They Have Only to Say They’ve Missed Us So
An excerpt from a novel-in-progress
Our hearts are concrete, poured over the stars and left to harden in the windless void. We are ash in the throat of man, ground dust under his boot heels.
Long, long ago, before we were born or made or sprung from man’s fancies and our father’s head, a single man lifted his face to the night sky and breathed in the possibilities of an endless universe. He opened his eyes up to thousands of galaxies; he gazed into the limits of his own imagination and he was paralyzed by what he saw there. He stared into the long film of history to come, images streaming by, and the longer he looked the more alone and afraid he was, the more unable to move, to think, to breathe. His mind was flooded with questions: Why am I here? What am I compared to all this? Who made this vast everything? Am I a flicker in the eye of time?
And the earth took pity on the man. The earth sent her son to him and his people in a form very like this human being, and said, Do not be afraid, for we will answer all your questions. We will help you move when the bigness of the world would hold you fast. And we will grant you the power to create your own gods, to help you and give you answers when no one else can, when you are stuck staring at the vastness of the sky once more.
And for thousands of years, man honored us, made sacrifice to us, loved us, and summoned us to his aid in all times but especially in times of war. And I was the greatest of all them, except perhaps for my father. But I was never second best to my chosen people. They built me a temple more spectacular than any other, with a statue of ivory and gold to approximate my glory, and every four years the daughters of Athens wove a new dress for me from the finest cloth on earth.
Now all is lost. My statue was destroyed when the Turks invaded, thousands of years ago. I fled my favorite house and came to live among the stars with much of my family. We make a black hole, my people and I, a museum for spears and shields. We are the home of ancient dust. Our delicate bones wander the halls of humanity, seeking some permanence and never finding any. The iron edge of our strong hearts starts to rust when we put away the weather; we find behind the clean slate of air our dead, the dead. Our waking bodies swell in recognition that anything is possible, until it isn’t. Still, how lucky we are to be in the world forever, to outlive our creators, our smiles like blades and our dreams like the wide and salty sea.
We can feed and keep ourselves alive, if we wish, spread throughout many worlds, many times, our essence diluted and milky. The thought of trying to put ourselves back together, though, seems like dismal, daunting work. We can remember forever, or we can forget we were ever here. We can live together in this complicated world, or we can destroy ourselves and leave bits scattered about for later civilizations.
We cannot destroy man. We lost the ability to do that ages ago. Now we have only the small interventions, blink-and-you-miss-it trickery, magic spells for show. We are mostly water and air, and only a little earth still anchors us at all. But it is that little bit that keeps us interested, keeps us watching, waiting, keeps us hoping for ones who will say our names. They have only to summon us in matters of war, or love, or conflict or chance. They have only to embrace us, to say they’ve missed us so. They have only to hand to us the care and feeding of the world. We would swoop down like hawks then. We would eat the children of men like mice. We would rebuild the world in our image, in our glory, in our dazzling beauty and brilliance. We would rid them of their wars and bring them peace and prosperity beyond dreaming, beyond the imagining of any living thing.
Until then, we travel in safety, dressed in shadows and sorrow, we accidents of memory and meaning. We travel in the skies and seas and soil of men. We prepare them for the time of our second coming.