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Darkness to Darkness
By Ben ONeill
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Rated "PG" by the Author.
A nail-biting first person thrill ride through the life of a modestly sized, self aware plant.
I remember darkness. Not a simple, straight-forward absence of light, but rather a far deeper depth of black, a kind of darkness possible only in sheer ignorance that light should exist at all. Time, space, life itself held no meaning to me. The only thing differentiating now from the infinite period of nothingness before was a slowly burgeoning awareness of self. I hold no great store of memories from this period, no wealth of profound musings sparked in those first tangled moments of life. Adrift, my newly minted consciousness began to center around a singular idea: growth. There was no true grasp of the notion, I was simply filled with a latent and uncontrollable need to become more than what I was.
Quite suddenly my existence took on a new dimension. My body, of its own volition, began to take this lofty new notion of growth and apply it. The tiny shell of my being broke apart and spread outwards, and the darkness receded into a thousand shades of gray, blazing bright to my newfound senses. For the first time the world around me took on definition, but in truth, I took little notice. Growth now consumed me.
From my first tiny, introspective spark of life, roots burst forth in all directions, burrowing without mercy through whatever lay in their path. I reached both up and outwards, discovering in the dark soil around me the energy I needed to grow still more. Gradually as my expansion took on more focus, my progression to the sides began to slow, and all the energy my roots gathered went towards stretching my body ever upwards. I thickened while growing thinner, my base taking on girth while my upward motion was guided by little more than a slender shoot. I was driven by a desperate instinctual need to reach something, though I knew not what. All at once I reached my goal, and everything changed.
The most profound moment I can recall is the first instant as I broke the surface of my subterranean nursery. There was no graduated increase in illumination, no period for adjustment. One instant there was nothing but gray and grayer, and the next instant the world exploded in light and warmth and life. Nothing else has ever come close to the singular perfection of that sublime moment, as I first blossomed from the ground, and the dazzling brightness of the sun first blossomed within my senses.
What happened next was a stark contrast to that moment. Plants have a natural, innate sense of our surroundings, though we neither see nor hear. After my initial jubilation upon achieving the surface faded, my first conscious act was to reach out with this sense, to seek my own kind. It was then that I felt the counterpoint to my earlier exultation. Hope swelled, only to be followed by a crashing wave of disappointment. I sensed life all around, indeed the ground abounded with it, but all alien to me. I felt no answering glow of awareness among the assorted greenery, save for a dim, fleeting flicker among the tallest and most ancient. The kinship I sought was nowhere to be found amid all this bustling flora. For long moments I lost all sense of purpose, adrift alone in this sea of foreign life. My disappointment eventually faded, however, set aside in the face of more pressing needs. I had little choice in the matter. I was a plant. Alone in radiant sunlight, I grew.
Ahh, sunlight. I soon came to understand that there is nothing more important to all things green and growing than those wayward strands of golden light, and the brilliant orb which spawns them. Perhaps it would be most accurate to compare it to some all encompassing religion, for the sun was both our god and our provider. Our entire lives were spent striving ever skyward towards that unreachable golden globe, and we maimed and murdered without mercy for its life giving attention. In its blazing glory we thrived, and on its callous whims we starved. Luck was with me, however, and I seemed to be in good standing with this capricious god.
While I had no companionship beyond the mindless greenery surrounding me, I was well situated, and with little competition for sunlight I soon grew from a tiny sprout into a modest plant, sporting a tiny limb on either side. My limbs were almost symmetrical, with a few tiny budding leaves just starting to grow, and I must admit I was very proud of them. Few plants of my tender age had limbs at all, let alone such splendid little leaves. Of course, beauty is a worthless trait for a non-flowering plant to possess, and can be quite detrimental; the prettier the plant, the more apt to be plucked by hungry teeth. In my innocence, I cared not a bit, and enjoyed the simple timeless pleasure of long, lazy days in the sunshine, swaying in the wind; alive, vibrant, and terribly handsome. Alas, such peace was not to last.
The free-moving intruder made it's haphazard approach, seeming almost playful, riding on its bizarre assortment of trembling limbs. This was not the first time I'd sensed such a creature, but this was by far the closest encounter, and it was coming closer still. Up until now, the free-movers and I had shared a mutually apathetic relationship; they didn't bother me, and I didn't do much of anything, which is a widely accepted and respected plant stratagem. Not so this encounter. The creature's intent was obvious, and deadly dangerous. I felt it's fell gaze single me out from all my other leafy counterparts in the clearing. I sensed my doom in those big, dopey eyes. It occurs to me now, long after the fact, one reason self awareness is wasted on a plant: while I could feel the approaching danger, could sense the evil, blunt teeth waiting to grind my various body parts into a delicious green paste, there was nothing I could do to prevent it. The graceless animal gathered itself and charged towards me, strange limbs flailing. It stumbled, fell, and then seemed to forget my existence as other greeneries appeared closer to mouth. After a time another of its kind appeared in the distance and some sort of communication passed through the air. Moments later the threat was fleeing, while I remained, triumphant in my inaction.
Time seemed to slow and sharpen after my first taste of danger, as if only now I began to realize the fleeting nature of, well, nature. With no direct challengers for sunlight I began to grow quite large, dwarfing most of the plant life in my corner of the glade. Long gone was the neat, symmetrical body of my misspent youth. I sprouted a number of branches, with many broad leaves to better catch the sunlight. The occasional sprout would spring up within the range of my shadow, struggling in vain for their chance to grow, and I must confess I tended to wax philosophical as they withered and died. It was not as though I bore them any ill will, or that I took pleasure in their demise, I was simply unable to do anything one way or the other. I would have spared them if I could. Really, I was quite faultless in the whole fatal affair. And so I would attempt to convince myself, each and every time some fledgling flora sprang to life and perished under the covering of my wide leaves, with only the shortest glimpse at life to show for it. As time passed, it began to bother me more and more. I did not recognize the reasoning behind such thoughts then, but reflecting now I have a fair idea. Guilt is a foreign concept to most wild plants and animals, but I think it is inevitable once a certain plateau of intellect is achieved.
As my discontent deepened, I began seeking external distraction more and more often. Each morning I would cast my senses toward where the sun peeked over the horizon, not in search of light or warmth, but instead scouring the land with my thoughts, seeking once more the kinship I felt must exist. My senses grew stronger, and each day my consciousness wandered ever further, and still each night I would find myself as alone and desolate as the last. With all my energy dedicated towards my desperate search, my growth began to stagnate. My leaves lost their lustrous green hue, turning instead a sick, brown-spotted yellow. I admit no remorse; as each day my leaves grew more and more withered, the small plants around me were finally able to taste their first sweet drops of unfiltered sunlight. They grew stronger as I grew weaker, and I found this a fair trade. I watched them develop with rapt attention, sensing in their budding vitality the promise of a life untethered by guilt or loneliness. They were not as I was, not thinking self aware beings, but they were living things surrounded by their brethren, and through my solicitude I could help them thrive. My failing life began to center around these budding sprouts. My limbs wilted still further as I stopped drawing water and nutrients from the soil, and I rejoiced, for now the tiny plants stood tall and proud, fully bathed in the suns life giving rays. I stood now withered and fading, a paltry imitation of my former glory, and yet I felt now a growing contentment and acceptance.
I knew I was dying. No creature can live without the basic sustenance I was denying myself, yet I felt no sense of loss as my leaves began to fall to the ground. My limbs joined them on the floor of the glade, and I delighted in the knowledge that my diminutive successors would grow even stronger with the nutrients they provided. The trunk of my body began to curl in on itself, and I knew I could not last much longer. One last time, with all the will that remained to me, I cast my senses outward, seeking further than ever before. I reveled in the feel of all the flourishing, living beings around me as I never had in the past, my mind in awe of the sheer variation. I soared, almost losing myself to the pulsating ebb and flow of life, and it was then that I stumbled upon something for which I had long since ceased hoping.
It was every bit as foreign and strange as anything I had encountered, perhaps even more so, yet I felt within this alien presence a reflection of my own self awareness. I hesitated, shocked at the implications of what I'd found, and in that instant's hesitation I felt my twisted, sickened body begin to fail me at last. It was too late now for me to gather the nutrients I required, even were I willing to sacrifice the budding life which my leaves had once threatened, which I was not. Serenity returned to me as I accepted my inability to thwart impending doom, and I reached out to the alien awareness with the last of my strength. What I found was confusing in the extreme, convoluted images of scenes far beyond my limited frame of reference, but buried deep beneath these things I felt what I had sought all my life; kinship. With no further hesitation, as my body at last curled upon itself and died, I threw my consciousness outward towards that singular spark of light in a sea of endless black. So it was at the end as it was at the beginning; I remember darkness.
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