Aphelion Issue 233, Volume 22
October 2018
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Hiding Underfoot

by Robert B. Allen

The weight, the pressure, the pain. So many pressing down for so long.

Will it ever end? Would I wish it to…?

For so many turnings of the seasons, existence was a joy. There was no aching, for the weight was not great; there was no loneliness for I reveled in growth. I could not imagine such painful feelings at the beginning, but I would learn.

How could I have been so nave? I wonder…

When the world was young, and the first others walked on the land, I was born. Breaking through the growth of the land, wearing paths in the soil, some on two legs, others with more.

Slowly, tentatively, they moved in the first days. Growing braver and beginning to wander, they never knew I grew with them, my length and breadth expanding where they explored. Across open lands and rough terrain, they flowed. Nothing could stop them, not rain, nor ice, nor burning sun. So brave, so curious they were in the beginning, peering into every valley, canyon, and cave and across every plain. I shared the joy in their exploration, sharing their exultation with each new vista being revealed. My limbs in the first days had been weaving and narrow and rough. With the passing of time, I grew wide and clear as the two-legged ones learned to use the other creatures, the ones with more legs, to help them make their way. I don't think any of them ever noticing they were helping me grow.

Would they have acknowledged me if they did?

Then suddenly, in the blink of an age, the new others came: great heavy beasts of rushing metal and burning heat, heedless of the pain they inflicted with their fervent gait, their mad dashing tearing holes and rending grooves in my being with their power and fury, their insane pace leaving neither them nor the slow-moving ones they now carried time to explore, to see the flow of the world around them. I grieve for what they have lost, for the loss of their pastoral past, their joy and wonder. I would show them again, as I did for so long, if they would only see. The answer of how eludes me, though I have thought on the question long.

How do I show them what they have lost—what we have lost?

Sometimes the great beasts and the others work together, joining their strength to expand my reach into new places, even as it fades in others. I grieve for the ways forgotten, lost, and overgrown, and the joys discovered along them.

Why did they abandon those golden paths?

There have been other times, times when the great beasts and the others join to help me heal. But often it seems only after they have done me great damage or when the earth or rain or ice have moved and broken me. Perhaps that is their way of making amends for the pain they inflict?

If they know I am here… if they knew I was here, would they speak to me I wonder?

But those times when the land shifts and moves, then they come to my aid—so they are not without compassion. Still, why do they not speak to me?

Could they be so callous in their majesty?

And their sadness and loss, I feel to my core. When they falter and fail, there is pain—for the great beasts, for the others and for me. I feel the agony each and every time they crumble and die. Just as I do when my limbs are no longer of worth to them… lost… abandoned.

Do they feel my hurting as I feel theirs?

My loneliness is devastating, if only they would truly see me underfoot. Perhaps then I could find my joy, find our joy again.

There have been occasions, when I met others like me. Foolishly, I thought my loneliness was at an end. Each time I felt the ecstasy of companionship, of sharing, for a brief flashing instant. But then we joined, and I was one. Alone again. The two legs and beasts have others, why don’t I?

Where did my others go?

From great water to great water, from mountain to desert, I reach now. Watching, waiting, wondering will I ever find another me? How to ask the others and the beasts if they know the answer?

Would they tell me if they know?

The question gnaws, but how to get their attention when they don't seem to know I am here? My cries go unheeded, my questions unanswered, my sorrow ignored. Maybe if I stretched and waved they would notice I was here…

Am I brave enough to find out? To explore something new? To be brave like they were, taking those first steps so long ago…?


2017 Robert B. Allen

Robert B. Allen's short fiction has previously appeared in Phantaxis Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine. More than this, he does not say.