Art by Norman E. Masters
They were the Tunnels of Night; darkness was their pillars and Darkness moved between the pillars of itself, clothed in the dread stillness that was All -- except -- what was there, fleetingly, in the black of a moment, the dark of notever.
He moved through the tunnels where Darkness dwelt, far from his home of light. He was on a journey; this was discovery; so he knew no fear. "Can you speak, Darkness?" and the question was wonder, newborn awe of unbefore discovery. "I can feel your touching, but I hear no movement, no rustle, no whisper. Darkness?" Then he did hear something and listened closely, for it was faint with the hope of unheard-of things.
"...no whisper. Darkness?" silently bounding between the pillars.
"That was a whisper, but I have heard the voice before. It was not you, Darkness; it was Echo. Darkness, can you hear me? I search. I must discover. I know you live, because I feel your life throbbing around me, surrounding me, smothering me, quickening the heart of me, welling to burst from inside. Darkness, answer me!"
Stillness that is All -- except -- frustration, bound in upon itself, twisted into tight coils of slow-suffering defeat. The spirit inside him sank in dejection and he whispered, "So they rule even Darkness, then, the Gods of Silence," ever thwarting, driving to extinction. Their decree was inviolable; and no one broke it but he. He, who was alone and seeking and lessening even as he sought. He, who he knew the Gods of Silence laughed at, though silently, for they knew he, too, would be silenced, eventually.
Waiting. The Gods of Silence. Brooding shapes of alabaster that never spoke a word; but, of course, being Gods of Silence they would not speak. They ruled, he knew, because they were aloof from everything, unshakeable and inscrutable. They dwelt in the Cavern of Light, as did he, watching his every move, for it was their home, really, and he was only there by their tolerance. He had begun to wonder whether darkness wasn't also their home, their domain, for their influence seemed to extend here too, here where he had hoped he could escape their dominance, their rule, and find -- what? He didn't know. That was what he was here to find: To Find.
Never knowing how they felt about him, he had felt uncomfortable at times in their staring presence. And that was all they did -- stared -- thru past, thru future, thru all the fleeting vagaries of Now. If they weren't there, though, he was sure he would die, much as he raged against their law of Silence.
He wondered why they tolerated his disobedience. Surely they could destroy him swiftly since they were Gods. Why, then, this slow death he was dying? When death died, he thought, was that when Gods came? Maybe that was how Gods themselves were created -- by killing all life and then destroying death too. For life was dead, had long been dead, and only he and the Gods and what was here remained.
There were two others who barely defied the Gods' decree. But what Echo said was worthless to his purpose, for he had already said it all himself. And Water had little to say either -- at least little that was meaningful; just the same babbling tune ever and ever.
Rock -- well, Rock never spoke, although sometimes it rumbled when brushed, or clattered when he threw it in anger. He was sure Rock could tell him much, if it weren't so afraid of the Gods. But They were Rock, too, and of course could know everything of Rock, holding total domination over it. Light showed him things, but Light would not venture beyond its cavern; and of course the Gods lived there, so Light could say nothing at all.
So, Darkness was his only hope -- and that was the reason for his journey. He must follow Darkness far far from the Cavern of Light and the dominance of the Gods. Then perhaps Darkness would speak and he could learn. For he must learn if he were to live.
Darkness, and passage. No time, for time had ceased to exist. He recalled the syllable, vaguely -- much like Echo sounding from afar; only, it was inside his own mind... Strange word, time. He wondered what it had meant.
Maybe Water would know; but Water never spoke anything but nonsense, so no sense in asking. He wished he could remember, somehow.
It seemed to be a clue; and if he could grasp its meaning maybe some of the rest would fall in place, that which he sought to know -- whatever "that" was.
In the midst of Darkness even movement lost its meaning. Is there movement, and how could he know for sure? He could only hope he moved deeper to probe its sabled secrecy. Far far from the Cavern of Light. He knew he must be far -- yet, just the single step around the corner into Darkness was from one world into another.
"Darkness? Can you hear me?"
No answer; but after an interval he thought he heard Echo again. Strange fellow, Echo. Always seemed to follow him wherever he went, but never yet had he caught a glimpse of him. For a while he had tried -- to no avail; a futile pursuit, and the Gods had smiled at him. Finally he had given up and just accepted Echo's presence for what it was. Irritating, but comforting for he always knew someone was near. Someone, he had begun to think, who was much like himself; so much, in fact, that he could almost be a duplicate, or a shadow.
"Darkness?" he queried again. Still no answer.
Did the God's dominion stretch even here? Would there be no answer? ever? Perhaps Dark Gods ruled here and they too were Gods of Silence, brothers to those in the Cavern of Light. He could only speculate, for Darkness would not answer, yet -- if ever. And journey on, into the further reaches of Darkness, Rock and Echo his only companions, and -- was that Water he heard ahead?
He hastened on. Strange that Water would be in a place like this. Yes, the gurgling was definitely Water! If only he could understand Water, or Water, him. He'd sometimes had the feeling that Water may know so much, may, in fact, not be talking utter nonsense at all, but deepest sense, if he could only understand. But there was no correlation between his and Water's understandings; and all they could do was talk at each other, never with.
And who could say -- maybe even Darkness was speaking to itself right now, just as Water always was, only he couldn't hear it...
There was so much he didn't know. Once, it seemed, he had known. But it was gone now, for the key to that knowledge was gone -- whatever that key had been.
Somewhere he must find the Key again; and all he could do now was hope that Darkness held that key.
Again the syllable passed through his being, fleeting vagary in an evernow of darkness and silence and solitude. He had a feeling that once it had been a beginning, but that now it was an end...
To what? To Darkness? To the Gods?
Time. Inscrutable behind his desire.
And he probed the Darkness, felt of it, felt of Rock stretching here and everywhere, be it in Darkness or in Light. Felt the moist coolness of Water, and it felt comforting, did Water, even in its bubbling insanity, for he had been feeling more alone now, more estranged than ever. Even Echo seemed to be gone, but he realized he had not spoken, and speaking was the summoning call for Echo.
It seemed so futile to speak, to ask, any longer. Indeed, it had been a foolhardy mission altogether. The Gods of Silence held total dominion everywhere; and he, he was their court jester, momentarily amusing them. And when they tired of him...?
Perhaps they tired of him now... Perhaps in this darkness they would cast him out to die... Had he not been feeling weaker of late? Yes, he knew he had; but strangely, he didn't care. It was a relief to feel weaker, to fade, to sink into the soft darkness of oblivion...
The coarse crumbliness beneath him roused him with a prickly protest of "No!" and Echo answered "No!" just as fiercely, likewise protesting the Gods who would silence them both.
So easy to slip into futile defeat when all his questing, his questioning, brought no answers. Only more dim questions. If he could even formulate the questions beyond dim amorphousness he would learn more than he knew now; for a well-formulated question already holds answers.
He felt of the crumbliness beneath him and the shapes were strange shapes, unfamiliar, yet -- just-beyond-his-grasp hauntingly familiar, too. More the feeling of they should be familiar.
"Darkness..." he half-begged, and he could almost feel Darkness willing itself to speak, willing beyond the capacities it had. But there the feeling ended, barriered by each of their limitations.
He felt more carefully the pieces strewn about him, every swelling, every jag, every crevasse. Palpable meaning was here if he could but translate it to his own vision.
If only Light were here... But the Gods would not let Light out of the Cavern; so all he was left with was groping, and an attempt to --
To -- what?
He didn't know. He wasn't even sure, anymore, just why he was here.
The shapes. The crumbling shapes in Darkness. They had the jagged import feeling of gods, he slowly realized. Of shattered gods.
That word, that haunting word in his mind again. And did Gods die, too, like man?
What a strange word... Stranger, even, than "time." He couldn't really recognize it. Had he heard it before?
Yes, he was sure he had. Or -- faintly sure. But he wasn't sure... That was the trouble.
It could be a nonsense syllable like Water always bubbled.
Or -- it could even be the Key! But he didn't know. He didn't know. What good would even the Key be, now, when he didn't know?
Out of nowhere the syllable had come, the single syllable that seemed to have so much import the more he repeated it over and over again to himself. Man. But he couldn't place it, and if he were ever to Know, he knew he must place it.
And was it the Key? he wondered again. And even should it be, what could he do with it now?
Maybe the Key had to use him, he thought-ventured with a twisty kind of mental judo that he hoped might lead somewhere. But it didn't.
He wondered where the syllable had come from, initially. From within his own mind? Or had Darkness whispered it into his thinking in rebellion against the tyrannical power of the Gods of Silence? He had begun to think that Darkness could not speak (rather than it being a case of Darkness would not speak), that Darkness was mute, silenced forever by the Gods that ruled them all, the Gods who gave no explanations, who felt no compassion.
The certainty of the truth of that suspicion came then; but he knew, with it, that Darkness could not have whispered -- even into his mind. No, only the Gods could have done that, as only the Gods could grant him this certainty.
And the Gods were laughing, now, laughing as they had always laughed at him; only there was a new note to that laughter, a note of being -- finished.
Enough, the silent thought came. We have given you the answer to all that you have sought and it has meant nothing to you, nothing.
And if it meant nothing -- what hope is there? With time, with the crumbling of the gods, you have lessened, weakened, weakened, till you are nothing. Tell us now, tell us, they taunted silently, what is your name, seeker?
He tried to find the syllables that should be spoken, but his thinking was mute. He, too, had become Silence, and he knew the victory of the Gods was complete. He could give them no anser.
You don't even know your name any longer, they mocked. And when you have lost your name you have lost yourself..., silently pronounced Silence, forever.
And there was no answer, even from Echo, for Echo was Silence and Darkness too.
Inscrutably the Gods of Silence dwell, in Darkness, in Light, and the only sound is water, babbling insanely to itself.
A strange-sounding word. But there is no seeker left to ponder the meaning of what once had been his name.begun Dec. 1968