The Archaeopteryx

Sneak past the eternal burning pits of the Karakorum desert, sail across the Caspian sea, trek deep within the Libyan countryside – and there lies Lake Silene which is shadowed by a nameless mountain. On a high ridge of this mountain is the entrance to the largest subterranean cave network ever discovered. Coincidentally, the cave is also where the first fossilised Archaeopteryx was found, considered the first evolved bird, a hybrid with both reptile and bird characteristics. The British discovers felt satisfied with their fantastic find, which would be a key piece of evidence in proving the theory of evolution, and decided they would head home the following day. However one of their party lingered in the cave overnight before they left.

Doris Stone was in her late thirties and had been trained as a linguist, she was an expert in the local language that had been spoken by the medieval populous. Though she was fascinated with the Archaeopteryx, it disappointed her that no human remains or artefacts had been found, but now she found a new fascination. For reasons still unknown to her, she was intensely attracted to the caves which she lingered in to simply listen.

In the cavernous depths, echoes ring out with such strength, clarity, and persistence that you can hear everything around you for miles away. This gave a peculiar experience that when the extinguished your lantern that the entire eighty square mile cave system to compress into one single point in space. The cave network effectively became an extension of the ear canal, though an imperfect one. Strange inhuman noises were heard by many, but this did not deter Doris, even as many of her colleagues questioned her attraction to the caves. She had become used to the rude questions of authoritative men since leaving London, from her friends and family, uncles and bosses. At times of self-doubt she heard their condescending tones whistling through yellow teeth.
A set of downcast eyes said, “You have a perfectly fine life here in Kensington, my dear!”
“What is there is in the Syrian wastes for a lady?” spoke a lazy, drooped lip.
And sometimes the women could be even crueller.
An upturned nose snorted, “You’ll find another husband, you simply can’t keep blaming yourself for the child.”
A jewelled hand, concealing pursed lips, whispered, “You know, she goes whoring among the moslems…”

When Doris first entered those caves, the silence was almost suffocating, but as she travelled down she could hear clearing the perfect echo of her own breathing. It brought her great comfort listening to her own breathing for reasons unknown to herself. She sat down, reflected and felt faint with elation. A gust of wind blew her lantern out, a perfect darkness surrounded her, and her mind ventured back to St Bartholomew’s Hospital in that cramped tuberculosis ward, where she sat by her infant daughter. It seemed like another life now. But the memory would never be erased, the feelings and thoughts she had during those weeks had sculpted her personality irreversibly –  Doris had waited by her child’s bedside, listening to her breathing, and praying for the coughing and wheezing to stop. Her husband had abandoned her on Mary’s third day in the ward, and so Doris sat with herself and the grey walls, the grey sheets, the nurses with their dulled faces who spoke without feeling, the doctors who smiled with his mouth but whose eyes stayed glassy, and her child in the middle of it all, sinking, and slowly taking on the horrible pallor of that forsaken place. Her friends sent letters of condolences after the child passed away, but not one of them had come to visit her in the ward.

Mary crossed her mind when she went to sleep and when she woke, though time had healed those wounds and Doris hadn’t cried for her in sometime. This phenomenon of the caves had brought the past to life and made the wound feel fresh – Doris sobbed quietly and the cave sobbed back, in the darkness of the cave she only needed to close her eyes to imagine she was back in the ward. She wept intensely as she reacted to her own echoing sobs, a feedback loop fuelled by sorrow  – until an inner strength, that had formed during those dark days, rose triumphantly within her and she ceased weeping. She heard the the sobs fade and normal breathing begin again, and she saw her daughter sit up in the bed and smile dimples rosy red cheeks. The lantern flame reignited and Doris was back in the cave.

With newfound bravery she decided to venture further down into the cave, than had been explored. The entire cave’ structure look remarkably like an inverted tree that forked in different directions. It came to no surprise to the linguist, as she studied her map, that a prehistoric bird had been found perched on this creviced stone tree. It was here that she had heard, if only for a brief moment, a whisper that sounded almost like an alien language. Waiting for something to happen, Doris reflected that she would have felt that days had passed if she hadn’t had a timepiece. Frustrated and increasingly becoming hopeless she lent absently minded against a stalagmite. Although the formation looks solid – it was hollow within. The tip collapsed under her weight causing the linguist to slip and fall.

It caused her no injury save for a bruised ego, she brushed herself free of debris and assessed her careless damage. Out of the broken tip of the stalagmite came a hissing sound of released pressure. The stalagmite now resembled a colourless trumpet grown out of the damp floor. She looked down into the orifice and felt a slight breeze. Perhaps I’ve opened a new passageway, she thought. The air smelled otherworldly but that was not the only long trapped remnant which was now going to be freed. Sounds that had been trapped in a perfect vacuum, resonating for centuries, now echoed out in fast succession into the cavern. The sound of thunder and rain at first and then cracking of stone and rock which must have first cried out millions of years ago. The startled linguist was now scrambling for her notebook and pens.

Streams of words poured out but they were said so rapidly spoken that she couldn’t decipher a word. Steadily the pressure of the untapped chamber let off and recognisable sounds could be deciphered. A clanging of metal on metal, the shouts and yaps of fighting men, the cut short screams of women, the crackling of fire, moans of agony and ecstasy mixed in an intoxicating cacophony that came to a stop with an inhuman screech. And then finally after a moment of silence, as the linguist’s pen shivered in anticipation in her shaking hand, a voice spoke. She recognised the dialect – just barely. The voice was rasping, unnatural in that it was neither female or male, and simultaneously held the sincerity of an old man’s final words and an infant’s first.

And she wrote down all that she heard.
And she was mocked by her peers.
And this is what was spoken by the long dead voice:

Before you finish your task and are herald as a hero, I must speak.
Please let a villain have his last words…

Your hatred of me is unquestionable, but it is also unjust.

What did taking a spare cow or sheep matter?
“That’s my sheep!’ the shepherd would shout.
You claim ownership over another living being and believe you have this right because it is logical, you are smarter and stronger than simple farm animals.
The beasts stay within their posts and graze the fields.
What you fail to understand is that I am your shepherd, I am smarter and stronger than you. And the posts that mark your field stretch the entire green earth, from pole to pole, which I ruled – until you came along, a knight in shining armour!

You say it was unjust that I ignored the many mothers who screamed at me, “Oh my children will starve!” But my belly is much larger than a little child’s and I have felt the pain of an aching stomach far longer any man.

I do not respect your law, the false law of man. There is no law but the law of nature, your cattle lost their right to live fore they had no claws to fight and your sheep fore they had no wings to flee. And now I face the court of natural law at the end of your sword. Fear not, I will have no qualms, unlike your people who incessantly begged for their lives at my feet and professed the unfairness of it all.

I am content that even as you slay me I will still win this argument. Natural law is king.
I was not beaten because of your pure heart or your noble god, but only because your sword has proven sharper than my tooth and claw.

Ah, I see your hand grips tighter at the sword, does it anger you when I mention your god? Spare me the proclamations of your bravery or dedication to God, those will be heard down the centuries for millions to hear and will echo far longer than the forgotten screams of women and children that met their end in these caves. Another step towards me and I’d think you intend me harm. Ha! Did I take your woman or your child?

Speak not, your eyes answer without a word. The hatred you feel will not be extinguished with my life,  your wife and child will not be given new life by the end of mine.

Yes, sit down with me and I’ll teach you my ways: to react rather than to feel, to act rather than consider. If you can’t have love, then settle for power or else you’ll be nothing, immemorial dust on the earth. You and I have been fired from the same clay, we have been cast out – you from paradise and I from heaven, I will never have a place at His feast, but I know a way back to paradise for you. Allow me to render your soul back to its animal origin: stretch your teeth into fangs, cast your hair into a mane, forget love and you will often find yourself a beast with two backs.

Your eyes give me my answer again. So dedicated to your justice aren’t you? Don’t cry murder, for when a man kills a man it is murder. I have no kin to commit murder. Please don’t get teary eyed that I am the last of my kind, I am one of a kind.

Though I was born in Eden I barely remember it. I can’t recall what I whispered in Eve’s ear. I do not comprehend sin, nor redemption. I do not seek redemption and I will never change. I do not seek paradise. What I really seek, and what I have sought with every Word is another breath, another moment, another chance.

And with that said, the Dragon made one last desperate attack,
But St. George kill’d the Dragon, and run him thro’ and thro’
And all sang, honi soit qui mal y pense.


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