Discover more from Dynamic Creed
The Upper Colony
Long before the original gods came down from their cliffs to throw their blessings upon mankind, the lower colonies were born
One hand higher than the other. One foot above the last. The ladder on the cliff goes on and on. The cliff rises and rises, the impenetrable granite face of a hardhearted god. If Alex or Valdo dared to look down, they would see a distant terrain, hazy and indistinct, long faded from their focus. They had started in the morning; it is now late afternoon. Thousands upon thousands of rungs, hours and hours with no ledge to rest, no crack in the cliff to even push their hope into. They can hook an armpit around a rung and heave air for a minute, but cautiously. To relax is to fall. To give in to the pains and cramps in their shoulders and thighs is to plunge through the pillows of scattered clouds below and watch as the land waits with the open arms of its graveyards to receive them.
The ladder is wide enough for two, and Valdo pulls alongside with a loud grunt. They each nestle the crook of their elbow over a rung and with their other arm grasp the wrist to keep the hooked arm from involuntarily surrendering to the pain that whispers: so easy to let me go, just let me go. They blow hot gasps across the inches that separate them.
Are we dead? asks Valdo, and the coarseness caused by his rasping gives the question not a plaintive tenor but one of hope.
Alex manages to shake his head. I don’t think so, he says. The sky is still blue and the pain too acute. The sun steps down a notch. They wait with hammers in their hearts until they uncover the courage to continue.
An hour later, Alex pauses. How much farther? he asks.
Valdo climbs three more rungs. I don’t know, he says.
And if doesn’t reach the top?
We fly a long while.
That morning, in the pre dawn light, Alex and Valdo had passed through a thicket of underbrush. Branches and leaves scraped their coarse shirt sleeves and at times they had to fight the scrub with both hands. Some parts damp with dew, and sharp with thorns, but they pushed and broke though. They came to the bottom of the ladder. Its thick steel knurled rungs reflected the distant dappled light of the morning mountain. Alex had touched the ladder, felt a heat, and for a moment looked back through the thicket toward the world of everyday desires they had left behind.
Alex pulls himself up another rung. What do we do? he asks. It’s getting dark. We must rest.
Valdo coughs and spits. Look, he says. A piece of me starts its very own journey to the sea.
Alex carefully takes his shirt off and with Valdo’s help, uses it to tie his wrists around a rung. The denim is sturdy and they use their teeth to make a tight knot. Once Alex is attached, he helps Valdo do the same. They wedge their feet between rung and rock, and hang graceless from the ladder, pretend they can rest. They pretend that they have not challenged a force that is much larger than them.
Long before the original gods came down from their cliffs to throw their blessings upon mankind, the lower colonies were born. They grew from belief that one plot of dry grass was superior to another. They assigned importance to their own desires, and disagreed with their neighbors to the point of disparagement. If they saw a route that may have ascended to the original gods, they either scoffed, or introduced legislation.
Alex quivers his eyes open. Who said that? he asks.
An ashen moon rises on the cliff and exposes two corpses not yet lifeless. The sky above broadcasts black with the space between stars and below throbs with emptiness. Below never existed and never again will be. The world below is a long vanished dream. Alex groans. I can’t go on, he says.
Valdo scrapes his throat. We’ve come so far, he says.
Morning, with air as thin gruel. Alex and Valdo. All their breathing resides in the house of wheezes and gasps. The repetition of rungs and the monotony of movement puncture the universe, cause it to deflate into the small space between hands and feet. The universe offers no expansiveness, no infinite wonder, no astonishment beyond the ability to ascend another step of the ladder.
Alex and Valdo think sheer willpower can conquer gravity, can transcend their own limitations, and that they can live beyond the means of their dreams. But their dreams will shatter them into a million pieces of doubt and leave them unable to grasp the next rung of their longing as they toil on and on, the entire new day, thousands upon thousands of more steps. More pull, more ache, hour after hour, tread for tread, a plodding that has no purpose, no end, no relief. One sweating heartbeat after the other, one labored footstep over another’s tomb, one ill-calculated plan to upset the calculus of the universe and send it spinning into its own void as if it were they and they were it.
They should have known that a stairway into the sky is infinite and there is no reaching the gods. The gods are busy baking bread or lying down to nap. That Valdo and Alex believe they may conquer that which has broken better men, holier men, stronger men, wiser man, only showcases their immutable conceit, their vast ego that speaks to them of truth in fictions.
But they arrive. At the end of the second day, Alex grasps the final curvature of the ladder and pulls himself up. He collapses like a man long trapped underwater. Volcanic breath erupts from his throat, rasps hard and rapid across his tongue. His muscles are slaughtered beasts. Valdo lies like dead sucking sky.
A family takes them in. Alex is purple and black from bruises; Valdo rants feverishly for hours. For three days the family feeds them soup, later vegetables and meat – and when Alex and Valdo regain some strength, they hobble out to see what they had climbed so long to find.
The Upper Colony sits upon a wavy land and runs off on one side to cultivated hills. In the distance, through buildings constructed of colorful tiles, with flowers exploding from every black iron balcony, the early evening setting sun casts its long shadows.
Music wanders between houses like a carefree tramp, encounters other melodies, mixes and becomes a harmony. Festivities and laughter spill onto the streets. Men and women walk in pairs or in small groups and discuss what appear to be serious subjects in a lighthearted way. The air carries a faint scent of lavender.
Valdo takes it in slack jawed, as if he cannot believe his trial is passed and the reward reaped. His face moves between transfixed desire and unmitigated joy.
Alex looks around, too. He sees a more reverent sky and a waterfall of reasons to bathe in the paradise of unbroken promises. In a plaza, a women plays an odd shaped flute. A man reads from a book to the crowd:
All were poets, entrusted with truth. When an illumination descended into their midst, they were obliged to spread its light into the shadows.
As he breathes in the miracle, Alex imagines that a more perfect moment could not exist. In fact, a more perfect moment would never again exist. There might be a thousand colonies in a thousand universes, each dedicated to the unending preservation of happiness, and none would reach the fevered perfect pitch of this exact instant in this exact place.
Alex turns to Valdo. I thought paradise would be more tangled and wild, he says.
Let’s sit down, says Valdo. He points to a table outside a café.
Alex hesitates. I ought to call my family, he thinks, let them know I’m okay. But… he pauses… I can’t remember their names.
Worse, as Alex walks with Valdo to the table and stares at the revelations around him, he wonders if it would have been more rewarding to lose his grip and plummet during the ascent. A thankless thought, but once you have wrapped your pain in perfection, there’s nothing left to attain. The days spin without clocks and the years without spells of storms. All the agreeable flaws tumble back to the soiled earth.
Alex sits, counts angels in the passing faces. For now, he will wait, recover his strength. A few days, a week, maybe two and then he’ll decide: if he wants to stay, descend rung by rung, or simply step from the edge and take flight.
— — —
Thanks for reading Dynamic Creed. Last week, I mentioned I’d do something different this time, and here it is. You’ve arrived at the end of this tale which may be a metaphor for something, but I won’t say what because… even though I wrote this story some time back, it only just occurred to me now. And besides, I’m more interested in your interpretation.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments or shoot up a festival flare if you have one.
All the best,
p.s. For those of you who are new here, many thanks for subbing up and here’s some pieces from the archives you might want to explore: