The Land Where Suffering is Remembered

Jaime and Emily run from the house of the horrible witch.

They run between the posts of the candy-cane fence. They squirm across the mud, pausing to snip off bits of barbed licorice. It is tasty but sharp, like a porcupine.

They hold their breath when passing through the soda swamp. The fizz won’t make them giddy!

Just past the swamp, the very large bear trees them.

Emily is pessimistic. “The bear! It will grind us up in its worrible jaws!”

“It’s a good bear,” hopes Jaime.

The very large bear rattles the tree.

“Bear!” calls Jaime. “Go away! This truculent attitude is unbecoming!”

“Yeah!” says Emily.

Jaime’s suggestion and Emily’s assent give the very large bear pause. It lowers itself heavily to the ground. It ponders aloud, its words sonorous and rich. “I do not wish to appear unbecoming. But it is my intention to grind you children up in my horrible jaws. Having conceived this intention, how may I pursue it in a mannerly fashion? The difficulty is profound. My heart is stirred with sympathy for you. But my intention: I cannot forsake it!”

“It’s not fair,” says Emily. “I got grunt up by a bear last time.”

Jaime is startled. “You did?”

“It ate off my arm,” Emily says. “I bled on ev’ybody.

“I’m sorry,” says Jaime. “That must have been just horrid!”

“I was in shock,” says Emily, wisely. “So it didn’t hurt so much at first. Then I screamed a lot. So I said to myself, ‘Emily, you’re screaming so much, it’s probably the horrible pain.’ And it was!”

“Wow,” says Jaime.

The very large bear comes to a resolution. It rises up on its hind legs and thumps the tree again.

“A bear shows its honor with persistence!” the very large bear declares.

Emily takes out a long strand of horse’s hair. She cups it in her hands. Jaime looks at her.

“Really? Now?” Jaime says.

“If it were a small cute bear,” says Emily, “then I would try to tame it with my niceness. If it were a normal-sized bear then we could run away. If it were a large bear, then you could defeat it with your trickery! But this is a very large bear.”

Jaime assesses the very large bear.

“That’s so,” he agrees.

The very large bear shakes the tree with its paws. “Your discussion does not address my underlying imperative,” it grumbles.

Emily chants,

Roan horse, roan horse,
Sunset flare!
Ride east! Ride east!
I’m
scared by bears!

The horse hair falls from her hands. The setting sun burns and roils red. A shaft of sunlight strikes like a dagger into the glade, and the air is filled with hoofbeats.

A chestnut horse runs past.

“Now!” says Emily.

Jaime pouts, because he’d wanted to be the one to shout, “Now!”

Emily jumps. Jaime jumps. The horse veers on a zigzag path, faster in its course than a bolt of lightning. Each of the children lands on its back, and it carries them away.

“Haa,” sighs the very large bear. It sits back on its haunches. “I think that proves very well who is the unbecoming one in this exchange. Horses! The very idea!”

Then the children are gone.

They ride hard. They ride far. But when the sun passes below the horizon, the horse sets them down at the edge of the fire lake and gallops away.

“We shall have to walk around it,” says Emily.

“Or swim,” says Jaime.

Emily pokes the lake with her finger. It singes her lightly, and she pulls her finger back. “Or walk!”

Jaime looks nervous.

“It can’t hurt that badly to swim in a lake of fire,” Jaime argues.

Emily sits down. She makes horrible faces at him. Then she makes funny faces at him. Then she makes horrible faces again. Soon Jaime is sweating under the strain.

“. . . Fine,” says Jaime. He begins stomping around the lake.

The lake roils. Its voice of fire says, “You had been wiser before, Jaime.”

“Don’t tempt me,” says Jaime. “If you tempt me, maybe I’ll jump in. Then I’ll burn up! Then who’s happy?”

“That’s your human standards,” mulls the lake of fire. “But consider it from the perspective of an immortal lake of fire that nobody ever swims in.”

It roils and casts its foam of ashes onto the shore.

“Looking at it from your perspective,” Jaime agrees, “everything in life is transient and full of the pity of things.”

“Worrible pity,” Emily agrees. “Like, that ant.”

They stop and look at the ant for a while.

Eventually, they both sigh sadly and walk on.1

“Why would you want to swim?” Emily asks. “I mean, ‘sides the lake tempting you?”

“There’s a tree,” says Jaime. “Around this way. It was planted with a poisoned seed that loved nothing better than hurting people. So it grew fruits that have a poisoned magic. I ate them once, and I swelled up like an urchin.”

“Oh no,” says Emily.

“I’m afraid that if I see that tree again, I’ll eat another fruit! That’s why I don’t want to walk around the lake.”2

“It doesn’ seem likely,” says Emily.

“It really hurt,” says Jaime. “A lot!”

Jaime looks so nervous that Emily has to touch his arm. Then Emily thinks for a bit. Then she takes out another horse hair.

“What?” says Jaime. “No, it’s stupid!”

“Then it’s my stupid,” says Emily.

She says:

Black horse, black horse,
Born in night!
Ride down! Ride down!
Bad fruit—no bite!

There is darkness all around them. Then there are hoofbeats. Then a coal-black horse stands beside them.

“I am glad that you did not wait until Jaime had already bitten the fruit,” says the horse. “For then I would have had to gallop through all the night and all the day, even though that means my death, to bring him past the teeth and the hooks, around the gap and under the blades, over the hills and over the dales, to the healing stones at last.”

“See?” says Emily smugly. “Preemptive medicine!”

“Fine,” says Jaime. “I’ll ride.”

So Jaime mounts up on the horse, and Emily too. And when they reach the place of the poisoned fruit, the horse begins to gallop, leaving Jaime reaching fruitlessly after his prize.

After a while, the horse slows down.

“Now we must move slowly,” says the horse. “For it is dark here, and we may lose our way.”

There are trees and shadows all around them as they reach the place of teeth. And Jaime is shivering.

“What is it?” Emily says.

“It’s the night horse sickness,” says Jaime.

The horse moves swifter now, as the teeth bite and gnash.

“We should get down,” says Jaime. “We should get off. For I feel the night fever in me. I feel it rising.”

“Not in all the teeth!” says Emily.

Jaime looks at the teeth.

“Hurry,” he says. He wraps his muddy jacket tightly around him. He huddles close in. And Emily holds on behind him.

And the horse runs.

“Hurry,” says Jaime.

Then they are in the place of hooks, looming and dangling from the trees.

“Hurry,” mumbles Jaime. But now the night horse sickness is in its full flush, and his cheeks are red, and his eyes are white, and he knows nothing save the ride. And he is not speaking to Emily but to the horse, saying, “Hurry! Faster! Ride faster!”

And he hunches low, and Emily hunches low, as the horse reaches its full stride, there in the darkness of the night, like a swift-running river, but faster than the wind.

“Whuf!” says Emily, suddenly.

She has been caught on a hook. Her coat dangles from the hook, just like in a laundromat, and Emily dangles with it. The shock of her sudden stop takes all the breath out of her as the horse gallops on.

There is a pause.

“Whups!” amends Emily.

She can hear Jaime in the distance shouting the words of the night horse sickness, “Faster! Hurry! Ride straight! Ride hard!”

She knows that the horse will cast Jaime off at sunrise; and the first murky fingers of that light are cresting over the hills.

But distantly she hears his shouts, and she thinks of the gap that lies ahead.

So as she dangles there from the hook she takes the third and last of her horse hairs in her hands.

Palamino of
Mornings bright!
Ride west! Ride west!
To catch the night!

There is a glinting and a glimmering. There are hoofbeats. Then, shining in the night, the palomino is there.

“This is a fine predicament,” observes the palomino.

“I can take off my coat by myself,” says Emily. She does so. She lands on the palomino. “Yay!”

“It’s not good for young ladies to be out at night without their coats,” worries the palomino.

“Jaime’s riding for the gap,” says Emily. “So that’s a higher oblation!”

The palomino tosses its head. “Hold on tight, then,” it says.

And it begins to run.

There is a mist over the gap when Emily sees Jaime again. The night horse is tiring as the dawn gets close, but its hoofbeats are still like the fury of a storm. Jaime is flushed and clinging tight. Emily shouts, “The gap! The gap!”

But Jaime cannot hear.

“The gap!” Emily shouts. The night horse flicks its ear. It is still too far to parse her words.

And Jaime cannot hear.

“The gap!”

Then she is upon him, then she is reaching for him, but it is too late. The night horse is blinded by the mist and by the coming dawn. It is galloping out over the gap, and its horseshoes cannot grip on air. It tumbles. It falls, and Emily falling after.

In many places, they would have struck the stones. They would have rolled down the endlessly steep surface of the gap, bouncing on its hard implacable stone, until they hit the knife teeth of the dried riverbed below.

But they do not. Here, they do not. Their fall is a blur, and they come to rest like leaves upon a lake, and when they wake in the morning light they shall feel no pain.

For this is not one of the Lands of Suffering through which they travel,

But a Land where Suffering is Only Remembered.3

Footnotes

1. This is a horrible but very obscure pun.
2. The path around the lake only had one direction.
3. Lands where suffering is entirely forgotten, it should be understood, are not kind places for children like Emily and Jaime.

21 thoughts on “The Land Where Suffering is Remembered

  1. “Jaime’s riding for the gap,” says Emily. “So that’s a higher oblation!”

    Should this have read “obligation,” or am I failing to parse this correctly?

  2. 1.) I suspect it’s supposed to make us think of Liril and Micah. ‘Cause I sure did as well.
    2.) It seems possible that Rebecca has buried something in it, in the puns and mis-words and so forth, but it is far too early in the morning for puzzles and I to be on speaking terms.

  3. “Jaime’s riding for the gap,” says Emily. “So that’s a higher oblation!”

    Should this have read “obligation,” or am I failing to parse this correctly?

    I took it as a childish malapropism for “obligation”.

    Another possibility: she specifically means an oblation. Something offered, generally to a deity or higher power. Perhaps one’s life? Perhaps in exchange for another’s?

    All in all, a lovely fairy tale. Certainly worth of inclusion in a monthbook.

    – S –

  4. Have mercy on me, someone, I beg you, and explain the ant pun, ’cause it’s too obscure for me.

  5. This story appears (to me, anyway) to be an extended meditation on an exchange from the last Letters:

    “I think it’s too bad that souls work in Hitherby this way, though. If in the Hitherby-universe soulless creatures have no empathy, like androids in PKD’s _Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep_ or vampires in _Buffy_, it would be to some degree OK that they never-endingly sacrifice themselves, and we shouldn’t feel sympathetic about Ivan not wanting to be made into a candy cane and his choice not being honored.
    — rpuchalsky

    Hm!

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeling sympathy for the things that happen to the mini-people.

    But are they capable of suffering?”

    It not only considers the same ideas, it has many of the same phrases, e.g. the bear saying “My heart is stirred with sympathy for you”, the references to candy canes, etc.

    I tend to be one of those people who detect patterns, and who has to be alert for false patterns and overinterpretation. This gets harder when I suspect that something that I’ve written may have actually influenced something I’m reading, because what I’ve written naturally has resonances for me that are difficult to distinguish from the kind of references that anyone might make.

    For instance, the “pity ant” scene (I haven’t actually figured out the pun; I’m not very good with them). Jaime says, leading up to it, “everything in life is transient and full of the pity of things.” I posted a poem as a comment on a previous entry that includes a stanza about a man who worries about death and finds a moment of transcendence in taking a picture of an ant by the side of the path. So I could either imagine that the poem influenced this scene, or that this is simply a one-off pun based on one of Hitherby’s ongoing tropes. After all, I may have been influenced by the “ant without antennae” when I wrote the poem in the first place. Sometimes things circle around leaving you back where you started.

    So, long story short, it’s difficult to comment on this one without bringing up extraneous material, which might really overload a story that after all may well have some Xanth references too. But, anyway — I liked the story as a story. Emily and Jaime don’t appear to be mini-people: Emily refers to being in horrible pain in the past, Jaime says “That must have been just horrid!” which implies that he cares about her, and they seem to have empathy for each other. That means, though, that this doesn’t really seem to be The Land Where Suffering Is Remembered. Isn’t the anticipation of pain itself suffering? Jaime and Emily spend a good deal of the story worrying about what might happen, in light of their past experiences. When something bad actually does happen, they don’t feel pain. But haven’t they suffered by worrying about it? There appears to be a Buddhist message.

  6. that he cares about her, and they seem to have empathy for each other. That means, though, that this doesn’t really seem to be The Land Where Suffering Is Remembered. Isn’t the anticipation of pain itself suffering? Jaime and Emily spend a good deal of the story worrying about what might happen, in light of their past experiences. When something bad actually does happen, they don’t feel pain. But haven’t they suffered by worrying about it? There appears to be a Buddhist message.

    Actually– and I didn’t get this until I read your comment– I think that’s the sense in which this tLWSiR. They don’t just seem to be anticipating pain, they seem to be remembering /prior/ pain: the mauled arm, the poison fruit, and so on.

  7. Although the final incident where the children float gently down to the bottom of the ravine suggests that the suffering they remember may not actually have taken place. This seems to be the land where suffering takes place only in memory.

  8. The “pity ant” bit made me remember a short story about a Jain woman (whose religious beliefs forbade her to harm anything) who was eaten by a tiger, constrained by the ant in her hair that might have been harmed had she jumped up and run away. She died a martyr to her pity for the ant.

    In the context of the short story, it wasn’t a bad thing in the end–she reincarnated as someone very important, and the ant reincarnated as her devoted servant, and between them they were saving all mankind. But from a more here-and-now view, as a little girl might view it, the ant was pretty “worrible” to cause the woman’s death.

    But that’s an allusion, not a pun, of course. I’m clueless as to the pun.

  9. I’ve read that story. The thing that stuck with me most, in the six years or so since I first came across it, was the definition of a kalpa.

    The thing that seems most Hitherby-esque about it to me now, re-reading it, is this:

    “Nobody knows I’m a Bodhisattva,” Tsui said. “Not even the other members of my clone collective. So please, don’t tell anybody.”

  10. Ooh! That’s a nice story. ^_^

    I shall hint, in fair exchange! It’s not just a hideous pun; it’s also Heian-eous.

  11. Ooh! That’s a nice story. ^_^

    I shall hint, in fair exchange! It’s not just a hideous pun; it’s also Heian-eous.

    Great, a hint that leaves me more puzzled than I was to begin with. How decidedly characteristic. :)

    OK, I didn’t care before, but now… it’s like an itch, the more I scratch, the more it itches. Do we know which words the pun is based on? I mean is it “walk on” or something else? The pun is in english, right? I don’t have to try (further) cross-referencing phonetics with Japanese?

    Anyone with a better grasp of Japanese literature should feel welcome to put me out of my misery at their leisure.

  12. It is playing off the similarity of certain words in Japanese, as did a relevant section of the Tale of Genji.

    The one English phrase in the pun does not actually appear anywhere in the story.

    . . . I said it was obscure! ^_^

  13. About what I figured.

    I’m assuming that there are two words that are similar to one another, such that the addition or subtraction of a stroke or so will transform the meaning of one to the other. Working on this, I’ve spent a couple hours comparing characters. The most conspicuous word here is ‘ant’ — so I suspect it’s fairly central. The ant is the distinguishing detail in that passage. I started by looking up ‘ant’ and referencing with every synonym for transience or pity that I could find

    I’ve also taken the liberty of searching the tale of the Genji (I figured that was the source before she confirmed it– I got that right, at least!). Unfortunately, the general themes of the work are linked to “the pity of things” and the general transience of existence…. my guess here was that Rebecca pulled a few of the words directly, so I tried searching for “transience” and “pity” to see if I could find notable phrases linked to either of them and then translate, and crossreference with the characters for ant. Also tried putting in any noteworthy phrases (usually haiku) and translating via babelfish and crosschecking against the translation of the Hitherby passage.

    Nothing. Nada. Ugh. I’m going to go do something productive now.

    So, I guess my point is this:

    You ARE aware of the difference between a pun and a riddle, right?

    :D

  14. ADamiani: At a guess, “hideous” is also a pun. (“Hideo-ous”?) Would that assist your researches at all?

  15. It was originally going to be much more obvious, but sadly the sentence that made it so didn’t fit the story well.

    Here is the sentence that I had to delete, with one word and its definition removed:

    “This is the emotion that the Heian court named ‘…..’, … …. .. ……”

    It immediately precedes the footnote.

    Rebecca
    who can’t very well out and tell you *or* leave you hanging now, can she?

  16. [quote=”Rebecca Borgstrom”“>

    Rebecca
    who can’t very well out and tell you *or* leave you hanging now, can she?

    True, neither directness nor silence is Rebecca-dharma.

    Thought I’d take a last stab at this before the July letters.

    Now, I keep wanting to make this into “‘aware’, the pity of things” which fits in context and works with the precise phrasing used earlier. The problem with this is that it doesn’t seem to suggest a pun of any sort.

    So I tried reversing approaches. Knowing that the pun immediately preceeds the footnote, “and then walked on” — the worst Heian pun that can fit that is probably “Waka,” or Japanese poetry. But this doesn’t fit the clues. It could still be appropriate if the segment it was in was in a traditional Waka format. So we crosscheck with syllables.

    3 2 3 2 1 1 1
    “Worrible pity,” Emily agrees. “Like, that ant.”
    1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
    They stop and look at the ant for a while.
    5 1 1 1 2 1 1 1
    Eventually, they both sigh sadly and walk on.

    And there’s no way I can see to break that up so that it would git the 5-7-5/7-7 or 5-7 5-7 5-7 5-7-7 syllable formats– with or without the sentence that was cut. So waka is probably out.

    Was it rpuchalsky who was complaining earlier that he spent far too much time overanalyzing Hitherby?

  17. Now, I keep wanting to make this into “‘aware’, the pity of things” which fits in context and works with the precise phrasing used earlier. The problem with this is that it doesn’t seem to suggest a pun of any sort.

    Are you sure?

    I mean, really sure?

    I mean, not even a really obscure Hitherby-archives related pun?

    That would make me laugh to myself so much that even though there’s no way anyone could get it, I’d have to tell you about it anyway?

    Hint: it concerns the ant.

    Rebecca

  18. You’re very close, ADamiani. I think that I’ve got it, although I wouldn’t have without you doing the work that you did. Of course just telling you what I think it is would be scooping you unmercifully, so here is an extra hint-limerick:

    An ant was out walking one day
    It left parts behind on the way
    From then it was known
    By initials alone
    Though it sometimes would put on a re:

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