One Mind-Chapter 9

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 9 (v.1) - A Trip Through The Mounds

Submitted: June 08, 2016

Reads: 188

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Submitted: June 08, 2016

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 Chapter 9

The trees in this part of the forest no longer protected and hid Lenny instead they taunted him, seemingly ready to grab him, forcing him deeper and deeper into the abyss of loneliness awaiting him. 

The sounds at night emitting from this dark vastness also haunted him endlessly.  The creaking threats of the decaying tree limbs were joined by a symphony of late evening inhabitants.  Thus sleep was elusive.

One afternoon Lenny had stopped for a rest when he heard a thrumming noise. Something foreign to any sound he’d heard in this forest before.  Curious, he walked closer and closer toward the calming buzz, until metal shined through the rows of trees in front of him.  Lenny sank back slightly, peering from the forest, at a building marked with the logo of an HLU retraining facility. 

He watched as two guards in HLU uniforms marched up to the building with a small line of hesitant head phone wearing re-trainees between them.  One by one, the retrainees were escorted around the corner.  There in one swift move, the recruits headphones were taken off while simultaneously being handed over to another guard who ushered them into the sound filled building. Some recruits fought against this training fiercely, yet they were all eventually subdued and placed inside. With the door firmly shut, the sound of the retrainee’s screams faded away.

Lenny was still in the same spot an hour later when these recruits were ushered back out. People, who had once stood proud in their being, were now were an amalgamation of complacency, terrified at the slightest unexpected movement or sound.

With everything quiet at the camp again, Lenny began his walk back to his new chosen spot for the night. He climbed inside his blanket that evening with memories of the day and concerns for tomorrow climbing in right next to him.  Even asleep, these thoughts kept mixing and stirring in Lenny’s dormant mind, turning his dreams into a bubbling cauldron, which several times overflowed, waking him up in it’s cold embrace. 

The next morning Lenny woke early, having a granola bar for breakfast.  Lenny tried to ignore his lingering hunger, yet it was always there, it had been for a week now, standing as a constant reminder that rationing his food was having a definitive impact.

The forest he walked through itself, seemed to have been starved over the years. It now looked as if it was patiently awaiting the day Lenny’s bones would feed it’s roots on the forest floor.  Lenny’s lack of sleep induced rests therefore were brief, as he too was terrified of that time when the forest would be proven right.

It was during this day's hike when Lenny began to notice small piles of rocks which were constructed almost like cairns. The piles were not next to each other but instead spread apart.  Sometimes they were near his path and sometimes further in the distance, always appearing though, in one form or another, in a small clearing. Lenny began marking these piles as goal posts, anticipating each one as he felt he should be approaching them.

During Lenny’s most recent stop, he rested against one of the cairn's itself.  The rocks felt cool against his shirt as he pondered his future without food.  It was as he rose again, using a broken tree limb as a walking stick, that it momentarily brushed it against a piece of cloth protruding slightly from the rocks.  Lenny bent down, looking more closely at what his stick had caught on, noting what looked like the corner of a bag sticking out from the cairn.

Lenny quickly removed several of the rocks finding a mysterious sack with a trove full of food supplies. There it was a container of freeze dried noodles, fresh water and beef jerky, glistening like the treasure that they were.  Compared to the vending machine sized nut bar his breakfast had consisted of, what laid before him looked like a feast.Here was enough food to allow him to continue on. 

In this gloriously unexpected moment, Lenny allowed himself the celebratory feeling of quitting early, making camp where he was and enjoying this banquet laid before him.  He laid down that night, with a fuller feeling then he had had in a while, content with the knowledge that he would survive, at least for now

The more Lenny's daily hunger abated, the more he became in tune with the subtle changes in his environment as he walked.  Not a total shift at first but instead the small lacy hints at indefinite possibilities of change.  The trees were still there, only more spread out more than before, letting the light through their branches more often, as if these silent gate keepers had become more muscular and toned.  Even a mist covered foggy sun began to stream, ever stronger, through the forest, warming Lenny's shoulders.  It felt almost as if Lenny had come through the worst of the darkness and the forest around him was beginning to finally open up. 

Eventually there were no more trees, and Lenny faced what was ahead.  If Lenny thought the forest he had left was depressing and skeleton like, it was nothing compared to what lay before him.  The whole landscape seemed broken down and desperate as if it were only a wisp of what had once been there.  The field which lay ahead, as best as he could describe it, was swamp like, if a swamp were dried out and somehow re-covered with gray glistening sand.  Only mountains of grayness disrupted this otherwise flat plane. This singular color pervaded the mounds, the earth, the sky, even the air, with tiny ash-like particles drifting to the ground.  

A sudden gust of wind escaped from the forest behind him, as Lenny stepped forward, deciding to strike out straight ahead.  Orion's eye, tucked away snugly in his pocket gave a quick start, adding a comforting reassurance that he was indeed walking in the right direction.

The first day slowly yawned into the first night, as far as Lenny could judge, considering the sun itself once again struggled to break through the soulless sky.  With a grim resolution Lenny set up his blankets between two of the furthest mounds for the night, hoping their sheer girth would somehow protect him from the relentless wind which whistled through the dire valley mercilessly.

Lenny awoke the next morning, to a silvery gray film on his coverings, the ash even finding a way to drill through the blanket and hibernate into his knapsack, even taking over his very being himself. He was able to pretty much rid his blanket of most of it still despite his best efforts some remnants seemed to stubbornly cling to everything, no matter how hard he tried. 

Lenny walked miles each day through this mountainous valley, before his nervous nightly short slumbers engulfed him.  His naps never lasted longer than two hours.  He learned quickly from experience that they couldn’t.

There had been more than once instance when Lenny had awoken to find a massive gray rat sitting on his stomach quizzically gnawing on a piece of gray nothingness, while the creature mused on this mound of dull grayness on which he sat.  All the while the rat trying to decide whether it would soon be fighting Lenny for ownership of one of the piles.  Honestly, Lenny sometimes wondered the same thing.

His lack of a consistent sleep began to play tricks with his mind.  Black shadows appeared to jump out at him from behind mounds of ash, jumping back as he closed in on them.Lenny forced himself instead to focus on the mounds themselves, detailing everything about the piles.  The more, Lenny stared, the more he started to see pieces in the mounds, a doll arm here, a chair leg there, a bottle glistening like a star atop another pile of indistinguishable ash. It quickly became obvious to Lenny that these mounds belonged to him or at the very least belonged to his cities. There was no mistaking it, his society’s green city plan had turned to gray ash.

Lenny, began to notice cottages as well, places which were dwarfed by the larger mounds which bordered them. At first Lenny wasn't even sure they were anything but starter piles which would someday equal in size the ones next to them.  All of these structures appeared to be made of identical materials as those surrounding them, yet were magically hollowed out, providing shelter for their inhabitants.These dwellings were never in the open spaces, always tucked in between mounds, indistinguishable almost from the piles themselves, if it wasn't for their diminutive stature. There were not an abundance of these abodes of course, but they were there breaking up the dullness of what he saw. 

Lenny always walked quickly past these homes, leaving whatever was behind the door to his mind's conjurings alone. Still he often wondered what type of creature might dwell there.

The moment finally arrived though, when the realization of his current situation overrode his fears of these residents.  There were no more cairns here, no more scheduled sustenance. His hunger chewed at him mercilessly once again, like one of the rats scurrying by had begun gnawing his way from the inside out.

As he was shaking his blanket one morning, the ever present wind began to pick up and howl. Lenny half listened, like every morning, being more intent with picking the persistent gray remnants from his gear. 

This time though the sharp blowing current, brought a new sound to Lenny.  It was the sound of a rooster, he was sure of it. The sound, at least here, didn't make sense.  This animal for Lenny was but a marker, a guide to more of his kind.  What good was a rooster by himself, unless there were hens to keep him happy.  Creatures that were maybe not so bright in color, Lenny knew, but hens, who could produce sustenance, eggs and thus a way to keep moving. This taking of the eggs was not stealing to him, for his conscience had dissolved into into a gray fogginess matching his surroundings.  

Lenny turned left toward the crowing.  Orion's eye jumped with every step, the orb itself seeming angry, simply because Lenny had made an unconsulted decision. The sound grew closer as Orion's eye finally settled down in an angry, silent sulk, the glass navigator assured that Lenny's trip would soon turn sour.

Lenny scrambled around the closest nearby as it was impossible to scramble over it.  Peering around the corner, he took in the scene before him, a mound cottage complete with a thrown together chimney.

Next to this home was a small barn with the incongruous rooster who had directed Lenny, sitting on top of it.  A small barnyard, scraped clean of ash, was adjacent to the building. The only thing visible in that yard was dirt, which Lenny had yet to see in this vast expanse.  He marveled at the incredible determination it must have taken to keep it that way. Dotting this rare space of earth were the most beautiful brown chickens he had ever seen.  Lenny looked around for signs of the inhabitants who cared for this poultry.  The house, the yard, everything seemed pastoral and quiet.

Lenny pulling up the hood of the dark coat he was wearing, quietly slipped into the filthy mist surrounding him.  With a sprint, Lenny was soon opening the shed doors.  He stood quietly for a moment, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the ash filtered dimness.

Lenny turned his head toward the clucking sound. Several surprised hens stared concernedly at this new entrant into their home. Taking several steps toward the creatures, their cackling becoming louder in warning, he waited until their furor quieted down to a subtle roar. Then he stepped forward once again.

Lenny's sudden egg grab was swift, sure and successful, resulting in four eggs, carefully slipped into his pockets.  Distraught chicken feathers added to the mix of silvery ash in the air, making this building fast become unbreathable for him.

Lenny was about to leave when he heard the creak of the door behind him and the sound of boots stepping inside.  “Shrump,” said the man's gravelly voice.  His order was reinforced with a gruffly placed pitchfork in Lenny's back.

Lenny took a quick glance at the farmer as the two rounded the corner of the shed and moved toward the cottage in front of them.  This creature was small and hillock shaped with a scruffy beard, almost matching the landscape perfectly.  His clothing made the man appear rapped in rags, walking as if life had sent him some bitter blows and he had rolled himself into a mobile two legged ball to take them all in.

Lenny was pushed briskly through the door of this man’s hovel.  Not that Lenny had ever actually seen a hovel and he’d definitely never lived in one.  He’d heard the word on occasion though and if ever there was a hovel, this was definitely it. Here in this burrow, were mound based walls, mirroring the inside of a mound if a scientist could bore into them.  A candle on a shelf, lit the room and the walls in refrain seemed to send back a dim glow.  Apparently electricity was something not even considered here.  Along the shelves were dishes and utilitarian books, which were only interrupted by windows graced with homemade curtains.

A fire glistened in a little fireplace to the left, dulled only by the smokiness of it's exterior.  Standing next to this little stone oasis of warmth was a woman, Lenny assumed was his wife, stirring the contents of a pot.

Lenny eyed both of these people suspiciously not sure of their motives or the resultant outcome for him.  The man grunted several sentences to the woman, Lenny assumed was his wife.  Words went back and forth between the two for several minutes although Lenny couldn't understand any of it, only knowing his own fate was directly tied to their unintelligable conversation.  Lenny quickly began sputtering, trying to defend himself, unsure of what these mound people were capable of understanding.

“I'm on a journey.” Lenny started, “I was hungry.  Here, take the eggs.”  Lenny quickly unloaded the four eggs onto the table.  “Yours, take them!”

A little hand suddenly reached up from under the table and attempted to grab an egg.  The mound man quickly clapped his hand over the giggling child's hand and retrieved it.  A little girl came out from under the table and Lenny, with inner disgust, saw the child's malformed mouth for the first time.Her mouth was only the beginning, he thought, as her whole face seemed unbalanced and crooked. 

Instinctively, Lenny knew it was their daughter.  Despite her face there was no denying she was a miniature version of the two adults. The little girl smiled at Lenny as best she could and Lenny smiled back politely.

Lenny noticed that the conversation between these two adult mound creatures had ceased.The dilemma between them had been settled, the possibility of a thief among them apparently forgotten.

Lenny was ushered to the table and the woman ladled out a bowl of goulash, handing it to him, motioning him to eat.It steamed before him and he looked at it, curiously.  Floating in the broth were chunks, although Lenny couldn't identify exactly what they were made of. 

This little family joined him at the table, diving into their meal with their hands, no silverware at all in use.  Lenny quickly became aware the mound people had no use for utensils. The man waved his hands gently, encouraging Lenny to enjoy the meal in front of him.

Lenny began eating, hesitatingly at first, and more ambitiously as the warmth spread throughout his body. Lenny thanked the woman, devouring the warmth in the bowl a second time when she filled it, gratefully welcoming back the feeling of fullness to his stomach.

Lenny watched as the little girl finished up her bowl as well, giggling at the food dripping from her face.She began making silly faces at the adults around her and soon the whole table, Lenny included, were laughing along with the little girl.

After the meal, the little girl once again became animated when her father opened a case, holding a large homemade cello. As the fire warmed the room, a haunting sound soon echoed from the instrument. 

The sorrowful notes continued as the girl did a sort of limp ballet in time.  Unexpectedly the tempo of the music picked up and the girl began to spin just as suddenly with her mother clapping in time.  There was a beauty, an essence in this poverty, the soft shiny ash floating down around the girl, while the world out there was distant and away.  Here there was comfort, here there was home.

After several more songs, the little girl's steps carried her to her mother's lap where she drifted off on the back of the notes toward her dreams.  The man quietly placed his instrument back in the case in the corner, as his wife went to tuck their daughter in.  He pointed to the far corner of the room, where an old dingy couch adorned with a quilt resided, apparently Lenny’s bed for the night.

Lenny didn't complain, anything was preferable to the cold ground which had provided his previous night's mattress.  The quilt, which brightened up the scenario slightly was obviously hand-stitched from rags and pieces of other blankets.

Lenny’s daily life soon began to meld into the world surrounding him, it eventually embracing him in a kind of blissful routine. These people cared in their own grunting way. 

Even their little child became part of his existence, curiously edging closer to him at dinner, with only grunts and squeaks of acceptance.  Her face had become now, not a freakish anomaly but instead a cover for her beautiful spirit inside.

In the first few days, the mound man kept a close eye on Lenny expecting him to do whatever chore the man himself was doing.  Once the mound man realized Lenny was not going to run, that indeed he had nowhere to run to, he assigned Lenny separate chores.  Chores where the mound man could still see him but where two jobs could get done instead of one.

As the days shortened and the air arrived with more of a bite, the chores became a hurried contentment.  The he mound people seemed to sense there was an impending closing in of weather, expected at any moment. 

Whatever chore Lenny was assigned he did it to his utmost, which wasn't hard as there was no figuring out what his job entailed.  Out here there was no larger plan, no overall goal, no cog in the wheel, you were the whole wheel.  The whole goal here was simple survival, survival at any cost. 

The nights too, lent themselves to what Lenny in his old days would have categorized as a boring predictability.  He now viewed them now for what they were though, a simple pleasant earthy rhythm to their lives. 

After chores, he and the mound man came in and wiped their hands and face on what seemed like an eternally dirty towel, then the family ate. Like that first night, there was always music after dinner with the little girl dancing, her happy reflection radiating from her parents eyes. Then when she led the way, they all slept.

The one frustration that always laced it's way through these days for Lenny was his inability to communicate.  There was some communication, there had to be, at least on some basic level.  Grunts mixed with hand gestures sufficed for most things.

Still, he knew he could learn so much if only he could find the key to access, their language, the key to which could lead him safely through the mound field and to the other side.  The other side, there had to be one, a place at the very least which harbored El.  Still day after day, night after night, the conversation never extended beyond the hand gestures, grunts and curious perplexed stares at one another. 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Carla Charter. All rights reserved.

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