When they first awoke, they hadn’t a single idea of what anything was, of where they were, of who they were. They didn’t know each other, they had no names to give each other. They were cold and naked, their skin a blue remembrance of the ice found around them when they were born into the world anew.
His eyes were still closed, and he moaned plaintively, for some reason expecting that some figure would be standing above him, telling him to get up and get out. But he was alone, for these first few moments. And he knew nothing.
Her eyes were wide open, first and foremost. She felt she needed to see what was around her. She needed to make sure her experience was complete with all the sensory stimuli she could take in. The air smelled cold, and hard, crypt-air and ocean-dead-zone-air. There was a taste in her mouth like she had been burnt, but she could trace none of these experiences to any sort of memory, or to any image in her mind, or even to a name she could give the taste or the smell.
She looked about her. Freezing, unexpressive, round material, that felt almost like skin, forming a cocoon around her. She was scared, but not even that feeling she could name, and that frightened her even more. Then she looked down at her body. What was she? She moved the strange cylindrical appendages coming forth from the top of a cylindrical trunk; they ended in the most baffling structures, each one with five long, thin branches of skin and muscle. There were even little bony shields on the end of these five branches. They were chipped, worn from…something.
There was a glass lid above both their heads, and they rapped against it with the funny-looking appendages, and they looked at images of strange creatures that appeared to be set in the glass, with wide orbs in the middle their round heads, and openings near the bottom of these heads. They stared in wonder, and turned their own faces, and the heads of the images would move with them.
Was this them they were looking at?
They spent close to half an hour looking at themselves, looking around, in the dark.
Then, a screeching in the perpetual night, a hawk’s scream and a blast from the furnace: red. There was red light burning everywhere. The two of them saw it from their little glass cages, and all of the sudden they thawed from the cold encasing their bodies, and a sensation of warmth and care flooded into them and they felt alive.
Alive. That’s…a feeling? The word rushed into both of their heads, lightning, flood, ephemeral eternity. They couldn’t pin down what this truly meant to them…but they’d remember the feeling forever.
The red light faded away, and suddenly, with an oil-needing hiss, the glass above them began to recede into their metal containers. They stretched themselves out into the darkness above, each at the same time, without realizing the other was there. This was it. The first steps on the moon. The first breath taken under the sea. The crowning moments every being in existence claims when stepping out into Nature, that wild blue yonder, that untamable beast in whom we’ve made our home.
They both sat up. They looked around, and as soon as they began their survey of their surroundings, another light came on, this time less harsh, more inviting. It lit up a large space, filled with innumerable objects.
Then they saw each other.
They looked remarkably similar to the images they saw in the glass of their cages…but different nonetheless. They moved different body parts towards one another, and stared at each other for seconds on end to see if the other would disappear in an instant, a figment of one’s imagination. But they were as real as this dream could be.
Finally…one spoke. It was the male.
And the female looked confused. She truly did not know, and only shrugged in response.
“Where?” the male asked.
The male was frustrated. He knew nothing. He could not say what he needed to say, he could not convey any sort of message that was an accurate representation of what he was thinking, what he was feeling. God, these damn words! This lack of them!
The two of them lifted themselves out of their containers, and slowly emerged into the bright, colorful, amazing room. Everything stood out to them, as if they had entered a heaven of stimuli, a place that they would never have to leave, for they had all the information they would ever need!
The two of them walked around the room. There were shiny metallic plates, computers, screens and devices for measuring temperature, atmospheric pressure, detectors of heartbeats and breathing rates and specific amounts of food and water, none of which they recognized as such. They were fascinated. They touched buttons and levers and keyboards, running their fingers across them like a purveyor of fine arts would run her eyes across a Rembrandt. They looked to each other, astonished children, wondering at what they had come across. These new experiences flashed through them, and they sifted back into their new memories immediately, trying to retain everything they saw and touched and breathed in as best they could. They were seeing the world for the first time, and it was beautiful.
But then they found the door.
It just opened in front of them, casually, as if expecting their approach and trying to gain their attention slyly and without remark. The door into reality. The door into forbidden knowledge, it was dark and the room inside was pitch black as if trying to keep reality away from them as long as it could. They looked to each other and smiled, knowing that something truly special awaited them on the other side. What mysteries would they uncover next?
It was a library. So many books, so much knowledge, all for them! Above them was a banner, displaying in big, bold, inviting letters:
What could that possibly mean?
There were books piled high on shelves, an armor of paper, and covering tables and desks like rocks cover the Laguna shores. The male and the female knew not what these things were for, yet instinct drove them towards these tomes of intelligence. They were dusty and old, but there was very little wear, nothing had eaten away at them. They were perfect.
And there was one special book, a fairly large one, that was placed conspicuously on the top of a pile of smaller books on a desk in the center of the great round egg of the library.
The female walked up to the to the book, her eyes radiating a glow of awe, and she surveyed the words on the cover like one would a battlefield. Her eyes narrowed, and her glance became one of focus.
“En…Enceeclopehdia Ov Nahturee.” She tried it again. “Encyclopehdia Of Nahture.” Her voice was soft and calm, the flow of a stream through untouched wilderness as she said this—but she did not feel comfortable with the sound of it.
“Nahture?” The male dug through his mind to see if he could connect what he was hearing to any sort of thought. Then he thought, too, about the sound of his voice. Raucous, tremulous. There could be great power behind this sound. He liked it.
The female looked at the book apprehensively—what could this mean? What could be hidden within the paper walls of this majestic tome? Curiosity took a hold of her, and she began to explore the pages of the book, first with suspicion, then with a growing sense of wonder at everything she saw within.
“What?” the male asked. “What’sit?”
“Here.” She opened the book wide so the world around them could view with them. She pointed to a picture of a strange, small creature, round and blue, with small appendages coming out the bottom of it like landing gear, each one ending with four sharp growths. The creature had one arm held out, and little rounded growths came out from all around this arm; the whole picture looked so familiar! Such a faint little being in the back of their heads!
“…bird,” the male said.
They both said the word aloud. Bird. So colorful, even in its shortness! So dainty! So much a jester tumbling about in their imaginations! Bird!
They smiled, and looked throughout the book, extracting all the beautiful knowledge they could. Even with their limited literacy they ravaged the book and took all they could read, as though pillaging a village for food. They learned so much, just from one book! What a bird was, how it flew through the air, how it took to the wing and laid eggs and fed its young so lovingly, though the process was not lovely at all. They learned about reptiles, scaly little happy-demons like the geh-ko, running about and sticking to walls and flicking its tongue about to taste the air. The toor-te-luh, which wore its home on its back, and walked miles without ever leaving its comfort, peacefully chewing at the vegetation of islands or deserts or marshes—some even swam through water like fish! And fish, those funny little things, with eyes on either side of their neck-less heads, jetting through the water, cells through blood, some swimming alone, while others took to the ocean in huge packs that rivaled armies.
They learned about trees, great majestic sentinels of the forest and the beach that took in the chemical carbon dioxide that humans themselves breathed out, and from this they created oxygen, which the humans breathed in, and the cycle continued in heavenly peace forever. And humans! What strange creatures they were! They could think for themselves, they could sit down and wonder at the world, and they could laugh and they could cry, and they could have feelings that no other animal in the animal kingdom could ever hope of having. They aspired to great things, to building towers into Heaven and higher and to making beautiful pieces of this thing called “art,” which seemed so outlandish to the two reading the book that they laughed at the idea of it at first, then were amazed when they beheld the ephemeral beauty of The Starry Night. Where was this little town, under the moon and stars shining peace into the air? They were astounded at what these humans were capable of—did they construct this cavernous structure they were in right now? Did they write all these books to capture knowledge and ship it to faraway people?
What did that make them, the two reading and understanding the books?
What did humans look like, anyways? The pages were torn apart—it must have been missing pictures of these elusive humans.
And where were any of them?
Some strange melancholy drifted over the male and female, and they looked to each other, and another sort of fear came over them. They had no idea what they were, and did not know what the world around them was or what it represented.
The male’s face lightened with resolution. “More!”
The female smiled. “Yes! More!”
And they took to reading, until the world around them was no mystery.
They found a book about the history of a place called Earth, a little speck of sand on the shore of the universe, where the humans were; where they fought long and tiring wars over things called mo-neya, a confusing concept to them when they learned what mo-neya was. They read about the first humans, barely human at all, and their slow evolution to the modern human, which could split those atoms which made the universe, and could fly into the depths of space above and around them. They learned how much the humans changed the environment that they were a part of, to the point where in some places it was barely habitable anymore, for anything. This history they read was in some parts inspiring, some parts disturbing and saddening, and at all times astonishing.
Then they found the book on music. It was as big as the nature encyclopedia, and like a morning mist it was so hard to decipher that they almost put the book down for good. Art that was only heard? Something beautiful yet invisible to the eye? How could this be? They read about every great human musician from Beethoven to The Beatles, yet they could not understand what music was.
But it was the picture of the phonograph that really startled them. It was a great foghorn tied to a wooden block. They read about how it could read the little grooves in vinyl discs like they read the words out of that very book. How? How did it change these tiny understandings into the sounds of wonder and God?
“There!” The male pointed to one corner of the room, and the female looked in amazement, as though she had seen a miracle and its miracle worker was smiling at them.
It was the phonograph. It stood looking at them from its table perch like a one-eyed bird of prey. They approached it slowly, as though standing off against a dangerous creature, carrying the music encyclopedia with them for protection. Then they found the collection of albums in a small crate underneath the table, and knew what they had to do to sate the hunger for knowledge. They had to know what it meant, the music, the sound that was the voice of angels, the angry, the loving couples.
They placed a random record on the plate, a precious artifact, a gateway to another race, and they slid the needle gently down where the book told them to, following its every instruction. When the needle was down, they flipped a little switch behind the metal horn of the phonograph, and they sat down and waited for anything and everything to happen.
First, there was only hissing, and they were disappointed. But then, something grand—it was the slow rising of a nymph from the waters of a great lake. The sound came slowly, tepidly and fearfully from the horn, looking to see if it was truly invited into this space. Then, all of a sudden, it knew it was welcome, and it came out in full swing and happiness.
It was a sound of joy, and then a note of pain against the pinion, and then she began singing:
Des yeux qui font baisser les miens
Un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche
Voilà le portrait sans retouche
De l’homme auquel j’appartiens…
Quand il me prend dans ses bras,
Il me parle tout bas,
Je vois la vie en rose…
They sat starstruck, listening in wonder to the sound of what was called in some foreign tongue “La vie en rose.” So many emotions came across the bridges into their understanding that they were overwhelmed—they thought books were something to behold, but this, this!! This was something else entirely! This was the word of some promised higher being, this was the sound of love, that emotion so foreign to them, yet they understood what it was now, for surely this was what it felt like, to hear these words and these instruments all being played and sung in perfect harmony. Who could make this but a god, or a person in love?
They sat listening to the rest of the song, wishing it to never end, the euphoria singing them to a state of half-sleep. Then the next song played, a livelier tune, something that convinced the male get up onto his feet and move in an odd fashion, his feet tapping to the rhythm of the song, his hands clapping as the big drums cracked behind him. TSS-t-t-TSS-t-t-TSS! DA-da-da-DA-da-da-DA-da-DA-da-da-Da! The female smiled and began to laugh, then got up with him and tried to move alongside him, finding it hard to keep up.
“Whats’is?” she asked.
“Dance! From book!”
And they danced to the sounds of Benny Goodman in his prime. The room was electric with sound and with energy, the air ignited and they two were all smiles, flying across the room with the wings of Hermes of their feet. What was this called? This must have been happiness.
Then they put on another album, a more relaxing sound, like Nature sleeping and her breath blowing through their hair and their ears. They took to more books, their studies augmented by the joyous sounds of the music around them.
It was the book on language that they read with extreme patience, analyzing like a computer scans through files. They read through this book on sentence structure and punctuation and grammar, and they found their tools that would help them dig into the more complicated works.
They practiced on each other:
“Hello! I am boy! How are you?”
“Good, boy! I am girl! Nice to meet you today, today is nice!”
“Yes it is! It is nice to meet you…too!” The boy laughed, his partner laughed alongside him, and together they explored this language they had stumbled across, and the music and the knowledge drew them closer.
Books on places, books on plants, books on important people, books on what a home was. This last one made the boy think about that figure that he expected to stand over him when he first awoke, and a sort of loneliness grew in him like a dark flower, roots through his heart and stem into his lungs. He sighed.
“What’s wrong?” the girl asked.
“Umm…I don’t know. Strange.”
She smiled to him, and held him close. He was surprised at first, and then he smiled too, and accepted her embrace with his own. They continued reading.
Mountains. Beaches. Arid deserts. Majestic forests—and more trees. Trees the girl particularly loved, while the boy was fonder of the open water that the ocean promised in these pictures.
Then there was the book on…food! Warm food and cool-rain water!
“I’m hungry!” said the boy, his stomach rumbling as his hand went to cover it.
“So am I…” the girl stood up from where they sat, and while the boy continued to study the edible world, the girl went around the library to look for some food.
The boy stood up as he heard the girl shout. He ran over to where she had travelled, his feet crashing into the library floor and bringing hollow bursts of energy into existence, expecting to find some hidden danger in their sanctuary.
But he saw her standing there, in overjoyed shock, staring into the door she had opened leading out of the library into another unknown.
“Look!” she said, pointing her finger wildly into the open door.
And he looked.
And it was, again, a dream come true.
He glanced at the book on food and drink, and his eyes climbed back to the chamber that the girl had just entered. There was so. Much. Food!
Boxes of preserved meats and fish were stacked to the ceiling, each one metallic and shiny and with a hologram presenting an image of what this particular foodstuff was, where it came from, how to prepare it. There were cans and boxes lining the walls, there were fruits and vegetables in baskets and bags around the floor, each one with a hood over it that seemed to be keeping it in icy comfort. There was an oven and a stove and a rice-cooker and oh god, there was so much! Look, even a little book of recipes, French, Japanese, vegetarian, goodness, so much!
They laughed in ecstasy as the world presented them with all this goodness—surely they couldn’t accept all this! They were apprehensive, too, about the food, for like everything in this new world they didn’t know what to expect from it. But they flipped through the little book of French recipes, looked for the simplest, tastiest-looking meal, and began to cook together.
Soon they had their meal of sautéed shrimp and scallops ready, smelling of Herbes de Provence and the fresh sea, and they took their meal out into the library, after cleaning the space of course, and the music was still flowing, and the drink was fine and cool, and the food warm and delicious…they were in paradise. It was fantastic.
“I like this,” the boy said.
“I love this!” the girl exclaimed.
“I wonder…will this be what it’s like forever?” the boy asked.
They thought to themselves in a momentary silence. Surely, this could last forever, couldn’t it? Why wouldn’t it? This must be heaven! Like they read about in the book on religion! They must have died, in some god-forsaken life, and now were with one of the gods themselves, or perhaps all of them, basking in the lights of knowledge and art and delicious food. This was their Garden. This was their home.
“I dunno if I wanna stay here forever…” the girl said.
The boy was puzzled. “Why not? Look at all we have!”
“But what if there’s more to be found?” she asked.
In truth the boy liked his little paradise—why would he ever want to leave? There was so much learning to be done! There was so much food to be cooked! Perhaps there was more to the place that they hadn’t found. He wanted to explore, but not escape.
“Well, let’s enjoy our meals for now,” the girl said happily. “We can think about that later.”
And they dug into their shrimp, peeling off the little tails.
“Wait!” the boy said. “I read this in a book!”
And he cleared his throat.
“What’s that mean?” the girl asked.
“It means, have a good meal! Enjoy!”
And so they did.