The 400 Steps to Kreludor
Flurple was a starry Kacheek, but more than that, he was a dreamer. At the end of every working day he would climb the highest hill in his homeland of Meridell, leaving in his wake the mocking scorn of the other hard-toiling folks who tended Meri-Acres Farm: the Slorg Fighters; the Produce Pickers; the Potato Counters. Those who did not understand the power of dreams, those who called after him, “Off to fight the comets, Flurple? To pick the moon? To count the stars?” A chorus of laughter followed him into the setting sun, laughter that did not penetrate the Kacheek’s serenity, his single-minded purpose.
Reaching the summit of the highest hill, Flurple would lie down on comfortable and familiar tufts of grass and settle into their reassurance with a contented sigh. As the sun bled out the last of its light far below him on the rim of the world, Flurple would watch the vault of the sky, welcoming the appearing stars like old friends, greeting the emerging constellations by name.
Above Flurple’s prone figure, the night sky would change her garments from blue to purple to deepest black, studded with stars like rhinestones, like a magician’s cape transforming, transmuting, turning evening to night with sleight of hand. As the light changed, the Kacheek would hold his spread fingers in front of his eyes and watch them change as well; from blue to purple to deepest black, only his own stars dimly shining upon his skin, like faint rhinestones, like a magician’s cape transforming, transmuting, turning him from evening to night.
At this point of every evening, Flurple would lose the distinction between his own body and that of the cosmos, the dividing line blurring in the murk and eventually disappearing, his mind expanding wider and wider until it encompassed all of space and time. Each evening and deep into each night would Flurple pass the time in this way, at one with the universe, a star in the firmament free of mundane pains and concerns. And yet... and yet at some point every night his meditation would be interrupted, his serenity disturbed by the pulling force, the insistent intrusion of the closest body in the night sky; the gibbous moon of Kreludor.
As it pulled on the great Neopian seas to cause the tides and waves, so too would Kreludor draw Flurple’s mind back from the edges of the void, crashing back inside himself like the pounding surfs of Mystery Island; an act of violence quickly forgiven, for as mesmerized as Flurple was by the luminosity of the constellations, his true obsession was with the moon. What his mocking fellow Neopians could not have guessed was that Flurple was, indeed, hatching a plan to reach the moon, and if not to actually pick it from the sky, to at least add the warmth and light of his stars to the cold of its darkness.
“A stairway,” Flurple said to Kreludor, breaking the silence of the night with his breathless voice, “I will build a stairway to reach you. I calculate it will take 400 steps to reach you one month from now when you have completed your orbit, returning full and shining, nearing as close in your course to Neopia as you ever do.”
Kreludor passed across his line of vision, slowly yet persistently marching through the houses of the Sleeper and the Dreamer and the First to Rise; the groupings of stars like trusted friends, those who watched over the Kacheek who looked up at them. When finally the moon was swallowed by the rising sun, Flurple stretched contentedly before beginning his daily descent. He had made his promise before the moon and stars, a stairway would he build.
Every morning Flurple arrived at Meri-Acres Farm, his body ready to perform its menial labour, his occupied mind light-years away -- flying with the comets, racing across the face of the moon, dancing with the stars. The music of deepest space filled his consciousness, blocking out the scorn and mockery of those other labourers who were forced to pass their hours with worldly concerns, and this private music nourished the Kacheek in body and mind with the life force of the cosmos. Each day did he pass in this manner, like so many days and weeks and months previous, but his evenings were filled with new activity.
For now when, at the end of every working day he would climb the highest hill in Meridell, leaving in his wake the mocking scorn of the other hard-toiling folks, he would not go with empty hands. Rather, he would climb with as much building material as he could carry, as many boards and nails and tools as any Kacheek had ever carried up the highest hill in his homeland.
And now when, upon reaching the summit of the highest hill, he espied the comfortable and familiar tufts of grass that had cradled his head for untold evenings, he did not submit to their offer of reassurance. Rather, he would unburden himself of his boards and nails, and with the music of deepest space yet filling his consciousness, he would pick up his tools and resume his undertaking where it had left off that morning; the construction of his stairway to Kreludor.
His fellow labourers did not enquire about his activity, for they did not even yet understand the power of dreams, tied as they were to the mundane, the banal concerns of their own hard lives. Only did the Lightmites visit him at the summit of the highest hill in Meridell, swirling around his head like living constellations, dispersing and reforming in clouds like the hearts of distant galaxies. Flurple did not note their presence, only concentrating on the colours of the night sky’s robes, awaiting the moment when the line would be blurred between within and without, the instant his mind would expand to the reaches of the void. With the power of the life force of the cosmos coursing through his inconstant form, that Kacheek of stars, that starry Kacheek, could build his stairway to Kreludor.
At some point every night his enterprise would be interrupted, and like the tides of the mighty Neopian seas, Flurple’s mind would be pulled from zenith to nadir, from the furthest reaches of the void, violently crashing back into a small point deep within the Kacheek’s heart; Kreludor insistently interrupting, intruding, to Flurple’s delight.
Night after night the Kacheek passed in this manner, building his stairway and watching Kreludor’s endless march through the houses of the constellations, always noting the waning and then the waxing of the moon, judging how long he had until it re-emerged in its fullest face. The stairway rose higher and higher, and as dawn emerged on the morning before the evening of the full moon, Flurple laid down his tools on the 399th step, stretched contentedly, and made his daily descent.
The Kacheek arrived at Meri-Acres Farm, his body ready to perform its menial labour, his occupied mind light-years away. The hours passed in private contemplation, the music of the cosmos providing an encouraging soundtrack to Flurple’s excited anticipation, nourishing as it did with the life force of the cosmos, that swirling energy of which the Kacheek recognised he was comprised.
The working day completed, Flurple climbed the highest hill in Meridell, leaving in his wake the mocking scorn of the other hard-toiling folks who tended Meri-Acres Farm: the Slorg Fighters; the Produce Pickers; the Potato Counters. Those who did not understand the power of dreams, those who called after him, “Off to fight the comets, Flurple? To pick the moon? To count the stars?” A chorus of laughter followed him into the setting sun, laughter he did not hear, nourished as he was, poised on the cusp of perfect fulfillment.
Flurple disappeared over the crest of the hill and was never seen again.
When Flurple did not arrive at Meri-Acres Farm the next day or the day after that or the week after that, some of his hard-toiling coworkers allowed his absence to intrude on their banal lives, to become a part of their worldly burdens. These same labourers, the mockers, the scorners, now began to whisper words of concern.
A search party was launched at the end of one day’s labour, and a small group of Neopians climbed the highest hill in Meridell for the first time in their lives. Reaching the summit, they noted: the boards and the nails and the tools; they noted the comfortable and reassuring looking tufts of grass that might cradle a weary body; but mostly, they noted a fine wooden stairway that ascended high into the firmament, a stairway that no doubt had 400 steps or more.
Not understanding the power of dreams, too firmly anchored by their banal fears and mundane concerns, not one thought to climb the stairway, to reach for the stars that now appeared, the emerging constellations that not one of them could name.