Friday, June 13, 2008

Dads, Part VII: I Nga Wa O Mua: Re-entering the Myth (Story)

Note: I thought I’d post something different today. A few years ago I had three dreams in a relatively short period of time that stuck with me for some reason. So I wrote them down and fused them into this story that incorporates some Maori imagery and mythology drawn from my experiences in New Zealand with some other elements from my imagination. While it’s not explicitly about dads, it is about fatherhood…somehow, I’m sure of it!


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I Nga Wa O Mua: Re-entering the Myth

The Child is father of the Man...

-William Wordsworth


The daylight never seemed so dark.

The young man knew the sun was there, lost somewhere in the blackness, speaking to him about mourning and death, casting its darkness across the phantom landscape. The earth had long ago joined this ghost dance, writhing in strange convulsions as the black heat filtered into the earth’s heavy breath. This pitch penetrates the wanderer in disruptive waves, its feet tracking him through the undergrowth, making him stumble as he feels his way to the river’s edge.

He’s always hated the dark; but this…he knows this blackness well. Too well.

And it’s changing him.

His footsteps thin. The earth convulses again and he stumbles into the liquid shallows, submerging his hands up to the wrists. The water parts around his knees and shins. Its chill rushes through his veins. Regaining himself, he reaches for his canteen and submerges it in the black water. Pulling it out, he sees a barren simulacrum reaching for his eyes. Water streams from his brow into the stranger’s open mouth, disrupting the reflection’s gaze. The youth turns to see what his likeness has seen. Just trees. Dead trees.

A dark presence rustles behind him. “What are you looking for?” it asks.

The youth jumps, rippling the river as he flips around and lands end-first in the cold stream. He sees nothing. Just the trees and dirt, floundering in blackness. And a charred fire ring. Strands of blue smoke spiral from its cinders as the carbon drifts into the river, turning its flow into an asphalt lane that presses through the thickening trees, which transform at its touch into rows upon rows of narrow houses. Their empty windows, like eyes, crowd the path, weighing this lone wanderer.

He shudders and turns his eyes down the path. Through the mist he sees a fading body slouching eastward. The youth abandons his canteen and follows the bent shadow. As he moves, the empty eyes follow him. He walks faster. And faster.

Faster.

The path rises and his inertia carries him for a few steps, then dies, pulling him earthward. Straining against the gravity of the black atmosphere, he presses upward, still reaching for the bent shadow as the blackness loosens and sunlight breaks through the cracks. Dark particles fall around him, singing him with their heat. He stops and catches some in his hand. They coagulate into a heavy stone that glows as its heat increases. Burning flesh smokes into his nostrils.

He drops the rock. It shatters, engulfed by the fallen sky. Rubbing his hand, he notices a symbol burned into his palm: four stars in the shape of a cross. And below this cross five words: I Nga Wa O Mua. Trying to soothe the pain, he blows on the etching; it disappears in his breath, rising from the skin and falling into the black dust at his feet.

As the light grows he turns his gaze through the upward alley. The black dust recedes in a breeze coming across the hilltop, uncovering a stone staircase. He follows the steps upward, moving from outdoors to in as the pitch rises. The empty eyes crowd his loneliness.

At the top of the stairs, he rounds a corner and finds a large, circular, air-tight door. As he reaches to open it, a word writes itself across the cool metal in bold black letters: “Bridge.” The door slides open and he sees a room full of computer equipment and electronic controls. A man rises from his seat. His badge reads “Captain.” The youth realizes he’s on an island, moving like a ship, captained by this man.

He feels an extra weight press both shoulders and turns, first to one side, then the other. Two men, almost transparent, enter his gaze, probing his thoughts.

The end of my road, he thinks. But they encourage him onward. He turns back to the door and enters. As he crosses the threshold, the captain’s room melts into a wooden building. The roof slopes upward to a high peak, which is supported by two ornately decorated poles. On the wall in front of him hang pictures from his life. At their center appears the words that vanished from his hand: I Nga Wa O Mua.

The dark presence rustles behind him. “What are you doing here?” it asks.

The youth turns. A bent shadow moves into the light, revealing an old man, weight set against his cane. His gaunt face penetrates the youth’s memory.

“I know you?” the youth asks.

The old face nods.

The youth points: “These words…”

The old voice clears itself. “I Nga Wa O Mua. From the times of the front.”

The youth turns to the wall. The faces from his past glare back. He turns to the man, who has seated himself on the bench in the bosom of the room.

Reading the youth’s confusion, the old man rises and limps slowly to the wall. Placing an arm around his young companion, he whispers: “I Nga Wa O Mua. The past.”

Turning back to the wall, the youth searches the frozen eyes. Fishing thus through his memories, the old man’s gray reflection fuses with the impulse of his brain and the river of language empties itself into the hollow of his soul.