This is a story I tell my son for nap time, not the usual sort of meal served here at The Memory of Trees but I decided to post it for several reasons. First, I think in the telling it has become much more than a story for a 2 year old and into something that should be written down so others can run with it. Also, most of my creative energy has been channeled through children’s tales lately, and this blog is where I store things for posterity, not entertain the masses. I tend to use Japanese folklore, Native American folklore, African folklore, and basically all genres of fantasy fiction I have ever written when I make a tale for Simon. I didn’t really intend to do this, but when you are weaving a tale on the fly for a small person who isn’t picky about accuracy I guess you tend to play fast and loose with the laws of story.
So please be warned that the following tale is in no way ethnically or historically accurate, and bares no resemblance to any one particular race or people. I have a few more of these strange mash-ups that are waiting to be written, so look out for more in the future.
Once upon a time that is not our own, in a land far from here, lived a boy named Sosuke. He lived with a very big family of Aunties, Uncles, cousins and Hanai (adopted family) called a tribe, who traveled all over a great sea of grass following rains and herds of animals from place to place. They did not live in houses like you and I do, they carried long poles and sheets made of leather that could be set up like a big party hat every night for the family to sleep in. The tribe had sheep that they herded with them as they went, for the tasty milk, and at the end of every day after the sheep had been tucked away safely, they would gather around a big fire to tell stories.
The tribe had many wonderful teaching-tales for a young boy to learn from; how to hunt, what plants to eat, what stars to follow, and this was Sosuke’s favorite thing, to listen till his chin sunk down low and Mother carried him off to bed with his head already dreaming. There was one story he especially loved above all others though, and that was the story of the boy who found the end of the world.
“One day a small boy of 10 wandered away from the tribe,” One of the elders would begin, and Sosuke would get very excited and sit up very straight because HE was ten, so it was HIS story. “This boy did not listen to his Father who called him, nor to his Mother who called him, for he was a very naughty boy. He walked and walked till he came to a great blackness where he could walk no more. He looked out at the vast emptiness and felt very scared and alone, so small was his light in that overwhelming night. He ran back to the tribe as fast as his little feet could take him and NEVER ran away again.” Sosuke did not care for the ending of the story, what captivated him was the emptiness that nobody would speak of. “What does it look like, the end of the world?” He would ask, and every time the elder would say calmly “Nothing.” “But what does nothing LOOK like?” He would ask, and the elder would say only “Like nothing.”
This frustrated Sosuke so much, he began to think of Nothing constantly. All he had ever known was the sea of grass from season to season, never a tree or a mountain or even a river, and he could not even imagine these things, but he felt them in his heart, and knew them to be true. Day after day as he tended the sheep he looked as hard as he could to the horizon but saw only grass and sky. So long did he think about this that he knew he had to go find it for himself, for no other would. He would have to leave the tribe.
Sosuke was not a naughty boy, he loved his Mother and Father very much and he did not want to leave them alone and make them worry. “I will only be gone a little while.” He told himself. “I will be back before they have time to be sad.”
So one night when the moon was very small and the stars were very bright, he filled a sack full of bread, tied a rope to his favorite milk goat, and began walking north toward the guardian star who stood still in the sky all night long. He walked and walked until the sun came up, sure that he would see SOMETHING in the morning light, but again saw only the sea of grass going on and on. He ate some bread, drank some milk, and curled up with his nanny goat to sleep the day away, waiting for darkness and the stars to guide him.
Night after night went on like this, until he ran out of bread and stopped counting the sunrises. Every morning he would strain his eyes to the far horizon but never saw anything at all, and he began to be scared. Just when he had given up hope and was ready to turn back, a morning came when something appeared in the distance. It was only a black smear but it was exactly what he needed to see. Soon he would find the end of the world and see for himself the great Nothing.
He walked all that night and when the sun came up again he seemed no closer to the black spot, but he did not worry. Weeks went by and slowly the horizon drew nearer and nearer as his feet took him and his goat closer and closer to the mystery. Finally a morning arrived when the whole sky was filled with the great bulk of this thing and he stopped traveling by the stars and instead walked in the daylight toward his goal. It was then, in the bright glare of the sun that he saw the shape before him. It was not a great black wall as he had imagined it to be, but a big piece of stone shaped like the triangle houses his tribe made at night. So big was it that it’s top was lost in the clouds, and plants grew on it higher than the tallest person. “This house is so BIG,” He said to himself “God must live here, and surely he will know how to find the end of the world.” So he walked right up to the big stone house and knocked very politely.
1 2 3 times he knocked, but there was no answer
1 2 3 times he knocked again, but only silence
1 2 3 times he knocked finally, when he heard a voice behind him.
“Why are you banging on that mountain young man?” And Sosuke turned around to see a wee little fellow with a bushy tail, the likes of which he had never seen before, addressing him from a tall stone. “Who are you?” He blurted out.
“It is quite rude to answer one question with another.” Replied the fellow. Sosuke felt embarrassed, for he had forgotten his manners, and apologized immediately. “I was knocking on the door of God’s house,” He explained “Because I am looking for the end of the world. I have never met anybody like you, what is the name of your people?”
The wee fellow just laughed and laughed with his little belly jiggling “Silly boy,” said he “That is not the door of God’s house it is the face of wise Grandfather Mountain, he has been sleeping for many years now and isn’t likely to wake for your pounding. As for me my name is Tott and I am a squirrel, I thought that would have been quite obvious. I can see your journey is an honorable one and you have a good heart, but I cannot help you, I do not know where the world ends. I CAN tell you how to reach the top of this mountain, however, maybe you can see the end of the world from there, who knows?”
“Yes, please!” Exclaimed Sosuke and the squirrel Tott told him how to do just that, and they parted ways. It took a long, long time to reach the top of the mountain. First he waited through a cold winter in a little cave with only his goat to keep him warm. Then he got further up the mountain but had to spend another winter in a lightning blasted old tree stump, and that was even worse. Then just when he thought for sure he could make it, he spent ANOTHER cold winter beneath a ledge of rock just big enough for him and his little goat, who still gave him yummy milk to drink every day. Finally the spring time melted the snow and he rose to climb the last miles to the summit.
The 10 year old boy who had started his journey to find nothing was a boy who found many things. He saw sights of wonder: waterfalls crowned with rainbows, eagles fishing with deadly grace on a misty morning, dew drops on fire with sunlight like diamonds, moose and deer, bear and wolf. Little Sosuke thought about many things when he saw these wonders and his mind grew bigger and bigger, until it was no longer the mind of a little boy. He even felt angry with the elders for deceiving him with their story of Nothing. It was with heavy feet that he finally pulled himself up the last jut of stone to behold a sight which none of his people had ever seen or dreamed of before.
In front of him lay a green valley with trees and a small lake like a jewel sparkling at it’s center. To his right stretched a mountain range like a massive boney spine, each taller and more majestic than the last, stretching onward into unknown horizons. To his left was the ocean, ancient, azure and though he had never seen it before, it smelled like home. Clouds rolled toward him like a great tide and he opened his arms wide to be washed in their mists. He sang out with joy, triumphant that he had reached his goal, only to fall silent a moment later. He stood there alone, with no heart to share his joy with. He wanted more than anything to be there with his people, so they too could feel this moment of pure delight, of awe and wonder, to be expanded by the beauty of the world. It was at this moment that he understood the truth of the story that had led him there, for there truly is nothing beyond the tribe, the family, but an emptiness vast and lonely. To leave behind the people you love in your quest for adventure is something that a boy does, but a man knows clearly when it is time to return, and what he should bring back with him.
He smiled to himself, then down at his trusty old goat. “Let’s go home old friend.” He said to her.
And that was not the end…