Listen to this Reading
Kyle Tolle reading ‘The Man and The Land’
A hot and heavy sun shined down on cracked and curling mud. A man walked along on this crumbly earth, and he could see nothing except the splits in the ground running all the way to the horizon in each direction. No wind blew and the only sound made was that of the man’s feet crunching the dried dirt as he tiredly walked along. He headed due north and he did not waver from that path. Wearily, yet continuously, his feet hit the earth and carried him forward.
For the entire day he continued along. He neither stopped nor sped up. Man simply walked north and north alone. The sun eventually sank and its heat dissipated as the dusk came on. The night was a bit chill, but still no breeze traversed the land. Utterly dark and desolate was the night as the sun’s last light finally disappeared and no moon rose. Man continued along for some time in the darkness but he eventually collapsed on the ground in exhaustion and slept.
Shortly after dawn the next morning, man jerked awake and stood up, brushing off the dirt that clung to his clothing. He pulled a small ration of food from a haversack he wore and started off as he slowly ate it. Northward still he walked. Soon though the man saw a discontinuity in the land and he sped up to reach it. He came upon an edge. The land suddenly gave away and fell hundreds, or thousands or tens of thousands of feet; he could not very well tell just how long a drop it was.
This edge continued in both directions but the man decided to go east. He followed the drop-off and soon saw he went along a gentle curve and not a straight line as he first thought. The sun rose into the sky as the man walked along this periphery, beating down on the already deadened ground. Some time after midday the man stopped walking. The arc of the brink had slowly forced his path south. He could now guess he was stuck on an island of land. Even if he had quicker feet and many more hours of daylight, he would eventually return to where he started in the north. He turned for a few minutes and looked out at the expanse of land so far below that ran off for ever and ever. Aside from the plateau on which he stood, nothing disturbed the flatness of the area before him.
Turning around, man set his steps as best be could toward where he had fallen and slept the night before. Eventually, he came across the trail he left while walking north earlier that morning and followed it now south. Suddenly a small tremor shook the ground for a good span of seconds. The man stopped and waited for the quaking to pass and listened. A few minutes later a deep rumbling filled the air from all directions and went on for a few minutes. As the last noises faded, the man continued on.
Reaching the area of scuffled mud, the man lied down on the ground and stared into the air. Here he stayed the rest of the day; several times feeling the ground quake again and always a few minutes later hearing booming sounds from far off and all around him. The sun sank beyond the horizon again and for all the darkness he could only make out one star very near the horizon - and very faint it was at that. Soon he fell to slumbering with his head resting on his haversack.
Morning again came, as did wakefulness for man. He once more ate a ration from his pack and stood up. Looking around, the man could see what the rumbles and quakes had been about. Since yesterday, and especially over the night, the island of land shrunk considerably. He could see the cliff now from where he stood; maybe a hundred feet away on each side. Chewing his ration thoughtfully, he left his pack and walked to the northern edge and again peered out. Still a mighty far drop to an unbroken landscape below; he could see no mess of slump or fallen rock.
Starting toward the east, he walked along the perimeter. This man spent the rest of the day in this fashion and watched the sun rise, peak and fall. Each time he felt the earth tremble, the man backed away from the cliff and watched several feet of ground collapse and fall away; making his circle of land smaller and smaller. The sound from this land slide was terrific, shook the air powerfully and seemed to echo for minutes on end. The evening saw the man standing over his haversack with perhaps twenty feet of land on any side of him. Standing he stayed, not looking at anything in particular… simply standing. Night deepened and the single, faint star fell below the horizon so the darkness was unbroken. The man lost his struggle with sleep hours later as he collapsed with fatigue.
Dawn broke and man woke with his face hanging over the cliff’s edge. As he scrambled to his feet, the man found he had only two or three feet of encircling land. He thought of a ration and frantically looked down but he had knocked his haversack over the edge during the night. Stomach grumbling, he sat back down and wrapped his arms around his knees. Quaking and rumblings were sparse, which was good considering there was not much land left at all, but they did eventually force him to stand as land broke off and slid down and away. The sun was cooler than previous days and there might have even been a faint stirring of air.
Then, the man noticed the tremors had disappeared all together but the land still eroded continuously though slowly. What with the setting of the sun and attrition of the dried mud, man was forced to stand on one leg. He hopped to his unwearied limb just before light failed completely. No star even made it above the horizon this night. Did he have his eyes open? He couldn’t be sure. There he stood in the deep ink of night, shivering at the chill air and feeling a cramp in his leg; all on the last bits of ground that were not many yards, fathoms or leagues below.
The man awoke and saw first the pre-dawn sky, pink and pillow-y with clouds. A stiff breeze ruffled his clothes but he did not move for another minute. Carefully, he sat up and saw he was just a foot away from the small column of land on which he perched the night before. He reached down and touched something rather cold - it was a sheet of glass. He ran his hand all around and saw the glass stretched on for as far as he could tell. Reflections lept from the glass in many far places as the sun finally crept over the horizon. He turned back to the pillar of earth which ran all those many many feet down to the ground below. At the very place where he had stood the night before, a small green stalk with a light blue bud now stood. And with the light from the sun growing stronger, the little bud opened to capture the rays. The man stood up and gently tested the glass around him with a foot. He stepped over to the flower, bent down and gently plucked it from the ground. This man set off toward the north with the little blossom held between his thumb and forefinger.