Ex Nihilo, Short Stories, The Augmented World

Ex Nihilo – Staying Away

I sit and, for the first time, I wonder instead of despair. Overlooking the trees, my balcony seems like the shattered bow of some ship, jutting out across the green foam of foliage. All around me this forest stretches, this place of things hidden by the shadow of leaves, dissected by the interference of chlorophyll and endless, endless whispering when the wind comes. The susurration of the wind is my favorite sound, full conversations held in covered vales or across winded, winding hills. I try and preserve these memories even as they manifest before me, even as I can hear the wind calling across the never-quiet forest. But eventually, I know, I will raise my head and look at the sky.

My heart will burst, then. I came to this place from the sky and I burn to return and to remain at the same time. All those years ago, gently cushioned downwards by a different burn, I came here. Morose, lost, endlessly bitter, I came to this world, this living canopy. I don’t know who’s the poorer man, me now or me then. Probably me now. At least he, that is me, was only torn in one direction: home. Now, I still yearn for that place only faintly remembered but am also deeply, insanely in love with this place I’ve lived in for 20 years. Lived in? Breathed in, assimilated in, grafted onto my skin. My eyes falling from the sky as my ship had fallen gently, all those years ago, I cannot help but smile as the playful chirping of the P’naat bird comes to me. I call them P’naat since in my tongue that means “purple” and they are purple. That is all.

A deep sigh in my chest, I turn as the automatic lights softly turn themselves on, like silk being pulled from furniture to reveal the rich amber of wood. And, indeed, the soft, ocher light compliments the boles well. I had set that up weeks after coming here since when I had first turned the floodlights on, they had been harsh, yellow daggers stabbing into the rich green. That might have been before I had fallen in love with that green but even then, that seemed wrong. Walking now into my cabin, I go to sit where I had not sat in five years. To surface perceptions this was merely a chair but to the discerning eye, an eye such as mine own, it was a way, an escape, a cursed blessing. A return to a place I simultaneously hate and yearn for.

You see, I’m afraid of homecoming. We should all be. Picking up a book once I read about how we’re all always coming home but never able to find it again. For years that had struck me as the truest, most poignantly beautiful thing I had ever read or heard. But ever since falling in love with this place, ever since introducing the chlorophyll into my very bloodstream, I have discovered a much more basic and shaking truth. Yes, we are all always coming home but we know exactly where home is. It’s not that we cannot find it, it’s that we are too afraid to return. Having once left, having once come to these places which we later call our lives, we are afraid to gaze upon home once again.

For me, it’s because this place, this moment, this way of being called Sheeth (simply “forest” in my tongue), has become intrinsic. It is like skin, like green bark that covers what I am. I have not only fallen in love with it, it has fallen in being with me. I am it and it is so much bigger and more important than I could ever be. And yet, my eyes keep going to the sky. My eyes keep trying to pierce that other canopy, beyond which there is only infinity and on its other side, home. Home, cold, austere, beautiful, not Sheeth. That thought is particularly jarring. I called this place a way of being and it was not a slip of the tongue. This place is much more than just a place.

I am sorry I cannot say more. I know this will all be confusing as you come upon my corpse, you who will take my place. How I envy and pity you. I don’t know if you’ll find a better solution to this problem, my heir. I hope you can. I hope you don’t even have to face the problem, that you won’t be torn between whatever home you came from and this place which is not a place, this forest which is more a way to breathe, to feel, to carry your shoulders, than it is a biological unit or a fixed point in space. But I can’t. I don’t have a better solution and I don’t have a way to not be torn. It’s my eyes, you see? No pun intended. It’s my eyes that keep going to the sky, to my home, across the sharp infinity that separates us.

And so, they must go. Do not think me mad when you raise the fold I will undoubtedly place over my scars, in accordance with the trope, the atavistic image of the prophet. If I am to be a prophet to you, Messenger of Humanity, my heir, my substitute, the carrier of the torch, heed my final message: it’s not about going home, it’s not about coming back.

It’s about staying away. It’s about becoming yourself. It’s about a forest.

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