NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Two

By the side of a high healthy stem that stretched tall into the verdant air, perhaps slightly thicker and more full of life, perhaps even higher and stronger than the other stems that rose from that patch of dark rich ground (or, realistically, perhaps much like them and not especially unusual), lived a small semi-transparent woman named Alissa.

Alissa, like most of her friends and neighbors on the dark rich ground, had four thin graceful legs, and two supple arms ending in agile many-fingered hands. People of varied shapes and sizes, ages and species, would come to the dark ground, offering seeds and fragrant rich earth-daubs and other precious things in exchange for the stories that Alissa and her friends and neighbors would tell them, taken from the vast store of stories that they had received from earlier inhabitants of the ground, who had received them in turn from earlier inhabitants, and so on back into times that were only stories themselves.

The stories that Alissa and her friends and neighbors told were unique and valuable, as different from the ordinary stories that ordinary people told each other in the root-sinks and on the leaf-ways of ordinary commerce, as the dawn is from the twilight, or a stone from a raindrop.

A shiny red leaf-sculptor would come to Alissa’s right-hand neighbor and present an earth-daub scented with jasmine, blue with promise and history. In return, her neighbor would tell the visitor a day-long story about the first blossoming stem, or the way the ancients used rain-water to outwit a tribe of (now thankfully extinct) mammals.

A semi-transparent wanderer, like Alissa and her friends and neighbors but with an extra pair of arms and a few extra eyes, would bring a rare and novel seed from somewhere beyond the running water, and one of Alissa’s friends would give in return a riveting story about the various ways of moving from place to place far above the earth, and how each one was discovered in a far-off forgotten time.

Alissa herself, because of the dear vanished individual from whom most of her stories came, and also because of some virtue or fault somewhere within herself (as she thought, looking at her curved reflection in an especially large dew-drop under the light of a full moon) had primarily stories that were themselves about stories. She could describe how the first story came to be, how stories are passed along from one person to another, how stories correspond to motions within the bodies of the various tellers and hearers. She could weave a memory of two ancients sitting far above the ground, discussing the difference between a story-teller exchanging a story for an acorn, and one generation passing a story along to the next.

“Both are tellings,” she would describe one ancient saying to another, “but one manner of telling comes from the head of the teller, and goes to the head of the hearer; whereas the other comes from the abdomen, and goes to the abdomen of the other, where it takes a different kind of root.”

Alissa knew that her stories were not in the same demand as those of some of her friends and neighbors, but in general she was content enough. Nectar and oils flowed through the stem by which she lived, seeds and root-fibers of the ordinary kinds were exchanged and enjoyed every evening as the twilight deepened, and if she did not acquire and pile up, or otherwise appreciate as many rare and unusual seeds and daubs as some others, she had just as much of the dawn and the twilight, and at least as much of the nectar and raindrop, as anyone else.

Then one day there came to the dark rich ground an ancient twelve-legged person, whose outer layers were all dry and peeling and grey-white, and the person was looking for Alissa.

“Thank you,” he said in a thin and reedy voice when her eastward neighbor brought him to her, “you are very kind, very kind.”

The ancient person, dry and peeling though he was, was also unusually large, and carrying on his back a leaf-roll in which something, or some things, was or were rolled up like a bud. Alissa generously helped him ease the burden from his back (although, small as she was, she was in fact only a small amount of assistance to him), and he immediately slumped down beside it, thin and perhaps worrying sounds coming from his mouths and spiracles.

“Would you like a story while you rest?” Alissa asked him, but he shook his head and topmost arms in a negative way.

“Thank you for offering,” he wheezed, “but I need no more stories; I know too many already.”

Alissa began to ask him why he had come looking for her then, if he did not want one of her stories, but he again made negative motions, and slumped even more heavily to the rich dark ground in a worrying way. So Alissa did not try again to speak, but went into her indentation and fetched a droplet of nectar, which the ancient dry person accepted with a motion of gratitude, applying to his upper mouth, and also around some of the driest and most distressed-looking parts of his carapace, and then appeared to fall into a daze, or even sleep, with soft and irregular sounds coming from his spiracles.

He remained there unmoving as the day slowly progressed. A much more ordinary traveler came, with a fine if ordinary seed, and Alissa went aside with her, to another indentation up her stem where they would not disturb the dazed or sleeping being, and gave her in return a long story about the first time stories were exchanged for seeds.

Her story finished and the visitor bade farewell, Alissa went again into her indentation, trying to move especially softly, and stored away her new seed. It was brown and symmetrical, matte and intact, and she enjoyed the feeling of possessing it. Outside, beside her stem, the large ancient stranger still lay, and beside him on the brown earth was his burden, lying half-unrolled. A few odd curling things showed within it, and Alissa moved her upper body and eyes back and forth, but could discern nothing familiar or certain about them. Not wanting to disturb the exhausted visitor, she slipped off among the stems.

Twilight began to deepen, and Alissa took a couple of ordinary root-fiber lengths that she had found that day, and went to the center of the dark ground where people had begun to gather. It was an especially fair night, and Alissa contributed her fibers to the pile and later satisfied her body’s hunger with a thick half-seed that someone else had brought, and sang songs and told jokes with the others, and reflected upon the ways that the sounds in the air took part in her experience, and how her experience molded the sounds that she contributed to the air, the way that her root fibers had contributed to the pile.

Her particular sounds, Alissa thought, were unusually valuable to the experience of the whole, and that more than balanced the possibility that her root fibers were slightly less valuable than average.

When Alissa came back to her stem and her indentation from the slowly-dispersing twilight gathering, the large peeling ancient was gone. His bundle, now even more unrolled, still lay on the rich dark earth, but aside from a shallow dip pressed into that earth by his slumped body, there was no sign of the enigmatic visitor. Alissa waved an antenna over the dip, and then circled around the area and nearby paths between the stems in search, but came upon no scent trails, intentional or even accidental, that might mark the way that he had gone.

Alissa moved her arms and legs in a puzzled and frustrated pattern, then moved the awkward bundle into her indentation, and curled in the inner corner for the night.

When the next dawn was in its second brightness, she uncurled herself and then carefully unrolled the bundle, using her arms and her two front legs, and spread the contents out on the dark soil at the base of her towering stem. The wrapping of the bundle was some extremely tough but pliable leaf, treated she thought in some mysterious way so as to keep its flexibility over time, as it seemed both old and new. She put it carefully to one side, and considered the few things that had been wrapped up in it.

There were only four things within the wrapping, when Alissa had the bundle entirely spread out: two flat curved fragments of leaf, or what seemed to be fragments of leaf although they were quite odd, one remarkable-looking seed, and a small hard stone.

The oddness about the two curved maybe-fragments of maybe-leaf came from the patterns upon them. Different kinds of leaves have different patterns, but they all have in common that they come from the need to channel nectar from the stem out to every tiny chamber of the leaf, to attract or repel leaf-eaters, and to combine with the colors and patterns of other sibling leaves to make a harmonious pattern for the totality of the plant. But these patterns seemed to Alissa to do none of these things. They had differences where there was no need for difference, and repetitions where repetitions made no sense. There were small delicate patterns, disconnected from each other and turning back on themselves, in some parts of the fragments, and in other parts were lines and curves of difference that also led nowhere. She could just make out a more normal pattern of nectar-tunnels, indistinct under the very bold darknesses of these patterns, but it was as though the normal patterns were hidden behind a layer of spider silk or the thinnest wax.

Alissa looked in stillness and puzzlement at the odd dark patterns until her head began to itch, and then she put them to the side, under the supple wrapping-leaf, up against her familiar green stem.

The seed was more ordinary, but not ordinary at all. It was brown, but brown with an iridescence like a beetle’s outer wing. It was plump and round, but also light, and it smelled less like a seed than like nothing at all. Alissa had not seen a seed like it before, and although it was not uncommon for new kinds of seeds to arrive at the rich dark earth with travelers from afar, this one struck her in some way as more different than most, and she put it also to the side.

Lastly, the stone, which was technically a pebble, seemed reassuringly unremarkable. It was relatively smooth, and ordinarily small, not in a particularly disturbing way. It was perhaps unusually round and flat, but pebbles came in all kinds of shapes, and Alissa had never paid much attention to them; not many of her stories involved pebbles. She squinted a bit at the pattern of light and dark on the flat surface of the pebble, but having had enough of patterns for the morning, she put it with the seed and the leaf-fragments, wrapped them roughly up again in the pliable leaf, and pushed the bundle into the farthest corner of her indentation, happy not to bother herself with them any further.

Fling Three

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