This is the first draft of my first attempt to write a fable. It’s largely inspired by a series of books I’m reading, The Fairyland Series.
They’re fantastic. Better than what follows, frankly, though I’m pleased with how this came out, especially for something I haven’t yet revised or refined.
It’s long for my typical flash fiction, but still short enough to qualify. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Don’t be shy. The comment box is right there, inviting your feedback.
the restless spirit
Before there were Wi-Fi connections or vacuum cleaners, before there were big cities or sedans, even before there were nations or rulers, there were people. They lived in a single village, and their days were spent hunting and gathering.
They hunted small animals and big animals, but mostly small animals because they didn’t yet have an intricate system of tools or weapons, and the big animals could bite rather hard. They gathered whatever they could find – fruit, vegetables, even sticks and mud and rocks – because there wasn’t much else to gather, and they weren’t particularly picky.
All they cared about was food and shelter. And really, that’s two of the three things you and I care about. The third is connection. We want to love and be loved. But the first people didn’t feel this final need because the first people didn’t yet know how to talk.
They lived in the village, not to bond, but for purely pragmatic reasons. They could gather more. Hunt bigger things. It was safer in the deep dark of the night to huddle with other human beings than to hide away in a cave by yourself.
The first village wasn’t a fun place.
During that time, there were many spirits that roamed the world. Most of them are still here today, but their wandering ways have changed. In that day, they explored freely, doing as they pleased, never bothering to hide.
Who would they hide from? All the people in the world were in one place, and the spirits didn’t really care if they were seen, anyway.
The spirits were of all sorts. There were joyful spirits and angry spirits. Spirits of spite and spirits of compassion. And there was one extremely restless spirit.
The restless spirit sensed change on the horizon. How long would people be content in their mud huts with wild berries and unseasoned rabbit stew? Probably not long.
Something, the restless spirit thought, should be done about the potential rise of these hairless would-be upstarts.
And so the restless spirit, who was quite cunning in its own right, manifested itself in the form of a great, wild bear. Bears are strong and large and more than a little scary, even when they’re not hungry or upset.
The restless spirit attacked the village, rending stick shacks and slashing at the inhabitants. A few of the people were killed, but they scattered and hid like roaches when the lights come on. (Like today’s roaches, that is. The roaches of antiquity were as big as small dogs and they hid from no one. Be glad they moved on to wherever giant insects retire.)
The restless spirit left the village in ruins, not a single building still standing, but there was far too little blood to wipe from its paws. In a matter of days the people rebuilt the village, silently working until every hunt was restored. This frustrated the restless spirit, who determined to strike again.
This time it took on the form of a pack of wolves. Wolves are many and harder to hide from. They run quickly and can corner whole groups of people, their rabid jaws snatching and biting.
They came at night, howling and rushing back and forth along the dirt walkways of the village. They flung themselves against the walls of the new hunts, and the hunts came tumbling down. (The first people weren’t exactly master craftsmen.)
Again, the people scattered. The wolves cornered a few, ripping into flesh and ending the lives of a handful. But the second attempt was much like the first. There were only a few casualties. Not enough to put a true dent in their numbers. The restless spirit grew more restless and decided to consider its next move more carefully.
For its third attack, the restless spirit chose snakes and spiders. Both are frightening to look at, and both are armed with poison. Rather than storming in and making a commotion, the restless spirit slithered and crept in at twilight, making use of shadow and stealth. When the people lied down to sleep, it hissed and scampered and bit, bit, bit.
It bit with the long, sharp fangs of the cobra and the tiny, needle-thin fangs of the black widow. It pierced skin and left sickness and death in its wake. The people were much afraid, and more of their numbers died. But the snakes and spiders did not go unseen, and rather than running, the surviving people gathered together in the middle of the village where they built a large fire. The snakes were afraid, and the spiders too darkly colored to hide from the light of the flames. The people trampled any spider that drew near and waved flaming sticks at the snakes.
The restless spirit was defeated once again. It retreated a third time, taking even longer to devise another scheme. Weeks passed before it conceived of its fourth plan. Rats.
Contrary to what you may think you know about rats, they are not aggressive animals. In fact, they get along swimmingly with people and even make wonderful pets. Rats aren’t especially dirty animals, either. However, they tend to carry diseases that can easily be passed along to humans, and this was the core of the restless spirit’s plan.
It found a few sick rats and spread that sickness to many more, and then sent the rats into the village to live among the people, who eventually got sick, too.
This time even more died, wasting away before the people knew what was happening. But they caught on. They removed the bodies of the dead from the village and burned the hunts of those who died. In doing so, they rid themselves of both the germs (which, of course, they knew nothing about) and the rats, who had taken up residence in the empty homes.
The restless spirit cursed, calling out to the earth and sky. What would it take to undo humanity? How could it defeat the people and ensure they never seize upon the full extent of their potential? What sort of attack would that take?
It pondered this, not for days or weeks, but for months leading into years. And then one day while wandering along the shore of the only sea, talking to itself in search of an answer, it came up with its fifth and final plan.
The restless spirit took on the shape of a person and made its way to the village. The other people were skeptical of the new-comer, but ultimately accepting. After a time, the restless spirit began to grunt to get their attention, or hum as it gathered, or cry out as it hunted. One day it pointed to a rock and said, slowly, “Rock.”
And the people listened.
It took an agonizingly long time, but over the course of years the restless spirit taught the first village to talk. And two things happened.
The people of the first village discovered friendship and love. They could put words to their thoughts. They hunted better, gathered more, built more impressive homes, and grew to care about each other.
Except when they didn’t. For sometimes one person wouldn’t like another. And that’s when the second thing happened.
Gossip. Lies. Horribly mean verbal attacks that torn apart friendships and cut at the first people’s hearts.
And smiling to itself, the restless spirit left the village.
It knew the people would continue to build bigger, greater things. That they would one day dominate the planet and all her other residents. But they would never be as great as they could be, and that’s really all the restless spirit wanted.
For the tongue can sooth and comfort. It can heal and create. It can make wrong things right, and restore even the most broken relationships.
But it can hurt and destroy and kill, too.
Words are stronger than a wild bear, more cunning and quick than a pack of wolves, more threatening and poisonous than snakes or spiders, and more insidious and crippling than diseased rats.
Words, the restless spirit realized, can divide. And divided, humanity will never achieve what it could united.