THE GORDIAN STONE • by James Enge

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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“So?”

“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.”

“Such as?”

“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.”

“Thank 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.

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Joseph Kaufman

  • Haha, love it!

  • Cool story!

  • GMoney

    Nice simple story. Could also do some philisophical analysis on it and read other meanings into it if you want, so has hidden depth, too.

  • Gerard Demayne

    Good one!

  • Dave Panchyk

    Dayum! The creator of Morlock the Maker does it again, putting punch in brevity.

  • Mary Butler

    Love this one! So much packed into a few words. Cool beans.

  • KJ

    I think this could’ve been shorter by a paragraph or two–the begining feels a little slow to me, but everything after the man unsheathing his sword was lovely. The dialogue between the stones was just about perfect.

  • Yes, it is a tad slower than it seems it could have been, but it ends on a fine note. And perhaps that pace contributes to an impression of the timelessness the stone feels in his infinite position of stability and persistent sense of loss as all else passes it by.

    A rather enjoyable read, James!

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    I liked it! I wonder if the old man knew what he was doing, or was he fed up with the conversation?

  • Interesting idea.

  • Very nice story, James. Well done!

  • Thanks to everyone for the comments. This sort of insto-feedback is new to me, but useful. (The idea that a story of about 500 words could be too long was startling at first, but then I began to see: it’s all a matter of proportion.)

    Nik is right about the crooked man being Morlock. If anyone is interested, I decided not to use his name because the stone wouldn’t have known who he was, and I didn’t want to expend words on explanations that wouldn’t advance the story. Also, I wanted to try writing a Morlock story for people who had no idea who Morlock is. (Since that includes practically everyone on the planet…)

  • Bill

    I’ve been reading here daily for about two months (love it), and this is my favorite yet. Thanks James! Looking forward to reading more about Morlock.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    Sorry to be late commenting. Been away. Loved this.

  • This story was a lot of fun, loved the “splitting” solution at the end.

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