A fugitive pauses at the edge of a cornfield. The corn lies broken on the earth, half buried by the snow, half blasted by the winds. He drops to his knees again, allowing the pain in his side to contract and draw strength into itself. Survival is imperative, for now. The pack has become heavier as he runs, gathering into itself the sum of his vanished world. All that remains is in this pack, the last message of a dying culture. There is no solace for him, no city lights to call him back, no fire in a hearth to drive winter out of his bones. He rises and walks.
There was little danger from the searchers. Theyíd given up the chase sometime before dawn, content to drive him past the city limits. Theyíd wanted to be back in time for the party tonight. That party would celebrate his death. He was the last of his race. The empire was theirs now, the last challenge to their claim driven into the wastes where eventually it would be devoured by the winter.
A knife of snow finds his skin between the goggles and the mask. He shifts the maskís baffles to cover the gap. The skin relaxes. These baffles cannot be won over. Long after the usurpersí bones have rotted, these simple elasticized folds will remain true to their creators. The edifices of his technology will not crumble with time, will not allow the usurpers to forget their spiritual impoverishment. There is no smile behind the mask. They will be forced to live in his shadow. He will have to die in their past.
The trees of the windbreak loomed ahead of him. He considered detouring to use the tractorís lane. No. These trees were among the first traitors. No-one had known what was happening then, they hadnít understood who these strange creatures were, counseling dividing the fields. He was in a world of traitors now. Fidelity and honour had to be forgotten. The treesí duplicity would not harm him. There was a mission that must be carried out.
This is the last plan of his world. He doesnít know if itís worthy, he isnít the greatest of his civilization, only the last. His mind touches the plan gently. It is a plan of retreat. He carried the relics into that last battle with him, knowing he would be forced to flee the confrontation. It is a plan of patience. He dies. Centuries pass. He is found. He must be found. They will put him in a museum with a large plaque. Probably a simulation of the site where he is found with copies of the artifacts in the pack which has conveniently been left open. In the case next to his body are the actual artifacts. There is a little write-up that the school children read, telling them of the bravery and nobility of this long-dead hero who gave his life so that their generation would find the greatest treasures of his civilization. Children dream of being as brave as he was.
The drifts of the windbreak were deep enough to slow him. He did not struggle, merely moved forward more slowly, considering the branches of the trees as he went. They were all loaded with snow, waiting to dump their burdens on any creature foolish enough to walk beneath them, as he must. His battle cry was lost. The mask hindered it while the trees ate it, but still the battle was joined. The adz hanging on his belt hadnít been made for severing limbs in a blow, but heíd been fighting guerrilla battles for years. The limb dropped from the tree, pulling a number of splinters from the trunk through the bark. The snow buried him.
The adz is somewhere behind him. Another comrade lost in the battle. He doesnít look back at itís grave. Heís accustomed to loss. He can handle it like a man. Still, the enemy gloating over his comradeís grave hurts. He crawls forward.
The wire clawed at him as he passed it, pleading for him to notice it beneath the snow. He sat back on his haunches, pulling the wire back with his glove. The wire tried to pull him to his feet. He obeyed, wondering how this wire knew about his mission. The wire led him along the central aisle of the windbreak. On the path he found two aluminum posts which had been toppled in the revolution then the wire disappeared through a tree. He circled round the tree and stopped.
Eight feet away the sky meets the earth. There is a dimple in the land here, a sixteen foot ellipse, a portion of the opposite end obscured by a denuded stand of dogwood. Trees form a channel around it, narrowing the view of the sky to a circle of blue light reflecting off the cupped snow and onto the center. It has been here a long time, since well before the trees came. The wires that should have graced itís head were probably removed when itís fellows were felled, but this one was spared. The manís eyes find the bright plastic marker. It is well above the snow line in the bowl, trailing wire to both sides on the axis of the bowl. The center was probably spared for this, to support a simple wire meant to keep now-vanished cattle from straying. Dropping to his knees, the man finds himself howling at the sky, feeling his skin thrill at the power he is a part of. Above him, the telephone pole stands, quietly joining earth and sky.
The world was mocking him. Nothing else could explain this field. He walked out of the windbreak into the field of his youth, perfect, ordered and unexplainable in the new order. This field had been tilled in the fall. He let his eyes follow the sinuous curves of the land, revealed by the equally sinuous curves of the plow. The defenses had been peeled off, grass and weeds removed to make the earth accessible to the power of men.
Illusions fall. His people didnít do this. This is the usurpers. They were unable to get an air planter. They considered this an undesirable alternative. They will never understand the land. They will never relish the feeling of dominating and controlling the earth, of bending it to do their will. This field was created, not by a man, but by a creature using a manís machine. There is beauty, but no spirit.
The first hop set him in motion, taking him to a time when heíd spent hours seeking the perfect stride. A low, gliding jump of two furrows, the jolts of landing and leaping taken by the deformation of the earth allowing him to escape time, to move without measuring because he was measured from without. He could feel himself finding the stride, melting back through time before the revolution, before heíd lost his birthright, could feel the earth thrusting him into the sky. He didnít stop at the edge of the drainage ditch. He knew he could fly now, that an entire worldís power was concentrated in him. The air forgot to whistle around him as he rose, too awed by the power of what was happening to add anything to it.
The snow catches him on the far side of the ditch, allowing him to slide a few inches toward the water, then deciding heís learned his lesson pulls him to a stop. He lies quietly trying to convince his chest it can still breath. Eventually he wins the argument and begins similar arguments with the rest of his body. Reluctantly it pulls him up the hill and allows him to continue his journey.
He didnít try to fly again. He stepped from furrow to treacherous furrow. Heíd been a fool trusting something made by the enemy. It was a trap. He stared into the valleys, wondering whether they contained water, snow, or air. It was probably water, this was a field that would want to trap a man with hidden water.
At the edge of the field he cannot resist. He gently taps the last furrow with his toe. The ice falls with a tinkle against the frozen earth. He turns to brave the next field. This is a traitorous path, smooth and unbroken, wild in a way that cries out against his senses. These beasts donít understand civilization. They tame nothing, cow nothing. Any moment this field will rise up to overthrow them, and they wonít be able to stop it. They might have the technology of a civilized race, but they stole it, they donít know how to use it against a creature as deadly as this field. They donít have the spiritual understanding to give purpose to the technology. Here hope springs. Someday another race will be raised which will understand nature. They will discover him as they tame the earth.
He would not have a name then. They would give him a name. He dreamed of names as he continued his trek. He would move beyond this mortal existence. Flesh gone, his bones would look out at the next great civilization from a museum case. The children would look at his clean white frame and wonder that any man could give his life to them so selflessly, could care about generations so distant from his own.
He stops his thoughts before tears can overcome him. The copse is just ahead. He hoped never to come back here, but despite that hope, he carries an axe in the pack. The copse is young, planted to provide wood for the factories, all of the trees the same height, all standing in perfect rows. He suddenly feels the loss of the adz. Without it he will be unable to shape the trees, to make the perfect planes of which he dreamed. Only the axe now, enough to force dominance, not enough to force perfection. He hears the snow beneath his feet again, clinging to him, trying to drag him away from his destiny. It doesnít realize that he is an active force, something not to be dissuaded by mere objects and forces.
He reached the center of the copse, the place where the stone was set. He brushed the snow off the old wall, carefully clearing away the leaves of fall until the dressed stone of the floor was re-exposed. Cutting the trees took two days. At night he sat staring at his little fire, occasionally pulling out the artifacts to reassure himself that they were worth dying for.
The structure is ready. Nature will not reach him buried deep in this cocoon, his body and the hopes of the future will lie undisturbed until the generation of enlightenment came to power. The wood is rough. He reaches out to touch it. The axe was not made for the labour, but it was made well and served where it was pressed. Warmth still seems to come from it beneath his boots. He shivers, wondering again whether to put on the jacket. No. Better to abandon himself to the cruelties of nature quickly. The flask is cold. He shifts it again on his stomach. His hands come back to rest on the plastic of the magazineís cover. His heart still forces the package up and down, his breathing still rocks the flask.
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This work is Copyright (c) Mike Fletcher 1995