Now it’s dark, and I’m standing up by the logs and I don’t understand how it is that I’m standing there with my eyes open. I’m a little frightened as I look around, and now I hear a noise behind me, like someone walking on dry leaves. I turn to see, and now I’m more than just a little frightened.
There is a shagfoal standing in the grass less than ten feet away from me. She looks at me – her eyes are brighter than fire and as big as a tree stump. I piss down my leg – it’s warm, then cold.
Around the shagfoal’s feet in the dark there are little shapes moving – they are as ugly as her. They are black and eyeless, so I think that they’re shagfoal pups; they’re all crawling and scratching beneath their mother. Their tongues are long, white, and worm-like, and they wave them around in front of themselves to taste and smell the air. They’re silent, and I’m more afraid of them than I am of she that stands over them.
The shagfoal looks at me, and I have no strength to move – it’s like I’m made of stone. I think hard about shagfoals, so I can think of something that’ll help me. My people say that the shagfoal are big and scary dogs, the kind that used to be around during the Ice Age, like the Urks, and now, like the Urk-kine, they’ve passed away. Only their ghosts walk the earth now, up this world and down the other, and where the barriers between worlds have become thin, as they are at a crossroads or a river-bridge, the shagfoal come.
I think, but there’s nothing I can think of that will help me. There it stands, bigger than me, the shagfoal looking down with eyes like the sun – eyes that I can’t look away from. In between her big dark forepaws, her pups crawl on their bellies, tasting and sniffing, but I can’t look down from her eyes, eyes that are getting bigger and brighter; they’re now so big and bright that it’s like I’m surrounded by fire. They become so bright that I can’t look at them – I shut my eyes now, and they’re so bright that I can still see the light through my eyelids.
Now everything becomes strange
I’m not standing anymore – I’m down in the dirt behind the log, and I still see the bright light from the shagfoal’s eyes through my shut eyelids. Now I open them, slowly, terrified.
The brightness is no longer from the shagfoal’s eyes. The brightness is the brightness of sunrise, and I look and see that the shagfoal isn’t around anymore; her pups aren’t either. I stand up now, my legs all wet with piss, and walk by where I saw the ghost-beasts. I crouch to look. There are no pawprints in the dirt, nor is there any other sign of them.
I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t see a crossroads or a river-bridge, yet the shagfoal came to me. I think about this, and now my belly makes a noise to tell me to walk further on and find food for it.
I walk, and after I’ve gone a ways I turn around to look back. I see the logs – they’ve changed back into pigs now that I’m not near them anymore. The top pig mates with the one beneath him – he looks like he’s having a good time. I figure if I run back they’ll change back into logs just to piss me off. I spit and then turn and walk on.
Above me, through the tree branch, is the sun, which follows me. I walk through the woods that are between me and another hill that I saw from the dirt hilltop where I saw the pigs. From far away, the hill looks little but it’s become big now that I’m by it. The dirt beneath my feet rises, slowly at first, and then more and more, and I walk for a long time up the hill and by the trunks of many trees. I start breathing hard and my leg burns, and it’s like that until I get to the top of the hill.
Here there’s a clearing with only tree stumps. There are so many stumps all the way off down the hill that the sky has become bigger where the top of the world has become bare. Now I sit down on a stump for a look.
I’m above a big valley that goes from here to the horizon. Here and there are trees, but mostly stumps – the area is frighteningly open. In the valley below is a river, and far off there’s a bridge that looks like it crosses the river, which is how the shagfoals come to these whereabouts. Between the river and me is another, lower hill, where I see something I’ve never seen before.
There’s a construction on that hill that’s bigger than I can conceive. It’s a huge circle that has smaller circles inside it, like a dried up worm lying on grass. The circles are walls, and near them there’s a lot of holes dug up in the dirt, more than twice as deep as the hole I dug for my mother. I think that the dirt from the holes was used to make the walls.
The innermost circle has many animals inside it, all of which are white. Now the wind’s changed direction and I can smell them, their shit and so forth, and figure out that they are oxen, but there are more of them there than my people would see in a whole year. In the middle of this innermost circle is a wooden hut with oxen all around it. After a while a man comes out of the hut, wrapped in skins, to take a piss, after which he goes back in. Maybe he sits there in the hut because he’s the animal’s keeper.
The wall around the oxen has a lot of entryways with wooden gates on them, to keep the animals in. In the next circle out, across the wall from the oxen, are pigs. There are a lot of them, with chickens scratching around their feet. My belly makes a noise; it hurts.
Across from the pigs is another circular wall, further out, and with little space between it and the pigpen. Although they’re not as numerous as the animals, there are several people walking around in it; some of them stand and talk to one another; they look tiny below me. I can’t imagine a tribe big enough to make a place like this, because it’s so big.
Across and down from the little hill, a ways off from that place, I see many pointy-topped huts, on the banks the river. There are about twenty of them; many plumes of smoke rise from this area. I figure all of this is the work of settlers to keep their animals, yet it’s hard for me to imagine that there’s a settlement this big in the whole world.
I don’t understand why they’ve built their things by a river bridge, where the barrier between the worlds is thin – even a baby would know that’s not a good idea. Why, maybe they don’t know about the shagfoal and the like, because I hear that settlers aren’t any smarter than babies. My people have a lot of good jokes about settlers, like this: one guy says, “How does a settler-man get a mate?” and the other guy says back, “Why, he waits for her to catch her horns in the briars.”
My leg hurts where the other settlers hit me with a stone – I don’t want more of the same. I see that I can walk by the hill with the construction on it, on the side opposite of the pointy-topped huts, and, by taking that route, come to the river bridge so I can journey on.
I stand up, and now I walk down the hill, between many stumps. They’re all sharp on top, like the valley’s a mouth and the stumps are her teeth. I don’t like all this open space, where the trees are put to the ax. There’s no good in it.
Now I come to the bottom of the little hill, which makes the other hill becomes bigger, and I hear the mooing of the oxen now, from the top of that hill. The hill is west of me, so I walk east. The dirt becomes softer in the lower part of the valley, and the lower I go, the muddier it becomes, so that it comes up to my knees and makes me walk slowly. There aren’t as many tree stumps now – the ones that are here are rotten, black, mossy, and filled with stagnant water, so there are a lot of mosquitoes here.
Far behind me an ox moos at its mate. I pull my foot out of a mud-hole and walk on. I can’t see the river bridge like I could when I was up high because it’s behind a thicket of trees that stand in front of me, but I head for where I think it crosses the river.
I walk slowly through the reeds and the mud. My belly hurts. It’s so empty that it makes everything seem strange to me, and I’m afraid my head will float off, as it did with the sky-beast. The dirt sucks on my foot. Old Dirt, he knows I didn’t give Mother’s foot to him and wants his due, for there’s one foot due to him yet and he’s taking my foot to make good the debt. This thought makes me very afraid, so I pull my leg up high like a stork and I go as quick as I can to the trees, which are on drier ground.
I’m by the trees now. I can walk and not get sucked down in the dirt, but I don’t have the strength for it. The trees stand in a little thicket, and I can’t think about anything except going to the bridge. I walk beneath the trees, and lean my hand on them to hold myself up, and keep falling as I’m walking. My leg hurts and burns with infection. I fall down. Stand up. I fall down. I stand up, and now I’m through the thicket of trees, at the other side of it looking out. I think I’m better now, and feel my strength coming back. I fall down.
I can’t get up. I’m flat on my back in the grass, with my head laying against a tree root. There’s nothing above me, just a bunch of tree branches with no leaves. I look across my belly, legs, and feet, and beyond the trees I see the river, where the noise of the water is loud. I don’t see the bridge. It’s not where I thought it was. Maybe I can’t find a way to the bridge through the thicket of trees. Now the flies fly around the scab on my knee (which has turned black), and they sit on my leg where I don’t have the strength to hit them off.
I look toward the river, which is better to look at than my leg. Between the river and where I’m at in the thicket of trees I see a rise of dirt, with reeds all around it. On the rise…
On the rise, there’s a thing standing that’s all white, taller than two men, on top of which hair flies out in the wind, all black and long. It’s a woman, all in white, but she’s frighteningly big – unreal. I close my eyes so she can’t see me.
Now I open my eyes a little, and I see she is not moving. I open my eyes more because something looks strange, and see that she’s changed. She’s not a woman now.
Hut. She is a hut with ox skins hung all around her, which make her white. She has a pointy top with a long bunch of black furs hanging from it that fly in the wind. I don’t know if there’s people in the hut, nor how it is that their hut sits here all alone, away from the other settlers and their big construction up on the hill.
I look hard at the hut, because I don’t have anything else to look at. Flies buzz all around me – the buzzing becomes louder. I look, and I can see nothing but grey, with a white shape where the hut is standing, and now the white becomes grey, and the grey becomes black, and the black becomes nothing.