Jandrax 61

I killed the herby cleanly as he stooped to drink.

The herd scattered with cries of terror and the forest night sounds fell silent. For a moment I felt exultation, then a nameless dread. It was as if I had sinned in the face of God. Never had I felt such guilt.

Some presence moved in the jungle night. Something sleeping was wakened; something quiescent was angered.

Some thing became aware of my presence. I could feel its personality as it probed and quested.

I did not move.

The spirit of the place moved in the moonlit glade. A breeze stirred the trees, flattened the grass. The herby lay on its side, feet stretched stiffly toward me, lying in an obscene black pool of its own blood.

I dared not move, yet the thing found me. It moved in the tree beside me where no material thing could be seen.

Spiraling above the clearing, rising from somewhere inland, I saw the heavy flying things that had eluded me during the day. They rose like a cloud, circling, like some great aerial hieroglyph. Their cries came down to me, “Dilwildi, dilwildi, dilwildi.”

The presence sat unseen beside me in the tree, its essence scratching at the surface of my mind, seeking entry, finding none.

“No!” I was whimpering like a child in the treetop, overcome by some unspoken guilt. I was a man, a hunter. What business did I have with such feelings. Yet they were not to be denied.

The flying things descended to the clearing, making a circle around the dead herby. One slipped forward, scuttling crabwise to investigate this incursion of violence into a realm that knew no violence. How did I know that? Yet I did.

They were clearly creatures of the air who moved clumsily on land. Their wings were disproportionately long and seemed not feathered but furred; beyond that I could tell little about them.

Over the course of millennia, legions of demons have crept into earthly folklore and scores of these have made their way into the Monomythos. In my imagination, they sat with me that night.

The flying creatures left the ground in a concerted rush, flying laboriously into the trees. They had come from the rocky fastness at the center of the island.

Within me was a desire to follow them, to track them to the place of their origin. Was this my own wish, or something left me by the presence?

Then I realized that it was gone and I was alone again.

*****

Where is the boundary between science fiction and fantasy? Most of what we read lies near the border between them. Star Wars is clearly a fairy tale with light sabres. Hogwarts has boring lectures, student pranks, and demerits even while it is teaching spells and potions instead of history and math. There are more things in heaven and earth, Albert, than are dreamt of in your theories.

Perhaps it all lies in the difference between the unknown and the unknowable. If anything is actually unknowable. And if anything can be truly and finally known.

Beyond philosophy, there is the practical. I knew as I began Jandrax that a book of science fiction where the technology was reduced to nineteenth century level, could become dull without at least the whiff of the uncanny. The ruins at the end of chapter one were there from the first draft, and the “potbellied, winged mammals” on the mural there are the dilwildi which Jean will get to know in the next few posts.

I knew from the first that there would be a touch of the supernatural before Jandrax was through, but I didn’t know until I got there what that would entail. more tomorrow

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