(MYTH & LEGEND)
THE DOOR CALLED DEATH
THE DOOR CALLED DEATH
One of the gods' stories tells of a young man, a stone-mason, who sought the summer. He learned one of its ancient names: the Summer Mountain, where the god dwelt. And he asked each of his elders where he might find it. They told him he himself must set out on the journey, and they gave him provision for the way.
But the world in its wideness overwhelmed his thought, and in fear he refused to leave his home. So he found a young calf from among his father’s herd, and he killed it and cured its hide, and he brought this to each of his elders in turn, asking that they draw the world on it, so that he might follow its lines to the Summer Mountain. For a year and a day his elders refused, because they knew that the Summer Mountain had no roots in the earth; it was of the heavens, they told him, and tales told of its shadow in all lands, and so what would a world-hide do for him but tie his eyes to it, so that he would not see the Summer Mountain when it rose?
But the young man returned and returned, and would give them no rest, so that finally, from pity or foolishness or wisdom, one of his elders at last took a blunted branch from the cook-fire, and she began to draw the world in ash upon the hide. When the picture was finished, the young man, in great exhilaration, caught up his world-hide and set out, bringing no provisions with him, for in his hesitation they had long since spoiled.
He followed the lines of the world-hide, day and night, in all weathers. When the first rains threatened to blur the ashen markings, he labored to craft a house of stone for it, that he might carry it on his back. He could not walk far or long when he bore it in this way, for it was of great weight, but he did not know how to shape any lighter materials, and he feared the rain, so he counted the cost a worthwhile one and soon carried the world-hide in its stone casket even on fair days.
As do all who travel in the world, the young man met with friend and with foe; with trouble, storm, and calm; knew joy, and suffered much. Yet in all things he felt the reassuring weight of his world-hide on his back, and he grew to love it with a surpassing passion, and would protect it by any means in his power.
At last, he woke one morning knowing he was within a day’s walk of the Summer Mountain, for his world-hide told the distance, and he knew it now even without looking, so often had he pored over its lines. He ate nothing that day, for his excitement was too great. And his steps carried him nearer and nearer his goal.
When evening fell, his heart fell with it, low and fearful and heavy, for he had come into a wide plain, and the sun was nearing the horizon, and he could see round him for leagues on leagues, and the earth did not so much as swell beneath his feet nor within his sight. Yet his world-hide told him that he should have come upon the Summer Mountain already.
His legs bent beneath him, and he sank to the earth. Night came, and the man did not move. He was a young man no longer, and he was hungry, and weary, and a long way from home—and he knew that he must now start his journey. Yet no elder could reach him here; the casket of stone lay beside him in the dust, impotent and mute.
When the morning dawned, the Shining One found him weeping.
“Child,” she said, “why are you crying?”
The man lifted his head, slung defeated between shoulders. “It is many years now since I was a child,” he said.
“To the age-long, all are children,” she said. “Tell me your trouble.”
And he told the tale to her silent listening. At times he looked into her face, yet its illumination obscured her features as though by shadow, and he could not understand the light within that darkness.
When he had done, she said nothing. Then suddenly she turned and, sweeping her arms high, spoke in a ringing voice words foreign and dreadful.
Round her, the winds rose. Their wings lashed the dust of the plains into a towering cloud, whelming the rays of the sun. And her voice wove among them, the master of cacophonous hosts.
In his terror, the man drew the useless world-hide to him and of habit bound its stone to his chest as though to gain comfort there, as though its familiar rasping corners could protect him from the unknowing storm. His eyes closed against the sand and the whipping airs; his cheeks stung. And so he did not see the lintels of the portal that had begun to shape themselves beneath the fingers of the Shining One in the midst of the winds.
Silence flooded the plain, total and sudden as the storm.
She turned to him, hand extended. “Come,” she said. “Cross the threshold.”
He opened his eyes. The land lay about him quiet beneath the gentle sun. No sign of the storm remained. And the Shining One stood beckoning beside a high and terrible door, whose lintel and posts were carved with figures he trembled to recognize: the dark imaginings of fireside tales he had heard as a child. The Horned One with its crooked hands that haunted cradles unawares; the three cackling Fates with their pitiless blades; the Formless Fury whose wails were said to lance the ears of the damned in their torment; cruel-eyed kings presiding over the corpses of the just; the lurching forms of the daemons who brought wasting disease which brooked no healing, not though the world might end.
The carvings leapt from the frame as though they would devour him, careening to either side of the posts, lowering from the lintel, so that the rough door between could barely be seen. He caught sight of an unadorned dark knob nailed inexorably into the heavy, implacable wood.
“Come,” said the Shining One. “Cross the threshold.”
He took two, three steps back. “I dare not,” he said.
“You wish to find the Summer Mountain?” she said. “You must cross the threshold.”
“I dare not,” he said again. His arms clung unknowing to the stone casket with the world-hide within, and it pulled at him with a known weight.
“That you must leave here,” she said, observing the stone lashed to his chest. “You must pass through empty.”
A long silence hung between them. The Shining One seemed as a filament amber-suspended, arrested in time, her hand out to him in an eternal gesture of invitation. The sun stood motionless in the sky, and no birds sang. The wind had fled.
And suddenly there rose in the man a recklessness very like joy. His hands found the binding straps, tore them from his shoulders, and let the casket fall. It broke: a single profound crack from tip to base, exposing the world-hide within. Its crumbled edges fluttered feebly in the open air. He drew it out, and the light of the sun touched the faint ashen markings with a strange tenderness, and he wept again, thinking of the remembered kindness in his elder’s face as she bent over the hide by the cook-fire all those years ago.
He left it beside the casket and took the Shining One’s hand, still able to see nothing in the bright shadow of her face. In the midst of his unbidden joy, his heart trembled. “Tell me,” he said, and his voice was the voice of the child he had been. “Tell me that I will find what I seek.”
“The path will unfold,” she said.
He set his hand upon the door, bent beneath the dark lintel, and passed through.
Kay ben-Avraham took her Bachelor's in English Literature, as one does when one is overly given to bookishness, and is studying toward her Master's in English Language and Literature with Signum University. She works as a freelance writer and editor and generally decorates with bookshelves.