Column: If only he had known the consequences of his fateful dream

  • Shawn Braley illustration

For the Valley News
Saturday, June 22, 2019

And how many were left when the smoke finally cleared? If only he had known.

He was father to many children, children not past the dawn of their day, daring rosy dreams, clad in verve, with curiosity aglow. The children were born to a small house with farm and field, amid a great garden of a world, a garden of woodland carpeting poured over in fresh paints of night-blue and evergreen, and explosions of pale purple and celadon, with a great mountain that hugged the north wind and caught southbound storms on its bare chest, whose green shawl draped down its back and bunched up in a lush valley, a garden with a cold and clean river rolling out of bed and sauntering down the steps of the mountain’s spine.

If only he had known the result of his dream.

He dreamed, as all fathers do, that for his children he might pick away the knots of hardship and pain from the threads of their lives and leave behind only ease. He wished for them to spread out over a cushion of amenity, which he was determined to cut and sew by his own hand. A house it would be, a house for the children that he dreamed would be larger than the house of their birth by ten-thousand-fold.

He imagined his children grown and with children of their own, generations and generations to fill the house with life, indefinitely. Long after he was gone, they would need to reap the yields of farm and field. They would need to drink, and to offer drink to the soil. They would need warmth in cold, and blissful cool in warmth. A hundred fields they would need, and a hundred farms, to never run short of food, and he would draw the river to the house, and warm the house with eternal flame.

If only he had known.

If only he had known where the bodies of the trees would fall, when the ferocious flames that he breathed out leapt from his lips and washed onto the roots of the trees in that garden of a world, wrapping their ankles and shins, and driving up their bodies, spreading hungry tongues that set each leaf ablaze with one lick, spreading virulently from crown to crown until thousands of trees were alight, falling one by one, roaring angry roars as their very last before their skeletons shattered in sparks on a forest floor of ash. If only he had known that their piling bodies would pile upon the house of his children’s birth, drive it into the ground and pulverize it, and that some of his children would fall beneath the house, fall as the trees fell, lay as the trees lay, screaming out.

If only he had known that the stark black smoke, like clouds fallen and burnt and still burning, would gouge their eyes red, foul the air and strike out the sun, its thick paws raking hooked claws up and down the walls of the lungs of the children, new lungs now turned old and gray.

If only the father had heard the whisper of their words, “If this is the cost of the house that you dream of, we want none of it.”

But the father did not see the smoke. He looked and saw in his mind the house that he would build, much higher than the smoke would rise, far higher than the highest clouds, so that the children could have the sun.

He picked trees from the ashes and dusted the soot and cinder from them. He severed their heads, and all at once their limbs, and with his nails peeled away their charred skins, scraping them smooth into boards and beams.

He bit into the mountain and chewed the rock between metal teeth until it was paste, which he spat onto the ground as bricks and slabs that forever buried the deep roots of the trees and the house that the children had been born into, in a tomb flat and cold and gray.

Over this foundation he stacked the bodies of the trees neatly into a fortress upon their own grave. The house soon materialized, high as the mountain, and then higher.

If only he had known, as he dredged a hand armored in spikes and chains through the river bed, a hand that ground up the river rocks and then tossed them away as powder as it ripped the river toward the house in a canal, that the brown water writhing with snakes of dark and slick mud, seething with whirls of silt, would swirl in the mouths and stomachs of his children and make them too sick to move.

If only he had known, as he plunged his other hand into the Earth, a hand with veins of tight-wound cables and bones of copper alloy and muscles of knotted mechanics grating together, a hand that twisted through the ancient libraries of rock with rutted carbide fingertips to grope at the heart of the Earth until they unlocked heart-chambers of black oil nursed by millennia, that this ancient poison would shoot up through his capillaries, pulse through his blood, and spill from the smallest wounds in his hand to slither into the river, turning the water sickening pinks and yellows, so that all the children who drank from it would fall ill to the point of death.

If only he had known, as he fed this oil into a tremendous furnace, that his children, weakened by the smoke of the Earth’s burning lungs, would die from the smoke of the Earth’s burning heart.

If only he had heard their rasping pleas, “If this is what it takes, we do not want to live here. We will not raise our children here. We do not want this future.”

If only the father had heard.

He looked toward the house he was building and wished the children would as well, to see its splendor and cherish his dream with him, a dream almost realized. The children did turn toward the house, but not for its splendor. They turned away from the fire so as to not breath the air it breathed, to save their lungs. They turned to save their tongues from the parching smoke, and while the flames roared, their tongues remained silent in their mouths.

If only the father had known, as he cleared the tens of hundreds of thousands of trees to make way for the hundred farms and hundred fields, as every branch was lathered in flames, as the trees raised up their hands to the sky in prayer, with extremities outstretched, prayers that heaven could not see through the smoke, as their green leaves rolled up into black and took to the air to fly with the ghosts of the birds.

If only he had seen what the children saw.

They saw the filth that enslaved the river and the gash cut all the way down to the heart of the Earth. They saw a house made from the mangled bodies of the trees that had been their home.

The father added the fallen trees to the house, so that it spilled outward through the valley and upward to spear the sun. He blew away ash, brushed his fingers across the ground to make rows, and sowed soiled seeds that never sprouted. He pressed fences into the ground and led animals into them, where they quickly fell ill.

Finally, finally, the house he had dreamed of was finished.

Through the guttering flames he could see it standing proudly, second to nothing in its magnificence. The children hardly saw it, for the filth of the river had brought the last of them to their knees. The trees died upon them and the smoke swept them away. They died in a graveyard of the trees, and the river, and Earth.

Finally, finally, the smoke cleared. The father looked for his children, and saw there were none left.

If only he had known.

Katharina Müller just completed her junior year at Hartford High School, where she is involved in music performance and contemporary classical music composition, as well as creative writing and poetry. Her academic interests include language, philosophy and ethics, and physics.