We live in an old chaos of the sun
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable...
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambigious undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
It was just past midnight and the air was filled with wings. An army of ravens came out of the west like a cold black storm. Leaves rustled in the deepening chill, and over the ground a wind rolled, a darkly visible tumbleweed of air.
But in the sky was a rumble such as a distant earthquake might have made. The moon was startled by the sound. The night had been peaceful, its curved sweep studded with stars. Above her, their sharp sparks bristled. She had followed this course forever, her bright edge unfolding until a pale medallion hung full in the sky. Balanced between the earth and the pincushion of stars above, she remained pleased with herself, the axis of night, the interlocutor. But now she was waning, past half, growing weaker with the loss of light. And this rumble behind her was frightening.
Over her shoulder the moon watched the ravens approach. They came like a rippling sheet, its slow waves caused by unseen hands, the fury of its organization apparent even at this distance. In an instant the ravens were cawing. The first hoarse streaks of sound reached the moon and multiplied until their monotonous echoing rattled the night. Crauk. Cr-r-cruk. It came from everywhere, its hard consonants scratching at her, and under the surface a denser noise, the violent reverberations of their wings.
The moon thought the whole of creation was screaming. The earth disappeared. Ravens swooped under her, so thick she could only see her dim light flung back at her by their glassy blackness. Thousands still flooded from the west, a turbulent stream curled in a sudden arc and the bright red darts of the ravens' eyes pushed past her face, in front of her.
Only then did she see the net. Hooked in the ravens' talons was a fine gauze, black as their wings, hardly visible in the reflected light. As the birds whirled around her, the net caught the horns of her crescent and stuck, drawn even more tight. She was imprisoned by layers of gauze; she was strangled by them. The hoarse screaming of the birds grew, pulsing through her until the cawing seemed to be coming from inside.
She could see nothing more. She felt herself stiffen, the sudden onset of vertigo releasing into the certainty of fall, and she groaned as the ravens wretched her free from her path over the earth. Her fire went out. The night filled with horrible rush, the dissonant flapping of thousands of wings, the hollow suck as she left her orbit, and the creeping cold of the wind which took her place.
* * *
The satyr stood under the leaves of an ancient maple, out of breath. He scratched his hind quarters, put his hands on his hips, and panted. His two horns glinted in the moon's spare light. He bent at the waist and let his torso hang until his fingers brushed the ferns and moss of the forest's floor. It was summer in the meadowlands and his chest filled with the fragrance of leaves, rich dirt, and rank smell of his body. Then he straightened and yawned and swatted a mosquito which had landed on his shoulder.
Matthew swayed and abruptly sat down, his back to the tree. His tangled hair caught on the bark and he grunted in annoyance as it tore loose. And then the pain, like the itch, was behind him, with nothing before him but the two tapered legs, covered with goat fleece, stiff with dirt and twigs. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes to stop the reeling; red suns exploded in his head, the aftermath of wine.
Not even he knew how old he was. For him the past was a blur. What few memories he had were focused against the succession of seasons, a rhythmic celebration the world held, tension and release. Instinctively he'd known these warm indolent nights would soon be upon him when he noticed skunk cabbage jutting from the forest's mulch. Then its leaves untwined, the willow's furred blossoms appeared, the day lingered in the sky.
Matthew heard a noise in the stand of saplings to his left, his body tensed, and he scrambled into a crouch. From the underbrush a six-point buck stared at him. The animal's eyes were wide, its flanks quivering in the moonlight. The satyr was an awesome figure to the other creatures in the meadowlands, and he was never completely trusted. He had a strange smell, and wilder eyes, sparked with a cunning beyond them. Perversely he leapt at the stag, his arms outstretched. The animal bounded deeper into the forest, crashing through a brace of trees, leaving only Matthew's rough laughter in its wake. The satyr threw back his head again and looked at the moon's horns through the maple's translucent leaves. She hung suspended in the night sky, a paring of her fuller self.
Tonight he'd drunk himself senseless by her light, run through the forest almost soundlessly, in search of the nymphs who had vanished from the meadowlands years before. He had never abandoned hope that one night he would round an oak and there, glimmering like foxfire, she would appear. She would glance over her shoulder, toss her long hair, and run away from him again. It might have been yesterday, but he didn't remember. Now, still slightly muddled, stirred by his encounter with the stag yet ready for sleep, he thought of her.
A noise began to build in the forest behind him, a noise no animal might make, a distant sound like the steady crash of waves against a cliff. He whirled around, could see nothing but the retreating welter of trunks and bushes. Yet the noise grew until he saw what appeared to be a wall of darker air move toward him. Twigs jumped from the ground, the maple began to creak, and its leaves rattled as if someone were shaking the branches.
It happened quickly; a pool of blackness gathered around his hooves. He turned sharply and looked at the sky. The moon was gone. And then he heard the noise. It was like river ice cracking in a spring thaw, like stumps being pulled from the earth. Stepping to the side, he ducked around the maple's trunk and the wind's full force almost knocked him over. Leaves flew into his face like the wings of bats. He struck out at the whirling air as if he could brush it away.
He had to get back to his ledge. If the wind were this strong, what would the rain be like? But he was drunk, unsettled by the onslaught of this storm, and he stumbled away from the maple in the direction of home, cursing as the wind rushed him along, howling as it threw him against trees or tumbled him into a briar patch. He'd known only one night to rival this. It had been long long ago, and he'd almost–almost–forgotten.
Part 3 coming soon! (hopefully in less than a week)