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Contemporary Speculative

There is a tortoise walking through blackberry bramble. Her name is Genesis. She’s wondering when the world will change.

She’s been here since the beginning, wandering through time content, serene.

Genesis is pleased with her role and happy with her lot. She’s seen trees live and die, empires rise and fall, species come and go. Through it all, she’s wandered the borders of now and never, here and there, life and death. She’s guided many travelers along their way.

Genesis is patient and calm and loves eating Etoi plants, which grow in tall stalks from the ground and sprout leafy greens above her head. No matter where she goes, some things remain the same—the Etoi are one of them. It’s a good thing, too, because Genesis knows how difficult it can be to find nutritious food these days, given the losing trajectory of the war against the weeds. The blackberry bushes are strangling her food source.

This is another constant.

Yesterday, Genesis went to a small spiral of stones that served as her Gateway and found them blue and cooling, choked by the inky purple juice of blackberries.

Blackberries are not native to this island.

Genesis was saddened by the death of her Gateway, but she knew the Way of the Traveler, so she meandered away and carried onward.

Genesis spends most of her time on the island sanctuary, cloistered behind a shiny metal fence and buffeted by greenery and plenty. She misses her run of the earth, but it’s safer here; it won’t always be, but it is now.

Ahead, there’s another traveler in the thicket. Genesis can feel the inexorable pull of the search drawing them together; its lull is mesmerizing. She travels forward, pushing her way through thorny bushes and into another patch of weeds that rub uncomfortably against the thick skin of her legs and neck.

She pushes on, contemplating the subtleties of desire as she does.

She hums to herself:

This is the nature of being:

to love and to lose and to live,

seek, destroy, and build.

This is the life I have chosen.

This is the Traveler’s Way.

When the seeker finally emerges, stumbling and crashing into the clearing with Genesis, the tortoise is startled. She’s had several companions along her journey and escorted many more to their destinations—she’s even shuttled a particularly curious pterodactyl to the Fairy Realm at his unrelenting request—but this being catches her off guard.

Most seekers are wise, confident, curious, and often more than a little lost, but the human child unscrupulously scratching its itch strikes Genesis as none of those things. He seems irritable, in a sweet sort of way, and his unusually large ears make him look scrawnier than he probably is. Freckles have overtaken most of his coltish features, and Genesis can see them encroaching on his neck from his face, licking their tiny-freckle-lips greedily at the soft, peachy skin peeking through his tattered shirt.

Genesis squints at the boy and considers retracting into her shell but then thinks better of it. This child is here for her, after all.

The small boy approaches curiously, scratching an abnormally large ear with his left hand while reaching tentatively out toward Genesis with his right. He’s never seen a tortoise. He’s never even been past the fence of his blackberry-covered nursery.

This is a whole new world.

Genesis stays very still, not wanting to startle the strange creature. As he approaches, she can see faint scratches and tiny purple stains clotted and clustered around his wrists and thighs and neck. The closer he gets, the more smudged his features become, smearing into one another and then into the thicket behind him.

By the time the boy gets close enough to touch her, his face is nothing more than the trace of a smile and the hint of something teary.

Genesis knows where to lead him. She turns; her motions are slow, languid, strange to the creature who, even now, continues to jump.

Genesis begins her next journey, the fiendish ghost of a boy in tow.

She murmurs:

This is the nature of being:

to love and to lose and to live,

seek, destroy, and build.

This is the life I have chosen.

This is the Traveler’s Way.

The boy follows suit and picks up the mantra, and they travel as a group of three: a tortoise as old as the world, a boy as young as a dream, a verse more fleeting than time.

It’s a long journey, and the child is getting antsier by the moment. His scratching has moved from his ear, down his neck, and onto his wrists. But his furious nails leave no mark. Instead, his supple joints are covered in remnants of bramble, stained purple and swollen.

He can’t feel them.

Genesis doesn’t rush—she never does—and maintains her pace as they slip through a hole in the gate of the sanctuary and into a scion reserved for younger tortoises, ones too small to remember when blackberries were enjoyed as a treat.

Genesis used to love blackberries. Now they make her sick, churn her stomach and bring up all her nutritious Etoi with them.

Genesis is startled out of thought by a soft, strangled cry, and her breath hitches.

She hisses, blowing air out of her lungs as she retracts into her shell. The cry comes again, and Genesis realizes she’s lost her small companion.

Reluctantly, she ventures out of her shell and begins to backtrack. The child can’t be far.

She’s right, he isn’t, and when Genesis finds him, another pang grips her chest.

There is her coltish companion, wrapped up and choking in vines. Blackberries encircle his wrists and cling to his neck and thighs and lips and teeth. He’s crying out, pleading, wishing he isn’t here, dreaming of a someplace better.

Only, he’s already found that place. What clings to his faceless being aren’t blackberries—they’re too blurry and smeared, like a painter’s bowl of brush water dropped on a watercolor masterpiece.

Everything bleeds together: the boy’s freckles, his ears, all purpling as the blackberry juices pick up his own peachy hue.

Genesis sighs and moves to a nearby rock. She rests her head on the ground and waits.

There’s nothing else to do when it’s a memory. It looks like he was snagged by a stray bramble and sent spiraling into the past.

In several minutes, the boy calms and recovers enough to brush off the stray vine that had encircled his ankle to begin with and triggered the memory. He’s shaken, but grounded, and Genesis decides it’s time to move on.

The pair continues for a while longer and arrives at a pond with murky blue water and green goop creeping up the sides. The boy stares.

“What now?” he asks, tentatively dipping a purple hand into the water. The water doesn’t respond or ripple, glisten or reflect. It ignores him very rudely and very completely.

Genesis shrugs and settles herself comfortably under the shade of a nearby stalk of Etoi. The boy tugs on his over-large ears. He twitches and jolts, all jitters and expectations.

Genesis quietly contemplates the best means for him to reach the other side. Though the pool of water is small, the boy will need to travel further than that distance to find his way.

A boat, perhaps, or a barge. Yes, either of those would do.

The boy seems to have an idea and begins fumbling his shredded pockets, looking for something important.

At last, he finds it, and his featureless-face lights up. Genesis’s heart lifts.

Clutched in the boy’s hand is a tiny wooden boat. It has a red stripe painted along the side, and its perfect little sails are crisp and white, free from the stains of any lingering berry juice.

The boy places the boat in the pond and waits.

Nothing happens.

He looks questioningly to Genesis, who blinks encouragingly, and daintily sets a pinky finger on the prow. Still, nothing happens.

The boy picks the boat back up and examines it. The tiny mermaid masthead laughs at him.

The boat goes back in the water, and the boy focuses all his intention, all his purpose onto getting on board and moving beyond the confines of figure.

The boy steps onto the boat. The earth follows suit.

Genesis smiles her ancient tortoise smile.

A man is coming now, clomping through trees and hacking at blackberry vines with his machete. He wears a draping dark cap that hides his face from the sun and sandals that gives his toes ample space to breathe.

He reaches the putrid shore of the pond and pushes the cap out of his face and back onto his neck. He nods to the figure on the boat, who has begun making its way across the pond and into another place, another time, another dream.

Genesis looks away respectfully. She’ll only see those eyes once.

When she finally raises her head, both the man and the boat are gone, and she sits alone in the clearing. She dips her head and takes a sip of reeking water.

She’ll need to replenish before her next journey.

It’s lonely but peaceful. Genesis travels onward.

She’s wondering when the world will change, singing:

This is the nature of being:

to love and to lose and to live,

seek, destroy, and build.

This is the life I have chosen.

This is the Traveler’s Way.

April 23, 2021 19:57

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1 comment

12:28 May 04, 2021

Aw, this is so sweet! I love how the main character is a tortoise, and this story is told in a mythological sort of way. The repeated lines really push the story forward and they're great! I need to have them on a poster or something ;) Amazing job with this--it's beautiful. This is the nature of being to love and to lose and to live, seek, destroy, and build. This is the life I have chosen. This is the Traveler’s Way.


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