A dark crooked man was limping down a narrow twisting track when a stone said to him, “Stop.”
The crooked man stopped. “Why?” he asked.
“I have to be here. Why shouldn’t you be here? You know it has to be dull for me if you look interesting. Do you have any idea how many people come down this way?”
“Practically no one.”
“Wrong: no one at all. Except you. And that guy yesterday. And–okay, okay: practically no one. It’s mostly deer and wild cows. Have you ever had a conversation with a deer or a wild cow?”
“Oh.” The stone was taken aback. “Well, I can’t get anything out of them. They certainly don’t have any well-developed views on metamorphism.”
“Neither do I.”
“You should. It’s a very important issue. Did you know that many stones are kept under the earth where they undergo tremendous heat and pressure that transform their very being?”
“Ah, you’re no fun,” the stone complained.
“You’re not the first to say so,” the crooked man remarked. He turned to go.
“Wait!” shouted the stone.
“You may be able to wait a significant fraction of forever,” the crooked man said, “but I can’t.” He looked down at the stone with stone-gray eyes that did not soften, but after a moment he added gruffly, “What is it you want?”
“As long as I remember I’ve been stuck here. But you’ve been other places, seen other things. So I want you to give me straight answers to some fundamental questions.”
“Why am I here? How is it that I can think and speak when so much of the world is dead matter? Why am I myself and not someone else?”
“I don’t know,” the crooked man said. “I can’t answer these questions for myself, much less for you.”
“Who does know?”
“Nobody. Everybody wonders, but nobody knows the answer.”
“How do they go on?”
“Some do, some don’t.” The crooked man looked away for a moment and said, “I may be able to do something for you.”
“You may not like it, though.”
“Anything for a change. You have no idea how dull it’s been, here.”
The crooked man drew the sword strapped to his shoulders. The glittering blade was like interwoven crystal, white and black.
The stone didn’t like the looks of this, but wasn’t sure of what was going to happen until it happened. The crooked man brought the blade down sharply on a fault line in the stone, splitting it cleanly into uneven halves.
He sheathed his sword and limped away without another word.
“That was pretty rude,” the half-stone said.
“Yes, wasn’t it?” said the other half.
“Oh ho,” said the first half. “What are your views on sedementation?”
“I’m against it.”
“Oh ho. I’ll be for it, then.”
They were still debating the details three centuries later when some men came through and made them into paving stones for a straight wide street.
James Enge‘s fiction has appeared in Black Gate and at Flashing Swords. He can be reached through his website or his blog.