A Useless Boy

Timothy Burton was a boy of no use. He was so useless that his aunt called him A Great Big Handful O’ Nothing. A peculiar green moth, his trusted friend, had made a good snug home in his doorknob. Every few days, Timothy, with messy hair and a face lined with grime, would track mud all over his house bringing her muddy insects to eat. Every time the ants in his walls attacked his caterpillar, he would withhold their snacks for two whole weeks.

Whenever Timothy heard his aunt trudging up the stairs, he would climb onto his window-sill and pretend to be invisible. He dreaded and dreaded the Tasks he was handed. He would either get out of their clutches by falling asleep, or by running as fast as he could to the nearest train station, zipping vigilantly through the traffic. He would climb onto the first train pulling out, breathlessly asking for a ticket to Mount Doom, even though he had no money.

The conductor, Toffy, was not Timothy’s friend. He would immediately ring up his aunt and tattle, inviting her to box his ears. Timothy saw his ear becoming twice the size of his fists if his aunt kept pulling it the way she did. She would jerk him by his arms, clip him upside the ear, and Scream.

He once made a ladder out of shoeboxes all the way from his basement to his Wise Friend Scruffy’s terrace, and nearly broke his neck the first time he tried to use it. His Idiot Friend had convinced him he’d strengthened it with magic.

Everyone always thought Timothy was trapped in his world. No one could ever look at him too long; he always stared back so steadfastly that they would hurry and look at their shoes.

He would be locked up in his room most of the time, minding his own business. He’d be tearing his hair out over the monsters in his closet and running around stopping spidery bats from unscrewing his fan, when all of a sudden his blasted aunt would push open the door, allow daylight in, and make his world disappear. All in a second, he would be left alone, in an empty white room with stark white walls.

He hated it, so much that he took every chance he could get to escape to the cinema, or to the bookstore, or to Scruffy’s house. All his teachers said he had rabbit in his blood.

Timothy’s hands had star-shaped markings on them, and the bats whispered that they’d been left as a symbol of a Great Upcoming Day. No one knew what the day was, or when it was going to come, but rumour spread that it was going to bring all of Timothy’s Giant Book Friends to life.

The Giant Book, Timothy’s best friend, was a magical thing. Every time he opened it, he found it very easy to do nothing, and go nowhere. He would switch on a yellow lamp, settle into a tall stool just a smidge too high, and pore over his book until his eyelids started to droop. He would often loll over and fall asleep right there, trapped in his head just like everyone said, and wake up with great reluctance the next day to run from Tasks all over again.

 

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Scruffier the Elefriend

Scruffier the Elefriend was a very hungry man. He always ate well and downed his food with rich pomegranate juice, so much that his cheeks became Perpetually Pink.

Legend has it that Scruffier was born without an ear, and his mother immediately decided to leave him with the Elephants, big-eared Giants whose ears were said to be magical. In the summer, when leaves stuck to skin and dirt stuck to everything, they would fan their Ears gently into their lover’s face, instantly cooling down the breeze.

Scruffier’s mother believed that it was around these Magical Ears that her son’s ear would grow.

She visited him and nursed him every day, but the ear did not appear. As he grew older, he learnt the language of the elephants. He walked, slept, bathed, and played like an elephant, and he ate all day. For all his eating, though, he remained as skinny as the long, stiff bamboos the hunters made bows with.

Over time, Scruffier grew and grew, and became stronger and stronger, until he came to be known as the Strongest of Elefriends. He could always feel what the elephants felt, and turned out to be a great listener, even though his ear never grew.

At the ripe young age of twenty, he left the jungle to make a living in a town at the forest-edge. He looked like a wild beggar among civilized people, but he could carry a hat brilliantly. No one could say he couldn’t. He drew eyes everywhere he went. No one cared what he carried in his pouch – it could be a gun, a flower, a scissor, anything. No, all they ever cared about was how fancy a wild beggar looked wearing a hat, and anyone different-looking seemingly merited their staring.

His hair was soon going to grow past his toenails, and his nails were going to grow past his balcony. If he ever wanted to jump from a building, all he’d have to do was somersault while balancing on his nails, and he’d land on the opposite side of the road like a ninja.

His roommate, who hated to cook, wanted to practice witchcraft. She couldn’t light a stove, but she got a fire running before he could finish turning his head. He just knew she was going to burn his hair and nails in his sleep.

Ember, his pet rat, had a disgusting habit of killing bugs and presenting them to him as presents. They were never where he left them the next day. He knew they could fly; bugs could always fly, dead or alive.
Out on the edge of the forest, fireflies were his only friends. Yellow-bodied and bulb-shaped, the little shimmering creepers never lost their way. They never let Scruffier get lost either.

Scrounging for non-poisonous food was a piece of cake. You could say what you would about the rest of the beggars – but this one never went to bed hungry. And what a delightful cook he was, too. It was a pity his roommate didn’t share his talents. Didn’t share his gorgeous hair, either. His was long, thick and curly where hers was straight, stringy and sparse.

Whenever he sank down in despair, defeated by civilized life, he always ran back to his old forest home. Forest nymphs would swarm around him, and braid his hair and fashion his clothes, until he looked smart enough to pass for a Nymph Prince himself. His sorrows would be forgotten, his pride restored, and he would be back to eating and drinking in bliss for a few hours more

– Written by Aparna Kumar and myself

Once Upon a Fine Time

Once upon a fine time, somewhere around 2008 – around the time when Lady Gaga dropped Poker Face, there lived a Scruffy Bearded Man. Scruffy had the ability to do everything life had to offer; except that it was never made to be offered to him.

He was an excellent cook, except hair from his Scruffy Beard fell into his food every time he cooked. It just did. Not only that – his nose smelled all the wrong smells. He’d smell a good smell as bad and a bad smell as good. That was just the way it worked.

He was an excellent hair stylist, but had six fingers on his right hand. Scissors just weren’t made keeping him in mind, just like a lot of things aren’t made keeping a lot of people in mind.

He was a skilled medic, too, except his patients always got put off by his beard. He seemed to have a haggard appearance – not because he was tired, it was just the way his face was. He scared people off.

One day crocodiles had chased him on their short legs and he’d run as fast as he could on his less short legs – except he could never use his legs quite as well after that because his knees wouldn’t agree to help. He once ate a raw goldfish on a dare.

He had a love for acquiring useless information, like what the earth would come to if it stopped rotating. He had the most accommodating taste in food; he only hated three things – Spinach, Beetroot, and Bitter Gourd. He was too compassionate, sometimes to the point where he wouldn’t see danger for what it was until it smacked him in the face. He even had a fascination with ponytails which were tied on top of the head.

For all his eccentricities, Scruffy was a common Everyday Man. He had a friend in his neighbor, a boy of twelve, who often slept over at his house and pulled his limbs tight around himself at night to keep monsters under the furniture from grabbing them. They were so close you could even call them best friends, or Best Friends.

Scruffy had wanted to become an artist someday. He’d also wanted to become an astronaut, a pilot, a forest ranger and a ninja. He had great memories of travelling on top of elephants with his Even Scruffier Uncle through forests when he was a boy of three, and he desperately wanted the forests back.

He’d ended up in a house behind a white picket-fence though, somehow, and he decided he’d never get bored. He simply resolved not to. He began devoting himself to learning one Thing per week. One day he memorized a hundred interesting facts about flags.

On Saturdays he held a barbecue, on every Sunday he learned a dance routine, and on every Thursday he invited all his neighbors over for a Game. He even taught the neighborhood kids how to row a boat, and how to never Think Too Much.

Although he couldn’t do much cooking or much hair styling and never flew an aircraft or a rocket or rode an elephant again, and didn’t have many friends thanks to his haggard appearance, he never allowed boredom in. He stayed busy, and stayed busy, and stayed busy, and became a man of such limitless skills and tricks that his Best Friend, who grew up to be a film-maker, made a movie on him that came to be called a Cinema for the Ages.

about magic

Mason: Dad, there’s no real magic in the world, right?

Dad: What do you mean?

Mason: You know, like elves and stuff. People just made that up.

Dad: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, what makes you think that elves are any more magical than something like a whale? You know what I mean? What if I told you a story about how underneath the ocean, there was this giant sea mammal that used sonar and sang songs and it was so big that its heart was the size of a car and you could crawl through the arteries? I mean, you’d think that was pretty magical, right?

– Boyhood (2014), dir. Richard Linklater

#he’s right

Out of the window

A flash of neon green under dark boots, dark pants and a dark shirt – a fluorescent-lined silhouette traipsed in the dark. The engine was loud enough to drown out sounds outside; it stammered every now and then to let horns blaring after streaks of light come through.
The window-sill was unrelenting; it wouldn’t let my arm rest in peace. Every time it did, my brain rang warning bells – never stick your arm out of a moving vehicle, or you might lose it.

There must’ve been about four other people on the bus when I got on. That was rare. I was already settled into the empty front seat (the bus’ huge windshield gives a nice wide view) when the conductor came for the ticket. He looked annoyed.

On the edge of the sidewalk outside, a man clad in a puckered dhoti was sitting with one leg crossed over the other, one of his hands flitting constantly between his calf and his foot. It took me a second to realize he was tapping out a rhythm. Silent music. A tall boy in a snapback passing behind him stumbled upon a loose rock and flailed to keep balance, his head immediately snapping up a second later to check whether anyone saw his gracefulness.

There was a schoolgirl in two neat plaits and a maroon pinafore zipping between the traffic like she was cutting through a crowd of old people instead of heavy, lumbering vehicles. She crossed the road and jumped into my bus, hurrying lest the light turned green and it started moving, and slid in beside me. I shot her a smile. I didn’t even have to think about it. Her face felt familiar, like a romanticized piece of the past.

She smiled back – instantaneous, dark-complexioned, beautiful. A bus comrade.

There were lives and vehicles and people and stray animals inter-crossing, threads twisting expeditiously, and there was absolute stillness too. There’s always some nook or the other somewhere that cuts itself off and becomes an entity of its own. I saw a baby sleeping, on the footpath, in a lap where no light entered to disturb, no sound rang through.

A few meters away, a boy in a school-uniform walked along a graffiti covered wall. There was a comical outline on his forehead where the dirt contrasted against his pale skin, just where his hairline began. Like there hadn’t been enough to spread further. His uniform appeared close to a rag stitched from a washcloth at first sight; creases and folds at all the right places quickly made themselves seen as if to reassure that it had recently been ironed.  He trudged down the alley with heavy footsteps, a hand dropping down now and then to support his drooping frame on bended knees. Bright yellow light from the streetlamp above filtered through his lashes directly into his eyes, making him squint as he looked towards either side of the intersection back and forth as if trying to make up his mind about which way to go. He couldn’t seem to decide right then. Or maybe his feet refused to carry him further, because the span of a couple of minutes found him closely nestled against the wall, staring listlessly towards the traffic.

We moved on; my eyes flitting past. I don’t know why I wasn’t staring into space as usual, even though the music grinding out through my earphones was still doing its job of making me imagine myself as a singer rocking the stage every now and then. I looked away from another person I made eye-contact with every time we stopped across from people waiting at bus stops. It was different every time. I could feel a gaze still on me a lot of times after I’d looked away, and I wondered what it was looking at every time.

I was shocked to find the aisle completely crowded when I looked back in and registered the rest of the bus for the first time since I’d gotten in. A wrinkled old lady was leaning on the handle; I got up to give her my seat. I couldn’t believe no one had done that already; it’s one of the easiest ways to feel like a nice person.

The walk back home was slow, with Ed Sheeran and cool air and dried leaves. The road was empty except for me and quiet parked vehicles, splattered with tiny, crushed green fruit and tiny yellow flowers. It was picturesque – the only thing missing was rain.

After years

Conversations continue
Night looks in
Hours slip by.
Shadows play
Words fall
A dining table, round, sits in the middle.
Cadences rise and fall
Faces – open
Re-learn each other.
It’s dark outside
Air going cooler,
Still outside their quiet bubble.
It’s nearing morning when they part
Voids in their hearts filled –
The spaces that hadn’t announced they were empty.

Some stories start and end with one glance, a chance meeting between a stage actor on the roadside and a player in a moving bus. Some lay dormant for years, with the characters around each other the entire time, until flared into existence by a chance occurrence; then continue to grow with each participant feeding the best of themselves into each other for years. Some are born in the purest of ways – between two timid school children who happen to sit together, and continue to do so for months or years until one or both move away with the knowledge of the other’s being clear as the back of their hand. Ten years later, even without the same characters, the story is still alive.

Sometimes a person starts and finishes a story without knowing it. A school girl does it when she laughs under pouring rain with her books getting drenched, and someone else denying themselves a simple pleasure for the sake of a phone or a watch or a project watches and notices her.
We participate in a plethora of such stories everyday. More often than not we don’t know when one starts. Those of us who are lucky and observant file away the most intriguing characters we come across in our memories. Some of them we hold on to, some we remember in flashes of images, some we stay aware of and love from a distance without contacting them again, and they might be a completely different version of the person we knew if we do see them again. We are made up of stories, those that we are a part of and those that we hear, every big or small chapter adding to us without our noticing.

 

Past

Mazes of lies
laughter in fits of sadness
midnight gorges
holes to the other end of the world
mud-caked palms
veiled eyes
A childhood fashioned out of stolen things
slashed lines
ears pressed against the soil, eavesdropping
A love uplifting
A crowd monotonous
Memories disappearing with the sand under the waves
Hazy outlines
Soulless voids
Quiet murmurs struggling under the weight of the air
Muddled boundaries
Moths and their shadows
Shimmering reflections
Stained lips
Sunburnt skin
Invincible innocence
A future desperately clawing to get back into the past.

Old Bones

This morning
The smell of bacon
Brought me downstairs
But before I reached
The open kitchen door
A voice stopped me
My mother telling
Her old, arthritic dog,
“I know sweetness
You’ve been carrying those bones
For a long time.”
I leaned unseen
On the mildeweed
Window Sill
Watching her
Sip coffee
Fry Bacon
Her old dog
Pressing at her knee.

– Written by Misha Collins

27.9.17

Eyes struggling to stay open against beating rain, head ducked under interlocked fingers, she walked as briskly as possible seeking refuge under a narrow canopy ahead. Once safely sheltered, she raised one hand against her brow and looked upward, shielding her eyes against the dim streetlight, at the black sky above. She stood staring for a minute before letting out a resigned sigh and leaning back, gravel rubbing against her back through her dress, and proceeded to pluck out leaves and straw from her hair. The only break into her rhythmic motions came when the streetlight went off after a sudden flash of lightning.
It was better that way, anyhow. Darkness suits most people well. She closed her eyes and opened them again, reassuring herself against the persistent blackness. Bright flashes stopped being surprising after the fourth or fifth time. Her ears accustomed to the constant splattering of water against earth by then, she felt almost as though she was at peace, in silence. It was easy during times like these for her brain to finally shut off. All that occupied space in her thoughts was the silence, the darkness, the consistency of an uninterrupted rhythm. It was rare – for dreams of the next minute or the next day not to plague her, for the unfinished arguments and unsaid words of yesterday not to resound in her head. It wouldn’t last, and it never did.
The first threads of conscious thought were already beginning to form in her head. She would try not to register them yet. Instead, she waited as the night drew on like a large, irenic, empty space, tendrils of thought from the sleeping recesses of her subconscious lazily reaching out towards an end that eluded them as tirelessly as they roved.

About not doing Nothing and Goodbyes and ‘whatever happens’

“Come on, Pooh,” Christopher Robin said, and walked off quickly.
“Where are we going?” said Pooh, hurrying after him, and wondering whether it was to be an Explore or a What-shall-I-do-about-you-know-what.
“Nowhere,” said Christopher Robin.
So they began going there, and after they had walked a little way Christopher Robin said:
“What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?”
“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best?” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called. And then he thought that being with Christopher Robin was a very good thing to do, and having Piglet near was a very friendly thing to have: and so, when he had thought it all out, he said, “What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying ‘What about a little something?’ and Me saying,’ Well, I shouldn’t mind a little something, should you, Piglet,’ and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing.”
“I like that too,” said Christopher Robin, “but what I like doing best is Nothing.”
“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.
“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say ‘Oh, nothing,’ and then you go and do it.”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.
“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.
“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”
“Oh!” said Pooh.

They walked on, thinking of This and That, and by-and-by they came to an enchanted place on the very top of the Forest called Galleons Lap, which is sixty-something trees in a circle; and Christopher Robin knew that it was enchanted because nobody had ever been able to count whether it was sixty-three or sixty-four, not even when he tied a piece of string round each tree after he had counted it. Being enchanted, its floor was not like the floor the Forest, gorse and bracken and heather, but close-set grass, quiet and smooth and green. It was the only place in the Forest where you could sit down carelessly, without getting up again almost at once and looking for somewhere else. Sitting there they could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky, and whatever there was all the world over was with them in Galleons Lap.

Suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world with his chin in his hands, called out:
“Pooh!”
“Yes?” said Pooh.
“When I’m – when – Pooh!”
“Yes, Christopher Robin?”
“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
“Never again?”
“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully.
“Pooh, when I’m – you know – when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”
“Just Me?”
“Yes, Pooh.”
“Will you be here too?”
“Yes, Pooh, I will be really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”
“That’s good,” said Pooh.
“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little.
“How old shall I be then?”
“Ninety-nine.”
Pooh nodded.
“I promise,” he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.
“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I – if I’m not quite,” he stopped and tried again –
“Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
“Understand what?”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”
“Where?” said Pooh.
“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.

The Secret Lives of Ants: Eldest (Inheritance Cycle #2)

Pointing to a white stump with a flat, polished top three yards across that rested in the center of the hollow, Oromis said, “Sit here.” Eragon did as he was told. “Cross your legs and close your eyes.” The world went dark around him. From his right, he heard Oromis whisper, “Open your mind, Eragon. Open your mind and listen to the world around you, to the thoughts of every being in this glade, from the ants in the trees to the worms in the ground. Listen until you can hear them all and you understand their purpose and nature. Listen, and when you hear no more, come tell me what you have learned.”

Then the forest was quiet.

Unsure if Oromis had left, Eragon tentatively lowered the barriers around his mind and reached out with his consciousness, like he did when trying to contact Saphira at a great distance. Initially only a void surrounded him, but then pricks of light and warmth began to appear in the darkness, strengthening until he sat in the midst of a galaxy of swirling constellations, each bright point representing a life. Whenever he had contacted other beings with his mind, the focus had always been on the one he wanted to communicate with. But this… this was as if he had been standing deaf in the midst of a crowd and now he could hear the rivers of conversation whirling around him.

He felt suddenly vulnerable; he was completely exposed to the world. Anyone or anything that might want to leap into his mind and control him could now do so. He tensed unconsciously, withdrawing back into himself, and his awareness of the hollow vanished. Remembering one of Oromis’s lessons, Eragon slowed his breathing and monitored the sweep of his lungs until he had relaxed enough to reopen his mind.

Of all the lives he could sense, the majority were, by far, insects. Their sheer number astounded him. Tens of thousands dwelled in a square foot of moss, teeming millions throughout the rest of the small hollow, and uncounted masses beyond. Their abundance actually frightened Eragon. He had always known that humans were scarce and beleaguered in Alagaësia, but he had never imagined that they were so outnumbered by even beetles.

Since they were one of the few insects that he was familiar with, and Oromis had mentioned them, Eragon concentrated his attention on the columns of red ants marching across the ground and up the stems of a wild rosebush. What he gleaned from them were not so much thoughts—their brains were too primitive—but urges: the urge to find food and avoid injury, the urge to defend one’s territory, the urge to mate. By examining the ants’ instincts, he could begin to puzzle out their behavior.

It fascinated him to discover that—except for the few individuals exploring outside the borders of their province—the ants knew exactly where they were going. He was unable to ascertain what mechanism guided them, but they followed clearly defined paths from their nest to food and back. Their source of food was another surprise. As he had expected, the ants killed and scavenged other insects, but most of their efforts were directed toward the cultivation of… of something that dotted the rosebush. Whatever the life-form was, it was barely large enough for him to sense. He focused all of his strength on it in an attempt to identify it and satisfy his curiosity.

The answer was so simple, he laughed out loud when he comprehended it: aphids. The ants were acting as shepherds for aphids, driving and protecting them, as well as extracting sustenance from them by massaging the aphids’ bellies with the tips of their antennae. Eragon could hardly believe it, but the longer he watched, the more he became convinced that he was correct.

He traced the ants underground into their complex matrix of warrens and studied how they cared for a certain member of their species that was several times bigger than a normal ant. However, he was unable to determine the insect’s purpose; all he could see were servants swarming around it, rotating it, and removing the specks of matter it produced at regular intervals.

After a time, Eragon decided that he had gleaned all the information from the ants that he could—unless he was willing to sit there for the rest of the day—and was about to return to his body when a squirrel jumped into the glade. Its appearance was like a blast of light to him, attuned as he was to the insects. Stunned, he was overwhelmed by a rush of sensations and feelings from the animal. He smelled the forest with its nose, felt the bark give under his hooked claws and the air swish through his upraised plume of a tail. Compared to an ant, the squirrel burned with energy and possessed unquestionable intelligence.

Then it leaped to another branch and faded from his awareness.

The forest seemed much darker and quieter than before when Eragon opened his eyes. He took a deep breath and looked about, appreciating for the first time how much life existed in the world. Unfolding his cramped legs, he walked over to the rosebush.

He bent down and examined the branches and twigs. Sure enough, aphids and their crimson guardians clung to them. And near the base of the plant was the mound of pine needles that marked the entrance to the ants’ lair. It was strange to see with his own eyes; none of it betrayed the numerous and subtle interactions that he was now aware of.

Engrossed in his thoughts, Eragon returned to the clearing, wondering what he might be crushing under his feet with every step. When he emerged from under the trees’ shelter, he was startled by how far the sun had fallen. I must have been sitting there for at least three hours.

He found Oromis in his hut, writing with a goose-feather quill. The elf finished his line, then wiped the nib of the quill clean, stoppered his ink, and asked, “And what did you hear, Eragon?”

Eragon was eager to share. As he described his experience, he heard his voice rise with enthusiasm over the details of the ants’ society. He recounted everything that he could recall, down to the minutest and most inconsequential observation, proud of the information that he had gathered.

When he finished, Oromis raised an eyebrow. “Is that all?”

“I…” Dismay gripped Eragon as he understood that he had somehow missed the point of the exercise. “Yes, Ebrithil.”

“And what about the other organisms in the earth and the air? Can you tell me what they were doing while your ants tended their droves?”

“No, Ebrithil.”

“Therein lies your mistake. You must become aware of all things equally and not blinker yourself in order to concentrate on a particular subject. This is an essential lesson, and until you master it, you will meditate on the stump for an hour each day.”

As he sat on the stump, Eragon found that his turbulent thoughts and emotions prevented him from mustering the concentration to open his mind and sense the creatures in the hollow. Nor was he interested in doing so.

Still, the peaceful quality of his surroundings gradually ameliorated his resentment, confusion, and stubborn anger. It did not make him happy, but it did bring him a certain fatalistic acceptance. This is my lot in life, and I’d better get used to it because it’s not about to improve in the foreseeable future.

After a quarter of an hour, his faculties had regained their usual acuity, so he resumed studying the colony of red ants that he had discovered the day before. He also tried to be aware of everything else that was happening in the glade, as Oromis had instructed.

Eragon met with limited success. If he relaxed and allowed himself to absorb input from all the consciousnesses nearby, thousands of images and feelings rushed into his head, piling on top of one another in quick flashes of sound and color, touch and smell, pain and pleasure. The amount of information was overwhelming. Out of pure habit, his mind would snatch one subject or another from the torrent, excluding all the rest before he noticed his lapse and wrenched himself back into a state of passive receptivity. The cycle repeated itself every few seconds.

Despite that, he was able to improve his understanding of the ants’ world. He got his first clue as to their genders when he deduced that the huge ant in the heart of their underground lair was laying eggs, one every minute or so, which made it—her—a female. And when he accompanied a group of the red ants up the stem of their rosebush, he got a vivid demonstration of the kind of enemies they faced: something darted out from underneath a leaf and killed one of the ants he was bound to. It was hard for him to guess exactly what the creature was, since the ants only saw fragments of it and, in any case, they placed more emphasis on smell than vision. If they had been people, he would have said that they were attacked by a terrifying monster the size of a dragon, which had jaws as powerful as the spiked portcullis at Teirm and could move with whiplash speed.

The ants ringed in the monster like grooms working to capture a runaway horse. They darted at it with a total lack of fear, nipping at its knobbed legs and withdrawing an instant before they were caught in the monster’s iron pincers. More and more ants joined the throng. They worked together to overpower the intruder, never faltering, even when two were caught and killed and when several of their brethren fell off the stem to the ground below.

It was a desperate battle, with neither side willing to give quarter. Only escape or victory would save the combatants from a horrible death. Eragon followed the fray with breathless anticipation, awed by the ants’ bravery and how they continued to fight in spite of injuries that would incapacitate a human. Their feats were heroic enough to be sung about by bards throughout the land.

Eragon was so engrossed by the contest that when the ants finally prevailed, he loosed an elated cry so loud, it roused the birds from their roosts among the trees.

Out of curiosity, he returned his attention to his own body, then walked to the rosebush to view the dead monster for himself. What he saw was an ordinary brown spider with its legs curled into a fist being transported by the ants down to their nest for food.

Amazing.

He started to leave, but then realized that once again he had neglected to keep watch over the myriad other insects and animals in the glade. He closed his eyes and whirled through the minds of several dozen beings, doing his best to memorize as many interesting details as he could. It was a poor substitute for prolonged observation, but he was hungry and he had already exhausted his assigned hour.

When Eragon rejoined Oromis in his hut, the elf asked, “How went it?”

“Master, I could listen night and day for the next twenty years and still not know everything that goes on in the forest.”

 

Sunlight brings those creatures hidden that I forget to look for, those in plain sight that I’m blind to unless one pops up suddenly under my feet, breaking into thoughts like a pin-prick of light entering through a slit into a dark room
Night light brings them closer
The artificial brightness of my lamp attracts them
Pulls them out of other midnight wanderings, wings clicking towards luminescence.

The Room at the End of the Hallway: Roxanne Nunes

The room at the end of the hallway
was once a glorious sight.
It was where the princess lay
and dreamt of princes and fairy tales.

The room at the end of the hallway
was always filled with laughter
and love. Where her highness danced
and sung about things to come.

The room at the end of the hallway
slowly began to change,
once her lady moved away.
But promised she would come back again.

The room at the end of the hallway
soon became a home for lost things,
broken, torn, and useless pieces of life,
were forgotten and soon faded away.

The princess at long last had returned.
To find the room old and burnt.
She tried to bring it to life again,
but her efforts were in vain.
So she too vanished, into the darkness of
the room at the end of the hallway.

– Roxanne Nunes (https://anotherapotheosis.wordpress.com/)