The list keeps growing.
Each week, more names are softly etched into the living memorial residing in the fibrous russet bark that covers the mammoth trunk of the magnificent Sequoiadendron giganteum. The giant, ancient tree has stood guard for centuries at that very fork in the road that separates these two neighbouring nations.
As stoic sentinel, it weathers the fiercest of storms, the ravages of fire and drought, and greets every visitor who enters this curious town with a deep sense of foreboding and awe. Rising dozens of meters into the sky, it pierces the marshmallow softness of the joyful cumulonimbus clouds that often gather at it’s peak to dance and play. The townsfolk claim it, not unjustly, to be a direct channel to the heavens above.
No one is certain how long it has stood there or whether it is truly still alive. It’s intricate root system dives deep into the fertile soil, to depths unknown, only to rise up in in a variety of twist and turns, leaving a confusing, meandering maze of wonder and amazement, somehow managing to avoid the clear, trodden path of the neighbouring town while abutting the smooth dirt road in a matted lattice that curls and twists in a confusing mass upon itself and its being.
The names of the disappeared.
Every night, in the fading light of day, the obedient townsfolk gather, aWake in the Field in front of the behemoth that they affectionately call Big Tree, as their mayor, his mop of listless, unkempt hair flopping on his furrowed brow – his red, rheumy eyes defiant – solemnly takes out his gilded ceremonial knife from its magnificently jewelled scabbard, gifted to him from sources unknown.
He turns his back on them, and slowly immortalizes those who have recently passed, knowing the part he has played.
And every day, as he raises his left arm to begin his sombre task, the distinctive mark of the elder becomes clearly visible in the setting sun as his sleeve, felled by undeniable gravity, exposes the deep circular scarring on his upper arm glinting with a protective sheen. His deft, meticulous movements steady and precise, his neuromuscular control intact – that blade his very own lancet to prick the living bark to death.
Pushed forward, then retracted. A living journal.
Scritch. Scritch. Scritch.
In the eerie silence, the sound and the fury of the ceremonial knife slicing away at the robust bark, peeling away the viable, protective covering, exposing underneath a tender, vulnerable core, is a stark reminder of the dangers endemic to this nation. And the rising risk to those all around.
This living, breathing memorial, possessing that which it’s memorialized no longer do, grows by the day.
New names added at a dizzying pace.
Few make that choice. For most, the choice, made for them. Those in the recent past, a ritualistic sacrifice for the town’s contemporary founder, the self proclaimed mayor, who by virtue of his past station as a former physician along with the technological advancements at his disposal, spread his message far and wide, beckoning many to his new settlement, his revived nation, to his new first world order.
The deadly conspiracy.
The townsfolk are certain that danger exists out there against them. It’s what they’re told. A compelling narrative that preys on their fears, both real and imagined. They’re certain it came from abroad.
In their minds, they’re the defenders against an insurmountable conspiracy, a conspiracy of consensus. One designed by all other nations and towns – their very own neighbours – aiming to usurp their personal freedoms and enslave them to the wills and whims of those in power.
Against their neighbours they built their walls and defenses. Impenetrable. Buttressed by the support of those just like them. Reinforced and solidified, tempered over time like finely forged steel, unlikely to crumple under pressure, no matter how immense, how intense, brittleness burned out long ago. Doubled up. And doubled down.
The only way in, for acceptance, is to walk down that path, their path, past the memorial tree standing guard at that fork in the road between those two opposing nations.
A long lost past.
It was always this way between these two nations, but as things are alike, they are different. This town had faded to obscurity, populations much like fortunes, dwindling, until a resurgence a couple decades ago when it was rediscovered, as it always is and always has been for centuries. Silky words woo a new generation, a bolder generation, armed with the ability to unleash it’s miasma on the world at large, again, in ever growing surges.
Initially, in small pockets. Then slowly expanding like a vicious, tenacious fog rising up over the crested hills and valleys of the nearby towns and villages, impacts felt by those least able to protect themselves, wrapping the vulnerable tightly in it’s cloak of misery and needleless suffering.
From one chamber of believers to the to the next, using it’s capricious tentacles to procure small purchase, it expands exponentially against logic, defying science. It seeps into fragile, fenestrated minds, growing larger with the passage of time, in bits and bytes, transmitted at the speed of light, crawling deeper out of lore and into pervasive reality. Echoing.
As we know, a lie wrapped deliciously around a grain of truth, with the sound of promise, is a fruit that yields the sweetest flesh to those seeking it.
The fog lifting.
Many of the older townsfolk trace their roots to the neighbouring nation of V’aaxi, finding themselves unlike those who live there, not in practice but in principle, fleeing to seemingly safer pastures apart from the herd, in their new land.
Many still feel the biting scorn and ridicule from their former comrades cutting into them – having survived those searing barbs and insults only served to inoculate them against further diseased thinking from those sheepish, mercurial minds. Fleeing the toxicity.
But now, surrounded by those who are liberated by the gospel, their minds are free and clear. Uninjured. They too will spread it. Their Truth. It is their unifying purpose. Together they are stronger. United they will swell their ranks. Inflame them.
And there they stand on that quiet evening in the growing dusk, amongst their first world brethren and sistren, arm in arm. The setting sun casts their shadows in long, dark columns behind them, in solidarity with their fallen. The disappeared. As one by one, the names of their young and very young, taken too soon, are etched by the mayor into the red pocked flesh of the ancient Sequoia tree.
The weathered sign, on the opposite side of the massive trunk, absorbs the last of the dying rays of sunshine, welcoming newcomers, those wanting to see the light sooner, to the nation of N’tivax.