Whoops, I didn't enter. DQ my soul if you dare
Before the Lion, he laid Bare
The library of a university is a place to find lost books, but to say that Before The Lion was lost is perhaps not truthful. Perhaps it was meant to be hidden, or perhaps like the hrönir, the act of seeking is what produced it. It was a bare book, with silver binding and a blue cover, wedged between two volumes of a compendium of Persian archaeological periodicals.
The book itself was the second edition published by Harcourt Press, being published in 1973, while the original edition had been published in 1969. The work itself was written (or so it claims) by one Louis O'Brian, with an introduction by Elizabeth Bowen, an Irish novelist of no small esteem.
The content of the book itself concerns a young man of the sort that is readily relatable to other young men attending college: he has education and means, but doesn't know what plan his life should take, so in the way in which protagonists do what we know is unwise, he leaves home and takes an extended trip. The central conflict, that of seeking his own identity, steals the focus of the narrative to such an extent that the people he encounters on the way--a beautiful older woman, a man of questionable intentions, a young woman his age who entices but frustrates him--are left shallow.
It is in the middle of this book that this young man comes to Damascus, and, through a rather contrived (though daring and adventurous) conjunction of events, wins favor with the company of the monks of a monastic order. He is invited to stay with them, and in the time he spends there, impresses them with his command of Greek and his gentility. Through this, they allow him to visit their library, where he reads a Greek translation of an Egyptian fable, which proceeds like this:
Following a year of poor inundation, a scribe found himself struggling to provide enough for his family and slaves. One night, he was approached by a "spirit of the desert" in the form of a lion, with whom he made a contract: for ten years of prosperity, the spirit would be granted whole and complete ownership of the man's soul. Ten years passed, and the scribe was visited again by the desert-spirit, who had come to collect payment. The scribe insisted he was ready to pay, but that before completing the transaction, he had to be assured that only his soul would be taken. His argument is one rooted in the fact of a constantly changing identity: the spirit cannot take a single part of him, because these parts surface and recede. His memories alter themselves, his attitudes vary; the man who worried over his taxes is gone as the day to collect has passed, the man who cares for his sick child will be no more when the child is well.
Eventually, the spirit, exasperated, proposed that the man has no soul after all, and thereafter vanished. The scribe rejoiced, but soon found himself wracked by spells of stupor, where he would feel as if removed from his body, like his eyes were just a wall upon which shadows were cast, and he was adrift in some deeper dark. The fable concludes here, with the suggestion that perhaps, the spirit had taken the man's soul: that the illusion or the image of a soul is its real and total being.
Following his discovery of this fable, the young man finds himself contemplating it further and further, and though he continues his travels afterward, the sights he sees in Baghdad and Ephesus and Istanbul are distant, as if seen on a postcard at arm's length. The distances between locations become more nebulous as he begins to question what it is that is him, which separates him from reality. The penultimate chapter, taking place in a Prague drained of detail, cast in clay on a flat plane, ends thus:
"The fog had set in thicker, swallowing up the world but for the cafe, and the table, and the chair I was sitting in. The less that there was, the clearer everything was to me. Everything was white, and I was black: I am nothing."
After this bit of self-indulgence (as all fiction about fiction must be) the final chapter returns to the original conflict, which seems so distant now. The young man, having realized his non-existence, uses this freedom to determine his own path for the future, and to create meaning out of nothingness. By the end of the story, his "revelation" that he was ever only fictional has become a sort of creation-power, allowing himself to recreate both the world and himself, maintaining the status quo, but wiser for his journey, and with a new goal in mind.
The afterward of the book is written by this Louis O'Brian himself, and describes the challenge he faced in first publishing the book, which originally lacked its final chapter, and expresses his hope that the new ending will bring his message of hope to a wider audience.
The addition of this ending, which is clearly of a different mood to the rest of the story, appears as an attempt to make Before The Lion into a marketable piece of fiction, though I can hardly say that it is the least of its sins. But for the young man, none of the characters exist as more than a cipher for some aspect of his personality. In addition, the "Egyptian fable" entirely ignores the fact that Egyptian culture had a strict concept of the soul, and seems to resemble more Greek philosophical wanderings or Norse riddles. To base a work about truth and reality on a text so blatantly false would seem deliberate, if the story were any more tactful.
What lingers in my mind is that I have never found any further information on this author, Louis O'Brian, whether through libraries or publishing houses or those who knew the late Elizabeth Bowen. The book itself is lost, too; I have only found it once since that time in the university library, and it has long since slipped away from me. I try not to think of it now, but every so often, when I drive through the countryside or sit at my desk, I begin to see the world as a postcard at arm's length.
|# ¿ Jan 15, 2017 10:02
|# ¿ Mar 1, 2024 00:40
In with flash fiction and a flash rule.
|# ¿ Jun 6, 2017 21:23
The Child of the Great Sky speaks to the Child of the Valley
You cannot stay with me.
I am made of the red stone and the high wind. You are mud and fire and spittle. When I run, my feet touch the tops of the cliffs, where no man has ever stood. You cannot even bare the sunlight where it is softest. What of the reeds your mother wove, what of the sinew around your neck? You are a hole into which things vanish.
But you come to me, and rest your head on my pelt.
I am jealous of you. I am jealous because you have a place. Although you wander, although you chase the bison that skirt the streams that roll from the mountain, you have a home among your kind. For me, home is forever long away, it is the far horizon. It is why I run and why I howl. And you come from your home, and pet my head, and rest in the mid-day haze.
You dream when you sleep at my side. How can you do this? You are a thing of the valley, not of the sky and mountain. When awake, your feet touch the ground as they should, but when you sleep, you rise up, unbound. I do not understand, and that scares me.
You cannot stay with me.
Go, hunt, fill yourself with the mud and spittle of your kind. Find yourself in the dark earth and fresh flesh and another's smile. Be happy, live, die, live again, like the grain of the valley. It is the blessing given to your kind. The mountains hide the far horizon. We hide the endless horizon.
Do you think I cannot hear their whispers? They worry. They have seen me, and they have seen you come to me, and they think there is something high and mountainous about you.
You lay your head on my chest and smell the dust of stars and dream of standing on the cliff tops. A canyon soars beneath you in a single jump. I breathe slowly. Heartwood and sinew bendsinew like the band wrapped around your neck. Feathers of a bird. Stone chipped to a point. It pierces my breast without a sound.
You wake to the sight of blood staining my fur. You howl and cry and claw the bolt from my side. It is little use. Come, get on my back. My left front leg buckles, but I climb. I climb the cliffs, with the red clay under my paws; I climb the forests of needle and sap; I climb the bare rock and white snow.
My legs give way beneath me.
Look, out there. The gold and purple, the far horizon. My home I will never reach.
You cannot stay with me. I can no longer run.
But you can.
You are the first. The first of mud and fire and spittle to see this. The first whose feet will touch the tops of the cliffs and whose back will brush the stars.
You will not be the last. And when you reach the endless horizon, remember me.
You cannot stay with me. But you can take my memory with you.
|# ¿ Jun 12, 2017 04:51
|# ¿ Jun 13, 2017 04:22
In, , this:
|# ¿ Jun 24, 2017 05:37
Another One Bites the Dust
The sound of Queen on cassette drifted over the undifferentiated rubble of the London Waste. Rich Hardly, Defender of the Realm, was searching for his girlfriend's cat. To the beat of Another One Bites the Dust, he clicked his tongue and called, "Here, kitty kitty." His purple convertible sat ten metres away, on a chunk of highway tarmac.
He didn't even like her cat. He liked her, though. When she drove, she made you feel like the bombs had never fell. The car became a part of her, all buttery smooth and jaguar lines. Of all the people, demi-people, and neo-people Rich had met, she was the only one who could ride a BMW E30 better than he could.
But then, one day, she'd climbed over the door, and said she'd be back.
Now all that was left was her bloody cat.
As Rich bent down to peer underneath a half-wrecked bus, he felt a jabbing pain in his back. It was the sort of pain that came from a spear jabbing into your back.
"Stay," a gruff voice barked.
Brilliant. Dog people.
The leash wrapped around Rich Hardly's wrists wouldn't give. The elastic was so snug that any struggling robbed his fingertips of sensation.
The dog person who'd captured him was some blend of chocolate Labrador and border collie: fluffy, dark, and imposing. At least four cars' bonnets had been sacrificed to forge his clanging plate armor.
Out of the rubble rose a wall, which was also made of rubble. A hastily-reinforced archway was watched by a single dog person guard, clad black iron armor and a helmet shaped like a snarling pit bull.
The guard let out a loud grunt, then pulled Rich toward them, stuck their iron snout in his face, and gave a few slow sniffs.
"Domina," the guard rasped at Rich's captor, then flung him into the dog man's chest.
Rich's eyes lingered on the guard as he was hauled away. That voice...
There was no ceiling in Rich Hardly's cell, so he watched sulphurous clouds trailing across an algae-green sky, framed by half-standing columns: once the British Museum's façade.
"It is you."
Rich twisted his head around, nestling his chin into the familiar neo-leopard lining of his coat. Standing in the doorway was a Doberman, clad in strips of spiked steel finely worked to hug her frame. A strip of barbed wire wrapped around her collar.
But nothing intimidated Rich more than the anger in her eyes.
"You slaughtered the Highland Lords," she said. Metal claws like velociraptor talons clinked as she paced around Rich.
"Their slaves did most of the work, really," Rich said.
She changed direction, pacing closer, lips twitching around her yellow fangs. "You slew the King of Crufts."
Rich shrugged, as much as his shoulders could move. "He should have considered that possibility before dueling me."
"We have your cat," the Doberman said. (Not my cat, Rich thought.) "We have your car, and now we have you. So tell me, the Black Scourge. Where is she?" She was so close, he could smell her rank breath.
"You mean Alice? On holiday, I'll bet. We broke up."
She laid a hand on his leash. "Tell me where she is, and I'll let you go, even give you a head start. My raiders love a chase."
Rich sat up and shook the hair out of his eyes. "Domina?" he said, soft, and unguarded.
Her ears lifted and she leaned closer.
Rich wasn't sure which blow was her hand and which was his skull bouncing off the ground. Everything was hot and stung. He couldn't tell which side of his face he was bleeding from.
One of the museum halls was now a throne room, flanked by statues of Anubis dragged from the Egyptian collection and bolted back together like Frankenstein gods. A few marble columns still held up the roof.
Dog people raiders jostled to watch what was happening. They kept a few metres back, as if they all had an instinctive fear. Rich couldn't say whether it was fear of him, or of Domina.
A guard stood over him with a spear aimed at his throat, ready for a quick jab downward if he tried to stand. Beside him was a large cage, draped in sackcloth, emitting horrific yowls. Beyond that, his purple BMW E30.
"Boys and girls!" Domina shouted. The murmur of the crowd quieted. "We've gathered here to witness the end of a legend."
Rich watched the velociraptor claws close in on him. He watched the pit bull guard shuffle behind Domina's throne.
"Will you join us, or will you die?"
The gashes on his cheek smarted. "You're not my type," he said.
The canine warlord sat on her throne and waved her claws. "Kill him."
"No." The guard had drawn a dagger against her throat.
The guard behind Rich moved forward, as did others, to protect their warlord. Rich moved as fast as he could: grabbing the cage with his bound hands, tossing both it and himself into the convertible. The engine's roar and the sudden burst of Queen divided the dog peoples' attention.
Tires squealed on the museum floor. The car swung around. Six cylinders ripped open a path to the throne.
The guard leapt in and threw her helmet off. Copper hair spilled against the leather seat.
"You're not much of a dog person, Alice," Rich said.
"Good to see you," Alice said.
"Take the wheel."
Alice hopped into the drivers' seat, and gave the cage in the back seat a comforting pat. The dog raiders closed in. Snarling, Domina lunged for the door. Rich's fist met her face.
And then in a burst of octane, they were gone. A quick hand-over-hand swerved the convertible's back end into a white marble column. The roof groaned, cracked, and tumbled. A howl split the air, then was cut short.
Rich and Alice sped away over the Waste in a cloud of marble dust.
|# ¿ Jun 26, 2017 02:31
|# ¿ Jun 27, 2017 17:25
Thunderdome Week 256: Myths of the Near Stone Age
Write me dreams of the dawn of civilization.
Entries/subs close 11 PM Pacific Friday/Sunday, respectively.
|# ¿ Jun 27, 2017 17:25
Entries closed. This your only warning that close of submissions is 11 PM Pacific on Sunday.
|# ¿ Jul 1, 2017 08:57
Judgement coming soon.
|# ¿ Jul 3, 2017 06:05
Thunderdome Week 256 Judgement
I thought keeping it short would make people read the prompt, but I recognize my mistake.
This week's loser is Killer-of-Lawyers. This world is cruel.
Chili DMs, but it's okay, because I don't think he read the prompt, so maybe he won't read this.
Noah HMs for a sad story about a dog. Benny Profane HMs by writing the sort of thing I had hoped people would write. sebmojo HMs for being a charming son of a gun.
Sitting Here wins, but does that really surprise anyone?
|# ¿ Jul 3, 2017 06:23
|# ¿ Mar 1, 2024 00:40
Week 256 Crits: Dreaming of Better Stories
Noah - Where You Are Now
I'm not sure how this is the dawn of civilization and/or the stone age, but I found your characters sympathetic and compelling, and after sitting on it for a little while, decided I liked your dog dreaming of ancient days. The lapse into hunger at the end sold me on your dog as an animal and not just a dumb human on all fours.
Chili - Come My Way
The point of view in this is strange to me. It takes a scientific look at an ant colony as a whole, then zooms into one specific ant (who probably isn't a male ant, as much as it's a boring and pedantic nit to pick). I also had a hard time visualizing the scene, especially when Bent gets to his 'moral dilemma'. The story ends by setting up an image that conveys the point, then also saying "this is the point, he sacrificed himself." Also, where are the dreams? Or the dawn of civilization, for that matter? Other ants sacrifice themselves but it doesn't seem like this is the start of an Enlightened ant colony.
Thranguy - The Boy Who Yearned to Kiss the Moon
This is the first one that did something close to what I wanted. The overwrought prose is a problem though. I had to read the first line a couple times to figure out what it actually meant. And there's a weird fart joke halfway through that doesn't fit the tone--it's too sarcastic and wordy. But ignoring that, I liked the central concept and I liked the story you told. It's appreciably old but you did enough new stuff with it to turn it into its own thing.
steeltoedsneakers - There is a crack in everything
Speaking of doing new stuff with old things, I know this is a retelling. The problem is that it doesn't add anything beyond being a nice myth. I'm not averse to retellings, but a more personal/individual perspective would have been interesting as opposed to the mythic distance. As is, it's fine, it's just not got much to latch onto beyond being a real-world myth.
Benny Profane - The Secret World
I could tell where this was going early on, but it was a nice road to get there. And this is very much the sort of thing I was looking for: a story about some sort of emerging humanness. I would have liked to see the dreaminess of her nighttime world elaborated more, maybe in place of the vision of the future? Or maybe make the vision of the future more of a dream of possibilities, some of which the future will hold.
Sitting Here - The Origin Voracious
This is an interesting way to take it, though I see where you were coming from. And I liked the myth-building of some sort of endless need to fill that life possesses. I also got the idea that maybe this lady is a big dick with a negative view of things and that's coloring what she thinks of the world. So it managed to be both mythical and personal and even though you put a cell phone in there, I liked it.
Fumblemouse - Sumerian Blue
A fun story. But, like a lot of fun stories, it's hard to know when to stop a line. And it's easy to have two characters just kind of back-and-forth in a vaguely amusing way. Or maybe I've just seen so many scenes of people receiving supernatural visitors with a deadpan tone that I wanted something else to happen. You did a good job of setting up the punchline that comes after the break, though, and I enjoyed the joke.
Killer-of-Lawyers - Troubles
Sorry about the loss. The structure of your story is a little odd, in the way it jumps around. It might make more sense in reverse chronological order, like it's tracing your protagonist's thoughts as he's trying to figure out where the pain in his life is coming from. But the point fell flat to me because there's no contrast to it. It's one note sustained for the whole piece--which, to be fair, is short. Saying "this wouldn't have lost if there was something worse" is a tautology but this wasn't bad, just hasty and not fully cooked.
sebmojo - Bird Dreams
This is a way less serious take on the idea, but I still see thematic parallels between this and Benny's. The casual teenageness of the tone suits both the dumb ways they act and the way they're trying to figure out things like death and relationships. And being so endearingly stupid but well-meaning made them some of the most genuinely likable characters this week, which is probably why I ended up
|# ¿ Jul 3, 2017 07:08