Above Instinct – A New Novel Extract by James Walker

Joint Winner of The Letter Review Prize for Unpublished Books

The First God stepped forward and in his footprint our universe began. As the print reflects its maker, in time, his impression filled our universe with new gods, and turned the inanimate into life, and brought man and animal up from the soil.

Into this divine world we came, too fragile to master it, too simple to understand it. We feel divinity in our minds and see it in nature, but we can never understand the gods nor see our world truly. We feel something greater in our existence, despite how easily living breaks and kills us.

In this world there is death and suffering, for we are mortals in a divine world. But by surviving, we become stronger, more godlike, and beget stronger generations. You must survive and grow and father, and one day, our descendants will greet the gods as equals.’

– A father to his two sons.


The Winter God was weakening; his bitterness gradually retreating under brightening and clearing skies. Occasional snowfall glided overhead, but the blizzards and snowstorms slept, persuading Follows that travel was safe.

Winter’s imprisonment had made him restless. Without conversation or much activity, his own company had grown increasingly difficult. Finally, desperate to escape the overfamiliar surroundings and encouraged by the warming winds, he left his winter caves.

Under weak sunlight he sprang across thinning snows, discarding the stresses of confinement, optimistic and thoughtful. He walked under evergreens heavy with snowfall, watching the waking world. He saw herds of deer traverse the horizon, warm silhouettes against the sky, dawdling and lazy. He watched great snowy plains churned by countless bison, and a lone bear wander searchingly across empty white land. Deprived of much stimulation for a season, each sight was captivating.

The sun arced across the sky as he crossed mountain and valley, each covered horizon further reviving his spirit. When the Sun God retired to rest and the Night God swept clear the heavens, he settled amongst his furs, his mood lifted, tired eyes watching the stars until dreams replaced thoughts. When he woke, he beat on: navigating, hunting, and sheltering. Days and nights passed gently overhead, the weather kind, his wandering and hunting relaxed and easy.

One morning, Follows strode onto a ridge, enjoying the strengthening sun, calm and reflective. But alarm stopped him, silhouetting him against the winter sky overlooking a snowy plain below. He stared across the silent, snow-laden lowland at the two men watching him. Follows remained still, encountering other humans a sobering rarity. Stiffened by his intrusion into their territory, the men inspected him indecisively, burdened with the responsibility of challenging him, but hesitant to risk the confrontation.

Three hundred paces separated the men, all attempting to interpret each other’s intentions. Snowflakes whisked on gentle winds between the men, their flight unnoticed and their surroundings severe. No birdsong or movement disturbed the tension; the uncomfortable quiet reigned unchallenged, infecting Follows with nervousness.

Burying his unease, Follows studied the men. One had seen about sixteen winters, his beard thin and broadness youthful. The other man was older, his beard thick, his body strong and dangerous.

He knew the two men were in a difficult situation: they could not allow him to leave without risking their safety. His presence left them susceptible to his ambushes and raids, and their tracks informed Follows of their movements, which could lead him to their camp. Yet a direct assault, despite their outnumbering him, was a dangerous commitment—he was a fully grown male and potentially lethal.

Follows’ fear was diluted by two summers and two winters without human contact. Where there were men, there were usually women, and that mere thought was weakening. His desire twisted his stomach and clouded his mind, deterring him from fleeing the area. These men stood between him and a partner; if he could kill them and locate their women, he could end his loneliness.

He tried to ignore the longing threatening his judgement so he could concentrate on forming a plan. He could not directly attack the men: outnumbered, his survival was unlikely; in open ground, he was too vulnerable. Attempting to befriend the men risked their temperament, and their reaction was too unpredictable to chance. They would not speak his language, and they would not risk their lives attempting communication when killing him would ensure their survival. Only his death guaranteed them safety; in their situation, he would attack.

He had no choice but to withdraw and let them hunt him, and then hopefully he could gain an advantage in the woodland behind him. If he could ambush them, he would kill the older man first. He stepped backwards, watching the men. The older man disclosed nothing, but the younger man stepped slowly towards him. The laboured steps betrayed suppressed aggression— the men would pursue.

Follows backed out of sight behind the hill, then ran for the woodland. He sprinted into the wood, tearing amongst the trees looking for places that could lend him an advantage. He judged the men would now be in pursuit, committed to his killing.

He searched wildly for any opportunity to confuse them, frantically inspecting undergrowth, rocks, and hills, until finally an opportunity arose: a downed evergreen collapsed behind a series of closely knit trees. He sprinted a hundred paces past it, then half-circled, now running parallel with his original route back towards the fallen fir. He threw himself behind the tree and dug himself into the snow. He focused, his senses tuned to the woodland, listening for his hunters.

He calmed his heavy breathing, buried his winter breaths in his furs, and tightly gripped his spear. He forced himself patient, fighting his shaking. He peered underneath the raised trunk, through its pine needles, at the path he had entered upon. His teeth clenched, the wait frustrated; his mind paced.

He suppressed his fear that he had been outmanoeuvred. The men would not try to flank him: they could too easily lose him and his trail, or unexpectedly emerge into direct contact and lose a chase’s forewarning. They would not try to hunt him later, as darkness would hide his tracks and increase their own vulnerability. They would not return to camp for reinforcements, as this allowed him to escape, hide, and stalk them. He steadied his impatience, knowing the men would follow, and if they decided against chasing him, he would track and investigate their group for women later.

Finally, the men came fast across the snow, trailing his footprints, examining their surroundings for any signs. The younger man led; the older man followed. Their breath streamed into the air as they descended upon his footprints, both wearing violence. Despite their caution, they passed him, committing their gravest mistake.

Follows waited two breaths, then stood, stepped soundlessly around the fallen tree, and hurled his spear at the older man. The spear collided into the older man’s back, crashing him into the ground, spasms rippling through his failing body. The older man’s scream echoed through the trees as Follows sprinted towards the men.

The younger man turned towards the cries and saw his companion impaled and crippled in the snow. Beyond him charged the man responsible. The younger man roared with mixed hate and fear and launched his spear at Follows.

Follows had anticipated the attack and dived into the ground, avoiding the spear. Undeterred, the younger man tore towards Follows, past his struggling and dying companion, his wild eyes promising a brutal confrontation. The two men hurtled into each other and hatefully ripped each other from their feet. They smashed into the ground, punching, clawing, and strangling. The young man tore at Follows’ eyes, but he deflected the attack and clasped the young man to his chest.

Locked in embrace, the men ruthlessly attacked and brutalised each other, but their closeness disallowed either man space for decisive strikes. The young man grabbed Follows’ hair and wrenched his head onto the ground. Follows gripped the young man’s throat and strangled him, but the young man pulled himself closer and bit Follows’ neck.

The pain was immediate but Follows suppressed panic, knowing that relinquishing control would advantage the young man. Realising he was losing and that he might die, terror consumed Follows, summoning wild cruelty. Follows sought the young man’s face and pushed his fingers into his eyes. The young man pulled away to knock aside Follows’ arm, giving Follows the opportunity he needed. He smashed his fist into the young man’s jaw, knocking him backwards, then he leapt upon him, punching and tearing.

The young man tried thrashing free, but his senses were dissolving; he was beaten, his consciousness darkening and deserting him. Follows continued beating the young man—his coherence lost amidst fear and anger—but when he finally realised the boy was dead, his violence faded. As sense returned, he dropped the mauled boy and walked towards the older man.

The older man was alive but motionless, coldly watching him approach. Follows did not hate these men, their circumstances and conflicting interests had demanded the confrontation, not their feelings. But now he needed to ensure they could not call for help. Follows picked up the old man’s spear and drove it through his neck, prying him from the world.

Follows collapsed into the snow, distraught, but relieved to have survived. He lay trembling, overwhelmed by fervour, inhaling cold air deep into his starved chest, watching his exhalations flood heavenwards and disappear into the aether. He felt blood seeping beneath his furs and washing over his damp skin. He touched his neck and felt the blood. He fought away his exhaustion and rose; he needed to distance and mend himself. The men’s absence would eventually cause concern amongst their family and provoke a search—he could not chance another fight.

Before he fled, he discarded his damaged furs, then retrieved the men’s spears and the younger man’s clothes. While dressing, he noticed the men’s similarities, evidently father and son, suggesting they were from a small family group and that little protection remained for their women.

When ready, he strode into the woods, deepening until a fire’s smoke could rise beyond the notice of anyone outside the trees. He disorderly littered his tracks, leaving broken trails to confuse any possible pursuers. Finally, he stopped, judging his surroundings sufficient to hide a fire.

Overhead, winter’s early dusk slowly intruded, spilling darkness onto the blue skies and stealing the light beneath the woodland canopy. He moved swiftly inside the shadowing underwood, retrieving tinder and kindling from his pack, and breaking dry branches to fit his hearth. He ground wood together until it smouldered and ignited the tinder, trickling flame onto the kindling, bark, and wood. He warmed a spearhead beside the fireplace to ready its edge to burn his neck. He pressed snow into the cut, cleaning it and slowing the bleeding, numbing it for the searing. He retrieved the spearhead and plunged its edge into his ripped skin.

Experience had familiarised—but never accustomed him—to the agony. His body was littered with scars, disclosing his history of conflict, accidents, and injuries. He sang his cries into his furs, gagging his pain, tears brimming his eyes. He singed himself two further times, ensuring the wound was burnt closed and that he would not bleed into unconsciousness. Dazed by pain, he feebly cleaned his neck with snow, soothing the pain that would linger for days. Cleaning the wound stopped poisonous spirits entering him, avoiding the fatal sickness which can follow injury. He had seen men succumb to this infection, delirious and robbed of lucidity before feverishly dying, like his brother.

He sat panting as he reclaimed composure. His gaze fell into the fire, its swaying entrancing and soothing. His breathing gradually slowed, and equanimity returned, restoring his focus. He returned to his situation. There were probably more men out there, and soon the absent father and son would provoke their search. The invading night might delay them until morning, but nothing was certain. Still, his longing for female company conquered his caution and dissuaded him from fleeing; his loneliness had been growing increasingly difficult over the past seasons.

He extinguished the flames and scattered the fireplace to hide his visit. He retraced his route, keeping away from his already trodden paths, until he returned to the dead father and son. Under fading light, he trailed their footprints past the clearing where he had first encountered the men. Overhead, the Moon emerged through the thinning sky to watch over the frozen world. She invited stars to grace the thickening night and accompany her across the darkening firmament. The tired Sun God fell behind the horizon and left the heavens for the Night God.

The men’s trail led Follows into woodland, and he advanced quietly, eyes vigilant and ears attentive. The trees swallowed him under their dusky awnings, their corridors breached by shards of fading crimson light. Then alarm stopped him. The men’s tracks diverged from seven sets of footprints, all adult men, ending his hopes for women. Despite his desire and desperation, he knew only swift escape could save him now; his choice was death or flight.

He began withdrawing, his ruined hopes—and his return to isolation—were bitter thoughts. He traipsed morosely outside the trees, the sun now gone and the world moonlit and still. He gathered his bearings from the emerging stars and resumed his route, fortunately away from the men’s footprints. Under starry guidance he paced, expeditiously extricating himself from threat. Soon the group would investigate the absent father and son, but the night would hide his tracks and stall the chase until the Sun God woke. He would flee through the winter night and distance himself inside its darkness. When first light appeared and the manhunt began, he would be beyond apprehension.

In a few days he could temper his escape, knowing that even the enraged and vengeful would eventually accept their chase’s futility and abandon pursuit. He strode through the night, bracing against the cold, stiff against the wind. The starlight coloured the dark lands in grey hues, lighting him a path into the shadows.


Eight uneventful days of flight passed until finally Follows was confident of his safety, allowing him to relax his pace. The father and son faded into the past, and the present reoccupied him, refocusing him on his journey.

The recent days had been kind and temperate, which was summer’s gift. Birdsong celebrating the disappearing cold crept into his days, inspiriting his travel and creating a camaraderie with the birds. He whistled to thank them for their music and conversation, hoping to encourage their continued company. Unlike other animals, birds were never wary of him, probably because his kind presented them little danger.

His affinity with animals never diminished, and the privilege of their company never faded. He hunted them through necessity but respected them. Sometimes watching animals relaxed him and postponed his loneliness. Often, he could discern their social dynamics and thoughts, making him feel inexplicably closer to them.

He exhaled contentedly as he watched the birds drift overhead, envying their flight and wishing to similarly soar above the lands that bound him. Each animal usually reminded him of his limitations, making him covet their speed, strength, and imperviousness to cold. He had travelled enormous distances during his lifetime but observed only one creature of similar limitation, the Neanderthal. No other beast wore the hides of another, used weapons, traps, tools, and fires, or was so vulnerable without these protections. But although man had many inadequacies, his endurance was unrivalled, and this won him his contests and sustenance.

He imagined human strangeness attracted other animals’ curiosity, but when the birds sang, he felt accepted and invited to enjoy their music despite his oddity. He worried that not understanding their language made him appear unfriendly, but he hoped they recognised his ignorance instead of concluding him insolent.

Despite comparing poorly with other animals, he had seen man beat their strongest and largest. The conquests filled him with pride, for they evidenced man’s strength. He had watched the world’s confident giants, such as the mammoth and rhino, tricked and felled by his kinsmen. He had seen the great predators, such as the lion and tiger, succumb to man’s traps. He knew his kind were not defenceless, and he wanted to claim equality with the gods’ strongest creations, but he knew this was untrue.

Many united men were a formidable force, but singularly they were vulnerable. Alone, he was at the world’s mercy and fragile against the weather and predators. He remembered his father’s words: ‘Thank the animals that eat from the earth, for if they hunted man, there would be no man.’ Man was a pack animal, driven together to survive, unlike the great predators that roamed alone, needing no communal support to thrive. He knew these creatures lived more freely and less fearfully than humans, for even man’s weapons, traps, and cunning were often ineffectual against his larger neighbours. He admired and understood the great predators and knew how to avoid and survive their company; only humans and their unpredictability frightened him.

He thought humans were like wolves, ill-equipped to survive without a group. They hunted in numbers, combining their efforts and sharing their kills. Together they were fearsome; individually they were weak—even he had triumphed over lone wolves. He judged their kinds equally matched, earning wolves his sympathy.

While Follows walked, he ate dried meats from his pack without pause, ambitious to cover distance. The world insisted anything edible was a staple whether grubs, plants, eggs, insects, animals, birds, or fish; and through lesson, experience and practise he had become an adept procurer of each.

He had killed many animals for their meat and hides, but never maliciously. Often, protracted hunts intimately familiarised him with his prey, teaching him their character and habits. He came to respect his prey, and regretted his survival required their death. Sometimes when a hunt neared its conclusion, the exhausted animal stopped retreating and accepted defeat, hauntingly still and waiting for its end. Its acceptance of death saddened him most; his energies drained witnessing the broken spirit of an animal he admired. But survival always justified the kill.

He had discerned a delicate balance between the species which restrained a champion creature from emerging. Each animal’s strength was accompanied by limitation: wolves did not use weapons, tigers hunted alone, man was slow and delicate against the weather. His profound realisation let him glimpse the gods’ design which protected each species. Logic defended his conclusion, as the world had existed since the first stars, yet no single animal dominated everywhere.

When he discovered these truths, he felt endowed with divine knowledge and empowered to better tackle life. His insights made him feel closer to the gods and their plans, and perhaps made them notice his growing understanding and astuteness with respect and approval.

Light winds carried through his long hair, coolly stroking his bearded face and skin and inviting his smile. He greeted his closest companion, the Wind God, the most powerful god and his greatest ally. He imagined the birds also sang praise to the Wind God for the winds that raised them above the earth.

Relaxed by the sympathetic weather, he sang to himself and the birds, his songs cheerful company across the snowy flats and hills. The Sun God rolled across the skies scattering faint heat, his strength improving, but presently still delicate. The Winter God’s influence was visibly receding, promising to allow summer, its remembered warmth and abundance uplifting.

He understood why the world was torn between the two seasons—his mother had told him the story when he was half his height. The Winter God and Sun God were enemies locked into an eternal conflict that allowed no victor. Their continuous battle had raged throughout time as each god strived to paint the world to their aesthetic. The gods would defeat each other and sculpt the land and skies, only to fatigue and fall to their rested and rejuvenated nemesis. Every nuance of weather and change expressed their battle.

The Winter God stripped the trees and froze the earth, consuming the world’s variety beneath blankets of snow, desiring a uniform world of cold and ice, valuing neither life nor colour. When the Sun God triumphed, he melted the snows, filled the trees, and grew food. He raised grass from softened ground and shone proudly over his work. The seasons predictably followed each other, the gods equally matched and neither capable of reigning without tiring. Time would never decide a winner; the world was forever tied to this inescapable routine.

He supported the Sun God unreservedly and hoped each summer the iridescent deity would deter the Winter God; but each time he was disappointed. When the days grew shorter and cold travelled in the winds, he knew the Sun God was beaten and his retreat had begun. The strength of these gods was demonstrated by the enormous changes they fashioned upon the world, but neither god approached the Wind God’s power. The Wind God never tired or slept; he inhabited every recess under the sky, omnipresent without pause. He had witnessed the Wind God’s greatest display of strength many seasons ago when first prying into adulthood.


Ten summers before, his face still beardless, his family alive and loneliness unknown, the murderous winter was ending. The brutal season had mercilessly punished his group, killing nine and leaving eight. A single Moon cycle oversaw the death of his two youngest sisters, an infant cousin, every grandparent, an uncle, and an aunt.

The eldest and youngest perished, leaving his parents, older brother, younger sister, uncle, cousin, and aunt. Hunger had forced their travel. Their barren area had slowly starved them until desperation had evicted them from their winter caves to search for more generous lands. He remembered his tired grandmother staying behind, smilingly assuring him she would rest and catch up; he never saw her again. During the itinerant nights, the cold overran the fire’s warmth, infecting the sleeping and vulnerable. The ravenous children and grandparents never woke from sleep, his famished aunt died in childbirth, and injury left his uncle behind.

The family postponed grief as they fought for survival. There was no time for mourning when death stalked so closely. They stoically persevered, acceptingly abandoning their dead to snowy graves, moving onwards, hunting an end to starvation.

Meagre scavenged foods rescued them while the Winter God weakened and began receding from the world. The depleted and despondent family were slowly encouraged by the withdrawing colds and dared to hope. He watched optimism and health gradually re-emerge in his family, growing his confidence that they would reach summer without suffering further loss.

Gradually the ice and snows melted, and heat trickled into the lengthening days, and the skies grew clear and blue, and the nights kind and hospitable. They wore less and ate more, slept later, and played often. They settled into a generous summer, rich with provisions and comfort. The family began nursing strength into their emaciated bodies and mending their damaged spirits. During these kinder days, they rediscovered contentment. The women grew pregnant again and the men less sullen, and slowly satiated expressions consumed gaunt faces.

His rehabilitation filled him with forgotten energy and his life regained the meaning it had lost inside the blizzards. Winter had relegated existence to struggle and stubborn perseverance through relentless storms. He had morosely trudged through the endlessly similar days, hopeless but obstinate, resisting surrender’s temptations. But now purpose was reappearing and repossessing him of ambition and dreams. His body grew stronger and his muscles fuller, and the departing cold took with it his stress and pains. He playfully wrestled with the men again, enjoyed stories under starlight, and slept peacefully by fires wearing little. He felt his growing strength with pride.

At any opportunity he would measure himself by challenging his brother, striving to surmount the disability of being younger. Close age had ensured they were each other’s principal companions, while time and shared responsibilities had made them inseparable and dependent. From his first steps he had followed his brother, and his parents had named him accordingly, Follows.

His older brother would happily accept his challenges and defeat him, invigorating Follows’ efforts, and making competition their dynamic. His brother had been named Quiet during infancy for crying little, a behaviour following him into adulthood, never brash or loud.

When Follows was not hunting or competing with Quiet, his mind inadvertently wandered to women—a new pastime of increasing preoccupation. Without an outlet for his desires, his fancies and imaginings fell upon his aunt. She was new to the family; his uncle had stolen her two summers ago from another group. She had joined his uncle willingly, but his family had still been forced to flee the area to escape her family’s reprisal.

At night, Follows imagined lying with her, possessing, and exploring her. He daydreamed of defending and winning her, defeating his uncle, and eloping with her. But his musings inevitably ended the same way, a return to reality and emptiness. Unable to realise his fantasies, and without an outlet for his affections, he became frustrated.

He kept his desires hidden, fearing his lusting would fracture their small group or earn him ridicule from the men. He knew as he grew his uncle would feel increasingly threatened, more suspicious of his coveting and protective of his partner. He understood these mistrusts could escalate into conflict and so confined his longings to unsatisfying dreams. He worried their family would never find another group, leaving him alone. The thought of never having a woman increasingly despaired and panicked him. It was these anxieties which provoked his long explorations into the wilderness looking for a partner.

His impatience and urges were not peculiar to him; Quiet was similarly afflicted. Unable to ignore their yearnings, they journeyed together, searching for signs of people. Their excursions probed their surroundings and guided them many horizons from camp. The impetus for their wanderings remained unspoken. Their conversations focused instead upon shared dreams, taking over groups, and defeating great animals; their debates probed existence, the afterlife, and the gods. They found opportunity to play often, inventing games and competitions to occupy their travels. He later reflected on these times as amongst his happiest.

Provided the brothers were not required for hunting or chores, the family allowed their explorations with understanding sympathy, keen to avoid fraying tempers. His father and uncle recognised the boys’ motivations, but despite some amusement, they never trivialised their feelings. They realised the importance of acquiring a partner and knew lone males were more prone to impulsiveness, recklessness, violence, and reclusiveness.

His father appreciated the dangerousness of their wanderings but knew better than to constrain them. He knew significant disagreement during their impetuous ages could rupture their group and even kill. He would only intervene to preserve the group’s solidity, never to forcibly assert his will and encourage challenge. So, he tolerated their searching, willing to assist if entreated.

Despite the brothers’ searches, they never found trace of humans. Over the summer these frustrations sometimes cultivated irritation, causing occasional disagreements and rare separations. One day an argument over which direction to pursue precipitated their separation. Both riled by the other, they parted, neither brother wishing conflict with their closest companion, each understanding time and solitude placated moods.

Needing to expunge his annoyance, he walked faster and farther than on any previous day. He bounded under the falling sun, carving through long-grassed plains dyed in auburn evening light. He would have kept walking into the night if the world had not ended.

He was arrested by awe; his eyes widened, and his breath caught; his body seized and words disappeared. Before him lay a lake that stretched into forever, its brilliant blue filling every horizon. Uncertain moments followed, the alien scene was simultaneously alluring and disconcerting.

Gradually his caution lessened as the water’s tranquillity calmed him. Overcome by his discovery’s immensity, he sat upon its shimmering shore, staring at its glistening vastness, overwhelmed by its implications. He had found the world’s edge and the boundary of creation. The scale of the gods’ construction communicated his insignificance. He felt inconsequential beside such enormity, all his ambitions and undertakings suddenly trivial. He found new perspective and appreciated life’s brevity and the gods’ eternalness and power.

He knew no creature could ever cross these waters—it was a barrier as insurmountable as climbing the void between the ground and the sky. He had wondered before if the land was infinite, both along and below his feet. He had wondered whether he could walk forever without end, or if he dug deep enough, he would find a great emptiness. Now another of the world’s mysteries was answered, deepening his understanding of existence.

The great truth of his world was its finiteness. Within the confines of this barricade resided finite lands, humans, and animals. He found this comforting, because an infinite world could never be mastered or fully explored, and now these prospects were not impossible.

He watched the lake, confused by its movement, rolling and crashing as if alive, wondering its purpose. He thought a long while before concluding it existed to stop the living from leaving the world and wandering into the immaterial where the gods had ceased creating. His curiosity prompted him to approach the lake, his advance cautious to avoid any dangers. As he neared, the wind passed over him, carrying odours unlike any he had experienced. He paused to consider his safety and study his surroundings, trying to infer anything. He inspected the great lake and gradually reached an important realisation: the wind travelled into his world over these waters, creating the waves skating its surface.

He was unsure why the lake did not spill over existence’s edge into nothingness, but he probed until he grasped the impressive truth. The Wind God lifted the lake from the void where creation ceased, his power relentless and inconceivable. He realised the Wind God existed everywhere and never tired. Through each season the Wind God watched over all creation, guarding night and day without reprieve. Even the great lake must have been built by the Wind God, for only he could sustain it. Such unparalleled strength was both stirring and intimidating.

Follows had never revered the Wind God but now realised his transgression. The Wind God was overseer of all life, guardian of the border separating the incorporeal and the material. Even the great Sun God tired and retreated behind the horizon each day to rest while the Wind God flowed throughout the world, witness and guide to everything without pause. Follows immediately respected such power, and knowing no greater protector and ally existed, he viscerally desired allegiance with such strength. Follows shouted his sentiments into the wind, remorseful he had not before recognised the Wind God’s power.

‘I know now you are the strongest god. You will always have my respect and veneration.’

The Wind God answered with light breezes, confirming he had heard him. Follows stood quietly, staring over the immense waters, finding it difficult to conclude company with such majesty. He remained until the darkening skies reminded him of his waiting family and persuaded him to return. But before he departed, he gathered his courage and neared the waves, curious to touch and taste the impregnable barrier. He knelt and sipped the strangely scented water and immediately grimaced at its brackishness. The lake’s repulsive taste was designed to deter life from braving the waters, not to slake thirsts.

Follows looked at the great lake, simultaneously awed and saddened. He wanted to view the nothingness beyond the water, but knew such sights were impossible for his kind. He felt so powerless, his ability so constrained, yet his mind so boundless. The impassable lake made his life seem so constricted; he would never view nothingness or touch the stars, sit on clouds or visit godly lands.

He supposed the gods intended these feelings to enrich his spirit with revelation, inconsequentiality, and insight. He believed these profound moments connected him with the gods and exposed them to the human experiences their divinity disallowed. He hoped his insight endeared him to them and would earn his prayers more attention. He felt closer to his world and to understanding it, making him feel more sentient.

His thoughts were interrupted as the sun slowly crept towards the lake’s horizon. Enthralled, he watched the sun descend into the lake, colouring the waters in incandescent brilliance. The beauty filled him with rapture and lifted him from mortal considerations. As the sun disappeared, the world slowly darkened and urged him to begin for home. He had witnessed a celestial display and experienced a revelation that made his life seem inconsequential; but cajoled by emerging hunger and shivered by the wind, he began towards home.

Before darkness seized the world, he settled amongst large rocks and prepared a fire, building some comfort within the stony edifice. The withdrawn sun let twilight fall upon the world and welcomed early stars upon the transitioning skies. He fell asleep watching the fire, relaxed and detached, reliving the day’s discoveries. His eyes travelled within the flames until dreams replaced thought and the waking world faded.

When first light roused him, he returned to his relieved family. Their relief quickly dissolved into chastisement, but he bore the admonishment, knowing he deserved it. He disclosed nothing of his experience, feeling that verbalising the events would somehow dilute their profoundness and that human language could not explain his feelings. In his subsequent seasons, his silence preserved the experience’s importance and prevented it being trivialised, allowing it to move him whenever recalled.


The succeeding seasons reunited him with the ocean, but these occasions were never as poignant. Nevertheless, the seas forever captivated him. After this event, he spoke often with the Wind God and felt his presence in each embracing wind. From then on, when starved of human interaction and conversation, he did not feel alone. He found consolation knowing his words and thoughts had an audience and were not lost inside the world, tempering the destructiveness of loneliness and lessening his despair.

Isolation prompted many discussions with the Wind God, and when undistracted, he felt the god’s responses emerge in his mind. He reasoned the gods used such methods because lies could easily hide in human language, but not in thought. Such communication prohibited misunderstanding because feelings attached themselves to thoughts, allowing an openness and sincerity that language obscured.

When untroubled and without obligation, he sought explanations for his questions. The Wind God built answers in his mind, often using his own musings and speculations to ease his understanding.

‘Do gods have form?’ he asked the Wind God.

‘We are shapeless. With form comes limitation, and we must be free from constraint to undertake boundless tasks. Could the Sun God look upon himself with mortal eyes, or lift himself with earthly hands? With form, my breath would not be infinite and could not keep the seas from existence’s edge. And how would the Winter God ply his icy work throughout the world if form confined him to one place?’

‘Why do you care what happens in the world?’

‘Your body is only temporary, but your wisdom journeys with your spirit. The world is your teacher, that is why the gods created it. You must understand the emotions that only man and animal can experience, whether it is fear, lust, anger, or joy. Knowing these feelings will provide you with the wisdom to understand the living when you have left the world.’

‘Does a spirit feel differently to man?’

‘When you sit and feel at peace, when your concerns have temporarily lifted, when you’re free from drive and ambition, when the world is quiet and beautiful, then your spirit is freed from mortal concerns. The spirit does not desire anything, for nothing tangible has use. It is content— without hunger, fear, pain, or suffering. The alleviation of worldly struggle is the reward for enduring your difficult life. Living is a task we must all undertake to broaden our spirit’s eternal perspective.’

Follows often restrained his questioning, careful to avoid exhausting the Wind God’s patience so he could preserve their friendship. He believed the clarity of the Wind God’s responses usually indicated the subject’s secrecy, for sometimes his mind was flooded with responses and other times nothingness. When unsatisfactory answers arose, he wondered if divine secrets were being kept from him. Sometimes conversations only inspired more questions and confusion, riddling his subsequent days with wild conjecture. He always felt close to discovering a great truth about existence but reckoned the limits of human intelligence held him from revelation. Eventually and inexorably his interest waned, and survival would reoccupy him.

After Quiet’s death, the Wind God had become his closest friend, helping to distract him from loneliness and grief, regrowing his confidence and reinstilling self-worth. He told the Wind God about his plans and the life he hoped for. Somewhere, seasons hence, the Settlement waited, hidden by countless horizons and buried deep inside the world. His journey was long and dangerous, and he needed his god’s protection. Sometimes he spoke of women, hoping the Wind God would aid his search for a partner and help end his loneliness.

Biography of James Walker: I am a chartered nuclear physicist, a professional mining and mechanical engineer, and a former infantry and signals soldier, with degrees in physics and engineering. I have worked on nuclear submarines, nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors, in construction and manufacturing, and in the mining industry. I was born in South Africa, grew up in England and Cyprus, and now reside in Canada.