By Jacob Newton
There is a place, which I have seen, where every sentient creature has been moulded in three. They were at war when I arrived, determined to decide which of them were the dominant force of the rock they spun on. I estimated this war had been going long before any speaking of it were born, and could see it had decimated a once tranquil land. Those high above pulled strings, backed by a cracked and bloody knuckle. I was lucky to fall into the hands of the few who decided to protect and love me. Still, I was an oddity even to them. A one without a two, and proof of another world. I learnt many ways of thinking from these people. I saw much, which opened my eyes and scaredme beyond my wildest beliefs; replaced my dreams with a nightmarish reality, and that is beautiful. I have been to this place, I swear it. I want to go back, but I cannot.
I want a life that is not idle against oppression.
At the very edge of Treebark a grand building has been gestating in our soil for some time. Its thick black vines have spread with a wild determination, taking root in the homes of our people, in their businesses, in their abnormally thick craniums. Outside of Treebark the rest of the country has been in chaos since three leaderships ago. It is commonly known that the first leadership, the last to be voted in by the general people, began the decline. Their successor was nothing more than a dodgy cream, bought from the back of a van, by a man with a suspicious look in his brow. The third and current supposed leader capitalised on the ineptitude of the previous, and has been squeezing every coin from everyone else ever since. However, I grew up in Treebark, hearing only whispers of the outside world. Treebark is one of those “safe spots.” A place in the middle of nowhere with its very own grand building. A monument to the Elite. There are only a handful of these spots dropped between starving cities. Each with a benefactor attempting to keep a little place the way it was, for them, and the lucky residents keeping the facade alive.
My home sprouts at one end of the long road which flows through Treebark, with the audacious monument dropped at the other. If it wasn’t for the rolling landscape of our quaint green-wood, I would be dead-eyed with the eyesore, and forced to look upon its obscene show of excess with every morning coffee. Across the village small houses and shops hold families so inactive in life that they may well be dead. If it wasn’t for the typical, Elite approved, weekly village market, you would think they had no sense of joy or creativity at all.
I have been staring out my window for some hours now, past the tatters of my torn curtains, at the chimney smoke from the big house, where the affluent man slumbers.... If I wait any longer I may not do what I must at all.... I grab my coat from the rack, and wrap it around my body. I reach to the ground, where my tools are lined like soldiers. My arm swipes them into the duffel. I weave the bag’s strap round my wrist and fling it over my shoulder, as the contents clang and spin and slosh inside. I pull on the door and take no care of what I am leaving behind. The new air turns my breath into a bushel of condensed smog. It is cold. It is time.
I want a life governed by empathy.
Centre City, the heart of their planet, had at one time been a safe refuge. I had lived there two years before its fall. While the crust resembled a never-ending landscape of tomb-shaped trees and boggy ditches, Centre City was a crystalline dream - or so I had thought. Trains flew through the air, golden buildings weaved with one another, and the pathways were paved with a glimmering mineral. Eventually, its key feature, the promise of safety, was gone; and my first lesson began. To control a people you must promise them the world but need only deliver on the essentials. To keep power, you will have to do things outside the interest of your people, while never being seen to do so. The easiest way to attain this is to numb people with a grand tale, a fantastical event, something to make you God.
The downfall of Centre City was not my doing. I was not the one to light the spark and remind the people what the air on their face felt like. We fled from the city limits on a day we would soon call ‘The Day of Free Thought’. People standing up, fighting, and chanting for the sun to shine on their faces once more, but all I could hear was the scream of a child three bodies over. Her mother, or possibly her aunt, held her as we ran from the enforcers. I saw so many fall, disappear under the flailing limbs, the bodies, under boot, and never rise again. The cry may as well have come from us all.
Some days after my journey from one warzone to another, I came across a group of elders. They invited me in, gave me what warmth they could. We lived in squalor. An old caravan painted royal colours faded to time, with huge wheels on either side sunken into the mud. This dead, boggy forest was now my home, and these bearded men; my teachers of their world’s history.
I want a life where ones power is held by oneself.
The ground crunches under my boot. The contents of my bag clang and spin and slosh, announcing my presence. One by one, slowly, carefully, the mice squeak from their holes. Mouse people, with mouse whiskers, mouse noses and mouse minds. Inactive and complacent. They are gathering in the doorways of their little shops and the end of their driveways. I stop in my tracks. I look each mouse dead in the eye but each turn their heads to the sky, or the ground... Anywhere but my face. It has been this way since I returned to our world and spoke of my journey. They have ostracised me. Kept me from public spaces, denied me service, whispered as I have gone by. They do not seek truth; they are ignorant to the world, to themselves. Vermin know as much of truth as they know the inconvenience of their prints on the kitchen work surface; but even vermin deserve a humane death, or a chance to escape the snap of the trap.
I drop my bag from my shoulder and raise it to the sky, presenting myself and my purpose for all to see. I give it a good shake. The liquid sloshes inside the canister.
They know. I want them to.
I set off. They follow. I want them to.
I want a life wherein the soil I spring from is not one I die in.
I had spent six months in the caravan before the elders spoke more than single words to me. It was a lonely six months, sitting in my corner reading from the large collection of silk bound chronicles. The books seemed to be a mixture of fiction and history, although with all the strangeness in this world I would not have been surprised to learn that it had all been fact. The war raged on around us but we kept out of it. I read and read until I came across the work of Iltan Paradigm, a philosopher of their world. The one who sought to stop the fighting and reveal their leaders as the buffoons they were. The elders were pleased by my interest in him. For many nights to come we would sit in the glow of the purple flame, on mats woven from their hair, under the constellations which resembled the cracks in the skin on my palms, and they would tell me more of the absurdity their world held.
They spoke mainly of pain and suffering, for there wasn’t much else to tell. In moments the skin at my finger tips would curl, and I would pull my nails from their loosened sockets. In others, I would feel small parts of myself fall into an abyss. The elders were a kind people. Kept me safe, kept me well as best they could, but I cannot forgive them for revealing to me the truth. To hear of such horrific acts from leaders, those charged with the guardian-ship of a people, for them to do such things... It is too much.
There are so many ways for a power to rape a people, and I sat and listened to every single one.
I want it said that the mice did not follow in a certain and swift movement. They do not have the capacity in their numb brains to do anything as individuals after generations of lies put upon them. They moved as one, meekly, no closer than ten metres. They follow me now, knowing what I have to do. They follow, and they do nothing. I want to turn to them and scream, turn to them and ask why they have not seen what I see. This world is on the brink of war, a war no different from the other world. We are kept captive by what we are told is safety; our stone streets, small shops, happy signs. I want to scream but there is no use. I have screamed, I have yelled and become mad to them. So, I will show them instead. I keep my eyes ahead as the grand house roars closer, in all its audacious excess. A dam, keeping us from the rest of the world, from the horrors that go on and on and on without us. A dam that must be brought down.
I reach the gate and wait for a brief moment, below the marble.
As the nights went on, I never thought to ask the elders to stop. With every story I sunk deeper, felt changed; and with every change I felt an urgency to hear another. On our last night there I thought of what had brought me to them. Escaping Centre City, and the law enforcers, and their weaponry. Its material never broke, never bent; it kept solid as it met with the soft brain tissue under the shattered skull of the heads of children thinking for themselves. All their power. All their knowledge and technology, their weapons and medicine in their great Centre City; I had never felt the need to question who it was in service of.
I tell you, I tell you truly, I saw this place. I had fallen into the abyss of these stories, and it took someone I was yet to meet to pull me from them, if only for a time.
I want a life without the means for violence on a global scale.
I am face-to-face with the house. The grand marble at the edge of our town, alight with misleading warmth. Tall windows sink into the white walls, and the pillars shape a large entrance. The grass that rings around the building is perfectly cut, with a pebble path straight through the centre. I kick the gate and it swings open. I hear the horde behind me gasp, clutching to their chests at the heresy I commit. That was nothing.
I place my bag on the ground and unwind the strap from my wrist. The mice who have called me mad, blinked past my words, scoffed at my stories, they do nothing as I pull out the tin canisters whose sound brought them here. They do nothing as I empty the contents onto the windowsills, in through the letter box, flinging the liquid into the air, dousing the roof. They do nothing but squeak to one another as I take out ten bottles, stuff each one with the tatters of material from my curtains and line them up on the perfectly cut grass.
This house is a symbol. It is a symbol of the lies we have been fed. I am bound and gagged, able to yell and scream but not to be heard. I came back to this world, my world but it was not my world anymore. Do not attempt to catch me out; I do not hide from my previous downfalls. I was them, and I do not blame them. I only wish for them to see what I saw when I returned. That is all. Because, I came to this house, came to the affluent man, to demand words and action. I wanted to make sure this world would not face what I have seen. I knocked at his door, and I pleaded for what felt like hours.
They say aloud to themselves; “He will stop this.” “He will come.” Fools. I take the first bottle, I take my lighter, I connect the ends of both until what I hold in my hand becomes a fuse. I send the bottle flying through a window. After a few more bottles the house begins to breathe with true warmth. I imagined seeing this dwarf sunrise from my window. I would have liked to enjoy the steady flame from the comfort of my home, with a hot drink in hand, and a smile upon my face.
We stood, united in awe. There had never been a fire quite like it.
I want rights for all to be acknowledged, seen, and upheld.
Towards the end of our pilgrimage across the ruined land, after the bog had eaten up our only shelter, we came to an old factory that once birthed a weapon now out of production. We had been out of the ever present sight of those in power and now moved in shadows. The vacancy of this imposing factory had gathered the attention of many seeking refuge, and by the time we had arrived it was a community unto its own. It was there that I met Sylian. She taught me that there is nothing more beautiful in this or any world than one who is selflessly kind. We became good friends and shortly after that we fell in love. It was my luck to find such a person in such a place. At first I was nervous. It had never occurred to me to ask how relationships worked in this world. If identicals share partners or split off. This was of course idiotic. Like asking if triplets could only fall in love with other triplets.
We spent fourteen beautiful years together, and had three beautiful children (one, with two copies – of course). Sylian desired to make sure our children saw each other as allies and friends. Others to trust and see themselves in. She never had that with her siblings. So, we named them Helena, and would call them nicknames like: Helne, Elena, and Nae.
We had fourteen years, my family and I. It is a beautiful thing to bring life into this world, to want to watch it grow, learn, and change with every bruised knee and broken heart. It is a dangerous thing to wish life will be kind to your children, and worse to know you brought them into a world that never could be. You hope they will make it so, you know that given the chance they would have. They really would have. If only the enforcers hadn’t found us; and if only they had been kind.
I want life to give more than it takes.
The fire stretched like a mad man. He flailed and danced. He tore his clothes from his body and spun them around in the air. None of us moved, and I don’t remember blinking once. The mouse’s murmurs for the affluent man settled. Once the fire had clawed at every inch, reached through every window, and no screams could be heard, they shut their mouths. I could not tell what they were thinking. It was too quiet, and it was time for me to go home.
On the night I arrived back on this rock I went to the affluent man. I yelled for hours. Eventually, I kicked the door in to pull him from whatever slumber kept him so ignorant to my calls. Walking around the interior I felt the fear in me raise higher than it ever had. The rooms contained no furnishings, no pictures, no crockery or life. I had been told since birth of the affluent man, of his helping hand, kind ways, and money to burn. In the barren halls I laughed at that thought. I reached the windows on the top floor, at the very back of the building. I looked out, now over the walls that surround Treebark. With my own eyes I saw the country we were nestled in and I ceased my laughter. I saw choking smoke, I saw rows of factories; I saw millions of workers whipped to their last breath, and I saw fire. I saw a fire in the centre of it all, so great and powerful; and in that moment I saw a new fire, in the very centre of the blacks of my eyes.
Eventually the fire before us settled, became bare, and he and the embers laid to rest. The crowd parted as I approached, looking at me and past me. Their faces, the pupils resting in them; I had never noticed we all had green eyes. The grand marble we had worshipped for all these years now gave way to the view that had driven me here this day. I left the individuals in their collective silence, the factories miles high, and the workers in agony – a backdrop to another story needed to be told.
The embers lifted, followed as I made my way towards the centre of our little village. In the square that earlier homed many watching eyes, I watched as the sparks nestled atop signs and rooftops. Each one flickered as if it may catch alight. Treebark now existed on the edge of a sheathed knife. The children of the fire I had birthed, bringing light with every blink into the night.
I want a life that is free.
There is a place, which I have seen, where every sentient creature has been moulded in three. This world has been at war since the beginning. In the last days before I returned to my own world, after the slaughter of my loves, the people reached their peace. I am no dreamer, no great mind to imagine this world of peace and the laws that would govern kindness, equality and all things in fairness. I would have liked to see it, to learn and return again with answers. Alas, I am a soldier. I fought in their war and would have been willing to fight in this one. There is no place for me in a quiet society, a time where the fight is finished and the work begins. I do not have the temperament.
I sit. In my chair, by my window. I watch as the townsfolk return to our home with truth on their backs. I think of the places I have been, and the people I have loved.
I look to the constellations on the palm of my hand and I think one last thought:
I wanted a life that was never for me.