Saturday, 17 May 2008

In honour of Dr Who

A youth goes down into one of the myriad bottomless wells sunk into the surface of Mars. These wells seem to date from tens of thousands of years ago, but the strange thing is every last one was carefully dug to avoid hitting any water veins. No one had any idea why they were dug. And, in fact, the Martians left nothing behind but these wells. Not writing nor dwellings nor pottery, not steel nor graves nor rockets nor streets nor vending machines, not even shells. Only wells. All of which left the earthlings somewhat baffled. Could this indeed be called a civilisation? Although they had to admit the wells were fashioned with consummate skill - not one block was out of place after tens of thousands of years.

Of course, many explorers went down the wells. The shafts were so deep and the side tunnels so long that those who tethered themselves by ropes all had to turn back. Of those who went down without ropes, not one ever returned.

One day, a young space vagabond took the plunge. He was tired of the vastness of space and wanted only to die were no one would ever find him. Yet the further down he went the more light-hearted he began to feel. A wondrous energy gently enveloped his body. Over half a mile down the shaft, he headed off into a side-tunnel and followed its snaking course aimlessly. He lost all track of how long he had walked. His watch had stopped along the way. Perhaps it’d been two hours, perhaps two days. He experienced neither hunger nor fatigue, only that mysterious energy that had engulfed him at first.

Then, at one point, he suddenly felt a ray of sunlight. The tunnel had led into another well shaft. He managed to crawl up the shaft and back out to the surface of the planet. Sitting on the edge of the well, he gazed across the vast, unobstructed expanse of the Martian desert, then up at the sun. Something was different. The scent of the breeze, the sun…. The sun was still high in the sky, yet it shone orange, a giant lump the colour of the setting sun.

"In another at 250,000 years the sun will explode," the breeze whispered to him. "Click….. Off. 250,000 years. Hardly much time now, is it?"

"Oh, don't mind me," the voice continued. "Just the wind. Call me a Martian if you like. Not a bad ring to it, that. Granted, words are less than nothing to me."

"But, you're speaking."

"Me? You're the one speaking. I'm only slipping hints into your mind."

"And the sun? What's happened to the sun?"

"Gotten old. It's dying. Not a thing you or I can do.”

“But why so suddenly….?”

"Not sudden at all. It took you a good 15 billion years to make your way through the wells. Your kind has a saying, I believe: Time flies like an arrow. The well passages you came through where dug to curve occur along the warp of time. You see, we are wanderers through time - from the birth of the universe to its death. The winds we are."

"One question, then, if I might."

"My pleasure."

"Have you learned anything?"

The air stirred briefly, a laugh in the breeze. And once again eternal stillness fell over the Martian landscape. The youth took the pistol out of his pocket, pointed the muzzle and his temple, and pulled the trigger.

- The Wells of Mars, by Derek Heartfield (as told in Hear the Wind Sing, Haruki Murakami)

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