We have often talked about the duality of human nature. Left and Right. Male and Female. Urban versus Rural. Ying and Yang. Yet the concept may be a bit more complex than the simple terms we use to illustrate them with. That is the thought I kept recalling as I read Zack Metcalfe’s novella Bring Clouds to the Kingdom.
Page 1-2 Prints in the Snow
Two men walk through the snow. Before and behind them is evergreen growth, mountains and biting cold. They wear thick coats woven from layers of lion hide and the dense fur is pulled and pushed by the wind.
A footprint in the snow, leading toward the mountain in the north.
He kneels over the print and sees five toes. He waves over the other man, who likewise kneels and sees.
“Do you think Abraham was here?” one asks.
“Who else would be in this wretched place without shoes?” replies the other.
They stand and one addresses a metal box strapped to his waist. On it is a button, a light and a bell. The button is pressed once and seconds later, the bell rings seven times. They nod to one another, then continue north, following the prints.
These prints, mostly snowed over, are difficult to follow. North is their only guidepost. The mountains grow taller as the men approach and the wind sometimes throws back their hoods. Snow gets into their coats and boots, quickly melting and soaking their skin. One man trips and the other stops to help.
The faint howling of wolves is carried to them in the wind. They both go still . . .
Another howl comes, this one closer.
Another howls, this one farther.
Metcalfe has written a complex and detailed story here about not only climate change but also one which explores human nature. The plot deals with two men pulled from time and placed in the future where the world is dying and sorrows are universal. One man builds an empire, using bricks, mortar and manipulation to gain and keep his power. The other gathers what life still exists to build a kingdom of greenery and harmony. This two visions bitterly contrast each other on what is left of the Earth.
At the tree line, observing this network of tents, is Assir. He is thinner and dirtier than he has ever been, and his feet are bloody. Exposing his pale skin to the fullness of the sun hurts him.
He moves with the utmost calm, so much so he is overlooked by the labouring masses, who themselves are better cleaned, better fed and better focused. He joins them under the tents and watches them mix the sand with charcoal and mud.
People pass him, bush shoulders with him, without seeing the wretch of a man in their midst, his lips cracked from thirst and eyes red with exhaustion. Digging tools and potted plants are exchanged among the people with such routine that a flower is accidentally thrust into Assir’s hands. The force of the exchange nearly knocks him down, but he remains upright, his gaze fixed in front of him, his thoughts lost in a dream.
Slowly, he looks down at the flower. It’s small, with two wax green leaves and yellow petals spotted with orange. The soil in which it lies is marginally darker than the sand and is wrapped in dried seaweed.
This fragile example of life weighs on Assir, more in mind than in body. He looks again at the masses of people . . . and collapses.
Metcalfe has certainly created a novella with deep ideals wrapped up inside a narrative. It is a complex story but one when an honest reader completes it, will ponder carefully some of the thoughts and images in it. And that is what a good narrative should be about.
“Conquest and war and the horrors they bring about are . . . simple. They are the refuge of cowards and bullies and bastards. To survive and live in harmony with the world . . . requires the greatest courage of all. To create life rather than destroying it is . . . godlike.” Assir cranes his neck and observes the young forest surrounding them. “This forest and the people who built it have worth. You and I . . .have none. You’ve abandoned your moral compass in despair and enabled these murderers. I beg you to find it again.”
Zack Metcalfe’s novella Bring Clouds to the Kingdom may be a complex read but it is one with concepts and ideas worth considering. It does what good literature should do.