She made her heart a stronghold
and firmly locked the gate
Then hardened it with fire
in order to survive
But hearts are made for hurting
and though it was to late
She let her walls be crumbled
to bleed and feel alive
She made her heart a stronghold
and firmly locked the gate
Then hardened it with fire
in order to survive
But hearts are made for hurting
and though it was to late
She let her walls be crumbled
to bleed and feel alive
Vanessa Riley’s problem wasn’t that she fell in love with idiots – it was that she fell in love with everybody. She only needed to talk to somebody for ten minutes to fall irrevocably head over heels. No wonder that the morons got to her; they were the ones that made the moves, after all. And to make things worse, she herself was not your average girl-next-door – nor was her family the most average of families. This fact, without a fault, tended to secure her the less-than-average moronic suitors as well.
The first one, not counting all the cute elementary school flings littering her back story like embarrassing piles of unicorn poop, had been a vampire. She had been fourteen years old, mesmerized by the writings of a certain Mrs. Rice and consequently swiped right off her feet by his charm, bottomless eyes and knowing, poetic voice as he spoke her name. It was an intense, crimson and incredibly sexy affair. She had given him her overrated virginity and lots and lots of blood. He had given her almost as much in return and promised to take her “into the night”, as he had so eloquently put it. The romance ended almost as swiftly as it had begun, with her mother finding out and chopping his head off with a rusty shovel – it being all that had been readily at hand in the heat of the moment.
Turned out, though, that he had a family of his own. Fierce old things that didn’t take lightly the death – much less murder – of one of theirs. The fact that his beheading, by some, was unfortunately interpreted as an escalation of the age old cold war between vampires and mages didn’t exactly make things better. The final price and outcome of this seemingly innocent high school romance thus became an increased enmity between two up until now passively warring factions, the violent death of her mother and the turning, as it was likewise eloquently termed, of her own twin sister. They haven’t spoken much since then.
After that she lived with her father for a time, long enough to finish high school. He and her late mother had already been divorced for some time before her death. However, due to him priding himself with having a werewolf somewhere far back in his lineage, nobody had deemed it necessary to intervene in the name of secrecy when their relationship ended. What this intervention would have meant, though, Vanessa didn’t learn until later – and then it was the hard way.
What she did learn at this time, however, was the complete, merciless and entirely uncensored truth about her unusual family tree. Vanessa had already been made aware of her mother’s abilities, that she had been a magician of some renown and that Vanessa herself was expected to someday develop some degree of powers of her own. She hadn’t been aware, though, of the fact that her mother’s family could trace their lineage as far back as ancient Egypt, and that as good as every generation up until now had sported their share of supernatural creatures. Those who never displayed any magical abilities of their own were quickly swept up by the vampires, changelings and ritualists surrounding the family at all times. Thus they had made themselves a name over the millennia, and thus the prospects of the normal life Vanessa Riley had always hoped for instantly seemed farther away than ever. But time had passed and Vanessa had made due and eventually learned to cope with the new state of her world.
Her second boyfriend, not counting all the high school one nighters littering her teens like secretly thrilling but forbidden cigarette buds, had been a magician himself. She had been almost eighteen and had fallen head over heels before his cunning eyes, sly smile and somewhat rough ways. Being finally together with someone who was actually allowed to know her family’s deepest secrets had been a great relief. Up until then none of her friends or partners – save for that one who “got away” – had been residents of the proverbial world of darkness that her own family of secret mages, werewolves and general misfits were a part of.
She could talk to him about all the things that confused and frightened her, and the fact that he was just two years her senior sat really well with her father. They shared one intense summer and then he went to prison. Not your usual, mundane prison, mind you. Rather it was the kind of prison where mages are sent if they, gods forbid, meddle with things more dark and dangerous than what is considered sound, safe and sane by the local coven leaders. The people who came for him made sure to perform thorough interrogations of Vanessa as well, but soon lost interest when it became clear that she hadn’t even awakened to her powers yet. Without them, it was impossible for her to have broken any arcane laws serious enough for them to care. She later learned that he had been exiled from the city, but by then she had already moved on.
Vanessa Riley’s third real boyfriend had actually been an ordinary, human guy. He was the same age as her and they met by chance through a language class they both took after finishing senior high. She was nineteen years old and had only three months earlier discovered that she could see people’s auras and read their minds. Her father had been delighted hearing about her powers, but also somewhat saddened. He had told her that before long the rest of the family would take interest in her and that she then might have to move on with her life – whether she wanted it or not. That this moving on would occur sooner rather than later, and that it would rip open the seams of a world she already believed entirely upside down, was nothing he had told her, though.
The ordinary guy’s name was Brian and when she was with him Vanessa could almost allow herself to believe in a normal every day life where the most groundbreaking thing that could happen would be the neighbours coming by for a cup of sugar. She stayed over at his place more and more frequently and was soon endowed with an empty drawer in one of his closets. They talked about enrolling to the same college, buying a car and skipping town, renting a flat and moving in together and many other things. It all felt so serious that one late and drunken night, as they lay gazing at the stars out on Brian’s balcony, Vanessa decided to tell him everything.
They were both drunk and when she began talking about telepathy, auras and mind control his first reaction was to laugh uncontrollably. She couldn’t help but to laugh as well, but when she realized that he thought the whole thing was a joke she stopped.
“This is real”, she said. “I’m not fooling around.” She sat up and stared at him and eventually he stopped laughing as well – at least long enough to draw breath.
“Okay, I hear you.” He had to fight back another fit of laughter before continuing. “So you can read minds and make people do stuff. And why haven’t I noticed this before?”
She sighed impatiently. “Because it’s a secret and I was afraid you would freak out. Besides, I learned to do these things only recently.”
At this he finally stopped laughing and managed a somewhat serious look. “Alright, babe. Show me. What am I thinking about?”
“Me. You’re thinking about me.”
“Well, okay, but that one was easy. What about now?”
“You’re still thinking about me, stupid. But without clothes now. You’re also thinking about fish for some reason. Kinky.”
This made him pause, but only for a moment. “I don’t know how you did that, but come on babe, just admit that this is a joke so I can kiss you already.”
“But it isn’t –” He reached for her and started pulling her closer, seemingly already haven dismissed the subject as a drunken prank.
She panicked. She had just opened herself up to him like she had never dared before, and here he was, on the edge of joking it all away. “Stop”, she said – and he did. Way to quickly.
Brian stared at her, frozen at an arm’s length’s distance. The terror in his eyes spoke for itself. “What the hell did you do?”
An icy hand gripped her spine. What did I do? What have I done? “I’m… I’m sorry, Brian. I –”
But he had already gotten to his feet and quickly backed away from her. “Don’t”, he said. “I don’t know what you did but I… I can’t…” He backed into the darkness of the apartment. She tried to follow but he held up both hands and shook his head violently. “No, please. Just don’t. I need to…” And with that he turned his back on her and fled out the door.
She stood in his dark living room for several seconds, just listening in shocked silence as his echoing footsteps disappeared down the stairwell and were finally cut off by the sharp sound of the main entrance closing far below. Not until then did she sink to the floor, collapsing in a sobbing pile and feeling the tears stream down her face.
They found Brian’s body the next day. She had fallen asleep on the floor of his apartment and did not awaken until she got the call. The policeman on the other end had gotten her number from her father and was empathetic but matter-of-fact when he told her that Brian was dead. He had been found in a park close to his home, lying under a bush with his neck broken. The police wanted to talk to her in person as soon as possible, seeing as she was possibly one of the last people who had seen him alive.
Vanessa was numb when the call ended and almost couldn’t bring herself to answering when her father called a few seconds later. He came to pick her up and the subsequent ride over to the police station was an eerily silent one. The investigators asked her about the night before, what they had done and why he had left home. She told them that they had fought over some trivial thing – couldn’t very well tell them the truth. They asked her many questions but in the end seemed to accept that she didn’t know anything about his potential enemies, debts or addictions.
On their way home in the car that evening her father tried his best to check on her, console her or at least make her talk. He failed on all three points. As they entered the driveway she still hadn’t spoken a word that wasn’t in reply to a direct question. She was in shock and walked through fog on broken glass. They walked into the house and her father went to the kitchen to make her some chamomile tea. Then he froze on the threshold. When Vanessa caught up with him and saw Her, the woman sitting on the couch, she wasn’t even surprised. She had never seen this woman before and still she knew who she was.
“Neferthali”, she said tonelessly. She didn’t have any tones left.
The woman nodded and rose. “It’s time”, she said and strode over to them, her crimson silk dress flowing behind her as she moved. Vanessa thought that her long raven hair reflected the darkness outside the windows.
“You, you can’t –” Vanessa’s father stuttered as he tried to speak.
“Yes, Jim”, the tall woman said. “I’m taking your daughter. It’s clear as day that you can’t handle her.”
And with that she grabbed Vanessa’s hand and walked her back towards the door. Vanessa tried to turn, to seek her father’s eyes, but Neferthali stopped and grabbed her chin. “You stupid girl, you don’t understand anything, do you? Running around and telling sleepers about the Family and all. Obviously you can’t even handle yourself.”
Her grip was firm as rock and Vanessa could do nothing but stare into those deep, dark eyes that had seen civilizations rise and fall. She shivered involuntarily. “I didn’t tell him about the Family”, she said, tears welling up in her eyes. Tears of shame that she didn’t herself know the origin of.
“No, but you would have”, the woman said. “It always starts this way, with a stupid little girl telling an almost as stupid boy about magic. The rest is history. That’s how it started with your mother and father, and that’s how it started for your mother’s parents before her. Were it not for your father’s animalistic heritage, I would gladly have killed him as well when that sad relationship ended. Yes, Jim”, she said and turned her head halfway towards Vanessa’s father for a split second. “That’s the truth and you know it.”
Vanessa’s father didn’t say anything, but Vanessa could see from the corner of her eye that he was gripping the door frame tightly and stared intently at them. She herself snapped out of her frozen state for a moment when Nerferthali took her ancient eyes of her.
“What… do you mean ‘as well’?”, she whispered.
Neferthali met her eyes again, absolute controlled calm emanating from her eyes. “Like I killed your sleeper boy last night, of course”, she said. No malice in her voice, no sadistic pleasure. Just coldly, calmly establishing a fact.
“You, you killed Brian?” Vanessa felt her legs go weak and her voice tremble as she uttered the terrible words. “You killed him. You.”
Neferthali nodded. “I did. He was leaving you and he knew too much. I had to.”
Vanessa felt the tears break forth again and could do, would do, nothing to prevent it. “He wasn’t leaving me. We would have worked it out. He would have come back, just needed… He just needed some time, that’s all.”
The ancient woman sighed – more as a rhetoric gesture than because she needed the air. “Maybe he would have. But he would have left again, he was a lost cause. Not made for this kind of darkness. You know this, Vanessa. You always did. And still you told him. This makes you the real killer, not me. I’m just protecting the family, like I have always done. I only wish your mother would have let me take you sooner. That would probably have left her alive to one day see you learn from your mistakes.”
So many thoughts, so many disturbing, provoking, heartbreaking concepts. Brian’s death her fault. Her mother’s murder and her sister’s turning just as much. Learn from my mistakes… Yes, she thought. Maybe they were all because of me. And the prospect broke her, pulled her apart with such force that she couldn’t even try to resist it. She would have fallen to the floor if her vampire godmother had let her. She who had, according to the family myths, guarded over her progeny for thousands and thousands of years.
Neferthali picked her up, cradled her in her cold, hard arms like a baby and carried her out through the door. Vanessa shook uncontrollably and her only anchor to sanity then and there was the vampire singing softly to her in a language lost to all but the dead and forgotten gods of yore.
And behind them inside the house her father let out a roaring bellow that was not of a human throat, but still dared do nothing to save his last living daughter from this creature older than modern time itself.
“His first change, finally”, Neferthali mused smilingly as she carried her young ward away. But by then Vanessa Riley had stopped listening to anything but blind panic a long time ago. And thus she was carried off into a night more dark and dangerous than what any coven leader, however hardened, would consider sound, safe and sane.
And that was only the beginning.
You can find part II of the story about Vanessa Riley here.
Chris Smedbakken 2017-05-24
It was late. Jonathan was late. He parked his car by the curb and drummed impatient rhythms on the wheel. Completing his errands had taken too long, and he had barely had time to get properly dressed before hurrying here. When she showed up in the doorway, however, he instantly thanked himself for sacrificing those extra moments in front of the mirror. She was a dream in blue and deserved far better than him, but at least he had given it his best.
He hurried out of the car and opened the door for her. Was awarded with a little kiss in return. He smiled, said the right things. He wanted her, had wanted her since they first met six days ago, but it was impossible and he knew it. It was part of who he was, of who she was. If she found out… No, he would be gone before she did, if she ever did. He wouldn’t be able to look into her eyes when that happened. Better enjoy it while it lasted and not think ahead. He returned to the driver’s seat and started the car again.
She told him about today’s rehearsal. She was a singer of some renown, and that was also how he had found her. He had heard her in concert the previous week and instantly known that she was the one. Long, dark hair, pale eyes and a voice to kill and be killed for. He knew the right people and they were introduced at a party two days later. They had met a couple of times since then. Coffees, dinners, even a movie. He had needed to get close to her, and as the days went by he had found himself wanting it as well.
He told her about his day, his work and his thoughts on tonight. The first consisted of vague generalities, the second of believable half truths and the last of outright lies. But she didn’t call his bluff and he found himself, again, enjoying talking to her. She didn’t judge, she didn’t measure and she didn’t demand. He had money, sure, but so did she and something told him that she wouldn’t mind overly much having to make due on a far more humble income. Everything about her was so different from what he was used to. He bit his lip and took a deep breath. He could not let himself fall in love with her. There really was no way.
As they approached the house he could see that several limousines and cabs had aldready been parked in the spacious driveway. All the windows were lit and through them could be seen glamorously dressed people mingling, drinking and dancing.
”Oh my god”, she laughed as he parked his car next to another of the same make. ”I can’t believe that you invited me to come with you here. This is amazing, thank you!”
”Don’t thank me”, he said as he opened the door on her side and helper her out.
”Don’t be humble”, she smiled and kissed him again, obviously misinterpreting his tone of voice. ”You’ll have to introduce me to everybody, I can’t imagine that I know anyone here.”
”I’ll introduce you to those who matter”, he said truthfully and tried not to feel, but it was hard.
They entered through the tall double doors and were instantly greeted by smiles and welcomes and enthusiasm. All fake, of course, and all according to the rules of play. He smiled back and shook hands and answered politely. They knew him very well, knew that he was below them but also that the one he worked for was not. Nobody would dare to touch him, but many would love to touch her. Luckily for him, she didn’t know this. Yet.
And she was lovely. She conversed delightfully with anyone she was introduced to, asked the right questions and laughed in the right places. She caught the attention of many, but it was when Albert Limestone – a corpulent man with a fondness for art and artists – began talking to her about potential bookings that Jonathan knew he had to get to the point with all this. He made an excuse and pulled her away from the crowd, and tried not to listen to her thrilled voice as she told him how happy she was to get to know all these new contacts. He had to do this before she killed his resolve entirely with her lovey smile and entrancing voice.
Jonathan found him at the top of the stairs. ”Tanya, here’s someone I’d like you to meet.” He led her to him, felt his pulse quicken at the sight of the predatory smile on the man’s lips when he looked at her. At the hunger and the fire in those dark eyes.
Stefán MacCormach took her hand and kissed it. ”It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tanya. My name is Stefán. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.”
She smiled and blushed and Jonathan knew what effect those eyes must have on someone not used to meeting their gaze. Terrifying and exciting and deadly, and she had no idea.
”Nice to meet you”, she said. ”Are you a friend of Jonathan’s?”
Stefán laughed humorlessly. ”Not quite. Rather of his… employer, I would say. Now, if you would be so kind as to come with me, I will tell you everything about how I know Jonathan.” He grabbed the hand he had just kissed and started leading her away.
”But… Jonathan?” She tried to turn, but Stefán just shook his head and whispered something in her ear, and she followed him.
And Jonathan remained where he was, following them with his eyes until they were gone in the crowd. These people always got what they wanted, and he hated himself more than ever.
Dawn was approaching and the party would soon be over. People were leaving, and Jonathan was hoping to be allowed to drive Tanya back home. She would hate him, of course, but she would be safe. He had never harbored any illusions, he knew he would never see her again after tonight. There was no room for her in his life, anyway. But then he was called to the basement, and that’s when he knew.
She lay on the floor, unmoving and silent, but he saw that she was breathing. He felt sick as he stepped out of the ancient elevator and approached her. They were alone, but escape was not an option. Other things than fear prevented him from leaving this place.
Stefán had wanted a singer for the party, a dark haired beauty, someone whose laughter was clear and would be interesting for him to break. Jonathan had obliged, searched and delivered, as was always his job. Now the people above had decided that she had seen and heard too much and must be dealt with accordingly. That was why Jonathan was holding a knife.
He sat down beside her and stroked her hair. He couldn’t help himself, he had fallen for her. He didn’t want to do this, but when she looked up at him and screamed he slit her throat anyway just to silence her. Now she would never sing again.
Jonathan held her as she trashed and turned and fought and bled out. He had blood all over his hands and clothes when it was over and he just sat there for a moment, realizing what he had done. But it was late now, and his masters expected him to be done with this before daybreak. So he picked her up and carried her through the basement, past the boiler room and into the small corridor with the hatch and the secret room beneath it.
And it was not until he had lowered her body into the darkness and watched it disappear amongst the floating shadows that he sat down and cried. She had been a dream in blue, and he had betrayed her and killed her. He had known somewhere that Stefán would not let her go afterwards, that was not his way. He was merciless and impulsive and hungry, just as all the others of his kind. And Jonathan could have done nothing to save her, once he had led her into the predators’ den. He was just a servant, bound by blood to do his masters’ bidding. And now he would never hear her voice again.
But then the time came for the sun to rise, and Jonathan dried his tears. There was much to be done, and he could not afford to dwell on these feelings. He had to clean the basement, sleep briefly and then wake in the afternoon to prepare the house again for tomorrow night’s guests.
The Kindred were terrifying and deadly, and their world was a banquet where lives were served each night to quench their undying thirst for blood. Jonathan was their servant, and not just fear but also greed and hunger and ambition bound him to this place. There was no room in his life for regret, and there definitely was no room in it for love or for dreams in blue. The sun rose and life went on.
This text works as a stand-alone, but if you want to read the first part you can find it here.
The brave new world she stalked through was filled with brave new lives and brave new loves, but not for her. Never for her. She would taste the warmth of innocent hearts and let it awaken in her for a moment memories of a time when she as well had felt and dreamed and hoped, only to leave them just as empty and dying afterwards as she had been left herself so long ago. But whilst the blankly staring eyes of these new lives were doomed to fade not long after she walked away, her own two eyes were cursed to remain forever open.
She saw cruelty, she saw suffering and death and all of these were far worse than the pain her own hunger and cold would ever be able to afflict upon a humanity that was slowly torturing itself into hardened submission.
Sometimes she took lives in the name of souls too defeated to extract their own vengeance upon murderers and oppressors. It was during such brief moments of chimeric justification that she came close enough to feeling to actually remember that the word had a meaning attached to it.
For the most part, however, she took lives in the name of her own vices and did not discriminate between the guilty and the innocent any more than the blind distinguish between light and darkness. It was during such moments of liberating numbness that she realized that feelings and principles were constructions belonging to the living, and that monsters such as herself were meant to thrive and thirst in the regretless shadows of apathy. And so she did, until the night when she heard again the words of a monster long dead being spoken into the night like painful phantoms of the past.
The boy was young, but still older than she herself had been when the night had swallowed her heart and slowly begun hollowing her from the inside. He had dreams in his eyes and fight in his voice when he recited verses forgotten by the new world but remembered in the hearts of lovers and warriors, and she stood in the shadows and waited and hated as memories too painful to keep but too precious to lose struggled towards the frozen surface of her soul.
His borrowed words were embraced by those who heard him speak and she realized that he was known and loved and respected for knowing and speaking them. She also realized that he had broken something inside of her by doing so, something that was bleeding and would not mend on its own.
Mad with memory she stalked him through the night. She learned his name and his passions and saw him dance and laugh and live. He was a poet and a dreamer, but unlike the monster whose words he worshiped he was no thief and would not steal another’s heart unless freely given. She realized she saw in him something she had vainly looked for in her long dead killer and lover, and she hated him for it because the thought frightened her more than she wished to admit.
Nights went by and unseen she followed him through them even as the wound inside of her kept bleeding. For full a year she listened as he spoke the words of others and of his own, and watched him struggle with life and words and dreams. She was drawn to him in ways that she could not explain and for a time forgot to be the thirsting monster in the regretless shadows.
But time affected him as it did all mortals, and she heard his words and thoughts growing heavier and deeper for each moon that passed. The dreamer boy was turning into a man, and she knew that soon he would be old and withering and dying. His inspired words and dreams would slowly harden into pragmatic philosophy and then he would die, like they all did.
But he had made her feel, if only just so slightly. She knew that the uncaring apathy was ready to embrace her again, but having seen the light anew through this living thing she knew she would have to die all over again if she let it. So in order to save her mind and her memory of a soul from drowning, she stepped out of the shadows.
She stared into his eyes, she touched his face and she watched cold realization creep over him. Then she snapped his neck and drank his blood and listened as he drew his final, chocked breath.
And as she watched him die she slit her own wrist and let the red darkness pass from her to him. He would never grow old and die, and his words and dreams would never change.
“I have all the time in the world”, she whispered as life left him and made room for something new. ”Make me love you.”
This is the second part of an installment of three. It was inspired by a writing prompt, and you can find the first part here. Stay tuned for the third and final part, and feel free to leave comments!
I have to settle for uploading another old text today, since I am in Budapest over the weekend and would feel sorry for my company if I were to sit down and write for hours right now. This text was written as part of my NaNoWriMo-challenge back in 2007. I finished the text, but not the challenge. We´ll see if this year will see my revenge. Feel free to leave a comment!
Stories are told on cold nights when the moon is high in the sky and nightmares and the fantastic unknown stalk close by the windows of human dwellings, careful not to step into the light cast by fires and candles. Stories grant peace and occupation to frightened minds and give everyone something to think about apart from the fear of shadows and glaring, haunting eyes in the sunforsaken hours between twilight and chilly dawn.
This particular tale is a very old one – so old that in our day I would be surprised if anyone human could remember it enough to retell it fully. In fact I am very much strengthened in this assumption by the fact that I, in my striving to put this story to paper truthfully, had to consult someone very dear to me but who could in no reasonable way be called even something close to “human”. With his help this writing down of the story that could maybe be considered the most beautiful of them all was at last possible, and I want to thank him deeply for all the help and time he offered me in this. You will notice that this tale carries some differences in relation to some of the others in this collection. The reason, I guess, is that it has been told and retold so many times that it has acquired the character of a fairy tale, whence the others are merely documentations of more or less fantastic events.
In the time and era of this tale, as you are about to see, the borders between realities were not yet firmly secured and no one really doubted the fact that humans were not alone in dreaming and thinking and shaping the world. By this I do not mean that anyone was not surprised when this long suspected fact was sometimes direly proven before their very eyes – they were, I can knowingly assure you – but they accepted it as part of their view of life and seldom tried to deny it. That is why something like this cannot happen anymore; people are too afraid to open their eyes in front of the unknown to be able to see what really lies beyond the edge of their knowledge. Everything has a fixed explanation nowadays, and questing for answers with danger of losing everything is no longer in question. But the destination of this particular journey is in fact very real.
I will not tell you where to find it, lest I accomplish no more than adding to the already swelling pile of “common knowledge” that is so effectively dulling the curiosity of human dreamers worldwide even as I scratch pen against paper, writing this for you to read. No, I will not. But I will go as far as telling you that where I am sitting right now, candle burning in a room otherwise wrapped in winter darkness, is a place very, very close to the sacred spot where the subject of this story finally finds his answers. This I tell you only to convince you further not to doubt my word when I sacrifice my time to open your eyes to some of the mysteries of your world – and I hope sincerely that my efforts will not have been in vain. Now to my story.
The summer was long advanced in this particular village by the start of the chain of events that would at length mark the beginning of an adventure. A young couple was about to get married and everyone was eagerly preparing for the festivities – and not least for the ceremony itself.
A tradition was upheld in this village, that the shift of seasons at the end of summer and winter was always marked by the uniting of a man and a woman in loving marriage; this symbolizing the coming together of Queen Summer and King Winter twice a year when time was right for the one to pass the sceptre of season domination to the other. When the first leaf of autumn fell to the ground, and not until then, was the ceremony to start and the bridegroom to step up to the Autumn Bride by the forest altar to be with her united for the rest of their remaining lives. This both for their shared happiness and for the luck and well being of the village, which relied on the ceremony to grant them the favours of the Greater Unknown in securing their harvest and protecting their families.
It was not common for couples to be married at any other time of the year in this village, since no one wanted to miss the honour and blessing of being Autumn wed or Spring wed, and thus it was a great privilege for a couple to be at last admitted to the altar, perhaps after several years of waiting. This young pair had been chosen to be Autumn wed this year not only because of their obvious and limitless love for each other, but also because of their curious resemblance to the Queen and King of the Seasons themselves; the young bride-to-be wore her sunny, blossomy red hair long and often entwined with colourful flowers and she was never far from heartily laughter that reminded the villagers of a dancing brook in high summer’s swirl, while her future husband had hair like silvery ice on the mountain peaks, reflecting the sun’s light like half frozen crystal water in a wintry lake. His eyes were like the cold blue sky on a frosty day and though he was often quiet and thoughtful, there was a passion and a strength burning in those eyes that sometimes broke through his silent surface and swept him up like a winter storm – and those moments had grew even more common since he met her. They were meant for each other, no one doubted that.
The preparations for the ceremony were in high progress and the whole village was doing their best to make this year’s festivities something really special – like they did every year, but always, in some way, seemed capable of succeeding with in the end. The bride had been working for days on her wedding dress, in which time she had seen no one except her closest family. The bridegroom had been finished with his own ceremonial garments for some time, as tradition prescribed, and was now taking long walks through the wilds every day, searching for the perfect wedding gift to give to his bride in the name of the sacred bond they were about to tie.
In the likeness of the Winter King’s courting of the Summer Queen when they come together at the close of each year, at which occasion he brings her wonderful gifts in the form of turning the leaves golden for her and summoning glistering ice rain down over the two of them and the rest of the world, the Autumn bridegroom must bring the bride a gift of autumn – something worthy that must represent the love he felt for her. This he could do first when the turning of seasons had just begun, since no autumn gifts could reasonably be found before that time. And when he had found his sign of autumn and love, the ceremony would take place the very following day – like the gifts of the Winter King, the returning of the bridegroom with the ceremonial gift marked the beginning of the period between Summer’s End and Wintercome.
I suspect that my source for this story knew the name of this young man – yes, I think he remembered it very well indeed – but for reasons I can only guess he refused to tell it to me and that I will respect and thereby leave it at that.
Anyway, the young man wandered for days and days around the borders of the village, searching for the first sign of autumn, but without luck. His future bride was soon to be finished with her preparations, and the festivities had all but begun. Autumn had been late in coming before and at first no one worried about it too much, but when the weeks went by and the weather showed no signs of changing from the sunny state of high summer and not even the early mornings saw the smallest suggestion of ice on the surface of the villagers’ water buckets, people begun to get anxious. Why did not Summer’s End begin? What caused this strange delay in the turning of seasons?
The future bridegroom became more and more certain that something was not in order, and begun to fear that the marriage would never come to pass. What if the first leaf never fell? He would never have his beloved bride if he could not find a proper autumn gift to seal their bond; anything less than such a gift would be unworthy and would certainly bring dishonour to her name. Her family would never ever permit her to step up to the altar as anything less than a proper Autumn bride, and in case he could not find his ceremonial gift they would consider it a sign from the higher forces that he did not have their blessing in becoming part of the Autumn couple.
One night, draped in desperation, he went to consult the village elder. He was told that nothing in the likeness of this had happened since the beginning of known time, and that the elder suspected that something was terribly amiss with the greater scheme of things.
“If you want your bride”, the old man said, “seek then the place where Summer and Winter meet – the sacred spot where spring and autumn begin.” He looked him deep in the eye and then handed him his beautifully carved walking stick. “Take this and everyone will know that you have my blessing.”
The young man met his future bride at sunfall by the large oaken tree in the hilltop clearing on which the forest altar stood. She was wearing the wonderful dress in which she hoped to one day stand bride, and her hair danced freely in the warm, late summer breeze. He told her of the journey he must make and held her tight when she cried wide eyed at this terrible revelation. He told her never to fear for him and not to be sad, and under no circumstances doubt his promise that he would soon return to her.
Even with tears in her eyes she was more beautiful to him than anything else he had ever laid eyes upon, and he swore to himself that for her he would do anything. He told her that, and he told her that he loved her. And with those words, and after holding her close one last time, he started to untangle himself from her embrace to begin his journey. Before he managed to force himself to say goodbye, though, she took hold of his shoulders and looked deep into his eyes in a way that only she in the whole world could do. She smiled sadly and forced back the tears momentarily.
“Remember this”, she said, fighting to keep her voice steady, “I love you and will not have anyone other than you. You are my reason to keep on breathing.” She stroked the side of his face with a tear wet hand, lovingly. She seemed to summon her last vestige of willpower and continued: “I do not care whether you find the most fantastic autumn gift in the world, or if you come back with only a moth eaten leaf or even empty handed. Just to see you back alive will make me the happiest person in the world, and whatever gift you bring back with you will be worth more to me than the sun in the sky or all the diamonds on the surface of the sea at night. This because I love you. Nothing matters apart from that. Nothing. Because love makes all other things seem small and simple. Remember that, and return to me safely and soon. I will wait for you. I will wait for you here, right on this hilltop.”
She kissed him passionately and let him go. He looked at her and felt how tears started to fill his own eyes. But before she could see this, he turned and started down the hill, back turned to the village that was his home.
The Autumn bride watched him leave, tears finally running down her face and falling to the ever green grass at her feet. She stood there still when the sun disappeared behind the larger hills at the horizon, and when the full moon rose it was to see her sitting by the large oak tree, gazing in the direction in which he had disappeared. The leaves of the oak were deep green like the soft grass beneath her, and the air was warm. No sign of Summer’s End she could see, and no sign of her beloved. She promised quietly to wait for him there, beneath the rustling branches of the oak on the hill. She promised to rise first when it was to step up to the altar in front of her and be united with her love at his return. When the first leaf fell from the tree by which she was sitting, she would know that he had found what he was seeking and was on his way back to her.
Nowhere he came did he see the slightest sign of autumn, even though he wandered for days. Dressed for rough weather and prepared for almost anything, he visited village after village asking for the way to the place where autumn begins. He was treated with respect due to his being sent by the elder of his own village, but nobody seemed to know anything about how to find the place he was looking for. Everyone he met, though, was also worried by the fact that no winter seemed to be approaching this year.
This way he wandered aimlessly for many days and nights, sometimes finding shelter under a roof by evening and sometimes not. He kept always the picture in his mind of his beloved one standing on the hilltop, gazing longingly after him. He wanted so much to return to her but knew that if he could find no sign of autumn to present to her and the villagers for the ceremony, he would never be allowed to be with her. If the higher forces had judged him unworthy of this honour, he would have to find out why and if there was something he could do to change their minds.
He met with many different people during his journey, all very helpful but none who could tell him anything truly useful. He had begun to mistrust when finally he came to a place where a tall forest loomed over a small collection of houses. He was exhausted from his wanderings and was just about to ask for a place to rest when an old, bearded man stepped up to him and told him he recognized the staff he was carrying. The young man told him that he had been given the staff by his village elder and also revealed his mission.
The old man eyed him for a long moment, much like the village elder had done, and said finally that he knew the place that he was searching for. He told him that the way there was long and a bit dangerous, but that the place was real and fully possible to reach if one dared to seek it out. He pointed in the direction of the high mountain peaks beyond the forest.
“I have not seen the place with my own eyes, but I believe the old stories about it being hidden among those cliffs, because every spring and fall I see the proof of it clearly.” He gave the young man a serious look. “It is down those slopes over there that the changes come charging before they are visible anywhere else. It is from up there that the season of Summer’s End should have poured down upon us a long time ago now.”
So without staying in the little village to rest even for the night, the young man bid the older one farewell and entered the dark forest, walking steadily towards the mountains far, far away. He had a new hope in his heart now that he knew where he was going, and worried little about how he was going to climb those slopes once he got there. Again he recalled the face of his bride-to-be, and smiled happily when he thought about how he soon again would hold her in his arms.
Back in the village, the one he was longing for was sitting still under that oak, refusing to talk to anyone and always searching the distant forest edge for any sign of him coming back up the slope towards her. Sometimes her gaze strayed upwards to the branches that sang and danced between her and the summer skies, but no red leaf could be seen and no chilly wind ever played in the greenery around her. Her heart sank but stayed always true to the promise she had made, though every day that went by saw her face even more hardened, as though the frost that refused to present itself to the grass and the water had anyway reached out and honoured at least the silent Autumn bride with its icy touch.
It took him several days of hard travelling to reach the slopes of the mountains. He paused here for a day to rest and to contemplate where to go from here. How was he going to find out which mountain trail to follow to reach the point among the cliffs that some called “the place where spring and autumn begin”? He thought about it for many hours, and decided at last that if he wanted to find the source of autumn and spring, he should look out for spots where the flowers and weeds grew the thickest; in the places that spring reached first the vegetation should have had the longest time to grow and spread, whence in all other places it should be more, but maybe not obviously, sparse.
He started up the trail and searched eagerly for any sign of change in the undergrowth. He thought after a while that he had found what he was searching for, as some patches of green were stained with colour due to collections of small, blue flowers, and followed heartily every sign that he found. These signs led him higher and higher up among the rocky slopes and heights, and when he at length turned and looked back, he could see the whole world stretch itself out far, far below him. All was green as far as he could see.
He imagined for a second that he could see the hilltop outside his own village home, and thought that he could see the shape of his beloved standing there, looking at him from afar. Of course this was just a dream, but when he again turned to his task of climbing this the highest of mountains the thought crossed his mind for the first time that the peaks might kill him – that there was a risk that he would not return alive to see her smile again or to feel her loving embrace. The thought chilled him terribly, but when he again looked down at the blue flowers that guided his path he pushed it aside with force. Of course he would return safely. Of course he would.
There was a strange sensation in the air that grew the higher he climbed. Some kind of tension that he did not like, but which was not really frightening either. He continued his climb, which was getting harder for every step he took due to the sparse foothold and the thorny vegetation that sometimes blocked his path. The blue flowers grew thicker here, and he knew he was getting very close to his goal. The peaks above him no longer seemed as distant as before, at the same time as the landscape below him had grown frighteningly small and far away. A fall from this point would certainly prove fatal, and he tightened his grip on the branches of the small trees that grew on the steep trail.
At last he reached the top of a rocky cliff and drew in a breath of relief. He had been fighting the heights for several days with little or no rest in the intervals between climbing, and was tired in both body and soul from the struggle. One day a careful but intense rain had fallen, soaking the steep mountainside and turning the trail to slippery mud. He had been forced to seek shelter within a shallow cave between some gray rocks to avoid the risk of falling all the way down to earth, and every hour that went by with the rain showing no sign of ceasing, his mood and mind darkened at the thought of how much time he was losing. At length the downpour stopped, but still he had to wait in that cave until the next morning when the trail was once again solid and safe.
Another day, or another night to be more precise, he had stood in hiding against a wall of stone to avoid the attention of a stalking something that he could hear faintly in his closeness, but which he could see nothing of except for its cunning, yellow eyes. The beast – or beasts, he could not be certain of the number – either missed him or decided against attacking for some other, unknowable reason, and although he got no sleep that night at least the morrow found him alive and unharmed, and he could continue his climbing wandering, stumbling like a sleep walker. When now he dragged himself up onto the high plateau that had been his unreachable goal ever since he left solid ground, he was half delirious and half afraid of what might face him on the other side.
He lay still on the flat surface for a long time, breathing heavily and quickly until his heart slowed down and he felt more like himself again. Then he rose to a sitting position, took a deep breath and crawled to the far edge to see what lay beyond the plateau on the other side. The sight that met him caused him to let out a sigh of relief – then his repressed exhaustion got the better of him and he collapsed on the stone surface, unconscious before his head hit the ground.
What he had seen stretching before him was not more cliffs only, but a panorama of bright colours and mist clad peaks. He had reached the top of the mountain that was said to hold the meeting place of seasons, and only a small drop separated his vantage point from endless voids of long forgotten wilds. A stream sang quietly close by, just below the cliff on which he lay, and the ground below was covered in bluish moss and rough, short grass that seemed to have gotten its colour from moonlight. Much of the landscape consisted of rock undressed in either of these, and the trees that grew sparsely but none the less existed here and there in this place were small and strangely shaped, as though their struggle to survive this far above the world had forced them to twist painfully around themselves to find shelter from the fierce winds that haunted this borderland between earth and sky and played the eerily mist draped peaks of nearby looming mountains like unworldly phantom flutes. This was a place of forgotten magic, but its cold and otherworldly spirit made it also a place of nightmare, and it was in such haunted dreams the young man twisted for long hours before he was awakened at dawn by the unmistakable howling of a wolf somewhere in the distance.
After lying still a while after waking, listening terror struck for signs of beastly pursuit, he rose on shaky legs to once again take in the beauty and endlessness of this place towards which he had been striving for so many days. The brook sang still beneath him, and in the distance the wind had begun its ghostly playing of mountain flutes, as if to greet him welcome to this the end of sane, merciful reality.
A terrible thirst came over him, and suddenly the sound of dancing water seemed almost irresistible to his tired ears – and so he begun to climb down from the high place on which he stood, taking care not to fall even though the distance was no more than a couple of meters, letting himself drop the last few inches down to solid ground. The moss was crisp under his feet and the prints he left, making his way over the frozen plain, remained there for many years, even after he had forgotten the music of the place; this place above world never forget anything or any man’s visit.
The wind was strong here, in the shelter of no tree or cliff, but he was well dressed and did not suffer much from the cold – at first. It was day when he first trod this strange land, even though the sun did little to warm or comfort these high places. Its light played beautifully in the dance of the lively brook, but the water’s swirl made it impossible for his reflection to fasten itself on the silvery surface. This, though, did not hinder him from quenching his thirst with handfuls from this burningly freezing source, and soon he felt refreshed and suddenly more as one with his surroundings.
With new opened eyes he started his wandering anew, not knowing for what he was looking but hoping that when it presented itself to him he would be aware of its importance to his purpose. The ground sloped slightly upwards, and soon the music of the brook was left far behind and below. Even the plateau on which he had rested was soon below him, and even though the air grew colder still with every step, he saw no sigh of snow as far as his gaze could reach. The little blue flowers grew everywhere here, no thicker or sparser in any one place which caused him to think that as least he had found the right place. But what was he supposed to learn here?
Soon the cold began to get the better of his thick winter garb, and he felt chill creep into his bones. He struggled on, more and more depending on his staff to keep him standing upright. His gaze fixed upon one of the high peaks that lined the open space that he was fighting, and it was towards this peak that he unconsciously set his path when it was all he could do to remain putting on foot in front of the other.
He did not realize it at first, but the reason the peak had first caught his attention was that it stood out against everything else because of its colour; whilst all else was shrouded in pale green and blue, the top of this particular height was shiningly white. It was covered in snow. The insight took the breath out of him, and for a while he stopped and just stood there, looking up at the whiteness with a thousand thoughts running through his head. Why was the snow resting silently on that one peak, when it was nowhere else to be found in the whole world?
Despite his numb limbs and confused thoughts, he fought on against the dark cloudiness that now had begun to line his vision. The dizziness increased until all he saw was the top of that peak, tightly surrounded by a dark tunnel of black clouds that expanded all the time. At last the cold got him, and his benumbed legs would not support him anymore. He fell to his knees, eyes still on the distant snow, consciousness fast slipping away.
But right before he lost connection to reality, when his vision was mostly covered with a veil of blackness and the wind that shouted all around was outvoiced by the ringing in his own head, he thought for an instant that he saw a shape standing on that faraway peak, rising out of the snow as if one with it. And though the distance was great and he was inches from fainting, he knew by the aura of majesty and omniscience shrouding this appearance that he was in the presence of King Winter himself.
Awestruck and half doubting his own senses, he bowed in front of the royal incarnation of the winter he had sought for so long. Time seemed to have stopped; he knew he was still going to faint – a dangerous thing in these cold lands – but he got the feeling that he was given time to ask the one question which had driven him this far from home and safety.
“Why have you not come?”, he whispered, the words barely escaping his frozen lips as he again looked up at the cold majesty standing on the peak, gazing down at him. “Why have you not come?”
The king of Winter let time pass, let his eyes take in this boy dying in the cold, before answering. Then the young man heard the wind’s roaring take the shape of words, resounding painfully in his head. Still the shape on the peak did not move, but there was no question of who was speaking.
“You could not possibly understand, but since you have made this long journey not made by many in this time, I will tell you. There is one in this world, only one, whom I love. She is beautiful and breathes life itself, and everywhere she goes she makes wonderful things grow. I have always thought that I was a worthy groom to her, that when we met at fall after being separated for one whole season, I was able to present her with gifts suitable for Her divine presence. But I was wrong. What is golden leaves to one who can create flowers from dead soil? What worth is there in an intricate flake of crystal snow to one who makes the air smell of sun on the ocean, to one who invokes joy of life in every soul? To her, the music of the northern wind in a storm must seem like nothing, she who conjures the song of birds and the laughter of playing children. Thus I have settled not to disturb her life-full reign with my bothersome and contemptible attempts at declaring my love to her another time. Thus I have settled for quiet longing and grieving, for I will never be her equal and thus will never be more than a loathsome bother to her.”
The young man blinked and looked up at the King in silent and sudden surprise. He wondered for the split of a second whether the world had gone totally mad.
“But”, he said, and remembered the tender words of his own beloved at his departure, “do you not know that she loves you? Just to see you back will fill her with joy, and whatever gift you bring her will be worth more to her than the sun in the sky and all the diamonds on the surface of the sea at night. Do you not know that love makes all other things seem small and simple, and that if given with love the smallest snowflake can be worth more than all the riches in the world?”
At this, the fierce northern wind became quiet, and for the split of a second the young man could see the eyes in the face of the faraway majesty widen in sudden realization. The boy’s eyes widened too, but in surprise and frightening insight.
“You did not know this, did you?”
Then everything started to spin as the time and the world suddenly started again. The young man cast one last gaze up the peak, but there was nothing there – only the quiet, eternal snow resting there, sleeping, sleeping. Darkness dragged him down into silence, but he did not feel anything. All of his body was already numb from the cold, and even his mind was so clouded that he did not even reflect upon what fainting in this biting wind would mean. Then he did not think about anything at all.
They came together in the middle of the open, under the clear sky. The sun, at the sight of the two of them together, let go its focus of the world in relaxation, knowing that its full attention was needed no more for this season. At once the light that radiated from it grew slightly fainter and took on a more chilly quality, making the ground and vegetation seem even more pale and frozen.
This cold light shone down upon the barren landscape where seasons were said to start, and made ice crystals gleam like diamonds upon the trail of snow and frost that followed in the wake of the king of Winter, where he made his way down from his wintry peak. Flowers withered and died where he went by, crust-like spider webs of ice spread in his tracks every time he set down his foot.
She, the goal of his journey down from the far mountaintop, stood patiently waiting for him in the middle of this barren landscape, a silent smile on her lips. The road she had walked was marked by a trail of small, pale-blue flowers that spread out like the hem of a wide dress around her where she now stood. Red never still hair flowed down her shoulders, crowned with a wreath of eternally fresh summer flowers in warm colours and white. Her light dress billowed around her in the cold wind that he brought with him, and in her right hand she held a plain wooden staff overgrown with green ivy and decorated with flowers and feathers at the top.
He walked up to her, silvery hair flowing behind him as he went, robes the colour of winter night draping his majestic form and his head crowned with a circlet of frost covered ice. He stopped one step away from her, and there they stood, looking each other in the eye. He did not beam as she did, but a lively spark in his eyes made his otherwise stern expression melt a little, and if one looked very close, his face could be seen to soften by a faint but fond smile.
So there the seasons met – Winter standing in snow and frost a pace away from Summer who resided among a million of blue flowers. The king opened his outstretched hand, slowly, and revealed a single maple leaf, golden and gleaming in the fading sunlight. The queen looked at it for a long time and then, while lifting her gaze and looking deep into his eyes, accepted the gift with a delighted smile illuminating her whole face.
Now also the king let his face mirror his inner joy at seeing her again at last, after all this time. She took the golden leaf and held it up for the wind to catch it, still smiling. Then she reached out for him, and together they walked off from this barren plain, down the mountain and out into the world. With his right hand on her shoulder, protectively, lovingly, he led her through the world, showing her how his essence turned trees ablaze and puddles into mirrors; forests became dreamlike and silent, and everything gained a dull shell of ice inlaid with tiny, shining gems.
They would have the whole period between Summers End and Wintercome to explore and laugh together before they would have to part for another season, and they intended to make it worth the while. They took turns holding the wooden staff, sometimes holding it together, and so the weather shifted – so the seasons changed.
When he woke there was snow everywhere, but by some unknowable design the place where he lay was not shrouded in snow, but in warm little blue flowers. He struggled to his feet, regaining his grip on the staff he had dropped to the ground when he fell. Confused and dizzy he looked around. No sign of life could be seen anywhere, and the world was covered in white, ice-cold snow as if winter had come to this place while he was unconscious.
Then, right before he started walking, he looked down on the blue flowers and saw something. A golden maple leaf, stuck in the vegetation and waving frantically in the wind, lay among the flowers as if waiting for him. He picked it up and looked at it for a long time. It reminded him of something, vaguely. Something that he had seen in a dream. But he could not recall what the dream had been about, and so he put the leaf safely against his chest under his warm clothes, and got going.
Staggering he made his way back the same way that he had come – the going was harder now with all the ice and snow on the ground, and the air was unquestionably colder than before. When he had reached the plateau from where he had first gazed down on this strange world, just before he started to descend the mountainside, he cast one final gaze over his shoulder, on the distant peak where he thought himself to have seen snow when it was to be seen nowhere else. Now, though, he was not really sure which one of all the peaks that was the one he had noticed; now all the peaks were dressed in white, none distinguishable from the other. With a sigh he started down the steep path, wonderingly shaking his head.
Everywhere he came the world had changed. The mountain trail was covered in snow and wintry already, but the farther he got from the mountain the less wintry the weather got. However, there was no doubt that Winter would catch up, for even though the season itself had not reached far from the mountain yet, it was evident that Summer was over for this year. Fall had come to the world at last, with Winter in its wake. It would not be long before the season of Wintercome started, and the leaves were already turning golden and crimson – but none of them as golden as the one he kept with him.
He passed all the villages again on his way back, and all the people he met looked a bit strangely at him when he returned, but he did not understand why since he did not think about how much he looked like Winter himself, coming down from the legendary mountain with Fall in his wake. And so he did not linger anywhere too long to spend thoughts on such matters, and the journey back was swifter than it had been when he first travelled the road, in the other direction.
She had been sitting by the tree for so long that she had lost count of the days. The sun had been her only companion by day, and the moon had been the only one to watch over her at night. She never lost hope, but her spirit became heavy and she almost felt as if she was on with the tree. Then, finally one evening, so soundlessly and suddenly that she nearly did not notice, it happened. She looked up towards the green branches, and all of a sudden one of the leaves broke loose from the others and glided down to land on her knee. It was first then that she noticed that its colour was not green, but fiery yellow. She picked it up and turned it between her fingers, at first not really realizing what this meant.
Then the insight dawned on her and slowly, slowly, not really daring to in fear that she would be wrong, she looked up. At first she did not see anything, and her heart sank. But then a shape could be seen moving up the forest hill. He looked worn and tired, and his silvery hair was tangled and strewn with leaves and dirt, but when he laid eyes upon her, sitting there by the tree like the embodiment of Summer in front of him, he smiled.
When he reached inside his coat and withdrew the golden leaf, unharmed by the rough journey and still shining as brightly as before, she rose from beneath the tree and ran towards him, laughing with tears streaming from her eyes. They embraced, and then he stroked her face with his left hand, while he used the right to put the golden leaf, his gift of Autumn, in her hair.
The ceremony begun before long and did prove to outshine all previous weddings held in this particular village. The bridal couple was more beautiful and more representative to the change of seasons than any couple before them, and no couple had ever been as happy or loved each other as much as these two did. The golden leaf gleamed beautifully in her hair as they said their vows, and all thought that it was the most wonderful autumn gift ever – but she herself did not think about it much, since all her attention was on him, her beloved one who had returned to her from afar. For love makes things like golden leaves seem small and simple.
And Summers End passed over into Wintercome, with snow, cold nights and short days. Winter reigned fair as he always did, guarding the world well until his beloved Summer was once again ready to take up the sceptre, or the wooden staff which is what it really is. She watched him from afar, from a spot hidden in the mountains where blue flowers grow forever, and longed for the short time in Spring when the two of them would again be together, when she would be the one to give him gifts and show him wonderful things all over the world.
Everything was as it should be. The years went by, new generations grew up and new beliefs spread over the world, obscuring or replacing the old ways as it has always been. And never ever again did one of the seasons delay because it doubted its importance to the other.
She was born in shadow and in blood, but that was long ago when the tall firs were sprouts and the ways of men were different. She was taught to live and let die by a monster with a heart, and the years saw her changing and hardening with every drop of red that forever stained her gentle hands and lips.
Her monster was a poet and a thief, and he had stolen her life without a second thought after hearing her recite his work in the house of God, and instantly falling in love with the sound of her voice. She herself was a singer and a romantic, and she had let herself be stolen without a struggle, after drowning helplessly in his eyes and instantly realizing that this was a death she did not wish to be liberated from.
Every night was dark poetry as the monster guided her through a world transformed by her hunger and by her innocence lost, and every day was sweet oblivion as he cradled her dead body in his just as lifeless arms. There was no shame, there was no remorse. If there was anything, there was art and they both reveled in it just as they reveled in each other’s company and in the blood that flowed like ample wine wherever they went.
The sprouts grew into saplings and men learned to worship the gods of science and enlightenment. There was never a shortage of affection in her still heart, and she looked with anticipation into this new night where she would follow him unafraid and with eyes wide open. He, however, the monster who had stolen her heartbeat and brought her this far beyond the life spans of all she had ever known and loved, who had seen her bury parents, sisters and brothers and who was now her only anchor in a world gone mad from industrial hubris, was silently losing faith.
He was a poet, but in this new world there was no room for words like his. The stories of this new century were not his stories, and the proud name that had once been on everyone’s lips was now only whispered by her, his stolen love, as she desperately tried to ease his pain and sorrow.
There was war, there was revolution and nobody any longer remembered the rhyme and verse of a dead monster whose words had once given birth to the thoughts of dreamers and the bravery of lovers and warriors. Together they had defied time and seen the fall of kingdoms, but now she was slowly watching oblivion do to him what death had never been able to accomplish. He was withering away before her eyes, and despite her best efforts to drag him with her into the brave new world it soon stood clear that he lacked the bravery – or the will – to follow her there.
“If I can’t get people to remember me, then what do I have?”, he said to her by twilight on that fateful, final night. ”We are creatures of shadow outside of time, doomed to watch the world change and our footprints in the sand fade away. I do not know this new world, I do not understand its struggles and its victories. Even my name has been taken by the waves, there is nothing left for me here.”
She silenced him and sang to him. They cried together for everything that had been lost along the way. They kissed and they loved and then she fell asleep on his arm, content that she had been able to reach him in his darkness and that everything would be alright. She would help him find the words that he had lost, just as she would make the world again know his name.
When again she woke, he was gone. In the moonlight outside she found his golden ring, resting silently amongst ashes that were slowly being carried away by the wind. He was gone. The new world was beginning, and she was alone.
The saplings grew into tall firs and men learned to worship the gods of machine and profit. She was born in shadow and in blood, but that was long ago when she was taught to live and let die by a monster with a heart. Now the years saw her changing and hardening with every drop of red that forever stained her gentle hands and lips, and she had long since sworn by that same red that she would never love again.
This text was inspired by a writing prompt, and is the first part of a story split in three. Stay tuned for the next part!
She stepped over broken and rusty things as she made her way through the old and forgotten room. She had followed him here, where he had obviously come to lick the wounds they had inflicted on him. The bloody trace of her terrible, cold creation had led her across the world. Now she had finally found him.
The light from the single window fell upon him where he lay in the rubble, almost possible to mistake for part of the rubble himself. For several heartbeats she just looked at him in silence. Though broken, he was still beautiful, just as she had made him. But the beauty was deceiving – she knew that now. His heart was cold as the distant stars, and he had not been the loving remedy for her immortal solitude that she had wished for him to be.
”I did not make you for this”, she said coldly.
The cogs in his head were rusty and chipped, but tried their best to turn. “You’re my mother?” The voice was cracked and discordant; the steel wires in his throat had slackened and worn down.
”There was a time when I would that you be my timeless companion, my sole comfort, my immortal lover. And yes, it was I who once made you. Thus I am your mother.” She knelt beside him and took his once so flawless face between her hands.
His one remaining eye met hers and she almost drowned in it. When he blinked a single, oily tear rolled down his cheek, leaving a black trail in its wake. ”…lover?”, he rasped. It pained her that a voice once made for singing now derided the art with its very sound.
”Yes, lover”, she whispered. ”I have searched for you, followed in your steps, traveled the world in quest for you. But you are broken now, my love, and you have done terrible things. The time has come for you to rest.”
His porcelain face contorted in fear, but there was no strength left in his body. With strong arms she cradled his upper body close to her. He tried to struggle as he saw her removing the chain with the little key from around her neck, but she held him firmly and began singing to him softly the tunes she had once learned from the sky.
”Hush, hush”, she whispered gently. ”I’m sorry for everything. I was just so lonely, drifting through the endless ages with no one by my side. But I know now that stars were never meant to walk the Earth.”
She put the small silver key into the hole in his chest, just as she had done that night so many years ago when she had first brought him to life. As she turned the key the little door in his chest opened, revealing the still pulsing piece of eternity that shone there. Its light illuminated the cluttered room and painted flowing nebulas upon the slanted ceiling.
”Please, don’t do it”, he said. It was barely more than a whisper. ”I’ll be anyone you want me to, just let me keep it. Please.”
Deep in his bottomless eye she could see the galaxies and suns of yore slowly spinning around the black void of his pupil.
”I wanted to love you”, she whispered and closed her hand around his borrowed heart, the heart of a fallen star. He tried to grab her wrist, but she was stronger and pushed his hand away. She never let go of his gaze, her sorrow meeting his fear for the very last time.
When she removed the pulsing star from his chest, all lights of nebulas and novas instantly left his staring eye and the broken chords of his voice silenced. His limp, lifeless body collapsed in her cradling arms and she was again alone in the world.
In her hand the fallen star still pulsed with all its secret life, shifting in its searing light that was too strong for all but another star to look at. She turned it between her fingers, allowed herself to bask in its familiar light one last time. She had been desperate for a companion, but a heart like this was a heart destined to grow cold and cruel. It had been a dream, but now she must wake up.
With tears streaming down her face she lifted the little lump of stardust to her lips and gently blew it out, extinguished it with her breath. Its light went out, its warmth slowly faded in her hand. The room went dark again, no universes painted on the slanted ceiling and no secret life in the eye of the clockwork lover in her arms. Just her, alone, as it had always been. Stars were never meant to walk the Earth, and still she remained.
And outside the small, broken window the distant and unblinking lights looked down at her and continued singing the ageless, soundless tunes of the cold and uncaring sky. She closed her eyes, clutched the dead stone in her hand and silently sang along.
He couldn’t let it end this way, he couldn’t let her go. He realized that now, but was it too late? He looked at his watch: forty minutes. Forty minutes until the love of his life was to board the plane that would carry her out of his life for good. Everything around him stopped. Forty minutes. A thirty minute drive to the airport. Could he make it? He took a deep breath. Yes. Yes he could do it. For true love he was willing to break a few traffic regulations. With a sudden determination in his hurried steps and butterflies dancing around in his stomach he grabbed the keys from the table and rushed out to his car.
Seven minutes. That’s how much time he had left to find her when at long last he arrived at the crowded terminal after breaking every speed limit and carelessly double parking just outside the gates. He almost panicked as he ran towards the departure lounge, all the time scanning the crowds for a familiar face. What if she had already boarded? They’d never let him aboard the plane to talk to her.
He cursed himself again and again. He should have known how it must have looked to her, he should have never let her drive away in tears before explaining the situation. It had all been a terrible, terrible misunderstanding. The other woman had been his sister, come home from Rome and living with him in secret in order to avoid her abusive ex-husband. The ring had been an heirloom from their mother, that he had been asked to pass on to her daughter. But how should she have known? She had been hurt before, he should have been more careful. He should have been less stupid, he should have…
And that’s when he saw her, on her way to the shortening line to the check-in desk. She wiped at her eyes with a white napkin and her makeup was all smudged across her cheeks. And even so, in that moment she was more beautiful than he had ever seen her. He stopped, completely taken by the sight of her.
He called her name across the room, and she slowly raised her head and met his eyes. For a moment time stood still. He tried to catch his breath, thoughts and fears running rampant through his head. He wanted to explain, to tell her everything, to make her understand.
”Will you marry me?”, he called instead. The room went completely silent. Her eyes widened, tears still trickling down her cheeks. Then a smile started spreading across her face, and she dropped her bag to the floor.
On board flight FR 5992 people had settled in their seats and were now waiting for departure. They were running late, very late in fact.
”We’re still waiting for a booked passenger”, the stewardess informed Chad Stirling as he asked for the fourth time when they would actually leave. He was impatient, he had a places to be and people to meet. The parcel hidden in his left shoe would have to be delivered to the right people in the Madrid airport within the next three hours, if he wanted to keep his head. They were the kind of people who didn’t wait. Chad Stirling was starting to sweat. He was afraid now, really afraid.
Thirty minutes later they still hadn’t lifted.
”We’re terrible sorry for the inconvenience”, said the flight crew as they handed out free lunch packages and coupons to the increasingly frustrated passengers. ”We’re still not done with the boarding.”
Rosa Hertz tried again to call her ex-husband. Their daughter Adella was seven years old and her plane was probably halfway to the Madrid airport by now. Rosa was supposed to pick her up there in ninety minutes, and then go with her to visit the girl’s grandparents. Adella’s father had put her on the plane, but now she was Rosa’s responsibility. She got not answer. There was no way they would arrive on time. What would happen to Adella?
”The crew is going through the plane’s storage area to remove any luggage belonging to the missing passenger. We calculate being able to lift in approximately twenty minutes. We are terribly sorry for any inconveniences caused, and of course you will all be appropriately compensated for the delay.”
Eighty minutes late, is this a joke? Marcie Dew took a deep breath and struggled to keep her composure. She ran on a tight schedule and couldn’t afford to miss this meeting. She cursed the firm for not affording her a more reliable flight. This commission of trust was supposed to be her way to the top, and now she would probably miss her chance. She would sue these motherfuckers for everything they owned, that was for sure. She just hoped she would still be able to afford it after botching this important negotiation. She leaned back in her seat and struggled to stay calm.
When the plan finally took to the air it was almost two hours late.
Hans Johnson missed out on the birth of his first child. Felicia Rowan didn’t make it in time to say goodbye to her dying mother. Mr. and Mrs. Greenhill missed their connecting flight to Florida where their daughter was getting married the next day. Charlotte Mackey failed to deliver the confidential documents to her contact in Spain, resulting in the secret inter-work between MI6 and CNI being disrupted. Chad Stirling was found dead in a Barcelona gutter later that night, shot through the back of his head while trying to escape an unknown assailant.
Not to mention the general bad mood that was generated by the delay, and which spread like wildfire as the passengers of flight FR 5992 disembarked in Madrid and went their separate ways around Spain.
”Yes!”, she laughed and threw herself into his arms. ”Yes, I’ll marry you.”
And as they embraced there on the departure lounge floor, people started clapping. First slowly, then faster and faster until a storm of applause surrounded them. They both laughed as they kissed, forgetting all about the world around them.
”I’m sorry”, he whispered as he hugged her tightly. He would never let her go again.
”It is I who should be sorry”, she said. ”I should never have doubted you.”
And they took each other’s hands and left the airport together, forgetting all about the plane and the bag and the worries that now lay behind them.
And they lived happily ever after.