Do Unto Others [Kindle Edition]
L.S. Burton (Author)
What truly survives the dust of time?
The Messenger wanders into town from out of the wastes carrying a message he’s suffered at great lengths to deliver. The people of Scanlon, the last surviving town in that part of the world, are very eager to hear what the man has to say about the people back east, who they’d given up for dead a long time ago. But when the Messenger isn’t sure if these are the people for whom his message was meant, the good people of Scanlon don’t take very kindly to his reluctance.
Bones came to his mind often. Bones poked from the ground everywhere. New bones were good for keeping a fire burning if they weren’t too dry. Old bones made good racket-makers when banged together, scaring away the scorpions and the less desperate dogs.
Beneath the sheets lay his skin. Beneath his skin lay his bones, bones of failure, bones of old ideas, bones that had loved and touched, brittle bones of despair. The twigs of his own bones were gaining more green under the sheets, below the skin.
In the darkness, standing naked before the window, he heard the lazy sleep cheeps of birds outside in the trees. Birds! Trees! Across the road, the neighbour’s window glowed with the wealth of a candle’s flame. Who was hiding inside that orange light? What were they doing? Reading? Talking? He wanted to know. He tried to imagine and could only picture them staring at the wall, counting the clocks of their breath. He’d forgotten all the things that people do.
All that good food in his belly. Too rich. Too much. Too quickly. But he’d kept it down, and could feel the strength storing in his arms and legs, and soon he’d want more. That was the problem with the human machine, constant refuelling to ensure smooth operation. It was inefficient, no better than a guttering fire down in the belly turning cogs and rotary teeth, keeping legs lifting, feet planting one after another in a forward motion, keeping bones reaching out for contact and solace and reason.
Lighting the lantern next to his bed, he resisted holding it up to make a mirror out of the black window. What if he saw an old man looking back at him, the dried skin under his chin turned to a hen’s wattle, the blue circling out of his eyes as if down a drain, splotches on his skin? What if he didn’t recognize himself at all?
Quietly he stole out of his room and descended the stairs, palm to the wall for support. The floor in the kitchen popped under his feet. The stove in the corner groaned in the shadows, remembering heat.
The night air called to him. The outside door was well oiled and didn’t squeak. He shut it softly and padded across the road in his bare feet to the neighbour’s yard. The grass protested gently as he walked, the ground no match for his hard and gnarled feet.
Drawn to the golden glow of the neighbours window, he stopped beneath the tree in the yard, suddenly afraid to look inside the window. People don’t do this sort of thing, peeping in windows. They let other people alone. More than that, he worried he might be better off not knowing what the neighbour was doing inside. Better to keep his innocent notions intact.
It struck him how open and vulnerable he was, standing before the golden window. He wondered what the neighbour would think if he looked outside to find a strange man standing in his yard. He could only think he’d have to explain how he was admiring his treasures, and ask his pardon to linger in his dark garden while. He didn’t think, if pressed, the neighbour could disagree with any of that.
He bent down and felt the grass with his fingertips. Looking up, the branches of the tree were gnarled and thin, lacking a lush head of leaves. The Messenger palmed the tree’s trunk and felt it drink the moisture from his fingertips. Tree. Are you a lost signal like me? Do you regret putting down roots here?
The tree didn’t have an answer, and the Messenger looked up at the neighbour’s window an instant before the light winked out, knowing somehow that it would.