“The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts ...”
He ran with a lantern in each hand. One for himself and one for his unborn child. It would be his first, and he wanted it to live. His grandfather’s death-wish was life; he was just glad he died in time to save his great-grandchild’s life. No one is quite sure which goes out first, the flame in the lantern or the light in their eyes. But when children are born the lantern always starts to glow just before the baby takes it’s first wailing breath.
When Jacob had managed to find the empty, dead lantern his grandmother said to take it, but first he knelt at the side of grandfather’s dead body; Jacob wiped the tears out of his eyes with two fingers, and then wiped the salty saline solution along his lifeless grandfather’s dusty, wrinkled brow. The dust darkened under the wet stroke. Death hissed senselessness into Jacob’s ear and he collapsed and sobbed onto his grandfather’s chest. Death laughed, and a shiver vibrated his bones, shaking him to his feet.
His orange lantern swinging in the blackness and momentarily painting boulders twenty people high and flashing rocks as small as men hunched over in fatigue and fetal fear. The gravel scratched and clapped with each grinding, sprinting step and weave through the dusty darkness.
Jacob’s legs started to tire out over three-hundred breaths later, and he struggled to breathe in. The black foggy atmosphere weighed down on his legs and lungs. Not a single glimmer in the night. No stars, no moon, no heaven in sight.
Life had to be worth death, worth pain and suffering. He wanted his heart to die, if he did, beating strongly. Mounting pressure, missing beats, suffocation, there were few things that separated him from the darkness, from an empty lantern in both hands, and not just one.
Before him the faint glow of his wife’s lantern grew with the sounds of her moaning from internal pressure.
“Mary...” Jacob said with a gasp. He forced words out with each rapid exhale. “Mary I’ve got the lantern. Mary, oh Mary I... are you alright?”
Mary had crawled beneath the shelf of a gigantic boulder, which ran higher than two small lanterns could reach. She was squatting down with her hands flat and palming the dust and gravel to support herself. She just squeezed her eyes and straightened her back, lifting her head and exposing her beautiful white neck. Her chin pointed at the boulder’s cleft. She hissed out a soft, intense breathe through her teeth, that only a mother in labor could own. Small quick breathes with lips that looked like they were singing took their turn and eventually stabilized. Jacob had one hand on her shoulder-blades and the other over her pregnant belly. Mary looked into Jacobs eyes. Jacob’s lantern fluttered.
“Mary, I’ve got the lantern.”
“Jacob, Jacob, Jacob.”
“Yes, I’m here.”
“Jacob!” She clenched the dirt in her hands, the dry, grey clods of dirt crumbled to dust. Her eyes were clenched as well. All of her clenched. Blood slid over the dust, barely mixing with the earth, it reflected the darkness and the light of a mother’s lantern.
“It’s alright breathe, breathe... breathe.”
“Jacob, Jacob, Jacob.”
Jacob sang a monotonous, lifeless, beautiful song. He gently stabilized his wife as he sang, and as she reached down to feel.
“Jacob!” she said in a tone of more anxiety. She started to cry as if she had seen something glowing other than lantern light. Tears of joy and sorrow. She reached both hands down. The blood flowed across the dust and pooled past the blank lantern that started to glow softly; an infant ember was glowing in the lantern.
“Mary,” Jacob saw the lantern and quickly reached and placed it in front of her. It glimmered hope and assurance. She saw the glow and cried more than breathed. The flame grew brighter as Mary reached deeper with both arms beneath her long, rolled up dress. A fresh cry ripped through the night and it was there in her arms.
Mary sobbed as she reclined and held the infant in her arms and up to her breast to suckle golden milk. The new lantern glowed bright and white. The life-line chord continued to pulse and supply the newborn as Mary cried tears of joy. “He’s beautiful, oh he’s beautiful Jacob... Jacob!” A look of terror crawled onto the mother’s face as she stared off and began shifting herself about.
“It’s just the placenta.”
“No... Jacob I think another one is coming.”
“Another one? But why didn’t we—”
“I don’t know—but Jacob there’s no lantern for the other one. Jacob!” She handed the crying baby to Jacob as she squatted again, her eyes closed and breathing deep and controlled. She no longer was crying tears the same tears as before, but she was crying more than she was before. Jacob held the wailing infant against his shoulder and put his other hand on Mary’s back again.
“Oh, Jacob,” the mother said between contractions. Her lantern at her side started to dim. She looked around, but all that was there was their travel bag, three lanterns and soon to be four people all on dust and blood under a boulder in the deafening darkness.
Mary reached down again, with both hands. Her face was tight and beneath the skin on her forehead, which was speckled with sweat, a blood vessel bulged. Mary let out a breath, let go of the tension, leaned over and kissed Jacob on the cheek. She calmly said, “Jacob, my love, grab the bag.”
Jacob looked at Mary a second longer, let go of her back, turned with the baby, still connected to his mother, still on his shoulder and grabbed the bag. It was out of reach, so he held the baby aloft with two hands and caught the bag’s strap with his foot to drag it closer.
“I love you Jacob,” Mary whispered, now holding up her lantern.
Jacob almost had the bag close enough to his hand when he heard Mary blow out a last fast and loving breath. The second baby started crying. His heart missed a beat and choked his dry, heavy throat.
Mary was flat on her back with the second child screaming, wriggling in the dust. Mary’s lantern glowed a small bright white, infant flame.
Jacob sat in the great darkness with two screaming children, three lanterns and a heavy, heavy heart.
The sun didn’t rise.
The sun never rises in the dark.
Peter stretched his arms and turned his lamp on a little brighter. He had had enough sleep. It was hard to decided when to wake up when there is no heavens. Usually you and I wake up when the sun asks us to. Peter doesn’t know what a sun even is. So, Peter just stretched his arms when he felt like he had his fill. It is kind of like eating, once you’ve had enough your stomach is full. There are some people who are sleeping gluttons and sleep way too much. Some people need more to sleep so they can have the sanity to function. Sleep is the relaxation of the mind. If you don’t get enough sleep you will certainly slip straight into insanity, and if you get too much sleep you might be a little too sane to do anything. I think that’s what happened to me when I was young. I slept in too much and now I can’t be healthily crazy.
Oh, Peter has already walked into the backyard now and is looking at his vegetable patch. It’s not exactly certain how the science of the plants works. I think I spoke with a gentleman who had researched it as best he could and found that the more heat the ground has the better the plants grow. Other worlds use the light of the sun to grow plants, but whether the warmth comes from above or below, it doesn’t matter; heat is the breath of life. The plants somehow take the heat from the ground and use the energy to grow, and of course they are in the soil. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have a habitable planet without a sun, because everyone would freeze to death. This planet does quite nicely, because the core has been burning for thousands of years and the crusty earth is as hot as a fever. The world just needs a thinner crust. Of course it get’s cold in the mountains, and when it rains there is quite a steamy period that follows. I was just about to say that the afternoon was steamy, but you’ll understand that there is no noon, and therefore no noon to be after. There are no afternoons, no mornings, and no concept of time really. I wouldn’t worry yourself too much about the time. Peter, and all the other people seem to manage quite nicely. They’ve managed to measure their time by the beats of the heart, or the breaths of the lungs.
Looks as though I’ve wasted a dozen breaths already, because Peter is inside now fixing himself a meal. He will take a stick and light it using his lantern. And then once he’s done that he will start a small fire to cooks his potatoes and carrots. Once he’s done eating he will probably go back outside and tend to the garden.
“Did you sleep alright?” Peter’s aunt asked
“I had another dream about my dad. He was running with two lanterns, but I woke up before I saw where he was going.”
“Oh,” she said.
“Do you know when he’s coming back?”
“I honestly couldn’t tell you.”
“I think he was looking for my mother.”
“Where is she?” he said more to himself, but he really said it loud enough for his aunt to hear and answer.
“You’re father never told me.”
“I wish he would say.”
“I had a chance to ask him once, but...”
“You don’t think he killed her do you?”
“Well, if he’s going to be so secretive about it... He must be guilty of something.”
“You don’t know anything about guilt.”
“Do you want any of these potatoes?” Peter asked.
“No, I’ve already eaten. When you’re done with your food I need to you to go to the steamer and get some water for your uncle.” she said.
Uncle Josiah was mute. He hadn’t talked since he saw a light. At least that’s what aunt Sarah said. It wasn’t a lantern light, which is the only light that anyone has ever seen, except kitchen fires, but we try to keep those in the kitchen; lights aren’t safe anywhere else, not unless you want to attract the shadow-lickers. Uncle Josiah traced his finger on the ground and wrote about it to tell aunt Sarah. He tried to explain the light. He said it wasn’t like the lantern light that we always see. It was brighter. He said that the whole light looked like the very center of the lanterns. Not the orange color, but that center white color, almost a little opposite of the orange color, whatever that means.
Peter has already left to go to the city. As we catch up with him I am sure you are wondering about his house and a few other items. Since you are blind, and cannot see this dark world, and since I am your only sight into this world let me help you see it. It’s too bad, really, that you exist only as a little intelligence in this world. You are no more than a transparent eyeball. You cannot see this world without your imagination as you lay on some couch, or read under some tree, somewhere where you actually exist. In fact that is the only way that you can discover this world fully. I will supply you with all the information I can, but I assure you that you will need to supply the rest; the meanings and tease yourself with the possibilities. But regardless of your state I think that you have asked me to guide you in this discovery, otherwise this book would not be in your hands and you would have no interest seeing what is on the other side of these words. What I am doing as a writer is giving you a soul and body into this world, that you would not have otherwise. I am creating an environment that you can place your little mental imagination in; your little “I am.”
The house isn’t really a house, but it’s more like a hollowed out rock, or more like a hollowed out hole under and into the rock. The basement is the temporary dwelling place. Usually families search for some of the largest boulders, ones that are at least thirty people tall and forty people around, at least that is the ideal size. once they found such a boulder they will make a burrow in the ground underneath the boulder, not excessively so as not to disturb the foundation too much. They will only make a basement big enough to sleep in, and then the work begins. They take hammer and chisel and they begin to carve out a kitchen, and whatever else is necessary, but always the kitchen first. the only way into the house is up from under the boulder, this protects them quite thoroughly. They will use the extractions to build a fence around the garden. Wooden houses are too easy to burn and the soil isn’t that pretty for mud huts. Besides, they wouldn’t be much protection against the shadow-lickers, but more on those later.
Ah, here is Peter. Peter is about to grow unsatisfied with his state. He actually has been for quite a while now, but he’s about to lose all propriety. It all started with the silence of his Uncle. Peter knew that there was something that his Uncle had hidden, something that he wasn’t saying, something that he was keeping to himself. He had never known his Uncle before he saw the light. He had never heard him speak even. Peter thought about all this while he was gathering water at one of the steamers. Of course, since you are merely an imagination, I will have to tell you what one is. Although, I would ask you to try and discover it yourself. Can you see it? Peter is quite a distance away from it. It’s coming out of the ground next to that big boulder. You should be good at imagining boulders by now. And you should remember that while you are trying to imagine that boulder that it isn’t too big. A group of people had to roll it next to the steamer. And you should also remember by now that you can only see one side of it like the moon, because the only light that there is, is the one that Peter is holding, the one that keeps him alive. I do hope that in your less imaginable world you’ve decided to read this book by a lantern or a candlestick. I would prefer that you read it next to a candle, so you can understand how fragile Peter’s world is. If your central heating or air conditioning turned on, your candle would snuff out, so don’t put it close to a vent or next to an open window. But I do hope that your window is closed to give you the full amount of darkness. Not that I want you to enjoy the darkness. I want you to enjoy the light, that allows you to live in Peter’s world as you read this book. Remember you are only an intelligence, a little imagination that by my narration you even exist, at least in this parallel. Well, now that we’ve established the importance of a complete and immersive reading experience we can move on with the steamer. And I’ll go ahead and explain it to you. I was just teasing about making it up yourself. You can do that you know. You can make up your own world, but you can only ever exist there as an imagination, and you will always have a real hungry stomach, or a real sleepy body to take care of, so don’t try to hard to stay there always. You’re real life is the one to live in, to explore in, to really discover. This world is only there so you can practice exploring, but I hope that you don’t become like Peter’s neighbor who has spent the last year practicing a marriage proposal to a young woman who ended up moving six months before he ever worked up the courage to actually propose. Why he practiced after she moved is because he was really focused on practicing for life that he forgot to live his actual one. When we went to propose to the girl he found a beefy man with a crooked lantern, who punched him when he proposed. He didn’t want to waste years of pratice, nor did he really want to marry the beefy man, and he definitely hadn’t practiced walking home with a
We all need purpose in life and Peter was no exception. He had grown up in the dark just like everyone else, but what made him different is that he paid attention to the least of the world. He paid attention to the dust. He was fascinated with how easy the dust was to manipulate. But what fascinated him most was when he paid extra attention to the dust as it got near his lantern. Peter wasn’t afraid of his light going out. So, he would take the glass off and watch the dust slowing float into the fire and be consumed by the fire. The smoke was small. One time after careful attention he gathered all the dust he could find around his house and dropped a small handful on his lantern. Peter wasn’t afraid of his life. He was more afraid of wasting it, than he was of losing it. When the dust poured onto his lantern is would splutter and light up in all sorts of ways that he had never seen before. There are only two things in this world that is flammable the lanterns and the dust. By no one has enough time to gather dust. And no one has thought of it either. The only other thing that glows like the lantern is the open wounds of the earth. When a particularly big monster throws a tantrum he can leave big gashes in the earth that glow steadily and threaten to blow themselves. The earths crust is very thin, remember that is how they grow their food. So the food isn’t flammable? Even after dehydrated? I guess it is. How is this going to work. He’s going to go search for something that is flammable and he has it all around him. If there is organic matter then he has things that are flammable around him.
“Peter, you can’t find something that is flammable. Someone already did that.”
“Then what purpose am I going to have in life?”
“Maybe your purpose is to find a purpose in life? What do you mean how am I supposed to have purpose in life? You have me and your uncle?”
“I love you, but there is more that I can do.”
“There’s nothing more that you can do Peter. The only things that you have time for are the things that matter.”
“And this matters to me. I need to have something to do. I want an assignment, some way to help humanity.”
“Why don’t you just help humanity by doing your chores.”