Most of all, he didn’t like the edge because of the loud noises, the thumping, the screeching, the banging, the tremors that made it seem as if the whole tunnel he had just dug out would come crashing down upon him, something which very rarely happened, but every once in a while it did.
Back in the heart of the world, things were simpler. There were more people, and they all crossed paths so often that it was easy to forget which tunnel you had dug and which tunnel had been made by someone else and it really didn’t matter, because they were all about the same size and they could trade tunnels any day, any hour, and all tunnels ended the same place anyway, or very similar, and there was food in all directions, plentiful and available. But all the food was known and safe, and he wanted something else, even if it meant enduring the loud noises.
Because here at the edge, there were hardly any people at all. Every once in a while, he would run into an old tunnel left behind by some other loner that had come before him, maybe one that came back with treasure or maybe one that never came back. Out here, he was on his own and he had to mostly dig his own tunnels, and the soil itself was harder and darker, and he didn’t really mind any of that but he did mind the noises, because, after careful consideration, it had become clear to him that the noise could only come from the great Demons that lived above the earth and the thought of it made him tremble and his nose got cold and still and he looked down at the dark soil and tried to think of other things.
When the thought of the Demons came upon him, then he momentarily accepted that maybe it was better to stay where the family was, where the known world was, maybe it was better to stay where there were plenty of people and plenty of tunnels and no loud noises and maybe that’s where he should go and all he would have to do is to follow his own tunnel back to its source, and pretty soon the noises would fade away into memory, and, all of a sudden, there would be another one like him and then another, and there would be more tunnels and the only noises would be the little scratching that he recognized as the scratching of other people, digging away and eating and digging some more.
The vision of resting there made him think that maybe he was crazy to be out here, that he should never have come out all the way to the edge, but as much as these thoughts crowded into each other and as much as it was tempting to be back where it was safe and familiar, he still kept on digging, he still kept on going, and the noises kept on getting louder. He ran into a big white rock and then another and he noticed that the roots were shorter here, as they trailed down knotty and hard from the top of his improvised passageway, and there were areas where the soil was very thin, thinner than he expected, so thin that it was almost impossible to make a tunnel through it because everything would just crumble back into place, and then he would run into soil that was almost as hard as a rock, and he made his way around these obstacles the best way he could, for he had many tricks at his disposal, and many different ways to face the hardships that were present here at the edge of the world.
But he knew it would soon be time to come out, for it was no good to have come all the way out here and then not see the light, for time was composed of periods of darkness and periods of light, and you could stretch the darkness for a while and you could wait until you felt tired or until you felt like eating something different or simply until you wanted to be warm, but, sooner or later, you had to rip up through the soil and push your nose up and face the light, and then, bask in its magnificence, and know, for a single clear moment, that you had gone somewhere, and you were now there, and your nose was warmer, and your eyes would grow wide with the momentary understanding.
There was no use putting it off for too long, he would have to do it sooner or later. He found a place where the dirt was not too thin and not too hard and he started to dig up, up towards the surface, and the noises got even louder, and it sounded like a hundred people dying all at once, like rumbling explosions that threatened to break the world in two and leave him naked in the midst of thin soil that flew in all directions, with no roots or rocks to grab onto, and no dirt floor on which to land. But he kept on digging up, inch by inch, while great waves of fear made the effort even harder. Eventually, the roots shifted aside and he pulled on some of them and pushed up, and dug some more and then the light hit him, hard and blue and bright and his eyes got wide and teary and his heart beat hard and the noise was deafening but he didn’t care, he had come all this way, and he wanted to see what was here even if it meant the end of him.
It took some time for his eyes to adjust but then he saw them, the big Demons staring down at him from an inconceivable height. They were hideous and gigantic and they were made of light in many different shades and they moved slower than he did but with a significance and a power that he found terrifying. He slid back down the way he came, shaking with terror, and he waited there, maybe they would go away soon and then he could look outside again. He pushed his nose out for a bit and looked up and he saw the gigantic forms of light once again and he pulled back further and waited once again. They had to go soon, if they wanted to kill him he would already be dead, although he knew that he had no way of knowing what their true purposes were, he just had to wait and wait and wait.
After a long while, he pushed his nose out again and there was single demon there, glowing above him like a tower of rainbow light bathed in blue and yellow, and the strange being was just standing there and he looked up at it and he couldn’t tell what was his face and what were his eyes and what was his nose, but he was sure that it was looking down at him from the great heights that he inhabited. He looked up at the Demon and the Demon shifted slightly and moved just a little closer and he ran away once again.
In the comfortable cover of cool darkness he waited some more, hoping the strange Demon would go away like the others had. As he waited, the noise was becoming deafening, more terrible than ever, and it came in great waves that made his tunnel shake and little rivulets of dirt would come pouring down upon him, threatening to end his adventure suddenly with a single explosive fade out made of root and soil. There was very little buffer of soil to hide him from the terrible noise, so it washed through his tunnel like dark clouds of poison gas and his whole body was shaking and he knew he had to escape soon or he would go mad.
But he had to look outside, at least one more time, and so he did and the Demon was still there, still looking down, and he thought he knew then what were his eyes and they were staring right at him, and he was going to pull away again but the Demon didn’t move and it was so still and he could almost imagine that the Demon was like him, maybe a bit like him, maybe not so different, maybe somewhere behind the Demon face, there truly was something that was not so bad, not so evil, not so terrifying… but then a new wave of noise came and he ran down the tunnel because that had been too much, he had gone too far. The noise was still making the tunnel tremble as he ran and all he could see in the darkness before him were the Demon’s eyes and all he could remember was the moment when he thought, as he looked into that giant strange being, just for a second, that maybe he was a Demon himself.
The others would think he was crazy, and maybe he was. At least now he knew why the people never ventured so far out to the edge of the world. More than death, more than pain, more than hunger, it was terrible knowledge that waited here, in the fiery eyes of a Demon, in the crushing noise of its giant black wings.