The Calming of a Mind
2 The Making of an Excuse
3 The Miming of a Sign
4 The Failing of a Charm
5 The Receiving of a Guest
6 The Forming of a Scheme
7 The Telling of a Tale
8 The Sorting of a Job
9 The Touring of a Town
10 The Sighting of a River
11 The Missing of a Chance
12 The Boasting of a Brand
13 The Sharing of a Snack
14 The Clearing of a Path
The Purging of a Heart
16 The Reciting of a Riddle
17 The Rebuking of a Brute
18 The Guarding of a Rock
19 The Teasing of a Name
20 The Hailing of a Friend
21 The Splitting of a Seam
22 The Turning of a Back
23 The Granting of a Boon
24 The Meeting of a Man
25 The Opening of an Eye
26 The Naming of a Country
27 The Shining of a Beacon
28 An Epilogue
There were fine houses of squarish shape, all in a row, with ample yards between them. The countryside facing outward from all of the doors and windows was as splendid as anyone could wish nature to be. It might be mentioned that all of these openings were built into the fronts of the houses, and that as long as no one peeked behind these cozy dwellings to observe what was in back of them, beyond the sheer drop over the edge of the cliff, there was no unseemly scenery to be seen.
To the local inhabitants, who were born and raised in this part of the world, the horrible wasteland that stretched out behind their comfortable homes might as well have been a great big invisible Nothing. In a way, that is indeed what it was, for No Thing At All was the only thing that happened in it. The gray expanse of sand and rocks, reaching beyond the horizon, was as still and barren as it ever was, on this day that, thus far, had been entirely unremarkable.
Inside one of the dwellings mentioned shortly ago, little Yunoo was concentrating ferociously upon her work. Though she had produced some half-decent wares in this workshop, to-day did not seem to be working out. Neither had a great many other days, as of late. She was only an Apprentice, after all. Her father, the Master of his craft, was indeed as talented and experienced as his title suggested. As this masterful father figure sat at his workstation, he made his own task look easy. It really was not, of course, but this is how masters work. His daughter, meanwhile, was succeeding only in demonstrating that her apprenticeship was simply not very promising.
Dispelling her intense focus and finally relaxing, little Yunoo admitted defeat.
"I can't think of anything else," she said.
Her father, being as masterful as he was, managed to keep his own work intact, despite having to dedicate half of his attention toward counseling his daughter.
"They'll see right through it," he advised, "if you don't fill in the details."
Yunoo sighed: "This one wasn't very good, anyway. I'd rather just start over again from the utter start, later."
She stood up and paced around for a little while. Though young, she took her job seriously and was upset by such failures. In times like this, her thoughts were so jumbled and confused that she could not pick just one at a time to explore, thus she felt lost.
"May I get found?" she asked.
Her father waved good-bye to her, and she walked out through the front door. What would have met her gaze, had she been looking ahead, would have been the rolling hills of soft grass and the leafy trees that any of her neighbors might be seeing from their own homes, at that very moment. But Yunoo, being in one of her fits of jumbled thoughts, turned away from this picturesque vista and walked around to the back of the house.
There it was: the Nothing, the Sameness, the Stillness. Every rock and grain of sand, in the same place where it was yesterday, and perhaps every yesterday before then. To the other locals, this cliffside was the Edge of the World, where everything stopped, and there was not anything beyond it. But to Yunoo, there was a kind of reassurance and calmness in looking upon this desert; it helped her thoughts to settle.
That is what would have happened, had this been a normal day.
As her thoughts began to settle, a new one, entirely unexpected and unprecedented, entered her mind, throwing the entire procedure into disorder. That thought was: 'Something's moving out there.'
Then another: 'No, I must have imagined it.'
And then one more, before she simply did not know what to think anymore: 'Is that... a person?'
Yunoo spent the next minute in utter confusion, trying to understand the impossible scenario that seemed to be occurring. Of course, none of her neighbors would also be witnessing this, for no one but Yunoo ever looked out upon the gray desert.
The Master was working, as usual, when his little daughter Yunoo came back into the house. Still keeping just enough attention on his work, he regarded Yunoo's bizarre mood with curiosity. This was not typical. The girl was evidently trying to think of what to say.
"You were gone awhile," he remarked, bringing his work to a stopping point, "but didn't find yourself?"
Almost not hearing the question, the girl's lack of answer was, itself, answer enough. Glancing at the shelves over her worktable, an "Oh!" escaped her lips as an idea came to her.
"I wish I didn't have to waste one," she said, sorting through the little corked bottles on her shelf, "but it just can't be helped, poppa!"
"Waste!?" the Master exclaimed. "They're made to be used! Doesn't sound like a waste, to me. Try one out, and let me see how your skills are coming along."
The girl selected a bottle, and uncorking it, poured the unseen contents from it into the palm of her hand. An observer of this scene would have noticed some kind of Something in her hand, though it did not exactly have any definitive form or color. The girl then patted it somewhat roughly upon the side of her head, as if slapping some sense into herself.
From her mouth then poured a sentence that, though spoken in Yunoo's voice, had a volition of its own and came out in one exhaustingly long breath, which you are welcomed to imitate: "I am afraid that such is my distraction that I am in need of taking a rather long walk that might cause me to be gone for perhaps several hours during which time you should not worry about me or look for me."
Then silence befell the house. It was almost as awkward as what Yunoo had just spoken. The girl looked blankly at her father, expecting the worst.
The Master furrowed his brow and stroked his beard for a few moments, which was enough time for him to think of such a quantity of words that, if he had wished it, could be masterfully crafted into several exquisite paragraphs in critique of his daughter's utterance. But he was a man who was in the habit of thinking much more than speaking, rather than the other way around, which means that he was quite a 'thoughtful' fellow instead of an overly 'talkative' one. That is to say that for every one word he might declare aloud, there were a number of others which he kept either completely unspoken or else just barely audible.
He muttered to himself at such a low volume that what little sound did escape through the fingers of his hand and the hairs of his beard was in no danger of being deciphered as anything more than an indistinct hum. If Yunoo had been able to meaningfully hear her father's discreet evaluation, it would have been:
"That one was really not convincing at all. Exceptionally unnatural and flimsy. Where has my teaching gone wrong? Am I failing as a father?"
The longer that this muttering proceeded, the more that Yunoo winced at her father's impending appraisal; the suspense was agonizing.
Slapping his knees and then standing up, the Master's countenance lightened, and he stated in his normal voice: "But I must encourage you, Daughter Apprentice, so I'll allow it. Go on and 'take your walk.' Be back before night."
Enormously relieved, Yunoo began to run outside and would have left the house behind at that very moment, if not for realizing that the empty bottle and its cork were still in her hands. Briefly delaying her exit, she deposited these items onto her worktable, and began again to leave. Stopping again, she then picked a few corked bottles from her shelf, stowed them into the generous pocket on the front of the trusty orange-colored smock which she was wearing, and hurried outside.
Sure enough, the Something that Yunoo had seen moving through the endless gray Nothing had been coming closer. Though faintly resembling the form of a person, it was still too far away for Yunoo to identify with any degree of certainty. What was certain to her, however, was that she wished to greet the Something's arrival. The gray wasteland, being always ignored by every other local inhabitant, felt to Yunoo that it was her own, for she alone found value in looking upon its eternal sameness, and so she also felt a sense of ownership over this first ever thing about it that was different: the approaching presence.
There was a slight problem, though: the small matter of how to descend the sheer cliff separating the idyllic countryside from the wasteland below. Being that no one but Yunoo ever looked upon the desert, and she herself had never constructed any kind of ladder or staircase to the bottom of the cliff, there subsequently was no such fixture in place. It might as well be explained now, while we give Yunoo a few minutes to formulate a plan of descent, that the utter bleakness and desolation was not the original reason for the wasteland being so thoroughly put out of everyone's mind. In truth, living in perfect disregard of the place was how the people never set foot upon it, for if they had ever committed such an unfortunate act, they would immediately be turned into dust and cease to exist.
However, this excellent reason for avoiding the sand of the desert was unknown to little Yunoo. Let us hope, therefore, that she proceeds with caution, by whatever method she might end up making progress in her adventure. She is still thinking of a plan, you see, so I have adequate time remaining to tell you a bit more about this locale.
At the threshold between the endless gray sand and the thin strip of green grass at the base of the cliff, there was a kind of barrier. It was not a wall or a fence, or anything else that could be seen or touched; it was not a gate for controlling the passage of creatures or travelers. Rather, it could be described as being a barrier to the passing of time, as such was the stillness of the desert that its sole observer had never witnessed the sun setting nor the moon rising therein, let alone a cloud drift by or a breeze blow a grain of sand.
While we were just now studying the details of the desolate desert, little Yunoo the Apprentice began descending the cliff, using no tools other than her own hands and feet. Having to press her front-side toward the cliff, for the sake of holding onto the projecting rocks and other natural features that might assist in her effort, the little glass bottles in the roomy front pocket of her smock clanked around. This, and her labored breathing, were the only sounds to be heard, as the desert itself was always deathly silent.
Eventually reaching the strip of grass at the base of the cliff, Yunoo sat down upon it to rest, as the climb downward had been as exhausting as it was treacherous and messy. There was little space to lounge. In fact, Yunoo was now closer to the ghastly gray sand than any of her people had ever been. It was inexplicably terrifying, and yet also thrilling to the child, to be within arms-reach of the edge of this place which she had so often gazed upon and admired from afar.
She could, for the first time, differentiate between individual grains of sand. Countless thousands of them were within her vision, meticulously arranged into the form of a timeless surface. The details were so fine, and even beautiful in their own way, that the girl simply could not bear the thought of disturbing them with her fingers; the notion of doing so struck her with a bizarrely powerful feeling of aversion, as if from deep down and all around, at once. Regardless of exactly whence it came, this sense of preservation was most fortunate.
Such was her awe and wonder, that she nearly forgot why she had come down here, in the first place. Remembering, she looked out from this new, much lower vantage point, which really was quite different, and found what was moving. As if it would improve her vision of the distant Something, she thoughtlessly took a step toward the boundary of sand, nearly stepping into it. Being a child, it was only the shortness of her legs which saved her life in that careless moment.
The closer that the oncoming Something approached, the more it became apparent as a person: the two legs, moving with a slow and labored rhythm, became distinct from each other, while the arms carried a long stick that swayed around with every step, and the face was pointed downward toward the sand. This person's skin and various pieces of clothing and equipment ranged in appearance from light to dark and from shiny to dull, though all of it was, curiously, one kind of gray or another, alike the desert itself.
At this rate, the stranger was now only a minute or two away from reaching the strip of grass at the base of the cliff, where Yunoo stood.
The girl hollered at the full power of her voice: "Hello there!"
...and the sound blasted upon the threshold between the gray and the green, and was no more, for it did not carry itself into the desert, at all. The strangeness of this was clear to her, for she had expected her exclamation to fade into the distance, rather than abruptly stopping. It was therefore disappointing to Yunoo, but understandable, that the oncoming stranger simply did not hear the greeting.
After a few more steps, the figure's pace slowed to a crawl. Plunging the shiny end of the stick into the sand, the figure leaned against the non-shiny end and appeared to be resting.
Happening to look straight ahead, the figure became as still as a statue. Yunoo was now looking directly, albeit still somewhat distantly, at the face of this young man, who then began moving his arms wildly, as if futilely trying to push air toward Yunoo across the remaining expanse of sand. The stranger's mouth rapidly opened and closed, without any sound reaching the girl.
Yunoo turned one of her ears toward him, as if doing so would be helpful. She was just about to take a step closer.
What the stranger did next was even more curious. He pulled up the stick, holding it entirely above his head for the girl to view clearly across the distance between them. This dramatic gesture did indeed command attention. He then threw the stick's non-shiny end into the sand. Yunoo expected to simply see the cane standing upright with its plain wooden end embedded into the sand, but what she saw, instead, was that the entire piece of wood had turned into dust and vanished forever. The metal end came to rest upon the desert, and stayed there; the young man had no intention of trying to pick it back up, lest even one grain of sand make contact with his skin or sleeve.
The intended message reached Yunoo with shocking clarity; she backed away from the threshold, as if her life depended on it, which it did. Looking back up from her feet, which were now a safe distance from the very edge of the desert, she found the young man hastening to reach her. His steps were wobbly without the aid of the stick. Once or twice, Yunoo feared that the stranger might stumble and fall, but finally he reached the threshold and put one gleaming metal boot upon the green grass.