Birth of the Tetrapods – Branighan Swan

Lincoln was planted fully formed on a special acreage. Special because it was where land had first begun. Lincoln was special because he was the beginning of the tetrapods. In him was seeded the duty to produce vast examples of life on land, to give life to many kinds of children and send them off with the Final Knowledge – the knowledge that all of them were destined to forget only moments after they had been told. Lincoln, however, would never leave the acreage. The Final Knowledge was stored eternally within him, and such knowledge could not be allowed to grow.

The acreage was a square, fenced off at the beginning of a dirt track which clambered away to beyond Lincoln’s furthest horizon. A gate opened to this track. It was the only way out of the acreage, but was not meant for Lincoln to walk. It was meant for his children, each with their own seeds to plant beyond the acreage once they were fully grown.

Lincoln’s children were all born inside his farmhouse, which supplied the only shade from an otherwise cruel sun. The house was a Victorian design with pure white walls, standing just in from the gate. When sunrise loomed over, it haunted the farmhouse with its own shadow, until the sun rose up to midday, and the farmhouse pulled its shadow back in. In this way, as the shadow and the sun could be watched in unison, the day was a time device.

Lincoln observed from the day that the space between a dawn and a midday was the time in which his fully grown children were to walk through the gate. This was when the house’s shadow was out over the beginning of the track. In this space of time, Lincoln was to impart the Final Knowledge to those very children leaving. His children could only learn it in the shadow of their home. They had to unlearn it too, either by leaving it at the gate or by waiting for the house to take back the shade, and take back what it knew.

Rosetta, Lincoln’s sister, had also been planted fully formed, only two days after Lincoln, but was planted firmly inside the house and could not leave even to walk the acreage. She was formed for Lincoln personally, as he was required to reproduce and populate the acreage and therein populate the world beyond.

Rosetta would never learn the Final Knowledge because she would never leave the house, and she could not be trusted to keep it to herself. She did know, however, that there was such a thing as the Final Knowledge to know. She was then eternally aware that she would be the only creature never to know that ultimate truth.

Rosetta’s state of being, fully aware of her ignorance, and fully aware of her own state of being, Lincoln named freedom. This term referred to the comfort found only in ignorance. Rosetta was free because she was accepting of her serviceability to Lincoln and because she was accepting of her boundaries, however reluctantly. She exploited this freedom of hers as much as she could under Lincoln’s roof. The Final Knowledge, unfortunately, would always be a niggling curiosity. Though she would always try, she could never forget that it existed.

Rosetta grew to like the rooms in the house with either few or no windows. She often bathed in the basement with her snakes, and regularly ate grain in the loft with her deer. She could do whatever she wished inside Lincoln’s house, so long as there was something growing inside her womb. Lincoln found her at midday bathing with the snakes, her belly not yet bulging with a life. Life was there, but hadn’t yet begun to assert itself.

Snakes wrapped and rested between the gaps of Rosetta’s body and the walls of the bath. Rosetta met Lincoln’s glare with a smile. A smile scarred at the edges.

‘All the children die, Lincoln,’ she said as Lincoln watched the fierce snake down her left arm, its tongue flicking, charming the pale fingertips to open the palm. ‘Is that what all this Final Knowledge fuss is about?’ Lincoln kept inspecting the fierce snake, wondering at the conception of something so remarkably black. Rosetta took a finger from her right hand and scratched along the snake’s back from head to tail. Wilfully, the snake slid from her left arm back into the water.

‘If that was all the fuss,’ Lincoln nodded, ‘You would not know it. It’s daylight. Your children need the sun.’ A hint of sun filtered through a tiny window which rested wide but stubby at the top of the back wall, filling space between the basement ceiling and the grassy floor of the outside. Blocked out mostly by dust and Rosetta’s own dry spit, sunlight didn’t make it far into this haven of shade. Lincoln peered over at the window like that small hint of sun was pulling him by the nose.

‘So they can slither on and leave me.’ Rosetta, agitated by Lincoln’s lack of attention, twisted her neck around to glimpse the same sun through the same window. She turned bitterly back toward Lincoln. She had been inclined for a long time to hate the sun.

‘So they live.’ Lincoln smiled at her new grimace. He smiled too at the agitation of the snakes, all out of their rest and all restless. Some uncurled, some untwisted, some unwrapped from Rosetta’s body. All colours, black to green to red to brown, all lengths, from a thread to a rope, all craning themselves to stare at him and hiss.

‘But they all die, Lincoln.’ Rosetta reached under the cloudy water and pulled something out from behind her back. There was no pipe for the water to escape through. It was the plug she pulled, and the cloudy water sucked the snakes down through the unplugged hole onto the basement floor. ‘Let them live with that knowledge.’ The basement floor was dead soil, and the water seeped in to leave the snakes behind on the surface.

Rosetta stepped out of the bathtub and picked up a wooden plank resting against the bottom of the same wall as the window was on. Turning her eyes from the sun, she propped the plank up from the dirt floor of the basement to the window, which she shoved open. The snakes immediately funnelled their way to the plank and toward the sun, which was now a clear beam through the opened hole in the basement wall. Lincoln followed the wet and naked Rosetta as she stomped out through the basement door and up into the lounge room.

 * * *

Upon the acreage’s exit, in the house’s shadow, Lincoln stood at the latch of the gate with a large batch of his children ready to leave. Each morning he would let the ones go who were ready, making sure they all learnt the Final Knowledge before walking out of the shadow of their birthplace.

The Final Knowledge was forgotten past the gate. That was the Final Knowledge – to learn that memory of the birthplace, of where land and life began, was to be forgotten by those who left it, and to learn that all children at some point must leave the acreage, and leave all truths behind.

Interspecific communications were surrendered past the gate in order to grow the intraspecific communities on the other side. The process was called Excommunication, and all ultimate truths were protected by this process. Only new truths would be discovered outside the acreage.

None of Lincoln’s children were ever happy to leave their home, but joy, and curiosity, was invariably renewed beyond the gate. Every so often one child would resist the journey too much.

Alistair, one of Lincoln’s pigs, now fully grown, pleaded allowance from Lincoln to resist Excommunication. Lincoln refused. It was irrefutable law that once the Final Knowledge was known it had to be forgotten.

‘Forgetting is dying,’ said Alistair. Lincoln shook his head sternly. He wouldn’t stand for such a crude, ill-informed definition of the ritual.

‘It is if you choose it to be. Forgetting can be birth,’ Lincoln said. ‘A truer birth than birth. It won’t hurt once you’ve walked through the gate.’

Alistair wished for a final goodbye to his mother, which Lincoln instantly halted. Rosetta was not to receive goodbyes as a rule, a rule made to ensure that she would never learn the Final Knowledge.

Alistair dug his nose into the ground, a passive display of resistance to what was bound by natural law. No being was allowed to remember their birth as it was before their rebirth. Lincoln, unlike Alistair, had learned long ago and quickly to be indifferent to Excommunication. It was the mere fact of the process he facilitated, the duty seeded in his personal being. The responsibilities to produce land-based life, and to impart the Final Knowledge to each life produced, were Lincoln’s alone.

Lincoln, aware of his personal duty, found that Alistair’s resistance disgusted him. Alistair’s duty was to knowingly and willingly walk through the gate and rediscover himself on the other side. His current display showed that he would prefer to bury his head in the earth than fulfil his Excommunication.

‘Swine,’ Lincoln spat. The ground around Alistair turned to mud and slush, his fur tamed and pinked, his sabres receded. ‘Look down forever. Walk out through shit and like it.’

Lincoln looked out just past the gate. Some rabbits had found each other, recognising their likeness, and a wolf stalked them cautiously, recognising their difference to him as he learnt his own appetite. Made for the eating, and he struck. The rabbits disbanded in an instant and escaped. Alone for the time being, the wolf was helpless, and he stole away along the road.

Ahead of the wolf were two people, a man and a woman. They were Matthew and Amelia when they were growing on the acreage. Their names were now forgotten to themselves and to each other, but with similar skin and upright posture they walked along the track together. These many children of Lincoln and Rosetta were already embracing new discoveries. Lincoln looked back down at Alistair, at home in his slush.

Alistair waddled toward the gate, his nose dragging through the mudded ground, his weeping turned into a shameful snort. He had to hurry. The midday sun was coming, and the house’s shadow was folding back in. The light would burn him back into nothing if he wasn’t beyond the gate in time. Lincoln had seen it in previous tragedies. The Final Knowledge would destroy Alistair under the sun.

Lincoln gave him a kick to bring him close to the gate, but the step through had to be voluntary. The sun was rising relentlessly. Lincoln turned back toward the towering farmhouse before the outcome had become apparent. Alistair had very quickly become a sad story either way.

Lincoln found Rosetta before sunrise eating grain in the loft with her deer. There were no windows in this room. Spiders liked it for the dark, and so did Rosetta. Lincoln was sorry for the deer. He had been trapped up here since his birth. He might not have even known there was an acreage outside, with plenty of grass to eat, let alone a world to watch. Rosetta had even denied him a name.

Lincoln’s sister raised her head out of the pile of grain and let her deer dig in. Her stomach had begun to push outward. Something was writhing inside, but Rosetta had no concern for whatever it might be. She simply dug back into the grain.

‘You will never know what it is like to birth a fawn Lincoln. And no knowledge could be more final than that,’ Rosetta said as she cupped some of the grain in her hands to more intimately feed her son. The deer made his back legs stiff and spread them apart. He was ready to flee to a dark corner, but for now fed from the hand forced upon him.

‘He will have to leave someday soon,’ Lincoln said, his resolve faintly castrated by the harshness of Rosetta’s convictions. The deer stayed silent. ‘You can talk boy,’ Lincoln said to him. ‘I know you can hear me.’ Lincoln waited the beats he felt he could wait for a response and heard none. He snatched back his resolve. ‘You will have to leave soon. You will have to learn the Final Knowledge, or you will become nothing.’ Rosetta stroked a finger up from the end of her son’s nose and between his eyes. He was not calmed.

‘Snakes and spiders, and bugs and bees, and ducks and swans, and dogs and cats and rabbits and rats, are easily pushed into life compared to the fawn, Lincoln,’ Rosetta continued as she kept trying to calm her son. ‘The fawn comes into life front legs first, even before its head, like the cow calf or the colt, and it is already quite big. You feel like your body will rupture, like it is slowly and violently turning inside out. But instead that feeling turns into this.’ Rosetta looked deep into her son’s black right eye.

‘My instructions do not dictate special treatment for special feelings. Your special son will hear the Final Knowledge soon, and he will either lose this home or he will lose himself,’ Lincoln countered. ‘You will lose him either way.’ Rosetta stopped patting her son, who at this stole away into the back of the loft. Knowing Rosetta would soon cry, Lincoln stole back down the retractable stairs into the upstairs hallway, and closed Rosetta and her son back in, together with the spiders.         The Final Knowledge, that seed with which Lincoln was burdened, was the only seed that was disallowed growth under natural law. It laid the platform for a vast multiplicity of specific growths outside the acreage, the outcomes of which Lincoln would never know. He knew his duty, he knew his acreage, he knew his house, and he knew the truths to the world, but he would never know the world itself.

He didn’t need to tend to his property or his house. They tended to themselves. He needed to tend to his sister quite often. She had an important function he needed to preserve. Lincoln, though, spent even more of each day feeding his children, those who couldn’t find the food naturally in the ground. He kept them healthy so he could send them beyond his little world. Lincoln’s duties kept him on a path of his own, and kept him in a circle, unaware that he had not grown even a little since his planting.

Branighan Swan

Branighan Swan is a Macquarie University writing student from Sydney and aspires to becoming a published novelist. He writes fiction that primarily involves magical realism, absurdism and science-fiction. His influences include Joseph Heller, Neil Gaiman and the Coen brothers. Outside of the novel form, he also writes screenplays with his love of storytelling not clinging to any one particular mould.

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