An Accounting of The Rampant Lands By Rita Tagey-
I’ve been here for about a year now and this is the first time I’ve written anything, because I finally have something to write about. Sure, if I wanted to tell stories about lunatics, slobs, bastards, and various other people going absolutely nowhere, I’d have volumes of notebooks. That’s not what I came here to explore though. I came to find the reasons behind the term “Overnight Shift”. I was beginning to have fears that those wine soaked morons were those reasons.
I remember thinking about names when I first came upon a place I will call The Enclave. I was thinking about how strange it was that so many of us, and those who came before us changed their names when they reach The Rampant Lands. They’re cowards who are far too afraid of what they’ll do without eyelids constantly dictating what they do with blinks and squints. It’s as if they honestly believe that they think their actions will be forgotten or ignored because they were done by some silly moniker.
The truth is that they’ll most likely betray that fake name anyways. I can’t believe that my experience is only mine when it comes to the endless boasts and stories told by those who come home. They’re all just too stupid to observe that it’s those regurgitated days are what caused them to need a pseudonym anyways. It’s a ridiculous cycle that all starts with names.
I refuse to change my name during my time here. Nor, do I think I’ll ever take on another even when I take that return trip across the sea. I’ve earned my name and while it doesn’t define me I have no qualms about it being used to identify me. I want my deeds known by all who are curious enough to explore them. Unlike everyone else, I am not afraid of what these years will do to my reputation.
There are some who don’t change their names like me, but not like me. They have no concept of nobility or honor when it comes to their decision. It’s pride and that above all else terrifies me. They are convinced that there will be a reward at the end of this. A trophy for the most virginities taken, or most nights washed away by distilled tides. There will be blue ribbons for all of them as they shuffle into treatment facilities.
I’ve known my fair share of these sociopaths even before I was sent to The Rampant Lands. Some of them are part of my family, some are members of friends’ families, to be completely honest I’ve given up on distinguishing them. All I know is that they are a burden and maybe they should’ve considered being a falsely named coward. Maybe then, they’d have the humility needed to put these damned years behind them and act accordingly.
I know the reason I was thinking about names was because I had just heard of something called The Veiled Mainstreet. I’m convinced that when this fragile race of ours begins to really fall into oblivion, it’s because those monsters decided to migrate. I was convinced that if they were forced to show their real faces and use their given names, the ones that will follow them, that street would actually be something to see.
It wasn’t too long after I made it to the other side that I ran into The Enclave. The first revealed themselves to be with a tiny fire down in a hollow on the side of a hill. From above I remember feeling like I was looking down on another dimension. I know that it sounds silly and I feel pretty stupid about characterizing it like that, but I haven’t quite found a better way to describe it.
They looked like normal people, their clothes weren’t out of the ordinary, the echoes I heard convinced me that they didn’t speak a secret language. Yet when I gazed at them, it seemed as if I was watching escaped subjects fleeing a painter’s masterpiece, only to frame themselves somewhere else.
I’ve never really been into art. I recognize it’s place and the skill needed to create it, but I can’t help but think of children whenever I see a painting or sculpture. It’s like people took the task that teachers used to shut us up and turned it into a passion. Maybe if I didn’t have that thought, I wouldn’t think of art as so silly. If only it were possible to remove thoughts.
I considered that by approaching these people I’d be violating something. I even considered just moving on completely and trying to forget about this living painting. But, I told myself long before I got on the boat that I wouldn’t be afraid to violate things. I have a question that has to be answered and I can’t be held back by the idea of offending others. So I walked down to them.
My feet crunched the bits of dried grasses and stone as I approached. They saw me coming from farther away then I had hoped they would, but being stealthy was only a secondary and disposable desire. Their fire flickered and glowed the way all fires do and the closer I got to them the more the painterly facade fell away. I don’t think I hid my intentions at all, but it wasn’t until I sat down in their circle that I was even acknowledged.
There were five of them. One was very loud, one very quiet. Two who talked mostly to each other and one more that spoke to anyone who’d listen. It was like a fucking nursery rhyme. They each said hello to me, each in a different way that had to have been rehearsed. The greetings were too clean and were soaked in the stench of repetition.
They conversed among themselves casually, about topics that never got close to the realm of interesting. I noticed something though, each one of them would glance up towards the sky from time to time. I didn’t understand what they were looking for, the only thing to be seen was the darkening sky another thing that could be experienced anywhere. For a moment I was scared that I had once again stumbled onto another group that didn’t understand anything and were content with wasting every damned second of their time.
But, I was there, I figured I’d might as well spend the night. Even if they were hellbent on indulging in the mundane at least I’d be one step closer to understanding The Overnight Shift. I would just have to come to terms with the truth that maybe the people I had been to keen on understanding and exploring were not very interesting in the first place. It’d be difficult at first, but who knows where I’d go without that anchor around my ankles.
When the moon finally reached it’s apex, something happened. I don’t mean for that to sound ominous and vague but there’s really no other singular word that can describe it. All at once, the people around the fire stood and went off to places I couldn’t quite see. They returned with various objects and materials. There were canvases, paints, paper, pens, radios, ribbons, and drums. They spent only a small amount of time setting up, once again it reeked of repetition.
One by one, they took center stage. The first one painted a painting, the next danced, then two sang a song, and the last one wrote a poem and read it. They alternated performing then absorbing. That repetitive stench wasn’t there though, it was a bouquet of practice and talent. They truly lived for what they were doing. They wanted to share freely and once the giving had ceased they once again talked.
“Your arms looked like petals coloring the wind. But Lucas’ dance last week was like spring itself.”
“Yeah, you’re right, it could’ve been better. Now, your poem was amazing, but maybe Lucas can show you how to use alliteration more effectively.”
It went on like this. They’d compliment each other then proceed to tell them in one way or the other that whatever they had done or created, this Lucas had done it better or knew how to improve it. Yet, for the life of me I couldn’t figure out which one of them was Lucas. And for the life of me I had to know.
I asked directly at first, even though i had a feeling that these were not the types to give me a straight answer and like usual I was forced to be disappointed in being right. Instead of simply telling me about Lucas, I was bombarded with more cryptic praise. By the end of that first night all I knew about this man was that “He holds knowledge that goes beyond the books of home” “He creates with every inch of his body, and his creations demand an equal response from yours”.
I was annoyed with the unsettling admiration for this faceless man through and through. But, the fuse to my curiosity had been lit and I was determined to see it either fizzle out unceremoniously or destroy me completely. It was sometime before I fell asleep that first night, that I decided I would stay until I had a chance to meet Lucas myself.
Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t have an idea of my own shortcomings. In fact, I’ve often believed that my acute observations of the world around me, whatever form it takes, are only trumped by complete understandings of the things I need to improve on. Among these things is surely stubbornness. It’s this trait that kept me with The Enclave for longer than I should have. Night after night I went through the routine and never once did I feel like I was getting closer to meeting Lucas.
I could feel myself growing angry at this stalemate and to ease this, I sought solace in the other members of The Enclave. I’m not sure if there was a moment interesting enough to mention as a beginning of my integration. Instead, all that should be known is that I was soon aware of who these people were beyond the offerings they gave to that bastard Lucas. One used to be a dancer, and two had spouses long gone. One still believed entirely in love and the other was on their way to becoming a radical. We spent the days telling stories from home,some true and some complete lies, and interacting briefly with others who passed by before quietly disregarding them. Not because they did anything wrong, they just hadn’t come around the right time to ever be more than a fleeting amusement.
At night, the offerings continued. Having never met Lucas I was only able to participate in small percentages of it, but it felt like that was enough to open up full membership to me. As the nights went on, I refrained from giving any “gifts” of my own. I couldn’t bring myself to be held in comparison to a ghost. It didn’t take long for me to know how this worked and I refused to accept that something intangible would best me at anything. I still believe that.
The amount of time I spent with The Enclave isn’t really important. What is though, is that there was a change in my mind and I eventually began to believe that my time was being well spent. There was something about interacting with these people who convinced me that there was good being done and even if our voices never reached over the next hill, the world was better because of us. Then, just like I had to happen, I forgot all about meeting Lucas. That’s when he came to me.
The night’s normal festivities came to an end and we had laid ourselves down to sleep. As much time as we spent together, when it came time to rest we would all go off to find a spot removed from each other. For the few hours that we spent in isolation from each other we truly were in different dimensions. I heard the sound of someone approaching, one solid footfall followed by a shuffling noise like a leg being dragged.
I opened my eyes, curious as to who would be willing to leave their world and invade mine. Above me stood a man, shorter than I thought he’d be. A cloth-covered one of his eyes and a single soft hand was outstretched towards me. I had never seen this man before, but of course I knew who it was. I took his hand and allowed him to pull me up to stand with him. He didn’t speak but as he began to walk I followed him.
We walked away from The Enclave. I noticed how he limped as he walked, I almost felt compelled to help him as we travelled, but I remembered that my curiosity in the man had become something closer to disdain as the people I considered my friends tore themselves apart in his name. It didn’t take us long to reach where he resided, which oddly enough looked just like where The Enclave gathered.
He took a seat and motioned for me to join him. There was no ceremony or preamble, he simply began to speak. The topics were his choice, although he was gracious enough to allow me time to say what I wanted to on each one, before controlling the conversation again. At first I attempted to compete with him, pushing forward the best points I could even though some of the topics didn’t require a debate and to give Lucas credit he listened to me and would build on from my words, except by the end of that topic he had somehow dismantled my foundation and replaced it with a monument. Eventually, I surrendered to him and counted myself lucky to just hear him.
I think maybe, that night, I was in love. There’d be moments that came afterwards that I would feel convinced of love, but before the sun rose I was sure that there was something there between us that could be considered love, but it was ours and only ours so maybe I can’t call it love because that’s something that’s shared by many. Whatever it was we had, it was enough to lead us to making love together. Afterwards I left and returned to The Enclave, Lucas said a few more words to me, but I didn’t understand the language he spoke as I walked away.
When the next night came I stood and told my friends a story. I spoke loudly and clearly, hoping that maybe wherever Lucas was at that moment he’d hear it, know why I created it and approved. I then stood there awaiting the fulfillment of my gift.
“Beautiful story, yet the world was not as vivid as one Lucas once told.”
We had not shared any fiction when I laid with Lucas, but I knew they were right when they told me this criticism. I thought about whatever else I could offer them in coming nights and imagined what the comments would be and knew that they would be right as well. I had inserted myself into a loop that I would come to love and find comfort in if I stayed any longer.
By the next morning, The Enclave would not see me, ever again.