My storyteller falls silent, staring at the distant smudge-blue mountains. Sitting on the still-warm rocks, he is a ‘there-not there’ presence beside me.
The sun sets quickly here. Now the great African moon, reclining serenely on her back, casts a soft glow over the darkening veld.
All is still.
Soon the broad African sky is star-pricked velvet. Orion, the hunter, with his belt of three she-tortoises hanging on a stick, stalks across the western sky. The frothy plume of the Milky Way is a handful of ashes, cast into the sky by a Bushman girl to light the way for her people to return home.
Long, long ago was that past-time when the great herds roamed the plains: springbok in their multitudes, steenbok, kudu, eland and wildebeest. Then there were lions and elephants in the veld; and jackals, wild dogs and hyenas; great giraffes and rhino, small hares and porcupines. Now only their ghosts remain, painted on the cave walls behind me.
A huge 4×4, lights ablaze, erupts across the highway below, shattering the silence. My storyteller shakes himself and stands. He turns to me, nods and walks away.
What a very pleasant surprise it was when Joe Leonardi, aka the Short Story Scribe, emailed me the other day to say he’d enjoyed my slim volume of short stories; and now he’s posted such an encouraging review.
Do please check out Joe’s work too: he’s recently published a new novella entitled ‘The Comfort of Despair’. I’ve got my copy, have you?
I am an independent, self-published teller of tales, an author, as of yet, scarcely any renown. However, as a storyteller, I know who I am, and with that persona, I am both confident and comfortable. I invite you to visit my website,
“Come sit and write down the story of the old San man,” he says. “Before it’s too late, before the story gets lost.” He wags his finger at me. “Stories are like the wind, they float away to another place unless you write them down.”
“Tell me the story of the old San man then.”
He nods and settles himself more comfortably on the sun-warmed rock and begins.
“When the moon is full and the land is parched and dry, the San man comes. He comes when the spirits call him. Old as the hills, yet he walks tall and straight; his eyes are clear and bright. Dressed in a long blanket and pushing his hand cart. All he has is in that hand cart.”
“He travels from place to place as his people have always done; although few are left. They say: ‘When you lose your land, you lose everything. When the animals are gone, the people are gone.’ And so it is.”
“He visits the places where the rocks still speak and the air is alive with the spirits.”
My storyteller strokes the smooth rock on which we are sitting. I’ve seen the rock art in the cave behind us: faded pictures in ochre and red, showing animals and people.
“He comes to perform his rituals; to perform the trance dance, the dance in which men become animals and their souls travel far, far away, and it is said if they stay away too long, they never return.”
My storyteller stares off into the distance.
“Once, long ago, when I was a still a boy, I followed him.” He turns and points. “I hid behind that big rock and watched, thinking I was unseen.” He pauses, nodding slowly, his body swaying gently, as if he’s listening to a song.
I grow impatient. “Go on, what did you see?”
“As the sun slipped behind the mountain, he lit the fire he had built, just down there, on that patch of bare earth. Then, as the fire took hold, he began to shuffle around the fire; his feet scuffing the dirt, raising little eddies of dust. The dance began, he raised his arms and threw back his head and started to chant. Then the chanting stopped; he spun around and looked at me, beckoning me to come.”
He looks over to the mountain, where the sun is almost gone. His voice is a whisper.
“I was afraid, but I went. He took my hand and I followed him in the dance. And then I was flying like an eagle, looking down from the sky at me and the San man dancing far below me. I saw the San man turn to me and put his hand over my heart and I felt his spirit too, running with the springbok, the kudu and the eland; the great herds of the plains.”
The storyteller fell silent.
“What happened next?”
“It started to rain. Out of a clear sky, it started to rain.”
Capturing the Rain Animal is an important mythological and symbolic aspect of the rock art of the San People. Read more…
Great Being Five was having a bad day. The worst day she’d ever had since she’d decided to delete planet Earth. She’d known she had to do it, but still she regretted it. What she also regretted was agreeing to collaborate with Great Being Nineteen on his newly relocated planet. What a nightmare that had turned out to be.
After the destruction of Earth, Great Being Nineteen had given his barren little red planet a nudge, moving it gently into the Earth’s old orbit. Deferring to her experience of the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ he’d asked her to set up the basic building blocks for life, most essentially, the liquid water. The planet already had important elements like carbon and nitrogen; it even had ready-made continents and a slightly defunct volcanic system which just required a little kick-start to give the planet more energy.
She’d carefully retrieved the Earth’s old moon and substituted for Mars’ own two moons which she felt weren’t really up to the job. They were too small and misshapen and she hated their forbidding names which reminded her of all the worst qualities of her erstwhile earthlings. Who in their right mind would call their nearest heavenly bodies Phobos and Deimos – fear and dread?
Being thrifty she had put them in storage in an empty part of the universe. They might come in useful for something, although Great Being Nineteen would probably auction them off.
She sighed as she looked across the surface of the red planet. It had gone so well initially, especially after she’d introduced the blue-green algae. The warmth of the now-nearer sun had allowed them to photosynthesize and voilà, oxygen levels increased rapidly, an ozone layer formed and the plant developed an atmosphere. It had been a long wait, but as far as Great Being Five was concerned, it was party time.
As she and Great Being Nineteen toasted their success, the bickering began. First of all they couldn’t agree on a name. It needed something new, bright and vibrant, but all their brainstorming only ended in bitter recrimination. Great Being Nineteen wanted something tough and macho-sounding. Five told him tersely that it really wouldn’t do. What sort of tone would that set for a new world? Eventually, they decided to ‘park’ the problem until the planet developed a character of its own.
The next bone of contention was how they would develop the aesthetic. Great Being Nineteen really had no idea. They browsed among the galaxies, searching for ideas, but nothing really grabbed them. Eventually Five decided to show him her lovely planet in Alpha Centauri, proudly lifting the subtle cloaking device she’d installed to keep it hidden from predatory interstellar life forms.
He wasn’t impressed. “Just birds and trees and flowers? Where’s the interest? Where’s the ultimate struggle for survival?”
Five had turned away in disgust, washing her hands of the whole project. Let him do as he wants, she thought, and turned her attention to adding some pretty pastel coloured animals to the dappled woodlands of her lovely planet; all herbivores, of course. And then, finally, she settled upon its name. Her lovely planet would be known as Orea.
But over the millennia she couldn’t resist the odd little peak at Nineteen’s handiwork.
Over time, Great Being Nineteen had named his planet Ferox and had introduced an interesting collection of flora and fauna. He’d raided the Earth archives she’d shared with him and picked out the most predatory creatures he could find. Huge raptors circled the skies, carnivores red in tooth and claw stalked the plains and forests, killer whales patrolled the oceans. Happily there were no war-mongering bipeds… yet.
Five had to admit his collection of big cats were beautiful, as she scanned the planet; but, wait, what was that tiger eating? She peered at her viewing screen more closely. What she saw filled her with horror.
She flicked her monitor over to Orea. Where were all the furry mammals? She roved among the woodland glades. Not a pink fluffy bunny in sight! And where were the birds?
She returned her attention to Ferox just in time to see a raptor gobble up one of her red-gold sun-birds in mid-flight. Everywhere she looked were signs of the carnage; a handful of bright feathers here, a sorry lump of pastel-coloured fur there.
He’d ransacked her lovely planet. It had to be him! No-one else knew about Orea. How could he do such a thing? She wept for the loss of her beautiful benign creatures.
Finally her lament ceased. Great Being Five brushed away her tears.
She had a plan. She would re-set her planet. Ctrl-alt-delete, turn back the clock, then repopulate.
Then she had her best idea.
Adopting an anonymous thought-pattern, she sent a mind-message to Great Being Nineteen. “I have some very exciting new stock you might be interested in.” She smiled to herself as she dropped the thought into his brain. “It will add a real ‘wow factor’ to the planet I hear you’re working on,” she floated an image of a couple of dragons in flight in front of him. “But you’ll need to come in person.”
She gave him the co-ordinates.
Great Being Nineteen arrived on the surface of the planet. It looked familiar, very much like that soppy planet of Five’s, but he was certain he’d never visited this part of the Dark Universe. He stared around. Where was this new stock the dealer had offered him?
Over on the bright side of the universe Five hit the keyboard, glancing at her monitor to see the empty space which Orea had previously occupied.
She hit the keyboard again and entered another complex sequence into the system. Orea reappeared, recently returned from the furthest corner of the universe where she had dumped a few unwanted items. Orea was as lush as ever and ready for new life.