They search for meaning in the volumes of thick paper stitched together in fine leather with gilt borders on the shelves of libraries housed in their great temples—so many smart words ordered in regimental lines—but essence cannot be captured in a story with a beginning, a middle and an end and packaged up neatly into a dusty tome.
They flick so flagrantly through those pages of dead words without pausing to consider that the indigo ink in the books was extracted from a rare plant found only on a small island off the east coast of Africa which requires harvesting under a blue moon; and they ignore the fact that the paper was milled from a stand of tall, silvery birch trees, forever leaving an incongruous gap in a thousand-year-old forest on the side of a steep mountain in northern Sweden; and they seem completely unaware that the leather bindings of the books are fashioned from the skins of a rare and rather attractive herd of goats that are cared for by a bronzed, old hermit on a craggy hilltop in Greece.
Were they as intelligent as they imagine, they would realise that understanding can only be found by examining the paper-thin layers of sediment stacked up in granite which bear the marks of past visits by fire, wind, water and ice, and by tracing the alluvial threads woven therein and following them to their conclusion; or by looking deep inside the bluest part of the hottest flame that burns in the darkest pocket of an overgrown forest at night (watch out for the bats, they shit in deluges); or by plunging into the bottomless ocean, pushing aside the silvery fish and tentacled cephalopods, and by taking a water sample from the inside of a blue whale’s cavernous mouth and examining a single drop of that water under a microscope (at a minimum x200 magnification for best results).
If they did all those quite complicated things (as entertaining as it would be for us to watch them try, clumsily, even with their opposable thumbs and huge brains), they still would not discover true meaning, just some clues. We all know what they are like—not great detectives, seemingly blind to even the most solid proof—they would dismiss the signs and portents anyway.
Besides, they prefer to point their expensive telescopes away from the Earth and towards the night sky, searching for knowledge in the very blackest spaces between the long dead stars, seduced by the notion that in death, suns still radiate light (which can be easily explained by the fact that the Earth is a long way away from the stars. The closest, Alpha Centauri, is about 4.3 light years away, that’s 40 trillion kilometres). They watch the sky in awe when the moon slides over the sun and turns the day temporarily into dusk—they are nothing if not romantic—while behind their backs whole land masses slip quietly into the ocean and vast forests turn to grey ash. They redraw their maps, expand the areas of blue, recolour tracts of green to sepia, and erase the white polar caps that cradle both ends of the planet.
There are so many things they fail to notice; they really should pay more attention. They are oblivious to us floating about the Earth, flexing and shuffling. We are watching them, haunting them, burning through their skin with our hateful eyes, whispering fear into their hearts. They should be careful; our numbers are increasing. We are waiting, but our patience is running out.
We want to see them all dead.
Justine Hyde is a writer, critic and librarian who lives in Melbourne. Her writing has been published in all the usual places.