He looked down at his feet. Are these my feet? I don’t recognise them at all, he thought to himself while absentmindedly massaging his left earlobe between thumb and forefinger.
The world was a carpet of sand and dunes, which reflected the phosphorus sun into his naked blue eyes. His newly found feet temporarily bruised sand grains which caught in his hair but were invisible amongst it. I have sandy hair, he realised. How curious.
He surveyed the vista through eyes which were being mithered by the golden fringe falling into his face. It was tickling him lightly, but not unpleasantly. I guess I’m ticklish then, he thought, still rolling the flesh of ear between his fingers while thinking.
Ahead of him there was virgin sand. He looked behind and over his shoulder, virgin sand in all directions too. Just like he - there was no discernible beginning or end. He left no tracks behind him here, and he wondered how in the world that could be. Very very curious.
In his trouser pocket he’d found a small sheaf of paper. On it were six dashes, one above the other. Heading the paper sat a logo of sorts. A monochrome image of a puppy set inside a circle and sniffing the air before it.
On his back a rucksack held a bottle of water and a small embroidered logo of a scruffy puppy on the front pocket. The embroidered puppy was the one atop the letterhead but with more detail and colour. He wasn’t thirsty so didn’t need water, but he was sure he wanted to meet that scruffy looking pup.
Well, if I don’t get going I’ll never get to pet that little cute doggy and I’ll never find out who the heck I am. And so he walked, but with no destination that he could fathom. Just a need that he couldn’t articulate.
With printless steps he walked over lands flattered by the periwinkle sky. The sand puddled around him but disappeared with each new step as if liquid. He watched and tried to understand, rolling his earlobe as he did so, unaware of the habit. He'd been on his way for some time when his newly met feet stood before a most unusual thing. He knew what it was. He’d recently discovered he had one of his own.
‘Now that’, he said aloud, pointing, ‘that should not be there. You sir, should not be there’, he commented, hearing his voice for the first time. It fell from his mouth, creating a meniscus on the hot sand. At least his new found words had an impact on his surroundings.
The tongue laying before him however, did not. It sweat in the sand and couldn’t answer back. It was a tongue, certainly. But what good is a tongue without an owner to flap it?, he thought. And like he, it had left no track visible in its wake.
Inclination prodded at him. He took out the sheaf of paper and marked a letter “T” for tongue above the first blank dash. He inspected the tongue, surprised how cool it felt. He could feel the nodules and imperfections in the meat. He put the tongue away, safe for now in the backpack.
Mile upon mile of untainted sand swam and passed beneath him. Still leaving no tracks, he eventually came upon an unattended ear laying there before him. Its flesh looked slightly burned by the sun like a marshmallow too close to campfire.
‘Well look at you. A handsome ear you are, no mistake. You can come with me, my fine-cartilaged friend. See what there is to be found together’, he said, happily putting the ear in his backpack alongside the tongue. He marked an “E” for ear on the next blank dash on the paper.
An “E” and a “T”. He wasn’t at all sure where this would lead or if these things would answer questions. Maybe they would simply invent more. But what did he have to lose really?
A loneliness and a longing stirred in him like toothache. It was a burning in his core that he couldn’t quite soothe. If there was an end goal to be found anywhere he would give it his all to find it.
So as before he set back to his task of exploring for something unknown, his absolution perhaps? He hoped to find out by searching and giving in to a desperation borne from the lonesome terrain around him. And what indeed did lay ahead right soon, but a head.
‘Well of all the things…’, he said, astonished to see a human head, idle as a carved pumpkin.
‘Ell o all uh ings’ the head said, making him jump back a step. He was sure the head was loose. He couldn’t see a body buried in the sand beneath it.
‘I’m sorry?’, he said to the head, amazed and bewildered.
‘A o eee?’, it replied back.
‘Wait now, are you mimicking me sir?’, he asked the head.
‘Eh irr I ang’, the head answered.
‘“Yes sir you are”. I thought so! Wonderful!’, he complimented the head. Impressed with its loquaciousness.
‘You’re welcome’, he replied, satisfied with the discourse so far.
‘Ooo ooo a eh eee orta eeez?’, the head said. But this time he couldn’t make out what it was saying.
‘Just a second my dear chap’, he told the head, ‘I have just the thing’. He searched in his bag and took out the tongue as the head watched him closely through wary, flint-grey eyes. He placed the tongue in its mouth, chuckling at the novel experience. The head shuffled in the tongue and chuckled too, acclimatising itself to the installation.
‘Ooooo-weee, that’s better!’, the head exclaimed once settled. ‘I’ve no idea how long I’ve been here but I’m as thirsty as a dry sponge. Do you have any water by any chance?’, the head asked with urgency but politely.
‘Haha, that’s what you were trying to say!’, he said to the head as he figured it out. ‘Well yes I do indeed have water. And it would be my pleasure’, he said obligingly to the head, and poured some water from the bottle into its mouth.
‘So, what sets your good self down in these parts?’, he asked the head.
‘Honestly, I have no idea at all. None. All I do know is, I was here and thirsty, I needed a tongue and to get out of this goddamn sun! Can you help with that too please?’.
‘I can yes. I can put you in my bag’, he said nodding and opening the rucksack, ready to stow away the head.
‘I have one condition however’, he said to the head.
‘Please let me mark down the letter “H” for “head” in my notes?’.
‘Deal!’, said the head in return.
‘Excellent!’, he concluded, adding the “H” to the paper then placing the head carefully in the bag and out of the sun.
‘Please sir, don’t be alarmed’, he said calmly to the head as he stashed it, ‘but there is a lone ear in there too’. But the head seemed fine and simply looked tired and ready for a little nap.
He walked on further, wondering if there would ever be a change in scenery. A tree or a bush. A stream or a lake. A bird or a cloud in the sky maybe? The way ahead seemed as bleached as his memory.
What he did know was an ever expanding feeling of longing. The need to belong but frustratingly not knowing where. Surely there’s someplace for me? There’s a place for everyone and everything, just like there was a place for the ear, the tongue and the head that now carried it.
A change in his surroundings did eventually accost him, this time in the shape of a solitary human foot. He looked around him, looking for the owner of the foot - a person hobbling in search of an absconded limb, perhaps? But no, the foot seemed isolated, loitering here with no apparent owner.
This foot ironically had left a damn fine imprint in the sand behind it. As far his eyes could see the foot had left a trailblazing path. He envied that. The foot would know where it’s been. And that would give the foot an idea of where it was headed. Where it was meant to be. Sadly, he couldn’t ask. Instead he attached the foot to his utility belt - he had no more room in his backpack for any other severed body parts.
An “F” was added to his list. A list which had become an almanack of his hopeful journey. He was improvising with only his instincts and his unquenched yearning leading the way.
He ran through his growing list again to cleanse his mental palette. “”T” “E” “H” “F”. Did it mean anything? Was this part of a bigger answer? Frustratingly he didn’t know. It was a splinter in his mind that tweezers would never dig out. Just more grains of arbitrary sand in his world.
Once more, he took to walking in the direction he felt inspired to go. From inside his backpack he could hear the head snoring delicately. It gave him an immense sense of peace and he found it slightly comical, but he wouldn't tell the head that.
As he ambled he set his mind to task, rubbing his left ear lobe as he did so. He would let his mind wander on its own outward journey. How far can I cast out my consciousness?, he wondered. Are my thoughts limitless? Am I a free spirit in this land? He attempted to unshackle himself from the binds of his anxieties and his questions. So far he had found physical things. He was only guessing these things signified an “answer”. He knew he was just grasping at straws and hoping. But Did faith actually make things true?
He put everything into letting his mind detach from his physical self, to see where it could reach. Look outwardly, he advised himself. Perhaps some bigger truths can be found by losing oneself. Thought may be the catalyst for freeing him from his prison. This lit up his mind as much as the unrelenting sun above. He was in a prison! He felt pretty certain this was part of the “answer” he searched for. Why was he imprisoned in this barren land, throttled by the pressure of the unknown?
He felt slightly buoyed to have come to a mental watershed, but still he was no closer to a solution. Instead, on a dune ahead he saw a twinkling that came and went with each step he took. The foot swayed at his belt as his feet paddled in the sand. A light was definitely showing itself to him from a distance.
It was the first instance of anything reflecting in this place. He found this curious considering how bright and untroubled the sun was here. He felt eager to see what was causing the twinkling and set off at a run to see what was there in the sand.
‘Oi!’, he heard an annoyed voice say from the bag, “I was sleeping there, thank you very much!’, the head said, obviously annoyed that it had been woken by the vigorous movement of the bag.
‘Sorry!’, he yelled to the head. ‘There’s something I need to investigate and just couldn’t wait to get there’, he explained. He’d try to make it up to the head later if he could.
He reached the object that shone in the sand like a lighthouse calling to him. Why else would it be here? Shining for itself? His shining beacon was in fact an arm. The arm hadn’t been cut to detach it from a body, but instead on one end it was charred and burned. To cauterise it maybe? Or had the owner perished in fire and only the arm and the hand attached to it had survived? He would never know.
He inspected the arm and its hand which was languidly shuffling something in its fingers. One finger had on it a gold ring, catching sunbeams. He leant in closer and saw on the ring an emblem marked into a sovereign. The emblem was a puppy encased in a circle. Surely this was a sign that he was on the correct path.
He recognised what the ringed hand shuffled but he couldn’t recall from where or what it was called. The memory crept to the edge of his awareness but remained tantalisingly one step away, like a nervous child afraid to approach a strange new relative.
The object the hand dizzyingly twirled was a cube with a black core. Each side of the cube held nine small squares, all of random colours. No, not random he noticed as the squares twisted and spun in the deft fingers. It looked to have nine sets of white, yellow, blue, green, orange and red squares. The squares mostly rotated around its axis. In the centre square on each side of the cube sat a small print of an inquisitive puppy encased in a circle.
Rubiks! The word came to him but still it was alien. Rubiks it was called. Before he could quantify its significance the hand expertly spun the squares of the mechanism so fast that it sped away through the air like a dash of rainbow lightning.
The fingers on the hand admired the Rubiks as it shot away, proud as if it had freed a small bird. The fingers looked at him and made a swatting motion as if to say “Why are looking at me dummy? Go after it!”. He hurriedly attached the arm to his belt and darted after the fleeing cube.
The Rubiks made flight for the highest dune he had seen so far. Panting from the effort of chasing the Rubiks, he made it to the top and sat, catching his breath.
‘Terrier’, he said calmly to himself between breaths and with a sudden unexpected clarity. ‘That dog is a Terrier’.
‘Are we there yet?’, the head said from the bag.
‘I think we are’, he answered, as if he’d reached much more than just a peak of sand.
He took out the piece of paper and looked at his list. To it he added an “A” for arm and an “R” for Rubiks. He considered its significance:
T - E - H - F - A - R
After a few moments a key as golden as the sand, as clement as the sun and as pure as the sky clicked open a padlock in his mind.
A young boy stood before an ornate glass display case in a shop. Outside this shop hung a sign. The sign proudly displayed the establishment name and date of its inception - “Terrier’s Shop Of Curiosities, estd. 2287”, it read. The logo on it was an inquisitive puppy with nose sniffing the air.
Before the boy in the shop, in the glass-fronted display case, sat a most curious item the boy didn’t recognise.
‘Momma, come look at this’, he shouted to his mother, who dutifully humoured her son by looking into the case alongside him. She’d been to the shop many times.
‘Momma, what is it?’, he asked with wonder.
‘That, my boy, is what is called an Hourglass’, answered an elderly man’s voice as he appeared behind them.
‘You see, the grains held within it feed from one half to the other due to gravity, and according to a specific measure of time. This particular Hourglass however is very special and not for sale I’m afraid’, the shop owner advised the boy and his mother.
‘Greetings Ms Hawthorne, how are you? It’s been a while’, the gentleman said warmly to the boy's mother.
‘Hello Mr Terrier, I’m fine thank you. It’s great to see you again’, she replied. ‘Sadly we can’t stay long. I’m just in town to report on the big case happening in the courthouse today. It’s the petition to allow mortality reselection, have you heard of it?’, she asked Mr Terrier.
‘Indeed I have Ms Hawthorne. It’s all anybody has talked about these last few months. I’m sure many have a prematurely lost loved one who they would appreciate the chance to regenerate’, he said. If he was saying this to her or the Hourglass in the case however, Ms Hawthorne couldn’t say.
“And Mr Terrier sir, what is that coloured cube?’, the boy asked. ‘Is it a toy?’.
‘Once it was yes, my boy. And maybe it will be again some day. Now, I must apologise Ms Hawthorne, but I must be closing, sadly. I have a lot of stocktaking ahead this evening’, he said apologetically.
‘I understand completely Mr Terrier. I must be readying to prepare for my work too. So, I shall bid you good day. We may be back tomorrow to peruse your wonderful curiosities again’, she said optimistically.
‘I hope so, Ms Hawthorne, I really do’, he said warmly.
Once alone in his shop, Mr Terrier looked with a longing in his heart at the Rubik’s cube and the Hourglass of cremated infant ashes, marooned in grains of time.
‘I hope to see you soon too, Son’, he said through well-worn tears, rubbing his left earlobe as he did so.