NIGHTMARES OF DESTRUCTION
It started slowly, a passing remark by his friend – Those frozen-stylists’ seeking of permanence is always destructive – referring to his experiences before his long rest, for Thaw had crossed the Rainbow Divide and seen the controlling and destructive nature of humanity’s civilisation, under the eternal Marquis, in ancient Mesopotamia. Although Ghee had previously heard a fuller account, it was from this remark that his preoccupation grew.
He began to obsessively dream and think on the on-going hostility that mankind had towards the land, and their fear of the natural cycles of change. Over the years he pondered long, trying to look at the events he had been told about in various different ways; but always he struggled to perceive anything other than deliberate rage and vengefulness towards the lands in which mankind usually dwelt.
Although, in his study, Ghee had found times and places when and where harmony had existed, these always seemed to be overwhelmed by the mass of humanity’s impotent lust for destruction – though he suspected they saw it otherwise. And those who did not tread so heavily, who could conceive imaginative passages that were explorative and attuned to more than just that person’s ego, slipped more and more from view, becoming remote and then dangerously rare.
It remained a seemingly unalterable fact that most of mankind destroys what is other, ruins what they do not understand.
Throughout Ghee considered this essentially in terms of wanton felling: not surprising as he lived in the realm of the Forest King. And he became convinced it was a premonition. He became increasingly nervous, even fearful, trying to struggle on without the reserves necessary to deal with the knocks and concerns of everyday life. He isolated himself, rarely leaving his barge and ceasing his travelling about the lake of Send Ehros. He moored on one of the islands in the Bay of Khal-Khamp, to the south of the Forest King’s capital of Bok Heliox Trhyon on the peninsula of Burn Haun, perversely unable to flee far away from the Forest Hall, the capital, or its inhabitants – for all he had visited them infrequently.
He felt his own impotence and took to weeping, particularly when he was alone, convinced there was no way he could escape the relentless destruction. It would find him eventually. It was what he hated most about it, what he feared most: mankind’s determination that their desecration would reach all parts of the world. And eventually even penetrating deep into the imagination, allowing no escape or respite even there. Ghee might as well have sought to have fled to the stars, but mankind would probably reach there in time. Maybe it was better if they were confined to Earth and Kolchin. It would offer some containment to their destruction.
His previously pristine barge began to succumb to dirt and devouring chaos – its personal and intricate decorations now left to fade and peel. This was unrestrained when his depression was at its height, but also ceased to be pushed back when his mood temporarily lifted. Even, eventually, invading his sleeping quarters, though these suffered least.
Much of the clutter consisted of books and papers, without apparent order, through which Ghee continued to repeatedly toil.
Ghee’s friend, Thaw, would canoe out to visit him and, though Ghee could usually hide it, there was one crucial time when he saw the weeping. They were sat inside the barge, it being a grey and wet afternoon. Thaw listened for a bit, and then tried to calm Ghee’s fears and alleviate his terror; but even as he offered comfort, tears welled again in his friend’s eyes. Ghee exhaled loudly, a racking sob obscuring parts of his continued, needed expression:
“… always there. I cannot escape. It is always after me. Not just me. It will not let up. It seeks … it’s not especially after me … crash upon crash … even that far hill … there is nothing I can do.”
There was so much more of this free-flowing rant that even as firm a friend as Thaw grew weary. But he stayed on the barge, listening and trying to concentrate, though Ghee rambled much. And eventually – one late evening – he felt he was beginning to follow his friend’s thread.
“That world has always been around us,” Thaw reminded him. “We have always had struggles on our borders.”
“You don’t understand! There is no escape! No hope! We will be swept away … tarnished and overwhelmed …”
“But the Greater Forest is huge.”
“So it will take longer!”
“You’re talking of something you don’t really know about,” said Thaw, changing tack. “You’ve not been there. You’ve not seen …”
“I have seen!”
“Not at first hand. You have only your fear-inspired dreams speaking to you. I have been there.”
“They are real!”
“Not in the same sense.”
“They are real.”
“To you. But I have been in one of their cities: salt-encrusted and dusty. Albeit on Earth – though I’ve seen smaller examples on our world. I have directly experienced what you imagine. Fearing much the worst; but not ultimate destruction – as you do. They damage and destroy, but have a limited reach.”
“I’ve heard your talk: I’ve heard you speak of the damage they do.”
“And the distance between your fears and mine is not that great.”
“I don’t agree: the scale is different. And scale matters.”
“Maybe … but even so, please let me speak again, to tell you what I’ve discerned … what I’ve seen … what I know.”
This took a long time, and there were constant relapses into tears and anger, but Thaw was patient and resolute, though he did not always allow Ghee to get away with self-pitying drifting. Yet he did not really fully listen, and never did completely understand Ghee’s concrete fear of others’ nihilism: it was painfully real to him.
He was, however, able to alleviate Ghee’s despair somewhat, though he was reluctant to repeat too much about his experiences abroad and the long sleep he had then needed to recuperate and come to terms with those experiences, but his careful and selective retelling of what he had experienced in the City of the Plain curtailed some of Ghee’s wildest fears. Yet he could not bring his friend back even remotely to the contented state he had been in before; one cannot return to a state of ignorance.
And Ghee still believed utterly that he knew the truth of the underlying themes that had fed his despair: his reaction may have been disproportionate, but he was convinced his fears were firmly grounded in a future that it was rational to dread.
It had been late the previous night before they had settled to sleep, and Ghee, at least, slept far into the afternoon. When he did rise he seemed much less agitated, as though the storm had passed, his energy drained, and he was in the calm thereafter.
They did however return to the topic of destruction, albeit briefly, and a touch of Ghee’s agitation returned. While sitting and enjoying the sunshine of a late spring’s evening, Ghee came out with:
“I cannot understand the desires of those proleptically obsessed storm-splayers to stamp their name on the land, their wish to create sterile monuments at the cost of the destruction of the wealth and depth of the living world. Is that a worthy way to be remembered?
“And I fear my idleness,” he added: “yet I’m also scared that I will never be able to restrict the grab-buckets’ encroachment into the wildwood. I have not your knowledge or power. I have not seen or been what or where you have.”
“You underestimate yourself.”
“I know something must be done; maybe we should seek wider counsel. Yet I don’t have the ability to speak clearly before the Forest King. To let him know the dangers”
“You will regained much of your strength, I know,” said his friend, “and will be welcomed back to the Forest Hall whenever you desire to return.”
Then Thaw turned the talk of the restfulness of sitting on a barge, watching the long sunlight bounce along the waves, and waiting for their fish to cook.
He doubted he convinced Ghee.