In an effort to consolidate my digital life, I’m moving my blog and publishing platform to my other website, andrewcodispoti.com. Hope to see you over there!
Clarence Cornish was frustrated. He was breathing hard. He was unnaccustomed to breathing hard. He was unnaccustomed to the act of running. He was unnaccustomed to the hot breath of a monster chasing him down a dark passageway in the midst of a crumbling pile of stoney castleness on the side of a crag gleaming under the Two Moons of Narabar. It was this lack of familiarity, this lack of custom, that was making him so frustrated.
Clarence Cornish worked in a local cafe. He was a baker. Because of this he took great pride in being a strange person, a person outside the norms, a person who lurked on the edge of society, above the curve, in the realms of dream and fantasy. Here was a man whose every day was reversed, who dwelt in darkness. But despite this oddness he was still a creature of custom. Each of his “mornings” he woke around nine thirty PM. He showered, he brushed his teeth, he checked his email, he had breakfast. Then he got in his car and drove to work. From eleven to seven he baked bagels, muffins, pastries, breads, alone in the darkened shop until six AM, when a hapless college student showed up to make the coffee and get the till out of the safe, working a summer job. Then at seven Clarence would walk outside into the sunshine, go home, have dinner, unwind, do all the things that every other single man of thirty-two or so might do, and then fall asleep in the mid-afternoon. To Clarence, this was life on the edge of society.
His idea of living on the edge did not include monsters or castles. The closest thing to a sword he’d ever held was a bread knife. And the only wizard he knew was his nephew, who helped him out with his computer when it crashed.
As he wheezed his way down the corridor, his aching feet splashing his sneakers through filthy pools of algae and who knows what else, the utter incongruity of his situation drove him to mutter an obscenity, something he almost never did, being a Christian. He would have kept the word out of his very consciousness under any other circumstance, burying it in some reach of his personality unknown even to him. But with a dragon or whatever on his back he didn’t have the willpower to expend on subduing obscenities. He was vaguely aware of the word, rising up inside of him, an explosize exclamation expressive of the very frustration that was eating away at his concentration. The word burned its way along his neural pathways and made its way into his vocal chords. He knew it was coming and he let it.
The floor fell out beneath him. Even his effort to curse the very existence that he found himself wrapped up in was frustrated by happenstance. And he had no time for cursing now. He struggled to bring his senses under control and make some designation of up or down, but he was tumbling through space in darkness, nothing around him, the walls seeming to have dropped away. He had just time to think that perhaps it would all be over soon, that perhaps this was a dream and he would soon wake up, or that perhaps there was a pool of acid or a bed of sharp spikes at the bottom of the pit that would end it all just as quickly, when he plunged deep into icy water and found himself struggling for air.
He hit the water something like head first, perhaps on his left shoulder. By good fortune he was holding his breath, braced for impact, but by bad fortune he had very little air left in his tired lungs and the collision with the water nearly drove it out of him. His orientation meant he was looking up from the utter darkness of the water towards the murky dimness of the corridor from which he had fallen. This relative brightness allowed some animal portion of his brain to finally catch on (“Up’s up there!”) and cue his body to start clawing towards the surface.
He broke through to the air with a splash and immediately began sucking great gulps of it in. He paddled in the water frantically, trying to keep his head up. After a moment his wild thrashings pushed him close enough to the wall that he could grab on, and he steadied himself against the rotting, slippery stones, breathing hard and trying to see.
He heard a commotion from up above, a skittered of claws on damp stone. But the beast that had been chasing him had faster reflexes than he did, and it stopped before toppling after him into the pit, for which he was grateful. He could hear it shuffling around the edge, peering down and grumbling to itself, upset about the loss of fresh meat, before it wandered back to its lair to lie in wait for the next befuddled baker to wander by.
All immediate danger passed, clinging in relative security to the crumbling wall of a God-forsaken water-filled pit, Clarence finally had a moment to reflect more fully on his situation. His building frustration had not been washed away by the plunge into an uplanned bath. In fact it had been sharpened by the chilly water and the scent of decay and the mold on the walls and he finally let it loose, screaming every obscenity that he knew (there were three) and punching the water with his free hand, kicking his legs at the murky depths below.
He quickly ran out of energy even for existential frustration, and subsided into a dull muttering with an occassional splash. Several moments of this calmed him, as did the coldness of the water, calmed him in fact to the point of alarm, for his uncle had had hypothermia once and had nearly died, and Clarence was well aware of the danger. The thought of that beloved uncle, a man whose middle name was adventure, a man who often went for an overnight hike on the weekend, lighted a small fire within Clarence’s shivering heart. That small fire warmed him a little, moved his limbs to sudden action, and spoke these words to him in a small, whispery voice: Are you going to let yourself succumb to hypothermia in the middle of a fantasy kingdom? At least get yourself devoured by a dragon or turned into a frog or something. Don’t die in a moldy hole. Come on, Clarence. Get us out of here. I’m a fire. I want to dry out.
Egged on by the voice of the fire stoked by the fuel of his frustration, streaming with stagnant water and shivering with cold, trapped at the bottom of a pit in the bowels of a fortress of danger, Clarence Cornish straightened as best he could under the circumstances and said with force to the empty darkness: “By the name of my uncle, Spurgeon Adventure Cornish, I shall not lie down and die of hypothermia! I’m going to get out of this hole and I’m going to make somebody explain to me what the heck is going on! Thus say I, Clarence!”
The words seemed oddly fitting at the time.
A small cottage near the forest. The roof of tin. The door painted red. The walls white, inside and out.
Beside the cottage, a brook. Out of the mountains it burbles, then through the forest, then out across rolling fields to join the river some miles away.
In the brook plays a child. She is up to her knees, splashing up and down. There is a sandy patch on the bottom of the brook, at a place where the water widens and the land doesn’t slope much. She’s sinking her toes into the sand, hoping around, throwing water up onto the grass on either side of the stream.
On one bank a small dog is running back and forth, agitated. He is not fond of water, but he is fond of the child. He wishes she would come out of the brook. She cups water in two hands and throws it at the dog. He runs, yapping, then returns, begging.
The red door opens. A man peers out. He squints against the sudden sun. He sees his daughter and her dog. He sees the rolling green, he sees the cow chewing.
He raises his eyes to the horizon, and spends some time idly studying the World Mountain, climbing as it always does to unimaginable heights, its peak beyond the reach of human eyes, its breadth like a wall on one side of his world.
Seeing nothing amiss, he smiles and goes back inside, returns to stirring the stew.
There is a certain story that I’d like to tell you. Once, when I was a young man, I was privileged enough to spot an angel at its work.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was mid-morning. I was in the garden. The sun was bright and hot. It was a day in late spring or early summer, or some day in between the two.
It had rained the night before. I was walking barefoot through the grass, which was still wet. The trees were bright with water-sheen over their own green, and the flowers were somewhat swollen from their recent drink.
In the southwest corner of the garden there was an arbor into which I sometimes liked to steal. Honeysuckle covered it. Bees were always busy about it. And it provided a cool refuge if the sun were particularly hot above. It was also a refuge from human eyes, tucked away behind a line of greenery, accessible only by a funny little stair that rose to the next terrace.
Barefoot in the grass I descended the stair, notebook in hand, and went to my little hideaway. It was a morning for poetry. The rain-drenched garden was stirring words in me, and I wanted to take them down in quiet solitude, away from folk or the sun.
I brushed at the little seat with my handkerchief, then sat. Near to my face a bee flew by on its meandering way, unaware of my presence, or uncaring. As I pulled my pen from my shirt pocket my eyes drifted lazily to the screen of greenery that separated my hideaway from the path. And there on the gravel path down which I had only just then walked I saw a curious sight.
The old gardener carried his bucket of tools in his right hand, and mopped his brow with a scrap of cloth in his left. His steps were slow, but his gnarled hands had a way with flowers that made the garden the envy of many. That day he was whistling a little tune, but there was a wince of pain around his eyes, and his breath weezed. He was, strangely, without his hat, and the sun beat down on his scalp through a few whisps of white.
His whistling suddenly stopped as his failing eyes went from the path to something ahead of him. His bucket dropped from his hand and clattered. The tools spilled into the gravel.
I saw the angel appoach as the old man smiled. The angel was not smiling. In its eyes I saw something of its mood. Those eyes gave me to know the angel’s merriment, its peacefullness, its compassion and its understanding. Captivated, I watched the angel’s unchanging expression as the old man fell back into the gravel. Even as he fell his eyes were open. There was a smile on his lips. His fall seemed to happen without sound. I watched the angel stand over him for a moment, looking down. Then it lifted its eyes to the middle distance. It turned somehow and passed beyond my understanding. The garden was silent, undisturbed.
Becoming aware of the buzzing of the bee again I opened my notebook and took down words regarding flowers and rain-dappled grass.
You may have noticed some changes around here. I’ve decided to change the focus of this blog from a personal, diary-style blog to a collection of my writings. This blog is now my publishing outlet.
The name has changed; instead of “The Flying Turtle” it’s now “Immanent Strangers,” though you’ll notice the web address has stayed the same (flyingturtle.deepeningdays.com). Also, “Flying Turtle” is not completely gone. I’m going to publish my work under that name.
I’ll be writing short stories, poems, plays, and longer, serialized fiction, mostly in the fantasy genre. I hope you enjoy it all.
I hope to post weekly, possibly on Mondays. Check back soon, and meanwhile, enjoy the stories I’ve already published here.
You can always find my older, personal posts at the archive: http://flyingturtle.deepeningdays.com/archive/
Sarah loved to watch the birds. She spent long afternoons in the woods, playing with birds rather than the other children in the village. Folk thought her odd but let her play.
She learned the voices and the faces of the birds, but not their names. She didn’t ask the hunters or the woodsfolk or the birdwatchers of the villages what the birds’ names were. She had no interest in the names, and she was shy. She stayed quiet when among other human beings.
She stayed quiet among the birds as well, but she was different out there in the woods. People from the village would hardly have known her, quiet little Sarah, if they caught sight of her out in the forest. Her dreamy, downcast eyes grew sharp and bright. Her slack silent face had a light about it. She learned intention. She listened with her head slightly on one side, listened for hours to the birds. She listened without moving.
It was wrong to say she didn’t learn the names. Eventually she learned the names the birds called themselves, though she knew no human words to put to them. Still she was quiet, but she began to know the birds as if she was one of them.
The village ornithologist tried to interest Sarah in her work. She showed the girl books, illustrations, classifications. Sarah had no interest. She thanked the ornithologist politely and then scampered out into the woods. The ornithologist laughed a little, glad to see such enthusiasm, undisciplined though it might be. One day, during her walk, she caught a glimpse of Sarah sitting beneath an abandoned apple tree. Some forgotten orchard was about her, and the birds were singing in the trees. Sarah sat against the trunk of her tree, eyes open and unfocused as she watched the quick flitting movements out of the corners of her eyes. She was smiling, lips closed, and her stillness spoke of her rapt attention to the life around her. The ornithologist walked on, her heart warmed.
There is a danger in becoming too familiar with the songs of birds. In that orchard in particular the sounds carry a special weight. The birds there are more alive than others are, and they sing with a power that carries into the blood of the hearer. Long ago some orchard keeper grew too fond of birds and neglected his trees for them. Now the trees are mostly dead, save the one beneath which Sarah sits. She is steeped in the atmosphere of that sunny orchard. She is chest high in the grasses that hide the ground and the trunks of the dead trees, fading into the earth.
And now she is becoming too familiar with the birds and with their song. Now they call to her as birds call to each other. Now she is sure of their names. Now they name her their own, and with their sharp beaks they take her old name from her.
When the ornithologist passes next the young woman is gone, though the grass is undisturbed. She takes note of a strange small bird with dull plumage and bright eyes. It chirps in laughter as she passes, and flits from tree to tree, settling on a branch of the final apple in the old orchard.
The ornithologist passes the orchard by, and gives no more thought to the strange bright bird that was once named Sarah.
Previous: part 2
Currents change in the firmament. Bright paints, melted, they roll together.
She walks on beneath. Red hills begin to spring up. Between the hills, strands of an ancient forest. The trees, not tall, but thick and old, with leaves darkest green. Night light makes them ghost shapes, shadows, without distinction. But she has walked in the same forests before; she knows their look.
Once she hid in the branches of a similar tree. For hours she was not found. Cringing at every sound, eyes straining, she saw nothing. Twilight began to settle. The shadows grew. Only when she realized that she might never be found did she climb out of the tree. She ran home. The game was long over.
A faint smile dances at the memory. Fear and anger of childhood hold happiness for her now. She sees it as a simpler time, a time well worth returning to in memory and thought.
The path rises. It curves, and she passes between the arms of two hills, into the forest of her youth.
Perhaps it is the dark. Perhaps there are other memories hidden here she has not wandered through in nostalgic play. Perhaps this forest is a little different, not what she’s used to.
She is seized by fear.
Behind every tree lurks a presence. There, in the dark, waiting in anticipation. She cannot turn around. Right behind her it waits, wishing only that she would turn, face it, and be consumed. She stairs straight ahead. Her gait grows stiff. She focuses on the path, but as she steps deeper under the trees the path seems to narrow. Her view of it shrinks as darkness enfolds her. As if her vision is fading and she will soon fall.
She shudders on, trying to laugh at childish fears. Only a child fears the dark in this way. It is unreasoning, ridiculous, the remnant of deep memories. Nothing more than the body’s reaction against an unfamiliar situation, the deprivation of the senses, the unknown shapes of trees.
Here is the path. Before her it stretches out, its climb steady, its way strangely straight. She has but to follow the path. Her destination is at the end. She gives up choice when she steps onto the path. Where it will lead her is none of her concern, she only knows that it will lead her there. And that is where she should be. She sets her mind on the destination, disregarding all but the path leading onward, onward towards its end. There are no trees, there is no dark, only the beaten path beneath her feet.
There is a sound. Where at first the night and the forest had been silent, there is now a sound. There it is again. Like a scrape, or rustle, off to the left. She forces herself to keep her pace steady. She does not speed up. Her walking stick is held in both hands now. She does not know when she shifted her grip.
There it is again, off to the right. But it can only be a creature of the forest. A squirrel, or an apsis. The sound seems larger than it is. It is a tiny creature, harmless, afraid. Once more she hears it, off to the right, farther away.
And then silence.
There is a little clearing off to the left, lit momentarily by the light of the firmament. Perhaps the bed of a stream is there, for she is slightly above, and she thinks she hears water running sleepily. A cricket sings somewhere in the grasses.
The night is quiet. She walks on.