An old story and an appropriate one given what I have been reading lately. You can tell what some of it was inspired by and I hope it can be appreciated for what it is. Enjoy.
He was the Oracle of Stories.
I didn’t know what was meant by that … at first. The man, if one could venture to even call him a man anymore, sat in a dark corner of a great library. Yet for all the library’s magnificence, the Oracle had chosen long ago to be placed in one particular part of the chamber. It was what seemed to be the oldest part of the structure, and you had to travel through a few smaller rooms and wings, and down a set of stairs before you came to the place.
I suspect it wasn’t so much that he chose to remain down here, as it was that whatever powers he possessed or had influence over him made him sit there, and not get up again. The Oracle sat on a stool on a wooden platform in the shadows between two book shelves. I didn’t know what to expect from him. To be honest, I had heard tales of other Oracles but I hadn’t had the privilege of meeting them. It was said that each one had been human at one time, but through a gift or a curse, they had mastered and eventually personified the great artistic pursuits they dedicated their lives to.
So when I met the Oracle of Stories, you have to understand that I had many expectations in place. Some of them were very much fulfilled, and even expanded on. The small figure sat there, surrounded by mounds of paper. At the time I first saw him, I saw his gaze: glassy and sightless from years of doing nothing but writing in the dimness of the room he chose to sit in. I knew that others came in, respectfully, to take his writings and add them to the library. They were beautiful, luminous works that branched into all areas of human understanding: of good, and evil, and all the places between and beyond.
He sat there, mutely, and all I could hear was the scratching of his pen. I had studied everything about the Oracle that I could, in hopes that one day I could even begin to approach his level of craft. I was just an acolyte then, a novice scribe with a mild smattering of talent: but just enough to attract the notice of my elders, and get this very rare chance. I remember them almost seeming to restrain their excitement, though I didn’t know why. There were a lot of things I didn’t know back then.
For instance, I knew the Oracle was old. His hair was long and silver, and almost covered his entire face. His form, though erect was thin and the flesh I saw lined. But it wasn’t wrinkled or infirm. I remember his face most of all. Despite the many years he had been down here, by choice or condition, the only sign of his great age were the lines on his forehead, and around his eyes and the flat eternal line that was his mouth. His hand, unlike the rest of his immobile body was a flurry of activity, moving across the parchments he was given like a crazed arachnid seeking to spill its blackened blood and secrets to be augured and divined over by the other adepts.
That was the only movement I and most others ever saw of him. Yet these details were only witnessed or helped by those adepts and masters closest to him: as anything could be close to him in this world. But I get ahead of myself.
There was no expression on his face at all. It was almost as though he was asleep, or lost in a very different place from you or I. I observed him, and his faded robes amid the books and volumes and scrolls around him. He had not spoken in centuries. So when I heard him finally speak, his voice was barely even a whisper.
“How can someone who makes stories be an Oracle?” he asked, so quietly that even in my shock I had to strain to hear his words, “How can anyone who makes stories–anyone who writes or tells them or passes them down–be telling the truth?
“I used to wonder that myself.”
He gave a raspy chuckle, “Nothing is constant, except for the written word. It’s true that when you first write it, when you first envision it there are many possibilities. And when you first read it, you can only guess where it will lead you. I suppose that’s what I found books to be my most trustworthy friends. My only friends. They were the ones that stayed true. Yes, books are a lot like old friends, only truer. At first they might surprise you, or maybe even disappoint you. But when you read them once, you only discover new things about them as you read through them again and again …
“Once, before I gave everything to my stories, I loved to hear, and read, and witness the stories of others. I loved to experience those of others more than experiencing my own. My own stories, those I lived were awkward, reluctant things of necessity and survival. More often than not, they were painful things. Ugly things with petty hopes that are sometimes never requited. Life is not as neat as a narrative would have it. Yes,” the voice droned gently, “I would have given anything to be rid of the burdens of the body, and the self to be able to immerse myself in the stories of everything.
“And I did. I’m not sure whose stories I tell anymore. Whether they are mine, or those I make, or those that have happened, or have been lost, or have yet to be, or are still happening, or could be happening. Some stories I tell would have it that the person I was met a Muse–perhaps Calliope herself–held captive and I let her go. Sometimes, I remember asking one favour of her. Or she granted me a boon for my deed. There may have been nothing that tied me to the world I had even then. Or perhaps I lost something already, and long ago. Maybe I lost something that I never found to begin with, and never would.”
Those last words were almost wistful as he continued, “But I think: when I am myself and not the stories that I make. When I am not the young woman wondering what to do with her unwanted child, or the couple happily united and ready to wed, or the young man cut down as he reached the zenith of his life, or the broken ruin who wasted all of his potential into the dust … When I am not the tyrant gaining sole satisfaction from the lives I crush gleefully into blood and pulp onto the cruel twisted curvature of my lips, or the child discovering it all for the first time … I think …”
He paused for a few seconds, with a look of befuddlement twitching on his features, “I think I …”
He stared blankly and sightlessly through the shelf in front of him for a very long time. Then, finally, he spoke again:
“I think I refused her power. I think I wanted her to be free. I think, when I was an ‘I’ that I saw a beauty in her that none of the world had, and I would never have again in my lifetime. But I didn’t want that at the price that her former slaver put upon her. I think … I know that I felt great revulsion over the things that he did to her, to make her give him her power and her blessing.
“And I think that what gave me even greater revulsion was that I was tempted too.
“So I turned her away.”
He paused again, “But she knew my heart then, when I had a heart. When my heart was just my heart. And as she left, she told that she would never leave me. Ever. And the hole in my heart, that was my heart for my entire life was filled and went beyond that fulfillment. And it was glorious, and it was power, and love, and pain of others until there was nothing but them and the stories …
“And I felt the need to write them down. All of them down. And I kept writing. Even as her parting kiss on my brow remained, I kept the stories flowing. I became them. I am them, everyday and for the rest of my life.
“And to this day they wonder how I do it. How can I sit here and molder in the stacks and continue on and not feel pain, or sadness, or hope. And I think … I believe I do feel these things still. But then I remember the sleep. I think of Sleep, the younger sibling of Death and I let these feelings go into Sleep. Sleep will always be there for me. No matter what may happen to this form. I will be in it forever. And, whenever the feelings gather, and cannot be swept away, I will tell them. My body will be the channel, and my mind and soul will contain only the stories. I will be the Oracle of Stories. I will be the Storyteller. The Storyteller will the story of the Storyteller once at a time. Until the teller becomes the Story and the Story …”
Then his words trailed off, and his hand began to twitch, and grasp his quill. And the writing resumed.
Just as mine finished.
I wrote his story down that day, for the many hours it took. I still don’t know to this very day if it was his actual story or just one of the ones that had taken over his mind and body. But it both awed and frightened me in its scope. And as I myself near the end of my life, of my story, I can die happy: having my own question answered.
All stories are true, as many wise storytellers have said throughout time. And I will always know why the Oracle of Stories is sometimes called the Storyteller.
9 thoughts on “The Storyteller”
Thank you for sharing this story.
You are very welcome. 🙂 Thank you for reading it.
Storytellers are the best.
They make the world have meaning. And we all do it.
Not all Matthew. Some people do not share their stories, or have none to tell. 🙂
Well, all people tell themselves stories or retell the stories that have come before them. Without stories, I don’t think civilizations or individuals could function. And just because no one shares their stories, doesn’t mean they don’t have them.
I will have to disagree. My bestfriend always tells me that I always share my stories with her, but she has none to tell me for she has not fully lived her life as she would like it to be. Also, there are people on this planet that do not choose to read or listen, so retelling of stories has become mute for them. We are not all alike, but I respect those differences.
Some people sing, or dance, or make things instead. And others live. I wonder if other people ever get that “wrong genius.” You know? The need to make a story, or create a song from a dream, or to articulate the observations of a glade of grass or the natural cruelty of insects.
I guess it comes back to George R.R. Martin’s words, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” And that is pretty sad, especially when a part of that person knows that something is missing somehow.