Chasing the Light, Stories, Thoughts About Life

The Songs of Birds

magnolia

God gave the sweetest melody to the smallest of birds. A cluster of goldcrests fly from branch to branch. Their little tails shake with anticipation, while their beaks are picking at the sweet flowers. Ah and the tree, a magnificent giant covered in ivy! I can’t even see its trunk or begin to decide what family of trees it belongs to. It stands there, with its crooked branches pleading to the heavens. Covered in parasitic veins and leaves, it breathes heavily. The bark bleeds under the tight grip of the ivy, but it still finds love for the little creatures that play amongst its withered forms.

The tree reminds me of a man, whose once rich possessions have succumbed to decay and misfortune. His status, albeit stained by wretched gossip, strains to stay afloat. He sits on a chest in the middle of his once grand, now empty, ballroom. His eyes close with delight as the soft voices of songs once sung there caress his soul. ‘I have lost my worldly glory.’ he whispers. ‘I have seen the cruelty of man at its peak and have tasted the bitterness of poisonous lips!’

‘Alas’, he sighs, ‘But I cannot forget the beauty of man’s soul when he loves. And when one loves, one sings! I shall have one last ball here, with the last of my earthly possessions. Let the grandest singers and musicians come and share their tunes! And after everyone has heard their songs and got their fill of gladness, I shall go into the world happy. Poor in my attire, but rich in my heart.’

Such is this tree as it listens to the goldcrests and black birds nesting in its wounds. For this tree is wiser than me. It bears its pain with patience, listening for what rings true and lets it rest on its shoulders. It does not shake the winged messengers away, but rejoices in their gifts. The tree knows that its roots are deep inside the earth and that the ivy is tight around its neck. It also knows that the songs of birds speak of a world it cannot yet see, but whose beauty and truth bring a promise of freedom.

Standard
Chasing the Light, Stories, Thoughts About Life, Traveling

Lost in the Forest of Dean

Silence never felt so deep and yet, I was not alone. I looked up at the haunting sway of trees, their branches both sheltering and menacing me. A gun was shot in the heart of the forest. My heart stopped for a moment. My flee from the Dean’s castle had not gone unnoticed. But I could not marry this shadow of a man. He who had lurked in darkness, watching his own men die on the battlefield.

trees

I knew a place where I would be safe, The Speech House. The lady of the house would surely host me and send my pursuers away. I stepped over the moss covered branches, pressing them deeper into the mud. My feet were cold and wet, but eager to make haste. The sky was on the brink of sunset and I seemed to have lost my way.

A crow hissed a warning as I got closer to its nest. I took that as an omen to turn away. How long had I been running for? Hours, perhaps, but they weighed on me like days. At last I could see the welcoming lights of the manor house on top of a hill. The statue of a stag watched over me as I squelched my way up the hill. I could hear hushed voices amongst the trees.

My dress got hooked by a thorny branch. I turned to untangle it. My eyes filled with fright at the sight of four men with their hunting dogs on thick leather leads. As I forced myself free I could hear the sound of the leads being set loose. With the last bit of breath I flung myself over the massive oak doors of the Speech House. They were locked! ‘Let me in!’ I cried. The dogs were almost at my feet, their growls drew nearer with every pound on the door. I covered my face in anticipation of a fierce encounter.

*

The doors of the bus open. I have been waiting in the snow covered night for half an hour in front of The Speech House, in the Forest of Dean. ‘Are you going to Coleford and then Gloucester?’ I ask the driver, a young man, not more than twenty two. ‘Yes, there are no other buses coming this way.’ ‘You saved me!’ I say. ‘I would have been stuck here for the night if it wasn’t for you.’ I get in, shivering from head to toe. At least I can get home now. What an adventure it was!

 

 

Standard
Chasing the Light, Stories, Three Bridges

Three Bridges

‘Grandpa Ioan might not be with us for much longer.’ These words pounded in Peter’s mind as he struggled to get his train ticket to open the barrier gates. A wrinkly conductor watched him from under a pair of square spectacles.

‘Wait a minute, boy!’ he began gravely after Peter had snatched his violet ticket from the other side. ‘How old are you?’

‘Fourteen.’ Peter gulped and slowly raised on his toes.

‘Are you – really?’ the conductor squinted and shuffled slowly towards him as if wearing slippers.

Peter stood firm on his toes, trying to appear larger in his oversized wool coat. His chestnut hair curled as a steam engine puffed its way into Blue District station. Peter’s dark brown eyes turned towards the seven carriages that followed.  

‘Let’s see your age card.’ the wrinkly conductor demanded and placed a heavy hand on the boy’s right shoulder.

Peter tapped and searched his pockets with the air of a businessman. Frantic crowds of well dressed grown ups surrounded the rusty entrances of the train. The green paint cracked as a round passenger opened the first carriage door. A dozen more grown ups, some with children, followed.

‘I don’t have it.’ Peter said in desperation. He watched the passengers swirl through the train doors like water in a sink.

‘You’re not allowed on this train, by the underage decree of Queen Avrig the Barren!’ the conductor coughed with content, as if finishing a speech. He then turned to a younger conductor who had just arrived for his morning shift.

‘Charlie’ he said, his hand tight on Peter’s shoulder, ‘take this boy back to his care house.’

Peter’s breath rose quickly, similar to the frantic ashes bursting out of the whistling chimney. He sprung from under the conductor’s grip. The wheels screeched, pushing the giant metal train forward. ‘Pedal faster!’ Peter’s mind bellowed as he ran across the platform. He remembered his grandfather teaching him how to cycle. ‘Pedal so you don’t lose your courage!’

Peter grasped the handle from the last carriage door and leapt inside. The two conductors were left waving furiously on the platform. The boy sighed heavily, but cautiously as he hoped no one had noticed his abrupt entrance.

The carriage seemed empty. It was padded with lacquered wood boards and smelt of pine. A small grey stove puffed slowly, in time with the train. Its zig zag funnel had colourful crystals hanging from it, on wool threads. Peter walked towards the stove, admiring the silk embroidered cushions on the seats. The chairs were made of solid oak, with curved handles and wave-like backrests. Golden plates with engraved names shone from their tops.

Peter’s heart jolted. In a far away corner of the carriage, he saw an old lady dressed in pink and white furs. She was knitting what looked like an old fashioned scarf with flower motifs. She gave Peter a quick glance as he quietly sat next to the fireplace. He suddenly remembered something and searched his pockets. The old lady croaked as Peter took out his violet train ticket.     

‘That’s Lord Fagurash’s seat, my boy.’ she said calmly. ‘Come here, in Lord Petal’s seat. He won’t be travelling with us any time soon.’

Peter obeyed, fighting his anxiety in silence. As he sat facing the old lady, he noticed a golden ring with the word “Privilege” on her right hand. They were both quiet for an uncomfortably long time.

‘My name is Lady Daria Petal’ she began after a while, ‘daughter of Lord Rosemund Petal II, in whose place you are seated.’

‘I am Peter Arinis, ma’am, pleased to meet you.’

‘You must be one of the care home children.’ she said matter-of-factly.

Peter lowered his head, but said nothing. Lady Petal smiled and opened her purse. She took out an old letter with a golden wax seal on it. She opened it easily, as the seal had been torn, and took out a set of green and violet tickets, similar to the one Peter had.

‘You must be rich!’ the boy gasped in amazement, leaning towards Lady Petal.

‘My parents were.’ she sighed. ‘Now there is not much need for their money, I have my own.’

‘Did you get to spend a lot of time with your parents then?’ Peter asked with anticipation.

‘Too little time, my dear boy. You only realize what you had after you lose it. I see that you know the value of time well spent.’ she ended with a bittersweet smile.

‘My parents work very hard to send me a green ticket every now and then. I miss them most of the time, but when a ticket comes, I can go and see them and that is all that matters.’

‘You visit them, but you should let them come to you. I believe fourteen is the visiting age for the Green District? At least that is the impression the conductor gave me when he held you hostage just now?’

She gave a high pitched laugh which erupted as abruptly as it stopped a few seconds after. Peter paused for a few seconds and then replied. ‘I am ten and a half and my parents can scarcely spare any time. They are very busy in the Green District. I know my way around well enough by now!’ he concluded with the air of a well established grown up.

‘I need to get to the Violet District, though, by sunset.’ he then whispered in one long breath. ‘My father wrote that grandpa Ioan is very unwell.’ Lady Petal gave him a long stare and sighed.

‘You disapprove?’ he noticed.

‘No,  but I do recall that children can’t visit the Violet District alone.’ she grinned. ‘I suspect your parents knew that when they sent you the ticket?’

‘They didn’t send me the ticket.’ Peter admitted bashfully. ‘My father’s salary isn’t due until the end of the month. That is usually when they send tickets to our child care house. Lady Footstool is good to us and gives us our tickets even if we are smaller than the legal age for visits.’ Peter sniffed a couple of times and then gave Lady Petal a quick glance.

‘You stole it!’ she rang.

‘I…borrowed it, from Henry Hayworth. He owned me one.’ Peter resolved with higher spirits. ‘I didn’t tell on him when he…well I can’t tell you. So now he’ll just tell his parents he lost his ticket. Now, we’re square.’

‘I see.’ Lady Petal stretched her legs and put her knitting aside.

‘Are you disappointed?’ Peter asked humbly.

‘No. I just wish I had had your courage a long time ago.’

‘Did you lose someone?’

‘Yes.’ she replied curtly, looking at the golden name shining above Peter’s head. ‘My grandfather actually. He was more like a father than a grandfather to me. I never knew my father, well not the real Rosemund Petal II, anyway. He was always too busy with his perfume business. He also didn’t let me see grandpapa before taking him to the Grey District.’

The train whistled wildly as it entered a deep valley covered with birch trees. Their golden and red leaves burnt brightly against the dark grey clouds. Soon they were replaced by a hill of stumps and waste. The train turned and out of the smoke stained windows Peter could see the tall metal buildings of the Green District. Dark green pipes encircled them, with their mouths pouring out white smoke and ash.

The train stopped in front of a large golden gate. Beyond it Peter could see a manor house shaped like a round bottle. Its roof was pointy and had a pink cloud hanging over it. A strong scent of rose and lemon came in through the carriage door as it was opened from the outside.

‘This is me!’ Lady Petal rang joyfully.

‘Wait!’ Peter cried. ‘What is the Grey District?’

‘You can just sit on that chair until the Violet district. Feel free to take one of my patron crystal rocks from the stove. That will be proof that you are under my protection today.’

‘Thank you ma’am. But what is it ma’am? The Grey District?’ he ran to the door to hear her answer.

Lady Petal was helped down the steps by two stern looking valets. Her frilly pink and white dress made wavelike patterns as she descended. She then turned towards Peter. ‘I hope you never find out.’ The door closed with a loud thud.

(…)  

Standard
Chasing the Light, Stories, Voice Mountain

Voice Mountain – Ch. 2

(!) Read Chapter 1 here.

Ten years later …

‘Your hands are floating along the keys, Josephine. You don’t have enough precision.’

Josephine was now a young woman of only 17, sitting up straight onto a dark mahogany stool. She was wearing a white linen, frilly dress, which swooped all the way down to her knees. She immediately corrected her technique, intently studying the music sheet. Mrs. Sylvia Prackson was reclined in a green velvet armchair, with her legs crossed and tapping the timing with her right foot.

The large grandfather clock on the other side of the broad living room struck 9 am. Rays of sunlight splashed round spots of red, green and yellow through the stained glass windows. Only one set of windows was transparent and they also served the purpose of a set of doors towards a rose garden.

Mrs. Prackson raised from her armchair and with rhythmic footsteps, matching the grandfather clock’s ticking sound, walked towards the garden windows. She lifted a long, wrinkled, white hand to pull a small rope, residing next to the windows. They opened smoothly with a slight clicking sound every 5 degrees.

Josephine, who had been playing solemnly until that very moment, suddenly stopped. She turned to see the tall, slim figure of her music teacher, soaked in sunlight. Mrs. Prackson was facing the garden with her left hand on her hip and her right arm folded against the rim of the door. Josephine admired her bright blue silk dress, shining in the sunlight as she half turned and said, ‘I didn’t say stop. You still have 4 bars left.’

As she said that, Sylvia stepped into the garden, grabbing a pair of metallic scissors from  a little toolbox hung on the outside wall. Josephine finished playing the piece and then quickly turned again to see Mrs. Prackson returning with a small red rose. ‘Perfection!’ she exclaimed. ‘Behold a creature that  knows nothing of praise, but still manages to attain the measurements of the golden mean.’

Mrs. Prackson walked to a round mahogany table, with stained glass motifs encrusted in its top. She gently placed the rose in a thin, clear glass vase, with a spherical bottom. Her long fingers brushed over the bright petals as she dropped a round pebble of salts in the vase. She watched as it dissolved with a light hiss in clouds of grey fumes. In a matter of seconds, the water was still again and Sylvia turned towards Josephine.

‘You must return by the time this rose withers, or else your talents too, shall wither. I have cut this rose from its source to show you how important it is to stay connected to a moving system of parts that work together. No more absences!’ she ended.

The living room door suddenly opened with the same clicking noise as the garden doors. Sylvia’s right arm was stretched towards it at a perfect 90 degree angle. Her chin was raised and fixed, while her brilliant green eyes were following Josephine out of the room. ‘Thank you Mrs. Prackson!’ she whispered mechanically as the front doors in the hall adjacent to the living room also opened.

She curtsied and walked away in a rhythmic fashion, slightly out of sync with the grandfather clock. ‘Same time next week then’, she uttered as the front doors were closing in front of her.

Josephine turned around to see Blossom Square in a frantic, but also organized state. School children were running around with large leather backpacks, with more books than their little bodies could handle. Their mothers and, occasionally fathers, would follow them with measured steps and composed features, without the slightest glimpse of remorse or surprize.

‘Good day miss Arundel, may I say that your complexion is most exquisite today!’, said a young man of impeccable posture as he beamed confidently towards Josephine.

‘Charming as always, my good Mr. Tickson’, she replied diplomatically. ‘I hope that my spirit will follow through with my flawless outward appearance.’

‘Do call me Richard, I believe our acquaintance has exceeded the allowed time for pointless formalities. See you in class!’ he concluded with a sharp nod and went on his way with an energetic trot, that reminded Josephine of the metronome on top of Mrs. Prackson’s piano.

The cherry tree, in the middle of the square she now stood in, shone of sap green and golden hues, as autumn was starting its long reign. A small group of children was forming a circle around it, while a tall, elegant lady was measuring the radius, with the help of a foldable ruler.

‘Not much progress since last year,’ she uttered briskly. Her name was Monica Mathews and was the local school’s most acclaimed geometry teacher. Monica followed Josephine’s weary walk for a while and sighed to herself. ‘The angular velocity is disproportionate to the global displacement field.’ she said to herself and then turned 180 degrees on her toes. ‘What else do we need to measure today, children?’

A little girl, dressed in a checkered uniform, thrust her arm up in the air. ‘Yes Caroline!’ ‘We need to count the number of trees along the Cosine river, to ensure enough support is provided for the river bank.’

‘Very well done Caroline! You’ve been reading ahead. Indeed children, everything must be counted, measured and analyzed. If we have the data, we have control over our lives.’ The children nodded and followed lady Mathews in what looked like a miniature army march. Their backpacks were bobbing up and down, in an attempt to balance the weight of the many books inside.

Josephine was walking slowly towards the school, which resided in the east part of town. Her gaze lifted from the ground where she had been projecting her thoughts, to see the school entrance sign: “Arundel School of Sciences.” and the motto “A man without knowledge is like a tree without roots.” The school bore her family name as Josephine’s ancestry was one of great mathematicians, physicists and chemists.

The first half of a normal school day consisted of theoretical lectures, while the second half was dedicated to practical experimentation. Josephine’s feet turned towards lecture hall 301, where her father, Frederick Arundel, was waiting for his students. His field of study was Sensory Physics, the physics of the five senses. Optical Acoustics was his speciality and where he spent most of his life researching and publishing for national journals of Applied Science.

‘Welcome Josephine! I see you decided to join us today. The forest did not tempt you to study its path distribution?’

‘Father, you don’t always have to be so formal.’ Josephine replied with a hard sigh, as she took her seat, at desk 14A, in the middle of the class.

Every number had an exact purpose in Arundel school, even in the classroom.  The door number represented the advanced year and month the students were in. The seat number represented the current level of knowledge attained by the student. There were 10 years of study in the Arundel School: 4 for basic sciences, 3 for intermediate and 3 for advanced sciences.

Everyone was seated in respectful expectation. Professor Frederick was a very clear and confident speaker and knew all the most recent discoveries in his field. ‘A breakthrough has been made this week,’ he began, ‘Professor Gabriel Armitage from the Institute of Renewable energy in Brookcastle has created a perpetuum mobile.’

The class applauded in sync, creating a light echo around the classroom. ‘Since Valleycross is 30 miles away from Brookcastle, we are expecting to view a demonstration in the following month.’ he concluded with a slight sign of enthusiasm.

Frederick then turned on the spot and lifted a black board with acute precision. ‘Today we’ll be discussing how we can preserve and chanel the sounds we produce so that they can travel longer distances.’ His eyebrows broke into a realization and spoke more to himself than to his class. ‘With professor Armitage’s recent discovery, we will be able to apply the perpetuum mobile principles to sound propagation. Telephones will no longer be needed to communicate long distances.’

The alarm went off. Dark, grey clouds were cramming over the little village of Valleycross with urgency. The alarm sound was a combination of a thunder and a sharp ping sound that becomes irritating to one’s ear after a long period of time. Everyone rose without a word, almost like someone had shot them out of their seats at the same moment.

‘A storm is coming. The weather forecast was inaccurate today. I’ll have a word with the meteorology department as soon as possible. For now, please take your student cards and proceed to the emergency bunker on level -3 and wait there for instructions.’ Everyone turned 180 degrees, except Margaret Button, a plump, red haired girl with rosy cheeks and teary eyes. ‘I can’t find my student card’, she pleaded, visibly worried.

Frederick clenched his teeth slightly, but answered calmly. ‘You won’t find it in a rush. Head down with the others and we’ll see what we can do.’ He stomped his right foot twice to grab Margaret’s attention, who was still rummaging in her bag. She saw his left arm lift at a 90 degree angle towards the door, with a subdued, encouraging smile. Margaret wiped her tears quickly and jogged out of the room to join the others.

The bunker was a set of three underground floors, made of a corrosion free metal alloy. Each level was made for each of the school’s expertise levels, basic, intermediate and advanced. Students would travel between the different levels by using the large square lift in the middle of the school. It could carry up to 50 people and was powered by four furious pistons on each level. The lift walls were made of brass, with a door on each side. The school’s emblem, of a sparrow flying along the golden spiral, was encrusted in the door which faced the main entrance on the ground floor.

Floor three filled up the lift and waited patiently for it to descend. As soon as they got to level -3, the doors opened like a swift cut of the knife in all four directions. Students divided with staggering precision into four groups of equal number. Each group chose the closest exit from the lift and walked towards the empty, dark space in front of them. (…)

Standard
Chasing the Light, Stories, Voice Mountain

Voice Mountain – Ch. 1

(!) Read Chapter 2 here.

Silence grew deep over the valley, not a voice could be heard, not a breath could be felt. As soon as the last tired head tilted to enter his abode after a long day’s work, the sun sank completely.

Soft clouds of white smoke puffed contemplatively over the dark blue sky.  A recluse star here and there shimmered over the vast desert of dusk. Their quiet sigh remained unheard by the stone walls of the houses below.

A velvet cat went sharply over the cobblestones, brushing their damp shine with its furry paws. She turned on one of the many lonely alleyways with confidence that not a soul would cross her path.

The cat stopped briskly, her ears pricked with fright. She hid into the shadows of the houses on either side of the alley. A most peculiar scene opened up in the square in front of her.

An old, tall cherry tree stood in the centre of the perfectly symmetrical square of dark grey stone. It was in full bloom and its wide, thick branches resembled the arms of a young woman, struggling to hold a large bouquet of light pink flowers.

Eight narrow paths stemmed from the tree’s roots and led into the different corners of the village. The cat was on the south side of the square, peering attentively at a small, white figure straggling rapidly from the east side. Moonlight revealed the features of a little girl with long, blond curls. She was stomping clumsily towards the tree, with her bare feet in what seemed to a be an ivory nightgown.

With one big leap she finished her run, embracing the cherry tree. For one moment there was silence again. The minute whirlpool of distraction got absorbed by the stillness of the now darker and colder night. A gentle sob then suddenly reached the cat’s focused ears. It was as light and subdued as a thread of wind bowing down to a storm. No one could hear it but the cat.

No sooner had the little girl started crying than a mountain of a man appeared at the edge of the square, where the little girl had come from. His steps were well measured, his arms moved with the precision of a newly wound clock. He neither rushed, nor lagged in his walk towards the cherry tree. A countenance of irritation however, revealed the nature of the man’s feelings.

‘It is 15 minutes past your bedtime Josephine!’ uttered the man with a stern tone of cool disappointment. He had reached the girl in a few of his large footsteps and was now casting a shadow over her softly trembling figure.

Josephine lifted up her round face to look at her father with a pair of clear blue eyes. They were filled with warm tears, which would gently take turns in sliding down her rosy cheeks. Her arms were overstretched, grasping as much of the tree as she could manage. Her little white fingers were digging slowly into the bark as if they were trying to find a way inside.

‘Tomorrow is your first day of school, Josephine. You need a good rest to be productive.’ he said, while bending swiftly to pick the little girl up.

Josephine’s cry intensified and turned into a desperate wail. Her agitation bent her father’s brows for a split second. They soon regained their straight resting place as he contained his daughter’s chaotic arms and legs with a firm grip of his strong right arm.

‘Hush now, you don’t want to wake Mr. and Mrs. Pracktson, do you?’ whispered the father harshly.

Josephine stopped her exasperate gasps as she recognized the door of her piano teacher. The dim street lamps were bright enough to distinguish the old, green paint, scratched in places by demanding cats and the golden number 34 in the top center of it. The child resumed to rest her weary curls on her father’s right shoulder as her glimpse of the cherry tree slowly faded.

As the footsteps drew further away, silence returned to claim its stiff and icy throne. It seemed like all breathing had stopped and the air was devoid of even the wind’s whisper.

The feline witness was still hidden in the shadows and was now watching the tree with acute interest. A few flowers suddenly dropped from the cherry tree. The cat was now on her belly, crawling cautiously towards it. One of the branches started swaying up and down in the moonlight, as the silhouette of a small, black bird appeared on its tip.

With its breast filled with the fresh night air, the black bird commenced a sweet and gentle tune. Its melody filled the square with a light echo, like a verse between two lovers who have regained their lost love.

The song ceased as abruptly as it had begun and the little black bird took off in a frantic flight. A disappointed cat now clung bitterly to the branch onto which the bird had been perched just a moment ago. The cat yawned with disdain and jumped softly onto the ground below. She twisted her tail back and forth a few times and walked proudly towards number 34.

Standard