It was another nice day and I was out for the kind of walk you take in the middle of summer, when the days are long, and there’s nothing to do. I had decided not to stop at the post office like I had been planning to, as once I had gotten there I decided that I’d much rather walk to the store to buy a package of donuts to take home, as it was a habit of mine to crawl out my bedroom window to sit on the garage roof and eat a package of frosted donuts and watch the people walk by.
I was heading to the store to do just this, when I passed a girl who was walking around her house. I don’t say this casually. I say this with great emphasis as this was exactly what she was doing; walking in a near perfect circle around her house. And it’s not just that, it’s that it looked like she had been doing this for quite a long time now, and there had begun to appear a well-trodden path that was forming as she walked. I wish I had a pencil and paper with me, because I would draw you a picture of it if I could. I would draw you a picture of a small yellow house with hedges by the windows and a flag on the porch, and the girl with brown bobbed hair and worn blue jeans circling it counterclockwise, walking heal to toe. But I don’t have paper, and as it is, you’ll just have to imagine.
I stopped by a fence post and watched her for a while, as it was interesting, and I really had nothing better to do. She continued on in this way, walking around the house, step after step, and then step after step, until finally, after watching her for several minutes, I couldn’t help but call out, “Say, what are you doing?”
The girl didn’t pause in her task, but looked up at me as she walked and said simply, “I’m building a moat,” her voice trailing off as she rounded the yard. I waited for her to circle back around, and when she had, she added, “I need help. Do you want to join me?”
She had a pretty face, and I was at a point in my life where I didn’t ask many questions, and as this seamed a reasonable thing to be doing as I hadn’t fully committed to the donuts, I replied, “Sure,” and fell in line behind her. Though line, of course, is the wrong word here.
I can’t remember how long we walked for; I really don’t, because it seemed that as soon as we started walking, it became really the only important thing to do. Which is, I suppose to say, that I lost track of time. And also to say that I kept doing it; walking in circles that is. And others joined too. Perhaps they were just passing people who had an interest in moats, but I suppose many of them were like me, looking for need or purpose or belonging or something even greater perhaps. And it was something. Something important- grand even. Maybe you don’t think so, but just think about it; to aid in the construction of a moat. Makes you pause, really. But then again, maybe it wasn’t the grandness of it that drew us in, but rather the simplicity. Much like hiking in the woods is satisfying because all you have to do to be successful is to take another step. And then after that another, and another, and another.
As we were doing.
As we did. The whole fifteen of us, maybe twenty, took millions and millions of steps, and I’m afraid my story will sound a little vague or exaggerated at this point, and it will only be because I can’t recall clearly how long we were there for, and how far we walked.
But the earth grew dark. And then darker still. And rose up on either side of us as we walked, holding us in thick. Damp and dark and earth and quiet and safe and warm and days upon days, “We’re keeping it safe,” she would say, and we would walk, keeping it safe, keeping it safe, keeping it safe.
At night we’d lie down among the dirt, our bodies entangled and our legs propped up on the walls to keep them from getting sore; gnawing on animal bones we had found in the ground and telling stories to pass the nights. At first our stories were all about the dirt; of earth and worms and moles and rich and dark and deep. But as the days passed, our stories grew upward, about the world up above. Distant and vibrant and fantasy.
But I don’t remember them now.
On the days that were too hot we’d slather ourselves in mud and press against the walls until they cooled at night. On the days it rained, the moat filled up with water, and we’d pause in our work to float. And when it dried, we’d start again.
And then one day I was done.
I had grown tired of walking and sat down where I stood at the northern most arch, watching the line of people disappear and then circle round again on my other side. The girl stopped too as she circled round from the east. I watched her as she approached and thought she looked much older now; with browner skin and longer hair. She looked at me too with older eyes and said, “Why have you stopped now that we have made so much progress on the moat?”
I thought for a while, what I had been thinking before, and said, “I think the house is safe now.” Safe unless someone has built a bridge over the moat, I thought as well, but didn’t say to the girl.
She paused and considered, and the others paused too, to hear what she’d say. “No,” she replied at last, after taking her time and collecting her thoughts, “No, I don’t think it’s safe yet. Not safe at all.” And she lightly stepped over me and continued to walk. And the others stepped over me and continued as well.
I won’t tell you how I got out, only that I did, and it was difficult as the walls were quite tall. And that I’m here now. Out of the moat and out in the world. And I find that it’s winter now. And the house is quite safe. And I have all this time on my hands now. And nothing to do. All this terrible time on my hands now. And nothing to do.
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Portland Fiction Project
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