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Guest Post: ‘Glass & Metal’ by Charles Hay

24 Oct

Charles A. Hay is currently aiming towards his next big adventure.  Prior to this he has worked as a field archaeologist throughout England for units such as Wessex Archaeology, Cambridge Archaeological Unit and the University of Sheffield.  He also holds an MA in Archaeology from the latter.  His writings, including investigations of philosophy and original short stories, can be found at his Human Friendly site alongside his numerous drawings, musings and photographs.  If you find him in a pub, he will be having a pint of Pendle or a good scotch.  If it is a working day, then a black coffee will do instead!  Charles has previously written for These Bones of Mine with a guest post titled Welcome to Commercial Archaeology: A Biased Introduction.


*

On a kind and warm day in the valley, the day after the mid-summer festival, the village children – they called themselves The Valley Pack – wandered lazily down the edge of the gently whispering river.  Their minds were slow under the gentle sun, and their sparse, familiar conversation was carried on the languid breeze.

Violet, the Pack leader, breathed deeply, the aroma of life through her lungs joined her to the world and she smiled, mouth closed, at every one of her friends.  She led because she was the oldest, and because her calm, philosophical and compassionate nature reminded them all so readily of the village leader.  That wizened old oak-tree of a man about whom nobody could bring themselves to speak ill, Noah.  Noah the Very, Very, Very Old, the children called him, his name turning into a chanting song.  The name would always raise the most beneficent, grateful smile in him.  Violet fancied herself as a like mind of his, and anyone who knew her would tend to agree, despite only having lived twelve summers and eleven winters.

Their mission today was simply to wander.  The adults were all hungover and bumbling after the festival.  Nobody needed much food that couldn’t be gathered, after the spectacular feast.  The old ones simply wanted to sit and enjoy their laziness, or their rekindled friendships, or their love.  The children had gathered together at sunrise, as they did on the rest-day, and they had followed Violet.  Their relief had been palpable when she had decided to walk the river rather than the ridge.  Walking the ridge made them feel adult and important, like warriors or drawers of maps, but by The Sun, it was tiring.

From the tops of the valley’s ridges, the children could see as far as was possible.  Noah said that the Earth was actually a ball, and that the horizon was not its edge.  When the children challenged him on this he picked up an apple and a seed.  He showed them how the further away from the apple the seed was, the more of the apple that seed could see.  The higher up the mountain you climb, he said, the further you can see over the horizon.  He held the seed at arm’s length from the apple and said that once, Man had seen the whole of Earth, so far away could humans once fly.  Why can’t we fly now, Noah?  At this, he would smile and tell them that sometimes humans lived in times when impossible things happened, and sometimes they didn’t.  This was simply the nature of eternity.  Violet knew, knew humans would fly again.  She had faith.

“Violet! Violet!” Karl splashed towards her from the middle of the shallow river, where he had been fiddling with stones.  She realised she had been watching him without awareness.  It was such a day, where the mind is completely un-preoccupied, makes no knowing straight lines; simply follows its own internal flow.  It took some real effort of will to focus her vision and bring alertness to her face.

“Karl! Karl!” She mocked, with a crooked, sardonic smile that she had been practicing all summer.  Her mother did it when her father attempted to be authoritative and she loved it.  “What is it? Dragonfly bite you too?”

Unusually for Karl, he was unflustered by her ribbing; he did not play up to her role this time.  He simply splashed over to her and slapped something into her waiting hands, the following arc of water made her blink.  It was like a stone but awfully regular.  It was mostly black and rectangular. Its two sides, flat and of equal size, were water-worn, like the fragments of multi-coloured, misty, translucent stone they found that Noah had informed them were made by flying men and called glass.

“It’s man-made,” she said with artificially disinterested certainty to Karl and, passively, to the others.  “It is made of glass, see?” Her blasé attitude however, was a thin veneer, and the longer she inspected the object, the more it tantalised.  Of white, metallic edges.  An indentation at the bottom of one side.  This could not be a tool; what could possibly be crafted with it?  She hit it against a rock.  It felt almost empty.  No; this would break if used for work.  She realised she had been holding it for some time and Karl was looking visibly distressed with impatience to get it back.  “Karl, remind me later, and we’ll take this to Noah, or my mother.”  She handed it back and Karl conspicuously scrutinised the point at which it had impacted the rock.  “What do you think it is, Karl?”

All the children were now staring at them both, fascinated with the object from the river and jealous of Karl’s new-found lieutenancy.

“I think…” he clicked his tongue and looked at the black, rectangular glass thing over and over.  “It could be a jewel? Or part of something else? This could be part of a contraption? A weight or something?”  His eyes implored to Violet, then directly to the object itself.

“I wonder what’s inside it,” said Kyle, who thought in recursive riddles that he often found difficult to communicate.  “It could… do something itself. It might not be a tool. It might be made of tools.”

Violet was patient with Kyle, and her eyes delved into his eyes to let him know that she at least would attempt to comprehend his mind.  He smiled nervously.  The moment was shattered by Dawnlight snorting, “and what would something so small do for anyone Kyle?”

Violet could not resist purpose.  She stood, and marched them back up the valley to home, and the quietly comprehending world of adults.  As they walked along the gently singing stream, the sighs of the breeze through long grass brought to Violet images of people in impeccable grace, regarding their opaque, senseless trinket with total comprehension, and she ached with her whole being to see the world through their eyes and to know it for what it truly was, and what it truly meant.

*

As it happened, Violet’s mother was strolling slowly with Noah.  Violet and her mother exchanged a small smile, their version of a heartfelt hug.  Noah regarded the squadron of children with mock incredulity, ready to launch into a joke-tirade and inquisition of action and intent.  His humour was instantly transformed into warm wonder though, when Karl presented his find.

“He found it in the river Noah; Mum. Didn’t you Karl?”

“I found it in the river. In the muddy bit beneath the rocks. It doesn’t do anything, we just wanted to… Sorry Violet.”

Violet smiled with affection; said, “it’s your find Karl, you tell them.”

Karl stuttered a bit before asking, “do you know what it is Noah? We wondered if it was a tool of the flying humans you said about, or if it was part of one of their con… con-contraptions. Contraptions.”  His expression flickered between pride and worry that he had used the wrong word.

There was something akin to comprehension on Noah’s face as he looked at the small box.  He murmured, almost totally inaudible, “twice the length of a thumb, made of glass and metal. I wonder if this isn’t some sort of… machine.”  He was talking to himself, in a way that those who knew him were completely accustomed to.  They also knew that to interrupt this vocal thought would result in mild irritation.

“Karl,” Noah said, his expression earnest and honest.  “This is either to fit in a hand or a pocket, but we cannot make use of it. It may have been part of something, as you said, or it may simply have been a good luck charm; a talisman.  It is rather fun simply to look at, isn’t it?  You keep it, young man, it’s yours.”  He gave it back, and Karl clutched it.  The mild disappointment was obvious on his face.

“I’m sorry, young man, you wanted an answer.  Well I’ll tell you this: that little box of yours was somebody’s at sometime.  The things it is made out of are what they made their world out of. Remember, glass and metal.  That’s what that is.  Whilst they kept use of things made of glass and metal, they changed the world for themselves.  They were more powerful than the river or the wind or even the enormous Earth.  With that in your hands, you are one step closer to all that than us.  You hold a fragment of a world in which humans were fearless and infinite.  Treasure it; you are holding history, and hopefully the future as well.”

Karl’s eyes were glassy with wonder now, and his expression did not change even when Noah quietly laughed internally and mussed his wiry hair.  He held the small black rectangle to his heart, not possessively, but as one would a small, tamed animal.

Watching and listening, Violet felt something new within her.  Her gentle fascination gave way to something else. She looked at Karl and his talisman, she felt… Yearning for this thing.  She chided herself for coveting this belonging of her good friend.  She tried to think only kind things, as she had been taught.  She tried to think of Karl’s happiness, and how that increased the happiness of the village.

But she wanted it, she knew.

She needed it.

*