After the Confusion and the Scattering, Gether son of Aram remained a farmer in the plains of Shinar in spite of the hardships:
* First, there was always having to mime everything because, no matter how loudly you shouted, no one understood anything you said.
* Then, there was the soil. The earth had been stripped to bedrock to make bricks for the tower, so Gether and his sons plowed narrow bands of silt either side of the river.
* Now that Nimrod had scarpered off to found other cities, there was no royal treasury to disburse subsidies to those farming in the tower’s shadow.
* Also, when Nimrod had been around, mighty hunter he was, lions had been scarce. Now it was Gether’s goats who were scarce.
* Finally (and this annoyed Gether so much that he tugged the curl right out of his beard) the tower was full of noisy ghosts who chattered all the time in that language that had once seemed as natural to Gether as thought, but was now as unintelligible as the hooting of baboons — and far more depressing. What with the lions, however, the tower was the only place to live.
Gether called his sons together, and they debated over cups of weak wine. The more they drank, the harder it was to interpret each others’ miming. He tried to convince them that it was time to round up the last couple goats and move to Ninevah, and they finally seemed to get it. They packed up their belongings at met Gether at dawn.
To his chagrin, they didn’t follow him out, but began climbing the vast spiral stair that led around the outside of the tower. He hurried after them through the overgrown remnants of the hanging gardens. His sons’ gestures made no more sense than their words.
They climbed. As they approached the summit, he readied himself for a smiting from above. When his sons picked up discarded tools, he seized his beard with both hands in panic.
One son whacked bricks loose from the topmost wall; the other shoveled them over the edge. Still no smiting, and the too-near sun seemed to beat a little less harshly on Gether’s head.
One of his sons said something nearly intelligible, and Gether picked up a pry-bar to help with the deconstruction.
After that, the ghosts made a little more sense every day.
In the clearing between densely gnarled groves, the ruins of Castle Noland rose on Spindle Mountain against the morning sun like a needle one cannot spot in the carpet unless the light catches it or he steps on it. The mountain, though short, was steep and crumbled in Yul’s hands–a miracle it had stood so long. It would not bar him from his lost father.
Castle Noland lacked drawbridges and doors, so Yul made one, knocking down bricks, some of which crumbled to powder. Sunlight streamed through the roof and holes in the mortar, illuminating dust motes. One beam shone on a white-bearded, white-robed old man stooped on his throne: like God after the sixth day. Then the beam moved, and the old man fell back into shadow.
Was this the same man who sent the child Yul on quests: Track the Amethyst of Memory to the caves of Kaldan, wrestle the Ruby of No Regrets from the King of Cobramen, hunt down the Cape of No Tomorrows through the thorny jungles of Afterwine?
Yul had never put his mind to quests. He’d set out but–heavy-hearted–stopped to rest on a stump. Days passed like a clock’s pendulum. Soon hunger roused his head, and he’d slink home.
Yet Yul fetched the Ruby of No Regrets by trading plastic beads he’d dubbed the Necklace of Deathless Hours: “Hours could tick without a death if you positioned the necklace right.” Of course it would fail, but had they held it right?
The Ruby had never given Yul the confidence he needed to start his own life. Instead, Yul had worried over quests his father shipped him on. It was only late in his third decade that he, questing, paused by a village, found a gangly girl drawing water, and when he asked for a drink, she gave without reservation.
Twelve decades later, he’s returned, to bring Father to a new home among sheep and grapevines. Yul stood beside the old man: his white contrasting with the gleaming ruby ring lolling on his right, wrinkled hand.
“Hello?” The old man leaned forward, milky white eyes scanning the room. “Is that you, Spot? I’ve a doggy biscuit.”
Yul grit his teeth.
“I shouldn’t have let you go.” The last word came out as a sob.
Yul wanted to shake the man, ask if a lost dog was all he regretted.
The old man’s body shook so violently, his ribs rippled beneath his robes, coming and going. “I loved you like a son.”
Yul wrapped his arms around his father, shushing and humming a lullaby.
Alex D M’s story “Snowdrops” appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet no. 22, and “Two Coins” is in Electric Velocipede 15/16.
Of everything I’ve seen, every place I’ve traveled, nothing has quite prepared me for the Earth’s glow as I approach home. It’s a bittersweet thing to return to one’s place of origin, so long after having left, with little knowledge of what to expect. Of what happens next.
I scan my notes, make a few more. I reflect.
602,223. Things That I’m Lucky to Have Experienced
Memories of a happy childhood. Clean mountain air. Running naked through the path of sprinklers on freshly mown grass. Images of family, parental love, school and accomplishment.
Vast fields of stars, stretching as far as the eye can see. A comet blazing across a backdrop of asteroids the size of cities. Cracks and bangs from all around, as sunlight expands the hull, at once identifiable and frightening in the constant reminder that only a thin layer of metal separates me from the dark and cold of space.
First contact with a sentient alien race. Being the first to learn a language no one on Earth can yet speak. An understanding of self that can only come from living in a culture that is not your own. Validation of a significant place in the universe.
656,767. Augmented Things That Should Have Remained As Nature Intended
765,005. Things That Cannot be Cloned
A puppy who wags his entire body while his tail seems to stay in one place. The one marigold in a field that leans away no matter what you do to turn it toward the sun.
The sharp tongue of a woman born with money and never weaned off its sense of entitlement.
821,211. Things That Are Irrecoverable
A body if life support systems and hull integrity have completely failed. Communications if the antennas have burned out. A planet if some unknown disaster has befallen it.
900,989. This is How We Remember
Backup the brain and the experiences, and hope that most of what was still is.
Write things down. Memories and observations. Hopes and dreams. Thoughts both good and bad.
A life is these things, and more. Sometimes less.
1,001,455. Things We Must Never Give Up
A child’s questions when her eyes are full of wonder and the future lays before her, still unbroken. The understanding that she may follow her dreams. Encouragement that she should do so.
Perhaps it should, therefore, not bother me that these notes will likely burn up on re-entry. All the images, the videos, the logs such as this. Probably no one will know my thoughts. No one will know who I once was, what I experienced, what I became.
Descending does not necessarily mean the end.
A soft landing is always possible.