He was waking or he was falling asleep, neither, both at once. This was a dream. This was the only thing he had ever known. It made no difference, he trailed his own body like ripples after a rock, smoothing and breaking and smoothing again.
His feet moved tirelessly, without thought. No longer human, only the Walk was real. For minutes, or for months; time was fluid and distant. Walk.
He broke and a low mountain pulled him forward. Smoothed. Broke into flatlands, into shallow water. Into the evening, into the weak dawn.
Smoothed, back into the soft yellow lights behind his eyes. Walk.
He was not alone. This thought came from his bones, the heavy vibrations that shook them. It was something known, not something learned. It was like becoming aware of his own breath.
After a moment, without any real intent, his head raised. The yellow lights flickered. He could see three trees surrounding him. No, three hills. No. Three monstrous beasts. No. Three brothers.
He was waking after all. It was more obvious now, though his mind wandered glacially. The yellow lights retreated into the back of his head, glowing faintly. He was waking, slow but inexorable. It was something he neither feared nor anticipated.
Liam. It came to him suddenly, like a popped soap bubble.
A small bird landed on his shoulder. Its tiny feet gripped at his shirt for balance as he Walked, the weight somehow familiar. He drew a breath, seemingly his first in a long time, and the bird froze, looking at him cautiously. “Liam,” he told it, and the bird burst away from him in a flurry of wings. “My name is Liam.”
They were giants, he realized with a dim sense of surprise. Real, genuine giants, more like rocks than animals, taller than a hundred-year-old tree. His eyes didn’t seem to want to see them completely; he could only concentrate on sections at a time. The hair-like smattering of grass and bushes, where the occasional bird roosted. Secret caves, small bluffs and cliffs scattered through the long bodies. A vague, angular indent where a face should be.
They had dense, absurdly short limbs—so many that only a small fraction of the giants’ bodies separated from the ground while Walking. They made no sound, but tremors ran through the ground with each step they took.
Step was the wrong word. Rather that an earthen ‘foot’ dissolved into the ground behind them, and a new foot formed in front to take the shifting weight. Limbs springing up, then falling away, disappearing back into the ground. They Walked. This word seemed important to him, but he could not remember why.
All three giants were nearly identical, as far as he could tell. The only difference was the berries. Each had a different bush hanging just above its myriad of short legs, only a few inches above Liam’s head. He couldn’t decide whether to call the area a ‘haunch’ or a ‘trunk,’ or even a ‘cliffside.’
He picked a berry from each of them, curiously unafraid. His fingertips were deeply dyed, mottled with juice. He must have been eating these berries for a long time. It didn’t bother him, somehow, that he could not remember eating them before. Each bite of fruit filled him to the brim with strength.
He named the giants by their berries. Sweet Red. Cobalt Tart. Bittersweet Black.
After his name, other memories came more quickly. He lived near the village of Bermoor, on the edge of the quaking bog. He was a carpenter, had a beautiful wife with long brown hair. Chessa. Oh, Chessa. Where was she?
And on the edge of his memories, something was burning. Something important. It all seemed so distant now, someone else’s life he was remembering.
It was a relief to think more clearly, but also tiring. It left him empty and weak in a way the berries couldn’t help. His legs shook beneath him as the miles tumbled past. The giants kept pace with him, silent. Day turned to night, again, again. He lost count. The yellow lights were no stronger than banked coals, hiding deep within him.
When he finally fell, the giants stopped. Around them, an unknown forest hummed with its evening sounds. A fox wandered between them with prime unconcern, pausing to sniff at his hand before disappearing back into the dark undergrowth. A deep impulse pulsed within him, an almost panicked compulsion—it was important, but he just couldn’t Walk anymore—
Something touched his back lightly. He managed to turn his head as it pulled away. Fingerlike twigs, connected to a branch, disappearing into a long column of rock. Sweet Red loomed over him, its concave face peering down.
“I can’t,” he said softly.
If it could hear him, Sweet Red gave no sign. Liam didn’t struggle as smooth leaves cocooned around him, lifting him up high into the air.
Ah, he thought, watching the top of the forest sway in the night wind. This is what the giants see, if they do see. Trees like grass, disappearing into the dark. The ground, the stars, the mountains on the horizon—everything is so far away.
It was such an austere and remote world. Unchanging. A bit lonely.
The leaves around him shifted, nest-like, and the giants moved forward as one.
Liam slept then, for a very long time. His dreams were shadowed and tangled, interspersed with shattered memory and strange visions. He remembered only one:
Chessa was humming as she unfolded a sheepskin blanket. In the dream, he didn’t reach out to touch it—but he could feel the wonderful softness of the wool at his fingertips. From the corner of the room came the smell of new wood, but he did not look at it. Refused to look at it. Instead, he looked at his wife, admiring the shine of her hair in the candlelight, her sweet voice.
He reached out to embrace her, and everything changed. Insects chirruped in the dark grass around him. Something was burning. Something smelled of new wood.
He looked away from what he couldn’t see, turned out toward the bog. Two lights floated there. They were waiting for him, and he went.
But in the way of dreams, he could see everything at once in awful clarity. The lights, the insects. The singed grass. The fire. Within the fire, a small white cradle.
Eventually, he woke and ate the berries waiting for him in the nest. He cried a little, tears and juices smearing his lips. It passed quickly, mechanically. The grief was distant. It didn’t matter anymore.
Liam sat on a branch at the edge and waited, ignoring the way his legs twitched yearningly. The giants passed through a mountain range, crossed a small sea. Occasionally they came across villages, sometimes travelers or fishermen. No one seemed to notice. Liam did not call out to them.
Past a waterfall, an ocean. A desert, a marsh. Through rain, sun, hail. A snow-capped mountain. He did not think. He waited.
At the end, Sweet Red lowered him down into a field. Yellow grass closed over his head. Liam’s legs no longer twitched.
The giants left him behind, and he didn’t watch them go. Their Walk had nothing to do with him anymore. He turned away, stumbling through the long grass. The lights pulsed within him, pulling him forward.
And then he was there, on the edge of a deep blue lake, the water moving quietly against his knees. It was beautiful. It was not beautiful. It was beyond both, beyond everything. It shone with secret light.
He could feel the lights emerging from him, surging up through his skin as though called by the light of the lake. Finally, they floated whole and bright before him, just as he had first seen them.
It was a little lonely now, a little cold, but he did not reach out to them. He watched as they sank toward the water. Without a ripple, they disappeared.
He pulled off his tattered clothes and closed his eyes. Naked, he walked into the lake. Deeper, deeper, the light swallowed him, deeper, until there was nothing but light.