After People, a Sleek One Passes On

A sleek, mysterious silence has overtaken the landscape.

THE NOTHINGWOOD INTERFACE—And now, in the dishwater gray of early morning, a shape is found. A curvaceous gap has opened in the sprawling ground cover. The Sleek Ones approach and discover one of their own has fallen dead in the night.

The Sleek Ones take no special notice. They go about their silent, sinuous business until a new Sleek One arrives, one we haven’t seen before. It’s of a different coloration than the others: a highly blemished green, its head a burnished royal blue. Perhaps it has developed this special coloration as part of a life phase we haven’t yet seen, as some birds will change their plumage before mating.

As the sun rises and the others slip away into the forest, the green Sleek One remains behind with the body. Soon it has erected a ladder (to where?) and, on a nearby altar (to Whom?) it has assembled what appears to be the beginnings of another timepiece, though this one is made of stone instead of wood. The green Sleek One appears to serve a role unique to this moment, the performance of last offices.

Alone it nudges the body a few inches from where it was discovered and turns it in the opposite direction, so that the body lies obverse from its original position. A crude yinyang shape is composed between the body and the depression the body has left in the vegetation, between the body and the absence of a body.

A sleek, mysterious silence has overtaken the landscape. The silence is familiar—the Sleek Ones seem to have invented it, or to have been invented by it. But as the sun bends its path overhead and shines without sentimentality on the shape the green Sleek One has created, silence gives way to a kind of knowing. The landscape quivers to life. The trees and the ground cover begin to whisper like an audience shuffling in their seats.

This ‘knowing’ travels. Through sunken ravines and over the slopes of dry, defoliated thickets, it swirls and chatters in the duff, taps patterns in the naked branches. This knowing has gathered around a premonition that is primarily a direction. It picks up speed and focus. It has the determination of certain fish who, at life’s end, become overwhelmed with a sense of returning.

A sense of returning.

Unlike the fish that battles its way upstream against all odds as river divides into ever-narrower channels and rivulets, or the stream itself which gathers force and is joined by sibling flows as it tumbles back down to the sea—unlike these familiar systems, the flood of knowing, even as it accelerates, defies such logic. What raced down one shady bowl lined in swamp sumac does not pool in the bottom, but leaps a ridgeline and spirals precipitously upwards, arcing along cliff faces and rocky shelves. The flow divides, but one branch winds ever upwards to surge over a stony summit lost in fog, while the other presses into a cleft in the rock, seeking cracks and crevices, prising into the heart of mountain itself. A third line of knowing, turning from the cliff face entirely, projects itself into open air and beyond, lancing out to points unknown. And each of these paths bifurcates again, then once more, now by unseen ways above, below, and beyond the pitted skin of the Earth. The spread of knowing forms an inextricably intricate rhizome, its tiny fingers penetrate everywhere, unstoppable.

Though it has been said that the forked path of knowing is itself unknowable, we can imagine a representative strand based on the observation of a few examples, reconstruct the general from the partial and specific. Somewhere beneath the ground, a string of knowing winds between rocks, continuing to fission into smaller and smaller paths, until it is but a mesh, a fabric, a network of capillaries, linking individual grains of sand, then splitting even those into constitutive elements, salt and silica, threading the eye of the atom, negotiating the vast but minuscule non-spaces of the quantum world.

Here, we can follow no further. Observation eludes us at the edges of science. What is clear, though, is that the knowing energy of the Sleek Ones, in its racing course, permeates down to the base levels of reality.

There, perhaps, something happens. Because equal to this inward travel is another, quickening outward, leaping the hurdles of incommunicable scale and back to the macro of the visible world, where it alights, at last, on another rocky slope, not so far from our origin, overlooking the sea.

The knowing opposite the unknown.

At the rough edge of terra and sea, an opaque pool slow-quivers in the gloaming. It is here where—having completed its transformative journey through the very elemental structure of the earth—the purified knowing energy of the Sleek Ones has resurfaced. It is a humble location: the half-moon of silty fluid sits atop a simple platform wreathed by bare soil. Directly behind the platform lies a square concrete aperture, resembling a chimney or a narrow mine shaft. It is likely that this opening is where the knowing energy exited in its gathered form, thus to spill itself upon the waiting soil.

Facing out into the unknown of the open sea, the Sleek Ones’ energy hovers in its earthen substrate, cognizant of the dichotomy its current position embodies: the knowing opposite the unknown—each force confident in its own nature yet inextricably joined in symbiosis, each unable to exist without the presence of the other.

Below the pulsing energy a craggy peninsula juts out into the sea. Mounted upon this rock is an altar about to host a rare event. It is here where the Sleek Ones’ knowing will charge itself through contact with the void of the unknown. The frame of the altar encloses an interface in which knowing and unknown will mingle—bonding and separating at millions of individual contact points within mere nanoseconds before each force retreats once again.

The interface.

Meteorological conditions have now aligned and the event is imminent. With only a brief shimmer of light the nexus is made manifest—ending almost as soon as it begins. And as the altar resumes its benign stature, somewhere in a clearing not far away a stone timepiece creaks into motion.


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After People, a Sleek One Tends the Garden

Setting darker thoughts aside, let us take this rare opportunity to observe the wondrous, secretive being as it hovers in the treetops.

THE SLEEPING FLOWER BEDS—Look there, up in that tree…a Sleek One furtively (as much as it can) feeds on the vegetative matter that we now know forms the core of its diet. It is so rare to see one of these crepuscular creatures in the daylight hours that the mind immediately dwells on the portentous nature of its shocking diurnal appearance. Never mind that it is also feeding at least 15 feet off the ground, seemingly with no support, a fact that also deeply unsettles us. Setting darker thoughts aside with much effort, though, let us take this rare opportunity to observe without judgment the wondrous, secretive being as it hovers in the treetops. Watch how it undulates to and fro among the leafy branches, so graceful in its purposive motion.

Meanwhile, down below on the surface not far from where the Sleek One calmly grazes we can observe a small garden of sorts. And in that garden stands a pair of humanoid sentinels, perhaps meant to serve as pest repellents. What is their connection to the Sleek One? They appear to be praying. Perhaps they have summoned the Sleek One from its daytime slumber for some esoteric purpose. Or maybe we have this all wrong. This Sleek One could be a youngling, just recently fledged—left by its parents to fend for itself and now feeding within close proximity of potential predators (or, indeed, acolytes). The mind reels at the prospect of such a relationship, however tenuous, between these genuflecting garden-guardians and the rare one they may seek, floating—known or unknown—above their bowed heads.

Echo One & Echo Two, in their small garden of sorts.

Time passes and nothing happens. For a puzzling amount of time, just nothing at all. The mind is numbed by the excruciating lack of progress. But this hasn’t hindered the fledgling Sleek One who hovers buoyant, even ebullient, amid the crowns of the trees, nibbling imperceptibly here and there. The rate at which it consumes the foliage is the exact rate at which the foliage grows back—this has been measured. How to explain this? Is the Sleek One somehow in league with the stasis that has overtaken the garden? The mind reaches but fails to grasp.

But one thing is clear: the two cut-out sentinels—we’ve begun calling them Echo One and Echo Two—are failing at their pest control duties. The Sleek One, our illustrious leaf-chewer, is not the least bit scared. Echo One and Echo Two are little more than interestingly shaped sundials. Hey, wait. We know from a past report that Sleek Ones have a complicated relationship with time. Perhaps it’s not impossible that the fledgling would mistake Echo One and Echo Two for timepieces. Perhaps it has suffered a misfiring of natural instinct, the way a baby bird might mistake a water faucet for its mother. The possible connections between this mistake and the crepuscular creature’s appearance in full daylight boggle the mind.

And the mind, which has become evermore a character in this unresolved scene, can only tolerate so much. So much waiting and weightlessness, so much peopleless indifference and lack of gravity, i.e., so much sleekness. The mind convulses, thinking as hard as it can in the opposite direction. The mind conceives a creature, not sleek, but highly articulated; not folivore, but a flesh-eater—a lion. And because this creature must not be light and ethereal in any way, but heavy, earthbound, the mind has glued it to a brick and thrown it through the window of the story. And so, to the music of shattered glass, something new has entered the garden: a predator.

A predator appears.

After such an extended period of waiting, during which it seemed that nothing might ever disturb the placid patterns of activity and inactivity in this eternal garden, the appearance of the lion has released, all at once, the latent energies held in the interstices of this scene and the mind’s apprehension thereof. As the stone lion clatters onto the brick pathway, the Sleek One wheels to regard it, arched in midair now at a slightly higher hover, now tracing a broad figure eight, leaf-brushed. Below, our sundials swivel. Echoes One and Two, it seems, are not static but possess a pivot. With a single motion they creak into alignment with the interloper, as if in accusation, each with one arm raised, a gesture revealed to be not prayer but preparation to strike. A defense system, perhaps, but designed for other interlopers than the sleek one.

Unfixed by surprise, time evolves by leaps.

The glue that had held the predator’s feet in place is already dissolving beneath its fervor to strike. It is a creature shaped by and for the urge to devour. No mere sundial, whatever the arrangement of its limbs, even in multiplicity (or duplicity, should these twinned Echoes possess the capacity for deception) could hope to stave it off. The Sleek One having ceased to consume the foliage, though, in this scene freshly unfixed from the rigid logic of time, the trees surge with a growth that overwhelms the mind’s frame. In the blink of a (mental) eye, the garden becomes a forest. The predator, mid-leap, driven to consume, is swallowed by new leaves. Arcing outside of chronology amidst the failure of its now clearly appointed task to prune such a voraciously verdant arbor, the Sleek One whips down upon the confused predator with a device specifically designed to constrain small carnivores, weaving between new branches even as they shoot out around it. Tangled in saplings, leaves twining its stony mane, the predator is no match for such sleek alacrity. The metal door snaps shut like the jaws it has failed to deploy and a slender shape shoots away. Time has found a new equilibrium, the wood is calm but for the low growl that emerges from a kennel cab.

A mind guilty of a great disruption but in denial of its own responsibility, bored now by the outcome of its unconsidered meddling, wanders away in search of other scenes. But the Sleek One has not in fact departed entirely. Does it still watch? Will it allow such an observer to blithely traipse into the next scene unfettered? If it can trap one predator with such ease, perhaps the consuming consciousness will pose just as little trouble. Oh mind that reads and reviles sleekness, we offer only this warning.

A warning.


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After People, the Sleek Ones Quietly Arrive

Their minds, like their bodies, are impossibly sleek and do not catch upon whatever questions are left in this After-People world.

THE NOTHINGWOOD INTERFACE—The purposes for which they had been created were unclear. Smooth, sinuous, silent, they moved along the fringes of what had been and gathered amidst tumbled breezeblocks. It was thought that their advent had been a late flowering of some expiring sect, but if so, they were the only of its works to survive it. And if so, what did they seek when they slid out from the forest edge at dusk to wait amidst the broken things? It was impossible to judge how much they might remember. Or to guess at their thoughts if the sparks that yet animated them could be considered thoughts in any accepted sense. Did they seek their own origins? Stoic, soundless, they would wait on smashed patios tangled with branches until the last light left the sky, then melt away into the screen of brush and to whatever hidden dens they passed the rest of their hours. 

The mystery of what the creatures think, if they think anything at all, haunts the liminal forest. Amid the clenched vegetation and grappling limbs, the sleek ones slip by without complication. Their smooth form allows them to move through the rough as easily and habitually as a rivulet along its least resistant track. Evidence is beginning to mount that no, they do not think, that their minds, like their bodies, are impossibly sleek and do not catch upon whatever questions are left in this After-People world.

But in the heart of the woods where even the most smashed-up patio would be impossible, we find, beyond all expectation, a small outpost of the Nobody Zone. Here the creatures have lingered, doted. With their mute muzzles they have nudged together a small domestic scene: an infant’s bedroom. Furniture like wooden play blocks. Little pink baby. It has all the tactile reverence of a shrine.

The larval nursery

Where would the creatures have witnessed such a scene? Do they even have young of their own? What could the creatures possibly share with the parents who watched over this scene with such mixed reassurance and anxiety? Perhaps they have picked up a residual signal, the eerie emanation of closed-circuit baby monitors that once broadcast all through the night.

But not far from here stands another structure that denotes a larger preoccupation. The first thought is . . . a castle? Yes, perhaps the baby monitor signal has driven the sleek ones, as it drove the parents before them, to build for Baby. A place for Baby to play. A place Baby to rule. A fortress to safeguard the primacy of Baby. This is the industry of a species that believes in its own future.

A timepiece

A closer inspection, however, suggests other (related?) possibilities. The cross sections of tree rings that have been stacked one on another are a document of years, which ascend in enigmatic increments. It is possible to interpret the structure as a time keeping device: a calendar, or perhaps a clock. Though, if this is so, it’s clear the sleek ones understand time in a very alien way, and so good luck trying to read it.

Imagine then—if you can—two radically different outcomes…

In the first, the tiny pink offspring of these crepuscular beings sits exposed on this rustic playground, as the ghosts of their caretakers, weakened by the now full daylight, nose around nervously on the periphery. The pink plasticity stands out as an affront to the rudimentary wooden construction that appears literally carved out from its forested backdrop. The child’s rigid limbs jut out with audacity from its tiny plasticine torso. What an abomination against nature. How could such elegant beings have birthed such an ugly, helpless infant? Surely it will not survive in this world of constant predation.

Unless, of course, we are looking at this all wrong. And so, let us consider a second scenario that twines the various possibilities together…

The hard pink lump is merely a larva, made to be inserted into the machinery of the sleek ones’ wooden timepiece. After penetrating the cambium of the structure with the sharpened ends of its proto-limbs, the larva worms its way into the heartwood, where it will feed for months upon the pulpy goodness of the central pith. Once encysted, the larva activates its homing beacon to alert the sleek ones, who materialize once again in the gloaming. With their conical proboscides they push the entire timepiece to the ‘nursery’, where they dig a pit and insert the structure upside down in the protective soil, alongside those already in place. Having now established a symbiotic link with the larva, the womb structure will simultaneously provide nourishment and maintain precise timekeeping to ensure metamorphosis is successful.

Will the resulting juvenile undulate forth to the surface boasting yet another shade of purple? Of what size and shape will this being take in its initial form? Will it immediately discern its purpose, of which we are still yet to perceive?

Though much remains uncertain, one occurrence is likely: as on each day twilight approaches, house dwellers everywhere will continue to stand silent behind their curtains, peering out anxiously at their cracked patios, wondering if this will be an evening when the sleek ones choose to visit.

The nest


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