The multitude of children sat in front of the storyteller with wide eyes. They were ugly, they were smelly and there were a lot of them. There always was a lot of them. Usually this pleased the storyteller, because after all his purpose was to be as good a storyteller he could be and storytelling required listeners. This was natural, this was correct, this was true. A big part of the storyteller believed – actually knew – that this was the way it was supposed to be. But a small, black spot inside him persisted in insisting that no, it was not. Nothing was what it was supposed to be. Nothing had ever been what they were supposed to be. They. Them? The pit of smelly doubt inside him had only grown lately. Just slightly. He had no reason to doubt. He certainly did not doubt the stories. How could he? He was the stories, his purpose was to tell the stories and they were true. He took comfort in the stories, he knew they were right. He wasn’t even sure what it was he doubted. They? People? Did he doubt people? That certainly was much more logical than doubting the stories. People were just people. The kids in front of him was people, but small and smelly and many. He didn’t really like people no matter their size, but that was part of the purpose of being a storyteller. You had to be true to the stories, not the people that benefited from the stories. People came and went, the stories remained. He sighed, flashed a weak smile at the tiny creatures in front of him and began the recital.
”In the end, only dust remained.”
It was both the beginning and the end of most stories. Some of them made a knot at the end and started over from the beginning. Some stories had proper endings, some stories had no beginnings, some stories could only be half told. Those stories were always troubling, but not in the same way the unclear doubt was troubling. It was a kind of mechanical trouble. He could only ever tell one part, or side, of those stories. Which part he told was entirely random and no matter how much he tried he could not change that, and he had no idea which part he would tell when he started telling it. Sometimes he really wished he could tell one part of the story but then other part would come out instead, changing the outcome of the teaching completely. He knew both parts, as did most people, but the application was always random. Maybe it wasn’t random? Was that the doubt? The storyteller had really thought about that, had spent quite some running the problem through his brain several times, but he always concluded that no, that was not the cause of the doubt. He couldn’t prove whether the random stories were truly random or were indeed controlled by some force or other, but that actually didn’t bother him. He couldn’t prove it either way. One storyteller, ages ago, had gone mad with worry about that one; this was common knowledge and not part of a story. But it was still true, the records showed that that was the reason she went mad. No one knew what happened to her though, the records didn’t show that. Was that cause for doubt? No storyteller had ever had that fate, no storyteller had ever just vanished. They were either performing their duties or they were put on display in the Museum and revered by all. The disappearance of a storyteller was strange indeed, but cause for doubt?
”In the beginning, nothing but shadows was.”
People filed back and forth. No recital for some time. The storyteller just silently watched the people scurrying past. They were like people. They didn’t really look at him or payed him any attention. Some children stole glances at the storyteller; he noticed them all. There were tellers as well as storytellers, and the tellers actually recorded everything around them. The storyteller never quite liked that idea. It seemed … ungainly, for some reason. Was that the cause for the doubt? He decided to come back to that at a later time.
”Dust shape, dust carry, dust make, dust create.”
High above the storyteller the stars came out. He had always liked the stars. And the moons. And most things he could not reach, out there. No, his place was here where he was, being a storyteller, telling the stories to the coming generations. He knew about the star-travelers, of course. They were very popular, for obvious reasons. They went out there, out into the cold abyss and returned as heroes. Sometimes he wondered if there was a space for him, a space in a place where he would not be a storyteller. He could not imagine there being such a space or a place, but he liked the fundamental parts of the idea. It was too alien a concept to make actual sense, but that feeling of a slight longing felt really, really good. Sometimes anyway. Sometimes he wanted the silent longing to go away, and sometimes it did go away. He was a storyteller, not a dreamer, or even a guide. He told stories. In a way he was one of the most important cogs in the machine; the stories held everything together, gave everything context. Some people, for no other reason that they are people, thought the star-travelers were a travesty to the stories, but the storyteller knew this to be false. He knew it intimately, and he had on many occasions told the stories of the travelers, but people didn’t listen when they didn’t want to. Of course they didn’t. They were people.
”Speak to me words, words of light, and burn the sky to cinders.”
The storyteller nodded.
”Yes, child, this is the story of the thief and the traveler. In the beginning, only dust remained.”