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Susan Runs The Edges (prose)

Susan Runs The Edges (prose)

There’s a big difference between the world of Water Runners, Tree People, Plainsmen, Mountain Folk, Sea People, and The Flying Ones and our world.

On our world, all the humanoids have a common ancestry, an essentially identical physical makeup, and the ability to produce fertile offspring. That is to say, we are all the same species. And so while we may sometimes form identities and organizations based along racial lines, when different human populations smash together, we inevitably begin to desire each other and to mate and share children; and so soon enough, even without possessing enough wisdom to always innately see past superficials and into our core commonality, given enough time calm and freedom (within a given time/place/power-system), we inevitably fade into one another body, heart, mind and culture.

On Planet X, all the humanoids evolved from other animals. They don’t find each other particularly attractive (I mean, there’s always going to be somebody …), and they cannot produce fertile offspring (we know because, again, there’s always somebody). So their humanoid identity is not as fluid as ours.

However, on Planet X, all humanoids possess opposable thumbs (granted, the Air Ones’ thumbs are on their feet), and roughly human heads and limbs (OK: a shark-like tail replaces the Sea People’s legs, and their earless noseless grey-blue heads flow into their hulking forms so seamlessly that it is difficult to discern where head ends and neck begins or where neck ends and body begins; and the Air Ones have wings instead of arms; and the Plainsmen look more like antlerless elk than humans as they bound across the plains with long arms tucked along glistening torsos), and brains with the awareness and intellectual and emotional complexity to sense the Truth shining through everything and—given the right ideas, disciplines, and supports—to adequately translate spiritual insight into human words and deeds.

Divinity students can debate whether the opposable thumb pulled the brain into consciousness or consciousness pulled the various creatures along towards itself, using opposable thumbs and the tool-making, signaling, and hand-holding they make possible to enlarge minds and hearts. But whatever the ultimate origins, the fact remains that all humanoids on Planet X evolved opposable thumbs first, and spiritual awareness second. Despite their different physical family trees, all humanoids can, with a modicum of spiritual maturity, perceive their common spiritual origins, and so while the different species of Planet X humanoids have not, at least in the era where our story begins—roughly equivalent technologically and politically to the bulk of North America right before European arrivals—ever lived peaceably under a cross-species government; however, though they are as a group far from free of speciism, they don’t generally go so far as to claim either that other humanoids lack souls or that non-humanoid animals have individual souls akin to the eternally spiritually- and ethically-bound cores humanoids enjoy.

Personally, I’ve never been able to figure out exactly how much awareness, to take two widely separated examples, a dog or a pillbug have. It is hard to imagine that dogs don’t at least catch a little sense of the divine joy and eternal presence of the Soul Light. But what about pillbugs? Their sense of the holy must be quite tiny—musn’t it? Since they are almost like machines, having very little presence within their own desires and panics. But even supposing dogs own some sense of the holy, can a dog be wise?, can a dog grow spiritually to a degree warranting an individual soul? Some say when a human misbehaves, s/he’s reincarnated as a dog or, in extreme cases, a pillbug; and then s/he has to work back up to human form. But does this make practical sense? Compare the number of individual humans to individual animal lifes, and it seems that you soon run out of human-souls to fill all the animal bodies. So then some animals have animal souls or perhaps no individual soul (being only hulls around the One Soul), but some animals have doleful remorseful oh-so-penitent human souls?? Explaining, perhaps, the rare cockroach: one with more shame and ego than the average bug??? (I’m being facetious: this is not a phenomenon I’ve ever observed; although I grant you I’ve made little to no effort to discover spiritual differentiation within cockroaches.)

Given such considerations, I’m wont to cross out the whole idea of individual souls and replace it with a buddhisty notion of spiritual energies that perhaps continue after death, but that must eventually dissolve into the One Soul. No, I’m sorry, but I cannot see my way to a belief in individual souls—at least not eternal souls. Please don’t be alarmed by these metaphysical musings! If they happened to point adequately well towards Reality, that wouldn’t imply that the you who now exists will necessarily die upon death: maybe there’s reincarnation into other creature life and/or into spiritual beings until one finally flows into God; and while I cannot believe in or hope for the eternal continuance of any spiritual energy except God Light’s, everything that ever was could still remain as a memory of which God had awareness both from the outside (God’s infinite perspective encompassing all things) and the inside (God looking through from that being’s individual perspective, and so in some sense retaining its identity, although this is a little worrisome, because then wouldn’t all kinds of horrible states remain forever, not just in cases of complete spiritual disaster, but also infinite moments of everyday delusions and follies—wouldn’t those moments also have to hang forever in God’s two-sided memory??).

Fortunately, we humanoids are not required to riddle out eternal mysteries within our limited little lives. And so let us accept what is required for human joy and decency, and which anyway blares unambiguously through our ever conscious moment: we’re all in this together and must work to be ever more aware, clear, honest, kind, wise, good, joyfully together (true: you cannot define these goals perfectly in words; but words can still point our intellectual/emotional thinking towards an adequate sense of these goals, a sense that will grow as we get better and better at reaching said goals). Let us accept what we must know to win any traction in our own thoughts and feelings, and work to know/understand that knowledge better and better (by better and better organizing our ideas and feelings around the Light within that is both Reality and The Truth, and thus capable of sharing Certain Knowledge with one’s thought-as-a-whole, though naturally—owing to the mismatch between What Is and ideas and feelings about What Is—not perfectly/literally/definitively/1:1, but instead as insights that can, given enough awareness, clarity, honesty, and open-heart/mindedness, get better and better); let us not fret our small mortal noggins overmuch over details which we’ll not anyhow ever figure out, and which we could not really make much sense or use of even if we were somehow gifted with the “whole story”; no, let us stick to the basics: awareness, clarity, honesty, kindness, wisdom, goodness, joyful all-inclusive community.

Susan had told her parents she needed to go run the edges—to clear her thoughts, of late scattered and confused, as if she were a watermouse caught in an eddy, frantically and mindlessly panicking. Her father told her not to journey past her limits (second bend downriver [a little over a mile]; the advent of the tumble rapids upriver [a little less than a mile]); her mother told her not to be late for dinner (dinner always at sunset). They both told her to obey rules that she already knew about. She agreed to obey the rules she’d already planned on obeying and which you might argue they needn’t have mentioned, seeing as they were well established and faithfully followed, and slipped into the cool clear gently rippling river beneath their cabin door.

Susan chases the edges, like the elders had instructed.
Everything moved as one as she skates across the waters.
The river wide as a lake out here; far from town.
Susan’s town of bamboo rafts and shacks floats silent
in the rounded distance, at the edges of her eyes.
She follows slow-spreading green round a rocky bend.

A water skater, a river chaser, she-who-belongs.
How easy it is when you can!
Wide flapped froggy feet fold up down the center,
thin black legs stab into liquid glass, push against,
jam her spindly body the otherwise, setting up
a falling slice from that side’s folded flipper.

Nothing compares to water skating,
the concentration of never-hating.

On and on she flies, forgetting everything but
her motion, calm, the swoosh of her water strikes.
Deep inside, pushing out from within, searching
for the edges, to stay within yet go beyond,
to chase the edges, catch the light, know all joy.

The village out of sight when she unfolds her flipper feet
and skids to a spraying stop, standing breathless on wide
strange crinkling river flowing to a sea she’s never seen.
On the banks the Tree People gather timber in their way,
many on the lines and one flailing at the base;
two hatchets, steel glinting in passion’s blur.
A youth rests upon a rock, his short legs crossed.
She waves her thin webbed hand, he, long arm
thick as her torso, waves a broad flat hand.

Susan’s overcome by joy and fun
She’s able, she’s one
Who runs the river
That leads into the sea.
Focus on gratitude
on the wonder of running
with those who rule the rivers,
who travel to the sea.

At dinner Mama wonders what Susan’s seen and heard.
A squick-squick bird diving beneath the water
coming up empty-beaked.
The Tree People hunting timber.
Waterhoops rolling wild–she had to jump over them.
Mama tsks.
Father shakes his head.
When will the council address this matter?
The waterhoops are outgrabe!


Ghost Story Night

Ghost Story Night

It was Last Sunday and the moon stood bright and wide.
Susan hugged her parents and walked across the smooth wood floor,
blankly registering the constant jiggling of the river flowing beneath.
She removed the thatch covering over a small hole in the center of their floating cabin and,
flippers slicing the cool rippling flow, slipped into the river, holding the cylindrical little door over her head and settling it neatly back in place after her splashing disappearance.

Her mother looked at her father and shook her head.
He threw his arms up, elbows at his side, webbed fingers supplicating the various forgotten gods.
“He’s your father.”
She winced. “He’s a wise man; I trust his goodness and his wisdom, but I am worried they are not enough.”
But, madam, if wisdom and goodness are not enough, what hope have we creatures? What compass is left us?? And so we must accept the only tools that could ever mean anything to us, that could ever do anything for us, take us anywhere that we could ever really care about, believe in, belong to.

Susan swam swiftly to the market square, deserted now except for a few kids playing checkers (the universe is a child playing checkers) and strange old Henry, who seems to spend all day and night sitting on the wooden railing, looking sadly into the center of the market square. Especially at night when no one’s there and all is muffled and lightless does his body slump dejectedly and his eyes glass with some deep internal shudder that he cannot move beyond. Strange fellow. Nice enough to talk to, though he never says much. She waited by the entry—a break in the railing wide enough to hold four or five Water Runners standing shoulder to shoulder (so about five feet wide)—nearest her grandparents’ home, dangling her legs in the water.

These Water Runners are funny folk.
At least they’re funny-looking.
They remind me of cormorants.
Have you ever seen cormorants?
They are sleek black water birds you’ll watch dive into water fresh, salt, and in-between.
Water Runners are likewise black, sleek, smooth divers.
And they also share the cormorants oily wet look.
Their skin is pure black and covered by tiny black hairs that collectively bear a striking resemblance to the oiled feathers of a cormorant.
But Water Runners are humanoids, not birds.
What a thin people! arms and legs like beanpoles.
Instead of visible noses, they’ve two small slits. Instead of ears, they’ve an invisible hole on either side of their head. You might think they were little kid bank robbers in black jumpsuits and ski-masks, but their proportions are too narrow for a human to pull off.
Flippered feet and webbed hands, small but deadly sharp claws on each digit.
Made for the water, they dive beneath the surface of a river or lake, swim and dart about from one submerged stone to another. Their big wasp eyes shielded by a thin retractable shield and using sonic clicks and hand signals to communicate, they scavenge, hunt, explore, play in the warbling underwater light. After quarter of an hour or so, they’ll surface, gorge themselves on air for a few minutes, and return to the well-lit depths of deep-channeled rivers and shallow lakes.

Water Runners don’t like water too deep to see in. They leave that to the Sea People, who can breathe water and see without light, and who are altogether more suited for such scary depths. Of course, the sea people don’t like freshwater, and so no human-like creature ventures beyond the shallows of the giant lakes with waves and storms like oceans. But that’s just as well.

The craggy, pocketed rocks jumbled on the water’s edge make for a sharp, bumpy, thoroughly unpleasant seat. Hence the little square reed mats. One or two are enough for the sleight Water Runners, but the Tree People need four or five beneath their solid rumps. Susan sat nearest the river. There one need only lean a little to one side to tumble down a few feet into the safety of quick-moving, white-foaming waters. The Tree People, being clumsy even in calm, easy waters, fear quickwater and would never pursue a Water Runner into the froth. Next to Susan percherd her grandfather; next to him his friend Sam, of the Tree People. Sam’s grandson Ted, about Susan’s age and friend her whole life but never playmate and never once physically touched by her, sat next to his grandfather, the escape vine between them.

In the old days, with the Water Runners and the Tree People constantly skirmishing, many such meeting places had been designated along the river’s edge. With the water near, the Water Runners could safely escape the Tree People, and with heavy trees overhead and vines and/or ropes dangling down to the rocks, the Tree People could easily toss themselves up into the canopy to evade belligerent Water Runners.

Susan’s grandfather had grown up as the fighting waned. Over the years delicate peace treaties grew stronger as the peoples webbed themselves deeper and deeper into each other, forming religious, business, and political relationships that in many cases blossomed into real but cautious friendships. Like the one between Maxwell Knifehider of the Water Runners and Samuel Strongarm of the Tree People. For years now they’d met on this pile of rugged boulders by the foaming spitting jagged waters and beneath the heavy limbs of ancient fern-leafed and soft, yellow-trunked trees.

Maxwell and Samuel were both religious leaders, ones who spoke to gods, healed the sick and wounded, advised the leaders, warriors, traders, and laborers in matters of the spirit. On this rocky outcrop, they shared ideas their respective peoples couldn’t, in their judgement, presently bear to hear: all the true gods were just different human experiences of the one God, who did and did not mind names like “River Driver” and “Great Sky Tree”. But those kind of radical theological musings were for evenings without grandchildren. Tonight they’d tell the old stories, the stories shared by all the peoples, the ones from the days of the creatures.

“It was the time of the creatures and the sky was sticky and mean. Every place had its monster: Tall spindlers roamed the plains; dread dogs bounded the forest floor and tree to tree; bigmouthed frogs sliced the waters, chomping Water Runners; laughing sharks scattered Sea People remnants across ocean floors; and from overhead great long-beaked fire-breathing birds burnt and tore everyone, although they paid particular attention to tumbling the Flying Ones’ cliff-side villages into the surging sea. Worst of all were the mountain monsters; that is why the Mountain People are to this day so few and so skittish you can never find one—not even at the edges, where in the First Days other peoples found and knew them. In the First Days, all peoples believed in one another and no one fought anyone. All had all they needed and anger filled no one. But then the creatures came, and the creatures tore up everything.”

“It was the time of the creatures, cruel and bold. Monsters without bellies, hungering only for mayhem, for spreading pain, destruction, death and loss. Tall spindlers were strange balls of rough loose rhino flesh, with leathery legs and arms as long swinging vines but thick like water poplars. They ran like thunder and lightning, tossing themselves across the world, their fierce-clawed spinning arms slicing every hut, every Plainsman, every ox and every cart. Nothing could stand their reckless sour-heartef fury; any Plainsman within reach would–strong, fast, and fierce as they are on the open grounds–be cut in two. There was no hope, no way to defeat the tall spindlers with slicing teeth and giant bulging yellow eyes. And who could stand against a dread dog as it banged from tree to tree, its sticky drooling teeth decapitating every Tree Person, hurting tree homes and walkways to the dirts far below? Nor was there a weapon to pierce the thick unctuous hide of the bigmouthed frogs, that swam faster than the fastest fish and lived only for destruction: chomping Water Runners apart, ramming their homes and boats until they sank; even their urine was a deadly poison that made the waters putrid, killing fish and Water Runner alike.”

“Those monsters were terrible. And the people suffered greatly. But the worst creatures from the time of the creatures were the laughing sharks who tore apart the twenty seas; the fire spitting birds who broke and burnt homes, trees, fields, anything safe and nourishing; and, worst of all, the mountain men because they were men like us and clever like us, but they were also evil giant monsters without stomachs or hearts, as tall as a riverside willow, covered in white, impenetrable fur, with red desperate eyes, strong enough to snap an ox’s neck in one hand and crumple the tallest proudest Plainsman in another.”

“Some say the mountain men led all creatures, that all haters obeyed their will, followed their command, fulfilled their plan. Some say the creatures are not dead, but only waiting; and the mountain men hold the few surviving Mountain Folk emaciated and blurry-brained in small prickly cages, saved for the dark day coming”

“For what day? What dark day?!” Blurted out young Theodore Treebreaker. Rising up on his two stubby legs, great arms reaching high with long shovel fingers drooping down, twittering. He reminds me of an excited orangutan. Of course, Tree People are bigger than orangutans, and though their arm and leg proportions are more orangutan than human, they otherwise look like bodybuilding humans covered from brown head to black toe in a very fine light grey fur. Also, all humanoids sport opposable thumbs, a handy tool of which neither ape nor monkey nor any other animal can boast.

“Awaiting the day of great vengeance. When the creatures return to end our world and send all living people to the distant land, where the dead dwell.”

“Why great vengeance? What have we done? Why do they want to hurt us?” asked Susan in a quiet voice, instinctively leaning towards the water,as if the cool skipping water could save her from the creatures in her head.

“If the creatures had reasons, they would be humans and the gods could reach them, could persuade them, guide them into gentler paths. They could repent their wanton violence and live joyfully, at peace with themselves and all living creatures. But they have no reasons. They are not like us who think: ‘I should find a justification for this act, and if I cannot, or if I discover that the justifications I am able to give are not adequate, I should cease committing the act’. Even the mountain men, who spoke and strategized, who outsmarted many peoples many times–they had no reasons. They did not ask themselves why they must kill and maim, break and tumble. They felt like hurting us; that was enough to drive their berserk, to punish us day and night. These creatures do not understand love, kindness, joy, friendship. They are soullessly miserable in a way that no person–no matter how lost to folly–can ever be. For we always have Godlight within, trying to get through to us, to lead us to better, more beautiful feelings, thoughts, words, deeds. But the creatures–that’s the real problem with the creatures. They have no soul, only sickness on the inside and strength on the outside.”