by Robin Hamblin-Fuller



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I was saddened to learn of the Old Man's passing, when I returned home from University, and somewhat shocked when I found out he had died in a ward of an Institution for the Criminally Insane.

I just couldn't believe the newspaper report when I read it in the local library archives. I knew there was no love lost between him and Professor Rocher, my science teacher at the High School I went to, before leaving to attend University.

The professor was forever making fun of the Old man's views on Life, and the Sciences, especially his off-beat idea that carbon-based life forms were merely "passing parasites" on the surface of the planet, and that instead of looking heavenward for examples of silicon based life forms, they only had to look under their feet to see the true life form of this planet. The rocks around us.

But... well... there it was in black and white... "Professor Rocher's body found battered to a pulp, under a rock pile in the Old man's back garden." The trial was brief, as all the time his defence was that "The Rocks had done it themselves, to destroy me as I am close to learning their secrets." The prosecution had allowed his defence to enter a plea of "Guilty but insane" and the sentence had been commital to the Insitute for life.

Not that he would have ever lasted that long. Shutting the Old man away inside stone walls was a death sentence anyway. I knew that.

I had often seen him in passing on my way to school, working out in his garden, all winds and weathers, until the snow lay like a blanket over everything. Even then I would see him wandering around, as if checking the trees to see if they were surviving, and thinking about what he'd plant and where.

I eventually began to stop and chat with him, on my way home, and he always seemed glad of the break, the excuse to sit for a while. I think I was one of the few people he ever spoke to for any length of time, as he lived alone, almost like a hermit, only passing the time of day with the local store owners when he went shopping.

His garden was his life, and that was obvious in the amount of care and time he spent on it. From the first flowers of Spring, to the last colours of Fall there was always something blooming profusely somewhere in his yard. He loved both cultivated and wild ones, each having its place to show itself off to its best advantage.

He amused me with stories of his life, and his past, and it was difficult to imagine this bent frame, and wrinkled smiling face, as a "wild impetuous youth"... and even more so now, as a cold, calculating murderer battering a man half his age to a pulp. It was so out of character... he even apologised to each plant he removed from the beds, when they grew in the wrong place, and even replanted many of them elsewhere, explaining to me that they "deserved a second chance in Nature's garden"... an area he called "the wild spot... just to remind him of his youth," he often joked to me.

The letter from the solicitor's office amazed me even more. his estate had been willed in total to me! House, contents, garden... the lot, was mine. Apparently what family he had, were not interested in anything of his, and the terms of the will simply stated that in that event, all was to come to me, for having "brightened dull days with a cheery smile."

It was with mixed feelings that I entered the deserted home. I'd been inside once or twice, but never really noticed much, except that he wasn't a "typical Old man living alone." It was clean, neat, tidy, and orderly. An area for each of his 'occupations' eating, sleeping, a growing room, a study, and a little "den" I suppose you'd call it, specially for keeping Journals of the garden.

I spent the March Break reading through them, fascinated by the amount of detail each contained. Daily accounts of what was growing where, how well it was doing, what he had to do to prevent wind, rain, sun and pests from destroying it. Each year's diary was almost a Gardening "How to" manual in itself.

His sketch books contained drawings, identifying each and every thing that grew, walked, wriggled, or hopped onto his place, and again, a Biology teacher would have been pleased to have anyone of them as a text book for class...along with the mountain of pressed flowers as examples for later study, this was a treasure house in itself.

Then I found it. A large, leather bound journal, with a lock to it... rather like the medieval books you see in museums, and it took me quite some time to locate the hiding place for the key, and I wondered just what I was going to read, that was so secret it deserved this amount of security.

I have to admit, my first instinct was to laugh out loud at the title page. "Stones, a study in life forms ignored by Man." I remember thinking to myself 'Oh dear... maybe he was a little crazy... even crazy enough to have commited murder!'

I began to flip through the pages in a sort of half interest, just to see what he had written, and by the time I reached the layout drawings, I was convinced his obsession was that of a crank. Pages and pages of grid-like layouts with the locations of various sized stones carefully noted. I didn't bother reading too much of it, and dismissed it as something stupid that someone living alone for so long had done to keep himself occupied.

Summer vacation, I hurried back to the place, to try and tidy up as much as I could, and at least try and make it something like I had remembered it to be. My Parents had very kindly kept the grass cut for me, but the flower beds and vegetable area were in dire need of attention.

The flower beds cleaned out, using the journals as reference, were done quite quickly, and I set about starting to dig that vegetable area I had so often seen him tending to all summer. If nothing else, I could grow a few veggies for my own use, and enjoy fresh stuff for a change... all those nights of Kraft dinners, my body deserved something decent in it for a change.

The earth was almost black. There years of his adding compost and manure had made a loam that almost melted off the fork...just as the Home and Garden shows on TV always did, and it was a delight to just push the fork in, lift, and feel it fall through the tines with no effort on my part.

The third plunge of the fork into the soil, brought that unmistakable "clunk" as steel hits stone, and I was rather surprised to find a stone wedged in the prongs, as I turned this lot over. Surely all the years of digging would have revealed this one before? I removed it, with a bit of a struggle, I might add, and continued on.

Some two or three more fork turns, and then an ankle shattering "thud" as I hit something decidedly larger than a stone. I couldn't believe it, when I finally unearthed it. The thing was almost the size of a soccer ball, and surrounded by a mass of smaller ones. There was no way this one had escaped the Old man over all those years.. this had to have come from somewhere beneath, and been worked up in the winter frosts... although... I wondered... What about the collection around it? Where did they come from?

I took a break, and decided to spend some time with the locked Journal again, just to see what the Old Man had had to say about this. Maybe he wasn't such a crank after all?

I studied the grid drawings, and the overlays he had made from them, and it struck me at that point that any Archaeologist would have been proud to have records of sites done in this fashion, if it were an historic find, rather than "just stones."

Every detail was there, and by following his observations about discoveries on three and five year cycles, I was able to pinpoint the ones I had just unreathed on one of his previous charts.

I took that one out with me, for reference, along with the five year one, and then understood why the fence around the garden plot. Not so much to keep animals out, but to provide him with an instant grid reference. The one foot points were plainly marked with a larger post, and the three inbetween gave the 4, 6 and 8 inch points.

Sure enough... by refering to the chart, and digging in the spot marked, there was a stone, or collection of them. It was uncanny... almost as if they were determined to prove the Old man right.

After several lines of digging, and a wheel barrow load full of various sizes, I headed to the piles the Old man had made over the years, and closer examination showed me he'd even sorted them into sizes. Good grief! Just how obsessed had he been about these things? Time to read some more, and see if I could make sense of all this.

The notes at the beginning included some of his observations he'd made to me during my visits. At the time, I thought he was joking, but now I was to realise he was deadly serious about them.

"The reason the English include a weight measure of 14 lbs to a stone, is probably because they came to understand a 14lb stone is an inert one.It will not make any attempt to move from where it lays. Lesser weight ones will. It makes some degree of sense when later discoveries found air pressure to be 14 lbs per square inch."

Hmmm... that leaves a lot to be discussed!

"Cobblestones, the British means of road paving, probably came about due to them wanting to find some way of disposing of them before they multiplied beyond the island's ability to contain them. Paving them over in later years ensured they remained where they were."

Definitely a little touched, I'd say.

"The stone edifices, pyramids, Great Wall of China, cathedrals, buildings, I suspect the real reason is lost in antiquity. Those that knew the threat stones posed, had them piled into something useful, in full public view, so they could be closely watched."

Oh this gets weirder and weirder... he was obviously losing his marbles.

"Double-digging a garden, where one goes down two fork depths, and layers the undersoil with manure, has nothing to do with 'enrichment of the soil' as the garden manuals tell you. It's a long-fogotten technique the English found useful to stay the stones from coming up from underground for a year or two."

I thought about that one a little...he might just have something there, and I might even try it myself to see if it works. His records seem to suggest it does, hence the cycles of 3 and 5 years... where he manured, it's extended to the 5 yr cycle.

I then examined his "reasonings" for the sizes and different piles. The small gravel sized pieces he labled "surface sacrificers" as they were the ones that were revealed after a rainstorm, no matter how carefully you screened the soil after digging. They gave the larger ones underneath the warnings of exposure.

1-2 inches... "scouts" finding the easiest path up. 3-5... "soldiers" and "guards" as they usually came in a collection over a larger one; 6-8 inches were the "generals" ahead of the really large "mothers". These were the ones responsible for "spawning" the various other sizes.

As you can well imagine, I dismissed this total insanity. If this was a result of living alone, I was going to seriously reconsider the idea... fast!

By the end of that summer, I was beginning to have second thoughts. Stones DID seem to have some form of "life" to them. No matter how many times I dug and re-dug an area... there they were... more of them, almost defying me to say the area was finally cleared, and each of the piles grew noticably every month. I admit I didn't go as far as to count them, as the Old Man had done so studiously every year, but it was becoming obvious he was on to something.

I stayed over winter, neglecting my return to University, as I felt I had stumbled upon something that the world should know about, and delved further and further into his findings. Biologically speaking, by our carbon based standards, stones were not living beings, and yet if you studied them closely over extended periods of time, they did meet the criteria of living things.

They moved... slowly, but they did move. They reproduced... obviously... where else where they coming from but from a "parent" somewhere? Breathing?... now why would they need to... silicon based life forms wouldn't need the atmosphere we did, would they?... so why should respiration in another form of life be needed? maybe our limited concepts of Life restricted us from seeing another form of life around us?

By March, I was convinced the Old Man WAS right, and I invited one of my professors to come and review both the Old Man's records and findings, along with my own. His visit lasted all of 20 minutes, and ended with him storming out of the door, shouting that I had not only wasted his valuable time in a load of utter nonsense, but that he would call the authorities to have someone come visit to assess my mental state.

I must say, they have been more kind to me, than they were to the Old Man. At my request to occupy the room he did, they complied, and even padded the walls to prevent the stones from harming me in any way.

Oh?... Why am I here?... Sorry... I should have told you... they found the professor's badly battered body under one of the piles of stones in the yard. I didn't do it, nor did I put him there, the stones did it to discredit me, just as they did the Old Man. I know their secrets you see, just as he did, and they would do anything to silence me as well.

He visits me from time to time, now that he has learnt how to move amongst them. He isn't a threat to them anymore now, but he reassures me that we have both tried to tell the world what is happening. Of course, no-one else ever sees him, except me... we have to be careful about that sort of thing in here.

The Stones are practicing, you know. They are working on a means of communication that will allow them all to move together... not much, just a fraction of an inch simultaneously... and on THAT day... every structure known to man, created by man, made by man, housing man, will topple.

Oh it won't be the END of mankind... but it will be the end of Civilization, we know it, as men will blame its happening on each other, and go to wars over it...those that are left that is.


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