Grasshopper by Rob Bliss

You run from your life. It follows you wherever you go, but you decide not to stand still and let life wear you down to death. So you run. Your bare feet leave land for the ocean, but the ocean doesn’t want your footsteps. A compromise is made. Earth covered with green grass grows in an instant to meet your steps. In this way, you walk on water.


The grasshopper taught you the value of escape. You locked your home, threw your phone in the garbage, ignored the eyes that tried to meet yours as you walked to the beach and the edge of water. Your first escape from the heads that talked, that ordered and commanded under penalty of an even greater restriction of freedom. They gave you a list of territories and activities in which you could no longer engage. You became a chained man in a free country, were forced into a new definition of you.


You sat down in the sand and watched the grasshopper leap over you, open its wings and fly further. This insect with two forms of mobility, of escape, was an inspiration, but it couldn’t leave the land.


Now you stand and face the horizon of water. The ocean is another country, a primitive beast whose back you can trek over. No nations claim it, no laws confine it – it is the last free nation. Birthright of all species, especially yours. When the laws of civilized Man chains your genesis, one has to return to the ocean garden.


At first, you sprint. Oval islands rise wet beneath your feet and dissolved into clumps of black salt as your stride passed. Waves swell and knock you off balance, but the earth catches you. A soil and grass catafalque pushes above the water’s surface to bed your fall. Staying itself from a rapid dissolve until you get back on your feet and race on.


It is the energy of an escape that keeps your legs pumping far from the mainland. Your muscles tire as the horizon of land is left behind; you collapse like a clatter of bones, but the earth bed softens your body’s blow against the water’s surface. You close your eyes to sleep, but you soon feel a trickle worm between your lips, sputter with your breath.


The earth will not hold you for long. Time elapses, so there’s always a deadline for you to meet, to rise and keep running. Heaving your sore back and bones, you lurch forward, and your steps resume the regeneration of earthen steps.


The sun burns and bakes, skin cracks white and bleeds. You feel thirst, but it doesn’t kill you or sap your energy enough to halt your run. You wonder if you fall again and let your earth bed sink, will the waves mercifully drown you?


You try. Hold supine on the grass until the bed sinks and water again tries to slip into your mouth. You drink, but the salt gags your throat and vomits its brine across your brown arm. The ocean is not fooled so easily. The bed sinks – you clutch grass to hold on and sink with the earth. But the earth is also not so easily fooled. It rises, giving your mouth back to air. The lesson is understood: as long as you perpetually try to kill yourself, you will be kept alive. A one-man island in the fathomless ocean.


There is really no choice but to run.


You sprint under the stars, unable to determine your direction. If land – a nation, a people – appears again, perhaps your run will end. For now, running across the night water, you pace your swinging arms, and your lungs settle into a jogger’s euphoria.


Sharks circle your steps – you leap over their fins. Stumble to your earth bed, your birth place, which the sharks beat their jaws against. Land is a foreign medium, one which never drifts out this far into their ocean. You run circles around their circling, kick their fins, feed off them in lucky bites, until their confusion of your species – some gigantic prehistoric water-strider – turns to fear, and they escape you by sounding their cold depths.


Land appears, palm tree tropical, an island nation. A smile of relieved exhaustion cracks your mouth, splits open peeling skin. An oasis of land in the ocean desert. This will be your new home, and the old life can resume in a new skin. But now you can only think of the rest you’ll soon have lying on the sands.


Your first step from shallow sea to heaped sand swallows your foot. You watch your stance being absorbed by the beach. The sand spirals away from your souls, sink into water. You step ahead, but the beach sinks into water – filling holes the faster you stride. You run is not over.


You sprint with adrenaline across the sand, the fallen palms, the soil of a piece of earth large enough to be claimed as a nation. Each step of sand becomes water, sinkholes expanding to consume more earth. A glance over your shoulder shows the riven water cleft left in your wake. The earth does not heal from your trespass.


This lesson is understood: you are not welcome in the land of Man. Crowds swarm toward you, but the water expands into a moat to protect its pariah. The mob shoots, but every ballistic is sucked into the vortex of swelling water; gravity accelerates its own rules to protect you. Moat engenders moat, knowing your species can neither swim quickly through a liquid medium, nor run with any speed under the weight of heightened gravity. Man could not exist for long, and not become dominant at all, on any other planet. Your steps pull in the force of planets and the terrestrial swarm is forced back.


A chasm of ocean is left behind your run as you reach again your nation of water. The blood cries of a thousand condemning throats fade behind you to a whisper. The earth and grass steps resume under your feet as you run, possibly to a new island nation – perhaps there the people are in need of the water you carve from the earth. Perhaps they are thirsty enough to welcome you as a hero and not a modern Cain.


You hope. But your hope is misdirected because you still haven’t absorbed who you are. You are hated by all others, by yourself. Land and water have inverted their natures to give you your own water nation. Your home is drifting on the waves. But even there, the earth and water have rules you must obey to survive. Rules which force your survival. Choice is not yours (your will always belongs to another), but the laws of the ocean are still easier to obey than those of a homeland.


You fear when you near land again – but a continent, not just an island – you will be attacked by the greater population. Perhaps then a bullet will hit its target, or a net thrown over you, or worse, a wall built to confine your perpetual motion. What you’re running from is a wall. A maze of walls to confine and confuse: various voices of friends, family, members of bureaucratic law clashing and contradicting each other. Their commands and restrictions are your maze. Whatever crime you have committed to turn them against you, they too are guilty of their own, tolerated, crimes. Hedging in the criminal may lead you to fight or flight: to flight by becoming a worse criminal, feeling your debt is paid, but still the maze twists and binds; to flight, carving a swathe of destruction wherever your steps land.


So you must avoid a continent, all land. On all land there exists a country, and a people who will defend that piece of land, calling you the threat.


So then your only path can be from ocean to ocean to ocean, around the world. You can only become a global circumnavigator, treading the waters, but finding no permanent island of soil on which to rest. You will have no home.


And this conclusion brings an epiphany. Like Cain, you are a pariah. The only company you can keep from now on will themselves be pariahs. Where exists a nation of the hated? Hated by all others? Every tribe will have its pariahs, but none provides a living space, a community in which the hated can congregate and manufacture a stable existence. Each tribe expects its pariahs to remain alone, shunned, silent to their rights until, by some lucky accident, they are found out and killed by a midnight mob. Then the tribe is free of one more weak member.


You think as you walk across the waters. There are other species that have collected its pariahs into a functioning whole. A community that has used its despisement to survive, even justified its existence to all other non-pariahic species. Pariahs are necessary because they feed on the detritus of the clean and just and mighty. All animals shit, you realize.


So if your forced march around the watery globe is magically induced and guided, you must harness that magic to achieve the only type of freedom you can have.


You look to the sky. Cloudless and blue, the weather perfect for water-walking, the skin of the water a blue mirror. Your bearings are lost, the nearest continent is unknown, but eventually every walk must come to a barrier. If your plan works, you’ll be diverted from all land barriers – sinking bridges – before you’re within sight. (News of your destruction must have travelled at light speed ahead of you. Are armies, navies, militias preparing their guns for your attack?)


You pray to a pariah god to send you what you need, eyes growing blind staring at the sun. And from out of the sun your prayer is answered. A black mote soars down from the sun’s white disk. The blackness grows, acquires shape, sprouts wings from the dark smudges on either side of its body.


The bird swoops down, spikes its talons into your shoulder muscles, beats its immense wings against the air, and lifts your feet off the clods of earth and grass, off the water. The kingdom of air breaks your endless walk across the nation of water.


The vulture’s talons claw pain down your back, but it is a pain you can tolerate. (All life, you decide, is a movement, an attempt to move from greater to lesser pain. But there is always some form of pain to accompany even the most holy life.) The bird carries you over the face of the waters; you watch white caps worm their way along their vanishing paths far below your burning, blistered feet. You smile. And for a time, you are able to sleep in the air.


As you sleep, the vulture carries you harmlessly over continents of many nations. No shots are fired. Often, the populations sleep and know nothing of your aerial night passage.


But now the bird is landing. A desert landscape below, stunted dry shrubs and massive rock heaped by time. A small pool of still water is your landing pad. Circling the pool are swarms of vultures hopping over each other, vying for space, wings fluttering, hoarse cackles growling from their pink featherless throats.


You land and your feet do not puncture this new dry earth. No bubbling geysers of water rise to pull you and the landscape into its depths. You are a human being again.


The vulture hops away, nestles its head into the swarm. You squat down to your hands and knees to see what the birds are feeding on. Knowing their food is also your food, and that you too must vie for space, take what meat you can before your brethren of scavengers clean away the dead.


Bones and meat of many animals, their identities lost when they became meals, lay strewn around the pool’s edge. Corpses heaped on corpses, as though each kill is dragged to this spot to be consumed. This small pool is the country of the scavengers, nature’s pariahs, so that they too can feed in peace, be true to their natures with no law of other tribal species condemning them for who they are, massacring them for the good of the world.


You feed with your hands and teeth in the gristle of some unknown beast. Old warm blood paints your mouth and neck and your arms up to the elbows. Blood is no longer a horror, but a badge of pride showing that you have been satiated and are a healthy member of the pariah tribe.


With your belly full, you lean back against a prehistoric stone and let the sun warm your sun burned face. Eyes closed, you think about your old self, left far back on some foreign beach, realizing that you never did run from your life. It has stayed with you, revealed itself clearly – you are not meant to become like other members of your old tribe. You are a pariah, and it is that nature that will sustain you here. A man with no pariah nature would not be welcome amongst the vultures, would not be allowed to feed on their kill, wash in their pool of still water, could not bask in the sun against an old stone.


The pariah merely must find his country, and only then can he be proud to be hated by the world.


You sleep, and dream of grasshoppers.




Bio: Rob Bliss is a Canadian writer with a degree in English and Writing, and he has just started writing horror. He’s looking for a publisher for a couple of horror novels he has recently finished.

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