Monday, May 14, 2007

A Very Long Explanation for the Curious

Though the incessant rain and occasional hail have stopped (for the most part), the hills around Cormilack are still too sodden from rain and thawed snow to travel safely. Bits of road have a tendency to wander off downhill to explore. Even the Kilopedes are staying away; I haven't seen a single one since I left the one that brought me here.

I suppose you've probably been wondering where I've been these last few months.

After leaving the Kilopede, I stumbled through the hills in the dark for quite some time. Moonlit walks in the dark are much less pleasant when the moons are absent and the hills keep sticking rocks in front of your feet. I must try to get a good salamander someday. They're expensive, but the light would be worth it if wandering through mountains in the dark becomes a habit.

Anyway. Eventually, somewhat scratched, bruised, and muddy, I staggered into the outskirts of Cormilack, watching the stars swallowed up by the shadow of the mechanical mountain that looms over the town. I had no idea what it was then; I only knew that it was interesting, and that I had to draw it as soon as it was light outside.

Unfortunately, I had no idea then that I had arrived right at the beginning of the rainy season.

While most of Hamjamser spends the winter under varying amounts of snow, Cormilack spends it largely underwater; the only snow is on the mountaintops. The weather stays warmer here. The townspeople blame it on the giant machine, saying that it reflects the heat of the sun into the rest of the valley, that it stores heat all Summer and releases it in the Winter, that the mysterious, ice-encrusted mechanisms and antennae sticking up from its roof (peak?) disrupt the weather around Cormilack - there are as many explanations as there are people to make them. Some say that the Sun Dragon likes to wheel overhead and admire the digging machine. That may be true, but if so, I've never seen him. On each of the fifteen days - I've counted - that the sun shone during the winter, there was not a Dragon in sight.

Some say that the machine's engine is still going, and that its heat is what warms the valley.

The people of Cormilack call the machine the Earthmover, sensibly, as that is what it is. The highest hills in the town seem to have been plowed up by its immense blades and wheels - the tallest earthen hills, anyway. The Earthmover itself is the tallest hill in sight. Much of the town is built on it. According to local legends, the Earthmover was used thousands of years ago by the Hill Builders to build the Mountainous Plains. This is why the Earthmover and the Hill Builders are called what they are. Most people in Cormilack agree that the Earthmover was last used to make the perfect spiral of mountain ranges that surrounds the valley (I've only seen the inner mountains, but they say you can see the spiral, as perfect as a snail's shell, if you fly high enough). Upon reaching the center, several important parts broke, most the size of small foothills, at the same time that the Earthmover reached the soft, rich soil in the center of the valley and sank immovably into it. The Hill Builders, having finished sculpting the topography of this particular part of Hamjamser, decided that they had no further use for the thing anyway and left it here.

This is a typical Cormilack legend. The townspeople don't disapprove of romance and mysticism - not exactly - but they don't have much use for them either. When it comes to speculation, they're experts, but they'll take the most sensible explanation whenever they can find it.

However and whyever it's here, the Earthmover has obviously been in bad shape for a long time. Every piece of metal on it is worn and rusted. Even the digging blades at the front - which, according to local mechanics, are at least partially made of hypersteel - have their fair share of chips and scratches. One mechanical arm lies limply over a front wheel with tree-sized wires and pistons hanging from its mangled end. The drill it used to hold lies a mile or so away. Segments have fallen off the tire tread. Struts hang crookedly without their counterweights. One end of a massive snapped cable rises above the village, a crazed column of twisted metal as big around as a house and taller than most of the nearby mountains. The other end is frequently obscured by clouds. The whole mountain of ancient machinery is sunk deeper than the height of six houses into the soft soil of the valley, and grass grows in the gaps between peeling metal plates. The flatter parts are covered with trees and houses as well. It's a magnificent wreck.

As eager as I was to begin drawing the Earthmover, the weather made it completely impossible on the very first night I stayed here. Having found a reasonably good inn - it was sheltered, affordable, and warm, and that was enough for me - I was trying to nurse my fingers back to life with a bowl of soup when the rainy season hit Cormilack.

There's no other way to put it. At first, I thought something had exploded. The sound was a bit like the sound of a wet fish hitting a dock - a fish about the size of an average whale. The entire building shook.

No one inside it seemed particularly concerned. A group of people who had been celebrating a birthday party in most of the room, laughing and shouting and working their way steadily through a cake shaped like a large gear, all calmed down slightly. Still talking, they stood up, opened their umbrellas with a chorus of FLOOMPs (except the more amphibious of them, who didn't seem to care about umbrellas), and walked briskly out the door to disperse, still talking, into the ocean that was falling outside.

"Er - what exactly is happening?" I asked the innkeeper. She paused, heading towards the door with an armful of sandbags for the threshold.

"It's raining," she said simply.

I spent the next few months occasionally sketching the Earthmover, on the rare occasions when the rain stopped, but mostly just trying to keep everything dry. This is nearly impossible during a Cormilack winter. The villagers don't even try to keep their houses from flooding; whenever one floor fills with water, they just move all the furniture to the next one up. This explains why, in the middle of the valley, a house for a family of three can be six or seven stories high. It also explains the faint odor of must and pondweed that lingers around even the cleanest houses.

There is no way to describe how wet Cormilack is in the winter. Nowhere else comes close. The water on the ground is only the least of it. Even when it reaches the fifth floors of the houses, it still answers to gravity.

It's the water everywhere else that's the problem. The air is full of fog AND rain, at the same time, which I hadn't even known was possible. On especially wet days, it's hard to tell whether you're above or below the water. There isn't much difference. The fog creeps into the houses through every crack, filling the rooms inside with thick, opaque gray. Anything more than two feet away is invisible. Water trickles down the walls and drips from the ceiling. Rain comes in through every possible opening. Puddles collect in corners. Cups and bowls left in the open fill and overflow. Carpets squish when stepped on. Most people in Cormilack, in fact, don't even bother to have carpets, as the moss in their houses is thicker and doesn't rot. The air barely deserves the name. There's more water in it than air.

Nothing made of metal, paper, or wood is left out in the winter unless it's well covered in something waterproof - oil, wax, varnish, et cetera. Everything else is wrapped up until the spring. The houses are wooden, but far too big to waterproof, so the villagers just add more boards in strategic places when the old ones rot. It wasn't long before I gave up trying to draw. I kept my paper, pens, and pencils in a watertight oilskin package for most of the winter, the same way everyone else does, and got used to being constantly wet.

The floods receded over a few weeks in March, but - as I mentioned - the rest of the valley is still far from solid. The sun shines more often than not now, though, so I've been able to return to sketching the Earthmover. It will still probably be quite a while before I've got a finished drawing of it.

Unlike the migrant floods, the water that collects under the Earthmover stays there all year; the pools down there are the deepest in the whole valley, and the sun never reaches them. They stay dark and cold. Fishermen go down there occasionally, finding their way with candles, tame salamanders, or (in some cases) echolocation. They wade through rust silt to catch the blind crimson fish that swim through corroding wheels and pylons in the black water. Some say the fish have so much metal in them, you can catch them with a magnet.

I haven't eaten any.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

  • Stats Tracked by StatCounter