Then and Now
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It is difficult to talk about my grandfather with your feet on the ground. His name was Laihd (I get shivers just writing this word) and he had no true kin that we knew of, it was simply custom to refer to him as grandfather. For anyone in our band, to mention him is to release a flood of stories. Stories about squirrels, and stories about gods. Stories told in the meadows that protected us from the sun beating our travelling backs, and stories told by the campfire, flitting around patches of moonlight on the loamy forest floor. It was as though the land itself fed him these stories wherever we went, and his only mission was to deposit them in us.

Oh, but what a fantastic thing it was! He could utter deep, in the voices of the gods, and could make the owls hoot on command. Or his words could dance on the grass stems, and project across the fields. His lips contained dreams, magic, lore, and he did not hesitate to share.

One night, on the cusp of autumn, our band was travelling north through a forest. We reached a small river at dusk and decided to ford it in the morning. The parents gathered logs for the fire and for stool, while I and the other children gathered branches and leaves for kindling. My grandfather found a comfortable seat, and watched us in silence. Food was appeared out of satchels as the stars had begun to chase the moon out of the sky. The little lights flashed between the leaves as the wind sped through the trees. The children had a game of tossing leaves into the fire while the adults talked or just watched, but soon we ran out, and it was silence around the pit.

But my grandfather, he could not let silence persist, sometimes not even in sleep, (I swear he told a limerick once through snoring) and loudly cleared his throat. Some people have eagle eyes, some have rabbit eyes, some have stars and some have oceans. But my grandfather had it all. His eyes shone onto his face like a setting sun shines on hills, the crests of his old face highlighted against the valleys. Sitting hunched on the log, his cloak slumped in folds around him, and he stared at us with those eyes. Eyes that nowadays I see everywhere I look; they are the eyes of the wolf, the eyes of the newt, the eyes of the world. Somehow, the silence got even deeper, and I realized that even the crickets had ceased chirping, and the owls had alighted. My grandfather cleared his throat again, smiled, almost like a cat smiles at a mouse, and set off.

As the words escaped from his lips, I was no longer in the dark forest, but atop the highest mountain. Below me, veins of impeccable grey rock snake through the forest; the sun is high in the sky at midday. If I strain my ears, I can hear the faint clicks and tinks of hammers and chisels. At the base of the mountain, there are people digging away into the rock, the people of Gehava (or perhaps Jahova). An ancient race of an ancient god, a people with their own story.

As my grandfather talks, he gestures slightly, but it’s really all in the voice. He would not just tell you the story, he would show you the story. You would feel it. You would live it.

Time begins to speed up, and the sun races the moon across the sky, becoming a perpetual twilight. The hammer blows blend into a soft buzz as the mountain is eaten away. This is not wanton destruction, however, and as the summer rolls into winter great, honeycombed houses stand out from the receding rock, far larger than any house I had seen in real life. When the work is finished, smaller wooden houses are constructed around the perimeter, each in the blink of an eye, and the forest begins to recede.

I am now atop one of the tallest structures. Below, straight ruts run between the structures, on which people swarm and jostle, ebbing and flowing like a tide. They have small, metal, covered rafts that run along in the ruts. A thousand bright colors dance below, tomatoes and grasses and all the phases of the sun in one place. Music and laughter wafts into the air, cacophonous and beautiful. Time slows, and it’s night. Each portal alights, and there are two sets of stars; one in the sky, and one on earth. Peace and merrymaking abundant in this place.

And here, my grandfather stops, and takes a long breath, like a man who has stalked a deer, and has finally caught it. It is perfect silence. Even the wind has ceased. We could only dare shallow gasps for our protesting hearts and lungs. My grandfather gazes at us in turn, he clutches our hearts. And then he continues, and I’m re-enveloped in language.

Again, I stand on high, but it’s different. The calamity is beginning. The god is angry. The people have forgotten him for too long. Clouds roll in from all around, casting the houses into darkness. Panicked screams rise from below, and I look down to see water rushing through the people, bashing them against the towers and carrying them off. Thunder booms, echoing off the structures, but there is no lightning, only a growing darkness. And then all is naught.

As the story goes, in a single night the work of decades was reduced to what you can find nowadays. The old ruins still stand, or perhaps lean, and have long since lost their shiny grey. The colors have faded to dust. The ruins are left alone, those that enter grow sick and die within a year. The forest has not claimed them, with plants or animals. They are empty. Shells.

Silence follows my grandfather wherever he goes. Always at his heels, as soon as he finished engulfing us with words, silence does so with void. The last morsels of meat are eaten and the last embers die. The children slowly drift off to sleep, haphazardly, but I stay up for a while, watching the adults as they drift off as well. My grandfather does not move; he is part of the land itself. I do not remember falling asleep; in my dream I sat by the dying fire for eternity.

The next morning, we forded the river.

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