I Am Ahab

Writing from Prison

by Todd Newmiller


Originally published in Newspeak, October 2007

The following short story was written during a several weeks of 23 hour lockdown at Denver’s Reception and Diagnostic Center (DRDC).


The fire threw off a mighty heat, but the cool night air was more powerful still. Close to the ring of the flame, the heat was oppressive, clouding the mind much as the sharp chill of the starlit sky. The excited conversations of the early evening had muted to the winding down calm of the dusk, had muted further to the tired but satisfied mutterings that now occasionally punctuated the dark around the fire. A loud pop and a tumble of wood sent sparks on a drifting ascent into the infinity of the stars, sent smoke billowing and swirling around the fire, quieted the men and boys that gathered around. Into this silence appeared a deep voice, cut through the darkness almost as the spitting flame cut through the darkness, while those assembled listened in surprised and respectful silence, listened to the words of the old warrior.


Leaning forward now at the edge of the circle of light, the weathered and scarred face, the gnarled but still powerful hands were all that caught the flickering of the desperate flame, all else fading into the vast darkness of the world beyond. "In the old times," the deep voice began, "the gods spoke to man."


"The Old Gods were storytellers, and they told the first men of their great deeds and of their mighty battles. They spoke to man of the triumphs of strength and courage, of the failures of weakness and arrogance and spite. And man listened to these stories and learned to speak the language of the gods. He learned what made the gods great and powerful, and learned those things that humbled even the mighty before the storm of failure and regret. He listened to the stories and became like a shadow of the very gods."


"But the Old Gods stopped telling stories to man. They stopped telling their stories to man because man stopped believing in them so much that he no longer could see the lessons they taught or the deep magic they contained. Man fell from favor with the gods because he no longer listened eagerly to their words, in his arrogance hearing only lists of rules, or the mumbling of old fools."


"And so Man forgot the powerful magic, forgot what it is to find courage or love or compassion within one’s heart, forgot that no set of rules or rituals could speak the words that captured his mind and fed his soul. And man fell in the esteem of the gods. Then man fell in the esteem of his fellow man. Then man fell in the esteem of himself."


"This is why today, man fights his battles not for land or for power, but for words. Man has forgotten that words by themselves have no strength, that words by themselves have no magic, that words by themselves have no meaning. Man has ceased to be like a shadow of the very gods. Man has become a shadow of himself."

"These words I say, they tell a story. These words I say tell a story about the gods, and about man. And those words contain a magic. But the magic is not in the speaking of the words, it is in the hearing and listening of the words. It is in the hearing and the understanding of a story."


"Like the old Gods, an old Warrior must tell his story. If his story contains the powerful magic, like the gods he will become immortal. And like the old gods, if his story is not heard and told, he becomes nothing."

With this the old warrior stopped. His eyes appeared wet, as with tears, and he leaned back again, disappearing into the vast darkness of the world beyond the fire.