Short story


The warm spring sun penetrated Prhan's body and he enjoyed the sensation of warmth. He stretched his right hind leg and wallowed in the luxury of the sunbath. Stretching his wings he scrutinized their golden transparency and inhaled the fresh fragrance of the new grass and humid earth. Prhan felt a tiny itching under the scales of his thorax; with a light caressing movement he brushed the scales above and under with his antennae. The itching ceased. He licked his antennae absorbing the delicious bitter-sweet taste of the sticky fluid he had just retained by brushing under his scales. Then he took to work on his wings, brushed them above and under with his hind legs and antennae licking them after each movement. Satisfied, he laid in the sun enjoying the caress of the tiny breeze.

How happy I am, he thought. How beautiful it is to be young and full of energy in this wonderful world of pleasures. Soon I'll reach the ripe age of mating and then I'll be introduced into the world of mysteries. Knorch the wise had already hinted that soon my studies will be over and I'll be on my own. I'll have to discover the world without a guide, and when I have done so, I'll come of age to teach the young, and I'll be Prhan the wise. It's all so exciting, every transition brings about a new awareness, new experiences and new pleasures.

The sun disappeared behind some clouds and the light breeze felt chillier. Prhan stretched lazily and stood up. The golden shine disappeared from his body and it now had a simple brown color. He walked aimlessly, trying to find a higher vantage point, should the sun appear again, to enjoy its life-giving energy.

Interesting, he thought, just a few moments ago I had a golden hue and now I'm just brown. Did the sun make me shine gold? Or is gold inherent in me? Or is it both? Do I have gold in me yet I need an outer influence to ignite it so that it can come forth? I'll have to ask Knorch the wise. Maybe he won't tell me. He'll say as he once told me when I asked him something  similar: "You have to find out of that alone, my son. I can only teach you about things that we all have agreed upon. Mind you, son, I can only teach you ABOUT things, not the thing in itself. If you want to learn the truth, that you'll have to learn by yourself."

"How can I learn that, if you reject the idea of teaching me?"

"You will have to want to know it. The well of knowledge is in you, my son, and you can only drink from your own well, never from another's."

Prhan felt not a bit wiser after the dialog and now recalling it he still felt an anxiety: will I ever find my own well of knowledge? Where shall I look for it? He didn't like the analogy either; he often drank water from different wells and quenched his thirst. Knorch the wise used to hide his own ignorance behind big words when students queried too deep into a subject – thus he wouldn't lose face, thought Prhan. "You are wise not when you know the answers to everything, but when you make others look deeper," Knorch said once. You are wise when you can create that image of yourself in others' minds, Prhan smiled savoring his own awakening wisdom.

He found a granite stone and decided to climb up on it – too lazy to fly – and wait there for the sun to come out again and make him golden. From the top of the stone he looked out and saw the steep slope of the mountain side and down there the border, the sacred border he was indoctrinated never to trespass. Beyond the border were grass fields, the green valley and beyond that mountains again. He felt on his back the sun again and looked upon his wings to see the brilliant echo of the sun's silent radiance.

He turned back to the panorama of the sunny fields thinking of the forbidden land. Why? Why are we confined here? Why on the one hand we are encouraged to find our own well of knowledge and on the other, inhibited from finding it elsewhere than here? Why is it a sin to pass the border? The other side looked just as inviting as his own. What was different there? Yet whenever he mentioned the possibility of crossing the line, everyone looked scared and disgusted. The only story he could get from Knorch the wise was that no one had ever returned from there and that it was sure death, dangerous. What the danger was, was not known, since nobody returned to tell the story.

One day, Prhan thought, I'll go there and I'll return to verify whether it is dangerous or not. And if it is, why. He felt the blood rushing in his veins, his wings stretching involuntarily, ready to take him off to the terra incognita. Not yet, he thought. I'm not ready yet. First I have to observe the other side from here. Before I go there, I'll know it. From here I can see most of the valley. I'll just sit and look and wait. When the time comes, I'll know.



For some days and nights Prhan sat on the granite stone and kept vigil. He saw the big white square stone with the square holes growing each day. It was one of many that shot up lately nearer and nearer  to the community's holes. Did that have any significance, he wondered. One day Knorch the wise joined him. Without a word Knorch sat down on the stone beside Prhan and looked at the valley. Prhan noticed Knorch's arrival but said nothing. He continued to look out on the valley. They sat together in silence for some time when suddenly the view in front of Prhan changed. It happened so suddenly that it took him by surprise. Instead of the green valley and healthy mountains he saw now a desolate place starting at the border line with decayed vegetation and rotten roots; the clean silvery rivulet became a nauseating swamp, and the mountains behind the valley bare rocks. Prhan jumped up in shock and turned agitated toward Knorch the wise: "What happened?"

Knorch looked at Prhan with surprise.

"The landscape, it was so beautiful, and now it's dying, decomposing, decaying."

"When did you start seeing it as decaying?"

"When you sat down and looked at it."

"Oh, my boy," Knorch the wise exclaimed with pain. He made a step toward Prhan, stood on his hind legs and embraced his student with his middle and front legs. He was crying.

Oh no, Prhan thought stepping back, he is crying again. Suppressing his irritation he asked: "What happened?"

"Great disaster, my boy, great disaster."

"I don't understand you."

"I know. I wish I never lived to reach that moment. We are doomed."

Prhan felt the great sorrow emanating from his teacher to which he reacted with an icy clutching sensation in his abdomen. This time something was really wrong. He stood frozen still on the stone waiting for Knorch to recover and tell him what this was all about.

Knorch sat down with his back to the valley and started talking:

"You have just reached adulthood without mating. That is not the way of nature. And whatever is unnatural is unpredictable, hence dangerous. But that's not the point. It's much worse."

He stopped talking and closed his eyes.

"How have I reached adulthood? I have done nothing," Prhan said.

"When you mate, when you penetrate your mate's body, a new world is opening up to you. At the moment of your greatest pleasure, when you merge with your mate, you achieve seeing through her eyes. When you have penetrated her body completely, at the moment of gushing your fluid into her, at that moment you transcend your borders and being yourself you also become her, and thus you can see through her eyes and you see what she sees, you see things the way she sees them. At that moment you become an adult because you experience that there are other viewpoints than your own. Before that you might know about it, but it doesn't matter because the only thing you really know is how YOU see things, since you are only yourself. When you also become someone else for a moment and see through her eyes, then you know that she and others exist, because you have been her.

"When you withdraw from this merging you are alone, and only THEN you are alone for the first time because you have known what it is to be with, in, together, one with another. Then being alone becomes significant, like day becomes significant because you have been through night. But you, my son, haven't mated and yet you became an  adult. You have merged with me without our bodies merging, and you have seen through my eyes. The decaying landscape you have seen was how I see the valley of death, from where no transgressor has ever returned. And you have looked upon the valley through my being, for a moment you have been me."

"But why do you see the valley so ugly when it is not so?"

"There are so many ways of seeing things, my son, from your point of view, from another's point of view, or as we were taught to see things... But that is not the issue. Pray for mercy, son, for you have become an adult."

"Why? What's so wrong in having become an adult without mating? There was no mate here and I'm of age – even you said so."

Knorch's sad voice came with an effort, trying to suppress his crying:

"There's a prophecy. It goes like this:

`Ere his time a young shall see desolation
The square stone valley will be his transgression
He's the first trespasser in life to remain
In his wings he bringeth tidings and the bane.`

"Will the tidings change our lives to the better or to the worse?" Prhan asked.

"That remains to be seen. The prophecy says nothing about that.   Maybe the prophet didn't know or he couldn't judge. We live happily now, so I believe any change can only be to the worse."

Knorch shrugged and sank into his own gloomy thoughts. Prhan felt elated. He knew he was the hero, the only one intended to pass the border and bring back tidings to his people about the affairs on the other side. He felt the excitement of adventure flowing in his veins, the throbbing, pulsating emotion of awe facing the unknown, and the wish to overcome and win over it and then come back victoriously waving the banner of knowledge won by his heroic deeds.

The sun reached its zenith. He stood on the stone on his hind legs filling his lungs with fresh air, exploding with energy. He felt how his golden body radiated his inherent power and hunger for adventure. Knorch watched him with silent wonder. Who does he think he is, the reckless youngster... adult without mating... he'll never be wise. He saw the new development in his student and was amazed to see in him the perfect hero stereotype. He tried to suppress his mixed feelings of a bit of jealousy for the young body full of vitality to its brink, of Prhan's being the chosen one, and his care and worry that something will go wrong and in spite of the prophecy he wouldn't return.

"I must go," Prhan said simply.

"I know," Knorch answered with a pang. "Fare well."

Prhan jumped, his transparent wings spread out and he flew toward the forbidden land. Knorch followed him with his eyes and love, and saw the golden spot slowly disappearing from view in the vastness of the infinite blue sky.



The summer passed. On a late rainy autumn day Knorch sat on the granite slab overlooking the valley and waited for Prhan's return patiently as it was his wont ever since Prhan left, flew away to the wastelands. He saw the huge white square mountains with the square holes coming nearer and nearer each day. He wondered whether only he saw them. He was old, and with each passing day he felt more and more the ebbing away of his life energy. He spent his time daydreaming on the stone, drifting with the sweet waves of nostalgia about his youth, first merging, his adult comfortable loneliness and his students, the pranks they made. His thoughts always returned to Prhan. What was he doing? What was he experiencing? He waited for the moment he would sight Prhan flying back to him. Will that be our doomsday? Will he come back at all? Knorch recalled his dream where Prhan had returned telling stories of wonder and wild adventure from the other side. They all learned new things about the world, and the story of Prhan the brave was preserved for posterity and he, Knorch the wise was mentioned as the wise teacher of the hero. But that was only a dream. His inner senses told him the outcome of Prhan's quest could only be a disaster.

The sun couldn't be seen behind the heavy clouds. Dusk and rain braided with the darkness in his soul had overshadowed the valley. Knorch decided to go home. But then he heard a sound, a sound he has been waiting for all summer. His old heart beat faster and he strained his eyes to make out who was coming.

Prhan landed beside him. Knorch saw sorrow and pain, infinite pain in his eyes. Prahn did not speak. Seeing his agony, Knorch waited patiently. They sat in silence facing each other in rain and storm for three nights and three days, and still, Prhan could not speak. On the fourth night Prhan said:

"The valley is as green as here. In the beginning all of it looked wonderfully beautiful. I saw some huge square stones near the river, with holes in the bottom and holes further up. I wandered in and was rather impressed by the many devices and things, the significance of which I haven't grasped yet. There was plenty of food and for many days and nights I was inhaling the novelty of it all. I decided there was nothing dangerous there and became more and more careless. I thought of coming home and telling you all to pass the border freely, the place being dangerous is only a superstition, a story to scare youngsters.

"And then I met Mrunch."

"Mrunch? I remember him," Knorch exclaimed, "he suddenly disappeared. We were sure he transgressed the sacred taboo and died somewhere in the wastelands. How is he doing?"

Prhan ignored the interruption. "I was sitting in one of these huge square stones nipping at some delicious choice bite. Suddenly Mrunch appeared from nowhere and dragged me into a big round tunnel with a river flowing in it. I was so surprised, wanted to ask him so many questions, but when I started, he put his feeler on my mouth. Then I heard noises and started going out to see what it was. Mrunch got hold of me and tried to pull me back into the tunnel. My happiness of having met him evaporated, I didn't like at all being pushed around, hushed up, and I decided I'd go out and see for myself what the fuss was all about.

"Mrunch wouldn't let me and we started fighting. He fell out into the open.

"At that moment I heard a scream the like we have never heard: a blood chilling scream. I got so shocked, I didn't dare go out, and only stretched my head to see. There was a huge creature – they dwell in the big square stones – emanating fear, a female of their kind I suppose, having only four legs. She was standing on her hind legs, paralyzed with terror, screaming, pointing at Mrunch.

"At that point I heard running steps and a similar creature, a male, even bigger than the female, entered. He looked at the female and followed her terror stricken gaze. He saw Mrunch. Mrunch must have gotten scared, he was running in circles. The big creature lifted one of his huge hind legs and brought it down on poor Mrunch. I heard the cracking sound of Mrunch being squashed.

"I'll spare you the details of how his body looked after the giant lifted his hind leg."

Prhan sat silently for a while while the shock-stricken Knorch breathed heavily. Prhan continued:

"That's not the worst of it. The worst comes now. When the giant female creature started screaming, something terrible happened; I was in such shock that I saw through her eyes." Prahn gulped a drop of rainwater and added apologetically, "It was an accident. I saw Mrunch as she saw him."

Prhan started crying. Between his sobs he continued:

"She saw him ugly, brown, disgusting, horrible, frightening, nauseating. She felt if Mrunch touched her, she would faint from disgust. Do you know what we really are? We are pests, Knorch the wise. I wanted to spare you from that but you had to know. You and me and all of us, we are sickening, repulsive creatures that have to be squashed, annihilated, we are cockroaches, the disgrace of nature."



The winter passed and the sun was shining with its first feeble attempts at bringing life back to the earth. Since that late autumn night after emptying his heart to Knorch, Prahn hasn't seen anyone, not even Knorch. As a matter of fact, no one has ever seen Knorch after that fatal night. Prhan went straight to his hole and overwintered there in solitude, deep depression, degraded, and wiped out. No one disturbed him.

But now the sun was shining, so he decided to revisit his favorite granite slab. He met no one on his way and he was grateful for that. He found the stone, climbed up on it and stretched his body in a receptive posture  to catch as many sun rays as possible. Delibarately, he laid with his hind part toward the valley. The sun warmed him; it felt so wonderfully good on his detestable body. He opened his eyes and saw the golden hue, his limbs were beautiful; his transparent wings exposed the diamond, ruby and golden veins, and the grass sang with the light breeze penetrating it.

Prhan felt the timid touch of feelers. He looked back and saw a gold female who withdrew her antennae shyly when he turned toward her. Prhan reached out and felt the silky touch of her shiny body and wings. He stepped nearer and inhaled her sweet, musky fragrance. He stepped nearer and drank the dew drops from her lips. They joined in a love embrace full of ecstasy and consuming white fire. Prhan saw her and saw himself from her eyes and saw the world through her eyes. The world was beautiful, erasing all pain carefully guarded in the innermost recesses of his being. He sensed his life, her life and lives that would be created by their merging. He did not want to part from her, did not want to stop the merging. He held her tight, spread his wings and flew higher, higher, higher toward the sun, being consumed by the white fire of merging. And then he merged with the air, with the sun, with the grass, with the world. He saw the fabric, the pulsating energy that made up the web of the universe and became one with it.

After a long flight they landed on the granite slab. Prhan saw his golden body and knew how beautiful he was, no matter how others saw him. He knew now that he needed no justification to live, he had a place in nature, in the energy web of the universe. He was the energy web as well as his mate, the grass, the air, the sun.

The prophecy came true. He had to explain this new insight to the community now, and it would change the future of the community. They'll know how they are looked upon by others, but they'll also know that this is not all there is to being. He had to teach them to see themselves not as beautiful only, or merely ugly, but as they really were – alive.

He smiled recalling when he asked Knorch the wise whether, according to the prophecy, the tidings would change their lives to the better or to the worse. The prophet couldn't have said it. Now he understood why.


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