Stations of the Heart Chapter 18: Jaded One

It hadn’t crossed Jed’s mind- his thoughts while he was in the desert and forest were majorly occupied with finding a way out- but now as Jed was negotiating his way down the wall of his hometown, he realized that soon he would step foot on familiar ground after not having done so for so long. The inside of the wall was textured and craggy so Jed had no problem climbing down via natural foot and hand holds. Carefully he made his way down to the cobble stoned ground. His feet were planted down in his hometown once again and he turned to face it. The streets were dark but dim light from the homes of the fortunate boys who had companions and the weak light from the three crescent moons above made the passageways, avenues, and alleys navigable. Indeed, Jed had known every street and route available in his home town as well as he knew his own name, but what Jed was looking at now seemed completely foreign to him. He stood there looking as far down the major avenue as he could. This place didn’t feel like his home. True it looked exactly the same; the streets, the homes, even the smell of moisture tinging off the cobblestones underfoot, but something was undoubtedly different. As Jed stood contemplating, he realized that it wasn’t the town that was different, it was himself. Jed had always felt content in his hometown- before his journey that is- but now all he felt was contempt. A hollow, empty feeling caverned out his insides as he stared at the streets of his home. When Jed, not of his own volition, set out on the journey, it was with the goal of coming back home. But so much had happened, so much had been experienced by Jed in between then and now that at present, Jed came to a most tragic conclusion: home was the last place he wanted to be. This place was not Jed’s home anymore, he didn’t belong there. Still, there was no going back. Where could he even go? He was shut out of the forest by his would-be spirit companion, and if he wandered the desert alone he would surely die. He didn’t really want to do either of those things anyway, but in that moment, he couldn’t think of a place he actually wanted to be. It was like there was no place for him anywhere, no home. The boy Jed Ano who was taken from his home, traveled a great distance, experienced much, and returned with no companion to call his own, had no choice. All that was left was forward motion. With that, Jed began walking down the broad main avenue of his town, toward his home.

As Jed walked through his hometown, he felt a though he could wretch at any moment. The songs and sounds of the boys who came back with companions made him sick to his stomach. He envied them, he resented them even, and couldn’t imagine how he could cope with hearing those sounds every night from now on. Initially, Jed wrote off the unease of his stomach as his sour emotions being projected on his physical form. But as Jed continued to walk, he realized that his queasy stomach was not a psychosomatic occurrence, but rather the product of a profound hunger deep in his gut. Jed was hopelessly hungry and there was nothing that could be done about it there in his hometown. There was no food to speak of there. Jed wondered how the other boys who ventured beyond the walls of the town managed to quell their hunger. Maybe they had never eaten anything in the forest to begin with and therefore their hunger had never been awoken. This got Jed thinking about the other boy’s journey’s. Were all of our encounters different? Am I the only one who now feels an insatiable hunger? Jed wondered these things but in the background of all he pondered was the physical ailment of his stomach. He had hoped beyond hope that a long, hearty drink from his canteen would help to sate his hunger and calm his stomach. But before he could even reach for his canteen he remembered that it was empty. He drank the last of the water when he had exhausted himself outside the walls of the town. ‘No matter’ Jed thought optimistically, ‘I can just go refill it at the well.’ Jed was grateful for the menial task that now presented itself; it provided him with a goal he could actually achieve, no matter how fleeting or trivial. A distraction from the emptiness he felt inside. So Jed altered his course ever so slightly and headed toward the center of town and the well with its vital content. The waters of the well had been the only sustenance available to the boys of the town, but it was all they needed-Jed included. This was true until Jed was introduced to meat at the feast of Pintiler. It may have been true of the other boys who went away from town as well because most of them never left their homes to collect water after they had returned. Some never left thir homes again at all and were never seen again. Jed wondered if the boys who came back with companions felt the same hunger he did. He quickly dismissed the thought and reasoned that they were in all likelihood too enveloped in bliss to ever be troubled by hunger. Whether they tasted the food in the forest or not. Jed took his conclusion as hard truth because of the few vague recollections he could muster from his time with his phantasmal companion in the house of spirits, he knew there was no such thing as hunger- indeed nothing of the outside world existed at all- when communing in that heavenly state. Jed could not recall feeling anything but an immeasurable warmth and ebullience during his interminable time with the enigmatic spirit. But now Jed was back on earth, mingled in with the rest of the unfortunates, the blissfully ignorant, and select blessed. ‘What a loathsome mixture of individuals’ Jed thought to himself. ‘That we should all have to return to the same place and live amongst each other seems like some kind of cruel joke or criminal indifference. But of who’s design?’ Jed thought about this for a few moments but couldn’t think of anyone to blame when he came to the conclusion that there was probably no one tending the light of the day or watching over the darkness of the night. Whatever the reason, Jed was now alone, making his way to the well at the center of town in the hopes that water would cease the very real hunger he felt within himself.

In short order Jed arrived at the well and found himself a bit reluctant to approach it. After all, it was from the well that the waters that swept him away to that insane forest arose. The well, the heart of the town, the eternal provider of life-sustaining water, it was the last thing Jed saw of his hometown before he was thrust into an odyssey which still had no discernible purpose that Jed could fathom. It was unchanged. Stoic in its readiness to give willingly. Jed walked up to the rim which was as high as his belly button as it had been before he left. From this inadvertent measurement, he realized he had not grown any taller, as the boys who returned home with companions had. Jed looked down and saw that the water was high in the well, almost reaching the rim. The surface was calm and smooth as though it hadn’t been disturbed in hours. He looked down at the water and saw his own reflection in it. He stared at himself for several minutes. It was the first time Jed had ever studied his own face. His jawline was sharply angled. His nose was crooked and a little high off his face but everything else seemed to be in good proportion. Dark and heavy shadows hung beneath deep and perfectly shaped almond eyes. He was struck by the appearance of his own eyes because within them was a profound sadness. A sadness that was transmitted whether Jed could help it or not. ‘What a sad looking person’ Jed observed to himself and tried to force a totally unnatural smile. The reflected smile looked ridiculous to Jed and he gave it up. That was when he noticed something else reflected in the well water. It was a silver crescent. ‘The moon’ Jed realized, ‘but where are the others?’ Jed tilted his head toward the dark sky and say only the silver crescent moon. The red and blue moons had completely disappeared. This saddened Jed immensely but he was at a total loss as to why. Somehow he felt emptier inside now that there was only the original moon he had known his entire life and not the others. Still, even the silver moon before had been a full one, now it was some foreign scythed shape. Not even half of what it used to be. It seemed like every trace of familiarity, every memento of former happiness was taking its leave from Jed’s life, just as the moons above were. Jed could feel the emptiness inside him grow, just like the sky overhead was being emptied of light. A tangible emptiness radiated inside of Jed, so much so that it became a physical aching. Jed bent over the rim of the well and hung his head. “What am I supposed to do?” he whispered quietly down to the water. “How am I supposed to proceed?” Moments of quiet despair often lead to moments of great clarity and in this way, Jed heard a phrase ringing in his head. It pushed through the unmanageable dross that was filling his head and made its way to the forefront of Jed’s thoughts. ‘Forward motion.’ Jed tried to file it away among the droves of thoughts crowding his consciousness but it persisted behind every thought Jed had. ‘Forward motion.’ ‘Forward motion.’ ‘Forward motion.’ ‘Forward motion.’ ‘Forward motion.’ ‘FORWARD MOTION!’ It was as though the words were branded onto Jed’s brain but after a few moments of meditation, Jed knew what they meant and in that moment of clarity and revelation, Jed suddenly felt a great weight lifted from his being and felt himself in a state of odd, empty, peace. Every nagging thought i his mind was suddenly purged and all that remained was his next move. Jed knew what he had to do; he had to move forward. From the moment Jed arrived outside the walls of his hometown, he knew that it was not where he needed to be, or at least he knew it was not where his journey would truly end. Jed was filled with relief, clarity and resolve. He stood up straight, took a deep breath and did what he came to the well to do- draw water from it. Jed took his canteen in hand and scooped up enough water for one single drink.

As Jed walked down the winding streets and alleyways towards his home, he could hear the songs and communions of the fortunate boys and their companions. He could feel the emptiness emanating from the homes of the unfortunate ones because the echoed the same emptiness that rang inside himself. Only, none of these things made Jed sad anymore. He looked upon all of the humble houses and whether they were alive with laughter or dead with silence, he smiled at all of them. It occurred to Jed that he would have liked to see what his face looked like now that he was wearing a genuine smile but, ‘Oh well’ he reasoned with himself, ‘forward motion.’ It was different now that he was walking through the streets of his hometown. Different because he felt everything. He felt the loneliness and sorrow of the unfortunates. He felt the exuberance and elation of the fortunate ones.and all he could bring himself to do was smile upon both alike. Any resentment or envy had dissolved into the ether with the discovery of his new goal. He himself had felt both emotional polar opposites and everything in between and all he could do now was smile at all of it. Maybe he was smiling because it all seemed so petty now, maybe he had finally snapped, or maybe he was smiling because unlike anyone else in his hometown, he knew where he was going next. Jed didn’t know which was the true reason but it didn’t matter in the least. After all Jed had been through, all he had gained and lost, he realized that he never truly lost himself. No matter who he had become in the forest or the desert, he realized now that he had always retained himself, just as Lashpat the great snake had advised him to. This gave Jed great comfort and courage. Jed looked upon all the homes, felt everything, and smiled.

Jed stood before it, staring at it. He smirked at it lovingly as a proud parent would when watching his child at play. He never paid more attention to it in all his years as he did now. He ran his hand gently across its solid surface, feeling the grizzled grains against his palm. Finally he reached for the knob and entered the door to his home. A stagnant cold overcame him upon entry, he felt bad for leaving his faithful home alone for so long. He walked all throughout the interior of the house, which didn’t take long at all, it only consisted of a few empty rooms with maybe a chair here and a table there, but Jed sat in every chair and leaned his elbows against every table as if to make amends with the old house for being absent for so long. He ran his fingers along the cool walls nostalgically as he made his way to his bedroom- the room where he had spent so many dreamless nights in blissful ignorance. That all changed of course, when the night came in which he had had a dream and his life would set out on a course that would change him forever. But in this moment, Jed only remembered those peaceful nights when he would sleep soundly and unperturbed by any cryptic nocturnal messages. He made it to his bedroom, looked upon his bed…and smiled. As Jed walked toward his bed, he took a quick inventory of all the possessions on his person: one raising tree seed, and a canteen with enough water in it for one drink only. Jed sat down on his bed and took a look around his mostly empty room, held the makeshift pouch containing the raising tree seed in one hand and his canteen in the other and thought to himself, ‘I can’t believe this was all I needed.’ At this, Jed chuckled to himself. Then Jed looked out his window as he had done so many times during those peaceful nights. Only this time, instead of seeing a full, bright, and somehow wholesome silver moon, he saw only darkness. Not even the meager crescent shaped remnant of the silver moon hung in the sky. It had completely disappeared. At this, Jed smiled. It was time for Jed to move forward. Jed took the last raising tree seed from his pouch and put it in his mouth. His tongue balanced it flat inside his open mouth. Jed hesitated for a moment. and let his mind settle into some serious thought. He looked around his room, closed his eyes, and imagined, as hard as he could, all the places he had been, all the creatures he had seen, all the sounds and smells and tastes that washed over him like a tidal wave. Then, with eyes still securely shut, all of these images disappeared and Jed suddenly felt like he was a gigantic empty room all by himself. A heavy lump grew in his throat and a warm tear streamed down his face. He open his eyes and declared to himself and to all that is unknown, unseen, and to those who will never know these words were spoken but to whom they were certainly addressed, “As much as this is for me, it is also for Lashpat, Iparel, the poor giant desert lizard, and even the ever-confused Nashper and Railnia. Forward motion.” With that, Jed raised his canteen to his mouth, gulped down the water, and swallowed the raising tree seed. It was Iparel’s last beautiful gift to Jed. His canteen was now completely empty and he placed it on the small table next to his bed. He laid down flat on his back, closed his eyes, and slept.

A beautiful dream: Something light but at the same time dense with moisture was yielding to his moving body. Hes eyes were closed, but he could feel a vast space with nothing in it both above and below him. Cool air was whisping past him at brisk speeds. It was a new sensation to be sure, exhilarating but peaceful and calming at the same time. He could hear the wind rushing in his ears and he wanted to embrace it because it was so soothing. Though his eyes were closed he could tell it was night time because the darkness behind his eyelids was deep and absolute. He wasn’t cold but he wasn’t too warm either, he was somewhere in the zone of tolerably cool. Comfortably cool even. Sounds of wind blowing by at a healthy speed filed his ears, steadily, consistently, almost like white noise. Great open space above and below him. ‘Open your eyes.’ Fog surrounded him and he was definitely moving. No concept of orientation. Up? Down? All he knew was that he was moving at a cooling pace, but neither of his arms or legs were in motion. Fog still surrounded him. Fog? No, maybe, possibly clouds? The it all breaks away. Staring down at the ground, but from an apparently great height. ‘I’m flying. Effortlessly flying.’ the ground below is featureless. Just some sand dunes and consequential shadows. It’s night time, but he could see clearly. It is still unfathomably comfortable. The breezy night air caressing his body and filing his lungs with serene vitality. Then he sees something break the mostly featureless landscape. Birds? ‘Why do hey look so familiar?’ A small flock of them. ‘Wait, are they upside down? Eyes?!’ A great ‘GRRROOOPPPPP!’ is heard like a ghostly echo from across a great bay He feels a definite sense of familiarity but can’t place it. The upside down birds with eyes in their wings are flying far below him but he follows them from above. The moist clouds disappear from him and just as he notices this, an undoubtedly familiar sight sprawls out underneath him. He is now flying above his hometown. He sees the walls surrounding it, the homes that populate it, and that is when he sees it. In the space that the boy Jed Ano’s house once occupied, a huge, mighty tree now stands.

 

-The End

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