Classic Literary Fiction Science Fiction

What Weena Knew

By James Van Pelt
6,933 words · 26-minute reading time
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I taught H.G. Wells'  The Time Machine in Science Fiction classes for years. The more I taught the book and reread it, the more unhappy I became with how Wells' time traveler treated Weena, the woman he met 800,000 years into Earth's future. Not only did he dismiss the Eloi with broad generalizations, he also minimized Weena as a person who was capable of having a internal life. Out of that dissatisfaction came this story.  JVP

Weena waded away from the others into deeper parts.  Current pulled at her tunic, threatened to take her feet from the bottom, but she wasn’t ready yet.  Maybe one of the others would see her and ask why she was alone, what she was doing so close to the dangerous waters.  No one did, even though she stood still for some time, letting her fingers rest in the stream, the cool flow pushing them aside like little fish fins.  She squinted against the sun’s glitter; each ripple caught a diamond point and tossed it against her vision, so the stream’s middle didn’t look like water at all but more like a glittery ribbon, gently squirming before her.

She licked her lips–they were dry–and even though the day was not yet hot, her forehead felt flushed.

No one will come.  They don’t care, she thought.  They’re more concerned with gathering flowers, eating fruit and making love until the sun sets.  She closed her eyes.  Would it be frightening to fall into the glittery ribbon or glorious?  Would she rise up at the end, a thousand diamond points herself, a sparkling display that none could bear to look at lest they go blind?  A step deeper.  Water reached mid-way up her chest; it tugged her hands.  Come with me, it said.  Come deep and stay.

So she did, and the current took her.  For an instant, it was peaceful, the floating as her feet rose from the gravel, and she knew she’d chosen well.  No more nights hiding away.  No more mornings convinced the Fear was a dream, that missing friends weren’t missing at all, just hiding.  She marveled at how light she felt.  The river held her like a cloud; a child could not ask for a cradle so soft.

Then, she inhaled.  It burned!  Her eyes popped open.  Her arms waved and feet kicked.   Another rush of gagging water down the throat.  It wasn’t supposed to hurt!  Her face broke the surface.  She screeched, glimpsed her friends, then tumbled back under again.  Roaring in the ears: current pushing through rocks, waves slapping on waves in the turbid middle.  Her hand flailed in the air, tantalizingly above the water, but no movements of her arms or legs seemed to move her up.  Her tunic’s weight dragged.  Then an upswelling pushed her face free for another peek and a half-swallow of air mixed with foam.  No one on shore had moved!  They weren’t going to help her!

But she knew they wouldn’t; it wasn’t their nature.

A calmness crept through her.  She hurt still, but an inner part relaxed.  This was the last.  The river gripped her and drew her to him, and she understood she would not be coming back up.  Light faded.

Then a vise clamped her upper arm.  A surge.  A tremendous force, and she was clear of the stream.  Air!  There was air to breathe, but all she could do was cough.  She was being carried.  Her cheek rested on skin.  Huge arms wrapped her close until they were on the bank.  Gently, her rescuer put her down.   Rock warmed her back; her hands lay flat in the heat; her head dropped onto the warmth.  Against the sky stood a figure strangely shaped.  Weena’s vision swirled–she could barely focus–but before she passed out she saw in wonder, he was a giant.

*          *          *

Weena’s life appeared no different from the other Eloi.  She was raised by the mothers, played with the other children, learned in time not to eat poisonous berries, grew to adult height, lay with the boys when she wanted, loved the sun and feared the night.  If there was a variation, it was in her absentmindedness, her willingness to explore beyond the grey home’s grounds, to mourn the loss of friends.  She cried, which puzzled the others greatly.  In the mornings when some Eloi were missing, and the others went off to bathe or play in the grass, she sat by herself.  There weren’t even words for what she was feeling, but the friends were gone.  In the dark the Morlocks came and took them.  They would never return.  There were no words to explain the space in her chest.  It ached in emptiness.  Then, later, there was another emotion she had no name for.  She envisioned herself rising above the Morlocks, fear banished, the sun in her hands, striding toward them, and they fled.

*          *          *

After he made sure Weena was not going to die, the giant donned strange clothes fastened together with round pieces of bones.  Weena watched him dress, all fear of the night for the moment banished.  He was huge, almost her own height again taller than she was, and broad and strong.  The face was rounded and lined with wrinkles near the eyes and corners of his mouth.  Oddly enough, his hair was straight.  His speech baffled her.  When she couldn’t answer him, he shook his head, gave up and wandered away.  Weena followed, staying out of sight.  Soon she saw that he appeared to be exploring with purpose.  He walked in widening circles, stopping only when he came to the river, then reversing himself.  Buildings interested him, even the empty ones no one had lived in for as long as Weena could remember.  Even the dark buildings no one entered.

He moved with such purpose!  She’d never seen anyone go from place to place as if one were more important than the other.

Who was this alien creature?  What did he want here?  How was it he could go into the dark without fear?

Weena resolved to find out more.  She searched the bushes for flowers to string together until she’d made a necklace big enough.  Her nimble fingers wove them together.  If the giant saved her from the river, he would not hurt her now, and if he didn’t fear the darkness, maybe she would be safe with him.  When she finished, she approached, and he let her put the flowers around his neck.  They spent the afternoon sitting in a stone arbor, where Weena soon learned some of his speech, but not enough to ask questions.  He taught her his words for rock and grass and tree and everything he could point at around him, and then taught her hand and foot and face.

When, in the afternoon, the giant went wandering again, Weena tried to stay with him, but his pace was too fast, and he was going too far from the grey home.  The sun moved toward the horizon, and even though Weena cried out after him, he did not return.  She fled to the grey home just as the sun touched the horizon.  A chill shook her as dusk poured over the land.  The giant was alone outside, and night was coming.

No one asked her who he was or what he wanted.  The Eloi chatted idly among themselves, and even though Weena had spent the most extraordinary afternoon, not one questioned her.  She tried to tell some of them, “The giant went into the dark buildings!  The giant has stayed outdoors after the sun set!” but none seemed interested.  She would have been fascinated.  If someone told her such a story, she would hang on every word.

Late in the evening, long after the Eloi had gone to sleep, Weena sat up watching the shadow on the wall that was the door into the grey home.  Would he return, or would something else come through the door tonight?  The moon was over three quarters gone.  In a few nights, there would be no moon.  It would do no good to run.  All she could do would be to lie still and hope they passed over her.  It was all any of them could do.

Then, a figure came through the door.  Weena gasped; he was so sudden.  She’d almost forgotten already how large he was.  He found a place and lay down.  She rose, walked carefully among the sleeping Eloi, and joined him.  At first, he seemed surprised, but he let her rest her head on his arm, and soon he was asleep.  Weena stayed still, her eyes open.  Even his breathing was big; he rumbled behind her.  She could feel the heat broadcasting from his chest.  His hand, only a foot from her face, lay palm up, each finger a massive curve of strength.  She put her hand on his; hers was tiny.

*          *          *

When Weena was young, before she learned about the night, she built a dam on a stream.  The rivulet wound its way down a shallow gully behind the grey home until it joined the larger waters.  She didn’t want to walk all the way to the river to bathe.  It seemed so silly.  By the time she returned, she’d be just as hot as she’d been before, so she gathered round stones and put them in the water.  Methodically she built a wall, and as the wall grew across the stream, the water rose.  After the sun was nearly done for the day, a good sized pool had grown behind her wall.

In the morning she took some friends to see it.  “Look,” one said, “Weena has found a pool for us to play in.”

“I did not find it,” she said.  “I built it.”

“Why would you do that?”

Weena didn’t have an answer.  How could she explain the feeling she had while watching the water rise?  Bit by bit it swallowed the bank upstream.  Gradually it deepened.  Her heart filled too.  There was a joy in seeing the rushing water stilled.  If the wall was bigger, everyone from the grey home could bathe here.  They could bathe wherever they found a stream!

But she couldn’t say that.  Her friends splashed in her pool for the day, and the next day they walked to the river the way they always had.  Weena knocked a hole in the wall.

*        *        *

In the morning, the giant ate with the Eloi, trying to talk, but they became bored shortly and no one remained but Weena.  She told him the word for each fruit, for the drink, for the table and cushions, for door and window.  He told her his words.  Soon they left together, and she followed him as he continued exploring buildings, fearlessly plunging into darkened structures, some that Weena knew contained Morlock passages, but despite her pleas he didn’t seem concerned.

Where did he come from?  What secret did he possess that made him so fearless?  The longer she followed, the more amazed she became.  In the afternoon, he took them to the winged statue.  He walked around it.  Weena sat on a smooth stone bench and watched.  He pushed on the bronze base, and from his expression, she knew he was frustrated.  Clearly he wanted in.  Why would he want that?  This too was a Morlock place.  If he could open it, he would only face a passage into the dark where no Eloi returned.

Weena hopped off her bench.  The giant had placed his ear against the base, then rapped his knuckles against the metal.  He moved a foot farther and did this again.  Weena touched his back.  “What are you looking for?  You will wake the Morlocks.” 

They didn’t have enough language to understand each other yet, but he showed her tracks in the lawn.  Something heavy had rested in the grass twenty feet from the pedestal.  The giant pantomimed dragging an object and pointed to the marks on the ground.  She understood.  Something of his had been pulled into the Morlock passage, and they’d shut the door to it.  After a long series of gestures and using the few words they both knew, she began to understand that the Morlocks had stolen a “vehicle,” something the giant traveled in.  Weena tried to imagine what the vehicle would look like.  Where would he go in it, and why weren’t there marks in the grass that showed how the vehicle got there?  The lawn was soft from rains and hail storms over the last few days, even their feet left prints, but there was no sign that showed how the vehicle arrived.  Did it fly?  Weena asked him if he came out of the sky.  It took a few tries before he understood what she was asking.  He laughed, a booming sound that startled her at first, and he shook his head.

Weena patted his hand, having no words to say to him.  If she could just learn what he knew, maybe she could face the night.  For the first time since she’d given herself to the river, she shook off its chill.  Her throat didn’t feel constricted by the water’s rush.  She could breathe.

That evening, despite her protests, he slept away from the grey home, in the open.  Didn’t he know about the new moon?  But he was determined to sleep on the grass near the winged statue.  Weena struggled within herself.  He lay down without fear.  Shut his eyes.  He didn’t care if she came or went.  He was a giant, safe within himself.  She looked at the complex shadows in the bushes, the darkening horizon, and lay down beside him.   

*         *          *

Weena learned about boys while gathering flowers one morning in the spring.  She’d followed a group of children, and as they spread out down the hill, they separated until she was alone with a boy she didn’t know very well.  He slept in a different home and had other friends, but he was nice.  He smiled at her as they walked together around a pile of vine-choked rubble.  Weena smiled back, then moved into low bushes to pick handfuls of yellow blossomed Cheek-daisy.

Something soft hit her ear.  She looked up.  The boy tossed a flower at her and smiled again.  She threw one back, and soon they were wrestling in the soft grass.

Weena knew what was happening.  The more experienced girls talked about it, and the adults made love in the open, but she had never done it herself.  Some girls said that it hurt the first time.  She was frightened, just a little, as she pulled her tunic up around her waist, but it didn’t hurt hardly at all, and it was over before she had time to think much about it.  Still, it seemed special, and they stayed together for the rest of the day, holding hands and kissing.

The boy’s name was Tomey, and when the evening fell, Weena asked him to sleep in the grey home.  As the darkness deepened, they snuggled into sleep among the other Eloi, his knees fitting neatly into the backs of her legs and his arms wrapped warmly around her chest.

Then, later, when all was nearly black, something woke her.  She didn’t move.  None of the Eloi did.  They never did.  The Fear was upon her, cutting her from her muscles, paralyzing her.  In the pitchy dark, ghostly figures moved among them.  Slyly they slid through the room, hunched over, pale shadows among the deeps.  One approached her.  It’s dry foot scraped the floor.  This close, its breath rasped.  Its hand touched her shoulder, and she came loose inside.  Couldn’t move.  Couldn’t inhale.  It reached behind her, pushed its hand along her back and pried Tomey off.  His arm pulled out from beneath her; his other dragged across her chest.

Then the Morlock was off, carrying Tomey like a dead thing across his shoulder.  Tomey never made a sound.

In the morning, no one talked about their missing friends.  Weena looked around her.  They rose, ate their fruit, spoke among themselves, made ready to bathe or to play outside.  She couldn’t speak to them.  Instead a pressure built inside her, it filled her lungs, eddied into her throat and pushed at the back of her eyes.  Then she wept.  Some looked at her as they left, but no one asked her to explain.  When they were all gone, the huge room echoed with her sobs.

*         *         *

Over the next couple of days, Weena learned the giant’s language as he learned hers.  As he continued his explorations, she watched him carefully.  He knew things; he had an attitude about things.  At a brown structure, nearly covered with trees and prickly bushes, a stuck door stymied him.  Weena waited to see what he would do.  His approach fascinated her.  He didn’t come to an obstruction and give up as the Eloi did-- he worried the problem until he solved it.  How would he act here?  The door to the brown structure had always been closed.  The building was impenetrable; everyone knew that, but the giant dug at the door’s base, pulling rock and dirt out by the handful.  He jammed his fingers into a crack and tugged again.  The door moved!  Not enough to let him in, but it had never occurred to her to change the door’s condition.  The giant found a stout branch, worked it into the wider gap and pulled back on it.  Slowly the door gave way.  He dropped the branch, then squeezed into the building.  Weena looked at the branch for a long time.  It was like looking at the stream behind the grey home when she was young.  There was a problem: she didn’t want to walk to the river to bathe.  There was a solution: dam up the current until a pool formed.

Weena crouched by the branch, ran her fingers along the rough bark, fingered the place where the door had stripped it to the green wood.  She rubbed the sap between her fingers.  It smelled fresh.  The Morlocks–now there was a problem, she thought.  Was there a solution?

The giant emerged, his face smudged.

“It’s empty,” he said.  “What happened to your people?  They built these wonderful structures.”  He waved his hand.  From where they stood, she saw a half-dozen other buildings.  Some were homes where Eloi slept at night.  Some were like the brown building beside them now, abandoned, useless, dark places where Eloi never went.

“We do not build,” she said.  “They have always been here since the day the world was born.”

He shook his head.  “No, dear Weena.  They were built by people.  Your people I suspect, thousands of years ago.  By the descendants of my people.”  He looked sad and said more to himself than to her, “What happened to us?”

*          *          *

By the afternoon, Weena was too tired to follow the giant any further.  She returned to the grey home to eat.  Thoughtful, she munched a fruit in the warm light that poured through the windows high on the grey home’s walls.  A boy she recognized but had never talked to sat beside her.  “You speak with the giant.  What does he say?”

She looked him over.  He was younger than her by a year or two.  Bright eyes.  Curious eyes, something she didn’t see in the Eloi ever.  In the days she’d spent with the giant, no one had asked her about him.  “He asks a lot questions,” she said.

“About what?”

“Why do you want to know?”

Around them, other Eloi ate or played or talked their idle chatter.

He squirmed in his seat, didn’t meet her eyes.  “I’m sorry if I’m bothering you.  It’s just . . . well . . . sometimes I . . . wonder about things.”

The silence stretched between them.  She could tell he was on the verge of bolting.

“So do I,” she said.

He looked up gratefully.  “Really?  I thought I was the only one.”

“What is your name?” she said.

“Blythe.”

“I am happy to meet you, Blythe.”

She spent the afternoon answering his questions until evening came, then she went outside to find the giant, who continued to sleep away from the grey home, fearless to the approach of the new moon and the Morlocks.

*          *          *

On his fifth morning with Weena, the giant marched to one of the Morlock portals, a low, circular wall around a bottomless shaft, protected by a sturdy, stone cupola.  There were dozens of them in the area. 

“I’ll come back, Weena,” he said, and kissed her on the forehead.

At first Weena didn’t understand what he intended, but when he threw one leg over the wall, she grabbed his shirt sleeve and pulled him back.  “You can not go down.  The Morlocks live there.”

He shrugged her off and vanished into the shaft.  Weena peered down after him, her limbs shaking.  He was already many feet deep.  He smiled at her, then continued the descent.  Weena watched after him until she could see him no more.  A dull thudding vibration came from below, and she could feel air being drawn into the shaft.

Until this time she thought her interest in the giant was to find out what he knew, to learn from him, but as she peered into the blackness, she realized she worried about him.  She didn’t want him to be hurt.

She sat on the grass near the cupola, determined to wait.  Soon, Blythe came and sat beside her.  It seemed obvious that he’d been watching them from some hidden place.

“Will he come back?” he said.

“How can he?”  Weena plucked a blade of grass, wrapped it tight around her finger until the grass broke.

“He is a giant,” Blythe said with confidence.

Weena thought about this with wonder.  “Yes, he is,” but she didn’t believe that he would return.

 “He will teach us how to protect ourselves from the Morlocks.”

Astonished, Weena looked at him.   Although she’d thought such things, she’d never heard anyone say them.

But Weena didn’t believe the giant would return until some time later when his hand appeared at the wall’s edge, and he crawled out to collapse on the grass.

Crying with joy, Weena kissed his hands and face until the giant laughed at her and hugged her close.  Then he fell back and slept.  Weena sat with him, holding his hand until he woke much later.

*         *          *

That afternoon the giant went exploring again with renewed purpose.  He wouldn’t tell Weena, but something he’d seen underground clearly bothered him.  In each building, he examined the doors, the broken windows.  In many he found Morlock passages, and he left  in disgust.  Unlike his trips before, when Weena tired, he picked her up and let her sit upon his shoulder.

Weena wrapped her arm around his head.  He set out away from the grey home in a straight line, and his long strides swallowed ground at a dizzying speed.  After a while, she could see they were heading toward a distant building, a huge, green structure in the hills that no Eloi she knew had ever visited.  Soon, though, the sun slipped behind the hills, and the air grew cool. 

“We need to go back,” she said.  Overhead the first stars glimmered through the dusk.  She clung tightly, but he didn’t answer.  He appeared tireless.  Weena wondered if they would walk all night.  Could the Morlocks even catch them at this pace?  Would they dare attack him?  He’d gone straight into their lair and emerged unscathed.  Maybe he couldn’t be hurt.  Maybe they feared him as much as she feared them.

She thought about this as the night swept over the land.  Maybe he had no secrets to discover.  If all that protected him was his size, then she might as well return to the river and let herself drown.  She remembered the moment of peace, the comforting water’s roar as she floated downstream.  Then she remembered the first gagging swallow.  She shuddered.  Was drowning better than the Fear when nothing could move her, when her arms and legs betrayed her, when the Morlocks walked among them? 

Still, the giant pushed forward.  Weena rested her cheek against his head, closed her eyes against the thousand stars and fell asleep.

*         *        *

In the morning they set off again.

After they had covered some distance, he said, “I come from far away.”

Weena walked beside him.  He had thrown away his shoes and seemed to have picked up a limp.  She chose her words carefully.  He didn’t talk about himself much.  Most of their conversations were about her or the Eloi.  “I know.  You came in your vehicle the Morlocks stole.”

He stopped, sat down and rubbed the heel of one foot.  A purple bruise marked it.  He massaged it gingerly.  “My vehicle doesn’t travel distance,” he said.  “It travels in time.”

Weena didn’t know what to say, so she smiled and nodded.

“My house used to be by the winged statue, where we saw the marks from my vehicle.  I didn’t move an inch, but I traveled many . . .”  He searched for a word.  “Lifetimes.  Many, many lives passed while I rode.  So many that the world was different.  None of these buildings were here.  There used to be a city, London, and I lived there with others like me.  We ruled great machines in my city that would do our work for us.  Make tools for us.  Take us from place to place without walking.  We could send messages across tremendous distances to learn what was going on in other parts of the world.”

He kept talking about where he came from while Weena puzzled over the idea of travel through time.  How could one live many lifetimes?  And there was only one question that mattered, though.  “Were there Morlocks?” 

He shook his head.  “We had our own demons.”  The green building stood on a hill beyond a tree-filled valley.  They would be there after a short walk.  The giant looked across the valley, past the building, as if he didn’t see it standing there.  “We fought them.  We didn’t wait for them to consume us.”  He wiped his mouth.  “Mankind was never meant to be cattle.”

“I don’t understand . . . cattle?”

“Of course not,” he said, shifting his gaze to her.  He looked tired.  She wondered if he’d slept the night before.  “You live on milk and honey.  You’re the fatted calf.  What does the herd think about when they’re in the holding pens, when they’re led up the long ramp to the slaughter house?”

His face flushed.  Weena touched his hand.  She didn’t know all the words he used, but she got the sense of them.  “You fought your Morlocks?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”  He squeezed her hand.  “I don’t know why I should tell you these things, sweet Weena.  You are not equipped to understand them.  Evolution has robbed you of reason.  You live a beautiful life here.  A beautiful, thoughtless life with something ugly underneath.  Maybe it’s best if I don’t paint a different picture.”  He stood, grimaced when he put weight on his foot.  “It’s better when you are happy.”

She thought, but I’m not happy!  I’m frightened all the time.  What can you teach me?  What do you know?  But she didn’t know how to ask the question.  He took her hand, and they started down the hill toward the green building.

Weena walked beside him struggling with a new thought.  They fought their demons, he said.  If he would only show her how.

*         *         *

The green building was tremendous!  Weena had never seen a structure so large.  The first room’s ceiling was vague in shadow, and long spears of hazy light cut through broken windows high above the floor.  The giant paused beside a pile of bones so old that many crumbled when he touched them.  “This was a dinosaur.  We’re in a museum,” he said.  At one side of the room, he cleared dust from sloping shelves.  Weena peered around him.  The shelves were glass, and within the boxes were stones and animal teeth and other items she did not recognize.  The giant moved excitedly from display to display, knocking a perfect storm of dust into the air. 

He said, “Here is sulphur.  If I could find saltpetre, we could build a little surprise for the Morlocks.”  But he didn’t explain what he meant.  He moved from room to room, casting about from one side to the other.  Weena trailed him, hushed and expectant.  He would find a tool they could use against the Morlocks.  They wouldn’t need to fear the night of the new moon any longer!

But as the giant continued to search farther into the green building’s depths, he found nothing useful, and the rooms grew progressively dark.  Weena stayed closer, trying to see into the rooms’ unlit corners, wary of the cavernous shadows beneath the tables and machinery they passed.   Several times she saw narrow footprints in the dust.  The giant didn’t notice until a stealthy pattering of footsteps echoed in a room.  He grabbed Weena’s hand, looked around until he found a metal bar protruding from a rusted, useless machine.  He broke it off, hefted its weight.  “Now I have something,” he said.

Weena bit back her disappointment.  All this way for a club?  No tools like he’d spoke of?  No machines that would jump to his bidding?  Just a club?  Having clubs would not save the Eloi, even if she could convince the others to use them.  Once the sun set, the Fear would petrify them, just as it had immobilized her when Tobey was carried away.  The Eloi could not defend themselves in the dark.

The giant said, “We will be out of here soon enough, little Weena.”  Now he moved from room to room with refreshed urgency.  Weena stayed close.  Dirt blocked the light through most windows, and the afternoon was wearing away.  In a nearly undamaged gallery, the giant found something that pleased him: in an unbroken case, a box of matches.  He danced with delight, kicking clouds of choking dust off the floor.  In another case, he found a sealed jar that when opened exuded a pungent odor.  He was nearly as pleased with this new discovery.  “Camphor,” he said.  “It burns.”

Weena didn’t know the word, “burns,” but she recognized the matches.  He’d amazed some Eloi with them in his first days, scratching them against a rock and then showing the yellow, dancing light at its end.  Why he was happy to find them, she could not decide.  More importantly, the sun through the windows was failing.  Tonight was the new moon, and she’d seen too much Morlock sign within this cavernous building.  Soon they’d be rising from their subterranean hiding places, and the giant had found nothing helpful other than a club and his glowing toy.  Could he protect her?  Would he protect her?

At the river, the Eloi had watched her swept down stream.  She’d screamed, and none of them moved.  Why would the giant help her now?  Why had he saved her at the river?  She held his hand as they retraced their path through the building until they emerged through the broken doors.  The sun rested partly below the horizon.  By the time they reached the forest’s edge, it was fully night.  Oddly the giant had gathered sticks and branches until his arms were full.  Weena’s eyes ached with trying to see into the woods.  There!  Was that a white shape moving?  There!  Another one.  Even the giant noticed them slipping from shrub to shrub.  The forest air rustled with their passing.  Leaves crackled under unseen feet on all sides.

The giant set the branches in a pile on the ground.  He scratched one of his matches into its tiny, yellow light.  Weena hadn’t seen a match at night before.  It was surprisingly bright.  Then he pushed it into the branches.  Twigs grew yellow with a luminous vapor.  Branches glowed, and a moving, sinuous presence rose from the wood.  Weena leaned forward, fascinated.  What is this?  she thought.  It’s beautiful, like the sun captured on the ground, like the diamond ribbon in the stream’s center.  It threw light into her eyes.  She reached for it.  The giant stopped her, but she’d already felt its heat.  It is the sun, she thought.  He can make day!  For a moment, she forgot the pressing dark around them, the rustling steps just out of sight.

“It’s a fire,” he said.  “Didn’t you know?”  She heard the surprise in his voice, as if what was happening was a common occurrence.

Soon all the branches crackled in flame.  Every once in a while a sharp pop sent sparks flying from the damp wood.  An ember landed near her foot, pulsing with heat like a tiny heart.

“Come on.”  He grabbed her hand and pulled her into the wood.  She turned to look back.  The burning had crept from the pile of branches into the brush beside it.  Fire writhed in the leaves, but it grew smaller the farther they walked.  “If we get beyond the forest, we’ll be safe enough,” he said.

Weena looked up.  Through the trees there was no trace of moonlight.  Only the occasional star peeked through.  She could feel the urge building inside, the Fear, that yelled at her to lie down.  Avoid notice!  it said.  Become still and small and you will live.  Something soft touched her neck.  She twisted away, slapped against the giant’s leg, but she couldn’t see.  Was it a leaf?

Twigs snapped around them.  Indistinct voices, animal voices, murmured in the dark.  Weena jerked her attention to each new sound.  She was touched again.  Her throat froze.

Then the giant let go of her hand.

There was nothing else to do.  There was no way to resist the Fear anymore than she could stop from blinking if dirt flew in her eyes or she could stop from inhaling when the river her swept her away.  She dropped to the ground.  Lay quiet, the Fear said.  Be dead.  They will pass you by.

But another voice in her mourned.  She had lost.  The Morlocks would have her.  There was nothing to learn from the giant with his long strides and strange clothes and talk of vehicles that traveled through time.  He was just a big man with a club, and what good was a club to the Eloi who reacted to threats in the dark by falling down? 

A Morlock hand touched her.  A horrible soft hand that crept down her arm, around her waist.  She couldn’t see; it was black as a cave.  Weena felt regret through the Fear.  If she could cry now, she would cry for herself.  None of the Eloi would.

Then, a flash of light.  The Morlock hissed, let go and ran away.  Cracking her eyes open a tiny bit, she saw the giant light some of the camphor, and the little flame was enough to drive the Morlock back.  He pulled branches out of the trees, piled them on the flickering patch.  Soon a smoky fire illuminated the trees around them.  Still, Weena could not move.  She felt the Morlock’s hand on her.

The giant picked her up, spoke to her, but she kept her eyes shut.  Fear filled her.  Closed her throat.  Don’t let them know you are alive, the Fear said.  Soon the giant put her down.  He sat beside the fire, and within moments his chin dropped to his chest.  He slept.

For a long time Weena stayed on her side, her arm trapped beneath her, her face pressed into the forest floor’s dry leaves, watching the fire.  Gradually, the Fear left.  The cheerful flame leapt through the branches.  Green leaves curled, caught fire and vanished in smoky puffs.  She crawled next to the giant.  On the ground next to him was his box of matches.  He must have dropped them.  Weena held them close, put her head against the giant’s leg.  The fire bathed her in warmth.  Pungent smoke blanketed them.  Watching the flames was mesmerizing.  They danced like river waves, always moving in place.

*          *          *

She woke to an uproar.  The giant was shouting and all was black.  The fire was out!  Weena heard him running, yelling incoherently.  A creature rushed by her, and then another.  The woods reeked with Morlocks, their strange cries rent the air.  Her body locked into place.  Something stepped on her foot as it ran toward the giant.  A metallic crunch silenced one voice.  Even gripped by the Fear, Weena smiled.  So the giant’s club worked for him after all.  The Morlocks can be stopped.  Her smile slipped away.  None of the Eloi would ever know.  And what good was the knowledge?  They came out at night, when the Fear ruled.

More blows in the dark.  Not so loud now.  The giant moved away from her, by the sounds of it, fighting Morlocks the whole way.  She believed he would survive them.  He had gone into their home armed with nothing and emerged.  With a club, the giant would be unassailable. 

Only now she was alone.  Maybe they wouldn’t find her, if she stayed absolutely rigid, but Morlocks filled the woods.  Their footsteps, their cooing voices were everywhere.  When the giant escaped, they would take her.

Weena fought against the Fear.  If she could only move.  The matches were in her hand.  A little movement, hardly any effort at all would light one.  She could save herself.  The box rested against her fingers.  I can grip it, she thought, and she forced her fingers to close around its square shape.  A triumph!  Had any Eloi ever struggled like this before?  Giving in was so much easier.  Do nothing.  The danger will pass.  Her breath came in short gasps now.  She pictured the sun beating down the grassy meadows, the diamonds in the stream.  Painfully, she rolled onto her back.  Real pain, like forcing her limbs into unnatural position.  A moan escaped her.  Weena scrinched her face in effort so hard that she saw red in the darkness.

A roaring sound began to overwhelm the Morlocks’ shouting.  She couldn’t hear the giant any more.  Like a wind through the trees, it came, and Weena suddenly opened her eyes.  The red was real.  The forest was on fire.  Their first fire must have spread, and a bright wall of light flowed toward her through the trees.  It released her, the light, and her muscles relaxed.  She sat.  A Morlock broke into the tiny clearing, its broad eyes streaming tears; it slammed into a tree, twirled in pain, and ran on straight toward the flame.

Weena stood, brushed twigs and leaves off her tunic.  The fire didn’t leap from tree to tree quickly.  She had no trouble staying in front of its progress.   Every once in a while, other blinded Morlocks would stagger past, some toward the fire, some wandering in circles.  She stayed away from them.

When morning came, parts of the forest still burned.  Weena could not find the giant.  Exhausted, finally, she walked toward the home, but it was miles and miles away, and she didn’t have him to carry her.  By the time the sun was overhead, she was too tired to go on, so she stretched out on the grass.  Wood smoke filled her nose, and she slept.

*         *         *

Blythe met her at the winged statue as evening fell.  Footsore and hungry, Weena sat on the bench she’d rested on days ago when the giant had knocked on its metal walls.

“The doors were open earlier, and there was a machine behind them,” Blythe said.  He sat next to her on the bench.  “The giant went in.  Then the doors closed.  The Morlocks must have got him.”

Weena put her hands behind her and stretched her back.  She had never walked for a whole day before.  Her body was a medley of aches and surprising stiffness. 

“I don’t think so, not if he got to the machine first,” she said.  The giant had told her he could travel through time.  She imagined him vanishing from the Morlocks’ grasp, just as they descended upon him.

“Either way, he’s gone,” said Blythe.  His shoulder slumped.  “We’ve learned nothing.  We’re just as helpless as before.”  He looked at the sun as it slid below the horizon.  “The night’s coming.  We should go to the home.”

In the distance, the hills glowed pink.  A line of skinny clouds in the west flamed brightly in the sunset.

Weena said, “No.  We should gather wood and pile it by the home’s door.”  She fingered the box of matches.  There were enough to get them through this new moon, or they could keep the fire burning constantly.  They had time to solve the problem of making fire for themselves.

“What good will that do?  We need the giant to save us,” said Blythe.

Weena looked at him.  The giant had said that her people had built the structures.  They had commanded great tools.  Once the night had been theirs.  If she could see it; if Blythe could see it, there would be others.

“No, Blythe, we don’t.”

This story originally appeared in Analog.


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James Van Pelt

An interviewer asked the author if he wanted to be the next Stephen King: he said, "No, I want to be the first James Van Pelt."

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