Footprints – Part XI

by Gaston Prereth

The sun was already spreading its pale white rays across the sky by the time Frederick and Ruben finally found it. They were standing at an intersection of straight paths that led between the towering sticks of the fields. Frederick had always assumed that there was one mass of field which grew in much the same way as the lawn in the cloister, as a tangled mat of chaos, but as they had followed Brother Douglas’ map it had quickly become apparent that God’s order had been bestowed upon the area. The fields were an eerie replica of their village’s streets. A blanket of neatly laid out rectangles all separated by metre wide roads.

Around them, Frederick could hear the buzzing of hundreds of bees. Their constant droning unnerved him. It reminded him of how quiet Brother Douglas’ shack had been, how empty it had felt. He had become so used to the background hum of creation that permeated their village, that he hadn’t even noticed it when it wasn’t there. He had sensed something was missing, but with all the strangeness of the shack, he had never been able to put his finger on what it was. The bees had reminded him.

“Look,” said Ruben, his keen eyes encircling the object before them. “You can see the footprints of Brother Douglas on the ground.” Frederick followed Ruben’s wavering finger and, sure enough, there were the dusty impressions of bare feet all around the circular base of the object.

“Did you notice how quiet the shack was?” asked Frederick, finding the dints in the ground hard to focus on as the bees continued their atonal symphony. “I’ve only just realised how quiet and still it was.”

“He must have been here a few times, see how the prints are overlaid in both directions. Whatever he found here must have been more interesting than just this.. this thing. What do you suppose it is?”

“It was almost like God wasn’t in that shack, like he didn’t dare to go there. It was so quiet.”

“Frederick.” Said Ruben, “will you stop your mouth flapping for one moment and look at this. What do you see?” Frederick stiffened his arms against himself.

“I don’t know. It’s a circular piece of metal with a strange tree made out of pipes growing from it.”

“And? What do you think it means?”

“A sign from God maybe, that this is the place where natural things grow? A sign from him that it is okay for them to be here?”

“Signs, signs, and bloody signs. You God damn monks are all the same. I show you concrete evidence of something and all you can mumble about is mystical signs.”

“Concrete evidence of what?”

“I don’t know.” Said Ruben raising his arms out before him, “but it’s concrete evidence of something.”

“That sounds just as mystical as a sign to me.” said Frederick looking away into one of the fields. The bees were still droning, but they had got quieter. Frederick didn’t want them to stop. If they stopped then there was a chance that the fields might become as silent as the shack. If this was a Godless place too, Frederick didn’t want to know.

“Come on Ruben, let’s go. We’ve found what was on the map. Let’s just get out of here and get back to the village.”

“Back to the village?” for the first time since they had spotted the strange circular object, Ruben turned to face Frederick. “What for? They’ll know we’ve gone by now, someone will have noticed. If we go back now we’ll be in a whole heap of trouble with nothing to show for it. Do you want to go back to your empty life in your little cell?”

“It wasn’t that bad?”

“Wasn’t that bad? Then why the hell are you here? What happened to the cut flowers, the separation from God?”

“How is being out here in the wilderness going to help? God isn’t here. God wasn’t in the shack. Maybe the Church is right, maybe we should just let things take their course.”

“Maybe.” Said Ruben, “But maybe not. What if the Church is wrong? I know the council is. The technician’s haven’t got a clue. If there is any hope for the village, then it lies here.”

“There’s nothing here. There’s just a stupid metal tree with a ring of footprints going round and round it.”

“Round and round?” Ruben turned back to the metal object and stared. Frederick was right. Brother Douglas hadn’t just walked round the the thing to take a look, he had encircled it multiple times. Stepping with an even, short gate.

“Come here” said Ruben, “come help me.” He rushed up to the strange object and gripped one of the  metal pipes that made up the branches of the strange tree.

“What are you doing?” asked Frederick, not moving.

“Just come here and help me, I think this thing turns, look.” Ruben gripped the bar with two hands and pushed. There was a dull creak followed by a higher pitched groan and the metal tree twisted a little. “Come on, I need you help.” The tree gave another little jerk with an accompanying squeak that set Frederick’s teeth on edge. Ruben was pressing his whole body into the bar, his arms cramped against his chest.

Frederick walked slowly towards him and took up a similar position on the opposite side of the metal circle. He gripped the metal bar and then removed his hands again, pressing them down to his sides. The bar was cold. No metal in the village was ever cold. He rubbed his palms together and then replaced his hands on the bar.

As the two men pushed the metal pipes, the whole mechanism turned. The branches which stuck out at right angles from the trunk, rotated not just the whole tree but the metal disk to which it was attached.  As the tree turned, the different parts of the mechanism became more obvious. The base had a lip around the circumference which seemed to be attached to the ground and didn’t move as the rest turned. A metal bar ran from the central pipe along the metal disk to the stationary lip. The trunk turned through the bar, twisting the centre of the base round with it.

Frederick could feel the bar in his hands getting higher, the base was lifting from the ground. The whole thing started to feel more loose. They both could feel it wobble in their hands as it got easier to push.  They circumvented the disc four times, their feet slipping in the sandy soil around the base. As they started their fifth circuit the tree shook, tilted, and then fell. The metal bar hinged on the lip, holding the mechanism together as the hatchway opened.

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