The Meadow of Silence
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From the journal of Melatiah Whatley, June 1987

In one of the distant corners of Reality, there is an overgrown field. Local farmers call it, "The Meadow of Silence", and never go there themselves. Years ago, when I passed that way, they advised me to stay away as well. When I ignored this advice, the farmers did not become alarmed or angry. They simply wished me luck. The most elder among them watched me go, his expression a mix of resignation and perhaps, pity.

Half a day's walk through rocky badlands, that would never yield to any farmer's plow, I came upon an overgrown, grassy meadow, roughly circular and maybe a pistol shot across. It was free of rocks and scrub, and presided over by a single enormous oak. I spied movement in the tall grass, and stepped forward to investigate.

As soon as I entered the circle, silence descended like a thick fog. I could no longer hear the ever present birdsong, the swishing of grass against my legs, or even my own breathing. I tried shouting to the figure hidden in the overgrowth, but no sound came from my mouth. Unnerved though I was, I continued on.

I didn't see the young girl kneeling in the grass until I was almost within arm's reach. She was no older than 18, but her long hair was completely white. I watched her search the ground for a few moments, then pull a tiny, translucent red stone from the dirt. She dusted it off and, although she could not possibly have heard me approach, suddenly looked me in the eye and held out an upturned palm. Upon it was her prize, a piece of rock crystal no bigger than a walnut, unremarkable except for its intense red color.

Her green eyes were slightly bloodshot, and she blinked a few times before weakly smiling. Apparently accustomed to the silence, she did not speak, but simply gestured toward the ground, and raised her eyebrows in an unspoken question. I knelt beside her, and together we resumed the search.

In the first hour, I found several more red crystals, which she eagerly accepted. A blue one, I also found, had a color so deep that it was almost opaque. I offered her this as well, but her expression transformed into a mask of unadulterated sorrow. Startled, I jumped back and dropped the stone. She turned away, and I never found the blue stone again.

As dusk approached, the girl rose, and motioning me to follow, walked toward a small cabin that I had not previously noticed. It lay beneath the giant oak, and just outside it was a long wooden table with many chairs. She took a seat, and poured out her burden upon the surface. The stones made no sound as they scattered about, but I saw that the worthless rocks had transformed into puzzle blocks, made not of wood, but rather of shimmering red crystal.

We sat together, and I watched as she tried unsuccessfully to fit the blocks together. After a while, she grew visibly discouraged, so I reached out to help. She leapt up in alarm and soundlessly screamed, but she could not stop me before my fist closed around a handful of blocks.

"…stop hitting…"

Despite the pervasive silence, I had clearly heard a little girl's voice coming from one of the blocks. Faint, but rising in volume, I heard another, a young boy's voice saying, "…come back some day…". Then I heard more, and more, all talking at once, "…won't have to be scared…", "…stop hurting…", "…eat something…", "…happy again…", "…not alone…", "…no more…", "…crying…". Panic and confusion overwhelmed me, and then blackness.

It was dark when I woke. The voices were gone and my hands were empty. The white-haired girl still sat at the table, clearly frustrated, but continuing to work by lamplight. She had assembled some of the blocks into red crystal cubes, but not many. Hundreds of pieces were left unused. As I approached, an angry scowl warned me away from the remaining blocks. I nodded, and sat to watch her work. Hours went by with no progress, until I noticed the tears rolling down her cheeks, and when she caught me staring, she broke into a fit of violent, soundless sobbing.

I held her tightly, her face against my chest, and her hot tears spread quickly through the fabric of my shirt. Her body convulsed as she continued to silently wail, but I did not let go. Many minutes passed until she looked up at me with tear stained cheeks and pleading, bloodshot eyes. I motioned for her to come with me, to leave the meadow behind, but she broke out of my embrace and sternly shook her head. Pointing at the assembled red cubes, she glared at me and frowned as if to ask, Don't you understand? I shook my head. I did not understand.

Angrily, she turned away and flung open the door of the small cabin. She vanished into the brilliant red interior and without a sound, slammed the door behind her. I stood staring for a moment and then I realized, the brilliant red interior: Her house was filled, floor to ceiling, with millions of loose, red puzzle blocks.

I stepped forward to knock on the door, but suddenly, the cabin was gone. The red blocks were gone, even the table was gone. Only the oak remained, towering over an overgrown, empty field.

I left that place, and walking by moonlight, made my way to the nearby river. I camped on the bank, and laying under the stars, listened to the water gurgle and the night birds call. Sleep did not come easily that night, and when it did, I dreamt only of puzzle blocks that would not fit together and a wailing lament so heart-breaking, that the land had silenced itself rather than continue to bear it.

I should have taken the farmers' advice.

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