He looked up into the night sky. He felt big and alive, as if every part of him had life and breath of its own. Every part of him was simultaneously one and separate. Trees grew through his skin, reaching up to the sun, digging into him for life. Rocks moved within him, grating against each other, cracking, melting, making new. Mountains rose and rivers coursed like blood across him. He could feel the life in every plant, hear their thoughts, understand their secret language; one far older than that of most other living things. He didn’t have time to be upset or scared, because in the midst of this confusion his attention was suddenly and inexplicably drawn to one solitary grassy plain surrounded by a forest.
Two humans, a man and woman stepped out of the surrounding wood onto the moor. He felt their pounding hearts through the soles of their feet as they walked. He felt their heavy breaths suck in air and force it out again. They trembled slightly from the cold, despite walking closely to keep warm. They stopped on the moor. The man turned his head thoughtfully and came to a decision. Looking at his wife, he uttered an unintelligible string of words. She nodded. He smiled and embraced her once before setting off into the woods again, leaving her alone. The man cut down many trees, trees that had stood peacefully for decades. He dug up many stones, stones that had lain in the earth for countless years. It was a great loss, and the earth mourned. It did not mourn for long, however, because out of the wood he had cut and the stones he had dug up, the man built a house. It wasn’t much of a house, the boy could tell. It was merely a roof and four walls centered around a stone chimney. It seemed to take no time at all, but whether this was because time sped up, or because years are to the earth what minutes are to us, the boy could not tell.
He watched as the man and woman lived happily in their little home for many months. Coming and going often to gather food or to enjoy the sunshine, but never leaving for long. They laughed often, too, though the man usually went quiet first. The boy watching in the earth could tell by the way the man walked and the way his face fell when he was alone that he was troubled, but he could never tell why. Sometimes he would look off to the east for long periods of time, his brow knit in a thoughtful, almost angry frown. He wouldn’t move, but his heart would beat a little faster, a little more determinedly. His wife would call him back inside. Perhaps she saw it too.
One day the woman called her husband back inside in a sudden shout. His heart beat dangerously fast as he ran into the house. In moments her shouts rose to screams and the boy could tell she was in immense pain. This continued for an agonizingly long time, though it was really only hours and less than that for the boy. Eventually, the woman’s screams ended. There was a second of silence and a new sound arose. It was the grating, crying scream of a child. The boy would never be able to tell whether it was his heart or the earth’s that rose in joy at the new life. Night soon fell, and with it, a happy peace.
The next day the man set out alone. His expression was grim and set. He was determined to do something, but the boy couldn’t tell what. He came back the next day, his head heavy in defeat. He stopped before the door, hesitating before entering the house. He took a breath and pushed the door open. His wife embraced him, smiling. She asked him a question. He shook his head. They both looked down, disappointed and defeated. He pulled away from her and walked over the cradle in the corner of the house. He picked up the small child and smiled softly. The woman strode over and put an arm around her husband’s shoulders. Gently, she coaxed him to eat a little and fall asleep. A few peaceful days passed in which they lived happily together. In those few days, the man and his wife talked back and forth concerning their son’s name. They never made up their minds.
Under the cover of night, three dark figures stole through the clearing and to the little house. All three held fierce broadswords, and one carried a torch. Their intent was clearly malicious, but there was nothing the earth could do, no matter how badly the boy wanted to. One of the men entered the house. The man of the house awoke and saw one of the figures in the doorway. He stood up slowly and said something to him, reaching for his own sword. The burly man responded, in the same unintelligible language. During this unsettling encounter, the lady of the house awoke. Immediately, instinctively she stood between the imposing figure and the cradle next to the bed. Her husband tried to usher her and the child out of the house. The child began to cry and the woman tried to silence it. The man must have known what was coming because he reached for his wife’s hand. Spitefully, almost effortlessly he was cut down in one swing. A scream rent the air. A scream of pain, the tremendous, heartrending scream of loss and hopelessness combined. It ended abruptly as her throat was cut. The man who killed her laughed and left the house.
The other stayed a moment longer, looking down at the child. He seemed to come to hasty, yet risky decision as his heart pounded faster. He took the child in his arms and, rather than kill him, hid him in his jacket. He joined the others outside. The second man laughed and held his torch to the corner of the thatched roof. The house was ablaze in moments. The earth trembled sympathetically as the blood seeped into the ground and cried out for revenge. The three men sped off into the night, laughing at what they had done.
Time sped up. In a few seconds the house was nothing but ash. The boy fought desperately against the spell. No more. No more. His heart beat out in sobs of anguish. But the spell held him for a little longer. It diverted his attention to the men’s camp in the forest. They laughed and jeered at the dead family. The boy tried to avert his eyes and close his ears, but to no avail. Suddenly, the man who had taken the child stood and walked off into the woods. The other two men were too drunk to notice. Nature held its breath as it watched him. He carried the child deep into the woods and put him down on a cold rock wrapped in his own jacket. Then he fled away into the darkness.
A shadow stole from behind its tree and took the child away. The boy’s heart nearly stopped when he recognized the shadow as a faerie. Not only a faerie, but one he had seen often, the one in whose service he himself was captive. The boy could feel his heartbeat in his ears, his chest, his everything.
He fell to his knees, suddenly released by the powerful spell. Thoughts pounded in his head. He was the child. He was man. During the vision he had unknowingly recognized ‘man’. Man was the person he’d watched die. Man was his father. Man was also the person who spilled his father’s blood. And the person who left him in the woods. Man was the reckless, burly figure who cut down his mother.
Her dying scream echoed on in his mind. It would never leave him. He put his face in his hands, let his tired body fall to the cold ground, and wept. His heart ached within his chest; the pain spread through his veins to his arms and head. He cried, and he cried, and he cried. And time moved on around him, though there was no way to tell.