One week, one chapter. Not a great speed, but, hey, I’m working. I’ll keep putting up little clips throughout the week–it helps me get things done. But here’s the complete first chapter of my newest Post-NaNoWriMo project. Can also be downloaded as .MOBI, .EPUB or PDF for those who love their e-readers. Otherwise….
It was a terrible sound.
Johann needed no translator to transform the cry into words. The wrinkled face was red and rough, soaked in tears, the lips bulged with stress, mouth open stretching into a mask-like grimace, and a cry came out of it.
“Shhhh… shhhh…” His hands, held out flat, reached instinctively towards the crying thing.
“Careful. He is angry.”
A staccato sob starts to punch out through the wail, shaking the chest.
“It’s okay,” the translator whispered softly behind him. “Just shoot.”
One hand stayed outstretched, inching towards the back of the wild-haired head. The bloodshot eyes, slitted and squeezing out tears, followed the movement. The wail continued. The other hand droped unnoticed. It felt for the holster at hip hip. Gently, Johann pulled the gun out. His other hand hovered, paused, the continued to inch closer, almost touching the bushy hair now. The wailing thing jerked away, away from the comforting hand, ignorant of the tool held by the other, jerked away, shook, howled.
He patted the trembling head, stroked the matted hair.
And he shot.
The howl peaked. It shook into a cough, a trembling grunt, almost a laugh, then a whine and a whimper.
The crouched figure keeled over. Johann cradled its head in his hands before it hit the ground. Then pulling back his hands, he lay the old head gently on the grass. His arms dropped to his sides.
He breathed again.
It can’t have hurt.
He closed his eyes in relief.
Then he opened them and looked at the ancestor sleeping peacefully on the grass. The dart was small, the point no bigger than a bee stinger. He wouldn’t even notice it when he woke up.
Johann stared at the hominid–naked except for the patchy, coarse hair covering most of it’s body. The wrinkled face, also harry, relaxed now in sleep. The fearful, animal grimace was gone. Johan felt tears stinging his eyes. A moment later they ran down his face in rivers, flowing thick and heavy, and it was he who sobbed while the old hominid, now silent, slept.
He is real…
His eyes stared through the tears at the ancestor. This–this pure, undecorated form–this was different from the sight of the venerated gods in the temple. Thisancestor, laying on the grass of his own world, in his own skin and hair, softly inhaling the air of his own time, this was holy.
Johann felt his hands move up to cover his face, as if to shield it from the sacred sight in front of him. But he couldn’t cover his eyes, couldn’t look away. He rested his fingers on his cheeks, over the rivers flowing down from his eyes.
A hand touched his shoulder, but he did not need the translator’s reminder.
Johann fell to the ground. The dry grass spiked into his cheek and his palms. His kneecap rolled a bit in a tiny dip in the almost-flat earth. He breathed in the ground’s scent, dry and grassy and light on the warm air the smell filled his nose and his mind. He closed his eyes and it was all around him.
The same smell… the same smell…
In his mind, he lay on dry ground, a child on cut grass; he inhaled the light touch of scent that tickled his nostrils, and looked up at tall buildings and spread his hands on the spiky grass and his eyes drifted closed, and the sleepiness rocked the ground under him and he fell asleep, a nap in a courtyard with the warm breath of air on a summer day still against his face.
The same… it is the same…
Now that same air, a bit warmer, a bit dryer, was in his breath again. Now he felt the grass against his face poking into his skin and tangling in the long beard that covered his chin–grown since his first day in the priesthood. He opened his eyes and the green blades scraped at the corner of his eyes, poked at his eyelids, at his corneas, and he blinked. Tears flowed freely, soaking the dry ground under him.
He lifted his head and rocked back on his heels to look up at the sun–the same sun he would look at one million years from now.
One million years.
He squinted into the sun.
The same… the same…
He closed his eyes against the glare and he was a child again laying on the grass in the courtyard under the buildings of his own time, eyes closed, warm summer light glowing through his eyelids.
He opened his eyes again on the same sun–one million year younger.
The tears soaked his long beard now, dripped over his chin and onto the long hair draped over his chest–uncut in deference to the hairy ancestors. More tears squeezed out as his shut his eyes once again, as he bent once again, as he pressed his forehead on the ground once again.
The same ground.
It was all the same.
Undeniably, unbelievably the same. The ground. The sun. The air.
Nothing leaves. Nothing leaves.
The planet was the same. Young or old. The materials, the basic building blocks of Earth, all trapped in this biosphere–it was all the same bits. Nothing left.
It was one thing to hear the litany in the temples, the stories of the ancient planet, but to see–to see with his present eyes the past so far gone, an earth so transformed from his own reality–to see it all, at the bare bones the same–the same!–this was holy. The words came easily. Spoken in distant temples so often, he prayed silently now over the holy thing itself, whispered the prayers to the face of the god before him–albeit, one fast asleep on the grass.
This was the first time he had gone back.
It was like he was meeting himself as a child–to see something so familiar, and yet not how he remembered it. And the world was no child. It was already mature, even in these ancient times, like an old man. But so long ago…
Visually it was unrecognizable. Dry grasslands ran into wide horizons under a bright blue sky. A scraggly tree here and there stood out from the grass. But it wasn’t just the landscape that was different there was something… else.
He turned his head and pressed his cheek against the ground.
Under the grass the grains of dirt rolled against his skin.
The grains are different.
The dirt kissing his cheek now was not the same dirt his boots would walk on and leave prints on one million years in the future. These grains might be at the bottom of the river now. These grains might be atop a towering rock. These grains might be in a sandstorm or volcano or ocean crevasse or the mud in a sidewalk puddle or between the roots of grass growing between stone.
The blades of grass pressing dry against his cheek in this ancient world would have a different fate too. They would have dried up, rotted, been replaced. Where would they have ended up? Bits burried deep in the soil? Blown away in eroding winds? Regrown into new blades, a tree, a corn field, a weed?
One million years! It is the same. And it’s not.
The planet was the same. On the large scale, the ball the universe tossed around was the same. But his world, his present, his earth that he had been born on, that he had walked on… that was different.
The paradox was crushing.
His stomach turned. Nerves–nerves that had cropped up early in the day–turned to nausea. The familiar-yet-not sun stabbed at his eyes and the grass at his skin.
What if… what if something is wrong…
The weight of what he was doing fell on his mind, all at once, replacing the awe of a moment before. He started to shake.
I need to get back.
Johann lifted his head off the grass and looked up and stood and the world righted itself around him. His knees ached from the ground, his blood rushed down from his head back to its usual pattern, but pumping slightly faster through the arteries this time. He felt his awareness thunk hard back into his body, coming down from the initial rapture.
He felt a rush of embarrassment.
And he was Johann again. Just Johann. Just a man standing awkwardly in the middle of the grasslands, in a robe, with a dart gun at his hip, and a the feeling of a lost expression creeping up his face. Just a man, a moment ago overcome by the sun and the breeze and the grass. He looked at the translator waiting silently beside him. He felt his cheeks felt hot and he knew he was blushing. He avoided the eyes of the others.
Why did I do that?