“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche
Dark Side of the Earth
They darkened the sky with every stride towards night. Their mantis shadows creeped ahead, arrowing the day to the deeper dark side, and they made the sun set with every step taken back-turned to the burning glow. Behind the pack, the sky poured incarnadine over the land of forever sun; the blood lands where the poets came to pray.
They had always lived on a planet that did not spin. But they did not know it.
Their globe was static. But they did not know it was even a globe. They thought their Earth was flat.
Every day was endless and the sunlight unchanging, though clouds did come and offer rain and shade at times.
They knew that far across the shadowlands that surrounded their civilisation, the sun began to shift. Shadows lengthened, light thickened. They knew that night existed, but only few had ever witnessed it. Only few had ever ventured towards the shadowlands. Adventurers, poets, spirit-wanderers, outcasts, madmen.
But now, a group of scientists were being hired by the High and Mighty Society of Important Lords to investigate the unknown lands beyond the sunset horizons and return with their findings. They were to lookout for resources - plants, animals, minerals - and enemies. For this they were to venture to the Terror.
The group headed off on a particular day (there weren't really days, as the sun never moved, but time was divided into how often payments were to be made to the High and Mighty Society of Important Lords - and these payments were to be made whenever the Lords had run out of money to pay for soldiers and drink - an arbitrary time-keeping system, but no-one questioned it).
The group of scientists, equipped with the latest measuring devices, sample bags, and weaponry, were waved off by the black-skinned people of Day. They marvelled as the distances lowered the sun behind them and their shadows began to point the way forward. The longer their shadow arrows became, the closer they knew they were coming to the land hated by the sun: the abyssal plains.
They witnessed strange animals with eyes that glowed, hiding behind rock shadows as they approached. Big bat-eared beasts with huge nostrils and panting tongues. And the more of these fearsome creatures they spotted, the more they felt that they were not at home. Far from it, they felt they were being hunted …
It grew cold. Colder than the scientists had ever known. Their bodies shivered; they had never shivered before. This frightened them. They thought the sun was taking their lives away with it. But still they marched on.
Soon the sky before them was black and purple and the sun was only a glowing streak of hot paint, spilled across the way they had come. Before they knew it, the sun was gone and only a lighter blue in the silhouetted cloudscape gave evidence to its presence beyond the sky.
A star spotted the deep above them.
It is called 'star' here, but they had no name for it. They had never seen such a thing before. How they marvelled and were silent amongst each other. When they spoke it was only of simple things - how much water they had and how many steps until rest - they did not mention the white dazzles that started dotting the blackening above them. More and more. More and more. Soon the sky was all a-sparkle and starlight lit the way beyond their flaming torches.
They were awestruck and fearful. They heard things that they could not see. All the 'Darkness Training' in the cellars of the Important Palaces appeared to be for nought. They were truly terrified now. The stars seemed to mock them as they stepped.
They tried picking some of the plants that they found - strange dish-like things of no-colour, but that were hot to the touch. They flung the flowers in fear of being poisoned or cursed. As the translucent petals struck the soil a foul odour filled the air, seeming to cry a warning.
The noises that had been barely perceptible at first - seemingly only a twinge in the ear - were now obvious. Clicks, trills, whistles, hoots, and moans everywhere. Like an evil wind. They soon realised that it was the plants that were singing. They glowed and flashed to the beat of the night. A natural symphony.
Soon the noises became rhythmical in a strange ambient harmony. The scientists stood beneath their view of the cosmic ocean listening to the strange sound of night. Then, suddenly, the sounds stopped. Something instinctive within the travellers told them they were being hunted.
One scientist's scream echoed all through the dark side. He had been taken by a silent stalker. They all froze. The beast could be heard scraping away across the unseen-forest. The rest of them stood waving their flame torches shouting, fearing they were to be taken next. In the torchlight there glowed the changing faces of eyeless animals – blind beasts. And then the faces all disappeared and a whistle was heard. The scientists stopped shouting and flailing and awaited their oncoming fate…
Out of sight, they felt their hands being grabbed and they were forced to the floor and tied up and their mouths were gagged before they could call out in horror. Soon they felt their bodies being lifted and led away through the black dark. They did not know why but they did not struggle. They rested obediently like terrified children.
They had been led by the Blind Men. Later in the safety of the houses of the Blind Peoples, their binds had been untied and they were allowed to sit in utter darkness. They felt warm cups being placed carefully in their grasps. They smelled it – it was soup. A fire was lit. They could see. In the shadows they saw their hideous hosts, creeping just out of plain sight. The hosts gestured to eat and the scientists cautiously sipped the hot-sour-stuff in the cups. Although unable to communicate, the Day scientists realised that somehow they were safe. They sat and observed the odd hollow rooms with undecorated but wavy walls.
It was clear that their plain and ugly hosts (though they clearly were people) had no concept of vision or light - they paid no heed to the torches or gestures of the Day people. Soon, in the flashes of the torch-light they could see that their hosts did not in fact have eyes. But their ears, however, were ginormous – quite beautiful really in their intricacy of pattern and design, like the structure of a stormy sea. Their skin was pure-white like churned water and their clothes were thick and warm. The Blind Peoples spoke, or rather, sung, in a wonderful and almost disturbing manner - they hummed and oscillated their voices with electric rhythm and rhyme that sounded to the Day scientists like music … and it was music.
The black-skinned Day People lived with the white-skinned Blind People for many sleeps and the Blind People were fascinated by them and afforded them great dignity and accommodation. The visitors equally were fascinated by these odd people of the shadow city; the city which they dared not explore due to the certainty of disorientation and bewilderment. The scientists discussed their mission and their predicament whenever they were left alone beneath the star-skies of Night. They spent a great deal of their considerable learned energy in devising a method of communication. Eventually it was possible.
At least, communication was possible insofar as the two foreign peoples could interpret each other’s messages at times. But they wanted to really understand each other. Despite great will and desire from both sides, this proved to be far from easy.
Every now and then the Blind Folk brought in musical instruments, both traditional and recently invented, to try and entice the guests from Day into understanding. They performed music of infinite variety, much of which the Day scientists could not hear at all, as the notes travelled across frequencies foreign to their limited ears. They stood and heard nothing as the Blind passionately enticed their instruments into silent song.
As the interpreters grew wiser, the Day scientists managed to explain a little about their own civilisation and their quest for discovery. Moreover, they were extremely keen to ask questions about the starry sky that still utterly enthralled them while it constantly burned in silent conspiracy above their heads. They asked and they probed and they suggested, but eventually they realised that the people of Night had no knowledge whatsoever about their cosmic firmament. They did not know anything of the stars, though the stars were forever surrounding them. The Blind were blind to the shining universe.
Likewise the Blind Music Makers became increasingly upset and frustrated at the Day Folk's inability to hear and appreciate, feel and love, their symphonies, many of which they had composed specifically to celebrate the arrival of their alien guests. Soon the music was over.
The representatives of the People of Day and the hosts of the Night Folk embraced each other as they both knew it was time to part. With great sadness, appreciation, and wonder, they parted with tears in their eyes and ears, and melodic mourning in their song. The scientists of Day were escorted to where the glow of the sun could be perceived in the lightening sky. Far off there was thunder on the hills. A haze of colour dashed the stars from the sky. The scientists and their escorts departed with a bow and a moan, and the scientists began their long walk back into the eye-squinting sunlands.
On return they reported immediately to the Palace of the High and Mighty Society of Important Lords. A great parade was arranged to welcome and celebrate the success of their expedition. But really, the scientists were just tired. They had witnessed and heard so much.
When things with the Lords became increasingly more business-like and serious, the scientists were told to report their findings to a council. At the council, the scientists tried to explain the effect of the sun setting. But the councillors were not interested. They tried to describe the stars and the sparkling galaxy all above them in the black skies. But the councillors were not interested. They tried to recreate the music played to them by the Blind Peoples. They produced a musical instrument gifted them by their hosts. The scientists did their best to perform on the bone-sculpted horn-drum. The instrument created a masterful beat that rose and fell and whirled through soaring harmony. They did not play it well, but not too badly either. The councillors were not that interested, although perhaps amused … some more bemused.
The council asked them about these Blind People. Were they dangerous? Were they technologically sophisticated? Warlike? In possession of great treasures? What about these strange noisy plants? Could they be harvested? What about other resource exploitation?
The scientists said that they thought it might be dangerous. But the Lords and the councillors were already making plans on a conquest of the Night. The scientists tried to describe the stars to the poets and the priests, but were largely ignored, ridiculed, or decried as heretics. They spent their sleep-time trying to remember. Trying to recall the chorus played to them by the Blind Music Makers beneath the nameless Night.