaching, between the trees.
‘Are you waiting for me,’ whispered a voice from behind me.
Swinging around, I found myself nose to nose with a withered person. As far as I could tell, from such closeness, this person was female. I took a step back, as such a distance between myself and another has never been comfortable for me. From that viewpoint I was able to gain a better picture of the stranger. She was old, ancient, possibly the oldest person I have ever seen up close. Her hair was silver with age, no white; or, more accurately, the opposite of black. Each wrinkle on her face, and there were many, etched her tanned face in the manner of wood-worm trails across the surface of a eon-aged tree. Before I could take in more of this odd woman, I again heard the sound of people laughing. As I looked elsewhere, trying to find the source of that sound, I felt a finger poke my shoulder. I rubbed my shoulder in annoyance, and turned back in time to see a single-toothed grin.
I held up my phone again, ‘I’ve been trying to get reception out here.’
‘Waste of time; instead you should be trying to be receptive,’ she said, turning away from me.
‘No, I’m serious. I need to use my phone, I’ve people to contact, directions to look up, places to be,’ I said, looking up at nothing.
I swung around. How could she have moved so fast, where could she have gone? After such a short time, this woman was beginning to annoy me. If it was not for my state of being lost, then I would happily walk away. If only I didn’t need some direction.
‘You coming?’ I heard someone shout.
In front of me, a few hundred metres or so, stood the woman. Reluctantly, I followed her. By the time I caught up to her, she was already resting, sitting on a large granite rock by the side of the path. Panting, I stood beside her, trying to catch my breath. She suddenly stood up, took a few childlike skips, and then began to walk off the path; into the long grass. Travelling along the tunnel she had left in her wake, I stumbled but kept moving, hoping to catch sight of her. Eventually I saw the top of her silver-coated head, and then her azure cardigan-coated back, as she hunched over a small river. I sat on a rock, glad for a moment to rest. Breathing out, I invited the sounds of running water to soothe my nerves.
‘If I was you, and clearly I’m not, I wouldn’t sit there,’ she mentioned with her back still turned to me.
Before I could question her, I had my answer: for the rock began to tremble. Then it raised a few centimetres in the air, and finally it moved towards the river. With a small scream, I had jumped to my feet and was staring in astonishment at my resting spot that was really a turtle. That huge turtle walked over to the woman, and raised its long neck. My erratic guide stretched out a hand and gave it an affectionate scratch under its neck; until it purred. Or so I believed. While I was keen to determine if it had indeed purred, I didn’t have the opportunity. The turtle, in a most graceful dive, entered the river and was soon submerged. Shifting my curiosity, my attention was drawn once more to the woman; who had assumed her previous position. I had no idea what she was doing, stooped over the water like that. Walking closer, I tried to peer over her back, to see what she was doing. She turned suddenly, and something flew over my head, dripping cool water as it travelled skywards.
‘You were supposed to catch it,’ she said with a twinge of scorn; or so I imagined.
I raised an eyebrow at her, and turned in the direction that ‘it’ had gone. And there it lay, flailing helplessly on the grass. A fish. Not just any fish but a rather large and extremely flat fish, with rainbow scales.
‘Its yours,’ she said offhandedly.
The old woman laughed as she walked over to the fish, ‘Your story-fish, of course. Don’t you at least know that? And you call yourself a writer, hmph.’
She picked up the fish, held it lovingly in her arms for a moment, then gave it a few soft pats; before tossing it into the air. I held my breath, worried that it would fall on her, or me. After all, judging by its size, it would be a very heavy fish. Instead of flesh pounding on the ground, a small gold leaf floated towards me. I put out a cupped hand and caught it; a flat gold-foil fish.
Again she cackled, ‘Don’t just stand there, put it in your pocket. Come on, we have things to be, places to do.’
Thrusting the golden fish in a shirt pocket, I once again followed this extremely strange stranger, who once again set us a brisk pace. Until I found her, stopped by the side of a new path. This time she stood at the base of a forked tree, staring up at what appeared to be an abandoned bird’s nest. As I too looked up, I was startled by the sight of blood, or at least it appeared to be blood. This dark red liquid traced its way downwards, joining other drops that had pooled at the bottom of the tree. I stepped back in horror.
‘Is that blood? Where has it come from?”
‘The tree, of course. She is crying; trees always cry red if the thing that has caused the sorrow is sorrowful enough. And this tree has seen plenty enough to cry over for centuries more.’
I gave her a puzzled look, torn between wanting to know more and not wanting to hear anymore of her nonsense. She looked me straight in the eye, no doubt sensing my harsh judgement of her.
Shrugging, she said, ‘This tree cries for the virgin, the one that was hung up in its branches. Unfairly, of course. Then again, is any hanging done with fairness in mind?’
Giving in to curiosity once again, I asked, ‘When will this flow stop? Surely it can’t be good for the tree.’
Touching the tree, she said, ‘When the woman’s child returns. Shouldn’t be too much longer; this tree is strong, she will last until then.’
‘Didn’t you just say she was a virgin, this woman they hung here?’
The woman nodded, and started off again. I chased after her, not content to let things stay unanswered.
‘How can that be, how can she have a child?’
‘Stuff happens,’ she said over her shoulder, not slowing down at all.
I had no other option but to follow, for by now I was beyond lost. To my relief, the old woman had stopped at another tree, a few paces from the first tree. She reached out her arm to me, offering me something. I put out my hand, and she placed on it some sort of fruit. It had the shape of an apple, and could probably be called an apple; if not for its black and purple striped appearance.
‘Go on, take a bite. Surely you’re hungry.’
I stared at that strange fruit, my mouth watering all of a sudden, but too scared to try something unknown to me.
‘What is this called, this fruit?’ I asked of her.
‘Titles, names, genres, labels. Why are they necessary? Will it change the taste of the thing? Alter your enjoyment? Of course not. Just eat, savour the taste, and feel nourished.’
I hesitated, unsure if I could trust; not knowing if it was possible to try something without knowing what it actually was that I was trying. However, hunger overtook fear, and I raised that striped fruit to my lips. Taking a small, hesitant bite, I chewed and swallowed.
Nodding enthusiastically, I said, ‘Its good, really good.’
‘See, you didn’t need to know what it’s called. Come on, you can eat on the run. We have to hurry now.’
And again I followed her, worried about what her definition of hurry might be. For a person of a certain age, she certainly kept a fast pace. Finally I caught up with her, for just a moment. Then I stopped, and she kept on walking.
I cried out, ‘Stop, you must stop.’
She turned towards me, hands on hips, ‘No, you must keep going.’
‘Didn’t you hear that? That sort of wailing sound. What is it?’
‘Wailing, of course, Now come on, lets get moving.’
‘No, we must go look. It seems to be coming from that cave, up there in the cliff face. It sounds as if someone is hurt.’
‘Yes they are; and they can stay that way for all of eternity, for all I care,’ she said, turning once again to the well-worn path.
I didn’t move, couldn’t move; unable to fathom how she could keep walking, how she could ignore such heart-wrenching cries.
I yelled out to her, ‘Don’t you even want to know who it is, don’t you care?’
She turned, ‘I know who is up there, and I know why they cry. It’s the son of the son of the husband of the virgin. And he deserves every tear that flows from his eyes, every cry that erupts from his chest. Leave him be, we have to keep moving.’
Baffled, I felt as it I had no other choice than to chase after her. For fear of being left out here, in this alien land, was stronger than my need to soothe a stranger’s anguish. And what did I know of this man? Perhaps he did deserve the pain he was clearly suffering from. Perhaps he was the worst of men, a mass murderer even. Then again, perhaps he was hurt, maybe he’s been in an accident of some sort and needed help.
I heard her voice float on the wind, from up ahead of me, ‘Its not that sort of suffering. Don’t worry, he is not injured. It’s not physical pain he feels, but that agony one has at that exact moment they realise that the only person they want now, to hold their withered hand through the final winter, was the one they had pushed away in their spring.’
Shaking my head, for this riddle was beyond me, I walked on. Until the cross-roads.
‘We are here, just in time,’ she remarked.
‘In time for what?’
‘To make a choice, of course. Have you learnt nothing, not even anything?’
I sighed, having reached the end of tolerance, not able to digest one more cryptic morsel. Instead, I sat; but not after ensuring that this rock was of a sedentary nature. I was so wanting home; and longed for red shoes of my own, a rabbit hole even.
‘Just make a choice and you will find home, or something else. Your choice,’ she said.
‘What is there to choose from? I’m tired; no more riddles, just tell me.’
‘Well ok, come over here and I will.’
I reluctantly left my rock and stood by her side.
She said, pointing in front of her, ‘That way is north; a good choice. The way of the originals. It might be a bit dry and hot out there, but I think you’d find answers if you chose that way.’
Looking at her, I seriously wondered if she was ok. Had my guide perhaps escaped from somewhere, a special place built to protect people of her type? Instead of following her, I should instead be taking her home, to safety.
‘Listen up now,’ she said. ‘Over there, that’s south. There are some good winds that way, the smells of oceans and adventure. You can’t go wrong heading in that direction.’
At the sound of blood-curdling screams, I spun around. Behind me, where I knew that rock should be, was a tree. An obviously dead tree. With three ravens perched on a grey branch. It was from these birds came the dark calling.
‘Pay no heed to them, it’s not your time yet. They just like to witness certain moments, things that aren’t really their business. Breaks the monotony of attending all those dreary final send-offs.’
I wasn’t so sure. From my understanding, ravens at cross-roads are a bad omen.
‘Pfft. Omen-smomen. This isn’t a fantasy story, so you can let go of such nonsense. This is reality. With a touch of magic. So hurry up and make a choice.’
I sighed, ‘Ok, so the choice is between north and south?’
‘Not at all, we still have east and west. I’m pretty sure that east is not your thing, so we won’t need to bother with that. West, well perhaps. West could suit you, then again maybe not.’
‘So it is between north and south, then.’
She said, ‘One more to go.’
‘There is no more, surely. What else is there than north, east, west and south?’
‘Over there, north,’ she said, pointing in the direction of the raven tree.
I let out another sigh, deeper this time, ‘You already pointed to north, and it wasn’t in that direction.’
She nodded her head, ‘Yes, that’s the other north.’
I looked at the first north and then turned back to her. She was gone. As were the birds. In their place was a chair. An overstuffed armchair of green. Shrugging, I walked over to it. I prodded it, to make sure it was real; and laughed. As if I could really know what was real, not after what I had just gone through.
On closer inspection, I noticed that a hard-cover book rested on the chair’s arm. Looking around, to make sure that I was truly alone, I sat down. Sinking into softness, I sighed. I then picked up the book and, slowly, with much reverence, I opened it. My eyes found the first line amongst the blur of white paper, and I smiled.
Out loud, I read:
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like pre-historic eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”
Many of you will know already, but out of respect I must say:
The above words in italics is the opening of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; the master of magic realism. Literature, and the world, owe much to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. May he live to tell many more stories.
Previous bog-posts of mine, that may be of interest (inc written for this magic realism blog-hop):
To read posts by the other magic realism blog-hoppers, click on the below links: