Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Carving, Part Five

Part Four

And so they set off. The winter lasted for three months exactly. The seasons in this place, she noticed, were very precise. It was as if someone had a timer going and they were waiting for the exact moment it ran out to switch over the seasons. They walked for a very long time. Sometimes she would tire and have to sleep, but after the panther’s three day nap during the snowfall he never had to sleep again until the day winter ended. It did not snow after those three days. The temperature never changed. The sky stayed clear and crystal blue, never a cloud to disrupt the sky. They never came across any other humans or creatures in their three months of travelling. The two wandered through the forest for a month until they at last emerged into a vast meadow. They travelled through the meadow for a month before they arrived at the mountains. They travelled through the mountains for a month, where the weather was the same as in the forest and meadow despite the elevation changes. The girl and the panther rarely spoke as much as they had in the cave, about things other than survival necessities, but the bond that grows between travellers such as them had emerged. They looked out for each other, even though there were no creatures or humans to guard each other from. It was a lonely three months but neither of them noticed. They crossed the world in those three months, from the east coast to the mountains.

When they emerged on the west side of the mountains, it was spring. The snow had almost entirely vanished while she slept one night. The river had been frozen when she fell asleep. Its gurgling flow was what woke her up. She sat up.

“The weather has changed.” She was still giving statements like that. The panther wondered if she would ever stop. He stretched and yawned. He had not slept for three months.

“Indeed. Why do not you go take a look around the mountainside? You might be surprised by what you see, if anything were ever to surprise you...” The panther had gone around the other side while she was sleeping. It was about a thirty minute walk. He was not surprised by what he found there. He just thought it was something she should see before they carried on. She nodded slightly and rose to her feet, shedding her coat as she stood. She walked away in silence. The panther went down to the stream and began to lap water from it with his rough pink tongue.

The girl and the pather had stopped by a grove of trees next to a babbling stream located across from a levelled out meadow. They were still relatively high up in the mountains. The two, the girl and the panther, had been travelling west into the mountains for nearly a whole month. She had wondered if they would ever reach the other side. She suspected that perhaps they were finally getting close, based on the panther’s words.

She reached the mountainside after thirty two minutes. She paused under a cliff face, hidden in the shadows. Then she stepped around and looked at the other side.

The girl found herself looking into the west. West, in this case, was not just a direction. West was a destination, the West, the ultimate West, West as in there is no further to go than here, than to this West. She could only take a step before she felt like something was holding her back. She tried to shuffle her toe forward but it would not move. Her and the panther had reached the West end of the world. What lay before her now was a wall of white. Despite its pure whiteness, it did not blind her. It was not an exceptionally bright white. It was simply a wall of pure white, of the sort she had first seen when the snow had fallen for those three days, three months ago. It felt t othe girl that whiteness of the West in front of her was a wall and she reached her hand out to touch it. Again she felt a sort of force preventing her hand from moving forward, but her hand did not make contact with anything. It just stopped. She looked to her right, where the cliff side should have been. The ledge where she had stood under, then turned around and emerged from, was there, she could see it. But then it seemed like the rest of the cliff had been sliced off, engulfed by the white West. It just simply stopped and was no more. She looked at the ground beneath her feet. It looked like she was teetering right on the edge of the world, which she was. The ground disappeared into the whiteness. She looked to her left, where the meadow continued on for a kilometre or so. It, too, seemed to eventually be engulfed by the whiteness. She turned her gave back towards the West. Just white, pure white, stretching on in every direction, all the way up to the sky. The world stopped here. She and the panther had reached the end of the world. It was not very big now, was it?

Suddenly she recalled something. She had stood on a beach once. A beach not to far away, and yet still so very far away. She had stood on that beach in the darkness and gazed out across the water. The sky had been clear that night. The moon and the stars were out, shining with full force. The water was well lit and the waves scattered the light as the hit they rolled onto the shore. She had gazed out across the water and had seen the world end there. A black wall, eating up the water and the stars and letting nothing pass it. She had not realized it before. But now she had something to compare it to. She had seen the Black of the East and now she had seen the White of the West. She had seen the world in those three months. What else was there for her to see? She wandered back to the panther, pondering this question on her way.

“Panther,” she said. He looked from the stream. His ears twitched. Had she really been gone for an hour? Time moved so slowly for the panther. When was the last time she called him Panther? She knelt next to him on the grass. “I have seen the Black of the East and the White of the West. What is there for us now?” So. She still turned to him for advice. What did she think they had been doing, then, in those three months when she had not asked him what to do? He shook the last drops of water off his muzzle and sat next to the girl.

“Well, a question for me. I do not know, you are still in charge. I have not forgotten. I am not letting you off the hook!” He licked at his fur, not looking at the girl.

“I see.” She walked into the stream and stared at her toes as the cool water trickled over feet and the tiny pebbles. She crouched down, the hem of her dress dipping into the water. He continued to pretend to pay her no attention. The girl picked up one of the larger pebbles and rolled back and forth between her fingers. Then she sprung up to her feet and tossed it as far as she could down the river. It landed with a very audible ‘plop’ and a very visual ‘splash’. The noise startled the panther and he leapt to his feet, fur standing on end and teeth bared. When the girl turned and saw his reaction, she laughed. This startled her more him more than the pebble did. He was not quite sure what to make of this laughing girl who was his master. He stood still, feeling slightly awkward which was a highly unusual way to feel for him. The girl waded out of the stream and through her arms around the panther’s neck, still laughing.

“Well, well,” he murmured. He began to purr, a sound so low that no creature could hear it but still, the feeling was there.

“Thanks for staying by my side, Panther,” she said, burying her face in his fur. He had never been hugged in such a way before. It invoked a unique sensation inside his empty shell of a body. He felt warm, in a way that fire could never make him feel. How peculiar.

“Well, of course I will, girl, you are my master and I will stay by your side til one of us dies, that is how these things work.” He still managed to speak in his ever so elegant high and professional manner. She let go of his neck and sat on the grass, leaning against him.

“I suppose you are right,” she agreed, still laughing quietly to herself. “You know what, Panther, I am so glad this winter is over.” He listened closely to her voice. It sounded to him as though her frozen exterior had melted away with the rest of winter. Perhaps whatever the prince did to her was finally wearing off. At last.

She reached her hand into a pocket that she had not noticed before and pulled out a purple ribbon. She smiled as she looked at it, twirling it around her finger, as though it brought back some fond memory. The panther could not fathom what kind of memory, for the girl had only been born one month before he met her, but he did find her expression curious. She began to braid her hair, it only took her a minute, and then she pulled the ribbon from her finger and tied the bottom of the braid with it. “I feel much better. I felt like I was asleep during those winter months, you know?”

The panther nodded ever so slightly, just to acknowledge her but not to agree with her. Interesting that she should express how she felt in such a way...She pointed across the river.

“Look, everything is coming back to life!” The excitement in her voice was like that of a child’s. She smiled as she observed the scene and the panther eventually tore his gaze away from the girl to see what she was looking at. What he saw was no surprise to him (nothing ever was), but he tried his best to feign interest for the girl’s sake. He did not want to dampen her spirits now that she was finally starting to wake up.

Across the stream and out in the meadow, animals of all kinds seemed to be emerging from the earth itself. A creature would appear, and the girl could not tell you where it came from, but this did not seem strange. It all felt quite natural.

There were creatures that resembled a giraffe, only without the long neck (well, perhaps it did not really resemble a giraffe) and instead of spots, it was sort of striped in purple and orange. There were four of these creatures, presumably a father and a mother and two newborns, given their size. Rabbits with impossibly long ears hoped through the tall grass. Fish started leaping from the stream, their scales sparkly in every colour imaginable. Birds began to sing, producing strange and ethereal sounds that were impossible to reproduce. Winter was over and spring had seen the return of life to this tiny world.

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