Once upon a time…
No, that’s not perfectly honest of me. I don’t know when this happened, or if this happened. Maybe it still has to happen. Anyway, to adhere to the general rules of storytelling, here it goes.
Once upon a time, on a desert plain with a few lonely rocks, a conversation has taken place (or is going to take place). Some rounded hills loom in the distance, as if they’re attempting to crawl over the horizon. A setting sun paints everything in gentle red hues.
In the middle of this scene stands a tree that has never borne any leave or fruit. One might assume this tree is dead, but the branches still grow and the wood is still remarkably strong. This tree twists, turns and writhes, giving it an eerie and frightful appearance. Its branches all end in surprisingly sharp points, resembling demon hands, clawing at the heavens above.
Beneath the convoluted shadow of this tree stands an old wooden table, which is gently swayed by a wind that isn’t there. Softly, it creaks. Rhythmically, like a pounding heart. Nobody knows who put the table there, or why. There stand two chairs on opposite sides of the table.
Wobbly, cracked, yet unexpectedly sturdy and solid. Normally, no one sits at the table.
But now someone does.
The man at the table looks like a cowboy. Black boots, silver spurs, white leather pants and waistcoat, black shirt and cowboy hat.
Radiantly white hair falls straight down from underneath the hat, to about shoulder-height. His skin is tan and wrinkled. He has a white goatee and bright blue eyes that stare at the horizon. He puts an indistinct brown satchel on the table and waits.
A tiny dot appears on the horizon, exactly at the point where the man keeps his gaze fixed. The dot slowly grows and transforms into a minute human-like shape, distorted by distance and heat. By the time the sun proudly reaches its noon position, the dot has transformed
into a man who seems out of place here, wearing heavy dark brown hiking boots, a baggy kaki cargo pants and a thick grey vest, that covers a green and red lumberjack shirt.
Eventually, the visitor reaches the table, takes of his vest and drapes it over the back of the empty chair. He flips his head back to prevent his jet-black hair from falling across his hazel eyes. Staring at the cowboy, who stares back, he scratches his chin, where a stubble
beard of a couple of days old has formed. Sitting down, he puts his hands on the table.
“So, this is where her fate will be decided?”
The cowboy moves his head a little, producing a barely noticeable nod.
Despite the heat, neither man perspires. The cowboy opens the satchel with careful, controlled movements, and removes five small objects from it, looking like chicken bones, but completely transparent, as if they’re made out of crystal. The sunlight hits them, producing tiny rainbows.
“The decision that will be reached here,” the cowboy says with a deep, velvet voice, “will be final. Is that agreed?”
The other man takes a deep breath. “Yes,” he says as he exhales.
“Yes. What are those things?”
“You know that that is a mystery. Even to me.” The cowboy seems to be annoyed by this thought.
“Then how do we know they’re right?”
“We don’t. But we know that if we don’t follow their advice, bad things happen.”
“I am aware of that. I still feel a little uncomfortable trusting inanimate objects with serious decisions. Feels too… superstitious.”
“We all feel uncomfortable with it. But then again, who says these things are really inanimate?”
“Yeah, right,” is the sarcastic answer. “Tiny living transparent bones.”
The cowboy grins. “I feel the same way.” The grin disappears. “Yet we both know these…,” he hesitates, “things… apparently don’t like it when their decision is not respected.”
“Why don’t we just ignore them. Just not consult them anymore?”
“Has been tried. Didn’t work out.”
“I remember that. Could’ve been a coincidence though.”
“And another thing, why are you the one who gets to carry them around?”
“I was entrusted with them by the council. You were there, if I’m not mistaken?”
“Yes, I was. But what was the reason you were entrusted with them?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because they knew I was not going to abuse them, as others would.”
Now, the man in the lumberjack shirt grins. “True indeed. One needs to possess an impeccable moral standard and an iron willpower to be appointed Keeper.”
“So they say.”
The men stare at each other, knowing that they’re equals in terms of power and ability. Envying each other, for different reasons. They also know that they are not allowed to challenge each other in any way.
“Any other questions?,” the cowboy asks.
“No. Or wait, maybe one.”
The cowboy stays silent.
“Can I do it? Just to know how it feels?”
“You know that is not allowed.”
“Yes, but you can’t blame me for trying, can you?”
“If that is all, we will begin.”
With the utmost care, the cowboy gathers the bone-like objects in his joined hands and, with his eyes closed, shakes them. Frowning, the other man chews his lower lip. With a clear, resonating, tinkling sound the transparent bones are scattered across the old table. The
bones keep moving, sliding and turning longer than should be possible if they really were bones, behaving rather like magnets in an unstable electromagnetic field. When they finally come to a stop, the bones have oriented themselves in a specific way.
/ |_ <
Finally, the cowboy opens his eyes, as if he could feel when the bones had stopped moving. He looks intensely at the shape the bones formed. As does the man seated opposite him.
The man in the lumberjack shirt leans back relieved. “I have to admit I was somewhat worried. Apparently, that wasn’t necessary.”
“Indeed,” the cowboy replies, “she will live. And you will continue to be the Guardian.”
“So it seems. What do you think motivated this decision?”
“I don’t think we will ever know. Or will ever be allowed to know.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“Of course it does, but what can we really do about it?”
“I guess you’re right. Well, thanks, I suppose.”
“I am only the tool.”
The man in the lumberjack shirt stands up, stretches, and, with one fluent movement, takes his vest of the back of the chair and puts it on. He nods at the cowboy, who nods in reply. The man turns around and, under the watchful eye of the setting sun, starts walking in the
direction he came from. As the light fades, so does he.
In the light of the rising moon, the cowboy cautiously collects the bones and places them back in the satchel. He attaches the satchel to his belt and closes his eyes.
As the sun rises again, the ancient tree casts a large shadow across the desert plain. The two chairs are empty, and the wooden table gently sways in a non-existent wind.
Gunnar De Winter is interested in a lot of things and has studied/is studying biology and philosophy. Sometimes, he has ideas, and some of these ideas become stories.
To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page