Jan/Feb 2000  •   Fiction


by Michael Katz

SARPEDON: Socrates. With no moonlight tonight I hardly recognized you.

SOCRATES: Sarpedon? Is it you?

SARPEDON: Yes, good friend. But why are you out and about so late? There is not a soul stirring here in the marketplace.

SOCRATES: Ah, Sarpedon, when you get as old as I am, sometimes you have trouble sleeping. In the early evening I can barely keep my eyes open. Then in the dead of the night I awaken and I cannot fall back asleep.

SARPEDON: So you walk through the empty streets?

SOCRATES: Yes, I do.

SARPEDON: With no one about, this city could be a dream: a dream or maybe some far off peopleless land.

SOCRATES: Peopleless, perhaps, but there is still the warmth of spirits in the streets and the buildings.

SARPEDON: I feel that also.

SOCRATES: I suppose that it would be different in the wilds or at the desolate edges of the world.

SARPEDON: The edges of the world? You know, Socrates, that reminds me of a story my father used to tell. It was a tale about a wee bit of a god who lived off at the far corner, at the very edge of the world.

SOCRATES: I did not know that you had ever seen your father.

SARPEDON: Oh yes, centuries ago when I was quite young, Zeus would visit my mother Laodameia and me, and when I could not fall asleep he would tell me tales of the gods.

SOCRATES: Well, Sarpedon, here I am, awake in the dead of the night and talking to myself, so perhaps you will tell me the old story that you have remembered.

SARPEDON: Gladly, Socrates. Let me see. It begins long ago, when there once was a god, a wee small god, and he lived on the edge of the world...

There once was a god, a wee small god, and he lived on the edge of the world. He lived alone in a tiny hut and he gardened quietly for his food. The garden plot, bordered in jipijapa plants, was in front of his house because the back wall of the house was right along the high cliff of the astral universe. In the mornings at breakfast the godling looked out and down into the deepest blue with fluffs of clouds floating below as far as eye could see. When he looked up it was a golden gray. And when he looked straight out there was no end, with the stars and the moon and the planets rolling along in the Olympian blue far beyond.

The wee small godling never talked of course, for there was no one to talk to. He grew yams and peas, and the days were all cool and fair and his life was all ordered and fine and each evening was the early spring. A damp wind would come from a marsh not far away; the breeze would roll over the fields and it would get warmed by the grasses, the stackburs, and the field cedar. Growing so fast on a springtime night the plants heated the dirt around them and you could walk barefoot for miles and miles.

The very small god would sit on his porch in front of the house and he would look out at his garden. He watched the yams grow and he watched the peas twist gently about on their summer-pea vines under the care of the patient jipijapa plants. The olive trees were old and they grew slowly and quietly.

There was a chair and there was a rail for his feet, and he sat back and he rocked gently, and that night, along by the turn of the path as far as he could see in the springtime twilight, in the back glow of the edge of the world past the black oaks and the olive groves, came a young man walking along.

After a time the young man passed the weathered wood fence at the far edge of the garden. The small god could see that the young man had a canvas sack tied to his belt. The walker came through the gate. He came down the walk to the porch, and without a word he untied the sack from his waist and he set it on the ground. Then he turned and he walked away. The young man passed the weathered wood fence at the far edge of the garden plot. He walked beyond the olive trees. He disappeared through the black oaks. The night deepened and the sack sat silent.

After a while a mist accumulated there along the rim of the newborn world. Undoubtedly it was some damp stardust blown in with the universal tides as the planets swept by, a wispy cosmic wind from the edge of the Heavens, a bit of galactic foam. The mist curled slowly, fraying and dissolving and rolling up at the tip and it flowed ever so gently toward the hut and the porch and the god and the garden and the jipijapa plants and the sack.

The mist was as fine as the lightest fog on a rainy day. It misted and it twisted past the house and the porch, past the god, and along the garden through the jipijapa leaves. It reached the sack and it curled lazily fraying and dissolving and settling and it slid and it sank and the entire sack was misty for a moment. A breeze arose. The insects creaked. The stars skimmed along the cosmic tides. The godling rocked and the peas grew and the night deepened. The breeze rustled the sack, and then out of the sack rolled a round black stone no bigger than your fist.

It was just a rock, worn and round and old and scratched and creased, and it rolled with a limp...

SOCRATES: With a "limp," Sarpedon?

SARPEDON: Well, Socrates, it rolled slowly and unevenly, bumping and lumping along. In front of the rock was a small pebble, and the old rock, rolling out from within the sack, opened its mouth and...

SOCRATES: Its mouth?

SARPEDON: Yes, its mouth. Please do not interrupt, Socrates.

SOCRATES: I am sorry, Sarpedon. Continue your tale.

SARPEDON: Very well, my friend.

The rock opened its mouth and swallowed the pebble. Then it rolled on, slowly and unevenly bumping along until it reached the border of the garden with its neat grey fence and with the jipijapas peeking through, watching this strange rock.

The rock was worn and creased and rutted through and through. It stopped at the edge of the garden. It opened its mouth and it swallowed the fence, post by post. It inhaled the neat grey fence and it rolled on into the garden. The peas stopped growing and twisting on the vines. The thick fat peppers held their breaths. The old black rock rolled through the garden and it swallowed the peas and the vines and the peppers and the leaves and the stems and all. And then, the rock began to grow bigger and bigger.

The wee small god stopped rocking; he sat back still and silent. His eyes grew wide. The black rock rolled on and on. It opened its black rocky mouth and it swallowed an olive tree. It gaped its stony jaws and the forest of black oaks slid down its craggy gullet. Its canyon chasm mouth swallowed fields and grasses and stackburs and cedar. It swallowed knotroot grasses and rutabaga fields and crabapples and tangleberries. The rock was round and swollen; it looked like a great black hill. It sipped and it sucked the river beyond. It drank and it gulped the marshes, the lowlands, and all the wet places that lined the foresty woodlands coating the hills on the edge of the world. That old black rock had become a giant. It was stone-crushing, bone-breaking, and mountain-devouring. Relentlessly it ate, tearing away at the lands and the towns and the great grey slate cliffs afar. The wee small god sat very still, very still indeed.

With a ravenous intake of all that was around it, the rock devoured the earth. The oceans sank into its bottomless throat. As the waters poured down in a murky whirlpool, a small island floated toward the black maw. On the island was a tiny yellow flower, a buttercup. In the daylight it would be a bit of golden sun, with five round petals newly painted happy and bright. In the center of the buttercup was a puff of yellow. It would be smiling there, that buttercup, standing on its one spindly leg with a few green shavings on its toes. That would have been in the day of course. But now it was night, and the black rock swallowed the island, buttercup and clover fields and honey hives and gulls' nests and crab caves and all.

Insatiably the enormous rock devoured the islands and the seas. It ate the earth and drank the ocean's roaring streams. As the waters poured down its bottomless throat an old ship was swept along. On its mast was a torn sail, on the sail was a frayed rope, and on the rope was a black bug. In the daylight the bug would be a glistening beetle; it would be a soldier dressed in glints and gleams with shining wings and neat sharp clicking feet. It would be standing at attention on its wiry legs, crisp and clean with not one speck of beetle dust, not one smudge of beetle dirt. That would have been in the day of course. But now it was night, and the black rock blindly swallowed the ship, sail, rope, and beetle, the beams and flags, the sailors and the rigging and the rudder and all.

With boundless appetite the vast rock sucked in the seas. It drained the rivers. It emptied the lakes and the ponds and the bays. It dispatched the earth-brown hills and the slate-gray cliffs. As the land broke away and crumbled into the grim gaping pit, a thatched house teetered on one of the massive rock teeth. In this home was a baby, just one month old. In the daylight that child would be open-eyed, rosy-cheeked, and tousle-haired. It would wave its fists and it would roll its wrinkly neck. The tiny child would raise its eyebrows, surprised at every thing around it: its crib and its mother and its blankets and its fist. The little baby would blink and flip its tongue and hit its eye with its tight hand and twist its lumpy pink potato of a tummy around. That would have been in the day of course. But now it was night, and the black rock could not see and it could not hear and it could not smell or feel or taste, and it did not care. The winds howled and the home fell in and the thick black mountain of rock swallowed the house, baby and crib and blankets and mother and father and cupboards and grandmothers and grandfathers and grandchildren and all.

Now the only thing that the little god could see was a massive black shape as tall as the sky and as wide as the earth. It was the back of the old black hungry rock.

From within this rock there came a deep rumbling and drumming sound as the blocks and chunks of the world fell one upon another. Inside the great rock thunder echoed back and forth and waves crashed. The massive black shape grew larger and larger. The whole of the mortal earth was fast disappearing. The wee small god sat on the last remaining rim of the world with the clouds and stars and vast cosmic spaces falling endlessly away behind him, with the deep blue sea of the Heavens rolling forever back as a black and endless tide. The old black rock devoured the entire earth. Then it began to turn around...

SOCRATES: It began to turn around?

SARPEDON: Yes, the old black rock—worn and creased, massive, swollen, mountainy, and thick—it stopped, and it turned around. It turned back toward the wee small god. The cold black breath of its chasmy gullet chilled the air. It rolled back toward the house at the edge of the world. Its stone jaws were wide. Its stone mouth was empty.

The wee small god sat still as stone himself. There was no marsh, no woods, no garden, no jipijapa plants. There was only the wee small god on his rocking chair and porch with blackness before him and with the endless Night Heavens behind him. The old black rock was as full and as wide as forever. It was as cold and as empty as Death, and it moved and it rumbled and it drummed and it echoed, and the wee small god just sat still. The wee small god sat still as stone, and then, Socrates, then the little baby godling jumped.

The wee small god jumped with the wound-up spring of tickling grass on baby grasshopper legs. He jumped a little baby godling's leap, as only a bit of a newborn goatlet can jump. He bounced up, and he leaped around, and he tipped and he topped and he flipped up and over that massive black mountain hole of a mouth. The wee little god jumped higher than the knotroot grasses; he jumped higher than the apple-trees. The wee small god jimped and he jumped, and he tickled the nose of the old black rock, the battered nose, past the creased crevice mouth and up and around. And that hungry rock stretched its black chasm of Death, its gloomy black jaws, to snap and to gobble the last little god from all this mortal earth. But the teeny little godlet had jumped one toe farther than the rock could open its mouth: the jaws stretched beyond stretching and the edges of the crevasse of doom began to crack.

The giant stone cracked and it shuddered and it split. The old black rock stretched and it gaped and it cracked, and great thundering fjords broke along its old rock-worn face. Vast rolling jagged rips of stone rent its sides, and in powdering spumes of dust and scrabbling skree it dissolved, like a curtain of harsh rain at the end of a storm when it is suddenly ripped and blown away by the wind. Then the world tumbled forth again, and as the clouds and rocks and the trees and the lands fell into place, there was silence across the earth and the Heavens.

There was silence and for a moment the wee small god was lost. He found himself on the grass, in a corner of the woods. The godling blinked and looked around, and he saw the old oak trees and the low spicebush brush. He picked up two brown leaves and crumbled them and cracked them, and he kicked a little pebble.

Then the little one walked back slowly to his house on the far edge of the world. The little godling walked down the path in the cool misty light. He passed the sack lying in front of his porch. A hint of mist curled around its brown canvas flap. The little god climbed onto his porch, sat on his chair, and breathed quietly as he watched the peas growing lightly on their summer-pea vines.

The wee small god sat back and he rocked gently. The ancient olive trees continued to grow, slow and quiet as the eons. And after a while, along by the turn of the path, down as far as you could see in the cool misty just-before-morning light, in the back glow of the edge of the world, past the black oaks, came the young man walking along again. The small god rocked. The young man walked up to the porch. Without a word he took the empty misty sack and he turned and he left.

The young man passed the weathered wood fence—now grey in the early light—at the far edge of the garden plot. The garden was rimmed with jipijapa plants, and the young man went up beyond the jipijapas and beyond the olive trees along the beginning of the black oak forest at the edge of the world. The very small god looked away and then he looked back again, and he rocked a bit. The grass was a misty sea. The first streams of sunlight from the great and rosy-fingered Dawn rolled across the marsh, the field, the hills, and the trees. And soon, even in the morning glow, I could not tell whether it was a young man in a brown tunic or whether it was just one of the oaks that had stepped out into the dirt road: an oak that had decided to dig its rooty toes into a fine cool spring morning road.

SOCRATES: You could not tell, Sarpedon?

SARPEDON: Yes I, Socrates. For my father would say that it was a story about me, when I was just a very small god, once long ago when I lived on the far edge of my bright fresh baby godling world.