in Short Story, Writing

The Visitor in Shadows

“Names are powerful things,” the old man said thoughtfully in the silence that followed. Sitting with his legs crossed, his back against the massive tree that shaded him and his dimunitive guest.

“How so?” The young one replied, not offering the name he had been asked for a moment before.

“Names are everything. They hold power over the individual. I use your name and you will react. You will react against your will, as your attention will be taken. They hold power over groups just as well. Use someone else’s name in a certain way, and you can sway entire groups to your line of thinking.”

“But it is just a word,” the young one scoffed. “A spoken word is nothing but air.”

“That is not true,” the old teacher sighed. “Words can harm as well as heal. Words are what binds us to one another, words create connection between individuals, they create relationships, they create societies. Words can be used to destroy the very same things. Words are ideas being shared. Names are the most focused locus of an idea that exists. Your name, for example, is how you define yourself. It is in your core of self.”

“But I can call myself anything.”

“You strain my patience, young one.”

“I can! I can call myself any name I wish. If I introduce myself with a new name enough times, that becomes my name. Criminals do it. Anyone can, if they wish.”

“That is not true. Now you are attempting to redefine a name as a label. A person cannot change their name any more than we can stop a tree from a being a tree. You could call it a bush, but everyone that saw its true nature would know it is still a tree. You could call it anything you want, but that would not change what it is.”

“I am not so sure,” the young one said. “I mean… I could… what if you could change your name?”

“Like truly change it?” The old man looked horrified.

“Yes.”

“It would change your fundamental self in every way. It would change who you are in a way that the mind would not readily accept. You would have to fight for the change, make it a discipline. Because changing your name would subvert all your memories, and all your chains of self. It would be like going through your entire past self and self-editing everything that references your name.”

“You would be a different person.”

“I see it in your eyes, young child. You wish such a thing.” The old man was awed.

“I… uh… yes.” The child looked down and the old man could see the shiver of anticipation, against the balance of waiting, coupled with the unbridled desire to change. “I do not like what I am.”

“Very few do. It is the purpose of life to redefine yourself to what you feel you should be.”

The young one started to weep silently, the tears slowly tracking down cheeks red. “I cannot change myself slowly. It has to be…”

“To change slowly is a metamorphosis, the change ultimately and totally would be a crucible,” the old man said, attempting to dissuade the young one.

“I will always be an abomination,” the young one said. “To change by such a fire would be a blessing.”

“Posh. You are a young child with much to learn. Every person, every creature, has its place. Even you.”

“I do not wish it.”

“I do not wish to be at the end of my years, but I am here. You have to accept it.”

“I do not wish it,” the young repeated adamantly.

The old man sat in silence, and studiously considered the face of the young child seated at his feet. He had never witnessed someone so young so focused on the awareness of self. This was unprecedented.

“Can I ask you what you wish to be?”

“What I am without the pain.”

“You wish to be without pain?” The old man asked.

“As you said, I am just a name. A word. A thing. I can change myself into something… else.”

“To change, yourself, is to twist everything you are. You could die. In fact, death may be certain. You speak of suicide.”

“I did not ask for this.”

“A child is not asked to be born,” the old man replied.

“I… must.” The young one said, his red eyes burning in the shadows of his face.

“The road will be dangerous. I cannot… guarantee your safety.”

“I do not ask for safety. I came to you for help.”

The old man leaned back against his tree, and listened to the birds in far off branches sing their song to the early evening. The mountain on which the two sat faced the setting sun, and the light of orange and red set everything around them alight.

The old man sighed heavily. “No one can explain why pain comes to exist in greater quantities for some more than others. Your pain exists for a reason that I do not understand, yet you sit before me, asking me for something that no one has ever asked of me. I must think on this.”

“How long must you think on this?” The child replied with a measure of hope in his voice.

“I do not know. In the meantime, you can be my helper. Tell me your name, young one.”

“My name is Enon.”

“Enon. A good name. This is what is bound in you, tied up around your consciousness, and in all ways defines you.”

“Such a strange thing,” Enon paused. “I do not feel bound by it. I do not feel like if I were change my name to Enos, it would fundamentally change who I am.”

“It would not. Enon is just a representation of your being to the outside world. Its not the name that changes, young one. It is you. You would change.”

“How can I change? This pain, it eats me. In consumes me in every way. It is in my skin, in my bones, and in every part of me. I feel this rage wrapped up in it. A red fire of insurmountable flame coming down on me in all ways. Everywhere I look I see the pain. I see memories made real. It is…”

“It is temporary. Magic is not. What you seek to do is not temporary.”

“My pain is not temporary.”

“It is not?” The old man squinted tightly as he looked the young one over at length. The child sat sobbing at his feet. Reaching outwards, the old man pulled on the spirit well residing deep in the tree behind him. He sighed heavily and spoke. “Alvarius Dar Fen.”

The child’s head slumped forward, and his body rose from the ground slowly. The spell left him laying in repose, floating in front of the old man and the mighty tree behind him.

“He is broken, Niver.” A voice whispered in from the air around the old man.

Niver shook his head slowly. “He may be broken, but we will help him rebuild his mind and his spirit. Did you see it when you touched him?”

“The spirit within him is deep,” the tree replied.

“The spirit within him is very deep. He might rival you, my old friend.”

“I was born at the beginning of time, I have had time to grow since.”

“My point exactly. Enon here has been torn apart by his circumstance. He may have lost everything he has ever known, but we can help him grow in turn. He is only a child, a baby in comparison to you. Imagine if he were to grow with you to guide him?”

“As you were?” The whisper asked.

“Yes.”

“He could be a protector to rival the guardians of old, maybe. He could be like a meteor from the heavens above and flare briefly to only be extinguished.”

“With us to guide him, he could have a chance to heal.” The old man looked upwards at the leaves far above, dappling him and his young visitor in shadows and light, dancing in the interplay of the wind in the boughs far above.

“He will want to change his name.”

“We have to show him that he does not need to,” the old man replied tersely.

“He will persist.”

“He will fail,” the old man sighed. “Becuase he will have the mountain and the tree to be his footing and his hand hold. He will have the protection from the wind and storm, and the deep waters far below to nourish him. He will learn the first names of the world and the things that make it up. He will find wells of power and the resonance to sing their songs. He will be… Enon.”

The old man said the name in the pattern of the boy before him, and Enon’s form resonated in its place, floating in the air, appearing to be shaking violently when in reality he was perfectly still. A nimbus of an outline wrapped around him, delinating him from the world around him. Speaking his true name, the old man knew he had to share his own. At some point.

He was Niver, the Man of the Mountain, the Visitor in Shadows.