Monday, 3 March 2014

Underneath

Teeth bared in delighted grins, the children hung from strings as the roof trammels pulled them up, endlessly cycling through the room. This trammel only raised by about twenty slats. In other rooms there were trammels of twice and almost three times that height which the children eyed with longing, not realizing the great solemnity they held. These great trammels were where the elders gathered; to create laws, settle disputes and make obeisance to those beyond.

At the high point of their minor trammel, the youngsters leaped off, the occasional one squeaking as they dropped, only to be rewarded with severe frowns and a banishment from riding the trammels for at least an hour. All children knew they must be silent. When they cried out too loudly, the trammels ceased to move and those beyond vented their displeasure by creating thunderous noise.

All knew of the terrible time generations before when all the trammels in their halls had ceased altogether and those beyond ceased to visit altogether. For a people who time their lives by the motion of the trammels, the stillness itself meant none were sure how long it lasted. The light from beyond faded into nothing and the food supplies dwindled into nothingness. The migration to and trade from neighbouring colonies kept their own population going, but even so, many of the elderly and newborns were dying rapidly.

The elders had gathered in the greatest of the halls and made pleas to the silence which had once harboured the mysterious echoing tones of those from the beyond. There was no relief from darkness and no sound to break the endless silence.

Traders began to recount tales of long dead halls which had been wholly abandoned and were now home only to rats and birds. The people became terrified. They spoke in whispers first then, as the fear that they had been forever abandoned built, they gradually turned to louder and more raucous cries.

Wild words were spoken and accusations flung as they sought someone to blame. They slaughtered the children last to ride on the trammels before they stilled and nothing changed. They began systematically murdering everyone who objected, everyone who cried in the night or who they accused of disbelieving their religious fervour. The body count grew and the traders became fearful. Soon there were none who would come to the halls.

The elders, reduced to less than a third of their original number, were frantically trying to recreate order from the horror and chaos. Nothing served. The ferocious declarations and impassioned attacks easily outweighed the moderated cries of those few elders who had survived the blitz.

Finally, one day a young woman rose and stood at the head of the crowds. It was she who had cried out the same few sentences, over and over, until they had been picked up by the rest of the crowds. It had built and built and built until suddenly she clamped her lips shut and never spoke again. Around her, all of the people fell equally silent. They fell into a silent witness, still and judging. All had their eyes upon her and she gazed stoically ahead. Time passed. The people passed beverages silently among themselves whilst the woman refused all succour.

Time passed and many slept, while others kept vigil. Still the woman sat.

Suddenly, after a time so long that many had begun to doubt, but recovered their faith in the pressure of the silence that surrounded them, a hum sounded high above and the light spilled between the slats in the trammels. A murmur arose and the light flickered. All was abruptly silent again. Minutes later the trammels began to move and the people below gazed at each other in awe. They continued to sit in silence, faith rewarded but now uncertain as to how to proceed.

One of the elders moved to the woman with gentle courtesy and gave her a small amount of his drink. With a few simple gestures he indicated that the woman should be taken to her place of rest and permitted to sleep. As she slept her identity was discovered. She had lost her three children in the slaughter and her husband, two brothers and one of her sisters in the following dissent. In honour of her loss and as a symbol of remembrance, the elders ordered a monument to be constructed.

They were speedy builders, not particularly artistic, and every spare hand worked upon it - some with pity and sorrow but the vast majority with guilt - so that by the time she awoke, the monument was a reality.

From that day to this, the monument has been continuously developed and embellished, but the central tenet remains the same.

"Our cries have annoyed those from beyond and they will return only when we are forever silenced. We must choose now: dissent and death or a silent life."