30# Men of Ice Have No Business Being Near Fires.

Image FreeDigitalPhotos.Net by franky242

ID-100137686

I am a man made out of ice. No, I’m not your Jack Frost. I don’t leave glinting white fern trails on windows overnight. I just walk around in the dark, and I try not to touch anything.

When the sun comes up I’m face down on the grass. I can’t feel the wetness of the morning on the green blades as they pierce right through me. Exhaustion makes me grab at the ground to pull myself up, but I pull up no clods. There is currently no earth under my fingernails. I am transparent in the sun, the world walks right through me. I can barely see my own hands.

During the day I find myself inside houses, trying to open doors. It takes a lot of concentration, but if I try I can open them. I know there are things inside but I can only vaguely see objects huddled on shelves, furniture in corners. Afterwards I always feel disappointed. I know shouldn’t touch anything, but I don’t know why. It’s just a feeling I have that it isn’t right for me to be touching them. Sometimes I can’t. I reach out for a door handle and find my  whole arm is gone. In the back of my mind I can hear screams, as if I someone was in those rooms with me. I turn around thinking I must not be alone, but all I ever catch is the edge of a skirt, or the heel of a shoe, and a tap-tapping, frantic, down the stairs.

I said I was a man made out of ice. This isn’t strictly true, but I make things cold. I know this because voices tell me. Cats sneeze when I come near them, and back away. I can see the breath of animals. I know that I carry my own cold with me everywhere. I don’t know if I feel cold, because I always feel the same. Exhausted. I don’t remember things like warmth and comfort. I can see a fire burning in a hearth and sometimes I’ll have a recollection of what it meant to be beside one. I can put my hands out now, towards the fire, and I see only a fog around my hands. Men of ice have no business being near fires.

At night, I feel more substantial. I don’t know quite why. I think perhaps it has something to do with the way the darkness fills up the spaces where parts of me should be. I hold my hand up to the sky, and when I look through it, I can see stars sometimes. The moon makes me feel like I have an outline. Sometimes, I think I can see people. For a moment there will be a face on the street, lit up with a sudden panic. They vanish after that, and the street is empty again.

Once, I met someone just like me. He was standing in the graveyard, under an old yew.

“Do you ever wonder why the trees, and the animals and everything here looks real, but you never see any people?” He asked me. I shrugged. It had been so long since I had seen anyone like me that I had forgotten about talking.

“Well I wonder about that,” he said.

I thought perhaps the conversation was over. I thought about leaving, but part of me wanted to try to talk to the man. It had been so long, but I was sure that I used to talk to people, and feel warmth, and eat and laugh and do all those sorts of things.

“There’s just the cold now, isn’t there. It eats right through you. You just feel like an icicle, walking around, spreading the fog, and the chill-”

“You have it too?” I asked him. I couldn’t hear my own voice.

“Yeah course.” He said. “Course I do, everyone like us does. Once you get to this stage, it’s hard to thaw. You want to, but when people come near you and feel the cold they scarper. You can’t get enough warmth from them to put out all that ice inside. Can’t even hold yourself together. You fall away in bits. That’s what happens if you don’t thaw.”

I mused over what he had said. I told him about about how my hands fogged up when I went near a hearth. “I’ve come to the conclusion now that it isn’t worth your while trying. Men of ice have no business being near fires,” he said.

I last saw him a few months ago. He was in a state because a girl had started coming to the graveyard at night. There are no fences around it, only the road which winds round a little stone wall. Foxes dart about between the trees, up and over the wall, and into the traffic, They give night drivers quite a scare. I see the cars, but not the drivers.

He was agitated because the girl was coming regularly, and it made him feel uncomfortable. He worried she would know he was there, and it would get awkward. He was older than me I think, but I don’t know. He just seemed like someone old. Thinking about that made me wonder if I was old, because I couldn’t remember. But he definitely seemed older than me. I thought it was funny that he was so worked up about the girl, but I sort of knew what he meant. I didn’t like having to see people either, or being seen.

I saw her in the graveyard, she was vague at first, but the more I saw her, the more she became quite real. He had said she was a girl, but I thought she was more of a lady. I think the old man called her a girl because he was old. I like now to measure myself somewhere in between the old man and the lady, in terms of age. It makes me feel more substantial. I like knowing that something about me can be measured.

She reads books on the benches, or on the grass at the edges of the graveyard where a little light from the street lamps floods in. The foxes don’t know what to do about her either. She tries to talk to them but they panic and run. She saw me one night, and looked at me for a while, her eyes grew very wide, but I think she could tell that I didn’t like it, and so she went back to reading her book. I could see that her hands were shaking though, and I felt bad, so I left.

I keep coming back to the graveyard. Sometimes I sit on the bench and watch her read. she talks to me now and I think I reply but I can’t hear my own voice most of the time. Sometimes the words come out though, and it makes her smile.

One day she asked me. “Why are you always so cold?” I told her the saying, “Men of ice have no business being near fires.”

The next night she brought me a candle. She showed me how to hold it. “The trick is not to let go,” she said. Somewhere beneath the wisps of fog I thought I could see a pair of hands.

They were my hands.

 

29# The Sled

Image by Blamethechicken, Freedigitalphotos.net

aurora

We live in West, in the realm of ice, Banneran and I, and the wolf-dog woman Orkoosh. I have no memory of being born, unlike them. I used to think I was their child but Banneran said, no, I had come to them from across one of the ice plains to the East. One of the old women had put me on a sled and sent me cascading across the plain wrapped in coats of pelts. He said the sled bounded and danced – Orkoosh saw it coming as she was out hunting and came running to him saying, look, a wonder! There is a child in the sled Banne!

I had asked, but how did you know it was an old woman?

Orkoosh had said that it was because she remembers. I don’t understand it but that was all she said about it. Except that the East was a land basked in Sunshine, where we had only the Moon. Sunshine was a different kind of light, she said, which was much brighter than ours, but that, as we had the beautiful stars and the emerald light, we had nothing to complain about.

I mentioned to you just now about not remembering being born. Apparently that’s a gift that the people of the West have, they remember being born just as the people of the East remember dying. I have lived a long time now in the snow of the West and I don’t remember being born and I don’t remember dying. This has led Orkoosh to wonder if I am from the East at all. What memories do you have? She asks me all the time. I answer her, only of you and Banneran. Then she laughs as if it has all been a joke, and pats my head and will say, of course.

She then motions to the sled I was brought on. Go and play, she says. In an instant she will turn from me and slink gracefully into her wolf-dog form and I will harness her to the sled and we will race about the snow plains under the purple-black sky covered with emerald lights- the lights that come from some other place, and know us, and watch over us as we play. Sometimes when we stop for breath I will ask Orkoosh to turn back into a woman and ask her questions. I ask her how long I have been with them, and she will say, don’t you remember? You have been here for one hundred and eleven years. I will question her,  how does she know this? and she will say it’s because all shape-shifters know the passage of days.

When you talk of the old woman, what do you mean? I say to her, and she replies Old age is something that happens elsewhere, and I say to her, what happens elsewhere? She will shake her head as if she thinks I’m silly, and then off she goes again -ZIP!- slinking back into a wolf and we fly across the ice back to the hut, and to Banneran who loves us. Then Orkoosh will change and they will always greet each other as if they been apart for a long time, and don’t quite know each other. He will ask her if she would like to sit down, for example, and then we will all eat. After dinner, Orkoosh and Banneran will seem to remember that they know each other, and will sit in the warmth of the hut and comb each other’s hair. This will take a long time because Orkoosh’s  long, unruly locks will have gathered many tangles from the ice wind. Banneran will nod over to me and say, well, where is your comb young man? Then I will put my hand in my pocket and there it is, the comb made of wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Orkoosh says that the old woman gave it to me. I begin to comb my hair too, because Orkoosh says fondly that the old woman would want me to look my best.

Then I will listen as Orkoosh tells Banneran stories.

It is tradition that Orkoosh tells him stories each time that we return. I don’t know where she gets them from, they are always fantastical. My stories are about little fish that I see, glinting in the ice pools, or bears in the distance, or the moon rising. Orkoosh, however, always has stories about princes and magicians and priestesses and treasure and great ships that roam the sky, flying along on the vapours left by the burning emerald lights. Banneran responds to Orkoosh’s stories. He says playfully, no no Koos, you have told that one before I think, even when she hasn’t. Or, akakaka, (he clicks his tongue) Koos I don’t like this story, the prince is too arrogant, the priestess would never grant him an entire kingdom for rescuing just one golden key. Be serious!

When I ask Banneran how long he has loved Orkoosh he smiles and says he doesn’t know. When I ask Orkoosh she laughs and says, almost forever, and that she knows this because she remembers being born. Then, after the stories are told, they say goodnight to me, and I creep through the pelt curtain on the East-hand side of the hut and am in my own den. Banneran has lit a fire in there for me with his magic, and from my bed I look up to the space in the roof where one brick is made of glass, because I asked Banneran to put it there. I asked him to make a glass brick, so that I could see out and watch the emerald lights fade, and the clouds race across the stars. The fire crackles with blue and lilac flames, Banneran’s magic will keep it burning while I sleep.

*
Sometimes I wonder, as I look up through the glass brick to the sky, what we are, and why we live apart from others. I wonder how Orkoosh came to be a wolf-dog woman, or how Banneran came to have magic. Or who I am, and why I will never grow old, or remember being born, or remember dying. Orkoosh smiles at Banneran, rolling her eyes, when I ask her these questions, and says only Because we are in paradise.

When I ask her what that means, Banneran answers. He says that sometimes the people in the East have dreams they don’t wake up from, and that we live in one of those dreams. That somewhere, a boy exactly like me grew up, lived his life, and then died, and in that final dream he imagined that he was a little boy again, and that his grandmother wrapped him in pelts and sent him across the ice on a sled to the West, where the people remember being born. When I say I don’t understand, Orkoosh answers, you said you only remember me and Banneran, is that true? I nod. Then you are from the East after all. She says, and smiles. I crawl to my den and sleep, and when I wake, I wonder why it is that I never remember my dreams.

 

27# The Lovers

Photo: Sira Anamwong. Freedigitalphotos.net

mermaid

“If you come any closer I’ll drown you,” she said from the rocks.

“If I pull you out of the water you’ll die,” he said, reciting the line as he always did when he came too close to her.

The man and the woman from their separate vantage points stood sadly surveying each other from a distance, as they had done, year after year. The man had kept a weekly vigil by the lake for so long now, that people had stopped asking him when he would settle down and take a wife. Now the local people avoided him because they had watched him grow into someone strange. “Handsome, but witch-touched,” the old women would say about him as he walked alone down the street.

Tonight, a lilac moon hung over the heads of the lovers; the last pink of day mingling with the black of night over the dark waters and the sloping pines to the east. The man’s back was to the pine forest, he faced the water’s edge and felt in the pocket of his woollen coat for the gift he had brought.

“I have something for you,” he said, producing a wooden box. It was small, made of dark wood like mahogany, and criss-crossed with a lattice filigree of darting silver lines. It glinted in the moonlight as he held it out to the woman in the water.

“What is it?” She asked.

“Would you like to see it?” He stepped closer, somewhat timidly holding it out towards her. Seeing her reaction he cried,

“No don’t go back, you won’t hurt me!” but she was afraid. “My family will be watching,” she said, and made as if to swim away, but then he opened the box with a click, and laid it on the ground between them.

“What do you wish, more than anything?” He asked.

She looked up at him, blinking her wide iridescent eyes, then answered plainly, “for us to never be apart.”

The man smiled, and a light caught like a spark inside the box. It soon became a glow which spread into the air like smoke, and was sweet smelling, and made a noise like chimes as it floated above them.

“You can drown me now,” he said, and held out his arms.

“You have made magic!” She cried, feeling the smoke tingle as it settled upon her skin, each contact blazing like a star.

“Love makes even ordinary men magicians,” he said, as she gave in at last to her nature, leaning in to grasp him with soft, wet, ivory arms.

At last embracing, with a kiss they froze, and became two stone lovers. The box which had lain between them closed with a click. The waters lapped ferociously at the rocks, and cries filled the air like bleating gulls. A dark hand grasped out to grab the box, and pull it beneath the waves.

Years passed, but no one came back to the lake. It seemed as if the Lovers had been forgotten.

* * * * *

Centuries later, a young couple wandered down to the lakeside. The man was a stranger, but he held the hand of a local girl.

“That’s a funny sort of bridge isn’t it?” he said, pointing to a misshapen stone edifice by the rocks.

“Oh,” the girl shrugged. “Those are the Lovers.” Seeing his blank look she continued with a playful glance back at him. “A man, and a mermaid, it’s an old folktale – oh never mind.” They were quiet for a moment, and both stood surveying the huddle of weatherworn stone which now resembled a little bridge from the land to the water.

“My Grandfather thought there were really mermaids in the lake, so he would never let me come here.” She said. “I once had a joke with him – said that mermaids only drown boys, but he insisted that the mer-people had been very angry about their daughter getting seduced and turned to stone, and that they would likely try to do me a mischief anyway.”

She picked up a stone and hurled it towards the lake. It hit the surface, then seemed to hang right on the edge for a moment, before slowly sinking below the waters. The girl rubbed her eyes, there were ripples spreading all over the surface of the lake like a shudder.

“Let’s go,” she grabbed the boys’ hand and pulled him away from the water, but he said “wait a moment,” and dashed off towards the rocks. He had darted down towards the stone bridge snatching something up from the water’s edge, it was a box. The couple set off back the way they had come, as behind them, a green hand slunk back down below the water.

“Where did you find that?” The girl’s voice could be heard to say.

“I saw it just sitting there, on the rocks.”

“That’s funny, I don’t remember seeing it. What’s inside do you think?”

“Don’t know, I can’t open it.”

“Wait until we get back, we can use my brother’s tools.”

“But I don’t want to break it,”

“Then take it to the Friday market,” Her voice was barely audible now,

“There’s an old man I’ve seen down there who sells things like that…”

Soon they were gone, and the forest had swallowed up the sound of their voices. In time a light rain began to fall, washing over the faces, hands and bodies of the stone lovers, now merged together, indistinguishable from each other, half in, and half out of the water.

25# The Egg Lord

Image Tuomas_Lehtinen. Freedigitalphotos.net

ID-100113575

Olthar waited at the lip of the cavern and contemplated its interior. Opalescent shafts of pearly light bounced off the lake’s surface, illuminating all the many nooks and dark corners of the cave but it was surprisingly empty, except of course for the Egg.

It was perched right in the middle of all that water, on its ceremonial pedestal. It looked exactly as it had been described to him as a child, just as it appeared in all wall paintings and parchments, even on the skin of the Egg Guardian who carried the roughly inked glory of the egg on his back; now a wrinkled tableau which upon his death would be re-applied to his successor in the same position and fashion as was tradition. The Egg Guardian was dead now of course, and so his novice would shortly have to take his place, unless there was no longer a need for a new Guardian, that is, if he, Olthar, chose to be the new Egg Lord, and right now there was not a lot to stop him.

He wiped sweat off his forehead, his glance never falling away from the latticed crystal orb at the cavern’s heart, and Olthar mused how pathetic his people had become because no one had mustered the courage in a thousand years to pursue the Egg Dream. They believed that the legend was sacred, and that the Egg was sacred for the hard lessons it had taught them, but that times had moved on, and that it was better to be ruled by the Egg, than to rule by it. It was better, the law said, that adventurous individuals stay away from such quests rather than risk bringing misery to everyone: a return to the immorality which had plagued their society for eons before the last Egg Lord died and the Guardians were formed.

Olthar was not a conformist, and in truth, he had often wondered if the Egg legend was just a load of nonsense which adults told to children in order to teach them not to go wandering off, or not to disobey orders. Now here he was, and nothing all that terrible had happened, not to him, at least. Sacrifices had been made, the Egg Guardian was dead, but he had been very old. Olthar consoled himself with this thought as he began finally to wade into the cool blue waters of the lake.

As he waded, he recalled all the stories he had been told about the egg:

That it was light as a feather to lift (but only to the evil, the pure of heart would never be able to lift it’s burden).

That it was blindingly bright, (and only those with dark purposes in front of them could bear to look upon it).

That to possess the Egg would instantly confer upon the bearer the title of Egg Lord (and bring with it the promise of immortality, unless stabbed through the heart with a golden arrow at sunrise on the first day of the new year).

That to be the Egg Lord was to posses superhuman strength and senses, (skills which had allowed previous Lords to maintain their empires).

Fiinally, that the Egg came with a price which no one knew and which was different for everyone. It was widely believed, however, that this price was insanity, as most Egg Lords spoken about in legends had allegedly met their ends by their own hands. Even when devoted followers had hidden all the golden arrows, in all the stories, always one would remain to be the instrument of the Egg Lord’s death at the dawn.

Olthar wasn’t particularly interested in these stories however. He didn’t believe in mystical promises of strength and power. The Egg was a merely to him, a valuable commodity, and now that foreign traders had been coming to the islands and trade relationships had been established, the time had come to place faith in more earthly assets than the magic of one crystal egg. As he ascended the platform upon which the Egg was placed, Olthar was caught for a second by its extraordinary beauty, the way it absorbed and refracted the light so smoothly as if alive and pulsing. He wondered what gave the Egg its marvelous phosphorescence, and how much it might be worth to the foreign men of his science who desired to know the answer to such questions.

His fingers reached out for the Egg; he heard it singing to him, a ringing resonance which made the tiny hairs arms of his arms stand on end. He remembered errant snippets, the last words of the Egg Guardian as he had tried to persuade Olthar to turn back:

…there are new safeguards, we knew the old stories wouldn’t be enough to keep people away anymore, times have changed, – listen, if you try to take the Egg now…

But Olthar had gotten impatient, the old man had not been allowed to finish his sentence, and the people of the Egg had become swiftly and brutally reaquainted with the act of murder.

Now these thoughts ebbed and flowed within Olthar as he picked up the singing Egg and held it aloft. He felt its beauty surging through him, all its light and wisdom and strength, and he laughed out loud joyfully, only turning at the sound of stone grinding behind him. He was forced to watch helplessly as a giant wall of rock descended on the only entrance and exit to the cavern, cutting him off from the outside world.

Then there was silence.

The light from the Egg continued to reflect its rainbows across the gentle lapping waters of the lake, a rich scene which Olthar, devoid of golden arrows, would be at liberty to enjoy forever.

24# The Exhibit

DFQMND

This short story is my entry into @ruanna3 ‘s latest fiction competition, The Dark Fairy Queen’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Writing Contest. I’ve chosen the theme ‘fairytales.’ Hope you enjoy, and please click on the blue ‘froggy’ link at the bottom of the story to check out other competition entries. Thanks!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lights flashing on outside the museum appeared to be like the echo of the lights dimming within. I remember them that night because of the exhibit, the sealed box which held all the magic the children came to see in such large numbers. It had been so long since such a place had existed in the real world.

During long summer evenings I would often stay to walk among the exhibits alone. I know that other employees found the experience “creepy.” They were afraid of the paintings with their corpse-like eyes, placid and unfathomable. I never had those thoughts because I wasn’t afraid of death as they were. Mine, and the generations before me crafted stories to cope with the passing of life, but now that transfer from biological, entropying bodies to replaceable mechanical models was possible, death had become unthinkable, so that even these paintings of the dead were horrifying to them.

As I headed straight for the Organic Exhibits room I thought about the stories my father told me when I was a child. I vaguely remember one about children being lost in a place where trees thrived, where a bad woman lived who ate children, or was that another tale? The stories had given me nightmares so my father had stopped telling them. Now I approached the museum’s new attraction with a feeling, wonder, I think it was. I heaved its lid open and gazed down.

The first thing I remember, standing over the encapsulated paradise, was the smell. Fresh and woody, the musty scent assaulted my nostrils and almost made me stumble. In that box lay synthesized the last bastion of poets and dreamers: a dell of miniature trees, their trunks entwined with ivy, their roots adorned with bluebells – a pioneering effort all created artificially, but so real they seemed to me, who had never seen a forest, or a flower. For a moment I experienced calm, until I heard a voice in the woods.

“Is someone there?”

It was like a child’s voice.

I dropped the lid back down, stepped away, but then faltered, and lifted the lid again. There were no other workers in the museum, but still I whispered to the voice:

“Stay hidden!”

Speeding homeward on the fetid monorail, I wondered what on earth had been created in that box, and what I might have to risk in order to protect it.

(400 words)

A Most Enduring Enchantment: Magic Realism Blog Hop.

blog hop 2015 dates

This is my third post for the wonderful annual magic realism blog hop organised by Zoe Brooks, you can see my entries from the previous two years here and here. Check out the links at the bottom of this page for other great blogs by fantastic authors on the hop.

To me, magic realism is the most natural and most wonderful (in the truest sense of the word) form of fiction there is. Of course as an M.R reader, and occasional author, I am fairly biased, but then to me, books are inherently magical things. That they should contain stories about magic seems prudent, considering the seemingly magical powers books have to sweep us up in their words and carry us off to new vistas like magic carpets (ones that can conveniently fit into our palms).

By its very nature the genre expresses the magic in everyday things (like books) and so the process appears to (one might even say magically) mirror itself. The reader reads of an ordinary situation made extraordinary by some – perhaps taken for granted – magical means, without being aware necessarily of the enchantment being woven around them by the book or the story. It is thus the transformative power our favourite books have, which weaves a spell over us, ensnaring our imaginations, potentially altering our perceptions of both the grand and the prosaic elements of our own lives as we follow the exploits of the narrative’s characters on their adventures.

In the past, the magic of books, or more specifically, words, was taken far more literally. People used books, such as religious texts as atropopaic charms. Ink was washed off sacred pages for devotees to drink, words were ingested physically when pages were eaten to absorb their perceived magical or divine power, or as a way of rooting out evil doers, poisoning the guilty, or the unfortunate through written curses. The magic of magical books could thus also be subversive. Many texts which appeared to ensnare (or empower) the layman were burnt – obliterated. People have been tortured and killed because of the books they possessed. The hold the written word has and has had over humanity is thus something as intangible and powerful as a sort of sorcery itself. Words on a page can be destroyed, but the memory of their message once read, requires a lot more coercion to erase.

To my mind, then, magic realism matters so much because it reminds us that magic is real. It exists in our hearts and our imaginations, and every author who writes becomes a magician, and every reader, the subject of a most enduring enchantment.

If you’d like to know more about the history of magical texts please see this wonderful, eye opening book Grimories: A History of Magic Books, by Owen Davies, which I used as research for this post.

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Also, if you’re a podcaster check out Stuff to Blow Your Mind’s excellent show on grimoires, (which also references Owen’s book throughout).

Finally, don’t forget to check out the other blogs!

 “About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2015) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.”

21: The Swan Man

Image anankkml, freedigitalphotos.net

ID-10032367

I know this way into the woods.

I heard the blacksmith’s daughter say that he lives here still, even after we all thought he had gone long ago. She had seen him once, the Swan Man, picking up wood for to make a fire.

“For why else would you need wood?” She asked, “and if there’s a fire there’s a hearth, and if there’s a hearth then he isn’t gone at all.”

When I was a child I thought about the stories told about him. Late at night when we were bold and wouldn’t sleep, and cried out to be up and running again, not laying in our beds, that’s when my grandmother would tell us these tales.

Afterwords I would still lie awake but pretend to be sleeping. I would stare at the ceiling and imagine him.

“The Swan Man is a sorcerer,” grandmother would say. “He got his powers from the dark one. He steals the girls and leaves the boys and no one knows what he does with them.”

“But when does he come?”

“At night dear, when the moon is hidden behind a wreath of cloud, or there is no moon at all to show him up. He swoops down and pecks at the window pane, tap tap, and you must not get up to let him in! Oh no. For he steals little girls who stay awake.”

“I don’t believe in magic” I told my grandmother one night. I ran outside and I shouted it at her from the gate. She clasped her hands as if in prayer and cried and it was only my sister who convinced me to come back, to apologise, to go without supper and not run off into the woods like the wild thing my grandmother said I was.

I grew up and thought no more about the Swan Man.

People sometimes spoke of him but sure don’t they always talk about those things when night falls and cups are filled and the long walk home needs company and company needs tales to entertain them.

Now here I am at the entrance to the woods. The Swan Man is real, and I know it. I too saw him because I waited, I waited in the spot where the blacksmith’s daughter told me to wait and I saw the thin figure of man flit by. It seemed he was nothing but a long shadow, he came and then was gone, but I know his way.

Now none of the others will so much as glance at me. My sister and her husband are gone and left the cottage gaping, empty.

“Why could you not have married?” My sister had called at me as the gate swung shut. But John pulled her away down the lane and he would not look back.

“Oh why did you have to interfere?” She had said to me when Wedlow’s boy got sick and died.

“He says you cursed his name! How could you be so foolish? Did we not take you in, and were we not kind to you? This is a poor way to repay your only family.”

It was Wedlow’s cottage and I couldn’t sit in it anymore on my own after they had gone. I knew he would come for it. I had been tired of his interfering, of complaining that we didn’t look after the land as we should. I told him what I thought of him and that might have been that, but his hag of a wife saw me. She saw me at the edge of the woods, waiting for the Swan Man. Soon after his boy died, everyone knew where I had been.

I have no option now but to let the Swan Man take me in. I have no money put by, but I am fit and can work. Perhaps he will find a use for me. The journey to the nearest town is too far, and no one will take me. I’ll press on then, and by nightfall I should reach him. I wonder will I know him? Will I see the Swan, or the Man? Or nothing?

The trees are closing in but I can still see a path. Faintly I can trace a way through these grasping branches, though my feet are caught by thorns, and mired in sodden leaves. Creatures scurry past my ankles and I can feel the wind at my back, and the air growing moist, and cold.

I see no light up ahead yet, no dwelling, but he if he needs wood then he must have a hearth…

There, a clearing, a hovel in the rock, a fire. There he is, the thin shape, dark as a shadow; his face is pale like the moon but he is no swan. What a sorrowful face! Such beautiful eyes! Why is he so young, still? He must truly be a magician.

We are watching each other now across the fire. He beckons me over to where the cages are; where he is standing there are many cages, many wings held up over faces. There are furs on the ground, and he has burrs in his hair.

“There are only sleeping,” he says, “I don’t harm them.”

But I don’t look down at the cages. I ask him if he will help me. He agrees.

“I’ll make you like the others,” he says, “if you have no other option.” I don’t know what he means, but I nod my head.

He makes me stand in a circle he has made with stones, and dead bird’s beaks. He goes into the cave and fetches things I cannot see.

“Put your arms up,” he says, “no higher, all the way up.” I comply and as I do, I say:

“They saw me at the edge of the woods,” he shakes his head.

“You should never have come looking for me,” he answers, scattering bones at my feet.

“They think I’m a witch, that I’m just like you.”

He stops what he is doing at this to look at me sideways.

“I thought you didn’t believe in magic?” He asks. He knows!

“I don’t.” I say,

“You’re lying,” he replies, and carries on about his work. “Open your mouth.”

I open my mouth, and in it he places a long, white feather.

“I never came for children,” he says as he stands outside the circle, now motionless, and yet so full of purpose.

“One day I will die, and you must tell them that. You’ll have no master then.” I nod my head again, and wait, afraid.

He was right, perhaps I always have believed in magic.

Now I turn my eyes to creatures in the cages slumbering. For an instant I think I can see faces flash underneath white feathers, but they are just the faces of birds. White swans; big beasts in bigger cages.

He says the words.

For a moment I remember being small and crawling up to see the moon peeking at my window, and hearing a tap tapping on the pane.

The world is ablaze with light and I am floating in white feathers. He must have let the birds out, I think for an instant. Then I am doubled over, the blaze is in my head and limbs. I cry out and extend my arms only to see wings before my eyes, and the voice of a bird calling.

“They’ll never catch you now,” the Swan Man says, as I arch and flap and ache and feel a joy to reach up for the sky.

He throws his hands to the air and I am aloft.

I am going to fly over the village. I’m flying to the old cottage, so I can watch them break down the door and find no one there.

Somewhere in the woods, the Swan Man is building me a new cage.

**************

National Poetry Day: For My Friend, the Dragon.

Image cbenjasuwan, freedigitalphotos.net

ID-100133355

Since it’s National Poetry Day in the UK, I decided to publish this short poem I wrote earlier, whilst looking at the moon outside our university library. I hope you enjoy it.

For My Friend, The Dragon.

The moon has been cut in half,

I can only see the head of the dragon.

This fabled dark side a ghost,

Only visible to those who look for it,

Desiring to see where the wings, the tail, are hidden.

Because we, such upward dreamers,

Could not, even for a second,

Bear to believe that half the moon

Could ever possibly be missing.

These moonbeams we bury our face in nightly

Greet us

And we are, in that instant only,

like long-lost lovers, kissing.

Looking up, I feel the age-old tingling returning,

Remembering now,

That I was bequeathed so long ago,

To my friend, the dragon.

 

 

16: Heaven

Image by Stuart Miles,  courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

ID-100277030

The spell worked. I’m in a new place now.

Do you want to know how I feel? Ecstatic. I am every bit as brilliant as they said I was, and more. I’m not even paying attention to what’s around me because it doesn’t matter. I got here and they all said it was impossible. I want that victory to sink in before I start contemplating the rest of my life here. It’s not even as if it will be living, it will be existing, for all time. Eternity. It’s not a gimmick it’s real. He said to me once,

“Even if such a thing were possible, how could it be tolerable, bearable?”

He didn’t believe in Heaven. I should have known better than to talk to him, but he had a little slice of knowledge that I needed so I took it.

“Heaven isn’t a place, it’s– I don’t know how to talk about it really, but even if you could go there before death, even if you could, it isn’t somewhere you can just break in, don’t you see? You have to earn a place there. Wherever you thought you went it wouldn’t be Heaven.”

That’s what she said to me, I came to her because I needed all of her belief. And so I took it, every last drop.

“You’re being ridiculous. Magic isn’t real.” They said.

I came for them as well and took their will, their confidence. I needed it, because in order to get into Heaven you need to know you belong there. You need to know you’re right. You can’t carry doubt into Heaven.

“Heaven is real, and you have no place there. Heaven is for the good, for the meek, for the pious.” I knew that, and so I took one righteous soul. That’s the toll isn’t it?

Magic binds everything together like a fabric. You have to un-sow some stitches, you have to remake what’s real if you want to change anything. You need to be a garment maker, and have a tailor’s knowledge. The Universe is a weaver, so must I be.

I took what I needed and I re-made myself.

When that was done, I called on my new belief and I fastened it down where it would never stray. It became only a part of me, it had to be, because I could not relinquish all of my true self. I could only hide what I really was.

I had the ability, and the strength to make the magic work. I became the hybrid of their knowledge, their will, their belief, with their soul. I was two beings, both the cynic and the saint with one beating heart. Only for a moment. As I died I made the spell, and wished for Heaven.

Now don’t think I meant someone else’s heaven. You see, what you have just missed, is the realisation that as I have made myself new, I have conceptualised a new Heaven too. Half of me never believed, and that half is free to choose whatever heaven it wants. It was never tied to any conventions, any concepts or images. No crucifixes, no altars no lambs. The half of me that believes in Heaven now, has taken me there. Do you understand? I can have my cake and eat it, like no one else. That’s what makes this all so brilliant. I am smiling now thinking about it.

What does my Heaven look like? I wish I could show you. When I died I imagined a place of sensory delights, a place that would be changing all the time; new experiences, new colours, new wonders, just like a kaleidoscope. All I would have to do would be to blink my eyes and I’d be exposed to something fresh. That’s what got to me about Earth, and my life there. Nothing could ever satisfy me. Sooner or later even the things I enjoyed looking at bored me to tears.

Nothing was worth loving forever.

This Heaven is just what I imagined as I lay there, exploding on the carpet, every cell in my body being re-aligned. Now as I look around I can see rainbows everywhere, patterns, shapes, colours. It’s dazzling my eyes and it won’t stop moving. I’m in the midst of everything, this must be the very heart of the universe. This must be the very heart of matter, of every molecule, every particle, every space. I must be just as infinite. I am now the garment maker, I have the tailor’s knowledge.

I want to run and run and never stop. I’m running now and the colours are flying through me and they’ll never stop. Each step is a new vista, unfolding a new fractal, geometrically perfect and never ending. I see blue squares and yellow triangles, purple flowers and orange insects, red balloons and green jewels. I’m going to keep running forever–

Wait. I’ve hit something.

A wall. I’m pressing against but it won’t give. I can see a blur beyond it, more shapes, more colours, but I can’t pass through! It looks so much bigger, and brighter, and better out there but I can’t get through this barrier. I don’t understand, my Heaven shouldn’t have walls…

“Hey this is awesome! I haven’t seen one of these in years. This one has really cool patterns.”

Jim passed the kaleidoscope to Susie who shook it and then held it up to her eye.

I think there’s a speck of dirt trapped in there, stuck to the lense. Shame. Where did you say you found it Suz?”

Oh, it was on the floor of the library, in the reading room on the second floor. It was just sticking out from under one of the chairs.”

Hmm. Funny thing to leave lying around.

I know. But there it was. I used to love these as a kid.

I’m surprised they even let you in there. That’s where they found those students you know.

What do you mean?

You know, the reading room, it was all over the papers!

Susie shrugged. “That was a month ago. It’s funny but I was just thinking how I needed something to cheer me up after all this revision.”

Looks like you got exactly what you wished for then.”

Susie laughed. “I know! Isn’t it great when the universe gives you exactly what you wish for?”

 

 

 

 

 

13: Learheart

Image by Sattva courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

faerie story

Surely everyone remembers where they were on day that Lord Learheart appeared on the BBC, claiming to be the King of the faeries.
You might have thought it was a joke. You can’t trust what they say on the news anymore, it’s even worse than it was before.
But I remember him, and how I thought he just looked like one of them.
He had long flaxen hair down to his waist, straight and shimmering. He had the sharp face that all Fae have, and his eyes were green, they were dragon’s eyes.
He said,
“Now DNA evidence can prove that we are a race apart, and that we deserve respect.”
His voice held every throat silent, every eye watching.
“I command all Fae, that is, all who would believe they are of faerie stock, to come forward and be tested.”
He said this and he knew exactly which camera to look down, I swear I thought he was looking straight at me then, when really he was looking for me. But I didn’t know that.
The human presenter was talking, I think she said,
“Yes, if you would like to be tested, there are dedicated clinics being set up all around the country – check the web for more details and your nearest clinic.” Her hair was blonde and cupped her posh face so neatly. But it looked like a haystack when she sat beside the faerie King. All beauty paled beside his like butter melting.

I went onto the website and located my nearest clinic. It was quite a while away, I would need to take two buses (I couldn’t afford the train as I had just graduated and didn’t have a job – we lived quite far out you see).
I noticed also, that on the website it listed the traits that suggested Fae characteristics. I felt a bit deflated because I didn’t think I fit a lot of them. The main ones I had though – the sharp face, the light eyes, thick hair, nimble. But I was so much smaller than the average Fae height, and my hair was very dark and coarse. I had no freckles, but I suppose I do have a sort of sing-song voice. I wanted to ask my mother if she thought so, but she was at work, and would probably have said it was a silly question anyway.
When I got to the clinic I was very hot and bothered. All the other people in the queue looked so hopelessly cool. They were lounging with their long legs and long arms and perfect faerie hair, and I felt really quite out of place, so I kept my head down and tried to fill in the form they gave me as neatly as I good, in my best hand writing.
I had put my nice perfume on thank goodness, so at least I smelled the part. I tried to choose something flowery, but I didn’t really know what faeries were supposed to smell like.
When my turn came I stuck my arm out and they took the blood. I didn’t say anything, I just watched as the blood oozed out, viscous and ruby coloured, into the tube. I had to stifle some disappointment that it was not a more exotic colour, but then I had no idea what faerie blood looked like either. The nurse smiled at me, I think she noticed that I was different and maybe either felt sorry for me, or liked me because of it. She said,
“Have you had this done before, your bloods, have you had them taken before?”
I shook my head.
“Oh,” she said, she had bright rosy cheeks.
“It’s just that you are so calm about it, I’ve had so many faint on me today!”
Right enough, when I came out I saw some young people all leaning against the wall comforting each other, holding their arms as if they had been mortally wounded. I walked past them and was completely ignored. I had in my hands some brochures the nurse had given me, about what to do if I found out I was Fae. I honestly didn’t expect to find out anything, I only went because, well, it was that man, Lord Learheart, he had looked right at me.
Can you call a faerie a man?

I remember it as if it were yesterday, getting the letter.
I remember how I held it for a while just staring at the words on the page. They said there was a hotline I should call. I frantically began searching my room for those brochures they had given me but I think I used them as bookmarks. I just love reading, but I always loose the markers because they tend to fall out, and so I usually end up using tissues.
I called the number and the woman on the phone was very excited. She said they wanted to see me straight away. Did I realise I was 91 percent Fae? 91 percent! Imagine!
That’s what she said to me on the phone, she sounded totally hysterical. I hung up after agreeing to come visit them at the HQ. I suppose I was very excited. I had never been to London.

When I arrived I was wearing my new outfit that mum had bought me. She said I didn’t own any clothes fit for meeting Fae royalty. I said I didn’t think I would, I would probably only be talking to some sort of representative or other, but mum was adamant. I think she was desperate for me to meet Lord Learheart, because she had been dead set against the faerie stuff until I showed her the clip of Lord Learheart on Youtube, and then she just went all girly and suddenly thought it was a wonderful idea. She went off to get tested herself, but she had a lower score than me, and so wasn’t invited to London. I think it had been my dad who had most of the Fae blood in him. But my mum did have some too, which apparently is very rare, to have it in both parents I mean.
As I said, when I got there, they made quite a bit of a fuss of me. They gave me yet more clothes – very rustic – and all this silver jewellery (I’m allergic to iron and all that cheap stuff). They were tall, but not as tall as I would have expected, still not like me though, except the face, and maybe the eyes. They cooed over me and took me to dinner in this fancy hotel. We were having a great time, laughing and drinking and the lights from the chandeliers were so bright, and I had just started to relax when a man started asking me all these strange questions. He wasn’t a Fae I don’t think. One of the faeries came rushing over when he saw us talking and dragged me away. The man had been a reporter. The faerie said the word as if it made him feel sick. I was taken to my room after that, and then I fell asleep in my second pair of new clothes because I was exhausted and my feet hurt.
The next day it all got more serious.

They told me that Lord Learheart had issued a decree. The Fae Kingdom was at war with the Coalition government of the England. Apparently the Prime Minister had met with Lord Learheart, but that they had had quite a major falling out, as the PM did not agree with Learheart’s religion.
When I asked one of my new Fae friends why, she said,
“Oh it’s because of our adherence to Pagan Polytheism. You’d think he had practically ingested The Golden Bough, ridiculous, antiquarian, outdated, the man is a cretin. He has no culture at all to speak about.”
I smiled at her politely, then tried to memorise what she had said. I wanted to sound just like her, and the other faeries now, but it was not how I talk at all.
I was enlisted into the army that afternoon. They gave me a beautiful uniform, gilded with silver and turquoise. They gave me a sword too (it was wonderful looking with a fancy jewelled hilt, but it was a bit heavy really), a shield, a dagger and a bow. No one told me how to use them though, and mostly the only army work I was expected to do was to patrol my local shopping centre, and the Friday fish market. They wanted me as a Regional Representative in case any Fae were put in danger. No one told me what to do if something bad happened to one of us, they just told me to:
“Fight! Spare no human mercy who defies the Fae! Honour your Lord Learheart, do him proud above all things. For an attack against even one faerie is an assault upon his majesty.”
I smiled at them, and nodded, and hoped nothing of the sort would ever happen. I couldn’t imagine killing someone, even if it was allowed by Fae law, and even if there was a war on.

As much as I liked being in the Fae army, sometimes I missed being like the others, other human friends I had grown up with. I mean, I had always been strange and different, and at first it was nice to know why, but then it only seemed to make the loneliness more strong. You see, I was not a proper human anymore (not that I ever had been) but I was also not really like the other Fae, not really.
They said they loved me, because I was so special (91 percent!) but really I think they too thought I was a little different.
My regular humans friends stopped hanging around at the supermarket to wait for me after everything closed down for the night. I don’t think they meant it in a bad way. They just knew that I couldn’t be one of them anymore. But it was alright. Sometimes I would go off into the fields and sleep under the trees, waiting for the stars to come out. At first I did it because I thought that’s what Fae did, and anyway I quite enjoyed it.
(When I told this to a faerie that I knew, she just laughed and laughed and said “don’t be silly, nobody does that anymore! Imagine how the elements would batter one’s face black and blue!”)
And so I moved to London.

I had been given an absolute mountain of faerie gold by the Fae council, because I was so unique. I had no idea what to spend that on, so I went and bought a nice place beside the Fae embassy which overlooks the River Thames. It has a balcony and I like to keep little trees in pots on there because I miss the countryside so much.
One day, I received a very important letter. I knew how important it was immediately because it sealed with a pretty golden flower, lily-of-the-valley, (not a real one) and had gold leaf all around the edges.
Lord Learheart wanted to see me it said. I phoned my mum immediately and she was in bits Gods love her.
Lord Learheart had the most amazing house. It was more like a palace. It was out in the countryside a little way, so as you would never know that you were anywhere near the motorway.
It had gorgeous fountains and hedges in the shapes of animals and birds and in the grounds were real peacocks! I wasn’t allowed to take photos they said, but that was ok because mum would only be disgusted with jealousy. That’s what she said when I told her all about it.
He was so handsome, and he moved everywhere as if he weighed nothing at all. Just like Tolkien’s elves. I always loved reading about Middle Earth, really it was like a dream come true. Only I wish he lived somewhere like Rivendell. The palace was amazing, but it was just a big stately home really now that I think about it. Sad really, they sold it to an investment banker a few months ago. He wasn’t even a Fae, but I had no control over that due to some legal loophole in the will.
He looked me up and down when I first came into the big ballroom that he used as an office.
He smiled and his eyes widened.
I had never had that reaction before. Usually the Fae looked at me down their noses a bit. But Lord Learheart didn’t, even if they did say he was a bit up himself.
“It’s true then, you are the finest specimen of a pure blood Fae now existing on this earth.”
I felt a bit awkward. The room was so big, and I was so small and he was staring at me.
“I’m not sure your Lordship. You see, I only know about Fae that are local to the British Isles and that.”
He nodded and smiled again, his eyes glittered. He was rather lovely.
“Of course, but you are the most impressive Fae I have yet encountered. Come and have a seat.”
I sat on a big golden couch, he paced around the room, picking things up, examining them, and then putting them down again.
“Oh, thank you.” I said.
I told him, after a while, that I didn’t know why I was so special, that I didn’t think I was half as beautiful as the other Fae I’d seen.
“Oh but you are beautiful” he had said. The way he said it almost made me believe it. That was the magic that he did have, even if he didn’t have the other sort of magic.
“You do realise that the Fae were always more like you than like them,” he waved at some Fae staff that were lounging around by the doors.
“…or me for that matter.”
I must have given him a perplexed look because he laughed.
“It doesn’t matter, I’ll tell you all about it later.”
But he never really got a chance to.

A man from the BNP stabbed him just outside Covent Garden after a Fae rally.
All his personal guard were so busy fighting with the humans that they sort of forgot all about him and left him by the stage, bleeding.
His blood was just as viscous, and ruby-coloured as mine.
I knelt down beside him on the ground, I cupped his flaxen head in my little hand.
“It’s alright,” he said. “It was the same for Martin Luther King.”
I was so upset that I couldn’t even remember who that was and I just cried.
“My dear,” he said, (through the blood on his white teeth).
“My dear, they don’t like us because we are different, and you are even more different than most. But you have to be in charge now.”
“Why?” I said, I have never been more upset in my life.
“Because you are the only one who can get things done properly. None of the others are organised enough to bother to lift a finger, aah”
He coughed and spat blood. Red Fae blood on the grey ground.
“I bequeath it all to you,” he said, and he made me take a blood stained page out of his jacket pocket, and he used my ball point pen, and he wrote down his will and signed it. I countersigned, but I was weeping so much that the page was soaked.
“You see, the others would have used a fountain pen of course and this would all now be a blurred mess” he laughed, it was the last time because he was dying now.
“Oh why can’t they get an ambulance!” I looked about but there were too many people fighting and pushing all round us, and I knew it was too late.
“I don’t even know your blood type!” I shouted, I was so frustrated.
He just smiled up at me, lips all red and glistening.
“I’m only 63 percent” he said, his eyes still twinkling.
“What?”
“Yes, yes I’m-” he coughed and coughed.
“-I’m barely more than human, imagine!” The thought seemed so funny to him but I don’t know why.
“Oh I don’t think that matters at all, that’s just silly numbers, everyone loves you.”
I said, and it was true, they all had done, even now they loved him so much that they were fighting for his honour, battling with the protesters, and they were so passionate about their cause that they had forgotten all about us.
“I think there might still be magic in the Fae blood, you should look into it. You, more than anyone might wield it against the Coalition. There is an old man I know, who says he’s descended from Merlin, I…”
But he was fading away from me by that stage, the blood was spilling out all over me and my new uniform, and the cold, hard ground. The last words he spoke on this earth, were in a whisper in my ear as he held my hands,
“It doesn’t really matter who you are, it’s who you really are, that matters.”
He died and I was all alone.

I like to think he went to that place that all Fae go to. I think it might be some sort of woodland. I imagine it as filled with trees, hanging with stars like Christmas lights. Just like in my old student flat, where we hung the lights over the furniture even when it wasn’t Christmas.
He left me everything, the army, all the money, everything. Except the house. Like I said, there was some problem with that.
I stopped the war with England even though I knew he would have been cross with me. But it was the best thing. I set up a political party instead and we have been gaining so much support, especially on Facebook and Twitter. I really hope everyone comes out and votes.
I’m not as enigmatic as Lord Learheart was, but I took his name. He told me I could. I’m going to see that man he told me about. The one who was descended from Merlin. His address is in Glastonbury so I guess he must be legit.
I want to find out if there is still magic in my blood. I know that Lord Learheart didn’t believe he was capable of magic.
But he was.