Toby stood outside the field, her feet buried to a pond, and a slingshot away green and dry stood: The cave.
A woman was carving sequential images upon the bone of the cave. Images that looked singular, simple, and intricate: All that at once. She turned to see the intruder. There came a hint of recognition to her face. As her head moved from left to right, in successive motions, in twitches, the recognition went lost and she went back to doing what she was doing: Carving patterns hither and thither, in the empty space, as well as the solid object. The resoluteness and diligence with which she did what she was doing must be remarked upon as: She did it with the perseverance of an adept coder of soft machines.
‘Can…can aa—’ said Toby, her expression curtailed by a snap inside her head.
She wasn’t responded to—not a word, not a look back. The carver was either tone deaf or she thought it was Toby’s way of singing a song and not responding perhaps was her way of forbearing her presence.
A bout of tinnitus befell Toby and when it passed she heard noises over her head, like from the roof above, that which she wakes up to every time from slumber. She looked up and there was blankness.
Toby then brought her attention toward the bowels of the cave. There seemed to be nothing there and the nothing sent shivers down her delicate spine. She wasn’t moved so in tangent she moved outward. From the mouth of the cave, when she turned and looked, sloshing the ever-present water underfoot, it looked deeper and looked much better. A man emerged on the atrium of the cave, adorned in teeth and nail. A priest? He must be. Upon seeing her, he grew the same expression the carver had up her face, upon seeing her, and in a tick that vanished, too. She could not see the man’s form below his torso. She thought she could see his knees from one blink to next and then she could not. The staves that rested under his axillae were made from the bones of giraffe or some such animal. The presence of the man was much too much intrusive and one more look into the innards of the cave she deemed would be detrimental. She couldn’t bring herself to sing, ask, or whatever it was she wanted to, again. Her felt need to flee was masked, replaced by her want to fish, as well as her want to swim, and she wasn’t certain in what order she should pursue her wants so instead she went to the farm.
Doing sprint on the tracks of farmyard was his third fondest pastime. When Toby (Nomad) was done with two sets of his usual three, he noticed a woman perched up the tree, head resting on a branch, eyes fixed to distant clouds, her peculiar mannerism reminiscent of a person who’d returned from the Cave. He chose to forego his third set—what if the woman took note of his dithering pace and judged him—and instead looked for a deviant leisure. Thus he came to fell a garden lizard, to sit and squirt on its head, where it bore a bruise, and to draw with his great toe a circle around it, inside which it went round and round, half dead, dying, mean drunk. He thought he heard a call of rebuke and came by the trunk of the tree where the woman sat. Her hand was hung below the branch and he touched it.
‘Don’t,’ the woman shrieked, shaking her hand off his clutch. ‘If I touch, it adds to your trauma.’
Then she jumped off the tree and stood in front of Toby, on one side her hand missing. She peered into the pond around Toby’s feet.
‘Can I aa—’ said Toby, looking down his feet, and adding further: ‘Why are you raining down my circle of water?’ having been stirred, her falling drops of tears creating ripples around him.
When he looked up, the one-handed woman held her head tilted high up, her mouth wide-open, at the verge of birthing an earsplitting scream.
Below the rocks, where the sandy expansion emanated, was a place Toby (Nomad) Barn liked to visit and squirt because it was a remote, desolate land where she could do it standing and as she was standing and squirting, though the place was devoid enough to allow unchecked individual expression, there was an oncoming presence in the form of a noise. When the noise grew closer to her focal hearing point, she brought her palms against her ears and pressed hard, for the noise was unheard of, and she noticed the ripples around her feet to magnify before looking up to find a boy falling from the sky, screaming, dashing against the ground, animating the dust below.
‘Oh,’ she sighed, in disbelief, rubbed her eyes, and saw something germinate in her field of vision.
It was an image of a woman and a boy, the boy attached to her belly by way of a cord. An image frozen in time and space, it was the closest thing to a painting she’d witnessed, a rendition of a life form incomprehensible to her still immaculate yet jaded mind. Then … the image began to move, coming to life, breaking free from the coils to which it was confined. The woman’s hair was blowing in the space and she, it seemed, was asleep. The boy was afloat in his fetal position, unmindful of any presence whatsoever, his eyes blinking at a steady pace, awake. When she opened her eyes, he closed his, and the cycle repeated itself. She emaciated, emaciating, he grew, growing. At a juncture when their eyes respectively were closing and opening, at that mid-juncture, they relapsed to the former state of being frozen in time and space, to be once again: The image.
When the dust settled, she saw the fallen boy bore a wound to his head, losing his blood from it, and she took him for a boy who came from the Farm, his torso now dissolving.
‘Ka… I ask—’ she uttered, her hand against his shoulder, empathizing.
‘Thrown down … hunters …’ he said, before his torso vanished, taking part of his vocal cords with it.
Toby stood there feet to the ground, questions in her head, and as she fruitlessly ruminated, the water beneath her feet, admixing with the blood from his head, traveled far and wide to fill the desolate expansion that lay below the hunting ground.
Above the riverbed was a field that hooves had beat flat where Toby Barn climbed often to plunge himself into the river. There was no one hunting the other there, like in days past, though in the atmosphere was an air, the whiff of admixed bitterness and hope, so tangible, it gave the impression at any moment there could materialize severed bodies and burnt bridges. Toby undressed himself and when he stretched his arms, he saw the Carver materialize before him, beside her was Priest Nature. She held in one hand a tablet of patterns, on the other something that couldn’t be seen, and it could be said with speculative certainty that something that she held was Void.
‘It’s a damn good day’, she said.
She reached and pulled open his drawers of chest, placed the something in there with certain meticulousness, and shut the drawers. She dropped the tablet onto a low-lying headstone. It splintered into many pieces, yet held itself together as though it were glued and had a frame. Then she reached his back, opened his shelf there, placed the tablet, and shut the shelf.
‘Kaa…ask something?’ said Toby, again curtailed in his effort to articulate, with a hint of prescience as to his eventuality.
‘You can ask what you want but you wouldn’t likely be answered, even less likely be given,’ the Priest said, shifting his glance from Toby’s forming face to the Carver, whose face by now was fading, nodding.
She took Toby by his hand, stood him at the headstone over the precipice, and saying ta-ta down she pushed him.
The noise above his head amplified, a bout of splitting headaches overwhelmed him, and then slowly but steadily his head cleared, the noise above faded to blank and it was quiet, like the calm before storm. He was caught in a vortex and he whirled in it—up, down, side-to-side—like a thorn in a clock whose motion was un-chronological.
He saw the Carver standing up there, still standing there, but now: Headless, her stretched hands overhead pointing to the sky above, feet pointing to the earth below, tiptoed in posture. Seeing her, seeing what was left of her, seeing his place in a seemingly unending circular current, he began kicking his feet in the water.
The water had him in it for what seemed like an eon and then it broke. When he woke up, he was lying on the wet ground, his head pressed against something that wasn’t sand or weed. It was soft and warm and felt like the innards of a cleft. He wanted to touch it but couldn’t move his hands. He grew an inexplicable urge to thrust it with his head. He didn’t know where he’d go if he made the thrust, he just wanted out. Just as he wondered, he felt something wrap around his head … Roots? Perhaps … But supple as hands? … and pull.
He saw the cave or the cave saw him, or it was both, and the unseen of light, tiny at first, at its tail end grew bigger and bigger. Toby Barn wasn’t himself anymore, blinded by the rush of light, the floodgates having been burst.
Published lately in places including Spork Press and theNewerYork, Ahimaaz Rajesh has his writing upcoming in H_NGM_N. Currently based in India, previously based in India as well, (sort of) blogs at minimalust.wordpress.com