The Choice

Following is a story (like The Sacred Secret) that I wrote for a college English class a couple of decades back. The editor for my book, Lynn Steiner, was the instructor for that class. Those who have already read Opalescence will recognize elements from them in it. These stories were probably evolving as early drafts for the book.

THE CHOICE

“God said to them: ‘Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Have in subjection the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every living creature that moves upon the ground'”  Genesis 1:28

I stood on the edge of a precipice overlooking an immense valley, and filling the valley was an enormous city, the City of Man. He had subdued the earth, finally. The Divine Commission was fulfilled. He had even learned to control the weather. And his achievements were great, his knowledge vast … yet his ignorance towered. Like weeds he had cleared all obstructions from his path and had taken all that could be taken, for his numbers were many. And no more was there heard the happy song of birds. All wild animals were gone, all forests harvested, all mountains mined and leveled, all seas defiled. And a black, dreary sadness hung in the air thick as soot, deep regret, and an ominous sense of finality.

“You have forgotten” came a voice behind me.

I whirled around to see who had spoken, but saw only a large, clear shimmering, transparent as water, floating in the air like contained energy, unspeakable power. And there was a voice but the Energy was not its source. And … I understood … the Shimmering was as a young child, innocent and happy. It was guided by the Voice and always did its bidding, for it loved the Voice like a father, and the Voice loved it. With the Voice was impenetrable wisdom and infinite patience and it was so very careful with the Energy. Throughout time it had directed the Shimmering and together they had safeguarded Life on Earth, making changes whenever necessary to help life adapt to a changing planet. For like a candle’s flame in the eternal night of space, the Flame of Life must not go out – it had taken so long, it must never go out.

“Finally you’re here?” I asked.

“You have forgotten,” said the Voice again, “but the last shall be first.”

And I turned to find that the Shimmering was between myself and the City of Man. And it filled my vision. Then, suddenly, the image dissolved and another world appeared.

“Earth” said the Voice.

And I understood that, I was not seeing another planet, so very different from my own, but another time. I was looking into Earth’s past, a far different past, millions of years ago.

“How could we have forgotten” I asked, “we were never there.”

“But you were.”

Then I was looking at a quiet scene somewhere in prehistoric Africa; and this time and this place was like a grain of sand on an endless seashore.

There was a small stream and it gurgled along slowly. Within it were little smooth pebbles, and a leaf was drifting along with the current. Around it on either side was an ochre colored sand, and beyond, a few yards off, it was bordered by a thick wall of green leafy trees and shrubs. The day was half past and a southern sun made them glow green and yellow. The peaceful tune of an unseen warbler seemed to call all to dance, for a gentle breeze spun leaves and wafted grasses that grew along the banks. Numerous tiny flies played chase in a little cloud above one of the trees. The sky was a pure, sweet blue, with an occasional puffy white cloud, and from this small stream clear to the mountains in the far away distance, all was densely covered with jungle and rife with all variety of life, each hooting or trilling, buzzing, baying or roaring somewhere in the wooded darkness.

Enchanted by the exotic, alien panorama, I looked to the right and there could see that the tranquil stream meandered gradually downhill and eventually leveled off into a broad, gentle valley, an expanse of primitive grasses, dotted with acacia. Vast herds, tiny to my eyes, grazed the hills and lowlands that stretched out toward the horizon. And there, a long blue line which I knew was the sea. Below me, in the center of the vale, like a sparkling jewel, was a lake, an unpolluted body of such exquisite beauty and serenity that I could scarcely withdraw my eyes. And like pleasing nectar it called those of the forest to come, and drink.

Turning back, a mixture of strange feelings washed over me, primeval emotions, their origins long forgotten by humanity. For I felt, somehow, that deep within that shadowy jungle wilderness was the birthplace of all of our instinctual fears of darkness and demons; terrors that had remained long after we had driven their real source, animal predators, into extinction and eliminated their forest home.

And yet, at the same time, an ache came over me, an almost palpable sensation, for I longed to lie down next to that stream, listen to its soft melody, feel its coolness in my fingers and taste its crystal cleanness. I wanted then, more than anything I’d ever wanted, to be there, away from the deadness of my conquered world, for this, this was our Eden, the real Eden. But it was impossible since what I was seeing had long ago vanished, and even fossil evidence is rare. Yet in my life I’d never seen anything so beautiful, so – innocent.

I was entranced by the scene, feeling that I understood the Voice’s words about having forgotten when, suddenly, I was startled to hear a cautious but purposeful rustling of leaves close by. I stared and then, from the midst of the thicket, there appeared a small, tawny haired face. Thick fur grew straight out from its cheeks and on top of its head. It appeared to be primate. Its eyes darted about in that way of those who must live with guarded care. At last, satisfied, it gingerly lowered itself down by one hand from the branch on which it had been standing and approached the stream, all the while making a low chittering sound. It walked uncertainly on two feet while holding its arms up, elbows bent, hands above its head.

“The Beginning” said the Voice.

Reaching the stream, it looked again in both directions, then sat and used a cupped hand to bring water to its mouth, next lowering its face to the water to drink. It paused shortly, then jumped back suddenly, afraid. It began to race about nervously, making loud, excited noises. But, presently, it hesitated, unsure … then, slowly, again peered into the stream, this time bringing up a finger and lightly touching the surface of the waters where its image appeared, causing them to ripple and … I felt that … a choice was … being offered … to … me.

Abruptly, not far away, was heard the unmistakable growl of a predator. Alarmed, the creature flung on all fours for the unfathomable jungle, obeying a primitive instinct for the safety of home and family. But, arriving at the branch upon which it had previously stood, he faltered a moment, turned and … saw me … and I understood.

We’d never been forced from the garden, no, we left voluntarily. For somewhere in our remote past we’d made a choice, an exchange. This world of uncertainties, primitive fears – and unimaginable beauty, we’d traded for lives of security and comfort. That tree of lore. But with the gain in knowledge we sacrificed something deep in our souls, a vital part of ourselves.  It’s something we’ve tried, futilely, ever since to regain.

And yet, in those last moments, I felt a sorrow for humanity, and for all the worthy people who would never be. The jewels amidst the rubble. And for this nameless little creature, so far removed from my kind, there was compassion, there was love.

“He’s blameless” I whispered.

Swiftly the huge carnivore pursued, ready to leap, about to change history.

“LIFE!” I cried out “I WANT TO LIVE!”

The awful monster closed in now.  The fur stood up … on the back of
….. my neck.

                                Run! Fly! Home!

Home!

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