A Search for Peace - A short story. Constrained Writing Contest #25

in #constrainedwriting2 years ago (edited)

A Search for Peace

Zefron looked out over the high towers and twinkling lights of the city below. He was standing on the glass floor of the observation deck of the tallest building. It used to be the tallest in the world but now had succumbed to ever increasing strides of mankind to defy gravity and was simply the tallest of this city now.

The lights of the city stretched far across the horizon. People at every corner, in every crevice and secluded spot. Nowhere in this massive metropolis was there a place to go and to breathe. Fair enough, there were gardens and churches and temples, but everyone else at some point had the same idea. So, gardens were full of the elderly and those seeking some kind of spiritual and physical intertwining as they performed body stretches and twists to an unheard rhythm. The churches and temples had a few locals seeking solitude only to be foiled as tourists descended, chattering and camera flashing throughout. No, nowhere was there any silence.

Zefron longed for peace. His head was so full of noise he couldn’t hear himself think that he couldn’t hear himself think.

Walking along the glass floor he mused what it would be like if the 9-inches of thick glass failed and they all tumbled, falling all 632 metres to the floor. A smile edged onto his face. “Peace if nothing else.” he thought ruefully.

A man bumped into Zefron, making him stagger just a little. Annoyed he glared at the direction of the offender, only to be caught off guard by the beautiful smile of a little girl sat perched on her mother’s hip. The mother, and Zefron assumed, father both apologised in their fast babble. He’d been living here for almost 10 years now and still couldn’t understand the language properly.

He wasn’t listening and waved his hand dismissively. The perched little girl continued to smile at him. She was a mini clone of the woman who held her, the features were so similar with yellow skin, dark, almond eyes and dark hair.
“But then they all look the same to me.” Zefron thought.
She leaned forward toward him, straining at her mother’s arm, and handed Zefron a stone. It was perfectly round but other than that a completely ordinary stone. He started to decline the gift, but the little girls’ eyes held his. Her smile never wavered. She seemed as if she was 100 years old in that moment. A shiver ran over Zefron’s back and he took the stone. The spell was broken and the beaming little face before him broke into a giggle.
Apologies given and accepted – sort of – the couple made their way past Zefron. The little girl became pre-occupied with something else and the smile was gone.

Zefron was sleeping restlessly. The air was hot and sticky, and the air conditioning unit wasn’t making a lot of difference. As he tossed and turned, kicking off covers, spread eagled across the bed his mind, his subconscious was whirring. He was dreaming.

Falling. Falling fast. The air whipped past him as he sped towards the earth. He turned his head and could just see a tall building. He must have fallen from that. His speed was increasing, he was going to die. In that moment he wondered how he’d fallen? What had happened? He felt a small stone in his hand then he smiled. At least there will be peace. Zefron hit the ground with a jolt that would’ve moved mountains.

His whole body jumped and caused him to startle, waking him suddenly.

It was a dream.
Zefron shivered and sat up. He was holding a small, perfectly round stone in his hand.
“The gift from the little girl.” He said to no one.

Zefron went to place the stone on his bedside cabinet when he became acutely aware that something wasn’t quite right. For a start it was darker than usual. One of the things that came with living in a big city was the constant light. Dim through thick curtains, light filtered around the edges. But the was no light. There was a small flickering flame emanating light from a little pot on the table beside him. Zefron was confused.

As he sat there contemplating this oddity his brain, his senses, became aware of the other ‘changes’. The table on which the ‘candle’ now sat wasn’t his. It was made of stone. The air conditioning had stopped working. There was no noise outside from battling cars or chattering people that went with a life in the city that didn’t sleep. Things were seriously weird.

Slowly Zefron stood. He took the candle in its pot and held it up to allow more light to cast away the shadows. This wasn’t even his room. Where the hell was he? What had happened that he obviously can’t remember? He walked gingerly a few steps forward. The floor felt scratchy. He looked down and his bare feet were on a rough reed mat. He looked beyond the mat boundaries and saw that the floor was bare earth. Now he was seriously freaked out.

Zefron started to panic but had no idea what to do about it. His first instinct was to curl up and wait to wake properly from this dream. His second was to shout out but the sound caught in his throat before he made it. His mind reprimanding him, playing flash scenarios of being kidnapped, being in a coma and various weird combinations. Zefron stood glued to the spot - silent.

Light appeared across the room as an opening appeared. Some kind of fabric or cloth had been moved aside a little. Zefron looked up and standing in the light was the silhouette of a human (he presumed but he wasn’t sure what to expect). The silhouette was under three feet tall and moved towards him. He realised he was holding his breath but daren’t breath out. His heart was banging, and his pulse thudded in his ears. The silhouette came closer and then he saw it… that smile. It was like the smile of the face of the little girl from the tower. She didn’t speak but simply took his hand, keeping her eyes fixed to his, she led him toward the door. For no explainable reason he followed, meek as a lamb.

As they walked out through the door he realised he was in cavern or cave. There was a dampness, but it wasn’t cold. His bare feet felt the earth and occasionally he hopped as a stone dug into the soles of his feet, but he never spoke. There was a kind of reverence about the girl holding his hand that made the idea of speaking feel almost unholy. The girl was looking forward, away from him now, still holding his hand and leading him. His mind was racing but somehow there was a voice, like a voice of reason, in his head, calming him, telling him not to worry. It wasn’t a tangible thought. It was simply ‘there’.

They reached a turning and light from the cave entrance bounced in. It was still dim, they were quite a way back, but he could see more clearly now. The cave was massive. Looking up it was perhaps 100 feet to the roof, and more than 40 feet across. The were tunnels going off in various directions, one of which they had just exited. The mouth of the cave was bright. It was day, but he had no way of knowing what hour. Around the cave were small stone circles, some with a fire lit within their boundary. Much to Zefron’ s surprise, people were sitting by these fires. Some looked up and gave a cursory nod then went back to their activity. The girl led him past them to the front of the cave, toward the light.
“I’m dead.” Zefron said to himself. The girl giggled.
Somewhere in his subconscious Zefron recognised the giggle, and then he recognised the girl, though she was somehow different. She looked like a raggedy version of the little girl on the observation deck at The Tower.
“Well, if I’m not dead, then WAKE UP.” Zefron shouted out the last two words and the girl startled and stood still. She turned and looked at him as if piercing his very soul. He knew not to do that again. He didn’t know how he knew – he just did.

As they walked out into the open Zefron saw nothing but greens and browns of trees and plants, dotted here and there with vivid colours of flowers. There were birds singing tunefully, insects buzzing a lower beat in unison and a fresh breeze wafted across as if to greet him personally. This looked like paradise. The girl led him forward, along a path, through a natural arch in the trees to a glade. In the centre was a tent like structure, conical in shape with patterns on the outside leather looking ‘walls’ and poles sticking through a hole in the roof.
Smoke rose from the hole and drifted off into the clearest blue sky he had ever seen.

Zefron started to become even more aware of his surroundings and realised, looking at the girl, that she was dressed in furs, fur boots were lashed to her legs with leather thongs and leather straps held fur over her body like a tunic. Her hair was rough, brown, long and tied back. She had a yellow tone to her skin and the most soul-full, brown, almond shaped eyes. His brain then tapped him on the shoulder and told him that the people they had passed at the cave entrance were dressed in a similar fashion. He had been so engrossed on where he was going and where on earth he could possibly be he hadn’t taken much stock of the whole of his surroundings. Now he was calming down and his brain allowed him to digest the rest of the information so far.

The girl stopped and Zefron copied. She gestured to a flap in the tent, a door and gently pushed him forward. He looked down into that ever-smiling face. Her brown eyes twinkled and she gently pushed at his arm indicating for him to go.

Pulling the cover back Zefron revealed an opening and ducked his head inside. The space within was gloomy and smelled acrid, smoke tinged. But there was something else. He couldn’t put his finger on it but there was a scent drifting in the background. A lone old man sat by a centre circle of stones with a fire inside. He gestured for Zefron to sit. Zefron complied, sitting on a rough reed mat that the old guy had pointed to. The old one stared at the younger man. No expression was on his face. Zefron noted that the old man was dressed in a similar fashion to the girl, even to the long, dark with a smatter of grey, tied back hair.

The man sat silent for a few moments then, staring into the flames, began to hum. The sound was low, like a rumble vibrating the air. Zefron stared, not daring to move. By now he had realised that this was more than a dream. He’d even wondered if he’d been drugged, but this was too surreal, too real.
As the old man hummed and the air vibrated the smoke in the fire swirled and Zefron swore he could see shapes of the familiar city high-rises. Watching intently as the smoke shifted, taking form then losing it again, fire crackles lighting up like the streets of the metropolis, ashes gathering in heaps then dissipating as if it were people walking along the streets.

“This is some seriously weird shit”. Zefron thought.

The old man looked up. He wasn’t speaking yet Zefron could hear him.

“You are happy in the stone place?” a voice in Zefron’s head asked.
“Stone place?” Zefron questioned.
“The fire speaks of places made of stone where people live. Caves that touch the sky.” The old man’s words came to him like mist on a breeze. He understood.
“Not really.” He replied out loud.
“Don’t speak. It is unholy when we are with the Spirits. Just think. Think your words and I will hear them.” The man nodded as Zefron took in the thought words.
“Telepathy! Or ghosts, or drugs. No! It was definitely telepathy.” Zefron thought. The old man nodded his approval as if he was thankful Zefron understood.
Zefron had heard about it but most people he knew or had read about had dismissed it as an actual thing.
“Not really.” Zefron thought back at the man in response to his question. The man nodded.
“Why do you stay?” Came the question.
Zefron felt uneasy at this ‘thinking’ conversation but he didn’t want to offend so set his mind to think his words.
“I have no where else to go.” He responded.
Again, the man nodded.
“What is it you seek?” came the next question.
“Peace… I guess.” Zefron replied
“Here is peace. No?”
“From what I’ve seen. Yes. Where am I.” Zefron questioned.
“You are here of course.” Came the response. The man looked at him, a smile on his face.
“Funny! I mean how did I get here, where is here, what’s going on?” Zefron wanted some answers because none of this made any sense at all.
“You took the stone. Your heart was crying. The stone brought you here. For Peace.” The old man nodded as the words entered Zefron’s head.

The stone, yes, Zefron took the stone. But how can that have caused him to dream all of this?

“This is not a dream, Zef-fron.” The voice in his head struggled with the name.
“Then what?” he questioned.
“This is here. A time of peace. A time without stone places. A time without noise. I have seen those things. I am Shaman.” The old man stared back at the fire. Zefron was aware that the hinted smell of earlier was now stronger. Incense burning. The voice continued.
“I can call the spirits and they take me to see what will be. Many thousands of suns and moons will travel the sky and your places of stone will grow. This place…” the man raised an arm and moved it in an arc, sweeping across the room. “… this place will be stone. Many people. Much noise. Much destruction. Air will choke, not like now, fresh and clean. Strange things will move fast along stone tracks and much noise will be heard. I have seen these things. This is your time.”

Zefron was silent. He couldn’t understand, yet somehow, he did.

The old man continued, still no words were spoken but Zefron understood everything.
“This place is now, your place is not, this place is here, your place is here. Do you understand?”
Zefron nodded.
“You can stay until the moon rises 3 times then you must go. Go back to your now. You cannot stay in this now. This is not your place. Go. Have peace. And when you leave, take it with you in your heart. It will stay there until you become dust. Use it when the time is needed. You will be happy then.” The old man bowed his head low. The flames were dwindling as the fire was dying down. No more words came to Zefron. He got up and headed to the opening.

Just as he reached the flap the old man’s voice came again.
“You will have a new stone Zef-fron. It will remind you.”
Zefron nodded and walked into the daylight.

Zefron spent 3 days with the people of the past. He learned to light a fire with stones, and to skin an animal with a flint knife. He spent many hours just walking, although he always had a guide. This life was unfamiliar to him and they feared he may lose his way or be attacked by the wild animals.

On his third day Zefron was woken early by a man he now knew as Grath. Grath was the hunter-leader. His told Zefron that they were off to hunt and the he could go to watch. He must not join in for he wasn’t skilled, but they would find him a place that was safe and he could watch. Zefron went and watched as the men, all in skins and furs, armed with sticks sharpened to a point, attacked a large ox looking animal that they had separated from a herd. Once killed the men started cutting the beast and placing pieces onto stretcher type contraptions to drag back. Zefron’s stomach turned at the sight and smell of blood and guts but he had learned very quickly in the past 2 days that these people needed to eat and this is what they ate. He vowed to become vegetarian.

Later that night, after they had eaten, Zefron went to the pile of furs that had been given to him for sleeping. The little girl with the smile approached him. He knew her name now – Mai-li. Mai-li had not really been near him since he sat with the old man, but now she came and offered her hand, the familiar smile on her face. He took it and she sat beside him. Wither her free hand Mai-li reached into a pouch she had around her neck. She withdrew a stone, not smooth and round like before. This was the shape of a pear and sparkled in the candlelight. She pressed it into his hand and the words from her reached his mind.
“Peace, Zef-fron. Peace. Whenever you hold this stone you will remember us.”

Zefron started to drift to sleep, despite trying not to. Mai-li sat and smiled.

Soon Zefron was feeling hot, sticky, uncomfortable. As he lay spread eagle over the furs he began to dream. He was falling. Falling fast. The air whipped past him as he sped towards the earth. He turned his head and could just see a tall building. He must have fallen from that. His speed was increasing, he was going to die. In that moment he wondered how he’d fallen. What had happened? He felt a small stone in his hand then he smiled. At least there will be peace. Zefron hit the ground with a jolt that would’ve moved mountains.

His whole body jumped and caused him to startle, waking him suddenly.

Zefron shivered and sat up.
“It was dream.” He thought to himself.
He was holding a small, pear-shaped stone in his hand and suddenly he knew the truth.
“The gift from Mai-li.” He said to no one - and he felt peace.

I hope you enjoyed the read.
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What an adventure! It was a long read but i enjoyed every moment of it.

Thank you. I usually get carried away then edit to shorten but i didnt want to lose anything this time. Im glad you liked it. :)

His bare feet felt the earth and occasionally he hopped as a stone dug into the soles of his feet, but he never spoke.

This got imprinted into my mind until the very end of the story and I have to mention just how good this line is, because in this sentence you tell ius about how very much he was used to either walking around with shoes/slippers, or walking on silky smooth terrain, that he wasn't used to the coarse and cold feel of stones. It's subtle, but oh so very powerful. There's plenty other such lines in your story and they just make me fall in love with your writing so much more!

But other than that. WOW! Simply just.. WOW!
I especially love that it wasn't only him who timetravelled, but that others (the old man, the little girl, ... ... ) have done it before and are constantly doing it. I also LOVE the idea of goinf back to his time, and being given a token, a stone, a reminder of where he was, and what he felt there.
So much awesomeness in one story!
You said it was long... I say it is too short!

Thank you so very much for your entry! :D

I cry but they're happy tears :) I think this could be one of those 'longer' stories, one day.

It definitely has the potential to turn from a short masterpiece to a long masterpiece. :D