Man of Old


The music played on through a few long hours, and one by one they made their way back to tents and shacks across the camp. With a few work-free days the weekend yawned lazily ahead. Here Harold would have crawled into his hammock and drifted away towards a slightly hung over morning. He looked out through the grey mesh screen of the window and into the darkness beyond. Something in the earlier conversation had stuck with him and he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep until he looked into it.

Staring at his map, he followed the snaking blue lines up and down. Checking the flora and fauna map, he marked several locations along the blue paper river. When he knew he could only do more in the morning, he finally swung himself into the hammock and was soon sleeping soundly.

In the morning, although he felt rested, the world came charging in with harsh burning light and strange alien sounds. He felt as though a subtle dream of terror had come and gone in the night. He couldn’t remember dreaming or having a nightmare, but the world seemed to beckon him with its pleasant, routine distractions, as though enticing him to forget something.

Though lounging in the shade was an appealing prospect, his curiosity was its own primal beast, one that hung at the edges of his thoughts. He looked over his maps again, checking his idea. In the sober light of morning it was still sound, still interesting.

For a moment he lingered in the familiar grip of self-doubt. How many times had he followed the promise of discovery only to reach the conclusion that some ideas, perhaps most ideas, were just wrong.

Truth as the greatest gift felt like such a joke. In the industry of science, discovery was not exactly a noble pursuit. You’d think they were blood thirsty pirates rather than doctors and scientists. The roamed the sea of truth, searching for its treasures, anticipating a glorious return to the civilized world. Fame was the sparkle in their eyes when they spoke, with dreams of riches to spur them on. Strangely, even for men of logic and reason, there comes the grandest dream of all – immortality, at least of name. How vain it seems to believe that the eternal functions of nature deserve no recognition with out the attachment of a name.

He began to feel sick, but not from last night’s beer. It was the nausea of having made a terrible mistake.

Growing up, he’d been surrounded by ignorance. It wasn’t just the misfortunes of life that created it, but an anti-intellectual stance that many had adopted in the face of a rather condescending academia. At first he believed those people had clung to ignorance because there were many things they simply didn’t have to know. When he saw how they ridiculed things they didn’t understand, with a cruel delight even, he knew there was a deeper flaw. They didn’t have to know, and they didn’t want to learn, but the worst for him was how they hated him for wanting to.

It was easier, he reasoned, for them to stay the masters of dark, tiny worlds. To acknowledge a bigger reality only made them feel smaller, only illustrated the borders of mental dread that kept them in the same places their whole lives. When he had shown the interest and potential to move beyond their world, he had unwittingly sent the message that he wasn’t satisfied by their definition of life.

That they, in turn, had turned on him, had rejected him for what they must have seen as arrogant ambition… well, there was a bit of insensitivity on both sides.

He had to go on alone from there, and he had kept a faith of sorts. He believed that somewhere the truth was recognized and appreciated, cherished as the sacred knowledge it was. So in the beginning, truth as the greatest gift might have applied.

He had devoted his life to it, making a fair amount of progress towards becoming the educated man he wanted to be. He once had looked forward to the steps he climbed, hoping that the new vistas gained would guide him on still. A familiar specter had risen to block his path.

He had hoped as he climbed the ladder that there would come a refinement of company. All around, however, was the same greed, the same arrogance, and the same sick fear that the truth would reveal some awful secret and make fools of them. So they broke it apart, discredited ideas, and ignored the conclusion that stared back at them through the dusty layers of time.

Now the sense of sickness welled up in him again. It was a mixture of remorse and contempt, pulling him in two directions at once. His self-doubt had left his inner compass spinning madly, and the value of truth seemed in peril. If it wasn’t a gift to the world, and it wasn’t the means of self-perfection, what was it? That it might slip away to be lost forever was understandable in a new way. Part of the truth seems to be just that, understanding what the truth really means, and why it’s so important.

The idea he had last night had threatened to fade into nothing. His unpleasant reverie had danced all around it, bringing him no closer to a conclusion. With the question of truth and its ultimate value in mind, he shoved self-doubt aside.

The weekends were free of work, so there were no responsibilities to prevent him from peeking around. If it came to nothing, so what? Next week he could be back at the old tasks and nothing but a little free time would have been lost. Gathering a few days of supplies in a duffle bag, he set out for the camp dispensary.


Story by Joe Stanley

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