The den was a cozy den, all lit up from inside, warmed against the bitter winter by a small fire that climbed in smoke through a tiny chimney. The chimney came out from what other observers would call a big pile of sticks, but what Chaul called his home. The old beaver sat easily near his food pile, which was still good and tall since he'd last collected sticks from the bottom of the lake. His grandkids, visiting him to give his own children some time to forage for themselves, were eagerly bounding around the den, in a game of beaver slap-tag. They dodged each others' brandished tails in a game that would prepare them for the reactions neccessary to warn against danger with a tail struck on water. He watched in amusement as they gamboled playfully, finally raising his voice when they teetered dangerously near the woodpile.
"You kids keep it down there. Tonight's not a night to be restless wild, you hear!"
They paused briefly, looking up at him with bright eyes, surprising him with their intensity. They looked so much like those brown eyes he remembered so long ago....
"Listen to the storm, Amy, Coo, the wind's just beginning to howl. Soon the day'll be gone and the world wrapped in snow. Now's a time for sleeping, and building dreams, not romping around until you knock the wood-pile back in the water!"
Their echoed choruses of disappointment made him chuckle. "I guess some things never change." he whispered, just loud enough for them to hear. He spoke up louder then, raising his voice in an ancient, commanding tone. "But not long ago, before you were born, there was a great deal of change in the wind."
They stopped whining, and looked at each other curiously. Grandpa had never talked about "before" to them. One of them had the courage to look at the prodigous bulk of the older beaver. He was struck silent by the look in Grandpa's eyes. Still looking down, the other one peeped, "Tell us about the change, Grandpa."
"Oh, you kids want a story, do you?"
"Yes, yes!" the first beaver said excitedly. His tail tapped on the wooden floor of the den.
"Well, since you asked, okay. I think it would be a good way to wind down the night. But you have to promise me you'll go to sleep right after."
"Oh yes! Thank you Gran'pa Chaul." they answered in chorus.
"Well then, gather close, sit with me by the fire, and I'll blow a tale from its flames, about the way it was before, and about the change. Your Grandpa was human once."
"It's true. Everyone was, well, everyone who was anyone was a human. Animals back then were all nonsen. They didn't think hardly at all. I was born and raised a human just like all the billions of others on our world at the time."
"What's a billion?" Coo asked, scrunching up his muzzle in confusion.
"A very very big number. Too big to be counting people with."
"The world was cruel and harsh. Great miracles and advancements in science were hollow and luckless behind the terrible destruction they caused. Everyone was human, and we were all crowded so close together we didn't know what to do with ourselves. There were bloody wars, struggles for power and domination, ecological disasters. We were pretty much a whole planet full of tired and angry humans with cabin fever.
There was more darkness than you can imagine. Towers taller than a hundred trees were erected, and in their great shadow, humanity wallowed in filth. Some places, there was food for all, but it was always at the expense of other people in other places. Those who succeeded became fabulously wealthy. Those who failed became squalid and poor. The concentration of wealth was increasing. Less people had more money. The whole economy was teetering on the balance, despite the long established controls set by the world governments.
When the second depression came, it hit hard. It was almost like the entire world had given up on living, and many people lost everything they owned. There were no jobs, no place to work, no food. What food there was was jealously guarded for its value, and even destroyed to prevent the value from going down. Imagine a hundred hundred piles of tasty cedar bark, all left to dry-rot because no one could pay for food.
I was an accountant at the time, digging around even as I do today. The job suited me well. I didn't have to think. I just had to take other people's money and try to keep it safe as long as I could. I had a bit of success, even in all the chaos. I made a modest living. I'd even gotten a reputation for being able to stop people's money from washing away, dam the tide if you will.
But I wasn't happy. No one was. I was successful, but at the expense of having to shoulder other people's problems. I watched client after client fall to the inexorable collapse of my country's economy. Finally, it got to me too, and I was on the street without a home or a job, or work of any kind.
It drove me crazy, going so long without work. Though I didn't know it, I was a beaver at heart, and I couldn't wait around for more than a season without trying to find something to do.
The Family Companies seemed like the answer. Separate from the government, and unbound by regulations, they promised protection and safety. They were military organizations, with real guns and bombs, and strongholds that kept their stuff safe. The only problem was that they only sold to other Family Companies. If you didn't belong to one, you didn't get anything. They made people fill long contracts of labor, signing off their lives to the Family Companies. Then, they'd trade resources, and use the goods they bought from other FC's, don't mind if I use an acronym I hope, to feed their own employees.
There were all kinds of FC's, farming, lumber, shipping, grocery, restaurant, you name it. Family Companies popped up everywhere until companies that weren't Family Companies were pushed out of business.
We didn't know it, but we were doing great evil to ourselves. Once the FC's took power, they controlled everything. Everything. We had no freedom, no rights, no way to improve our lot in life. Again, the concentration of power. A few lucky bureaucrats had all the wealth, and lived like kings. No Amy, not like kings today, like bad kings. It's just an expression from before.
People were still squished together, and the world's resources were running out. The forests were being cut and burned down. The oil was vanishing to power the FC's great factories. The air was poison around the cities, slowly killing its inhabitants. The few acts of goodness were done by an FC called General Processes. You would know them now as the Aramon Conclave.
Not as greedy as the other FC's, but mysteriously successful, General Processes made their way from selling a new efficient fuel, to controlling much of the supply line of the country I lived in. It was called America. They kept the other FC's out of some of the wilds in the northern lands of Canada, making "town preserves" where people lived, withheld from modern technology. They also bought the education system from the HMO's, and fixed that up a bit. I still don't quite understand what the HMO's wanted with the school system.... Anyway, General Processes. Good company. A little shady, but still a good company. One company wasn't enough, however. The world was pretty much falling down around its own heart strings.
Then came the night of the tangent moon.
I was awake at the time, still trying to get the old TV to bring back the news, getting nothing but static. There were some frantic reports from Japan, then nothing. I caught a radio program about some astronomers talking about strange cosmic phenomena, but I shut it off, thinking it wasn't important. Stars, if only I'd known, but I was a different person then. I didn't pay attention to anything that the news didn't shove down my throat.
The TV went completely out right at the time when the moon rose. I remember it like yesterday. I sat there for the last time with my human head in my pink human hands, cursing the gods and the power company with every thing I could imagine for taking away the TV like that. No, Coo. I didn't really curse them. People couldn't do that kind of magic--back then. I just said some bad words.
I looked up as the light from the moon washed in through my window. It was so bright. Everything was limned in silver and colored in white. I remember seeing the river sparkle just like I imagined it in a book I'd read once. Why yes, it is up on the bookshelf. It's by Tom Burgess. Can you guess which one...that's right. Very good, Coo.
Anyway, the river was sparkling and shining bright, and I wondered to myself, "Can one moon make that much light?" for back then, there was only one moon. Didn't I ever tell you? Every night of my life, with the exception of the new moon, I only saw one moon in the sky. For thousands of years, no one had ever seen more than one moon. It wasn't that the two were always opposite each other. There was only one moon. We knew, in our colossal arrogance. There was only one moon. We even used a spaceship to check.
Imagine the surprise I got when I saw an extra moon rising. Try to understand the astonishment, and the fear I felt. What would you do if two suns rose one day? Well, I didn't do much, except get out and take a closer look. I was really scared, but I didn't see any reason to try to hide from something that big. Whatever it was, it wasn't going to help, hiding inside my house. With the TV broken, I had nothing better to do anyway.
The moon had split, divided. It hadn't fallen apart like an egg, or like cookie dough. It looked like a ghost-moon had been hiding in front of the moon my whole life, and had chosen tonight to move away. Amazingly, the two moons overlapped, just barely. The edge of one touched the edge of the other, and I couldn't shake the feeling that they were somehow stuck. "Ridiculous." I told myself. "There shouldn't be a second moon at all. How could they be stuck?"
I was about to dismiss the whole thing as some kind of strange meteorological phenomena, like the astronomy people on the radio, when I saw an explosion of light from far off in the distance. It rose up into the sky, and seemed to be reaching for that moon. It was a beam, shining bright green, and iridescent. It was the first magic spell I'd seen. Do you remember from your studies? Right, Amy gets the prize. Dragon magic saved the moon. It took a good hour of watching the beam slowly crawling up into the sky before it reached the moon. The little thread wrapped itself around the connection between the two moons. When it did, the connection between the two moons glowed red, opposite to the dragon green, and broke asunder. The old moon and the new moon flew away from each other as the beam began its lazy descent back to the earth.
That, my children, was the tangent moon. The two moons were tangent to each other for one night. One night, and all the world was flooded with magic. When Selune broke free from Luna, all the world's magic came back in a rush, and as you might expect, very strange things started to happen.
Some people just melted away. They were specters without souls. They'd added to the billions of children only to take up space. Nature hates a contradiction, so if there aren't enough souls, some people get born who are not...anything. A few families were torn apart as their distant relatives vanished like smoke. Anyone who was truly loved, or truly hated did not vanish. Through our soul-ties, we managed to hold each other together when the magic washed over the land like water over a broken dam.
Some people who almost had a soul were drawn into the mists you have heard stories about. Mysterious fog rose up everywhere and we got our first look into the primal nature of reality itself:
It takes a certain kind of person to exist. Many people were not at that level. Those who only held a fractional existence could not stay in our world, and fell into the chaos that lies hidden beneath the fabric of our universe. There, they lived through dreams or nightmares, made into life by their own will. Down there, there is sort of a muddy soup of reality, a mist filled with broken dreams, incomplete ideas, half created worlds. Some people's dreams grew stronger until they acquired enough self to come back to our level of reality. Some people continued to fall into the mists, their dreams degenerating into madness.
About a fourth of the world's population was lost this way. Another half of the original population, myself included, experienced quite a different turn of events.
I woke up the next morning with a 5 o'clock shadow... and a black nose. I went to my doctor, Doctor Larez, and he assured me it wasn't infected. He didn't know quite what to make of it and said I might have a pigment problem, melatonin and such. He wasn't looking so good himself, kind of green around the eyes. That was one capable doctor. He kept to treating people even after he changed into an iguana.
So that's it. I was still pink with brown hair, and...blue eyes, I think. I changed at a rate slower than most people, according to what Doc. Larez told me later. Waking up one day, the hair on my face had become longer than ever. I had hair on the bottoms of my arms, too. If you've ever looked closely, humans don't have much hair at all on the bottoms of their arms, certainly not the long silky brown stuff I found. I gave up shaving, thank goodness. I would have looked ridiculous otherwise. Amy, please. Don't even try to imagine. It's not nice to laugh at Grandpa.
Then I shrank down quite a lot. Despite my decreasing mass, I was as hungry as a bear. I kept getting sick from the stuff in my refrigerator. What's that? Oh. It's a box that keeps human food cold. When I went to the doctor, he didn't know how to tell me, but he said I probably started to need to eat beaver food. "A beaver?" I asked him all amazed.
"Hmm...You would have to ask a veterinarian to be sure, but I don't think that tail could be for anything else." His tongue darted out and in. "You smell kind of like that rat I was treating last week, and beavers come from the same family as rats, I believe. Unless you think you're a platypus...?"
Thank the man and bless him because I then followed my stomach and got myself a good meal. After that, my transformation seemed to speed up a little, and I was a beaver head to toe by the end of the week.
I still remember looking out my window, perched up on the sill, looking at the river. Gone was the magic of that night so long ago. All I could see was the dead concrete river banks, and the floating garbage disturbing the water as it drifted downstream. "Damn them, treating a river like that." I thought. "Look at that! Trash, filth, waste. Not even the dumb birds hang around there." The river was very dirty, and much more so because I lived downstream from the factories. Those poison gushers were mostly closed down, and they still managed to spoil the river.
It was then I knew that I had to leave the city. Too much poison in the water. Too much poison in my life, pain and suffering. Too many memories of lives ruined, finances destroyed. My own as well. I suppose it was the beaver in me talking, but I just had to find someplace to live with more...life in it. I was a beaver in a city by a river without trees.
I had long since given up the idea of swimming away. The water was too polluted. My nose stung, just getting close to it. "Lay off it, Peter."
I told myself. "Nothing you can do about it, anyway. Nothing to do but leave. There's nothing for you here anymore." Then, I grabbed a bag I'd made that could wrap around my neck. Since it was easier to walk on all fours, I didn't want to try carrying anything bulky. I filled it with some stuff I thought I'd need, and left for the edge of the city.
I didn't get very far though. I had four ungainly webbed feet to deal with. I could barely scramble along at a manageable pace. I missed my home, and I missed the old steady lie I'd been living before. Truth tell, I loved the city, all the lights and the people, but I just kept saying to myself, "Beavers and cities don't mix. Cities are for people to deal with." I worked myself pretty good by the time I got two blocks down. I finally sat down on the sidewalk curb tired in frustration, too broken up to keep going. I must have been a sight.
Thank goodness not everyone had transformed to the degree I had. About 25% of the population after the disappearance were still human. That's one out of four people, though the ratio's more like 1/10 these days. Others were still human in form, though animal in appearance, kind of stuck halfway between man and animal. Those two groups of people did what they could to keep the city running. I met one of them driving a bus load on my way out of the city. He was a kind of wolf-man. He looked so funny with his bus driver's cap tipped at a ridiculous slant because of his ears. His fully functional paws eased the break, let go of the steering wheel, and opened the door right in front of me. I must have still been crying at the time.
"Something wrong?" he asked me gently. He stopped the whole bus, to ask me what was wrong. There were about 6 others on the bus. No one complained. I think somehow, they understood how I felt.
"Just...can't seem to get around as quick anymore. My body's not built for walking that much. But I've just gotta get out of here! This city is no place for a beaver."
"Why don't you take the river?"
"I couldn't go in that water. I can almost smell it from here. It's terrible."
"It is awful. Why do you say this city is not for beavers?"
"Well, how can I do anything useful here? I'm not even human anymore. All I deserve is some pile of sticks somewhere in the woods."
"Don't be so hard on yourself. Do you want to stay here?"
"Yes. I love this city, but I--"
"Well then. You say the river is polluted. Would you like to fix that?"
"I said would you like to fix that. Some of us are getting together to try to clean up the city, remove most of the buildings and such. Nobody seems to want to stay here anymore, so there's no reason to keep them up. We haven't gotten anyone to work on the waterways, though. Are you interested in helping out? We could use a man of your skill."
"My skill? But I'm just..."
"I... uh... might be interested. I can see I'm not going very far at this rate. Where do I sign up?"
"Talk to me after I finish the route. I'll be at station 223, just 2 blocks from here."
"2 blocks? No problem."
"Then, well I..." Peter Chaul looked down at this grandchildren, snuggled up in little balls on their straw beds, fast asleep. They'd gone to bed without asking, leaving him to muse on by himself. The fire in its wall nook had died to embers. The old beaver turned a spigot on the wall, dousing the flames with a spray piped in from the surrounding water. Around him, the pond glistened as the city lights went out, and made room for the stars. The dark storm clouds moved east toward the horizon, briefly releasing the sister moon from their vapors. The sparkling river's green banks seemed silver as the river slipped away from the pond down through the city to the ocean, lit by two moons in the night sky.
nonsen: short for nonsentient, lacking higher thought and self awareness.
Note: This story was inspired by a real river in Tokyo. Yuck! >>*.*<<
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Last Updated: Saturday January 22, 2005 (13:55:48)