Tuesday, 6 March 2018
It's been a long time since I've written an English post.
This time it's a story, translated by Maja Konkolewska. It was first published in Szortal in November 2016, and after several rejections from English language magazines I decided that I'm moving on to new stories and I'm putting this in here for everyone to read. Enjoy! :)
Translated by Maja Konkolewska
You say you don’t know who we are. No need to worry about that – we don’t know either. We are born under beds, in mirrors or in the deep corners of wardrobes. We are usually brought to life by children, but not only. We form out of barely conscious thoughts, left-over dreams and shards of daydreams and we stay with you for some time. For as long as you remember us.
And then we have to leave. In the long run it’s impossible to live with you. You are as capricious as bumble bee larvae and when you forget – you push us away. This is exactly how it works. I was lucky enough to be living at my mother’s for almost six months. She had drawn me and it always preserves. In the end, she stopped liking the picture. She threw it away and forgot.
No, I don’t hold a grudge against her. She created me strong. I’m almost seventeen years old now and in our tribe it is considered to be the Methuselahan age.
We live in an old country house on the verge of a forest. We have an orchard with sour apples, a small stable, shed with tools and vegetable patches where I still grow this and that. There are only three of us left: Toothy, Mare and I. We are the old-time residents. For the last five years no one new has arrived and my time is slowly getting to an end. Now that I think of it, Gnome used to complain that new residents arrived less and less frequently. He claimed that he himself had been greeted by a feast for twelve with a kolacz cake reaching the sky, baked of sunny millet flour especially for this occasion.
So, there used to be a dwarf – Gnome. And Murky – the dark prince who used to ride a stallion of clouds; a toad-look-alike Crawler and also Leaf – a talking guinea pig. There also used to be Beaming. She’d put the moonlight in her lap and then weave the silver yarn on a long loom. She faded into the Mist a year after my arrival. A sofa cover is all that she left behind. Dingy and worn-out, it still glows slightly during the full moon.
We stay for a few years – three, five, sometimes fifteen or a bit more. A long time ago appeared one Thinker who lived in the house two full decades but in the end the Mist called him too.
When our time comes, we begin to fade away. Our abilities slowly diminish and our voices subside. People stop noticing us, even in such meagre form as we may appear. Finally the day comes when we must wake up before dawn, find the train tracks bathed in the morning mist and embark on a journey.
The Mist leads to There but the tracks are ordinary, built by people. By day you can walk on them to the nearest town. Trains used to go there, I can still remember. On the other side of the tracks there’s an alley and along it – people’s homes. It used to be a few red brick houses, today it’s modern villas with balconies and high fences. They sprung up out of nowhere one after another, a bit like the mushrooms Toothy nibbles out of the ground and then gets diarrhoea. Mare says the rich live there. I don’t know about the rich and neither does Mare, so I can’t appraise that. But I think it’s true because in their gardens they grow just hedges and grass but nothing to eat.
Mare is convinced they feed on grass but I don’t believe that. Toothy sometimes eats grass but he’s a horse after all, so I guess he has to. Although, to tell you the truth, when it comes to us – nothing can be simply predicted. For example, I like carrots, peas and boiled potatoes, although according to the laws of nature I should be gobbling up raw rodents. And I will humbly admit that I bake the most delicious apple pie in the world.
I add some of my summer nap dreams to it. You can’t copy that. When the Mists take me, the memory of my apple pie will survive just like the stories of Beaming’s carpets and Thinker’s longevity.
So, Toothy looks like a horse. Not any old nag but, as he proudly puts it, a real stallion of hell. Maybe he did look like that about five years ago but since then his black coat turned grey, his mane got thinner and his back curved down. Even the devilish teeth that had given him his name became yellowish and crumbled a bit. He’s still scary from afar. Much more than me – personally, I was never equipped.
Mare would have been a human if someone just paused and devoted a moment’s attention to finish her. They could have straightened her right leg and reshaped her hunched back and the arms that drag on the floor. They could have painted her skin in a different colour than pale-green. They could have added nails, nose and more hair than these few grey tufts. Some of us aren’t very fortunate and are born out of imagination that has only just germinated.
I on the other hand, as you probably suspect although still can’t actually see, am a cat. A humanized, walking on back legs ginger cat, as big as a small child, supplied with opposable thumbs and, of course, a maroon brimmed hat with a feather. It’s an integral part of me. If I left it or lost it somewhere, which I used to try doing in the moments of rebellion against my own nature, it would be back on my ginger head within fifteen minutes. Did I mention it has holes for ears? My mother was an extremely intelligent person.
We have a lot of work to do in here. In the late summer, just like now, we have to water spiders with dew so that they weave gossamer webs. In the autumn we paint the leaves. We’re not the only ones who do it – a bunch of goblins still live in Invisible Lair, but our gang manages it quite well. Preparation for winter is a serious matter.
In the winter we have to look after the Misty Children. They don’t come every year but when they do, we find one each winter month. They come half-started and bodiless, like everything born out of the Mist. We find families for them. We choose the mother and father very carefully. They must be people who want a child very much – Mare has the best intuition in these matters. Sometimes in search for suitable candidates we visit all the nearby towns.
Then they are clothed in bodies in the same way as everyone else who comes to this world. Just like you. Don’t look at me like that, I didn’t mean to scare you. The Mist Children are born a bit different. No matter how much effort they put into pretending to be people, in half they belong to There.
When we found you fifteen years ago I was on the winter watch with Murky. Toothy and Mare were not born yet and my fangs and claws were as sharp and hard as a diamond, quite literally, for there was a time when I had to cut glass for a new window after an autumn storm. We stood by the train tracks – the two high-quality guards: a dark prince with long, black curly hair and a sprightly ginger cat with dashing whiskers and a rapier as sharp as a bee’s sting attached to the side, ready to fight the most ferocious of the northern phantoms
(They also appear less and less frequently, although I swear that just the day before yesterday I saw a shadow nearby one of the farms, next to the old shrine. If you see them, sprinkle some salt on them – they don’t like it and they are afraid of folks like you.)
As we were killing time playing stones, the mist-shrouded moon rose over the train tracks – an almost infallible sign that it was time to start searching. Although, it happened once or twice that despite clear omens we didn’t find anyone before dawn. I still don’t know whether no one actually arrived back then. It’s possible that a Misty Child was left unnoticed and in the end evaporated, touched by the first rays of sun.
This time we noticed the child almost immediately, crouched behind a stone; a helpless white bundle resembling candy-floss. You had light-blue eyes – two tiny dots like pinheads, and big lips, able to swallow a whole apple. Murky pulled out a gunny-sack lined with unwoven wool from Beamings’ basket. Misty Children are fragile and they need a lot of warmth, especially at the beginning. We sneaked up cautiously not wanting to startle you. Everything looked as it should.
Until we realised that Unbeing had already emerged.
(You can see more clearly now, at least that’s the impression I’m getting. I notice fear in your eyes. Don’t be afraid. Out of all that is apparent and hidden, we are most friendly towards you, humans. After all, at least to some extent we come from you.)
I don’t know where Unbeing comes from. Just like everything else, she suddenly appears by the train tracks in the Mist. Crawler used to say that a long time ago she was never there but since I remember, we’ve been coming across her more and more often. He also used to say that because of Unbeing, the Mists are slowly raising up. Without them we wouldn’t be able to leave, after all what cannot leave, cannot also exist – deep down we all know it. As you can see, our problem is very serious. In order to try and solve it, I had to retrieve Thinker’s books, buried in a barrel of kasha. But we’ll get to that soon.
Unbeing is flat, coarse and grey in the way that means lack of colour; resembles sand grinding between the teeth. She is a disappointment, a handful of empty nuts, remnants of a shattered shell in which you used to hear the sound of the sea. She is the lack of understanding which means that, with difficulty, my rapier can only just pierce her armour and I fear that it only infuriates her. She also has a definite excess of legs and eyes and she would like to imitate a spider but I can assure you that it’s just a façade. The real spiders move gracefully. Unbeing glides forwards as if she never needed any legs.
She doesn’t disappear with the first rays of sunlight, she just slips away somewhere far past the tracks. I don’t know what happens to her then but there are people who have fragments of Unbeing in their homes, some even carry her with them (or within themselves – I can sometimes sense her in them but can’t see or smell her). She no longer looks like a spider. She assumes various forms but I would have to show what I mean. I haven’t spent enough time with you to be able to name everything in your words. But I think that you, of all people, will definitely recognise her should you ever come across each other.
You exist only due to Murky’s courage. I would have undoubtedly vanished inside the hut and waited for Unbeing to go away and for the Misty Child to evaporate with the dawn of the day. And although I am very tempted to attribute the heroic actions to myself, I shall not deprive my friend of his merits. It was not my rapier and fangs that defended you that night.
He survived but became a shadow of his former self. A few months later he left into the Mist.
It’s past midnight. We have only a few hours left until dawn so look carefully. What I have here are books written on the birch bark with an ink made of gall wasps. See how they’ve yellowed and faded? A few grains of kasha can still be found around – it has been protecting the books from damp very well. As for the mice, even before my arrival a pact was made that they would keep away from our supplies. Thinker lived in our house many decades ago but his writings survived in excellent condition. Someone should carry on with the chronicling tradition, yet out of the three of us I am the only one who can write – not very neatly though.
If I deciphered the writings correctly (and I had to do it word by word), Unbeing had already come once before. She appeared above the train tracks and spilled all over the place, penetrating people’s homes and farms. One by one, we started to vanish like popping bubbles. The Mist rose so high, she obscured the moon every night; only her faint trails were left behind down here. And then, one of us found a way to enter the Mists and then come back to tell us all about it. He said he had found the place There from where Unbeing came and fixed it.
I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and I think I know how he returned. The books don’t describe what he’d achieved There. But if he did it – maybe I can do it too.
We’ve already talked about it and it must be me. Toothy was never brave and Mare is the youngest and she’ll stay put if push comes to shove. Unbeing appears more and more often and you wouldn’t want it to pour over people’s dwellings. Apparently even scarier bogles will take over from us then. I don’t know if the changes that happen here affect There or vice versa. I only know that if things carry on the way they go now, someday, maybe soon, the house will become empty. Gossamer will stay unwoven, leaves in the autumn won’t be rich in colours, snow will stop melting in the spring. Or perhaps it will be gone all together – last year only one Clouder stayed in the house for longer. I will set out for the tracks before dawn. I’ve already sharpened my rapier and cleaned the armour that’s been hanging on the hook for many years.
And you stand behind me and no matter what – hold my hat very tight.