A thin mist enveloped the village at daybreak. An old man woke at the first signs of light to tend to the animals. His granddaughter emerged from their thatched shelter brandishing pails of milk.
Grandfather, grandfather! she exclaimed pointing toward the misted hills and thick forest. Another animal? Flowers? Deer, rabbits… What? Lord forbid… wolves. And so the old man raised his head.
Heaven’s will, what is it? He whispered, not wanting to alarm the little girl.
A charcoal strewn path of burnt earth cut across the landscape. It slashed all the way along the rolling green hills, straight through the deep dark forest and extended into the mountains beyond. If he strained his eyes he was sure he could see smoke rising from it, even patches of fire. The old man made Godsign along his chest and hurried the girl inside. Goats brayed as the sun rose over the charred scar.
Predictably, the village arose into a mass of murmuring. A passing swineherd pondered as to the commotion, but thought it nothing more than village gossip as he swatted the waddling hogs along the muddy path. As the pigs disappeared into woodland paths, the villagers began to gather outside their thatched and earthen shelters, pointing, sharing hushed theories and divine blessings. The old man went from house to house calming people, reminding the young that out in the wild strange things do happen.
A piece of heaven has fallen, some explained to him.
Let us not be so hasty, he replied. His granddaughter had grown pale and still; she meekly poured milk for the household.
In the center of the village the heat and smoke of clay-baking ovens marked the arrival of daily bread, as market stalls opened for the day. The bakers pulled out hot batches of risen dough, which steamed into the cold air. Amongst the markets and ovens stood the great house of the village elder, a proud construction of stone and marble that stood higher than many trees. Those early market visitors heard his thundering footfall echoing down the stone steps and his great booming voice reverberating between the walls.
WHAT! NONSENSE! VILLAGE GOSSIP I SAY, THESE BLASTED BUMPKINS! GOD FORBID A COMET OR ECLIPSE MAY PASS, THERE WILL BE PANIC!
The robust elder burst out the wooden door, almost breaking it, and toddled barefoot down the muddy street in a flurry of profanity. Villagers talked quietly behind covered mouths as he plodded down the street in wet, heavy thuds. Finally he reached the edge of the village, caught sight of the great fiery scar, and fell to his knees, soling his expensive silk robes with mud.
And so with the ringing of bells calling from the tower, the entire populous crammed into the village hall. It was so full people were sitting and hanging from the upper level. Dogs barked in the aisles, cows and pigs passed the doorway and merchants yelled from the street. Yet the talk of course was about the scar, for that is what they were calling it. What is the scar? What caused it? Did a piece of heaven really fall? The town elder yelled over the crowd to get their attention. For the moment his booming voice sufficed to calm the crowd. Amongst raised farm tools and hushed voices he spoke to the gawping peasants.
Do not fear gentle landsmen. Yes, yes we have all seen the scar, and we all have many questions.
You’re right me lord!
We suffer in fear me lord! Tis it a curse?
My people, my people I keep no secrets. And I am told there is no need to fear.
Yes me lord and why?
I have sent for a man of learning from the city. Yes the man of learning will investigate the scar and put aside all fears with his great volumes of knowledge and vast intellect.
This proclamation was greeted with a great cheer, vegetables were thrown into the air, dogs barked and sheep bleated in excitement. This whole scar issue would soon be resolved and life would go back to normal.
* * *
The learned man swayed atop his mule, scholars cap and monocle jerking as it trotted along the rough path. He held a roll of parchments under his arm and a case of drafting tools. He surveyed the landscape and observed the hunched back of the peasant who drew his mule. In the mists of morning the local peasantry tilled the fields, drew water and milked cows. How he held them in such contempt; why would these people fail to better themselves? A celestial descent of some kind, of course, but to explain such a thing to these fools!
EY! Me lord! You that learned man from the city? a voice belted from a thatched shack. The learned man turned to a mud-stained face gawping.
I am a representative of the university, yes.
Lord mercy, wa’s a univarysity, ahh?
A place of learning, he responded with a dismissive scowl, jolting from side to side atop the mule. What vile and horrid sub-humans, what a sick existence they live… How he despised the poor so.
Leaving a trail of hoof prints in the moist earth he arrived at the entrance to the town. It was a bulky stone arch holding a gate of near-petrified bogwood. Atop the gate a bell rang. A small crowd awaited his arrival talking amongst themselves. In the center of this crowd was the town elder, washed and dressed in his finest eastern silks. As the sun rose to the mid-morning zenith the scholar stopped and surveyed the crowd through his monocle, framing the round grinning figure of the town elder who began to speak.
Most humble welcomes, sire! May I formally extend the hand of hospitality from our quaint little settlement.
Yes, yes, confirmed the man of learning. If you would be so kind as to show me this scar that I have been told so little about. The town elder looked at the crowd, their hands full of produce from the earth, local crafts, wine, and gifts intended for the scholar. A little disappointed, he nodded and gestured toward where the hills met the forest.
Indeed, to business then! Remaining mounted upon his mule the man of learning followed the town elder. A little procession of townsfolk followed behind him. Welcome banners and harvest symbols fluttered in the wind as the group moved toward the hills at the edge of town. Still, the learned man whispered to himself, I suspect a higher authority. Perhaps the highest.
And so the procession proceeded from the crumbling boundary toward the rolling hills. Soldiers passing the town noted the gathering; to them it appeared as if a great religious procession marching off into the misted vales, much as if they marched to the end of the world. The man of learning was silent as he rode to the edge of the great forest, steadfast in his disregard of the many questions belted at from the gaggle of peasants.
What is it, me lord?
Will ya’ tell us, o wise sir?
Are our crops and cattle safe, noble sir?
Soon they reached the edge of the great forest. Trees of terrific proportions and composed of silt-grey wood scattered off toward the horizon. Occasionally towers of brilliant white stone punched above the canopy. He turned in his saddle and observed the gawping townsfolk, jaws unanimously wide as they set eyes on the fiery slash that marked the fertile earth. Finally he dismounted and spoke to them.
Your lord and I will go alone. His eyes searched the distance through a looking glass of bizarre eastern design. Such things can indicate danger.
The town elder wore a solemn expression as they penetrated deep into the forest. The man of learning’s silence had struck an uncertain nervousness in his heart. They passed through the shade under magnificent heaven-reaching trees, navigating around ruins of inconceivable proportion and constructed of blinding white stone.
Why must we come alone, wise sir? he enquired. This is my village sir! I would appreciate an answer. The man of learning stopped, his mule impatiently batting its tail.
Because I cannot risk their loss of faith. The truth will harm them. The town elder kicked and turned his own mule, shielding his eyes from the emerging sun.
And learned sir? What truth would that be? The man of learning said nothing, simply adjusted his monocle, gathered his looking glass under his arm and rode forward. The town elder looked on as the squat mule disappeared over a nearby ridge. Muddy black smoke rose from the other side. A great sense of unease rose from somewhere deep inside the town elder, as if his bowels wanted to escape through his mouth.
The man of learning was waiting on the other side of the ridge, and had dismounted from his mule. The town elder looked around and realized that he had been led into the heart of the scar. He swallowed and sweated, battling an immediate tension, an instant nervousness. Burnt earth the color of charcoal reached all the way up a ridge on either side, small fires still burnt nearby and smoke—or was it steam?—rose in great plumes from this ungodly trench that extended to the horizon in either direction.
Behold! announced the man of learning, the truth they must not see. He gestured northward, making adjustments on some strange optical device that glinted in the sun.
Directly in front of him lay the skeleton of some immense and terrible creature. It towered to the height of the tallest trees and its bones glowed red with tremendous heat. Bones detached and fell to the earth, disappearing in thick clouds of dust and smoke. The terrifying skeleton wasted away into red dust before his very eyes. It was like nothing the town elder had seen before, reptilian in shape, yet obviously bipedal like a man and bearing thick ridges that could be spines or horns.
What madness is this? What vile phantom is this? What illusion? he screamed, bracing himself against the ridge.
None, responded the man of learning. This is no phantom or illusion. It is simply the remains of one who dwells above. The town elder turned away from the decaying skeleton, shaking and muttering prayers to himself.
Noble sir, what could you—
At that moment he felt an intense coldness and a sharp pain in the small of his back. He reached around to find his hand covered in crimson blood. The man of learning had swiftly and efficiently sunk a dagger into his back. The town elder fell and clutched the wound, looking at the ashen smoke climb into the canopy.
W…why? he enquired, spluttering blood as a mist of darkness clouded his eyes.
Why? the man of learning answered. They must always think that man is the highest of corporeal things. And so the man of learning calmly gathered his things, observed the last of the skeleton turn to dust, and slowly walked away over the ridge. The town elder gasped out in agony, bearing his last moments in terrible uncertainty. The day dimmed to an orange end.
* * *
The old man woke at daybreak to tend to the animals. His granddaughter emerged from their thatched shelter. Talk of the scar had died down already. Within a few weeks, it was forgotten.
Sanjay Bheenuck is a writer currently based in London, primarily of shorts, but currently working on a novel. He is essentially a writer of experimental & speculative fiction, with an absurd & literary slant.
Buy this writer a coffee.
Photo by Ales Krivec