by Martin L. Shoemaker
A tall, strong, young man stood on the crest of a hill, looking out over the green-brown plain below. A slight breeze ruffled the collar of his dark blue shirt. The air bore the sweet scent of the Maringa trees behind him and the musical chattering of the dabchicks in the ponds. The sun warmed his head through his short, curly locks. He held a long, straight, roughly shaped staff. But he did not lean upon it. He stood strong.
A short, gnarled old woman, old as the land itself, emerged from the trees and stood next to him. She also stood unbowed, and she gave the impression that she was larger than him in a way that the eye could not see. “You are audacious,” she said, “to bear a stick to meet me.”
He shook his head. “It is not a stick, it is a scepter.”
“I am the Woman of the Wood,” she answered. “I know this stick. I can name the tree from which it broke, and the stories of that tree, and of the seed from which it grew, and of the tree which dropped those seeds. Your eyes lie to you. It is a stick.”
“I do not see with my eyes, old mother, but with my spirit. As you have taught me. And my spirit knows that this is a scepter, and it marks me as king of all that I see.”
The woman chuckled softly as they looked out over the plain, with its stagnant ponds, sparse grasses, clumps of withered trees, and goats idly grazing. “And what do you see, O king?”
The young man shielded his eyes and looked out where she did. “I see rich fields where our people will someday grow sweet berries and yams and rice. We will plant vast crops to feed ourselves, and more. We shall feed a hungry world.”
She shook her head. “Once these lands were enough to feed our people, so they did not ask for food from others. Your spirit sees the past, before the wasters and the troubles, not the future. These lands were rich once.”
“And they shall be again! We bear burdens, but we do not sink beneath them. Someday we shall be rid of those who threaten the people and the land. We shall not break, we shall grow.”
“All I see is struggling grasses and goats wandering among them. And dirty little children,” she added, though she smiled when she did. “Children all around the field, if you know where they play.”
“And not just in the field,” the man answered. He glanced over his shoulder where bushes rustled, and he heard one small child’s voice gasp, while another giggled.
“They are brave, but foolish to approach me.”
“As was I,” the man answered. “Brave. Foolish. Burning with a hunger that food could not fill. I had to know. I had to know your ways.”
“And so it is with these? They come to learn of the Woman of the Wood?” Her eyes grew moist. “They still know of me?”
“No. They do not see you. Not yet.”
“I know,” she said, and a tear ran down the furrows of her face. “They do not know me anymore.”
“They will! It’s my turn now. I will teach them. They will know you, and they will know this future. That is what draws them today.” He lifted the stick and grasped it by the end. “They come to hear tales of my star sword!”
That turned the old woman’s frown into a smile. “I thought it was a scepter.”
“It is a star sword, won on the field of battle! You see?” He gestured across the plain with the stick. “Out there, beyond our rich fields, is the spaceport! There we shall build our own space program, with our own strong hands and our own bright minds. There we shall build rockets that shall take Nigerians to other planets. To the Moon and to Mars. To the stars!”
The woman’s dark lips parted, her mouth gaping. Finally, she said, “You’ve given me a gift. Now I know that even I, Oldest, can still wish. I wish that I could see that.”
“You will,” the man said. “My spirit sees it. We will go places that can only be seen in the imagination today; and wherever we go, we will take your stories. We will take you with us. I will tell your stories.”
“No,” the woman said softly. “I’m sorry. Not you.”
He turned to her. “So soon?” She nodded. “But I have so much to do. So many stories to tell. My children must learn. They must have this future.”
“You’ve made me believe, king of the world. They will. But you? Your spirit shall be freed to go many places, worlds even I have never imagined. And that journey starts today.”
The Woman of the Wood loomed tall over the man, her true majesty revealed at last as she reached out a hand and gently cupped his shoulder. He collapsed against her, strong until the final moment. And then he faded on the wind until all that remained was spirit, which she clasped to her breast.
And then she too was gone, and the old stick clattered to the ground, the only sign that the tall man had ever stood there.
The bushes rustled once more. After several minutes, the bravest of the two little boys came forward, looking around the hill and out over the plains. In the distance, he saw the silver towers of the spaceport. He picked up the stick. As a rocket blazed into the sky, the boy held up the sword and pointed it to the stars.
Emeka Walter Dinjos, 7 Dec 1984 – 12 Dec 2018
You saw far, but too briefly.
Walter Dinjos introducing himself as a Writers of the Future winner.
Walter Dinjos acceptance speech shown at the Writers of the Future Volume 33 awards event.
Walter Dinjos award-winning story “The Woodcutters Deity” was published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 33.
Martin L. Shoemaker is a programmer who writes on the side… or maybe it’s the other way around. Programming pays the bills, but a second place story in the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest earned him lunch with Buzz Aldrin. Programming never did that!
Martin’s work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Galaxy’s Edge, Digital Science Fiction, Forever Magazine, Humanity 2.0, The Year’s Top Short SF Novels 4, Writers of the Future Volume 31, Time Travel Tales, Trajectories, Little Green Men: Attack!, The Glass Parachute, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection.
Martin had become very good friends with Walter and so originated this tribute.