Following is the eleventh story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.
Even thinking back on it afterwards, Little One had no idea how he survived the fall.
He plunged through the abyss for what felt like days. Of course he had no way of knowing how long it actually was. All he knew was that despite his fervent hope that something—anything—would begin to take shape beneath him, he kept falling through the endless void.
It was so dark that he couldn’t see anything, not even the rest of his body as it fell. With nothing but unknown blackness surrounding him, his mind began to seek solid ground at least internally by imagining what lay below him.
At first he pictured beautiful landscapes filled with rushing water, lush forests, and mountaintop vistas that extended as far as the eye could see. But as the fall continued with no ground in sight, the images began to turn darker. He couldn’t stop himself from imagining scorched sands, burned tree trunks, and threatening figures moving under an endless night.
At one point his visualizations grew so terrifying that the blackness surrounding him felt almost comforting in comparison. At least he seemed to be alone here, with nothing around to attack. He could even feel the warm air supporting him from below so he didn’t fall too fast, and the emptiness surrounded him with such softness that it almost felt like an embrace.
Little One lost himself in these sensations and nearly forgot that there was supposed to be anything more in the world than this. It was a pleasant, almost entirely unfamiliar feeling.
Eventually—hours, days, or weeks later—Little One was never quite sure—the blackness began to lighten. He was startled when he made out something moving about just in front of him; he was even more surprised to realize that it was his own foot.
As the air about him lightened, he began to be able to discern something green far below. Suddenly fear returned sharp as a knife in his belly as Little One realized the very real danger of what he had been hoping for all this time. He didn’t have a good sense of how fast he was falling, but his speed appeared to be increasing; wind was starting to whip about his head, blowing his hair in his face and tugging his clothes away from him.
The green below him was beginning to look more and more like rolling hills covered in grass. Though it looked softer than rock, it was likely dense enough to easily smash a skull at any significant speed.
He tried to think of a way to break his fall on something softer, but there was nothing below him but undulating grasslands, and nothing with him that he could use to slow himself down.
As the ground hurtled towards him, he made an effort to focus on the air beneath him, feeling its embrace again as he had in the abyss. As soon as he did, the wind whipped less wildly and he felt himself slowing down. The more he focused on the sensation of being held up, the more slowly he went.
He descended the last bit of sky in this way, gradual for a moment like a feather as he felt the air beneath him, then quickly like a rock as his fear took over and the ground rushed up to meet him. Then he would relax into the air’s embrace and become a feather once again.
The last bit he approached like a rock until, just before he landed, he felt a gust of air rushing upward from beneath him; it picked him up as gently as a mother would her child, then deposited him with somewhat less tenderness face-first into the moist ground beneath the grass.
Little One wiggled his fingers and toes. No pain. He lifted one leg, then another, then his arms. Nothing hurt; he seemed to be all in one piece.
His mind struggled to make sense of what had just happened but ultimately failed. He shook his head, pushed himself up off the dirt, and looked around.
Grass surrounded him, waving slightly in the breeze. The gentle hills extended in all directions beneath a blue, sunny sky.
Little One took a deep breath. He decided that this was a beautiful place—the soft green grass as it rippled like giant waves in the wind, the stark blue of the sky, and the light that shimmered in the distance. This was good land, he thought, a kind place, and he felt grateful as he began to walk directly towards the sun in search of the kidnapped Serpent God.
Walking felt extraordinarily good. He enjoyed the sensation of movement in his legs, and he felt free, purposeful, fulfilled. He wasn’t sure at first which direction to go in, but he felt confident that if he just kept walking with open eyes and ears, he couldn’t help but find clues that would help him locate his father.
After some time he passed a stream. Its water was so clear and it made such a delightful noise as it spilled over pebbles and around boulders that he considered changing course and following it downstream. In the end, however, he decided to stick to the direction he had already chosen, having come this far. He drank his fill of the sweet, cool water and filled up his flask, but then continued on his way.
A few hours later, he began to regret his decision. The sun was beginning its descent towards the horizon, and he hadn’t seen any more streams. He’d assumed there would be many out here, given the lushness of the landscape, but he’d seen nothing—no water, no animals, not even a single, solitary bush—that would suggest there was anything out here other than infinite fields of grass.
It occurred to him that this place might not be as kind as he’d thought. It began to feel more desolate. He felt a tightening in his chest as he realized that though beautiful, this land wasn’t very hospitable, and that food and water were scarce.
He decided to return to the stream.
When he turned around, he noticed something strange. The grass—which moments before had a rich, bright sheen—no longer looked quite so robust. Little One wasn’t sure if it was the change in the sun’s angle or something else, but it now appeared yellowish, parched, and almost brittle.
He began to walk and continued for what felt like an interminably long time, but nothing in the landscape changed except the rustling of the dry grass. He was sure he had walked at least as far as he had come, but there was no water in sight. He considered whether he could have gotten turned around, but the sun was directly in front of him and the stream had been perpendicular to his path; he should have come across it regardless.
Little One’s legs suddenly felt tired, and he realized that his foot was starting to ache. He could feel frustration rising within him.
“This place isn’t just desolate—it’s dangerous,” he muttered to himself. “It’s actively trying to deceive me.”
Just then his foot caught the edge of a rock hidden by the grass and he fell, barely managing to get a hand in front of himself to avoid falling again face first into the dirt.
“Oh, you think that’s funny, do you?” he cried aloud. He slammed his fist into the earth. “I don’t think it’s funny at all.” He felt something heavy and malevolent in the air around him, the way electricity charges the air just before lightning strikes.
When he stood up again, the landscape around him had changed. There were jagged cliffs rising in the distance now, fissures were opening up in the earth around him, and the air was darkening even as the sun was still visible above the horizon. A cold wind brushed against his arm, raising goosebumps.
Little One shuddered. This place is turning against me, he thought to himself. I’ve angered it, and it wants me gone.
He began to walk more slowly now, careful where he put his feet. The air got quieter and more threatening with each step. The fissures around him grew bigger, gaping like mouths that wanted to swallow him whole.
This is bad, Little One thought. I need to get out of here, and fast.
Just then Little One heard crackling and felt a searing heat on the back of his legs. Even before he turned, he knew what he would find. The entire field of grass behind him had burst into bright flames of red and orange. He had no idea how it had started, let alone spread so quickly, but he didn’t have time to wonder; the fire was flying towards him with the speed and resolve of a dragon hunting prey.
Little One ran, cursing his luck at having landed in such an evil place.
That’s when another strange thing happened. Where a moment before there had been solid ground beneath his feet, now there was nothing. Little One saw it happen, saw the earth in front of his extended foot disappear in an instant and become a void, nothing more than shadow.
Before he had time to register this fact, he was falling into an abyss for the second time that day.
This one, fortunately, was shorter than the last. And that, perhaps as much as anything else, is what calmed him down. By the time he tumbled to a stop at the bottom of the pit, he was almost laughing at the absurdity of what was happening.
He felt surprisingly clear-headed and calm. “Another chasm,” he said to himself, laughing. “Okay, well, at least I’m getting pretty good at these.”
He heard a buzzing sound but couldn’t find its source. The fissure he found himself in wasn’t large at all—he could touch the walls all around him, but he was a good ways from the top. He figured it wouldn’t take too long to climb out, but when he tried, the earth crumbled; he couldn’t get purchase for a hand or foot, and he sensed that if he tried too hard, he might end up burying himself alive.
The buzzing seemed to be coming from behind him, but when he turned, there was nothing there. It continued, sometimes behind his left ear and sometimes behind his right, as he thought about the first chasm he had fallen into and the snake that had helped him find his way out after he had nearly given up. He hadn’t seen the snake since revisiting that chasm and seeing the whole episode replayed in front of him. He had realized then that the snake wasn’t separate from him; its wisdom was really his own. Recalling that, he suddenly felt stronger. If he could make it out of that pit of darkness, surely he could make it out of this one.
Still, he wished the snake would come and tell him exactly what to do. That would certainly make things easier.
It occurred to Little One that someone or something had helped him overcome nearly every challenge he’d successfully faced on this journey so far. He felt embarrassed by that for a moment until he realized that it meant that there was help available every time he’d gotten stuck. Which meant that there was help available somewhere around here now.
Little One looked around. He said a silent prayer—he wasn’t sure whether it was to the Serpent God, this strange land he now found himself in, or something else—but he asked whatever might be listening for help and guidance.
Nothing appeared. Little One repeated his prayer and waited. These things probably took time, he figured.
As he sat there waiting, the buzzing sound grew louder. A fly appeared from behind his head and hovered close to his eyes. Annoyed, Little One swatted it away with his hands. It immediately came back.
He swatted again, and again the fly returned. This happened twice more until the last time the fly didn’t come back. Little One breathed a sigh of relief.
“You were the one who asked for help,” a deep voice said from behind his head.
Little One whipped around but didn’t see anyone. He began to turn back around when he saw the fly hovering behind him at eye level.
“Don’t swat me again, please,” it said in a voice that was impossibly loud for its size. “I hate that. You have no idea how it messes with my navigational equipment. I’ll fly crooked for days now.”
Little One looked at the fly. “Um, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize…”
“Didn’t realize that something with a mass hundreds of times my own would cause damage when slammed at high speeds against my delicate body? Yes, well, nobody could have seen that coming.”
Little One wasn’t sure what to say. He’d never talked to a sarcastic fly before. “I’m sorry,” he said again.
“Then I forgive you,” said the fly lightly. “Now, I believe you were looking for some help?”
Little One nodded. “How do I get out of here?”
“To get out,” the fly began sagaciously, “you need to first understand how you got in.”
Little One was tired of riddles. “Okay, how did I get in here then?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” asked the fly.
“Um, no,” said Little One, unable to keep the frustration from his voice. “If it were I wouldn’t have asked. The only thing that’s obvious to me is that this place is trying to kill me.”
Little One couldn’t be sure, but he thought the fly was shaking its head in disappointment. “A fundamental misunderstanding. Common, but erroneous. Tell me then,” he asked, “did it feel that way when you first got here?”
“Well, no,” Little One had to admit. “At first I thought it was great.”
“So what happened?”
“I realized that the grass just went on forever and that there was hardly any food or water.”
“And do you know those things for certain?”
Little One considered this. “Well, no, I guess not.”
The fly continued with its deep, commanding voice. “Exactly. So you told yourself a story about the nature of this place.” It paused, apparently waiting for something. “And…”
“And it turned out I was right?” Little One really was tired of riddles.
The fly’s two front legs crossed over its abdomen. “Exactly,” he said with satisfaction.
“Wait, what?” Little One asked.
He saw tiny flashes of white in the fly’s face and realized that it had rolled its eyes. “You told yourself a story about how great this world was, and you were right. Then you told yourself a story about how horrible it was, and—guess what?—turns out you were right again,” the fly said impatiently. “That’s generally how the stories we tell ourselves work, is it not?”
Little One was confused. “What do you mean?”
“Stories are powerful,” explained the fly, uncrossing its legs. “You tell one, and that’s what’s true. Tell another, and that’s what’s true. The world conforms itself to your expectations. All worlds do, really. This one is just particularly responsive.”
Little One shook his head. “You mean I make things happen with the stories that I tell myself? I can change the physical world with my thoughts?”
The fly laughed. “I’m just a fly. I don’t pretend to understand everything that makes the world the way it is. What I’m saying is that your stories determine your reality. Regardless of what’s actually going on, they create how your world looks, sounds, and feels to you. They define your experience and, even more, what’s possible for you.”
Little One took this in. “So to get out of here, I just need to tell a better story.”
“Well done, Grasshopper!” said the fly, laughing at his own joke.
Little One thought he heard an edge of mockery in the fly’s laughter. It rubbed him the wrong way. He was already feeling stupid for having gotten himself stuck, once again, in a bad situation that was entirely of his own making.
“That’s just another story,” the fly said, as if reading his mind. “Are you sure it’s the one you really want to tell?”
Little One shook his head as if to break free of something. “I suppose not,” he said. “How about this one: I just learned another good lesson rather quickly. And there was really no way to learn it without making that mistake.”
The fly clapped its two front legs together enthusiastically. “And so the student becomes the master. I believe my work here is done.” It put one arm in front of its abdomen and flew down quickly and back up again in what Little One understood to be a mock bow before it started flying away.
Little One had an idea. “Hey, hold on a second,” he said. “Did you see the Serpent God pass this way? I have reason to believe he was abducted against his will, and I’m trying to find him.”
The fly looked at him, all laughter gone from its face. “No,” he said seriously. “I am, once again, just a humble fly. But if what you say is true, that is serious.” He paused for a moment, as if making a decision, before finally nodding his head and continuing. “There is, however, a creature not far from here who can give you what you’re looking for.”
Little One’s heart started to beat faster, and he felt excitement rise within him. “Really? Where can I find this creature?”
“When you get to the surface, you will see the stream you missed from behind the illusion of your story. Follow it downstream and you will find this beast.”
Something in the fly’s manner dampened Little One’s excitement. “You’re sure it can give me what I seek?”
“Of that I am sure,” said the fly. “But it may not be what you think it is.”
“It’s the only lead I’ve got,” said Little One. “That’s good enough. Thank you so much!”
“Best hold your gratitude,” said the fly. “When all is said and done, you may not thank me after all.” And with that it buzzed off.
Little One watched it until it disappeared above him.
He wasn’t sure what the fly meant, but he wouldn’t figure it out by staying in this pit. He took a deep breath, preparing himself. Then he began to tell his story.
This is a good land, he thought to himself. Kind and generous and abundant.
As if in answer, he heard a bird singing, the first animal he’d heard since arriving.
I have everything I need. Assistance is always available to me.
A ray of sunlight appeared on the wall in front of him. He put his hand into its light and enjoyed the warmth.
I can find my way out of here. There are probably lots of ways to climb out; all I need is one.
Just then he felt a drop of rain fall on his face. It was cold and unpleasant.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” he said out loud. “I’m trying, here, okay?”
He took anther deep breath. “Okay, it’s just rain,” he said, trying again. “It can’t hurt. Plants need rain to grow. Animals need water too. It’s nourishing. Maybe it’s here to help me.”
And suddenly Little One understood. He laughed when he realized what was happening.
He put his backpack on and waited. The rain hit his face over and over, but the sensation felt enjoyable now, not unlike falling through the abyss.
In a short time water puddled in the bottom of the pit. Little One didn’t move. The rain continued, and the puddle turned into a pond. The rain got harder, and soon the pond turned into a lake.
Before long, Little One found himself treading water, buoyed up by the lake towards the opening of the pit.
When he reached the top, he pulled himself up onto solid land and rolled onto his back, where he could see the first stars of the evening that were beginning to emerge from behind the clouds as the sun went down.
That couldn’t have gone any better, he thought, and just then he was flooded with a sense of gratitude, contentment, and a strong desire to find his father.