The International Writers Magazine: Dreamtime

The Solitary Hunter
Jessica Schnieder

"The sky is full of birds," the boy said to me. "It is full of birds and they are all dead- watch how they are eyeless in their flight, and they are full-grown and yet without feathers of any sort," he added.

I looked up and past the sky, windblown and wet in patches from where under the clouds hovered, and I could see he was right. Wickedly large they were, and their wings imposed over the vista of the eve, and their beaks, while still sharp, held inside them no tongues or tissue of any sort. They were, in a sense, lifeless, and yet stirring angrily towards something. Anxious animals, I watched and waited for them to say something I could understand. But their shrieks went on, unrecognized. Trying to shield myself, I could feel their erratic vibrations through my running feet. I had grown fearful with the night. Winnowing orbit, the birds arrived and went as they would have in a type of poem, or dream. Feeling weary, I thought it too early to wonder about the world. Hoping their target was not me- I ran and ducked below a nearby tree. Above, I watched as their bodies pushed past the leafing greens, as they scrambled and blocked the sky with their screech, echoing ever fuller over the face of the clouds, and the stars, now flattened by my silence. I had remained quiet this whole time, hand over mouth and looking, I saw the boy was not near till having appeared again to me- both of us beside this rough barked tree.

"What has happened to them?" I ask the boy, who seems to clearly know more of the matter than I.
"They’ve been killed- their eyes have been eaten and their memories stored away, digested by the belly of another. And now they’ve come to retrieve them."

I gave the boy a puzzled look, and then turned from him to the trees above. They were still alive, these birds, black leviathans only living through the act of revenge. None had any pasts- all had been taken, as well as everything those eyes had ever seen. Their bones, still large and left leaning upon tough skies, were of course hollow as their hollow eyes. Just who would want to eat them? It was a myth- one that with the swallowing of eyes meant freedom and even more so, an ability to hunt, to choose, to live by what that bird has seen, ever upward in the mountainous stars. Barking like wild dogs, several of them flew over, joining one another in a kind of bird-knot, bigger than lifting heads how they roll onward in their all night song, their shrieks that have little to do with our own cries, their bodies salting in the storm. I pulled my face into my arm.
"When will they leave?" I asked the boy, who by now had lost interest in me and had his own agenda. I saw him walking off into the grass, shedding his shadows into it, and then he was gone.

When I woke, there was nothing out of the unexpected. I rose from bed and dressed for work, feeling partly saddened from having been pulled from my place of dream, only to join the dregs of the world- my job. One can never explain a dream as this, and as a writer I can do no better. Or rather, my advantage is there, however slim. Easy for me to describe, yet not so easy to pick apart, I’ve often wished I could have owned those eyeless pets, and been the one having won their eyes. Just what privilege would such witness grant me? I suppose I’d be more inclined to see what it is I’ve already thought to be there. Most never even think that at all. Why, it was just the other night when, before bed, I had been rambling about time and the continuous stretch of it, arguing that in the solitary wink of an eyeball the duration and quality of my life would not matter to anyone with futuristic eyes. How often I wished I could see these eyes, and even pick apart the minds behind them years hence, only to somehow get that faraway glance these birds might gather in a single hour. I had rambled out loud for a good five minutes till I turned to my spouse beside me and asked, "Do you agree?" And he, in turn only replied with, "What the hell are you talking about?"
I could only answer with an "I don’t know," followed by a laugh, since I did find the scene quite funny.
"Now go to sleep," was all he said- philosophy shot down by more obvious needs.

I admit that I don’t like my job, or what it represents. Not to imply there are not others who have felt the same, but what I dislike most is my having to change each day to suit the morning commute, this face of drones not thinking much past what is required, which in this case would be the immediacy of their lifetimes. Perhaps to expect more is asking too much. I don’t deny that, but I feel, in a sense, more solitary and pulled unevenly into two parts: the planetary self that faces its uncreative mornings, and the evening self that turns away. I prefer to retire each night early, so my mind can shift into the world of dream, and make shapes from shadows, where things go sometimes uncontrolled however unpredictably, but ultimately reach some memory of it by morning.

When I was young the world was a big intelligent place. All around me were products made by minds I would never meet. Ideas built upon another- like houses or neighborhoods, they filled the books upon the shelves. Who made the shelves? And who thought carpeting would work best upon a bedroom floor? All around me existed these products as proof that life lived and bloomed before me. And it will go on once I am gone. People say this- that they know such to be true, but I realized it first as a child, once I was old enough to think and find patterns to pick apart. Cars were everywhere, motored and fueled, and then there were lamps, and plumbing, and a means to climb over gorges and steep ravines- people before me had thought that all up too.

But now that I am old I see how the world is not so big and not so smart. People know each other. They build pasts and remember them. They obsess over the arbitrary. They fall into some part of history and remain there, while their lives get a whole lot smaller. Each day a temporary sun fills the sky, and the tides ebb till they reach the bases of feet, only to sigh back inward towards the pit of self, this sea and all its inhabitants, arriving as objects tossed under a mizzle of rain - toy boats abandoned, pink plastic cups once used for girlhood teas whose recall has long been sucked and taken out to sea, they are now tossed within a whorl of wreckage and salted swallowing of biting weeds. All wash among the waves. They wash, and will always wash, as this observer, this one collector, collects all mind and still walks.

Lone creator climbing ever upward to those places uninformed by most, that place of artistic elation and specialness believed to be sieved through clouds, how easy it is for the artistic mind to tilt upwards towards it, intoxicated by the juices of thought. But there was a time when I did not know this place. Perhaps a slighted part of myself did know, but such was not something that came to show itself regularly. I was immersed in the momentary patterns of my youth- riding bikes and finding shells and stones, collecting all I could and storing them in jars, naming them as parts of my pasts that, should I chose to excavate those same jars out from below some basement floor, how I’d find myself there in the ravine once more. In kindergarten I was shy and spoke little. It was there when I first learned how to steal. I can remember taking small trinkets from the toy bins and stuffing them into my pull up socks- a plastic hippopotamus, a small gray cat. When it was naptime, the teacher would walk me to my cot and lay me down, and I would keep that part of myself hidden- that spot that held the thing I had taken and made my own. Once the lights were out I would pull the charm from my cloth crevice and hold it in my hand, not in any act of rebellion, but because I wanted it as my own and nothing more.

Lessons, I thought, were boring. I was given a workbook with a red cover, and once I finished that, my motivation was that I’d have to move onto the one that was blue. This in itself was not enough to satisfy. A few girls I was a friend with were mid-way through the blue already, but I was still in the beginning pages of the red. For a long time I was only on page seven, and I would sit at my desk, pretending to look busy while the teacher looked on, as I took an eraser and scraped my old answers clean, only to rewrite them again in pencil. They must have been written over at least a half dozen times. I don’t know why I never moved past page seven- I think that maybe there was some instruction I did not understand, but it was not in my nature to ask for advice. Instead I just ignored it and flipped to the next page, only to see that what resided there was not any more interesting, and so I flipped the page back. For a long time, page seven is where my work ceased. Then I got into trouble. My mother was called. I got some bad grades.
"She doesn’t appear to be doing her work," the teacher would say.

"I don’t appear to be doing lots of things," I would have said if I owned the means. Instead I was instructed to a corner, where I’d sit for a while as my mother and the teachers talked, chewing on my twisted up shirt. I sat that afternoon for what felt like a good while, and noticed a small spider up in the nearby corner. It lingered above the doorway, in the far-off crack, begging me to keep its location secret. I watched the spider as it sat motionless, as did I- the two of us very much aware of the other’s presence. Normally I might have screamed, but on this day I did not care. That day I kept the spider a secret from those around me, knowing that should the door open with just enough force, such a quake could surely stir such small a beast well within its webs of trapped life and time, only to dance upon the head of some parent coming in to retrieve her child. I sat there and watched in quiet rebellion. I did that a lot, in fact. I’m sure too, that they thought these patterns were something sure to change with age. But with age, my behavior did not improve, but with age I came to understand it. I began to read the biographies of other artists, and could see that they had experienced in some way or other, things quite similar to mine, where they too were forced to balance the interpretations of themselves with those around them. And never once did they seem to coincide. At least with me they didn’t.

The spider builds, however intricately, and invades all space around it by its delicate extension of legs. Often in an afternoon I’d have a friend of mine crush a cockroach only enough to make it wiggle, and we’d watch as he threw the bug onto the sticky thread. To our surprise, the spider would not jump immediately, but hesitate a bit, waiting while the roach writhed itself into a permanent wrap. Then she would trickle her legs over and pounce her plump body upon it, draining all fuel and function from its form, existing now only for her need. I wondered then about all the life that had ever passed though those silvered webs, only to be eaten under the light of the sun. Later, I’d see the web had been abandoned and full of holes. Parts still stuck to my fingers without my trying, and the very weariness of the strands appeared like old ghosts. My fingers appeared to have dissolved in the strands, became the filaments themselves. For a moment I existed not as myself, but only as a solitary hand set against the fibers of another time. A hand could be something short of a god to this spider who, having long since expired, existed as something outside of time. I tried to imagine it, what this spider’s life was like, and then the thought was gone, having fleeted far as the strands themselves, now obstructed by old winds and whatever leaves remain from last season.

A spider is, for most its life, solitary. With the exception of prey falling into its web, the spider remains alone in its hunt. Even after mating, the males are either eaten or just go away. A web, to the spider, becomes its own landscape, one that however willingly or not, is in no position of preventing the toil needed to maintain it, or the myriad occurrences that can come to destroy it. They too, are not immune to predators.

I sat there, within the younger part of myself, chewing my shirt till damp, chewing till my mother came and got me. All these thoughts of course did not arise till much later, years later when, in a melancholic state of under appreciation I’d attempt to recall, and change this ghost from memory into something with pulse. I do not know why it is that an artist feels the need to pull backwards, or to be looked at as something outside of his own flesh, wishing to become visible only though ideas and not through one’s mere functions alone. To exist, not blindly but openly and full of sight, full of the will to wander the inner world of the solitary self, and all planets and places between. Self-examination can become a place unto itself, and the artful mind, with the ability to force introspection upon the world, can easily be despised for it. No one wants to travel to places they don’t wish to go, or notice necessarily the world through a different shade of eyes. We accept instead, that it is easier to remain buried below dirt too thick for thought to enter, and never admit to the flesh of bugs that we know can crawl over the bones of even the most accomplished women and men.
The birds are back. I drowse and hear them hurrying by.

© Jessica Schneider Jan 2007

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