From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Monsters

This is the story about the monster in the spaceship.

The spaceship was called the End Blong Rod.

The monster was me.

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Spaceships are metaphors. They stand for hopes, and dreams, and impossible aspirations. They are phallic symbols, rockets as penises, motherships as goddesses of fertility. Space itself, that vast echoing incomprehensibility of it, is a frontier not in the sense that it is there to be breached, tamed, colonized—its redskins subdued with gunfire, its herds consumed over countless fires, the light of stars fading with the rise of industrial smoke and eight-lane highways. No.

Space is a frontier of the mind. To be an Earthman is to look up at stars more ancient and remote than we could ever truly understand, and know that what lies beyond our fragile atmosphere, suns and red and white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes and supergiants, galaxies upon galaxies spreading out across a darkness more profound than any night, is beyond hope, beyond dream, beyond comprehension.

A universe is born with a bang. Life hurts.

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I am me and I am also him. I am a human and an amphibian being.

Once there was only me.

Then I awoke, here on the ship, and I was two, I was more than two, I was the sum of a drowned world. There is a monster in me. I am a monster in him. Or perhaps that word means nothing, and a monster is merely the alien we do not know and therefore fear? His eyes stare at me from the mirror. His voice follows me hollowly across the endless corridors of the ship.

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I first ate a man when I was eight years old. In the history of humanity, cannibalism is more common than you might think. Rather than the mark of a savage, as several rising civilizations on the continent of Europe tried to make it, eating another person’s flesh is a mark of the outmost respect. On the islands, people ate people for centuries. Later, we learned to talk of the devel I kakai man, the cannibal spirit—the word devel comes to us from the English devil, brought over by the missionaries along with bibles and guns. But one does not eat another human being out of anger, or greed. One, rather, eats from respect. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust is a lie, brought to us but never truly believed. We believe in renewal, and a man’s remains, once digested, will then in turn feed the trees in a man’s garden. The mango you bite into has been fertilised with the bodies of those who tended and ate from it before.

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But I digress.

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I was born on the End Blong Rod. Imagine a vast dark insect, a fat wingless beetle fashioned out of metal and rock, several kilometres long, crawling at sub-light speed away from the sun that had once cast its rays upon the old islands of Earth. Beyond the solar system the space between suns extends for light years. Who knows what lives out there, if anything does at all? Old television programmes follow you in the speed of light, chasing ahead towards distant, unimagined planets. The universe is rife with planets, circling countless suns. I dream sometimes that I was born on one such planet, circling a pleasant yellow sun. I am an amphibian being, at ease on both land and in water. My multifaceted eyes extend from their stalks, my green skin is scaly and smooth. We are a beautiful people. We have three continents, numerous islands. There is an avian species building a continent-wide city out of a giant tree, or perhaps they are thousands and thousands of trees, all joined together. We leave them alone, and they in turn ignore us.

Or so, at least, it should be. Yet the way things are and the way things ought to be are so often different, like two parallel lines that will never meet. We are so innocent, yet. We have a dream.

We hunt the fish that swarm on the warm currents between our islands. Back on the ship, I lie and dream and think how nice it is that, though we are so different, the dream-I and I, we both share the love of islands. We are developing space technology, and we suspect the avians are doing the same. There is a sort of gentle, good-willed race between us, and we spy on one another.

Our target is the moon.

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We dream of the stars.

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When a man or woman dies on the ship, we gather to celebrate them. We are each given a small piece, and we chew it slowly, and drink kava, and dream the dreams of the dead. I am trained in the ways of the past, in the old kastom, though I am yet but a low rank in the Suqwe. One day I shall be a kastom jif, and have a part in the discussions of our future.

Where do we go? What lies beyond the empty space? Alien stars, and alien planets.

Will there be monsters there? I ask my mother.

She smiles sadly, and pats my head. Monsters are metaphors, she says, for people.

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Earth is a spaceship, of course. It travels at an enormous speed through space, all the while circling its sun, which is also moving. The very galaxies move. Space is full of activity, motion, speed. How many races have called out over the aeons across space to one another, and never heard each other’s call?

It is impossible to say.

Here is the story: once there was a race of amphibian beings on a planet, and there was a war.

I lie and toss and turn and dream: the islands dry and burned, the smoke is rising, the fish lie dead and rotting in the sun. The dead number in the millions, fish and people both.

They say the avians fired first. It’s possible. It doesn’t matter, really—it’s an old enough story.

I do not blame. I did what I had to do, what had to be done. In the other parallel line. . . perhaps things turned out differently there.

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I watched our dream go up in too-bright flames.

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Our future shrivelled, died. Only the past remains. . .

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We built a device.

With the last of our power, as we waited for death, we launched one last payload into space. It is a communication device—of sorts. In your mind I detect patterns describing quantum entanglement. That term works as well as nakaimas, which I also detect in your mind, which is another word for majik. Very well.

I am the speaker for my people, the kastom jif, in your tongue. I remember the old ways. We, too, used to share in each other’s flesh, respect our dead by consuming them. But there are too many dead to count, and they remain uneaten. Perhaps another life will rise in our world, one day. I do not know. I am entombed within a place—it is a little like your spaceship. An enclosed space, a finite space, and I am alone, and I am lonely.

We launched it into space, beyond the moon, the sun, the outer planets and the belt of frozen rocks that circled our solar system like a halo.

We hoped that we would find you.

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Going into space is like fucking, a frantic race that ends with an explosion, and a turning over. We can leave the gravity well of Earth, but we cannot leave ourselves behind. Wherever we go, we are still human. We still think in terms of reproduction and victuals, of fucking and eating.

So it was with us. Sometimes I think we should have stayed, worked in our underwater gardens, raised cattle-fish, and children, made love beneath the waves, sang songs, and watched the stars. . .

But it is hard to merely watch the stars. To live is to dream, of galaxies and stars, of spaceships and of monsters. It’s hard to say what’s right or wrong. The universe is always there, beyond the atmosphere, exerting such a powerful influence!

Like a sea-ghost, a devel blong solwota, the human-shapes that rise out of the sea, made up of fish, and call out, call out so charmingly to you. Space is seduction. We could no more refrain from going than we could deny that we were ourselves.

We didn’t want to share it.

Perhaps for you it’s different. Your ship is sailing to a foreign sun. What will you find?

Perhaps you’ll come and find me. We’ll talk, the way we do now. We’ll honour our dead. We’ll sing the songs—your kastom songs and mine. We’ll dream, together, of futures bright as suns. There are no monsters. And we are not so other to each other, you and I.

Lavie Tidhar is the author of The Bookman, published by Angry Robot, and forthcoming Camera Obscura. Other works include novella Cloud Permutations, linked-story collection HebrewPunk and many others.