I originally wrote this short story for the CBC Literary Awards but as they’ve contacted the finalists and I wasn’t one of them, I think it’s safe for me to post it here. If you like it please link to it. I posted it to Kuro5hin.org’s Fiction section where it’s currently about to voted off. Hmmm, yay for niche stories…
The Colour of Orr
The horizon curved beneath her and she was happy – it was a glorious night to be dancing in the sky. The stars above were twinkling at her in a familiar way just as the nodes beneath her (sporadic as they were) pulsated with a warm dull throb. Their awareness filled her essence. It was a good night to be alive! She looked at her companions as they weaved in and around each other in a complex pattern, and she felt at peace. Here I am! I am a part of this, adding wonder to the world! She doubled her energy and for a moment was lost in the hum of the universe as she danced about, light as air across the sky. She felt the awareness of the nodal points increase and knew that her efforts were being appreciated. She felt happy but tired and knew her companions felt the same. It was time to disperse.
As she flew over the barren whiteness cloaked in forest’s shadow, she watched a deer nibbling at a bit of grass poking up through the day’s fresh snow. She observed the pine trees as their sap cooled for the coming winter, as they focused inward in preparation for the long wait. She felt a bear curling up inside his den, a slow lazy dream descending upon him. She was awash with the wonder. The energy that existed between these creatures and Mother Nature was inspiring. She knew that she could happily observe this delicate balance and be content forever if not for the hunger.
She felt a distant convergence of the community taking place; a meme was travelling back and forth at an astonishing rate as new information was being digested. As more and more self’s converged, she was irresistibly drawn from her musings to join the rest and find out what had the community in such a state. As she drew closer, she began to pick up bits of conversation.
“It’s not safe, that area is no longer welcome to us!”
“Think of the energy, we could be full for months!”
“Their perversion of nature will taint us – we don’t want to bring that back here to the Great White.”
As she approached she saw the elders were embroiled in a fierce debate; thoughts and ideas changed hands so quickly they began to meld into a fractious almost violent struggle between opposing ideals. She knew that her voice was not needed here, so she asked her mother’s sister Shar “What’s all the commotion about?” Shar replied “Ra has given us a gift of energy but the majority will fall in the land down below. We shouldn’t go there.”
She was puzzled by this response, and queried Shar further.
“That area does not belong to us, it belongs to the others. We will be hurt if we travel into their world.”
“But think about how much we could feast, and how much wonder we could spread! Perhaps the others only need to see us dance?” asked Perc, her brother.
Just then the din of the elders ceased; consensus was reached. Elder Uni separated himself from the others to address the assembly.
“It is our decision that we must take advantage of this rare feast. Ra has sent us this gift; it would be foolish to reject it because of our fears. We shall head to the other’s land at once over the cover of clouds.”
Perc was ecstatic with the decision. He started looping and whooping in delight causing great consternation with the elders.
“Perhaps the land down below isn’t suitable for children,” spoke Elder Uni. “Maybe only those with some wisdom are prepared for the other’s presence.”
“No, no mother of my father, I’m ready. I’ll behave,” moaned Perc, who had turned a faint purple in embarrassment.
Without further ado, the community headed downwards toward the site of the great feast. The clouds prevented them from perceiving the Mother as they journeyed, but the Father was in full display, his pale luminescence guiding the way.
“What is so terrible about the others?” asked Perc.
“They have no sense of balance,” replied Elder Uni. “They cannot see past their own lifespan and thus have no sense of the consequences of their actions.”
Elder Uni sighed green and continued. “They have an extraordinary thirst for knowledge but it is tempered by their lust for physical things. They consume so much of the Mothers treasure without giving it a second thought.”
“They sound evil!” cried Perc.
“They are not so, my grandson. There are some among them who seem to realize the destructive nature of their society. We’ve observed conflict unfold surrounding the logging of trees and the slaughter of our whale kin. We can only hope that these are not radicals lashing out against the majority.”
“I wish they would all die and leave the Mother alone!” exclaimed Perc with a tone of red finality.
“Brother Perc, if they were all dead we’d be dead as well, right Elder Uni?”
“Not quite, beloved granddaughter. We would not be dead but we would not be having this conversation, or any other conversation for that matter. We’d be no more sentient than the deer, the bear or the wolf.”
She and Perc both looked confused, so the Elder elaborated.
“Before the others came along we existed, but purely as reactive creatures. We consumed Ra’s gift, danced, and turned ourselves in the passing. But these were only instincts; we had no thoughts of our own.
“After a period of time that is lost to us, the others started to spread across the world. We could only watch and observe the few that lived near the Great White, but as they saw us dance, their awareness of us formed nodal points. These in turn increased our complexity and brought about our consciousness.
“So you see we are dependent on them for our society just as they are dependent on us for the balance of the Mothers atmosphere.”
“You’d think they’d appreciate that,” interjected Que, the quiet one. “But you’d be wrong. They think that we’re mere random streaks of light across the sky, a pretty show caused by a solar wind from Ra.”
“Que, your cynicism is not needed here. The others know we exist, otherwise why would they form nodal points and add to our being?” retorted Elder Uni.
“Perhaps the nodal points are just children who do not know better. I’ve observed them just as long as you have Uni and they show no signs of understanding the nature of our existence.” With a flick of red Que left to the fringe of the community where his hue undulated between red, yellow and a hint of green.
“Never mind Que children, he’s always been a bit distempered since his encounter with one of their flying transports.”
There was little more discussion as the gift from Ra began to envelope them. As they reached the peak intensity the clouds beneath them were breaking up. A sigh echoed through the group as the dance started; instinct took over and the feasting began.
Striations of colours flickered and fluctuated around her as her companions intermingled and feasted. Patterns were created, modified and destroyed in an instant. She lost herself in the moment as the hunger took over, awed by the magnitude of Ra’s gift. She felt the intensity of the feeding consuming the other selfs as their individuality was lost in the chaos. Like a cold iridescent fire they consumed the sky, flicking, growing and fading, expanding and contracting as their instincts took command. She was lost now, too, her self merged with the community in a way that she never fully understood, but always appreciated afterwards. What little was left of her conscious thought supposed this was how new selfs were created; bits and pieces from everyone else combined with the raw energy from Ra to produce a new unique entity.
She also wondered where this insight was coming from, as she hadn’t ever given much thought to the reproductive process of her species. She had always just had a mother and a father to look after her as she was learning; she had never questioned how she came about. With dawning realization she became aware of the nodal points beneath her, the vast quantity of them temporarily overwhelming her. The dull throb that she was used to had become a crushing roar as awareness of the dance from the others washed over the group in great waves. There were so many others here! Look at how much awareness these creatures created! This incredible audience renewed her fervour and she danced as she had never danced before, painting a mosaic of colours as bright and as colourful as Ra’s rising.
There was another self beside her that she didn’t know well, but as they danced together their energy intermingled in a new and profound way. They curled and snarled in amongst the rest in revelry that she had never experienced before. The nodal points below seemed to appreciate this display and throbbed more intensely. Conscious thought totally abandoned her.
As she arose from her daze, she sensed a new entity beside her. She looked at its frail cohesiveness and realized she had birthed a son. “What is your name?” she cooed, trying to produce an intelligent response from the newborn.
“Orr.” he rasped, fluctuating between beige and yellow. “Where am I?”
“We are in the land of the others, below our home. It is time for us to return to the Great White,” she replied.
“I’m hungry,” he moaned quietly. She replied “Dance a little now with what’s left of Ra’s gift, and we will feast when we return home.”
Orr danced alone, consuming the remnants of the energy. He confidently moved from concentration to concentration efficiently and without hesitation. His movement was lithe and purposeful, his colours varying between grey and brown. When he was done he joined his mother.
The group enveloped them and they started the long journey back. With cloud cover gone, she was able to observe the entirety of the other’s awesome devastation. There was little conversation as the magnitude of the destruction of the Mother seeped into their collective consciousness. Even Perc seemed sombre.
“I do not believe it would be wise for us to return here,” he said. “Surely this tainted perception of the world affects us in ways we do not understand. If we wish to remain true to ourselves, we should have as little to do with the others as possible.”
“Wise words, from one so young,” replied Elder Uni. “But I believe you forget the source of that wisdom. It is, and always will be, about balance.”
Perc conceded the point with a flash of purple and joined Orr. The two of them went to the fringe of the group while she and Elder Uni continued the discussion.
“I am worried about your child, grandchild. He does not seem as you or I. I fear that the others stained his soul during his birth. I cannot help you raise him as my time of passing approaches.” whispered Elder Uni. A shiver of dread fluttered through her form as the dire prediction was processed.
Que silently sidled next to her and Elder Uni. “Can you taste it?” he asked. “The price of their progress? The Mother is dying in these lands and yet the others go about their lives, too wrapped up in the needs of the now to notice the decay around them.”
“Perhaps you’re right Que but I refuse to give up on them. With time I’m sure they will come to see the error of their ways.” replied Elder Uni.
“But you, grandchild,” he continued, “You have a great responsibility before you. I see it clearly now; your child was born in the bath of a vast amount of perceptive energy. He has much strength in him if only he learns to use it wisely.”
She flashed yellow and went to join her son for the long voyage home.
* * * * *
“Do you understand now why we must turn ourselves when it is our time of passing?” Her son thrashed violently around her, a mass of nervous energy.
“Yes, but when are we going to feed again?”
“In time, but first the council must elect a new Elder to replace Uni. You children must watch and learn the process for when it is your turn.”
With a derisive flash of blue Orr turned and left the assembly. Shocked, his mother frantically followed. After some time she caught up.
“Where are you going, son? Did you not hear what I said?”
Orr turned around and faced his mother. “I do not care about our traditions. There is food over here and I’m hungry.”
Orr continued on his previous course until he reached a spot of heavy concentration. At once he started the dance, only this was horribly different. Instead of a joyous celebration of life, an aurora of colours and shapes, his dance was a malevolent process of avarice and consumption. His mottled form flashed greys, cold wisps of white and a deep blackness that ate away at the stars above.
His mother called out “Orr, what are you doing? You’re not spreading any wonder! Can you not feel the animals hiding, these few nodal points getting dimmer and dimmer? This dance of yours is an aberration of nature!”
Orr ignored her and continued his grotesque feeding. The animals that hadn’t fled were now trying to burrow to get out of sight of the terrible display. The nodal points winked out one by one as the others refused to acknowledge Orr’s presence. With horror his mother looked on as despair engulfed her. She wept purple for her people, the others, and most importantly the Mother.