Contrary to popular belief, the oldest inhabited region in the world
is a tiny village just inside the edge of a jungle. To the east of it
is more jungle, to the west of it is more jungle. To the south is
denser and denser jungle, and to the north there isn't much before a
sea. There are cliffs down to the shore, and in the cliffs is a very
large mouth of a cave. The villagers never go far from the village,
and they definitely never, ever go into the cave.
In the village, the people speak their own language that's similar
enough so that most people who would ever show up from anywhere nearby
are certain to understand them. Most people never come near them from
the west or the east, and no one ever comes to see them from the
south. To the north is just sea, and the cave. Everyone in the
village knows their own purpose from early on in life. No one is ever
forced to stay, but when people want to leave their village, it is
always recommended that they head west, and they almost always do.
They mostly get along better with anyone from the west than from the
east when they do occasionally show up. It may not have always been
that way, but it probably was.
The villagers all know the purpose of their tiny village, but they
don't ever mention it unless someone visits who is headed to the
nearby shore of the sea. They always tell them not to go to the cave.
In the village there is one person selected from an early age, usually
a man, who keeps track of the history of the village. No one is named
at birth, they are only named when they know what they will do. That
person is named Ahb.
Even in that village they know the world changes, Ahb always tells
them stories, and they have proof when Ahb makes a new story for them
about something that happened. Usually there are several people
called Ahbi, but only one person ever becomes known as Ahb. It's the
only name in the village that changes like that.
It caused a lot of changes when people started showing up who said
they came from the north. The villagers thought that wouldn't ever
happen. Only one person had been Ahb since that first happened. No
one had believed it, at first. Ahb had been young, and had taken the
risk to spend a lot of time near the cave to see where they actually
came from. It had been scary, but they had shown up, exactly as they
said, in a large metal boat from somewhere across the sea.
At least they weren't from the cave. It all made for much more than
one story. The people from across the sea noticed Ahb waiting for
them almost as soon as he noticed them. When they had first showed
up, Ahb had told them immediately about the cave. He had noticed
their reluctance to say anything at all, which was most of the reason
he had decided to wait for them to return, to be able to see them as
soon as they arrived again.
They were there at the shore as they said they would be, a few months
later. The people from the sea knew many languages, and it hadn't
taken them long to figure out how to speak with Ahb. He had
immediately asked them about the cave. Somehow he knew they had gone
They replied by asking him what he knew about the cave. He told them
again the simple stories about the cave. People can go into it, but
if they do, after not very long there is always a horrible scream and
blood drips from the cave. No one ever goes in there anymore. The
villagers had stories that they had tried everything to stop people,
even trying to fight them away from the cave. Obviously that hadn't
had any effect but being worse than useless.
Ahb was more than curious, he had to know if they had gone into it.
Then they told him a few of them had gone in, and that was what had
happened. The people from the sea took him at his word, and he could
tell they had knowledge worth trading for. He explained to the
villagers there could be a new name for people in the village who
could learn from them. They sometimes had very good but different
ways of healing people. Everyone thought it was a good idea, and the
people from the sea suggested the name Doctor.
The people from the sea asked what else was around, and everyone
agreed the people to the west of the village always seemed a bit
friendlier. They had stories about people from the east. One of
people from the sea said it stood out that the villagers usually left
to the west when they did, so they might end up friendlier. Ahb could
tell again they knew good things when that person said that. A sign
of a good Ahbi.
Ahb grew very old, and the world kept changing. People never really
came from the east anymore at all, anyway, but to the west the people
from the north might have caused a lot of changes, too. There was a
new ruler to the west, and more people were coming. Two people in the
village were named Ahbi now, and both knew all the stories. The
people from the north didn't even ask about the cave much again.
What worried Ahb the most was that the people coming from the west
asked about the cave far too often. He tried to get the villagers to
notice, at least to get the two Ahbis to notice and try to put a stop
to it. The people from the west of the village were getting too
curious about it, and Ahb could tell they wanted a villager to go in,
but they didn't want to go themselves. Ahb tried to warn everyone as
soon as he noticed it. He became very worried they were influencing
the younger Ahbi, but he didn't want either of them to leave to the
Some people from the west all showed up at once, with one man clearly
leading them, during a time some people from the sea were there. The
people from the west had too much influence, and the people from the
north saw it too. Ahb took the people from the north aside and tried
to ask them for help putting a stop to it, but it was too late. The
younger Ahbi and several people from the west were already halfway to
the cave at the shore when Ahb and the people from the sea went back
to talk to them.
Ahb rushed to the cave, but Ahbi was already coming out of the cave.
He was the first person to come out of the cave, ever. The people
from the west were cheering, their leader moved toward Ahbi to
congratulate him. Ahbi was shaking in fear, and Ahb rushed past
everyone to hug him, crying. What had happened? Ahbi told him simply
that they had given him a test. The cave had been extremely dark, he
couldn't see anything. He had felt a blade to his throat from some
creature inside the cave, who had said, "this is for us, not for you."
Ahbi had been shaking in terror, but the creature had pulled the blade
back a bit. Ahbi had not been sure what to say as he stood there
trembling. It had all only lasted a few seconds, and Ahbi had just
asked if he could leave. The creature had let him. "That's the
story, then," Ahb said to him. "Leave it at that."
That night the people from the west took over the village, celebrating
for hours. Ahbi was too drawn into it all. Most of the villagers
didn't stay, but Ahb tried to snap Ahbi out of it and bring him to his
senses. The leader of the group visiting from the west said too many
of the wrong things. Ahbi asked him, not Ahb, if he could go back
with them. The man from the west of the village told him, "no, your
place is clearly here, as the new Ahb."
Ahb felt awful hearing that. He stood at the side of it all with his
fist to his mouth, crying. The younger Ahbi didn't even notice. He
got carried away retelling the story, embellishing it, letting the
people from the west of the village make up horrible details. He was
much too carried away with it all. He said, "the people from the east
could stab me in the back now, and I would survive it." The people
from the west laughed and cheered, while Ahb wept behind the crowd
hopelessly. Finally he left. He didn't know what to do. The people
from the sea had no suggestions, some of them ashamed of themselves
they had ever come at all.
The next morning the ruler from the west himself arrived. The people
from the sea to the north tried to intervene, but the ruler was
demanding that Ahbi go in again. The villagers and people from the
north were outnumbered and couldn't do anything. Ahbi wouldn't listen
to reason as Ahb shouted at him and wept. The younger Ahbi was too
confident, ready to go again and find out more about what lived inside
of the cave. The people who were against going could do nothing but
watch as Ahb screamed, cried, and pleaded, while they all went back to
the shore where the cave was.
Ahb couldn't do anything about it as Ahbi went back into the cave. He
was in there for far too long, for several minutes. There was never
any scream, but blood poured and splattered from the cave while Ahb
wept. The ruler from the west of the village barked in short
astonishment, almost a laugh. Ahb wanted to kill him. The most
amazing thing happened then, the blood started to flow upward from the
ground, and then there was Ahbi standing there again. He slowly fell
forward though, blinking his eyes once. A sword stuck out of his
back. It looked like it could be a thousand years old, except that it
seemed perfectly new. The people from the north tried to push through
the crowd to help him, but they all cheered around Ahbi, rocking the
sword back and forth in his back.
I typeset a PDF of my novella Cattywompus. You can also download it for free or make a donation of your choice on itch.io.