Once upon a time there was a mist. It crawled along the ground like some blind creature, sniffing out places to fill and to swallow up. Within the mist everything seemed more silent, hushed as if expecting something, or perhaps muffled by the tendrils of fog.
Nothing lived in the mist, and was hungry. It sought out light and sound, scenting them on the air and lured by their sparkle and the taste of warm light sliding down the back of its nothing throat. Within the swirl that might have been its mind, it consumed all that around it and wanted more.
How do you fight nothing? No armament, no sturdy shield, dripping with moisture and strapped to a sinewy arm. Nothing swallows these without a sound. There is no light that can withstand it, no way to see it, for there is nothing to be seen.
But the hunters of nothing are not men of might. They wander the world armed with only laughter and hope. Many do not know the creature that they hunt, only the things they abhor and seek to brighten. Such a man was the minstrel Alderill, a wandering fool who sang for his supper and told old jokes that might seem new in the retelling.
But Alderill had lost his way in the mist, and felt the chill of the night on his neck and in his bones. The hair on his body stood up, as if something in the mist was whispering of danger. Tree trunks loomed up out of the mist like ghastly phantasms, then faded just as silently as they appeared. Alderill thought he might find a path if he walked long enough, but nothing stalked his path and hid his way, brushing the mist thickly across the path as he crossed it and obscuring it from view. Nothing scented Alderill’s lute, an early guitar, and licked at its strings for a taste of their sweet music. When Alderill turned, nothing was there, breathing heavily, but invisible with its background of mist. Nonetheless, Alderill’s skin crawled. He felt its presence as though he could see nothing.
Without thinking, Alderill began to hum to himself. Just a little something to pick up his spirits. But nothing stole the tune from his lips and left him feeling emptier than he had a moment before. He turned in a circle, peering into the mist, and could not shake the sense of being shadowed. Nothing began to steal his heat, savoring every drop.
Alderill shivered, and on an impulse unslung his lute and began to play. Nothing was delighted, and lapped up the music as soon as it left the strings. Alderill had the eerie feeling of playing with no sound. He kept his mouth closed firmly, fearing that whatever enchantment had stolen his music would creep down his throat and take his voice. For now Alderill felt that he was enchanted indeed. Lost and being drained, some foul creature at work on him.
What had the old enchantress said about this sort of spell? Alderill racked his brains. The only way out was to find its weakness. He opened his belt pouch and took out flint and steel. Striking them together he watched as the sparks were swallowed up before they left the flint. Not fire. And not music. Alderill shivered again. When he wasn’t playing the nothing settled down on him and took his body heat. So Alderill played silently, giving the nothing what it craved while he thought to himself how this creature could be beaten.
There was nothing all about him, and Alderill’s head was empty of a solution. He stumbled and righted himself, trying to keep the tune from skipping. Here he was, a dying minstrel in a misted wood, playing silently for some monster and afraid he might mess up the tune. Alderill laughed at himself, and the nothing shrank back. For a moment he felt lighter, and even a little warmer.
Alderill smiled. The beast feared laughter. He tried to tell a joke, but nothing stole his words and he could feel the coldness of its passage creeping over his lips and into his mouth. So Alderill gave out a barking laugh, unreal, but enough to startle nothing out of his mouth.
Nothing crept in closer now. It could feel the light within this man, and wanted it, all of it. Alderill saw his hands begin to turn blue from the sudden cold. He laughed in a panic, and the color faded a bit.
Alderill threw back his head and laughed at the absurdity of the world, at the hopelessness of his plight, and at the raging darkness all around him. He guffawed at the wretched state of his clothes, his purse, and his prospects. He bent double over the one about the miller’s daughter and that silly limerick that had always tickled him. Alderill laughed at obscenity, absurdity and maturity. He laughed until he couldn’t breathe, then laughed at his gasping, hacking, coughing and spluttering attempts to keep laughing. He laughed until he was hoarse and then kept laughing until all that came out was a hacking whisper.
Only when he could laugh no more did Alderill notice the mist was gone. It had gradually dissipated into the ground as Alderill had shriven it to pieces. The nothing was gone, replaced by gentle night breezes who did not notice its absence.
Moral: Laugh at yourself, and keep nothing at bay.
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