Many years ago, making his name as a woodsman turned builder, there was a man revered by all. Those who knew him would insist that one day he would be held on high as the most capable creator who ever lived. Townships that might be fleetingly glimpsed in the dreams of lesser men were realised by his hand - from the simplest sketch to the immovable structures of stick and stone, his tools were wielded with the deftest elegance.
On a night just like any other, the Creator found himself in a tavern throwing back wine and pouring a cup for any who joined him, spitting jovial anecdotes for his companions into the early hours. The inn remained open as long as there were still men to drink their ale, and the man was far from finished, though as much could not be said for what remained of his party. He drank half the men under the table, and the other half were dragged home by tired wives repaying his generosity with scornful stares. Entering into something of a scuffle with his jacket, the Creator readied himself for home when a spindly gentleman entered. He was a waif of a man, slim and barely upright, looking less like he had walked in, more blown by the wind. Cloaked and hooded, he sloped toward the bar by the aid of his cane, which seemed every bit as crooked as the old man’s back. The Barkeep asked his order and was met with a shivering, bony finger.
He coughed the word and shifted back his black hood to reveal an overgrown grey beard and two sunken eyes which touched everything and nothing with their silver pigment. The colour had washed out of them along with his sight.
The beer was served and the Barkeep heaved his chest impatiently as the Stranger failed to produce a coin to pay. Moments later he went to eject the penniless elder when the Creator spoke up.
Make it two.
Muttering curses beneath his breath, the Barkeep grudgingly pulled a second and set them on the bar. Two coins were flicked toward the bar and landed near enough for the barkeep to gather his payment.
The Creator demanded and the old man duly obliged, grasping the flagons and following the rap of fingers on oak to find the table. A chair was kicked out and the pair sat together, wordless for a time.
I know who you are.
The Stranger spoke, and went on to comprehensively detail the Creator’s achievements. His voice was weak but his tone suggested a poison sharpness. After a while the Creator became agitated, impatiently stating that he would know better than anybody what it was he had done. The old man laughed and drew a broken breath.
But do you know whether you should?
The Stranger struck a sore nerve with that slight. The Creator was a man so sure in himself he could not comprehend that there were any aspect of his craft that he had not considered. He thumped the table and abruptly stood, spilling his beer in the process. All the while the near-blind man stared impassively at nothing in particular. A fool’s pride seemed to grip the Creator as he staggered to the exit, spinning him about and placing him back in the face of the elder.
I will make you a wager.
The Creator went on to challenge the Stranger, as he would any other who questioned his ability, demanding that he compete with him in a display of skill. Asserting that his talents knew no equal, he even would allow the old man to choose the task.
The old man answered, and with the same breath declared they will compete to build the tallest building. Whichever stands the highest one year from today will be the winner, and the other shall excuse himself from this place in shame.
It was autumn and the trees kindly bared their bones. Two plots of land were cleared at the edge of the town, side by side and overlooking everything the Creator had created. Week after week they set set about their tasks. The younger of the pair planned as he built, and the elder simply sat and stared up toward the sky with his failing eyes; and all the while his plot remained untended. Come the end of the red season, the Creator had the foundations of his structure set in place, but the Stranger had yet to lift a withered finger.
By winter the Creator had the skeletal frame of something massive, and planned to extend it further. He built throughout what short days he could, boasting of an evening that it would be the most magnificent sight in all the land. In this time the old man had walked out beyond the edge of the township and disappeared. Many presumed the worst, only to see him return after a fortnight rolling a big, flat rock. It looked like the belly of a fat man made of stone; it was even indented where the belly button would be. He would only move a few yards a day, and despite his advancing years, the townsfolk had little aid to offer beside whispers of his madness. As winter withdrew its icy reach the Creator was already close to dwarfing the highest existing structure, while the Stranger simply sat and rested, this time atop the huge stone he had laboured to move for so long.
Spring arrived and it saw the Creator thaw his tools and sharpen his instinct. His hand-crafted immensity blossomed all at once. The windows, walls, doors & floors erupted in a sheer reach of greystone for strength and brownwood for stability. The clouds gathered to welcome its upper echelons to the sky, and within days waved a cheery farewell as the Creator reached onwards and upwards. The elderly man disappeared once again, and upon his return he added another stone, only half the size of the original. His meagre structure now stood tall as a man, and once more he climbed upon it and waited. He did little else for the remainder of the season, but each day he would ask the gathering crowd if the Creator continued. In truth he had built so high no-one was entirely sure, though they still saw pulleys yank timber and tablet high beyond their capacity to gaze, and every week or so the Creator would return to reload his apparatus with fresh building materials. Exhausted as he was, the Creator still found the energy to sneer at his challenger’s feeble effort. The throng of onlookers implored him to give up and show mercy to the old man, but when the invitation to bow out was extended, the Stranger simply asked again whether the Creator continued.
Summer reddened the flesh of pale men, but the face of the Creator had remained rosy since his offer to concede had been rejected by the Stranger. Incensed, he raged on with his task, working tirelessly day and night to reach beyond the highest heights, vowing not to stop until the Gods would look up at what he had built. As the anniversary of their wager grew closer, the Stranger had been seen to flick a handful of pebbles up toward the top of his stone idol. Some landed and others rolled off the side, or missed entirely, but the near-blind builder seemed to care little. With but a day to go the Creator returned to the ground, thirsty and weak, but otherwise triumphant. The entire town gathered as the pair presented the efforts of their year-long labour.
The Creator paraded back and forth, taunting his opponent to turn his head upwards and look upon his defeat. The Stranger instead gestured to his own handiwork and stated he need only look as high as a man’s face to see what he is capable of. The Creator almost double over with laughter, and his chorus of mockery was taken up by the townsfolk. They pointed scornfully and spoke over one another with talk of the Creator’s excellence and the Stranger’s madness. Then at once it began to snow.
Looking upwards there was not a cloud in the sky. In truth the sun shone more brightly than it had ever done, but sure enough the softest flakes of white dissolved upon the heads and shoulders of everyone gathered.
The Creator walked around the left of his structure with a look of dumbstruck fascination plastered across his face, returning from the right etched only with terror. At once the townsfolk know what a fool he had been. He had built too close to the sun and now the titan burned from above, laying it’s ashes atop them. Before they could flee to their homes the first stone fell and planted through a roof, then another collapsed the entire front wall of a quaint riverside cottage. The ashes had settled and kissed the top of what remained of the town, but only played the role of precursor to the rain of fire which hailed down from above. From the hillside where they had competed they could see the whole of the town set ablaze. Nothing escaped, and right through the night the fires raged on. Finally the tower fell and flattened out everything still barely-standing in a pile of white-hot rubble.
The dawn broke and the townsfolk returned to the broken relics of their homes. The Creator remained on the hillside to look over his legacy, shivering in the shadow of the Stranger’s structure, which now stood tallest of all the buildings in the town.
New single ‘Burning’ released June 11th on Fierce Panda Records
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