Stations of the Heart Chapter 16: What Lies Ahead

The darkness that a human being is accustomed to when one has their eyes closed was not what Jed was experiencing now. It was not so deep, it was lighter. He felt his body bob slowly up and down. A hard curved surface against his back. The sunlight continued to filter through Jed’s closed eyelids until it became too invasive for him to keep them closed. He blinked rapidly, weaning his eyes to the immensely bright sky that the cloudless desert day was providing. Jed was woozy but conscious, and more importantly, he felt more or less alive. He propped himself up backwards, leaning back on one planted arm. He rubbed his eyes with his free hand. Up and down, rhythmically and slowly. The curved surface on which he sat was ridged. Then it came to him  as plain as the blistering sun above him, that he was once again the lone passenger atop Nashper and Railnia’s tortuous shell. Then Jed considered that the lizard had eaten him and that he really was dead and this was some kind of eternal hallucination- doomed to ride through the desert slowly on top of a two-headed tortuous that argued with itself. But then Jed abruptly recalled the track record of the goliath reptile to show up arbitrarily and thought better of his death theory. He was definitely alive, he could hear them blathering on about something or other. “We never make it to any one destination because we are constantly moving away from things!” Jed heard Railnia’s multi-toned voice contending hotly. Who knows how long this unresolvable debate had been going on. It was like pulling teeth with Nashper and Railnia – one could never for a second consider the point of view of the other. They would never realize that their innumerable points of contention were all based on their respective perspectives of the world.

“We are always moving forward you lunatic! We are always moving forward!” Nashper rebutted.

Despite the hazy state of Jed’s mind and consciousness, he had an epiphany at this ridiculous argument and interrupted, “You don’t get anywhere because you are always moving forward. How can you arrive anywhere if you are constantly moving?” Jed’s words came out with very subtle peaks and valleys of melody. He was still vaguely song-speaking though he wasn’t even trying to. He was surprised at this.

“Ah, the boy is finally awake, fancy that.” Nashper said. “Talking a bit funny too, but we did find you in a pretty rotten state so I suppose the slurred speech is accounted for.”

Jed felt that Nashper was no one to talk about the peculiar manner with which anyone spoke. After all, the forward-facing head of the dual-cranium tortuous had a funny was of talking too. Very funny indeed, like four distinct voices talking at once but all saying the same thing. Still Jed suddenly became conscious of the involuntary song-speaking. This concern was quickly replaced by the many unanswered questions Jed had for the tortuous. The first of which was how the turtle escaped consumption by the giant birds on the bridge. Somehow Jed knew he wouldn’t get a straight or satisfactory answer from either of mouth of the shelled reptile so he began with the most important question. “What happened? What happened with the lizard? I thought I was dead for sure.”

Again, the words came out with a tune. This time however, Nashper ignored it and got straight to the point, “I can’t rightly say my boy. We emerged into this desert through subterranean means and when we did, wouldn’t you know it, you were plopped quite unconscious atop our carapace.” he gave a little chuckle, “it was quite a serendipitous occurrence.”

Jed thought about this. The rumbling he felt just before he lost consciousness must have been Nashper and Railnia somehow rising up from the ground beneath him. “But what happened to the lizard?” Jed inquired, his question tinged with song.

“Damned if I know. As soon as we emerged we did the only thing we know how to do…move forward. That unpleasant lizard you speak of was slapping at our shell with its tongue for a while as we walked. That was when I realized that you were on top of us. The damn wretched thing was slapping a bloodied tongue as far up to the top of our shell as it could trying to get at your pouch.” Jed was confused at this. His pouch? “After a while of fruitless effort, the weary thing gave up, stopped keeping pace with us, and we walked on like normal.” Nashper continued.

“No, you don’t understand, the lizard was after me, it was trying to kill me. Or eat me, either way I was going to be dead.” Jed lilted back

“Once again you are confused, boy. That lizard was clearly after one thing and one thing only and it sure as hell was not your life. No, that miserable creature wanted nothing more than to consume the raising-tree seeds you’ve been carrying in that pouch of yours. That lizard was so tired, it just wanted the seeds so it could go to sleep.” Nashper gave another little derisive laugh after he said this, as though he was laughing at a joke he told to himself in his own mind. Then he continued, “If you had any trouble with the thing, all you would have needed to do was to throw that pouch at it and been on your way.”

Jed looked down at his belt with the pouch still hanging from it. ‘It wanted the seeds?’ he thought to himself. Then he recalled the creatures eyes: weary, tired, wild and haunted by desperation. ‘It just wanted to sleep and I almost killed it.’ Jed felt now that he had done a cruel thing by depriving the beast of its sole, simple desire. Still, how could he have known that the seeds were what the hostile reptile was after? There was no communication between himself and the lizard, no dialogue. Just a clash of interests leading to a grand misunderstanding. No one talked, no one even tried communicating in any way, verbal or otherwise. The two just acted. Acting out of pure necessity and purpose. Nonetheless Jed felt sympathetic toward the creature whom he had thought was trying to take his life. He was concerned and asked, “Do you know what happened to the lizard?”

Nashper answered, “No clue, we kept walking, he was out of my sight and that was that.”

Jed turned to the rear end of the giant land turtle and asked Railnia, “Railnia, did you see what the lizard did after he stopped following you?”

“Sure I did. It turned into a little dark dot on the horizon and then disappeared, isn’t it funny how things tend to do that?” Railnia’s rear-facing perspective did not give Jed any real answers. The world was constantly dwindling away from her. Jed could only assume that the horned reptile was wandering in the desert somewhere, still searching for something that would put it to sleep. This thought cast a sadness over Jed’s mind, but at least it momentarily distracted him from the reality that had been thrust upon him. He was to be alone. He had been given a small taste of something that he now must be deprived of for the rest of his life. Something he liked immensely and now, most of all, felt was a necessity in his life.

The hours were passing monotonously as the boy Jed Ano and the two-headed tortuous Nashper/Railnia continued their slow trek through the desert. The sun now hung just above the horizon before them and Jed had his tunic pulled up over his head to protect him from the harsh rays. Jed had not spoken for some time now and his thoughts became a fusion of his own terminal self-concern and brief considerations of the many debates the reptile below him was having with itself. He would never be able to make them see the futility of their quibbles – simple clashing of perspectives. The day was disappearing and Jed thought it an appropriate time to ask where they were headed. “Where are we going?” the words came out in a delicate three-note melody. The song-speak was becoming more pronounced.

“What was that, boy?” Nashper asked, genuinely curious. “Not sure I understood that one.”

“Nor did I.” Railnia added.

Jed couldn’t remember the last time he heard the two heads agree on anything. He was afraid to say anything else lest it come out as a full-fledged song. He concentrated as hard as he could and forced his tongue to speak flatly and slowly, “Where are…we…going?” It barely helped, the involuntary melody that invaded his speech was scarcely impeded, but it was enough to make the tortuous understand. Still, Jed got yet another less than satisfying answer from the massive turtle…

“Forward,” was all that Nashper said in reply.

Jed went back to not speaking but this time it was because he was afraid to. The song-speaking was getting worse. He couldn’t help it. It came out with every word his tongue produced. The two-headed turtle continued to argue amongst itself while Jed closed his eyes and listened in silence.

More hours had passed and Jed opened his eyes to see that the sun had gone away and the three moons were perched high in the sky, but something was different. All three moons seemed to only be half full. Half-circles of light affixed to the heavens, yet another sight Jed was now seeing for the first time in his life. Their light was not as filling so the desert seemed a bit darker but somehow eerily peaceful and benign. There was no wind whisking sand into Jed’s eyes and skin. Jed looked in the direction they were moving toward. That was when Jed caught sight of a broad flat anomaly on the dimly moonlit horizon. They were definitely moving towards something but Jed couldn’t tell what. Jed kept his eyes trained on the object in the distance as they meandered toward it. Bobbing rhythmically towards it, up and down, Jed stared ever more intently, never taking his eyes off of it. It grew bigger, wider, until it became apparent that whatever this mysterious object would be massive by the time they reached it. Jed’s mind was racing. He wanted to tell Nashper and Railnia to move faster but didn’t because he knew that even if they could understand him there would be little chance that they would obey. Then, Jed considered the enigmatic tortuous. ‘Why would they show up at such arbitrary times and abandon me at a moments notice?’ he wondered inside his head. Nashper and Railnia was the only creature that continued to come back to Jed in this place, but why? It didn’t seem to Jed that they particularly cared about Jed’s well-being or his plight. They just dropped in and dropped out seemingly whenever they pleased. Jed thought, ‘Many creatures in this place seem to want to sleep, many of them want the raising tree seeds to put them to sleep.’ He focused again to try and speak comprehensibly in a non-melodic tongue so that he could ask Nashper and Railnia one last question. “Nashper, Railnia-” the first time he addressed them both simultaneously- “why did you never want any of the raising tree seeds I have in my pouch?” The words came out as lyrics behind an ethereal tune but the reptile with two heads and two distinct characters apparently eeked out their meaning because this is how they answered:

“No need for them, we are a tormentor.” Nashper answered first.

“You mean mentor. We are a mentor. You are confusing the words.” Railnia objected.

“No, I know what I said, we are a tormentor.” Nashper rebutted.

“I know that’s what you said, that’s not the problem. You meant to say mentor, you are confusing the words because they sound similar but their meanings are completely different.” Railnia replied.

“I know what they both mean and I meant tormentor.” Nashper chided back.

“Then you have the meanings switched because a tormentor is not what we are, we are a mentor!” Railnia demanded.

Nashper sneered, “At any rate, you can’t have one without the other.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Railnia commented, “You can have mentor without the ‘tor.'”

“Now that doesn’t make any sense!” said Nashper.

“It makes perfect sense.” Railnia defended her statement.

Jed, for what seemed like the hundredth time, got a cryptic and useless double answer from the giant land turtle. He asked a pertinent question of the creature and like many times before, it only served to spark an argument between Nashper and Railnia who would soon forget the question altogether and freeze Jed out of the discussion until he was forced to interrupt, only this time, he knew he could not interrupt. He felt that he was no completely unable to speak in a normal tongue and was unwilling to try. So the reptile continued to talk amongst itself, making Jed feel as though they forgot he was even there and that he had asked a question of them.

Jed turned his attention back to the formation on the horizon. They were getting closer. It was much bigger but somehow at the same time, more vague. It was darker and harder to see. Just a big, dark presence looming ahead of them. Jed found it strange that they could be moving closer toward the thing and yet it was becoming harder to make out. Then, he realized why. He tilted his head back up to the heavens and saw that the three half moons had been reduced to three thin crescent moons. They looked to Jed like three sharp scythes and they provided a meager pale light. That was why Jed still couldn’t figure what was ahead of them – the night had indeed become darker. It was like the moons were fading away the closer they came to the mysterious structure. Jed squinted into the night. Neither fear nor anxiety filled him, but rather a sense of wonder. He guessed and guessed in his own mind what the structure could be, testing his theories against the vague clues that his sight afforded him. They were very close to the thing now and it truly was massive. It Very tall and it stretched to forever on either side. In all of Jed’s life, he knew of only one thing that fit the dimensions of the edifice that Nashper Railnia and himself were now soundly in the immediate presence of. Nashper and Railnia ceased their march and Jed slid off of their shell onto the ground. He walked over and placed the palm of his hand against a hard, cool wall and fought back an immediate deluge of tears from being released from his eyes. A stunned and overwhelmed Jed Ano now knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that he was standing outside the great wall of his hometown.

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