Discover more from Self-Made Little Gods
A long climb
"Eight days ago, the savanna was my entire world— 4,000 paces wide and 4,000 paces long of grassland that I shared with the antelope. I could see that I wasn't an antelope, but I didn't know what I was, or why there was only one of me.
"I hunted antelope when I was hungry and drank rainwater when I was thirsty. All my needs were met, but my heart ached. (I didn't know that it was aching at the time. I thought that was what a heart felt like.)
"At night, I would walk to the eastern or southern edge of the savanna and sit with my feet hanging over the abyss, staring down at the stars. Sometimes a shooting star would fly under the savanna and out of sight. That was when my heart ached the most.
"All along the western edge of the savanna, the grass runs up against a rock face so tall that I couldn't see the top. The wall is completely straight and smooth, and I assumed it stretched upward forever. The northern edge is covered by another rock face, and that one I could see the top of. It looked to be as tall as the savanna is long. I spent many days wondering if something lay over the top the cliff, but all I could do was wonder; the smooth rock was impossible to climb.
"But when the sun rose eight mornings ago, I saw something new. It was a line running down the centre of the northern rock face, from top to bottom. I left my camp and set off toward it. As I got closer, I saw that it wasn't one line but two, side by side and connected by small lines evenly placed along the length.
"When I reached the ladder (as I now know that it's called), suddenly the aching in my heart surged until I thought I wouldn't be able to bear it. I had seen that the ladder was made of braided ropes— braids that required hands like mine to make. Something like me had made them. I spun around and scanned the savanna looking for them, but I only saw antelope, so I took off running and spent the day searching every part of the savanna. I still didn't find the Ladder Maker. Whatever they were, they were at the top of the ladder, not the bottom.
"I returned to the ladder. The braided ropes were made of dark green plants, and they were thick and strong. I stepped onto the bottom rung and it held my weight. I climbed a few rungs and it felt secure. Then I climbed back down, sat at the base, and thought for a long time. It was already deep into the night when I went back to my camp and slept, the aching in my heart continuing all the while.
"At day break, I packed a woven grass basket with water skins and jerky and slung it over my shoulder, then made my way to the northern rock face. Looking up from the base of the ladder, I couldn't see the top, but my body was strong and I trusted my limbs completely. I started to climb.
"The climb took many hours, and I had to stop and rest a number of times. It was almost dusk when I reached the top. Then, as my eyes finally rose over the lip of the cliff, a wave of dizziness overcame me and I clung desperately to the ladder, afraid I would fall. Here’s what I saw: a whole other world, a world like my own but not my own. As I looked over the lip on the new world, I felt as if I was standing on the southern edge of the savanna, with the same rock face to the west (too tall to see the top of), a rock face to the north, and the abyss to the east. But this new savanna wasentirely covered in deep, blue water. No land for antelope to stand on, no grass for antelope to eat, only water. Behind me, instead of the abyss, I could see my entire savanna laid out.
"Once I had regained my wits, I scanned the smooth surface of the water for the Ladder Maker. I could see every corner of the new world, but they were not there. My heart sank very low.
"I now noticed something floating beside the top of the ladder. It was a mass of braided rope made from the same dark green plants as the ladder and bound together into a platform. I climbed onto it and it held my weight. With my arms over the sides, I pushed the water behind me to move the platform forward, away from the cliffs edge. As I moved through the water, I saw silver things gliding beneath me. I couldn't see them well, because they moved very quickly as they flitted to and fro. I also saw the plants the ladder was made from, swaying under water like giant grass.
"It was only then that I saw a faint line running the height of the northern rock face, just like the line I had seen on the savanna. The aching in my heart surged again, but my mind also felt frayed. Just that morning, I had thought the savanna was the whole world and I the only thing like me, now there was a water savanna and a Ladder Maker, and here another ladder? I was unable to hold it all in my head. I felt that my mind was coming undone and blackness overtook me.
"When I came to, it was daybreak, and I was very thirsty and hungry. I drank deeply of the water surrounding me (it was clean and cool) and ate jerky until my stomach was full. Then I set off toward the line on the northern rock face. I had drifted toward it during the night and reached the wall before the sun was halfway to its zenith. The line was another ladder, though it wasn't made of dark green plants. This ladder was braided out of coarse, brown hair, somewhat like the fur of an antelope. Weary as I was, I couldn't rest any longer; I was consumed with the need to find the Ladder Maker. I filled my water skins, tested the ladder, then started up.
"It was dusk again when I reached the top. My body ached more than it ever had before, and I was barely able to pull myself over the lip of the cliff. I laid face down for a long while before I had the strength to look around. When I did, I felt as if I was in a dream— as though nothing was solid and unchanging. This is what I saw: A third world, a savanna that had no grass, only deep dust with no roots to hold it together. There were strange antelope walking through the deep dust. They were light brown, with long legs and necks, no horns, and humps on their backs. After I had recovered some from my world growing again so abruptly, I looked to the north for a rock face and a ladder, but there was none, only the abyss. Again, my heart sank very low.
"That was when one of the strange antelope walked over and sat beside me, and I saw that it was covered in the same hair as the ladder I had just climbed. Then I became very afraid, because I heard a voice in my head that wasn't mine. It was a quiet voice, but I heard it clearly. ‘Climb onto it,’ the voice said. I looked all around me for the one that spoke - was this the Ladder Maker? - but there was no one there.
"Not knowing what else to do, though still very afraid, I crawled to the strange antelope. I stroked it with my hand and it didn't move away, so with great effort, I pulled myself on top of it. As soon as I had, the antelope stood up on its tall legs and began to walk in a north-western direction. The rhythmic rocking put me to sleep, but not before I realized that I could see the top of the western rock face from this new savanna. It didn't stretch upward forever!
"The rising sun woke me up. I had been sleeping for half a day and I was still on the antelope, now sitting beside the western rock face. When I slid off my perch, the antelope stood up and walked carelessly away. I was very hungry and thirsty, so I drank water and ate jerky for a long while. Only once I was satisfied did I look around to get my bearings, and that was when I saw the third ladder. The antelope had brought me within a few paces of it. The aching in my heart surged again as I went over to it. This ladder was braided out of long, thin, flexible tree limbs.
"The pain in my body was severe, but I had gained some of my strength back from sleeping and eating and drinking, so I started to climb again.
"Over these eight days I've climbed eight ladders. Each was made of a material from the new savanna it led to. I climbed the western wall of one more savanna, then the southern wall of two, then the eastern wall of one, and finally the northern wall that brought me here. With each climb I hoped to find the Ladder Maker, but I didn't. I'll tell you briefly what I did find: A savanna full of trees and plants so thick that you couldn't see the sun from inside it; a savanna made of rocks with a winding path of rushing water; a savanna like my own, but with soft, green grass and sloped ground; and another savanna covered in water, though this water tasted like tears and moved in endless swells.
"When I reached the top of the eighth ladder, the savanna I found here was more beautiful than all the others, even my own. There were no rock faces on any of its edges, only the abyss. It was covered in soft, green grass and trees with different coloured orbs hanging off them, and I saw many different types of strange antelope. But I only had a little time to take it in before I saw you, standing up from where you sat 80 paces away. You were looking at me, and I felt a longing then that was impossibly deep and wide. It tore through me like a thunderstorm. You were the most lovely thing I had ever seen. The colour of your skin was better than any colour on any of the savannas, and the shape of your body was better than any of the shapes. All at once I wanted to protect you, and hunt for you, and hold you.
"You began to run to me, and the aching of my heart surged with every step you took; I collapsed to my knees out of pain and weariness. You reached me and wrapped your arms around me and my aching heart melted into relief, pure relief, for the first time. We laid on the ground, crying and holding each other as close as we could, because we weren't the only one of us— there were two."
As the man finished his story, he and the woman were still lying in each other's arms, chest to chest, unwilling to let go. The woman told him about the orchard she had lived her whole life in, and the aching she had felt in her heart. She told him about the years she spent making the ladders, and the voice in her head that wasn't her own, which asked her not to climb down the last one. By the time they fell blissfully asleep, it was deep into the night.
Then, while they slept, the world finally began.
The orchard started slowly gliding downward, as did the other levels the man had journeyed through. They descended at different paces, the highest fastest and lowest slowest, until they all came to rest simultaneously at the level of the man's savanna. When it was done, all the levels formed a single, continuous plane. The waters rushed out to fill the low places, and the animals ventured cautiously beyond their borders, and it was good.
When the man and woman woke, they set out to explore the new world together.