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"And This Shall Pass" (Part 4) - The Fruits of Knowledge
Part 4 The Fruits of Knowledge
“Knowledge” was emblazoned across the arched gateway. Ada glared at it. What a waste of a word, he thought. He noticed the crack – the only visible damage to the arch – which ran through the K. It seemed only fitting.
His gaze fell to the half-open wrought-iron gate and courtyard immediately behind it. The courtyard – better known as the Garden – was lush and wild. It resembled a wilderness rather than a few square acres of land separating the Grand Library from its outer, fortified walls. The flowers blossomed, the grass blades gathered silvery orbs of rain droplets, and the lone and mighty fruit tree was laden down with fruits. This place was alive in a dead town. Or, for what it matters, a dead island-continent.
The Garden, along with its lone fruit tree, was enticing. But, Ada wasn’t there for it. The prize, the very thing that started this apocalyptic war between At-Land’s two powerful tribes was in there. Thus, he entered the grounds and sauntered onto the walkway that meandered through the Garden to the base of the library’s steps.
His shoulder brushed against a fruit dangling over the walkway. Considering he had little to eat since he started his trek, he was tempted by it. His mouth watered as he turned his attention to it. He cupped one fruit in his hand. But, one thing prevented him from pulling it off the branch.
“He who takes hold of the fruit of the tree of Garden, shall endure the bitter taste of knowledge,” he murmured. It was an old saying, something he was taught in school when he was a child so many years ago, and through his military training.
Knowledge was a dangerous thing, as he was told. If not used wisely, it made you fall out of line. It made you skirt your duties. Most of all, it forced you to do something even more dangerous: think outside the paradigm of society and question everything.
The only place for knowledge was in the Grand Library and its property, where it was protected by a select few (sometimes called guardian angels), and dispensed to only a handful within the two nations of At-land who knew how to regulate its power.
Only the fruit tree was the most visible item to the outside world. Thus, it held a special reverence among the population. Also, it was near the entrance to the place that possessed all the knowledge –both good and bad – that had ever existed.
Ada glanced at the steps and the massive, splintered doors of the library. People like him were never meant to get this far during time of peace. But, here he was at its doorstep, still devoted to an order (now dead) to obtain the very thing that was inside it and bring it back to a select few who wanted to utilize its power and wisdom for their own use.
Perspiration beaded his forehead. Thoughts fluttered through his head at a dizzying rate. Somebody who had no business in the past being near this place was now at the base of the steps. He was now going to become one of the selected few.
After a moment of rumination, he whispered to himself: “Victory.”
But it was not a mantra. It was personal. He took the first step and let the fruit dangle on its branch.
Ada opened its heavy black and gold cover and turned it to the table of contents. There, he saw a list of names of those who helped to make civilization.
The Grand Library was not so grand, anymore. The massive oak doors were peppered with shrapnel and barely hanging onto the hinges. The stone masonry was not spared, either. It was pot-marked and exposed of its vulnerability. Nearby, crouched along the wall, was the tattered body of a member of the guard unit that was affectionately known as the Guardian Angels. His eyes were wide open, frozen as if he was fearfully watching and guarding against the onslaught that eventually consumed him.
He must have seen it coming, Ada thought as he peered at him. Another thought came to mind: even in death the angel was still vigilant.
Ada walked passed the guard and entered the premise through a slight opening between the doors. There, he stepped over another fallen guardian angel. He made his way and stopped when the interior revealed itself to him.
The Grand Library held all the knowledge of humanity. Yet, here it was, wasted, gutted and abused. A sickness swirled in his stomach as he saw the blueprint of humanity scattered and burned throughout main room.
The culprit was obvious. Portions of the ceiling had caved in. It had to be an errant bomb. No one on both sides would have dared to purposely destroy the Grand Library – that was sacrilegious. But, collateral damage was inevitable in times of war. But, that notion was no less uncomfortable for Ada than if it was done intentionally.
He held back the bile that was trying escape from his throat. He managed this small feat. He had to, for one notion was quickly re-taking his line of thought. Hopefully, he wondered, the one item that mattered had been spared.
He meandered his way through the carnage, searched the various rooms and chambers, and climbed the steps of the remaining spires. All the while he tried to make certain sense of it all while at the same time he searched – and hoped – to find the most important book of all.
Finally, in an undamaged dais in the far end of the library, he found what he was looking for. And when Ada saw it, he trembled with delight and awe at its presence.
The Book of Life and Reason (Or simply known as “The Book”) was cordoned off and locked in a cage. The ancient, hard-bound monstrosity was the length and width of a person. The outer edges of the pages were laced with gold. Diamonds and rubies adorned the book cover. It gave the book a bright luster in the ample light that managed to stab through the clouds and flood into the hole in the roof.
For the first time that day, Ada brought his rifle up to firing position and aimed it at the lock to the book’s fortification. The single shot did its job. He pushed the barred gate open and rushed to the book.
Ada opened its heavy black and gold cover and turned it to the table of contents. There, he saw a list of names of those who helped to make civilization. There was Baba, Confus, Momond, Jesu, Vish; the names went on. Not only were they the architect of his culture, they were the creator of conscience. He was in awe as he slowly turned the heavy, shimmering pages.
But, as his fascination with the book fueled his curiosity, something else from the deepest part of his psyche was attempting to rise. Soon, that concept overpowered fascination and curiosity.
Finally, he came to a line: “And This Shall Pass.” He read aloud and the words seem to make everything else feel empty.
“Now what?” he said in a low tone.
The book was big and cumbersome. How was anyone going to move it and bring it back to his capital city on the North end of At-land? Then again, did his capital exist, anymore?
What was it good for when all there was left was one to read it?
He couldn’t read anymore. For first time, he felt the pain of loneliness. He was the last of the line – a revelation he couldn’t deny. There was nobody but him to read this material and dispense its wisdom. Sure, he had reached the book and “secured” it. But why? The victory was hollow.
He hung his head low. He had been programmed for so long to follow orders. Now, he was lost. The mission was over. Civilization was over. Order was over. Now what?
But, in the midst of his self-agonizing realization, a book on one of the few standing book racks exploded. Ada automatically went to soldier-mode as the bullet’s ricochet sounded off on the nearby wall. He jumped for cover and readied his weapon.
One thought escaped his mind: the war is not over.
Another shot was fired. This time the bullet drove into the wall above Ada. The shot was close, but the enemy just made a blunder. He was able to zero in on the area where the shooter was.
He returned fire in the direction that the shot came. Chunks of marble erupted from a column near the entrance. Ada caught a glimpse of someone pulling a gun away from it.
He heard the enemy scurry through the rubble. Ada gritted his teeth. He’d have to pursue. He leapt to his feet and began zigzagging through the library, shooting and ducking under any form of cover he could find.
The enemy did the same. Thus, the two engaged in a truculent dance of music created by ricochets, muzzle flashes, and cracks and crashes. And it kept going without any thought or reason, except to make the kill and be the last person standing.
But this dance had to stop. Ada was running out of bullets, fast. And, he needed to find shelter somewhere else. He saw his opportunity, a hole in the wall near the Garden. From a crouched position, he jumped up, ran as hard as he could, and flew through the opening. He hit the grass, hard and rolled over onto his back. His lungs burned and his muscles ached. The fire-fight lasted only a few minutes, yet it felt like an eternity. And, he knew it wasn’t over.
He gathered what little strength he had and pushed himself up from the grass. As he did so he caught a glimpse of a black-clad individual emerging from the library.
There was no place to hide; however, if there was, Ada was beyond hiding. He wanted this fight to end. Besides that, the enemy had not spotted him, yet.
He brought his rifle up and aimed. At this time, the enemy saw this and stopped. Ada pulled the trigger. Click! The gun was empty. He had exhausted his bullets in the fire-fight. Now, it was the enemy’s turn. Ada came to the realization that death was indeed coming for him in the form of an enemy enveloped in a pilot’s uniform and helmet.
Now with all the confidence, the enemy raised the rifle and trained it on Ada. The trigger was pulled. Click!
“The Gods have intervened!” Ada hissed. He charged, the bayonet leading the way. The enemy did so, likewise. The two clashed. The enemy slashed Ada’s arm. Despite the pain and flowing blood, Ada returned the favor with a slice to the enemy’s leg.
Ada got the upper hand. He slammed the butt of his rifle into the enemy’s midsection. The soldier keeled over for a moment, but recovered. Still, this gave Ada ample time to make his next move. He swung the rifle with all his might at the enemy’s helmet. The tinted visor shattered and the straps snapped, sending the helmet into brief flight. The enemy fell back into one of the Garden’s heavy brush.
Ada went for the kill. Blind with vengeance, he charged toward the fallen enemy who remained laying in the bush. He readied the bayonet for the final kill. And then, froze.
Ada realized that the enemy had a face. And she was staring at him with big, wide fearful eyes. He dropped his rifle to his side.
The war was over.
The rain clouds cleared. The bright blue sky took over and the sunlight roamed freely upon the jagged landscape of the city.
Ada sat on the steps of the library and watched the darkness of the day finally pass. It was as if this particular day was now starting anew. It had seen the worst of times and it saw the world’s demise. Now, it was time to start over again.
What was that saying, Ada thought, the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end? He came to realize this notion was not quite complete.
“And This Shall Pass,” Ada said under his breath.
The female warrior stirred and craned her head toward Ada. She sat on the far end of the steps near the Garden. She had spent much of the hours after the final battle, transfixed on the ruined city. To Ada, she was still something of a mystery. He had no idea what her name was, let alone if she spoke his language.
Ada knew she heard his words, despite saying it in a low tone. He gave his full attention to his new companion.
“We’re not at war.” He said aloud. “We’re not warring nations anymore. We’re not nations at all. Just two people. We’re back where we started: the Alpha again.”
The female warrior stood. For a moment, he thought she was going to rush him and reignite the battle. Instead, she stared at him with curious blue eyes. Maybe, he wasn’t speaking in babble after all.
Still, the woman remained uncomfortably silent like all good soldiers did.
“It’s okay to speak,” Ada added. “Nobody’s here to jail you for talking to the enemy.”
She didn’t respond.
“You can at least tell me your name.”
Her stance didn’t change and her lips didn’t part.
Not a word, Ada thought. He got to his feet, frustrated: not so much because of her, but because he didn’t know what he was going to do, next or how this person would fit into this new future we was going to face. Was she going to befriend him or be his enemy?
He turned toward the library and began his ascent up the step. Maybe the Book had the answers he needed. It was obvious he had no idea what to do in a world that was suddenly so lonely.
“Eva” She said in a meek voice. Ada barely heard it, but it was enough to register his own response. He turned to her.
Upon seeing the quandary etched in his face, she repeated: “Eva.”
“Ada.” He responded.
He turned direction and headed toward her. They stood before one another, not sure what to do next.
The brief stalemate ended, however, when the pangs of hunger made its presence known with a growl. Embarrassed, Ada laughed, and Eva smiled, forever tearing the wall between the two.
Then, Eva calmly turned away and headed down the stairs to the fruit tree. She pulled two from it and returned to Ada. She extended one to him. It was a peace offering, of sorts.
Despite the rumors of the fruits, Ada accepted it. He came to realize that there were more important things than believing in rumors. For all that mattered, there were other things more important than dogma and faith. This was a place of knowledge – despite how good or bad or powerful it may be. This was a place or reinforcing hope for the future.
Thus, without any more hesitation, Ada consumed the fruit of knowledge.
Inspiration by one word
I'd like to say that this story was a totally original concept. Admittedly, however,there are three sources for this story. The first story of Genesis should be obvious. However, the other sources are not. One story with some similarity was a Twilight Zone episode written by the late, great Richard Mathenson (the author of I Am Legend, among other things). It was entitled "Two" and the two main characters were none other than Adam and Eve.
The other was a 1940s Looney Tunes cartoon that was uncharacteristically serious. The name of the short has eluded me; however, the images are crisp - a war between two powers wage as woodland creatures watch. They eventually see the last two soldiers from each side (dressed in helmet and gas mask) kill one another. Also, the short film used a discarded bible opened to the ten commandments as a key piece.
Still, its inspiration came from a single word from a story I read in high school. It was part of the vocabulary list and I essentially created the story around this particular word. That word is "truculent."
© 2014 Dean Traylor