A SIMPLE THING (4+pg)
My walk that day had taken me off the beaten path and up a gentle slope away from the highway and where my car was parked. Nothing exotic about my surroundings and, really, I felt no special draw to the area. I had simply decided I needed something different for surroundings. Each day, weather permitting, I drove to the same spot, then proceeded to take a nice, long, healthy walk. Out here, at least I wasn’t sucking up exhaust fumes with every breath.
It was strange to realize that no homes had been built within these woods. Although the slopes within my vision were gradual and easy building sites, there wasn’t a structure of any sort to be seen from where I walked between ancient trees. The forest floor was a dense mat of leaves and pine needles that had accumulated over, what was probably, hundreds of years. Maybe thousands. The quiet of it told me I had made the right decision when I had veered from my normal course. This was much more what I had pictured whenever I headed out for this solitary walk. Woods, peace and quiet and no longer any signs of the civilization I knew to be all too near.
As I scuffed my feet carelessly along and, shifted my gaze this way and that to better appreciate everything, I stubbed my toe and nearly tumbled. Catching my balance, I looked back to see what had caught me up. My search was met by leaves and more leaves. Nothing out of the ordinary. No exposed tree roots. No dead, fallen limbs buried there beneath the forest carpet. No — no, there wasn’t quite nothing. Where I had kicked loose a pile of leaves, I now glimpsed a ring. Somebody had lost a ring and, seeing how it had filtered down through leaves until it rested on dirt, it was no wonder they had failed to find it and take it with them.
Knowing I’d never find the owner, but deciding to pick up the ring, I knelt and gently placed the tip of one index finger within its’ opening with the intention of picking it up for further examination. It did not come up. Was it stuck down with pine pitch, perhaps? It plainly was not embedded into the dirt but, rather laying flush and atop the dirt floor of the forest.
As I attempted to push my finger into the dirt in the center of the ring to get a better grip on one side or the other of the band, a startling thing happened that left me sitting back on my haunches, shocked. It appeared I had inadvertently pressed some sort of button within the ring and that had set off an automatic opening of a lid of some sort. A forced air puff had blown all leaves and debris from the circumference of the round lid as if a seal had been broken. Then, quite slowly, a lid or door of some sort began to open up and away from me as though hinged along the far edge.
A warm, clear soft light glowed forth from the opening. As I knelt closer, I was able to see down into what appeared to be a tube of about four feet in diameter. Attached to one side was a ladder leading straight downward as far as I could see. I was left with the thought of it being something like entering the conning tower of a submarine.
As I leaned even farther and craned to see a bottom, all I could manage was the impression that the ladder eventually disappeared into the intense, warm glowing light below. Crawling backward a ways, I stood on shaky legs and looked all around where I stood. Nothing had changed. Nobody was visible. No sounds of civilization were encroaching on this forest novelty. Also, no sounds were to be heard coming up to me from below. All was silence. All was very, very strange.
At last, deciding this was a mystery I must solve, I crept back toward the edge of the opening. Turning around and cautiously lowering one foot until it touched the upper step of the ladder, I tested it for firmness before letting my full weight onto it. The step felt solid, so I gripped the rim of the opening and placed my other foot on the same step as I teased myself over whether or not I would really enter this tube and descend into the light.
One last look at my surroundings and I lowered the left foot to the next step down. Okay, I told myself, you’ve come this far and you know you need to know what this is all about. Go ahead and begin the descent. With care in foot placement and an ear to anything that could offer warning or encouragement, I soon found myself far below the upper rim. My surroundings were so brightly lit that it was proving difficult to even see up to where the hatch had opened. Was it still in the open position? Was I now a captive in here? These thoughts went through my scattered senses, but I still continued my descent toward the source of the light as though somehow compelled by the inviting warmth of the glow.
Still, I heard no sounds from below. If there was a light, it seemed natural to assume somebody caused it to be lit and that somebody must be doing something down there. Why wasn’t I hearing them? Not speech, nor sounds of footsteps or any other endeavor. Merely a still and lighted space. Again looking upward, it was obvious I was far too into my descent to even see the opening at the top. At the same time, I strained in my downward search for something indicating a bottom, a reason all of this should exist.
Bathed in the light and nearly unable to even make out the opposite wall of the tube I was in, I was finally able to make out a widening, a room, perhaps, at the bottom. Straining arms and legs were soon to receive a much needed rest. Where would I find myself? In a room, a mere cavity, a vessel of some sort? I could only guess if I had basis for guessing. I had none such. This apparent twilight of emptiness over two hundred feet below the surface could be caused by almost anything. But, at the same time, I realized it would be nothing I might ever manage to imagine. I had been lulled into a completely off-the-wall sense of exploration and euphoria. Somehow, whatever I would find was nothing I feared. Only something I needed to know more about.
As my feet no longer found ladder steps, rather found themselves flat on a white, but solid surface, I still didn’t feel a hint of the presence of anyone else. I strained my eyes to see into the wide, white and brightly lit hallway ahead of me. I had not stepped down into a room. Instead, I was being pointed the way by a single, wide hallway leading me onward and still bathed in a warm, light that seemed to lull my senses. I could see all I needed to walk, but nothing far from me was clear through the intense lighting, reflected on the white surfaces of walls and floor.
That floor was now clearly sloping upward as I walked on. Not steeply, but enough that my already strained legs began to feel the fact that they were not merely coasting along, delivering me across a flat surface.
Brilliance that became even more intense caused me to squint my eyes so that, when I approached the turn, I nearly walked directly into the wall ahead instead of turning right along the continuation of the hall. I then became aware of a somewhat lessening in the light’s intensity at the same time that I saw a cavernous room ahead with people rowed up in an arc and facing toward me.
It was at that moment that I began to feel I belonged here. Not a single person within sight wore clothing of any sort. Not one of them spoke a sound. In fact, although they were strongly similar to me in general appearance, they were also less substantial somehow. Years ago, I had known an older fellow who had been a lifelong vegetarian and I always noticed that his skin seemed nearly translucent. He was healthy of mind and body, but close inspection showed that he didn’t seem dense. Didn’t seem tanned. I always felt I could see a ways into him, if that makes any sense. It may have been nothing to do with a lack of meat, but something in his genes, I had no way of knowing. Anyway, as I strained to make out this group, that same impression came back to me. I felt I could see into them. Not to their bones, but they did have a translucence about them. Naked people I could look into. Now, the shock was beginning to become more real to me.
At this point, none had uttered a sound. Neither threatening, nor a welcoming. After sizing me up, one and all, the person centered in the group stepped forward a few feet until we were comfortably within speaking distance. I promptly asked, “What is this place?”
He responded by asking me if I was from those above. When I began to answer him, he quickly placed a finger at his lips as though to silence me. Wasn’t I expected to answer? He now asked why I had come here.
I guess you figure I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I’m not totally dense. At that moment, I realized he had not spoken to me aloud. In fact, his lips had not moved, although I clearly heard his question. Mental telepathy? So it seemed. I had heard of it, but never experienced an example before. My ears were not picking up sounds among them because they were not uttering sounds. These people were able to communicate telepathically. Well, now, there was a first. An entire community of people who spoke nothing aloud, yet knew what each other said or asked?
When he nodded his head, it was plain he was reading my thoughts and agreeing with me. I had heard him. He had heard me. Did I always have this ability and hadn’t realized it until now? Trying to remember I didn’t need to speak aloud, I ‘thought’ the answer he awaited and explained how the ring had opened the hatch and the ladder had beckoned me downward.
‘Then, you are the one.’ he told me. “Never before has anyone from above ventured into our world. If they had stumbled upon the opening, it would not have opened for them if they were not meant to visit us. Plainly, you are the one who was meant to know of us. We have always known the time would someday come.”
He had turned and was leading me into the cavernous area behind them. Many people were walking, working and generally doing the normal sorts of things people do in their daily lives. None appeared to pay my presence any attention. Perhaps that was out of courtesy or perhaps because I was with their leader? I looked upward, but could see nothing but a glow. If the ceiling was ten feet above me or two hundred feet, I could not determine. No sky was to be seen, of course, but the space above was lighted by a continuous glow that created a daytime-like sense to our surroundings.
I thought, “Now, I have explained how I came to be here. Would you please tell me why I was expected? And, what this place is and why do you all live here?”
The answer brought me up short for a moment. “First, we have always known someone from above would become aware of us. Our ways will be explained if you would but make one easy promise to me. For all time, you will be the only one aware of us and that is as it should be. We need your solemn promise that you will never tell anyone above of our existence. After that, all your questions will be answered.”
I thought briefly of my friends topside and knew in my mind that, even if I did try telling them what I had witnessed down here, none would ever believe me. They would each be convinced I’d lost what little there was of my mind. It was, accordingly, an easy promise to make and know I would keep. I would tell no one, ever. “You have my promise.”
We walked on some distance in silence. I mean to say, I didn’t even receive any telepathic messages. This allowed me to observe my surroundings further. One thing I had not seen so far were walls. By that, I’m referring to partitions. There were distant walls, of course, that indicated the limits of the space we were inside, but rooms themselves or buildings within the space were conspicuously absent.
I turned to my host and asked about this. “ Walls, as you know them, are unnecessary here. Shelter from the elements is required for those up above as are items of clothing. However, we have no elements. Our temperature is consistent and no winds blow here. We need no protection, therefore, we have no need of clothing or enclosures.”
“But,” I asked, “don’t you need furniture? We eat sitting on chairs at a table and we sleep on a bed. If these items are to be there when you need them, don’t you need walls to enclose them and indicate that space as your own? For your own family?”
His look was nearly one of pity, but his answer went a long way toward explaining more of their differences from our own ways. “ We have places where foods are prepared. When we are in need of food, we go there and eat. We do not need a place to prepare our own meals. When we need to sleep, we go to a nearby lounge. Many sleeping places are available at these lounges and there are those whose duty is to maintain them in a proper fashion for the comfort of we who use them. Whenever we wish to reproduce, we do so at the nearest area of comfort for that endeavor. There is no need here for what you would call a house. Observers have visited the world above and we know your ways. However, they are not our own ways. Life for us is far more enjoyable because we each do what we are skilled in doing and rest when we desire rest. Everything that needs to be done to make our lives complete is done in that manner. No one person has a need to be skilled at numerous duties as long as we manage to do one duty well.
“How about entertainment?”, I asked.
“We feel more than sufficiently entertained by watching others perform skills we ourselves do not possess. That shows us other aspects of our overall life needs that we can respect and be entertained by when stopping to observe. Beyond that, things you find entertaining above are felt here to be pure foolishness and completely unneeded.” he stated clearly.
Well, now, that was a different twist. We read books or see movies or play games, all for the sake of being entertained. Somehow, this concept was considered trivial and of no value to them here.
“I have seen fifty, maybe a hundred people so far. Are there many of you?” I asked.
His reply was a shock. “As we have walked, you have passed at least five hundred people either working or sleeping. You have not been observant enough.”
A quick glance around showed me that, for a fact, there were far more than I had noticed. “Are there more? How large is your world down here?”
“Oh, we have a world that is always as large as we wish it to be. Many million abide here within our world.” was his startling reply.
“And, you have managed to keep this all a secret for how long? When did this begin”
“We began when you began. There is the world above and there is the world below.”
I was more than a bit taken aback by his answer. “You mean, while we’ve run around topside evolving and such and making our own advancements, you have been down here living in this world with this entirely different style and set of values?”
“Well, perhaps our values are not all that different. You want things that leave you with a sense of comfort. That is precisely what we endeavor to provide ourselves. Comfort. Yet, we manage in a way that this can be accomplished without conflict or injury to one another. In your world, you have developed means of killing others and, from our observations, you seem intent on doing that quite often. Conflict is so useless that we long ago evolved beyond the need or desire to do harm to one another.”
“Well, if someone takes something that is yours, what do you do?”, I queried.
“Nothing you see belongs to one person. Therefore, we share all that is created here and we have no reason for jealousy or envy. No means of exchange is used. No money as you have. No barter system. We simply use what is available when we need it, then return it to where it was found or pass it along to whoever needs to use it next. When maintenance is needed, there are those whose skills are that of maintenance and it is their duty to attend to such matters. Do you now begin to see the benefits of our way versus the ways of those above?”, he asked me.
“Okay, then how about travel? Do you go anywhere? Do you have to walk if you need or want to go to other parts of your world down here or are there cars I haven’t seen, yet.?”, I asked my new friend.
“Step over to that post. Now, if you knew our world, you would be able to ‘think’ where you wanted to be taken. You would think it, press the button atop the post, then find yourself at your desired destination. Since you do not know our world, I will take you to see another part of it. Hold my hand and we will go together.” With that, he pressed the button and we were instantly in entirely new surroundings.
Walls and ceiling were still white and it still seemed difficult to determine how far away they were. The floor was still white and soft. Soft? I had only then become aware that the floor offered a give beneath the feet. No footprints were left, but the sensation was that of making walking a much easier effort than had it been a hard, solid surface. I mentioned this and he shrugged and said that was as it had always been for their comfort. Okay. I guess I don’t know everything about topside, either.
Where we were now looked little different except that here I was noticing a lot of children and I hadn’t noticed any earlier. His explanation was simple. This was an area in which those children who had been recently born were being raised and taught of life. When the time came, they would filter into the mainstream of adults located in other parts of their world. There were many here whose sole duty was the raising and teaching of offspring. Parents of these were, of course, otherwise occupied with more important matters.
“And, now I must ask if you have more questions. Your time here is soon to be over. However, we want to be certain your questions have been answered. All of them. That is the price we offer you for your silence, so the price must be paid in full.”, he informed me.
“I wish I could think of more things. Your world is nothing like my own. There is no doubt that, once I am gone and no longer able to ask you things, more questions will come to me.” I replied. “this has been an experience of a lifetime and not in the least the way my day had been planned. There I was, simply out for a stroll in the forest and, now I’m in a world I never dreamed of. A world where you have managed to have everything you need and, seemingly, nothing that you don’t need or want. I’d call this paradise. How is it that you say my time here will soon be over? Must I leave so soon?” I asked. I felt like a kid in a candy store. So much good and surprising all about me and so little time to experience it.
“We knew you would come. We also knew we would be unable to allow your extended stay. This is our world and high above is your world. They cannot ever mix. However, we explain our ways to you in the hopes that you will take lessons to your world. Perhaps you might make it a better place. A safer place. A world in which people did not kill other people and all might live life in a way that offered none a reason to wish harm one another. This is why you are here now. You are an ambassador, even if you must never tell of your visit to our world. You may now wish to live your own life differently from that of your past. You may also find your own new ways reshaping the behavior of others. In this way, it is possible our two worlds may become closer even though they will never be known to one another. It is now up to you. At no other time will there ever be another visitor here from above. Take back what you will, but it must be from your mind, not from your memory of this visit.”
With that curious precaution, he led me to a white post where he pressed the button atop and, just that quickly, we were now at the end of the hallway that had led me into this world. A smile was his goodbye as he turned away. Accepting the compulsion to walk forward into the even brighter light, I soon found myself climbing out of the tube at the top. As I flopped, exhausted, onto the leaves to one side, the hatch silently closed beside me. One look told me I would never again visit the world below. There were leaves and pine needles across the forest floor. However, there was no longer any sign of a hatch, nor an exposed and visible ring. Casually checking my watch, I was amazed to see that absolutely no time at all had passed since my first sighting of the ring among the leaves. The second hand steadily ticked a path toward the next minute.
Walking back to where my car had been parked, I continued to admire the simplicity of their lives. Couldn’t we, living here on the top surface manage something similar? Develop a life that left us with no desire to fight, kill and maim one another? I walked along, strong with the intent of spending the rest of my life promoting just that. Would people take to the concept? Even if I couldn’t explain where I got the idea? It seemed such a simple thing.
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