another year in stories: two

Story number two! I’m coming to realise that these are more fragments than they are stories with beginning, middle, and end. I’ll try to write something with more direction for next week. I suppose these last two stories are more about the world and the character, Guo, than they are about anything else.

But, yeah, I’ll try to make them more entertaining, or at least give them more narrative focus in the future.

But, for now, here we are. Guo talks to a god on a mountain.

Wait for me on the Mountain

Guo removed her hood and shook the snow from her white hair as she approached the temple door. She stopped before it, bowed, then clapped her left hand against her right wrist twice and lifted the knocker shaped like a wolf’s head and rapped it against the door. The sound dulled by the falling snow, she waited.

No answer came after an hour of rapping at the door. The temple stood between hundreds of trees and Guo sighed out her nose, donned her hood once more, stomping her feet to fight the cold, and stood beside one. She stared into the falling sky, clouds rolled flat and featureless above, then turned to the skeletal canopy thick with snow and icicles. Inhaling deep, she pulled out a small boneflute and played a few notes. High and trickling, battered down by the weight of the snow and the thickness of the air.

She wandered from the temple back to the treecrowded mountain path. She played the boneflute as she wandered farther up the mountain.

She walked for many hours, playing all the way, her hand growing colder and colder, unable to manipulate the notes into the air.

Ah, Sifu, you have returned to us.

The voice came as an avalanche and Guo dropped the boneflute in the snow and cursed with a smile. She turned to the naked hairless creature sitting in a tree above her and said, I’ve been looking for you all week, Sliabh. Didn’t you hear me?

The creature appeared as a man, skeletal as the trees but its skin was white as the snow, yet appeared to glow in the falling darkness. It blinked and cocked its head towards her, For me? For why, Sifu?

Its voice, sonorous and soft, created a break in the snow and Guo’s body surged with warmth. The texture of the air thinned and quieted to the point that Guo heard every creak of her bones as she reached through the snow to find her boneflute. The blood rushing through her body sang with the voice of billions of cells flowing together. Her skin danced.

You startled me, you old fool. I nearly lost this.

What is this?

Come down here and see, Guo smiled and removed her hood with her handless arm.

Ng, the creature drifted from the tree branch to the snow. It lay upon it, as if weightless.

Guo handed it the boneflute and its eyes expanded and its mouth pulled wide in a smile. You have kept it all this time! Oh my dearest heart, we have missed one another. Thank you, Sifu, for returning her to me.

Thank you for letting me borrow her so long. You’ve no idea how often it’s saved me in these Suomi mountains.

Ng, it nodded, The humans do not understand the world here and many are lost. We hear them calling for aid but they run from us when we come to them. They believe we are demons.

The Sami call you the Lord of the Mountains still. They believe you a god.

It nodded, What do we call them? We have no names for them.

Am I not one of them?

Oh, it laughed and light spewed from it into the air, Sifu, you are unlike so many. We call you friend and master.

They still refer to you by the ancient language, Guo said.

What is ancient?

They call you Eaddji.

What does it mean, Sifu?

Old man, she smiled.

A smile tore across its face so wide it appeared as if it would split its head in two, The children and their mocking reverence. We have forgotten that. We miss that.

It played with the boneflute and released notes into the still, thin air surrounding them, holding them in. The notes came soft and delicate but writhed between Guo’s pores.

Sliabh, can we move to the temple? I wish to see the wolves.

Ng, it nodded, We have not seen the wolves in many cycles but we will go to the temple.

Guo followed it as it danced over the snow, playing the boneflute as it went. Guo hurried to keep up and remain within the pocket of air and its wake created by the god.

When the god entered the temple, it illuminated and warmed. The temple was small with an empty basin in the center and a fireplace opposite the door. Guo closed the door behind her and removed her coat and shook out her hair with her left hand. This is better, she said.

Ng, it nodded. Why the wolves?

I wanted to trade stories with them, she said. Can we get a fire going and have some tea?

It sniffed, Ah, Sifu, why didn’t you say so?

Guo smiled and walked to the chimney, My offering to the great mountain god! She reached in her pack and threw a log into the chimney, then clapped twice and whispered into the chimney. She pinched dust from the temple floor and blew it into the chimney. As the dust drifted over the log, it took the shape of wings that erupted into flame and dove into the wood.

Sliabh, will you fill this, she said and handed it a kettle.

Ng, it nodded and stepped outside to fill it with snow.

The fire burned and the snow melted and the tea brewed.

We have missed tea, Sliabh said, its voice gentle and calming, like waves caressing the shore of infinity.

What happened to the wolves?

Wolves come and they go. There is no telling what they will do. We have watched them rise from the broken moon and become the forest around us. We have heard them singing and we have heard them screaming. We have watched over their births and Deaths. They are like you. Always wandering. Always wondering. They are an exhaustion.

Guo smiled, You’d be bored without things like us. What are gods without mortals?

The hue of its skin gradually turned from white to slate, matching the color of the temple, Even wolves are named gods. Even this mountain is a god. Even the air and the water and the suns. All things are now gods. One day you will be a god.

What is a god then?

We had no word for one before you children sprouted and flourished.

What was the world like before us?

It closed its eyes, We don’t remember. Very little seemed to happen there and it has washed away. The world was quieter. Yes. That was the change the children brought. Noise. Chaos. Inquiry. Belief.

Tell me, she said as the water boiled.

Sliabh sniffed, Ah, perhaps you are the god who brings gifts.

Guo laughed as she poured them each a glass of tea. The aroma filled the small room of the temple. My gifts are only those of company, she said. I didn’t invent or create the tea.

Ng, it shook its head, Sifu is too modest. Every day you create and discover. If gods are what gods are, then place yourself above us, for we do no such things.

The Sami believe that the mountain will die if you go.

And where would we go?

Can you leave?

Sliabh played the boneflute, the notes wavering in the air, collapsing. It sipped its tea and closed its eyes, We perceive your question as more complex than you intend.

Guo sipped her tea.

What does it mean, to leave? What are we? The children believe we are the mountain, the god of the mountain, the lord of the mountain, and the heart of the mountain. Can we be so many things? Can we leave? Can we leave this plane of existence? Can we see the Mother, the Child Endless? Can we wander Her shores? Is that to leave? Or did we leave by coming here? Truly, Sifu, you are too clever for us. We do not understand the nature of the question. We do not understand the nature of leaving or living or dying. We are. That is perhaps all we can say. We are and will be. We are here. We are now. Some time we will not be. But will we go? Will we leave? Or will we remain? We have been here so long that otherness means little to us. You ask question that you believe simple. You ask about time and what children call history. But we never understand, Sifu. We are simple. There was no before and there will be no after. Even now we see the end of the children and their beginning.

Guo sipped her tea, This is why I wished to speak to the wolves. She smiled.

Sliabh laughed and the air and time rippled over them, Sifu, you are a cruel creature.

I like you, Sliabh. Of all the gods I’ve encountered, you’re my favourite.

Sliabh smiled and they finished their tea.

Days later, Sliabh was gone and Guo woke alone, her skin aching from its absence. Her breath came as a cloud and she closed her eyes, tracing their moments together, stitching them to her life.

As she left the mountain, the horizon rolled past the redsun while the bluesun loomed overhead, growing fat as the horizon approached. The snow began to fall once more and she looked back over her shoulder to the mountain, now hidden behind fog. She clapped twice and slapped the ground, then pulled out the boneflute and played as she wandered to the nearest village.