The Warrior Boy Who Would Not Suffer

by on Sep 6, 2016 in Short Fiction | 9 comments

4,300 Words

There is a lot of blood in this world.

A lot of blood.

Even if you don’t include insects.

Which you should.

Why not? Their blood might be paler, bluer, insignificant. But it is still there. Running through tiny mashed up vessels and limbs. Just like mine.

There is a lot of blood in this world.

This is what the tiny boy thought as he lay there in the desert waste, bleeding out slowly from a large gash in his thigh.

Legs crushed, he turned and twisted slowly on the rocky ground, using his hands to drag and pull, iteratively trying to find a comfortable last position. It was important, he reasoned, that he find a comfortable last position. It wouldn’t do, to die, with those small jagged protrusions poking him in the buttocks and back as they were right now.

It wouldn’t do, to die uncomfortable.

He struggled along the ground, wriggling like a caterpillar — a swollen, malformed caterpillar.

You see, the boy had never in his life had enough to eat.

He had always had enough to read.

Spindly little arms, crushed legs, and a hungry, gobbling little thing of a brain.

He knew many things.

He knew pork bellies and tenderloin, and haute coutre and steampunk. He knew the Great Wars, Ibn Taymiyyah, Heinlein, Marilyn Monroe, confirmation bias, Neverland, and Kiruna. He knew the internet revolution, döner kebaps, Christianity, Mario Kart, dialectics, still life, Spinoza, and the Batman. He also knew Shiva, enchiladas, sloppy joes, Godot, pizzas, caviar, fracking, Bernoulli and his theorems, Sun Tzu, and much, much more.

He did not know how to fix his two crushed legs.

In theory, at least, he knew how to stop his wound from bleeding. He had to bind it with a piece of clothing. But the only piece of clothing he had was too small to even cover the wound. And he didn’t want to die naked.

Dying naked would not be appropriate, he reasoned.

He imagined the iced cream as he crawled. Milky-white iced cream with all its ridges and whorls, a portly metal spoon with a thick handle dug stolidly into its centre.

He imagined the hunk of bread with an abundance of meat bursting from within, its soft brownness clashing vividly with the redness of the meat.

He imagined other things he had seen only in pictures. He did not mind imagining things he had seen only in pictures. It cheered him up, knowing there was such beauty somewhere out there in the world, even if he could, and now, would, never himself embrace it.

He dragged himself up against a boulder, shifting his buttocks till he found smoothness in the ground. He gave a sigh of relief. It fell uneasy from his stoic lips.

At least he wouldn’t die uncomfortable. It was important, he reasoned again. What was the next important thing?

Waiting. Waiting was the next important thing. So he would wait. I do not know what it will be like — dying, but it will be slow, and that is true of all happy things. Slow.

And so he felt happy, that it would be slow. And so he smiled — another uneasy smile. All his life, all his smiles had come uneasy to him. As if the lords of birth had instructed him to forswear smiling and every emotion that came with it forever, and now, at the very end, he could not find it in himself to break the contract, even when all contracts were void.

Into his vision came an old man, far on the horizon, drifting into view as if born of the wispy, dancing sands.

How he knew the man was old he knew not, far across the horizon as he walked, yet he knew he was old.

An old baba come in from the waste, the boy almost smiled. His would be the old not of frailty, but of strength and wisdom and … cruelty. Wise, yet cruel. Willing to take advantage. Perhaps that is what is wisdom. To have others suffer for the pleasure that is your right. Surely his clan-baba had been such wise, too.

And him? What of him? Was he wise, or was he false? All his life, he had only ever desired to be wise, turning away from all he had deemed false. And now, at the end, he knew nothing of wisdom. He would have laughed aloud at the thought, had he known how to laugh, how to truly laugh.

The old man inched forward as the sun across the sky. The boy observed his crawl without feeling.

Perhaps this is what next is. Watching him move-but-not-move. All throughout. Forever caught between horizon and waste. It would be a happy forever. Waiting.

He must have fallen asleep for when he knew next, the old man was standing over him, silently. Easily. Not as one who had crossed the waste from end to end. As surely he had. The sun would dip soon. As would he. And it would all be over. Living. This game they played, his annu had called it.

The old man looked him over as if satisfied, then withdrew paper and pen from inside his dust-coated robes. They were poor robes, of the sort a fakir or a beggar might wear. But there were no fakirs in the waste — it punished any such humility, nor were there any beggars — the waste punished any such want.

“What is your name?” the old man asked.

“I will not tell you.” The boy replied without defiance.

“How many battles did you fight?”

“Many.”

“How many did you kill?”

“Many.”

“How many caught under your rock did you ever show mercy?”

The boy pondered the question. “None.”

For he was as truthful in death as he was in life, though he did not yet know if he was living or dead.

“What do you feel of the navel?”

“The navel is holy of the body. Some say it birthed the universe.”

“What do you feel of the holy books?”

“The holy books are holy. They teach us how to be.”

“What do you feel of the lords above and around and inside us?”

“The lords above and around and inside us are holy. They teach us how to be.”

The answers came quickly, rehearsed. As if the questions of death were known to all the living. Yet none ever made it past.

“You lived a life of apathy. Do you seek more?”

“I do not know.”

“You lived a life of shame. Do you seek more?”

“I do not know.”

“You lived a life of content. Do you seek more?”

“I do not know.”

The old man gave a flicker of a smile as he wrote.

The boy remained silent, waiting for the next question.

“Tell me of redemption,” the old man said.

“Redemption is the love of the lords. It gives us hope,” the boy answered. Then, in a fit of desire that afflicts even the most hardened, he asked, “Am I wise?”

The old man ignored his question.

“You lived a life of folly. Do you seek more?”

“I do not know.”

“You lived a life of vanity. Do you seek more?”

“I do not know.”

“You lived a life of wisdom. Do you seek more?”

“I do n —” The boy suddenly stopped. All came to a still. I do not know, I do not know, his annu came into his mind, whispering. Another voice entered his mind, softer and far more insistent. I am wise, and if I am wise, I am of right, I am of the lords.

“You lived a life of wisdom. Do you seek more?” the old man repeated, as if unaware of the turmoil he had birthed in the boy’s breast.

You are not doomed yet, not yet. You have to know.

“I-I do,” the boy replied, his voice still as could be. I am not doomed yet, not yet. I have to know, what it is to be wise.

The old man began. “You were born in another land, far from here. You were a child of temperance and quiet, yet of life, and in that you were wise. You knew pain and misery and pleasure and love, and in that you were wise. You endured far and much and wide, yet you never let truth fall, and in that you were wise. You rescued kings from kingliness and gods from godliness, and in that you were wise. Millions hung onto your words, yet your words were not for millions, and in that you were wise. Your soul shone with greatness, yet it cast no shadow, and in that you were wise, such wise you were.”

And the boy listened, as one who had thirsted all his life yet did not know that such a thing as water existed. He heard the story of his life, a life he had never lived yet felt acutely all the same. He flew on wings given by the words, he experienced every action, every thought, every emotion the old man spoke of, and his heart could not help but feel the thrill of pride as he looked down from above and saw nations and millions standing below him, his name on their lips, acknowledging him as the wisest of all — their savior, their Great Soul.

And as the old man finished, the boy wept. For he had learned wisdom, and he now knew he was not wise at all. And wise he had desired to be above all else.

“Do you seek more?” the old man said. He waited patiently.

The boy wept. In his mind, he showed himself a picture of snow he had once seen. White, fresh, calm as nothing (dead?). That is what he wanted to be (dead?). Eyes closed, he let himself sink deep into its nothingness.

He opened his eyes. A question had to be answered. The temptation of a world, and it had to be rejected.

“I do not know,” he said.

The old man gave an understanding nod. He continued on.

“What do you feel of the navel?”

“The navel is holy of the body. Some say it birthed the universe.”

“What do you feel of the holy books?”

“The holy books are holy. They teach us how to be.”

“What do you feel of the lords above and around and inside us?”

“The lords above and around and inside us are holy. They teach us how to be.”

The old man stopped writing. “You are owed a question. Ask it of me.”

The boy pondered awhile. “When will you die?”

“I am old. I will die soon.”

“I am young. Yet I will die first.”

The old man gave no answer. He took up his pen again.

“You lived a life of war. Do you seek more?”

“I do not know.”

“You lived a life of envy. Do you seek more?”

“I do not know.”

“You lived a life of love. Do you seek more?”

The boy stopped. There was an itch in his heart, for he now knew wisdom. And in wisdom there was wrapped a kernel of love. Love is required, love is essential. And the kernel was in his heart, and he now knew all he had ever desired in life was love.

I am not doomed yet, not yet, I have to know. And into his mind came the prayer — I am love, and if I am love, I am of right, I am of the lords.

“I do,” the boy said.

So the old man began. “You were born in a nearby land, not far from here. Your mother and father fed you and cared for you, and in that you had love. You had friendship, though much false, yet still much true, and in that you had love. You were the idol of millions, and they cherished you above all else, and in that you had love. You held the heart of a woman all through your life in truth, as she held yours, and in that you had love. You had children who you gave without thought of return, and in that you had love. You had purpose every day of life, and it showed you respect, such as you showed it, and in that you had love, such love you had.”

And the boy listened, this boy, who had felt nothing in life, felt his heart fill and fill over with love, as if it would burst out of his chest to continue beating, for his frail little body could not hope to contain the fervor of love his heart now bled.

And as the old man finished, the boy wept. For he had learned love, and he now knew he had not love at all (never even from his annu; how could he not have been seduced at the first glimpse of love, this empty, empty boy). And love he had desired above all else.

He tried, he tried, to still his tears, but the snow was marred, it was marred all over, and he could find no comfort in it.

“Do you seek more?” the old man asked.

No, no, how could I say no? “No, no, I do not know,” he yelled out loud. The temptation of a universe, and he had it rejected, against every fiber of his being, against every meaning of his mind.

He wept. She had not loved him, ever, she had been as rock.

“Such is the exercise of will,” the old man remarked. “What do you feel of the navel?”

“The navel is holy of the body. Some say it birthed the universe,” the boy answered through his tears.

“What do you feel of the holy books?”

“The holy books are holy. They teach us how to be.”

“What do you feel of the lords above and around and inside us?”

“The lords above and around and inside us are holy. They teach us how to be.”

The old man stopped writing. “You are owed a question. Ask it of me.”

“Y-you trick us, you deceive us with those visions.”

“There is no deception. It is all of truth.”

“How can we resist then?”

“You cannot. It is nature. It is law.”

“Who has yet been able to resist law?”

“None has yet been able to resist law.”

“It is law then, that we live forever?”

“It is law, till it is law no more.”

“I can sense them. The tiny littlest balls of nothing in my mind, legions upon legions of them, falling as strings of pearls of perfect order, in perfect time, giving me these desires where none had ever been before. How do we resist?”

“Our feelings are not ours to control. We are never in control. Our feelings are all ours to control. We are always in control.”

“Enough, please, I beg you, enough! Do not ask me anymore! My answer is no, for each, to everything, my answer is no to all.”

“If your answer be no, then you have to speak the words, at the end of each question. As for stopping, that I cannot do, any more than the sun can wander from its path. I ask, and ask again, till the answer is clear.”

“And the answer is no, I tell you so, that is what I want to answer. Every time that is what I desire, but my desire will not let it do such.”

“To want is not to do. We all want much, yet get what we do.”

Then the boy knew he was lost, and he wept, for in his heart he felt many itches, all clamoring against the other, seeking absolution. And he saw love lead to lust, and lust to pleasure, and pleasure led to anger, and anger to pain, and pain to purpose, and so on and on.

And the old man would lead him to all these stars and he would follow, all that he knew and wished forgotten, as had every one who had come before him. He would follow hungrily, salivating, holding for the tastiest morsel, as an animal with meat flung in its face, following with all its heart and mind and soul.

And so on and on it would go, till he had known everything, things for which there were yet no names, yet things he would know he had always desired in life, every one of them over the other.

And the old man, knowing all this, took up his pen again, then asked him of the last. “You lived a life of truth. Do you seek more?”

And the boy, knowing now he was doomed, answered, “I do,” reciting the prayer in his heart. I am truth, and if I am truth, I am of right, I am of the lords.

The old man began. “You were born far from here, far as could be. As a child, you knew the hearts of others, and your own, and in that you knew truth. You peeled back the layers from the minds of your people, all people, and you revealed to them the meaning of much, and more, and in that you knew truth. You knew the meaning of the lords and of worship, and you enforced it none, and in that you knew truth. You brought the heavens and stars to arm’s reach of man, and laid their secrets bare, and in that you knew truth. You unraveled the laws that brokered the existence of the universe, and transcended them all, and in that you knew truth. You knew all, in as much could be known, and in that you knew truth, such truth you did know.”

And as the old man spoke, the boy could not cry, for he was too struck with wonder. The universe lay open before him, its truth revealed, and for a brief moment he saw all. He saw the oceans and the lands and the skies and the stars, he saw that his annu had loved him, still loved him. He saw himself journey outward with thought and being to the galaxies and the stars, as worlds upon words were revealed in an outward spread of light, a cosmic scripture. And he was here, he was there, he was everywhere, there was nowhere he could not be.

He saw beyond the wastes, beyond the palace, beyond the universe, beyond life itself (yet he could not see beyond the old man, he could not see the lords). He saw beyond every limit and every possibility, beyond what could be, had been, was, and would be. He had the answer to everything, he knew everything (yet he had not the answer to emotion, to control).

And as the old man stopped speaking, the knowledge passed, yet the feeling remained, the feeling of what it felt to know all. For the boy had learned truth, and he now knew he had not truth at all, and truth he had desired above all else.

And he cried and cried, for he did not want to feel such, yet he felt such beyond all feeling.

He struck the ground over and over again with his tiny fists and wept, but it could not cause the earth to lose its mooring and shake, much less change the truth of his heart.

“I cannot help it, oh lords, I cannot help it, it is beyond my grasp! I desire it, I desire it, I desire it all!”

“And all you shall have, you shall have it all, over and over again,” the old man said, smiling in pity.

Then his smile hardened.

“Tell me of redemption.”

“Redemption is false. It is sent by the lords to lull the sinner into seeking it, so the lords may know who the sinners are.” The blasphemy in the words came easy, but the boy bade it be difficult all the same.

“What do you feel of the navel?”

“The navel is false, it is unclean, it is nothing of the body.”

“What do you feel of the holy books?”

“The holy books are false, they betray us.”

“What do you feel of the lords above and around and inside us?”

“The lords above and around and inside us are false, they betray us.”

The boy let the fevered words lapse. The old man did not speak.

They remained in silence.

Twilight had turned the waste golden as the boy turned to look out upon it to distract himself. It feels appropriate, he thought. A golden waste. A comfortable death. Such depth of meaning, such feeling … He almost laughed, but still he couldn’t. (Perhaps in the next birth the lords would be more favorable …)

Now, he sensed that the old man’s questions were almost at an end, only the final crescendo left. The ending would be appropriate, his blasphemy had been appropriate, it had all been appropriate.

The old man stirred.

“You lived life. Do you seek more?” he asked simply, finally.

“I do,” the boy answered, the final answer, his tears all spent. In his heart, he was sad, for he had failed. But in the heart within his heart, he was happy, for he had failed, and he wondered if this feeling was true, or a manufacture of his heart. He could not tell what was real and what was his heart any longer, or if there had ever been any difference between the two.

The old man nodded sadly.

“If it be any comfort, I knew you would fall. Those of want always fall.”

“Those of plenty?”

“They fall much before. They are too eager to return.”

“Are we then to live forever? Does the cycle loom eternal?”

“You are as rocks. When thrown, you fall. As do all. As does all. I seek one who when thrown, will soar to the skies.”

“What of our suffering then? Do the lords care?”

“The suffering is not yours alone. The failure is not yours alone,” the old man said, a tremor in his voice. To the boy he now seemed frail and worn, a hunch in his back.

With what seemed like momentous effort, the old man took a step back from the boy.

“You are owed a question,” he said, his final words.

Suddenly, the boy felt his gaze drawn to the waste. A shadow was moving rapidly in the sands, far enough away on the horizon, still visible in the failing light.

The boy felt anxiety close a vice-like grip over his heart. What the creature was, for it was a creature, the boy knew not, but he felt its unsettling reek from across the waste.

The boy looked harder, urgently, and now he could make it out. Lion it was, yet leopard, yet panther too, yet none of them. It was black as the darkness itself, black all over, and it reminded him of death, and evil, and all things foul.

It came at them, this creature, at man and boy, moving as the wind given form, its roar setting the ground shuddering across the distance. It had covered half the length of the waste in bounds of seconds.

The old man stood with his back to the waste and the creature, unaware of the approaching danger.

The boy opened his mouth to shout, to warn the old man, and as he did …

A look of horror and pain and fear crossed the old man’s face, such as the boy had never seen even through countless churns of battle.

And then it was upon him.

Blood and meat sprayed the boy’s face as the creature devoured the old man whole in what seemed an instant; it bit and tore, and ravaged and ate till the old man was no more, as if he had never been, only ever an apparition come in from the waste.

The boy fell back against the boulder in shock. No sound came from him, as if the scream had caught in his throat at the sight and smell of the creature and now it would curdle inside forever, as would all his other senses.

The creature stalked back and forth in front of the boy, snarling and licking the meat from its chops. Lines of drool and tissue and red ran thick between its jagged, uneven shards of teeth, many of them chipped as if by hammer-blow. Its mane seemed alive, streaked with blood, seething and bristling all over. Its eyes blazed empty with blackness. The boy watched, transfixed, frozen in fear. Somewhere in his mind he knew he was dead, he had nothing to fear, yet deathly fear had taken him.

The ground at the boy’s feet was spattered thick with the blood of the old man, almost a puddle. Pen and paper lay face down in it where they had fallen, where he could not reach them. This was all what remained of the old man, the harbinger of the lords.

The creature spoke, and its voice thrummed through the length of the boy.

“Go back, boy. Life awaits you,” it roared.

The boy then found his voice, he did not quite know how or why, but he found it. And he yelled to the creature, remembering he was owed a question still, “The lords, tell me of the lords! Are they of truth?”

For the face of the creature was now the face of the firmament, and its mane encircled all.

The creature smiled, its smile filling all of earth and sky, the firmament ripping into two as its lips parted to show the galaxies and universes swirling within …

The sun blew out. Darkness was all.

Are they of truth?

The earth tilted out from under the boy, and as he fell into another birth, from the eternal darkness came the answer.

“I do not know.”

Abhinav Bhat is a writer from Jammu & Kashmir, India. He has jumped without a parachute. A fantasy novel popped out some way down, followed by a few short stories, one of which you are reading. We’ll let you know whether he goes splat or flies. He can be contacted midair at abhinavb2014@email.iimcal.ac.in.

9 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this story. Nice job!

  2. I have been a voracious reader. I have read almost all
    books of Lec Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Willium Make peace Thakery, John Steinbec,
    Oscar Wilde, Agatha christie, Conondyle,
    Pearl Buck, Shelley, Keats, Stefan Zweig, etc, etc. amongst the scores of authors I have read.
    I must say that Your
    Short story- The Worrier Boy Who Would Not Suffer
    Is a shade beyond the best of stories I have read.
    It needs Concentrated reading to know the Universe, God, Human adventure in this world , its futility and its grandure,, and so on; as much as one has capacity to stretch…and its Nothingness……..
    C:\Users\RAJ BHAT\Documents\STORIES__NIKUNJ.wpd

    • Love this response to Abhinav’s story. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  3. A tour de force, mystical and visceral at once. Brilliant.

  4. From now on any story which refers to the sky as ‘firmament’, I am going to avoid. Living in the real world, sober and alert, I find the story dragging my mortal soul down, down, down after listening for 10 minutes. I feel no empathy with the protagonist, wounded, lying on a battlefield or at the base of a mountain, being quizzed by an old man. Where is the protagonist headed? To a personal philosophical fulfillment or to his damaged spaceship? After 10 minutes his direction is irrelevant. Why is this biblical tale categorized as Sci-Fi?

    • FWIW, we don’t only publish sci-fi. We do dark fantasy and horror, as well.

      I, too, have certain expressions in stories that I’m tired of seeing. I die a little inside every time I read that a character bites their lip and tastes blood.

  5. JOSON SIZEMORE- HIS COMMENT is penetrating!

  6. This story fascinates me and has me given me some thoughts with which to question my beliefs, perhaps to find more traction in the vast expanse in my journey of introspection.

    I love the stories you guys publish. So many make me consider things I never would have, otherwise. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much. This comment made my day.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 13 most excellent speculative fiction short stories – Maria Haskins - […] The Warrior Boy Who Would Not Suffer, by Abhinav Bhat in Apex Magazine. “An old baba come in from…
  2. Award-worthy fiction from 2016 – Maria Haskins - […] The Warrior Boy Who Would Not Suffer, by Abhinav Bhat in Apex Magazine. […]

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