Authors: Jack McGinnigle
ALSO BY JACK McGINNIGLE:
Climate Change Apocalypse
A Trilogy of Mystery
Table of Contents
Deep in the Earth, the Stone
Not buried, for it was part of the fabric and makeup of the Earth, part of the unity that is the World we know. Yet it was also a separate entity among the many separate entities that make up Earth. Part of the whole that itself comprises many parts of a whole that is part of a universe of wholes … and outwards to inexplicable infinity.
The Stone was not alive, for we all know that stones have no life. Yet it would be wrong to define the Stone as “dead”, for that word implies a previous existence of life. Instead, it may be designated as inert, unchanging in its basic being.
However, physical changes must be chronicled, as the Stone was subjected to movement, to radical and gigantic heaves, thrusts and judders; to sliding, grinding, rearing and plunging, at times augmented by heating to incandescence or cooling to absolute frigidity. All this happening within the mass of changing plasma that is the World and its environs, cycling within uneven patterns of space and time, its composition lurching from dense solid to viscous liquid, to vapour and beyond.
So in this mystery of time and space, the Stone was unmade, fractured and rent apart with variable violence, moulded and shaped, ground down and reformed in a myriad of ways. But during all these eons, there was yet a constancy in the kernel of its entity.
In the being of the Stone, there was no concept of time. No beginning, past, present, future or end. Such things do exist, at least as a gossamer timeline in the fertile minds of higher life forms, albeit imperfectly expressed and understood. Yet the Stone was associated with what we understand as a history, a past mysteriously blended with significance. For the Stone had not always been an assemblage of gritty, pseudo-inert particles; it had been something quite different, an integral part of a large formation in which there had been a sensation of life, movement and meaning.
There was no life in the Stone, certainly not in any individual sense. It had never had the tinge of sentience, either. But in the nucleus of its being, it was mystically
’m really glad I live in modern times.’ The boy always woke well before first light. It was his special time, his only opportunity for luxurious musing. There was no question of thinking at the end of the day when he clambered into his narrow bunk in the hayloft of the barn. By then he was so tired he could barely keep awake; a whole day of almost continuous manual labour had totally exhausted his thin, wiry young body. But this time in the morning before first light was different, especially precious and magical to him.
As he drifted upwards through layers of sleep, on the journey towards full wakefulness, his initial thoughts continued, ‘I’m really glad the bullock cart has round wheels and not square ones like the carts of olden times.’
This thought had come from Old Malik the day before and it had obviously been sufficiently striking to be the first subject of his early morning muse.
Approaching full wakefulness, the boy now recalled exactly what Old Malik (his master, the farmer) had said. The words were embedded within an unpleasant and frightening incident but Joachim was well used to such events on the farm. He had been told to move the bullock cart across the farmyard to the field and the solid wooden wheels of the heavy cart had sunk into a depression of viscous mud left by an overnight rainstorm. The cart was stuck fast and the boy was trying his best to extricate it, wrestling with the powerful bullock harnessed to the cart, shouting loudly, pulling at its head ropes and beating the back of the unfortunate animal with a stick.
Old Malik had heard the commotion and appeared out of the barn. As his gaze rested upon the scene in the farmyard, his face twisted into a familiar pattern of anger.
‘Be quiet and stop thrashing that bullock,’ he roared.
Old Malik did not actually care about the beating the bullock was receiving, since he himself often beat his animals savagely. The reason for his reaction was even more cruel; every day, he revelled in making the boy’s life a misery: ‘Listen very closely to me, you stupid little fool,’ he snarled menacingly, ‘you’re really lucky this is the Year of our Lord six hundred and fifty-seven (Old Malik knew such things); in olden times, bullock carts didn’t have round wheels like this one, they had square wheels that just dragged along the ground, like a sled.’
Joachim, still straining at the head of the reluctant bullock, was silent for a moment. As Old Malik turned away in contempt, the boy ventured: ‘But surely …’
The man froze. Then he wheeled around, paced forward and thrust a furious face close to Joachim, eyes narrowed and blazing, purple veins etched on his forehead. ‘What? Are you arguing with me again? I’m
you the way it was in olden times. I’m giving you the benefit of my knowledge about the past. I’m telling you the wheels of the bullock carts were square; they just dragged along the ground. Life then was much more difficult than it is now. The trouble with you is that you are a stupid, ungrateful, utterly useless wretch. No wonder I need to beat you so much.’ He looked around for a beating stick.
The boy recognised a familiar danger and bowed his head immediately, stumbling backwards and mumbling apologies in an attempt to appease the farmer. Fortunately, the bullock had been frightened by the violence in Old Malik’s voice and had pulled the cart free from the mud with a series of convulsive terror-fuelled heaves. Thus, a grateful Joachim was able to beat a hasty retreat from the scene – as hasty as a slowly lumbering bullock cart could achieve! This particular moment of danger had passed but the boy lived his life with the constant fear of such happenings.
Still stretched out in his narrow bunk and becoming aware of the first tinge of deepest blue through gaps in the barn wall, he now reflected about the comment he had inadvertently started to make to Old Malik. Of course, he blamed himself for what had happened. He knew it had all been his fault. In a moment of forgetfulness, he had just thought aloud and he should not have done that.
But surely his thought was true? Even if the wheels had started off square, the constant dragging would rub away the square corners and eventually the wheels would begin to turn, very clumsily and unevenly at first; then, the more they turned the rounder they would become, eventually becoming round wheels like those of modern times!
Elated, the boy clapped his hands with joy: ‘I’m sure that’s right – but I’ll need to keep quiet about this.’ He knew better than to try to mention it to Old Malik, or indeed to anyone else on the farm; they would tell the farmer what he had said and Old Malik would come looking for him with a stick in his hand.
‘I’ve just got to keep it a secret,’ he decided.
The boy’s thoughts now drifted to his past life. His memories of living with his own family in the next village had diminished although he remembered he had been the eldest child in what seemed to be an ever-growing family; there were already five younger siblings and another was expected soon. They were always extremely poor; their living conditions were extremely cramped and they never had enough to eat.
In this land, it was commonplace for poverty-stricken parents to seek to solve the dilemma of a growing family by arranging for their elder children to be apprenticed to a local farmer or businessman. In fact, this was not an apprenticeship at all but a financial transaction where the employer bought the child for an agreed sum paid to the father. Thus the father gained a welcome sum of money for the family and the cost of maintaining the apprentice was transferred to his or her employer, who then became responsible for feeding, clothing and housing the child. In truth, this was child slavery and, at the employer’s behest, that slavery could be extended throughout the whole of adulthood.
When Joachim was around eight years old, his father had sold him to Old Malik as an apprentice farm worker and, since then, the boy had never been able to visit his home and make contact with his family. Remembering this sadly, he thought wistfully of his mother, a quiet kindly woman, always tired and prematurely aged by hard work and child-bearing: ‘Mother was nice; how I wish I could see her now. I could always speak to her about anything. She would have liked to hear about the bullock carts of olden times.’
His eyes filled with tears. He knew a visit to his village was impossible, because Old Malik never allowed him to have a free day or even a few hours to himself. The only time he ever left the farm was in the company of Old Malik when heavy or bulky items had to be fetched from or taken to the village. Then, he was the labourer who loaded or unloaded the cart while Old Malik drank beer at the alehouse with his friends. Woe betide Joachim if the work was not done when Old Malik returned, often drunk and even more ready to be violent towards him.
The thoughts about his family took the boy’s mind back to the day he was brought to the farm. This was something he used to think about often – in fact he used to have nightmares about it. Nowadays, he thought about it only occasionally, although when he did, the memory was still pin sharp. He remembered travelling to the farm in a very bumpy cart. Following the financial transaction with his father, Old Malik had lifted him into the back of the cart and growled, ‘Sit there, don’t move and be quiet.’
So the little slim boy arrived at the farm, cowed and frightened, clutching a very small, pathetic bundle of possessions. From the start, Old Malik treated him roughly. When the frightened boy started to weep, the old man was callous: ‘Stop that,’ he snapped, ‘I don’t allow snivelling. You’re mine now and you better do exactly what you’re told.’
The boy was taken to the farmhouse and Old Malik called for his wife to come out. ‘This is a farm boy I’ve bought,’ he grated, making no mention of his name, ‘he’ll live in the barn.’
The fat, slovenly woman (Joachim later discovered her name was Maretta) looked at him with dull, disinterested eyes. ‘More work for me,’ she muttered, ‘who needs another mouth to feed?’ Then she turned away and re-entered the farmhouse, slamming the door behind her.
Old Malik seized the boy by the shoulder, causing him to cry out with fear and pain: ‘Listen to me,’ he said, ‘you are not allowed in the farmhouse. You live in the barn over there, in the hayloft, and you better look after all the farm tools in the barn and see that nothing gets stolen. Now come with me.’
The boy was dragged around to the fetid privy at the back of the farmhouse and thrust inside. The privy was just a stinking pit in the ground covered by a slimy plank of wood pierced with a hole. Users of the privy were screened from sight by screens of flimsy coarse rush matting that also provided a sparse roof.
‘When you need to, you do it in here – nowhere else, you hear?’ the man growled.
‘Yes, Master,’ the boy whispered tearfully.
‘And another thing, you’ll be cleaning it out every few weeks and you had better do it properly.’
Old Malik then propelled the boy back to the farmhouse. ‘Right,’ he said harshly ‘I want to see you here at first light tomorrow. And you better be clean, tidy and ready to work. If you aren’t, you’ll be sorry.’ The man turned on his heel and stamped into the farmhouse, slamming the door loudly behind him.