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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

10: Adam

Image by Koratmember, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

ID-100145058

“And so you see, no one can be motherless,” he had said.

I raised my head from the desk, feeling half drunk as the walls of the class room seemed suddenly to loom in close. Mr Thomsen was smiling, and as he smiled his eyes crinkled up at the corners like potato chips. I found him the least offensive of my teachers, because he never bothered me, because he let me sleep if I wanted to.

“Anyway, I disgress, in this class we are supposed to stargaze, not naval-gaze.” He smiled again at his little joke, and the girl with the rose-coloured hair in the front row laughed and her long plaits thudded softly against the side of her desk. It was a small class today, snow lined the windows, and half the school was probably lying in bed sick, getting nursed and spoiled and brought little bowls of home-made soup. I rubbed my eyes, and wished then that I had been listening.

 After class I waited behind. The others streamed past me as if chasing the sound of the bell into the corridor and out and away, home. Mr Thomsen seemed not to notice me at first. He had busied himself with his desk, stuffing papers into folders, finding homes for orphaned pens. I coughed, and he looked up at me in surprise.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.” He said, smiling again. He was always smiling. I wondered what his secret was.

“I wanted to ask you, about what you said earlier”

I stopped then because something scared me. I think it was a wave of feeling that I hadn’t expected, I think it was because I knew I might have to reveal something of myself to a stranger, again.

“Yes go on.” Mr Thomsen sat on the edge of his desk and folded his arms. He inclined his head to me then, as if he thought I was about to say something of interest to him, or importance. It reminded me why I had decided to stay behind, because he wasn’t like the others. Most of the other teachers had this habit of looking at you like you were out of your mind if you spoke out, like nothing you said could mean anything.

“It was what you said, about no one being motherless”

I stopped again, I realised that I had not been listening really, that I didn’t even know how to frame my question. Mr Thomsen looked at me through his glasses.

“You’re Adam aren’t you?” He said, and I nodded. I knew then, that he wanted me to know that he knew about me, if that even makes sense. The classroom was cold now with all the bodies gone. It was just us and the silence was the loudest thing in the room.

Until he spoke.

“What I was saying Adam may sound foolish, but it’s true. Do you see this?” He pointed to the image on the projector. “Do you know what this is?”

I felt my cheeks burning red, I knew but I didn’t know.

“It’s a star being born Adam, and all this material you see here-” he waved his finger over the image. “-is gas and dust that will eventually bind together to form planets, just like the Earth”

I stared at the picture and wondered where he was taking me with all this planet talk.

“Adam.” He rubbed this bridge of his nose and looked momentarily weary. “How shall I put this…” There was that silence again that swallowed us up.

“I am aware of your family situation”

Now he stopped, now he was the one to feel awkward.

“I don’t have a family.” I said. But what he said next surprised me.

“Yes you do.”

At first I rolled my eyes. “They aren’t my family” I said, but he butted in.

“No I’m not talking about your foster parents. I’m talking about this.”

Again he pointed to the image, but he didn’t point vaguely. He pointed to the heart of the glow within the image, to the centre of the new sun.

“This is your family, my family, everybody’s family.”

I just laughed at him. “I have no idea what you’re saying.” I said. He laughed too.

“I know! But hear me out. What if I told you that the universe is a mother? That she is always pregnant, always giving birth to stars, formed in these amazing nursuries up there in space? Now you might say ‘what the heck does that have to do with me?’ but listen to me. The atoms that make up your body, all those particles that whizz around inside of you, and make you you, your DNA, all that was made using the same elements we find in star matter. I mean look at this guy, he doesn’t look anything like you ok, but he could be like your stellar ancestor!” I snorted and shook my head at him, but he knew I was thinking about it.

 ”In all seriousness, I know that you must feel like you have no one, that you are connected to no one, and that you don’t belong anywhere, but whenever you feel like that, I want you to remember that everyone, every last person, is connected, because of this.” Once again he stabbed at the heart of the star.

“Here, now just wait a minute.” He said, and jumping off the desk he began foraging in its drawers for something. I waited, and while I waited I stared and stared at that picture, at the golden light of that star in amongst all that stuff.

“There now.” Mr Thomsen thrust a book at me. I looked down at it. The cover showed the blackness of space, and in the midst of it, a giant rainbow coloured cloud.

“Take that, and I know what you must be thinking, but don’t worry about reading too much of the text if you don’t want to. Just look at those pictures, just think about what I’ve said.”

I thanked him and tucked the book in my bag, we smiled and said goodbye, and I felt alright about it all.

When I got back to the house, everything was a mess. Anna, the girl who they had taken in just after me was crying and Mrs Wilson was trying to get her to pick up her toys but she just kept howling like a kicked dog. Neither of them noticed me as I slipped up stairs.

 That night I lay awake and stared at the ceiling, like I always do. Mr Wilson had fallen asleep in front of the TV again and he’s deaf, so Ricki Lake was turned up so loud I could hear most of what the guests were saying. It was all nonsense to me, just old repeats, they seemed to go on, and on, and on, forever.

 I crawled out of my bed, and turned on the night light that was still covered in some kid’s old Disney stickers. I reached over to my satchel, pulling out the book Mr Thomsen had given me and thumbed through some of the pages. The pictures were beautiful. I loved the colours and the total darkness around them, how vibrant everything was. Most of all I liked the total absence of people in that book. It was all about science, and every image was like nothing you would ever see on Earth. I soon got tired flicking through it though, my eyes were heavy. I went over to the window, pulled back the curtain and wiped the glass. Outside in the street, snow was gathering on the pavements. The streetlamp outside the house was dead, but I could just about make out that blanket of whiteness glowing in the dark.

 Then I looked up and saw the stars.

They were like little crystals pinned to a blanket, winking away, on and off.

When my parents died, a lot of people tried to tell me that they were in heaven watching over me. I wanted to believe them but then my parents didn’t believe in God. My last foster mother had scolded at me when I said this, she had said that maybe He had punished them because they didn’t believe, and that was why they were dead.

 Now, I thought about what Mr Thomsen had said and something started to form in my mind. What if heaven wasn’t about angels? What if heaven means being a part of the hearts of stars? The Earth is going to get swallowed up one day, I remember Mr Thomsen saying that. He said that our sun will gobble up the solar system, and then all of what we were, will really become part of the universe again. What if heaven is about being a part of everything?

 I must have stared at those stars for a long time because suddenly I realised that my feet were frozen, and my hands were like ice from where the pressed against the glass. I went back to bed and as I got in, I found I couldn’t hear the TV set anymore. I wanted to sleep, I was so tired out, but a part of me just wanted to read that book, wanted to try to read it.

As I closed my eyes I said goodnight, I said the words out loud to no one. But I felt the stars all around me. I could see them in my minds eye, burning, constant. I smiled then, into the darkness.

For the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt ok, because I knew I had a family no one could ever take away from me.

 

 

9: Ritual Sacrifices.

 image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by Idea go

inferno image

 We both stared into the abyss.

Ready to make the ritual sacrifices.

I had climbed through the lion’s mouth after him, breathless.

He jumping and running and without any fetters to hold him,

I, stumbling and falling and uncertain.

We were like a comet only back to front, the bright burning tail streaking out,

and the dull, burning lump of dust,

desperate to ignite in the wake of that light.

He pointed into the chasm and I balked,

At demons, eyes on fire and bodies plump and greased with sweat.

They were burning, only playing, they had not seen us yet.

“I live down there, with them” he said.

“What, with them, how?”

“Come down and see,” he said.

When I looked into the wake of those long flames

I wondered how a man like him could exist in such a place,

and how I could ever stand the heat to be with him.

“I’d melt” I cried.

He grinned.

To follow him to oblivion, or to wait on the edge like a death itself,

without him.

“Think of all the light left in the world, why are you subservient to shadows?”

He looked at me with those waterfall eyes,

where I, standing at the edge of the abyss was drying up.

“You who were born dancing,” I said to him,

“you’d never let hot coals touch your feet.”

“-and you?” he asked, poised to leap without me.

“All stars are born to burn,” I said,

and I watched his face relent to shock,

as I dived, at last, before him.

5: The Woman and the Thunderbird.

Another of my short stories written for a weekly fiction competition. The photo below, was our only writing prompt. To read the other entries check out Flash! Friday. Want to know more about this story? Check out my post on Fifty Tales of Fiction.

(Dust storm in Stratford, Texas, 1935. Public domain photo by NOAA.)

Image

Milo would stare at the image until his eyes hurt.
Every evening after school he would sit down at the old computer that had been left to him when his uncle died. Milo’s mother had gone through every folder on the desk top, methodically deleting everything.
“These aren’t for you to see,” she had said.
“What is it, bad stuff?”
“No, worse than that.”
“What, like illegal?”
“No, not like illegal stuff. Your uncle was an enchanted man, don’t think too much about it ok?”

He hadn’t thought much about it. The only thing interesting about that old computer was the screensaver. He would sit and wait for it to flick on. He always had a system; he would look at the ground first, then follow it up to where the grass met the foundations of the houses. Then he would allow himself to see the figures. In his head they had names, one was simply ‘the woman,’ but the other shape reminded him of a carving on a totem pole, so he called it ‘the Thunderbird.’ It was this figure who intrigued him the most. Once Milo saw the Thunderbird, he would have to look up, and see the storm coming.

Since moving away, Milo had made no friends. His father could not visit them anymore because of the restraining order, but sometimes the Spanish kid would come around. Milo would find him sitting on his little bicycle in their front yard.
“What is that?” he asked Milo, as they stared into the screensaver together.
“I don’t know. I keep thinking one day I’ll see a face in the clouds.”
The kid nodded, in childlike imitation of his own father he said:
“Cara a cara con Dios.”

They stopped looking for Milo’s body on the seventh day of the search. They said he was probably just another run away. The computer stayed on all that week, until finally Milo’s mother had pulled the plug straight out of the wall.
No one had seen the screensaver change, and that there were three figures now, where there had been two; their arms outstretched towards the storm, cara a cara con Dios.