nothing stopped the spill of his words, and no one stopped to listen. so the old man’s stories leaked into the earth.
what no one would take time to hear, the dirt gulped down.
stories do what all waters do: they seek out containers. drip, ripple, splash down into whatever boundaries are given.
given no boundaries, no container, the old man’s words did what all unbound waters do:
they spilled. they rose.
the dirt swallowed what it could, drank until it was saturated with story, until it grew soft and full, then joined in the spilling.
so the stories swelled up from the earth. became puddles, became streams, became rivers, became flood. all through the night, the old man spoke. nothing stopped the spill of his words. no one stopped to listen. and so all through the night, the water rose.
those who had not listened woke to find the old man’s stories lapping up the steps of their wooden porches. chickens, clucking angrily into damp feathers, climbed to the tops of their roosts to avoid the waves.
the stories mixed together. eddies of tragedy cut through the trickster’s cunning, proverbs swirled into prophecies, nursery rhymes marched to the beat of war drums. great loves crashed into great betrayals, and the difference between the two, if it had ever been known, was quickly and thoroughly forgotten. children shrieked with playful terror as they dipped their toes into epic poems, as they leaned over railings to stick out their tongues at the fantastic creatures who danced with their boggy reflections below.
their terror grew less playful as the stories continued to rise.
taking heed from the chickens, the people began to climb. shingles splashed down into creation myths as families scrambled onto their roofs.
windows cracked under the pressure of the words: the stories broke through. they rushed into parlors and seeped out of bedrooms. no one could tell for sure whether the dark objects drifting away under the surface were heirlooms or the stories of heirlooms. no one could tell for sure which would be missed more if lost to the flood.
there was no escaping the old man’s words. there was nothing, now, to stop their spill. and so the stories spilled into the earth. and so the earth spilled them back. when the people could no longer climb, they swam. when they could no longer swim, they drowned.
we have been drowning ever since.