This story was originally posted on July 7th 2008
Prompt from Creative Writing Prompts
Describe a man who leaves no stone unturned. # 257
Everyone in life has tasks that they feel are insurmountable. Some of them are, some of them are not and some are only impossible because of the person they are put in front of. Still others, though the task may be impossible or nearly so, relish in the task and will toil away at it no matter what. John was this last sort of man.
When he was young he read about the great “accidental” immortal, and the impossible task of insulting the universe from A to Z that the immortal set before himself. Now there was a man that knew what an impossible task was.
Though he was not immortal, John set about spending his life looking for the tasks that others believed were impossible. His mortality was only one more hurdle that he would have to over come. At first he had found a few tasks that everyone agreed were impossible but most of those turned out to be paperwork errors. Dividing by zero was just a matter of using unusually large values of zero. Faster than light travel was simple once you thought about it. Some light traveled slower, like that from a flashlight with nearly dead batteries, surely that could be overcome. Solving for pi and world hunger turned out two ends of the same problem. But, as he got older he began to despair that he would never find that impossible task that would he his life’s work.
Then one day after realizing that the problem of the counting all the people on earth one at a time as merely a matter of getting them all to count themselves, the idea struck him like a rock, or in this case a stone. What about the man who leaves no stone unturned? That is what he had been doing in his quest to find the prefect problem to solve, why not literally leave no stone unturned?
The first thing of course was to determine what the quest meant. Was it no stone in his hometown, the state, the country, the whole world, or the entire universe? Since John, unlike his boyhood hero, was not an immortal he would have to settle on one of the choices that he could accomplish in what was left of his lifetime, and so he settled on leaving no stone unturned on the planet. Next was the need to determine what was a stone, and what did it mean to turn a stone. He defined a stone as an object made of rock no larger than his self and to turn the stone simply meant to rotate it beyond one degree out of from where it had originally rested.
Now having the logistics settled he set about his task. He started on his own street, and began moving stones. At first he used his feet, but then discovered quickly that he would not be able to keep track of which ones he had moved and which ones still needed to be moved unless he could see them more clearly. So he began to crawl. Three weeks later he crawled out of his town along the road to the next one. That took him two days, for many times cars kicked up stones and he would have to go back and move stones to be sure the he had moved them and not the passing car.
It was three years later when he crawled to the gate of a nuclear facility in North Dakota. It was his first real stumbling block. By that time his quest had gain some fame, still the leaders of the military tried to turn him away. To appease the public they even offered to have the soldiers of the base turn the stones and even to count them for him, and let him know when it was done. But this would not do. In the end, he explained that he would be looking at nothing but the stones and he would accept a posted guard to go with him so long as the guard didn’t try to help, and he was allowed to go on.
His next major setback came during the San Francisco earthquake fifteen years later. He had been working steadily for nearly twenty years. With the deserts of the southwest behind him and the arctic cold of the north before him he was enjoying the mild climate when the quake hit. Suddenly millions of stones were turned before him and he had to go back many hundreds of miles to be sure that he had moved them all himself, and with the quake came the breaking of many stones he had already turned, so he had to go back turn these new stones as well, that cost him nearly a year.
In his eighty-fifth year he reached the outback of Australia. Here he was nearly defeated. He had managed all of Africa and the mighty Sahara, for although the heat was intense and there a great plains of nothing but stones to be turned, the people of Africa had an honor about them, and though few understood his words and even fewer understood his quest, they would stand guard around him and make sure he was protected from the wild life. But in the Australian outback, there was often no one that lived for hundreds of miles of backcountry. He was bitten by a spider and nearly died, had it not been for the quick thinking of a very daring young man who came upon him. Still it took him nearly a year to recover and when he did he had to begin where he had left off and the fear of the spider and its bite nearly drove him to call off the whole thing.
On his one-hundredth birthday he reached the boarders of Portugal, the last country on his quest. His entire body was racked with pain at nearly every movement, but the crowds behind him cheered him onward every day so he never faltered. They brought him water during the day and young women proud that their country was chosen to be the last one would rub saves in to his hands and knees at night when he would collapse from exhaustion.
Finally, one hundred and three years from the blessed day of his birth, he crawled along the last beach and turned the stones that he found there. This year had been the hardest yet, as his strength had all but left him and the days had been short. This day the wind from the sea as especially cruel, and it cut into his sparse frame like freshly sharpened knives through paper. The people had tried to form a line down near the sea to block the wind from him, but he told them that they were disturbing the stones and that he must make sure that he and he alone had turned very one of them. It was nearly nine thirty when he prepared to make his final pass as the tide had gone out exposing more stones to be turned. John Turner as he had come to be called slid his way along the beach turning each stone with great care though his hands shook and eyes refused to focus. The crowds screamed with delight as he neared the end of the beach an hour later. His heart pounded from the excitement. He reached for the final stone on the beach knowing that he had done it, he had turned every stone. His heart failed then; as he fell his hand hit the final stone and turned it.
The stone at his head reads simply, “Hear lies John Turner, yes he turned this one too.”
End of Days by Jeffrey Hite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at greathites.blogspot.com.