CABB’s 2021

April 12th Challenge



by Shade

It is the wittiest partition that ever I heard discourse, my lord.
~ A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I am very old, for I have been part of the earth since its very beginning, and I have shifted and changed and moved over thousands of miles in ways that men cannot even perceive, for their lives are brief. But I will tell you the story of how I became what I am today, for it seems to have taken place in just the last few minutes, so to speak, of my existence.

I was part of the rock underneath a great city that men had built, and for a time I formed the wall of a tunnel excavated for their underground trains. I vibrated with the sounds of the trains passing in the tunnels near me, but for whatever reasons men have, no train was even housed in my tunnel, and for many years few men even passed my way. My story really begins when a few men with chisels and mauls appeared, and began marking on my face with chalk.

“If we can knock through here, we can connect to the west passage,” one of them said.

“What is it, Kanin? You see something?”

“These fissures, here. I think this may all come off in one piece. Let’s give it a try, anyway.” They began, and soon I lay on the tunnel floor at their feet. More time passed, and then I felt a stick of some kind tapping upon me, and I noticed an older man peering down at me.

“Yes, Mouse, this may work. Solid and heavy. Kanin, can your crew transport it that far?”

“No problem, Father. We’ll use the dollies most of the way, and I’ll ask Vincent to lend a hand.”

“Excellent. Now, Mouse, are you sure this mechanism will be reliable? Shifting a slab of rock this size is no joke if it ends up blocking one of our most important access points.”

“Easy, Father. Work great. Like a wall, but door! Keep us safer than safe.”

“Very well, then. I look forward to inspecting your new installation.” With a pat on the younger man’s shoulder, the man with the stick hobbled away up the tunnel.

I was duly leveraged onto several ingenious contraptions with wheels, and enjoyed a journey upwards through several hundred yards of tunnel. I have traveled far in my time, but never at such a rate. We eventually halted at an iron gate, and from the end of a long tunnel before me, I recognized the faint light. Sunlight! I had not seen it in eons.

Several days of work followed, during which the one they called Mouse fiddled with cables, and the one called Kanin carved smooth grooves around my edges. Another man arrived, tall and strong, and together they lifted me into the fitted recess adjoining the mouth of the passage.

“Ready? Here goes!” Mouse pressed a trigger, the cables tugged, and with a grinding noise I rolled into the doorway. Another tug, and I rolled aside. In three billion years I had not had such fun.

“I think a public demonstration is in order,” remarked the tall and strong one. His voice struck me as singularly low and gentle, in contrast to his fierce appearance. “A grand opening of sorts, if we are ready.”

Soon the antechamber before me, and the tunnel behind, were filled with more humans than I had ever seen in one place before (which is, I grant, not many), who cheered and clapped as Mouse showed how to trigger my movements to and fro.

“It’s wonderful, Father,” said a kind-looking woman to the older man. “Like the sliding doors at Macy’s!”

“I shall take your word for it, Mary. I haven’t had occasion to shop at Macy’s in some time.” Chuckling, he patted the young engineer’s shoulder. “It is very good work, Mouse. We shall all benefit from it.”

After that, I rolled aside on my mechanism many times a day to allow the Tunnel dwellers out and in, most often groups of children playing in what they called “the Park.” Occasionally children, and sometimes adults unfamiliar to me strayed in from the sunlit passage and looked curiously at me, but then wandered out again, usually muttering about a “dead end.” I felt proud and happy to see that I was protecting my Tunnel-dwellers as well as they had hoped.

Sometimes the tall man who had helped to lift me walked with the children to the end of the sunlit passage, but soon I observed that invariably he parted from them there and returned quietly, closing the iron gate as he passed. Long after dark, though, he would make a solitary return and disappear into the Park, often not reappearing until nearly dawn. I wondered at the reason for his lonely ways, but the ways of men have always been mysterious to me.

One night he went out as usual soon after midnight, but to my surprise he returned a short time later, and with a blood-stained bundle cradled gently upon his shoulder. I wondered idly what it meant, but then for many days I saw him no more. When he eventually returned, he seemed more pensive than ever, and often stood at the Park entrance for hours, gazing into the night sky.

It was many months before I finally saw her, the pretty woman who had somehow changed his life. She was dressed as the ones who came from Above, who didn’t know the secret of my mechanism and saw me as a wall. But I was open, and as she waited outside the iron grate the tall man approached, and they whispered to each other through the bars of their joy in meeting again.

Now he will be happy, I thought, and no longer so alone. But the pretty woman returned as she came, and here again I am baffled by the ways of humans, for it seemed obvious to me that they longed to be together. But many more times they met at my threshold, often with joy, sometimes with tears, and almost always it ended as I unwillingly ground into place between them, parting them for reasons I could never understand. The tall man especially puzzled me, for I saw that it pained him to part from her, and often tears stained his face as he turned to walk away from my smooth, closed surface, but again and again he did walk away, seemingly in the grip of some strange inexorable emotion.

I began to understand one evening when the pretty woman appeared unexpectedly and pled tearfully with the man to let her live in his world. Now their problems are at an end, I thought! But the man insisted incomprehensibly that “it must end,” and again he triggered me to separate them for what I feared was the final time. For days I saw neither of them, and I grieved at the foolishness of these beings whose lives are so short, but who cannot bring themselves to grasp the happiness within their reach. As I mused along these lines, I was interrupted by the man himself hurtling towards me at a great speed, unable almost to wait for me to roll aside as he pushed his way through. Minutes later he returned hand in hand with the pretty woman, tears and joy on both their faces, and together they went Below, gazing lovingly at each other.

Again, I hoped that at last they would be together. But somehow, all was not resolved. Soon after dawn the man parted reluctantly with her at the Park entrance, and for many months they would meet joyfully, but always part again, at my threshold or at some other, for I observed that the pretty woman would come in my way but not come out, only to come in again a day or two later. Many months passed, and sometimes I would see neither of them for days, but then was rewarded with witnessing a joyful reunion that warmed even the depths of my cold stone heart.

One evening the woman walked into my antechamber looking sadder and more forlorn than I had ever seen her. “I need to be with you,” she pled piteously to the man, and this time he simply said “Come,” and led her gently through my portal and closed me behind them. Could their troubles be over so easily, I wondered? But it was not so. At dawn, a few days later, the woman came back, alone, wrapped in her night-clothes, and stood gazing out into the Park. I knew, as she turned to trigger me closed as she returned Below, that she was not ready.

Time is sometimes hard for me to judge, but I believe several years had passed before the next notable incident in my story. I lay open, as my two lovers had gone out into the Park for a moonlit walk, as they often did, when thunder vibrated my rocky alcove and lightning flashed from the Park end of the passage. The storm had blown up suddenly, and I had hardly time to be concerned for the safety of the two walkers before they ran in again, wet, laughing, and both wrapped in the man’s hooded cloak.

“I’ve never felt so happy, Vincent. You mean it? You don’t want to take it back?”

The man tenderly brushed raindrops from her beautiful face.

“You have convinced me. I have wanted nothing more since the moment I saw you, but then I regarded it as only an impossible dream.” He paused, gently lifting her chin in order to look into her eyes. “I feared hurting you, cheating you of the life you were meant to have Above. I marveled that you could love me, but, linked as we are, I couldn’t deny the love that enveloped me. I had long known that I had no chance of happiness without you, but that seemed a small thing… until I realized that you felt the same.” She embraced him then, nestling her head close into his chest as he wrapped his arms around her.

“Your courage and determination awe me, Catherine. How can I continue to allow my fears to prevent our happiness, if I can muster a fraction of your courage to face them?”

She actually squealed with joy then, hugging him tighter, and his strong arms lifted her off her feet as they kissed. Then she pushed him to arm’s length in order to gaze up at him, her face wet with happy tears as well as rain. “You won’t regret it, I promise.”

Hand in hand, they passed across my threshold, pausing to kiss again as they triggered me to close.

“What will Father say?” murmured the pretty woman.

“Let’s go and find out,” the tall man replied, and as they disappeared around the bend in the tunnel, I thought they both looked almost giddy with joy.

This could be a fitting end to my story, but as there is more, I cannot resist telling it. A month later, children brimming with barely-subdued excitement were posted at my threshold to escort well-dressed people from Above, whom they called Helpers, to an apparent festive occasion Below. For weeks, I saw no more of my pair of lovers, until they returned to a changed way of life. Although the woman sometimes went Above alone by day and the man occasionally at night, their rueful partings were no more. Their moonlit walks together were more frequent than ever, and I rejoiced to see them at last enjoying the peace and happiness that, inexplicably to me, they had fought for for so long.

As time passed, I noticed the pretty woman often wore clothes more like those who lived in the Tunnels than in the style of those Above, as she had before. Nearly every afternoon she accompanied a group of children to play in the Park, and here I must admit that I am not the most observant of partitions, because several years had gone by before I noticed that several of the children resembled her and the tall man in too marked a way to be other than their own.

After one such afternoon, at twilight,the kind-faced woman called Mary led the children Below while my tall man emerged from the tunnel to take the pretty woman by the hand. From the Tunnel side, Mary smiled and triggered me to close, leaving them alone together.

“Ten years, Catherine. I wish… I would that I could take you on a glamorous journey, or out to a fancy French restaur…” He was stopped mid-word by her fingers on his lips.

“Don’t. You’ve given me everything. Everything. More than I ever dreamed. And I was right, wasn’t I? You haven’t regretted it?”

He lifted her fingers from his lips and kissed them reverently. “You’ve given me more happiness than I could ever have believed possible.”

They kissed tenderly, and she gazed earnestly into his blue eyes. “I’ve had all those things, Vincent. I’ve traveled the word, and I’ve dined in the finest restaurants with the highest cream of society. And there is nowhere I want to be more than here, with you.” She grasped his furry hands in both her own.

“Come on, let’s go home.” And I rolled aside to let them in.



1 Comment

  1. Another beautiful story and so realistic, I can imagine all those moments, difficult breakups, serious conversations, happy and sad moments and ultimately happiness together. ❤


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