The Gift: A novel

My project for A man finds himself alone on a paradisical island where has has no need to work to support himself. His life is spent transforming the island.

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Location: Los Angeles, United States

I am an awkward, stubborn, slightly insane woman who would rather talk Plato than Prada, rather watch Frank Capra than Carrie Bradshaw, and rather listen to Norse myths sung in Icelandic than anything currently on the radio. Yeah. Told you I was weird.


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Chapter 4

The morning sun beat down on the two men who trudged through the sparse trees at the foot of the mountain. The thick undergrowth made it difficult to walk quickly. The fresh strength of their breakfast was beginning to wear thin, although it would be another two hours before they could realistically eat lunch.

Finally, Cobb sat down on a large rock that protruded from the ground. "Hey man, why're you so intent on getting there so soon? I mean, we could at least take it easy on the way to get wherever it is you're going." He gestured at the fruit-laden trees. "We don't even have to use up all of our rations: just eat the stuff that grows here of its own free will, and save all our food till we hit the sea again. That way, it's hardly wasting time, since we ain't paying a price for it."

The older man shook his head, eyes still fixed ahead. "There's always a price." He pushed through a tangle of thickly-grown moss that hung between two tree trunks. Stepping through it, he was lost to the shadows beyond. Cobb leaned back, straining to see his partner, but the mossy opening was too dim to see clearly. Cursing, he got to his feet and trudged over to the tree trunks. Stepping through, he blinked rapidly, eyes dilating to meet the sudden lack of light.

He found himself in a small hollow, the ground beneath his feet covered in a sort of soft grass. At the far end of the hollow, a single shaft of sunlight fell through the foliage, illuminating a small stone monument. Dranger knelt in front of the object, examining the text inscribed on its surface.

"Stay, traveller, and strive no more;
Rest is here, and quiet peace.
Before you trod the path once more.

But this will be no sweet release
For those who do not strive
But seek only their own ease."

There were no images carved upon the rock, making it seem strikingly sparse after the decorations of the other monuments. Cobb listened to the rhyme, then laughed and spat. "Is that it? Just sit and rest? Hell, I can do that." He threw himself down on the grass, and closed his eyes. Dranger slowly settled to the ground, his back against a tree trunk. He took a last glance at the stone, then pulled his hat brim over his eyes and dozed off.

Cobb, for all his desire to take life easy, found it immense difficult simply to rest in such a quiet space. Every sound from the surrounding trees startled him, and he began to get restless. Not wishing to appear afraid, he refused to wake Dranger, and instead simply sat, waiting.

It began to seem as if years rather than minutes were passing. He knew from the sun's position that it could not, in fact, have been more than 20 minutes since he first sat down; far from being comforting, this in fact made him even more restless.
He shifted about on the grass and looked across the hollow at his partnet, who sat against the tree as if glad for the rest, yet ready to continue trekking toward the mountain top at the slightest suggestion.
But Cobb could not make that suggestion, uncomfortable as he was. For the first time, he envied his comrade's imperterbable nature. He wondered if Dranger were as tired as he seemed to be...

"Mr. Cobb." The stern authoritatian voice broke upon the ears of the youth slouching upon a chair in the office. The young man looked up, a lopsided grin plastered across his face.

"Mr. Cobb, you have spent more days absent from this school than you have spent in it. Now, as you have just turned sixteen, you are legally allowed to remove yourself from school, but I highly advise against it. If you had proven yourself capable of looking out for yourself by honest labor, I should be supportive of such a decision. But you do not work, you simply live off the goods of others, supplemented by what you can scrounge with the least amount of effort."

The man behind the desk removed his thick-rimmed glasses, and rubbed the bridge of his nose, as if steeling himself for a futile task.

"Mr. Cobb, I know that you do not see the value of applying yourself to any sort of work. You are intelligent, highly intelligent, and can indeed live off the hard work of others. You are beyond doubt capableof providing for yourself in uunorthodox ways. There would be no use lying to you about the fact. I cannot force you to stay in school or to take a job, but I hope to persuade you to do so.

"It is said that 'he who does not work shall not eat.' I doubt that you put much stock in traditional wisdom, but let me assure that this proverb quite often proves true. However, if you do decide to apply yourself, whether in manual labor or in school, I have no doubt that you will soon prove successful."

By the time he reached the end of his speech, he knew that it had been a futile, though necessary, attempt. The young man continued to grin disarmingly, but the grin was slightly forced, and the eyes glazed over. He was, in fact, so absorbed in whatever else he was thinking about, that he had not even noticed that the principal had finished speaking.

"Mr. Cobb." The young man started slightly, then rose to his feet. "Yessir, I'll keep that in mind. Anything else?"

The man started to say something, then thought better of it, and shook his head. "No, that's all. If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets..."
Cobb shook his head to clear the memory, but it only served to shake others loose. The years of travel, hitchhiking and stowing away; the string of girlfriends, always happy to lend money to such a charming person--and after all, didn't he show such promise? He exhaled slowly, burying his face in his hands, deep in thought.


The sound startled him, and he jerked upright. Dranger stood over him, and the sun’s position indicated a time close to noon.

"You ready?"

Cobb nodded slowly, getting to his feet. The two men passed out of the hollow, and began again the slow trudge through the forest. One stopped for a moment and looked back. Through the distant opening in the trees, he could see a shaft of sunlight, a small stone monument, and the remnants of a lifetime.
The man awoke as the sunbeam moved slowly across his face. He looked up to see the interwoven branches of trees overhead, which permitted only one single sunbeam to pass through. The project was unfinished as of yet, but when completed, would turn the small space into a cathedral of wood and grass. It had taken months to get the trees cleared from the hollow, and another for the grass carpet to grow to sufficient lushness. Now his time was primarily occupied with twining bits of hanging moss between the tree trunks. No harsh walls could be permitted here, but neither should passage be too easy.

He got to his feet, and walked over to the rough-hewn rock that protruded from the earthen floor of the hollow. Smaller rocks lay nearby, and the grass was littered with tiny chips and fragments of rock. Sitting down beside the stone, he picked up a smaller stone and began to chip away at the larger stone. A vague shape was beginning to form uunderneath his determined hands.
Many days were spent in this pursuit. As the sun arced across the sky each day, he noted the slight changes that marked the annual progress of the months. Each night, as he went to sleep, he made a single mark on a damp clay slate. After thirty marks were inscribed on the slate, he made a single mark on a wooden pillar that stood by his resting place. After twelve marks were made on the pillar, he carefully incised a single mark into a stone obelisk. The obelisk had only three small marks on it, though it would be time for another soon.

As the weeks passed, the stone continued to take shape under the worker's hands. One day, satisfied that the shape was at last satisfactory, he strolled down to the stream that flowed nearby. He filled his hands with dense clay and returned to the hollow. Resuming his seat by the stone, he began applying the clay to its surface. He coated the stone completely, smoothing it carefully.

As he worked, the sun, moving into the second half of its arc, began to cast its beam onto the surface of the stone. Sitting back, the artist wiped his hands clean on the grass, and watched the clay begin to harden in the warmth of the sun.

He left the hollow and began making his way back to his sleeping place. It was not far; he preferred to live near his current project.

He did not stop on his journey back, but simply plucked fruit from the trees as he went. As he entered the natural clearing where he slept, he sat upon the grass and began to eat. Consulting the clay slate by his pallet, he decided that he would have to hunt on the following day.

After washing his hands in the stream, he lay down upon the grass, which still retained the heat of the afternoon sun, and fell asleep, happily exhausted by the labor of the day. As the stars began to shine in the evening sky, the young man dreamed.

"Still studying, old bean?" asked a voice in a dreadfully fake Oxford accent. The young man sighed and glanced up from his book.

"Yes, Harold, I am." He quickly dove back into the book, reaching absently for the cup of tea that sat on the table beside his chair.

The other man was of a type that others referred to as "sporty," lacking both the discipline of the true athelete and the true humor that marked a dazzling wit. In their place, he had a striking determination to finish college without reading a single book more than absolutely necessary--which he insisted was as strict a discipline as any--and the flippant tone that merely assumes the humor rather than bothering to actually seek it out.

"So what's Einstein absorbed in today, I wonder, hmm?" He slipped a finger under the cover of the book that lay flat upon Arthur's knee and tilted it upward in an attempt to read the title.

"Homer, if you must know," stated Arthur flatly, adjusting his glasses and turning a page.

"I thought you did Homer last year? Not again, surely?"
"You might say that." He relented, and held up the cover to be read.

" 'Homer's Iliad"...Good grief, you're not trying the Greek, are you?"
"Why not? I'm supposedly learning the language, might as well put it to some use."

"Well...suit yourself, I guess. But the Spats and I are heading out to a club, see if we can find some chicks." The sporting young man grinned devilishly. "You oughta come, you know. Find your Muse!"
Arthur laughed perfunctorily, never taking his eyes off the book. "I need to finish this translation right now; I have a meeting tonight, and I don't want to leave it till morning."
"Ye gods, man, don't you ever have fun?"
"Not what you would think fun, no; not often, anyway."
Harold shook his head pityingly. "You're repressed, you know that? One of these days you're going to wake up gay. Or sober."
"Don't you have some partying to do?"
"Of course. Just wanted to try to rouse you from your academic stupor. See you later!"

Arthur sighed in relief as his classmate left. Harold was neither bad nor stupid, but he was terribly annoying at times. He quickly checked his watch, and returned to his reading.

Soon, he closed the book, made a few final notes, tucked his reading glasses into his bag, then gathered up his things and walked briskly out of the coffeeshop door. He strode rapidly across the wintry campus, crossed the brown lawn of the library, and ducked inside. Finding his way to the familiar study room, he opened the door and stepped inside.

"Hey, it's King Arthur! Clear him up a seat, boys, can't have him excluded from the Round Table, can we?" The familiar laughter rang around him as he took a seat, grinning. The room contained a circular table, which at the moment was surrounded by young men, most of whom clutched papers of some sort, scraps of writing to be presented for critique by the group. No way in Hell, Arthur thought, would Harold consider this sort of thing to be fun.

"Hear ye, hear ye, come to order! The most secret society of the Seige Perilous is now called to order! My young authors, are you ready to take the literary world by storm?"
A loud shout rang out, affirming that they were.
"Ready to joust with giants, using no lance but a cheap ballpoint pen? Yes, Thomas, your typewriter counts, but it's not as good a metaphor. Ready for the jousting, then?"
Another vigourous shout answered him.
"Ready to---Oh! Sorry, ma'am, we didn't realize you could hear us through the door. Yes, ma'am, we know all about being quiet in the library. Yes ma'am, we realize that use of the study rooms is a privelege, not a right. Yes, we'll be quiet from now on. Thank you ma'am."

The irate librarian closed the door, and the somewhat chastened leader spoke to the room in general again.

"Well, boys, you heard her. We can't run about disturbing the Lady of the Library, so let's get on with business. Has anyone got scribblings to share?"

The young man turned over in his sleep, smiling at the memory of work well done, of which contented rest is the best reward.


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