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Topic: In Search of Daliphants, an Illustrated Story in four parts< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
Alan D Offline

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Posted: Jan. 17 2007, 09:16

In Search of Daliphants

Part 1

      ‘There was something else I wanted to talk to you about,’ he said. ‘It’s important to me, but I’m not sure if you’ll understand.’ He swirled the wine in his glass self-consciously and watched the last gleams from the setting sun sparkle through it, as she waited for him to continue. ‘It’s a computer game.’

      Her face was dark against the bright horizon so he couldn’t read her expression, but he suspected that she’d be dismissive of the whole idea.
‘A computer game?’
‘Yes. It’s not what you think, though. It’s a game, yes – but also it’s a kind of musical and visual art form…..’ Suddenly he wondered if he’d been foolish to bring it up. Here, comfortable in the very real warmth of this evening, sitting on a sunlit terrace outside his favourite pub on the edge of a Cornish cliff, it seemed absurd to be talking about something so insubstantial as pixels on a computer screen.

      “It’s not so much what it is … as what it represents….” Again he faltered to a stop, his partly-formed thoughts mocked by the gentle but insistent voice of the sea, shushing against the rocks below, at the foot of the cliff. He looked out to the bright horizon as the last gold splinter of the sun’s disc slipped out of sight.
“Out there,” he said. “What do you see out there?”
She turned to look, shading her eyes with a hand. “The sea? The light? The colours? It’s very beautiful. What do you want me to see?”
“Well, those things of course, yes. But it promises something more, doesn’t it?”
“What kind of something?”
“It’s elusive, like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. You look out there and you see something that seems infinitely desirable and yet… well, if you travelled out there in a boat to what we think of as the horizon from here, all you’d find when you got there is water and sky. And possibly something just as beautiful, beckoning you further on.”
She turned back and looked at him, looking slightly puzzled. “But what does this have to do with computer games?”
He laughed selfconsciously. “Oh, nothing – or maybe everything …. Here there are rocks you can touch, and wine you can drink, and water that will wet you, and a sun that sets in a blaze of fire – but the thing we really long for when we sit here watching the sunset – we can’t touch that. The thing we really want is insubstantial. Well, in this game, you see, there’s a kind of symbol for that infinitely desirable ‘something’ that we can’t reach.”
“Yes – the people who play the game online.”
“I see…. And the symbol?”
He screwed his face up a little, feeling foolish. “It’s called a daliphant.”
“What’s a daliphant?”
“It’s a kind of elephant with long spindly legs. Surreal – like Dali.”
“Ah! A Dali-phant! Yes, I see. But why is it a symbol of the unattainable?”
“In the game, it stands on the horizon, and we can’t reach it. It looks strange and beautiful, and … unattainable – like the promise that lies out there, beyond the sunset.”
“Why can’t you reach it?”
“There are barriers in the game – if you set off across the sea, the barriers stop you going very far.”
“So - that’s the end of the matter, then? The barriers stop you and your … your daliphant really is unattainable. I’m not sure I understand where this is taking us.”
“Well some people say they’ve been through the barriers and reached the daliphant – and some of them have screenshots apparently proving it.”

      She turned again to watch the darkening horizon behind her. “And you think that has a bearing on our response to - all this?’ She indicated the sea and sky with a wave of her hand. ‘I still don’t understand why your computer game is so important to you.”
He followed her gaze to the horizon. “I don’t know.” He laughed. “Maybe I’m hoping one day to see a strange elephant out there with spindly legs.”
She swallowed the last of the sparkling water in her glass and stood up. “I have to go. See you here Friday, same time?”
He nodded. She paused and looked at him; laid a hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t really see what you’re getting at, but I hope you reach your daliphant,” she said, and walked away down the path.
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Alan D Offline

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Posted: Jan. 17 2007, 09:19

Part 2

       When they met on Friday, she realised within a few minutes that he wasn’t really interested in their usual introductory exchange of minor news, and stopped in mid-sentence.
“What is it?” she asked. “You’re only half with me.”
He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again.
“Sorry,” he said. “Is it so obvious? Yes, I suppose it must be.”
She watched him hesitating to proceed. “It’s not that computer thing is it?”
He laughed. “Yes… oh yes, it is. I know it must seem idiotic. But yes, it is. It’s been haunting me since last night.”
“What happened last night?”

       He looked downwards to where small waves were gently rolling towards the rocks at the foot of the cliff, and just as gently folding backwards.
“We reached the daliphant.”
She looked puzzled. “But how? I thought you said…”
“Yes,” he interrupted. “There are barriers. But we found a bug in the programming that somehow cancels them out. And suddenly there we were. And there was the daliphant. We could get really close to it. Move all around it.”
“What’s it like? Close up, I mean.”
“It’s like a kind of cardboard cut-out – wafer-thin and insubstantial. Not like an object at all really – more like a piece of stage scenery.”
“And… disappointing?”
“Well, yes and no. We were so exhilarated about reaching it at all, that we didn’t stop to ask whether it was disappointing. But of course, it is, really. What do you do when you finally reach the unattainable object of your desire and discover that it’s only a piece of stage scenery?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ve never reached a daliphant, myself.”

       He was silent for a moment, looking at her; then spoke: “Yes, you have.”
She gave him a questioning look.
“Think back twenty years,” he said. “Remember our conversations then, in the university union bar. Remember how you talked about your dream of having a book published, and how hopelessly impossible it seemed? And now, look at you! Four novels in print and a fifth due out next month!”
She nodded. “Yes, you’re right. Now you mention it, I suppose I reached my daliphant years ago….”
“Yes!” he said. “And the big question is…. What did you do then?”
She thought for a moment, frowning a little, then smiled. “I started searching for another one.”
He nodded, looking out to the sea horizon, at the remote, beckoning, silvery light.
“That’s what I have to do, now,” he said.
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Alan D Offline

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Posted: Jan. 17 2007, 09:29

Part 3

     It was more than a week before they met again, but the warm hazy days and blue skies of that September continued into October, so they could still sit comfortably outdoors by the pub on the cliff-top in late afternoon, overlooking the sea. They talked a little about what had brought him here.

     “I’m just beginning to feel like a human being again,” he said. “I’m so glad I was able to have the cottage for so many weeks – I needed the break really badly. You know that feeling when you’ve been under too much stress for so long, that you disassociate yourself emotionally and spiritually from the world?” He shook his head. “All your priorities get muddled up. You no longer know what the point of it all is. But these weeks of holiday have helped me to get my sense of perspective back.”
“So you’d now be an advocate of the restorative powers of an old cottage on extended loan, and the whole of Cornwall to roam in, then?” She smiled.
“I certainly would!” he replied. “I’ve spent a lot of time rambling on beaches, exploring caves, and gazing into rock pools. But also I’d add to the mix the unexpected discovery of an old friend. It was a great stroke of luck to find that you were living here, now.” He frowned and looked at her. “Why did we lose touch? It makes no sense.”
“It doesn’t matter. Here we are.” She waved the question away. “Nice to know I’ve been a useful ingredient of the cure, though.”
“Oh yes. Along with the laptop, the internet, and the computer game, of course.”
“Ah, of course!” she laughed. “How’ve you been getting along with your daliphant since I saw you last?”

     He leaned his elbows on the table and grinned. “I can hardly believe it! Suddenly, I’m drowning in daliphants. They’re everywhere!”
“So many? I don’t follow…”
“Yes – well, remember we found the bug in the program that allowed us to get to the daliphant?”
She nodded.
“Well, it turns out that the same bug can be exploited in several different ways in various ‘worlds’ within the game. So many things that once were impossible are now not merely possible, but easy! I’ve been to so many different daliphants in so many different worlds that … it almost seems ordinary.”
“Like going to the moon,” she observed. “The first moon landing was astounding, and historic. But after a few more visits, going to the moon seemed almost routine.”
He nodded. “Yes. It’s exactly like that.”
“Oh dear,” she said. “So it’s a tale of lost illusions?”
“I suppose so,” he said. “But then, the illusion had already been shattered – just by reaching the first daliphant, and discovering that it wasn’t, after all, the thing I was really seeking.”

     “So what will you do, now that the extraordinary is just ordinary?”
He didn’t answer straight away, but quietly watched the last gleams of bright gold slip into the sea. “There’s only one thing I can do,” he said. “I’ll keep looking.”
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Alan D Offline

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Posted: Jan. 17 2007, 09:31

Part 4

     “I’m going to miss these conversations,” she said. “I hate the idea of you going home tomorrow.”
He nodded. “Me too. But we’ll stay in touch this time, won’t we? And I’ll be back.” He looked along the line of cliffs. “But it’s going to be hard, leaving here tomorrow. While I’ve been here I seem to have learned to see some things more clearly.”
He laughed. “In a way. I had some more thoughts about that.”
“I thought you would!” She sipped her drink. “Go on.”
“Well – we agreed that the big question is … what do we do when we attain the unattainable? When we find our daliphants?”
She nodded. “We decided we looked for new ones, didn’t we? Isn’t that what you’ve been doing?”
“Oh yes,” he said. “But what happens to our old daliphants? Once, your most unattainable goal was to publish a book. It was a lifetime dream – an unreachable daliphant. Now you’ve published several and it’s an ordinary part of your way of life. So - where did your book-publishing daliphant go?”

     She thought for a few moments, then nodded. “I see.” She tapped her chest. “It’s in here.”
“Exactly! When we reach our daliphants, we absorb them. They become part of who we are. They change us. They make us grow.” Suddenly he laughed. “I had no idea that I’d be able to talk to you like this! Just think – who else could I discuss the absorption of daliphants with, and find myself understood?”
“I think it’s fascinating,” she said. “We’re like trees.”
“Yes. An acorn is just the promise of an oak tree. It seems impossible that it should ever become even so much as a sapling – but it does. And each year’s growth is built on what went before, and contains it.” She chuckled. “So a great oak tree is a succession of nested daliphants, all impossibly achieved, year after year, and built upon!”

     He wasn’t too sure about the accuracy of the analogy, but he could see what she meant.
“Alright,” he said. “So let’s follow this through. My computer game presented me with unreachable daliphants, and somehow I thought its value was wrapped up in that; so when I reach the daliphant, I feel that I’ve lost something.”
“Yes,” she said. “But in fact you’ve gained something.”
“That’s right. I’ve gained a daliphant. The search has changed me. The daliphant is inside, now – not outside.”
“And perhaps those changes will help you to find more, and different, daliphants, in some way you don’t yet understand?”
“Oh I hope so.” He smiled at her. “Thanks for being part of all this,” he said. “Just think – three months ago I was at rock bottom, and I had no notion at all that any of this would or even could happen. And then, out of the blue – a friend lends me a Cornish cottage for the summer, I find a new computer game, I make a bunch of new daliphant-searching friends online, and amazingly, I meet you again, after so many years. It feels like a new start.”
She nodded. “I’m glad.”

     After a few moments she turned to watch the sea.
“Oh look,” she whispered, putting her hand on his arm.

     The sun was just touching the horizon in a blaze of fire. Ranks of cloud stretched far into the distance, darkly silver, with edges of burning gold. Here, this evening, at last, there was no further need for words. The two friends sat quietly, watching the daliphant.

An Ending
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