This is the final part of the story within a story. Tendai, the storyteller, concludes as the storm crashes in again.
Born Out of a Storm (Episode 3)
Tendai turned towards the fire. He held his hands out towards it and said nothing.
Rudd watched him.
He’s not with us. Like this story’s got hold of him.
Rudd looked around the room. Everyone sat quiet. The eyes that he could see were lost in faraway places.
Even old Jacobus and Fred. If he’s got them that’s pretty amazing.
Tendai sighed deeply, then dropped his next words into the flames.
“This thing that happens to Girl is on the morning that she goes for a long walk, a new walk, to the other side of the House to think about her next story.”
Tendai turned, and went back to his original seat. Simi was opposite him, and next to her old man Bernard, who now sat tall on the bench, with his blanket wrapped around one shoulder like a toga.
Rudd noticed the quiet, and the stillness that, like the smoke, had crept in around them.
“Girl has never been to this place in the House,” Tendai continued, “so she is excited to see it now. She walks as she always does – sometimes skipping, sometimes stopping, always thinking, thinking of stories. But on this day, just as she reaches the far corner, she trips on a pile of loose shapes. Oh! She lifts one foot up. She hops on the other and stops to look down.”
Tendai grabbed the sole of one gumboot, swung it up on to his knee, then let it fall back.
“What are these hard pieces? Wood perhaps? But no they are too white. And their shape is wrong. Girl bends down to look more closely … and then she cries out, for she sees that these shapes are not wood. These shapes are bones. They are the bones of skeletons. She drops her foot to the floor and spins around. Whose are these? Who lives here? At first she thinks there is nobody and then she sees eyes gleaming, their backs to the wall. The eyes are big. They are sad and silent and they stare at her from the darkness. They are the eyes of old men and old women who sit in a circle and hold their grandchildren close.”
Tendai rose slowly to his feet, and took a few limping steps towards Fred.
“Girl hobbles forward to speak to them, but the old people shrink back. She stops. She tries to remember. And then it comes to her. This must be it. This must be that place. These must be the Buried Lives. These are the ones she heard the Elders whisper about long, long ago. These are the Bones of the Lost.”
Tendai lowered his voice. If filled with dread. “With a shiver, Girl remembers the deepest whisper, the whisper no-one dared to speak. She can feel again her mother’s breath in her ear, and the fear in her voice, as she told Girl that she must never talk of these things, for this place is a place where evil has been done.
Girl remembers now that beneath this secret there is another that is deeper still, that is truly too terrible to say aloud. This is the secret that lies strangled in the throats of those who know. It is tied so tight that there are few who speak of it even though they know it to be true. And what is this terrible secret? It is this. It is that Grandpa himself knows of these Bones. That Grandpa was there when these bones came to be. That Grandpa holds the stories of these Bones in his fists, and that he will vanish any voices that speak of the time that brought these Bones to their brutal beginning.”
Rudd could not take his eyes off Tendai. He saw him begin to walk again. Now he had his hands behind his back, and his head bowed. At first his mac gleamed grey, and then it was swallowed completely by the shadows. It was only his voice that reached back, loud and clear.
“Girl’s legs shake for she knows that she herself has seen the Bones, that they are real, and that now their secret is her secret too. And that now she must strangle this secret in her own throat. Girl feels the fright twist inside her. She lowers her eyes and backs slowly, slowly away – away from the sad eyes, away from the old with their backs to the wall, away from this place of evil secrets.
Then she turns and walks swiftly across the House, careful not to run, not to make people look. She goes straight to Uncle and sits down beside him. At his feet Knowledge and Hope are asleep.
Uncle looks at her, but Girl does not look at him. He senses the fright inside her, and he knows.
‘You have seen,’ he says.
She nods her head in silence.
‘Do you know what we must do now?’ he asks.
She shakes her head, then raises her eyes to look at him.
‘We must work harder and faster. We must do more, for the Bones cannot stay silent much longer.’
‘But Uncle,’ she begins, ‘nothing changes. No-one will listen to us. They will be too frightened, and now I have seen for myself how bad it can be.’
‘Yes,’ says Uncle, ‘that is why what comes must be better. Let us be patient. Let us be brave. Let us be clever. We are not seen. We are not important, and that is why we can make a difference. Besides, if we do not try to start the change, then who will do this for us?’
At Uncle’s feet Knowledge cries out in his sleep, but Hope stirs. She reaches her arm around him, and both fall back to their dreaming.
‘Who will help these children?’ Uncle asks Girl, but does not wait for an answer. ‘It is you and me. It is up to us. We must do this thing.’
‘Now go! Please! Tell your stories. Do not give up. The time is coming soon to move Grandpa from the table so the truth can be told, and all the people honoured. The Bones too must have their say.’
Girl nods. She hopes that Uncle is right, but she does not feel strong. I am only a girl, she thinks.
Understanding this, Uncle gets to his broken feet, and holds out his hands so that he may help Girl stand too. She pulls herself up to stand beside him.
‘Remember,’ he says, ‘it does not matter that you are a girl. You are someone who is brave and clever. And you do this for all of us, but especially for Hope so that she may belong, and so that Knowledge will know her power.’”
Tendai reappeared from the dark. As he came closer the wind began again. It forced the door wide and lifted away the smoke. Rain tiptoed nervously across the roof. Tendai cleared his throat and started to speak.
“Girl hugs her Uncle, then she takes a deep breath and walks back slowly to her place. As she walks she tries to push the Bones away, to think of her next story. But it is hard to do this. Her legs are still weak, and the Bones still rattle in her head. She feels dizzy, and thinks that now Uncle cannot see her, she will sit down to rest. Then, suddenly, she sees something in the air above her head.”
Tendai raised an arm and pointed a finger through the dark towards the roof.
“There … what is that? See,” he said, as glinting eyes followed his arm, “there. A small paper plane.” His finger drew circles above. “It drifts high in the air above Girl and then it lands at her feet. She bends down to pick it up. She can see there is writing on the inside of the little ‘plane so she opens it, and reads what it says.”
Tendai stepped back around the table and bent down as though to catch a fallen paper. He opened it with both hands and held it up to read. Then he circled round slowly on his heels, eyes scanning upwards.
“Girl,” he said, his voice drifting above them, “looks up and looks around. She sees a hand wave at her from a window. She folds the paper quickly and puts it in her pocket. Now another plane lands at her feet, and then another. The air is full of paper planes.” Tendai opened his arms wide. “Girl tries to catch them and to read the messages, but she has to be quick for the Children run around her now. They too try to catch the planes.”
Tendai staggered as though his arms were full of papers. He spun round with a splash, to face Simi, and then dropped his voice from excitement to fear.
“Suddenly there is Snake. He slithers towards them, while Wife of Snake shouts at the Workers to get their brooms to sweep these papers away. But the Workers cannot for there are too many. There are small piles of the paper aeroplanes everywhere. They lie in heaps on the ground, so many of them that even Snake does not know what to do. He cannot raise his head high enough to see where these paper planes come from, and his wife shouts so loudly now that he cannot think. She has a sjambok and she whips the Women and the Workers and shouts that they must clear the papers away – faster, faster. Snake slithers, and slithers, he hisses and hisses … but he can do nothing.”
Tendai returned to his place on the table. Behind him the wind tried again to force its way in, and to scatter the rain faster along the roof. Tendai raised his voice, each word careful and deliberate.
“Girl is happy now. She feels strong, for the writings tell her that she is seen. That the Broken People are seen. That the world waits for them to be free. Now she turns, her arms full of messages, and she smiles at the faces in the window. They smile back and then they start to wave – first one, then two, then three wave back, then too many for Girl to count.
But suddenly there is a roar.”
Tendai shouted, like a punch into the wind. Rudd saw Fred stiffen, and Marybelle’s hands fly to cover her mouth.
“This roar,” said Tendai, “is Grandpa. Grandpa is furious because a plane has landed in his feast. Then two more land in his drink and he roars again.” Tendai yelled out again. His voice boomed up to the rain heavy roof. “Grandpa thumps his fist and yells. Even the Favourites are frightened now. The youngest jump up to close the windows … but he does not come back. He climbs right out and is never seen again.”
“Girl sees them go, and she laughs for she sees that Uncle has made the Table so low now that everyone can see Grandpa for themselves. They can see his rage, and they will know it is of no use for still the planes and their messages keep coming. Girl sees Grandpa narrow his crocodile eyes and thump his fist again. Crash!”
Tendai picked up a large stick from the woodpile beside him and smacked it against the side of the table, once, then again, and then again.
“Crack!” he shouted above the dull clunk of wood, then he dropped the stick, and held his arms out, palms down, and swayed from side to side.
“Now the table begins to wobble and tip. It wobbles so much that Grandpa’s golden plate falls to the floor and spills its treats of cars, and gold. It scatters so much food over the floor that the Broken People are almost drowned. All race to reach the food, and Girl knows that they will use what is left to feed those who do not have, and that it will make them all strong, and when they are all strong they too will be able to help move Grandpa from his table.”
Tendai dropped his hands back into his lap. As he did so the rain came in, bashed in through the door, wound high on the wind and the drenching, clattering noise above drowned out any chance of story. The room was trapped, and then the rain fell back, and Tendai began again.
“Girl sees that Uncle’s carving has made each leg weaker and shorter, and she knows that now, together, they may bring the table down. That now the people will see that it is possible to do this, and she knows that soon Grandpa and his Table will be gone, so too will Snake. And Wife of Snake will matter no more, and the Favourites will no longer rattle their guns for their guns will be locked away.
Girl thinks too of what she saw. And she remembers the Bones. They judder in heaps through her mind, and again she is frightened … and then a thought comes. And with it another, and another, and she begins to think. She believes now that these thoughts are true. And they are this – that this change, this beginning of the end, is not because of her, nor is it because of Uncle, and it is not because of her stories. They may have played a part, but now perhaps it has all come together because of the Bones. They have been witnessed again and now it is they who speak, the Bones who sense that it is their time that has come. This is their moment to be laid to rest, and they will not be silent until that is done.
How does Girl know these things? It is because she has ancestors of fire in her blood, and they know a thing or two. They will not let her be pushed this way or that by those who think they are mighty, for this reason or for that. No. This person, Girl, has the power from those who came before her to see what is right and what is wrong. Even though now she does not know who has done what, or even if she mattered at all, she does know that what has to be done has begun to be done, and that it will be finished.”
In the room no-one moved or spoke. The eyes of most were on the floor, and those that weren’t stared into the far, dark, distance.
Rudd looked round them all, and then tried to catch Tendai’s attention, to give him a thumbs up, but still he would not raise his eyes.
“Is that the end Tendai?” Marybelle shouted.
Tendai looked up at her.
“Yes. That is the end,” he replied, as he patted his hands together to get rid of bark dust. “That is the end … or,” he added slowly, “perhaps it has just begun.”
(With thanks to my writing group for their feedback on this, and to Saraswathi Sukumar who gave us the original freewriting prompt ‘storyteller‘.)
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2021