Friday, March 31, 2017

Satyrday, a Fable. Thursday, parts 3 & 4.

     The moon slept that night more deeply than she'd slept in days. Her exhaustion was coupled with depression and when she felt depressed, the only response was unconsciousness. The rhythmic suck and moan of the forest floor beneath her accompanied her dreams.
     Maxwell did not sleep that night, nor had he slept since his wings had been broken and he'd been brought to this place. He still ached, a now familiar pain which made him nauseous and dizzy. He watched the moon sleeping, her dim light waxing and waning as she breathed, and her presence gave him comfort. Below him, in the light the moon cast around her, he saw again the creatures he had watched all day.
     Starfish crept up the trunk of the tree on which he sat, and as they lurched toward him, he realized the true desperation of his condition. There would be nothing for him to do but submit to them when they reached him. For now, they stayed on the trunk, refusing to venture out on the branch he inhabited.
     He watched them approach the moon. A host of them slithered toward her, so many they covered the trunk of the tree in which she was caged. They crawled over one another, their groping points reaching out for anything they could fasten to, until they hunched at the place where the tree broke open into branches and surrounded the moon.
     They stayed there all night, and so Maxwell felt no need to interrupt the rhythms of her sleep. Instead, he watched her breathing and her dim illumination, rising and falling with the noise the reddish slime made as it quaked.
     As the first dim light of day filtered into the southern reach, chasing away the shreads of night still clinging to the treetops, the moon awoke. For a minute, she looked around her wildly, unaccustomed to this new place, and then she calmed. She had been moved. She was still all right.
     The calmness dissolved when she looked below. The ferns' black fronds waved in the wind, worms and toads and scorpions visible beneath them, At the tree's heart, a mass of starfish clung like a malignant growth, waving its free points, curling them up at her vaguely before withdrawing. Violently, she hit her side against the cage to wake herself. But it was no dream, this was where the owl had sent her, and she grunted in horror.
     At the first notice that the moon was awake, the starfish came alive. They began rolling towards her, separating from one another, taking different routes on the tree's branches. As she huddled in the center of her cage, she watched them come.
     "Ignore them," Maxwell called to her across the stand of trees. "Don't pay attention."
     The moon whirled around as though she'd been stung. "Who's that?" she asked in panic. "Who speaks from this place?"
     "I'm over here," said Maxwell. "Don't be afraid."
     "Don't be afraid?" the moon screamed.
     "I can't come closer," Maxwell said. "But listen to me carefully. Close your eyes. Pretend to be asleep."
     The moon did as she was told. She feigned unconsciousness, although she hardly needed to pretend. She swooned, the thoughts in her head racing through without stopping to be understood.
     The starfish hesitated. They wrapped themselves around the branches and waited. Maxwell watched them, disappointed. His plan hadn't worked. They were simply holding fast until the moon awoke again, and she couldn't maintain the fa├žade of sleep forever.
     "Breathe deeply," Maxwell advised. "Shine with all the light you have." And the moon, her eyes closed, listening to a voice she'd never heard before, took deep draughts of fetid air. She glowed, and then became dark. She glowed more fiercely with each breath she took. She became dizzy, thought she might faint, but the voice encouraged her, told her to breathe more deeply still.
     As the light in the cage increased, the starfish cowered. With each incremental brightness, they flinched, as if the glow the moon gave off was dangerous to them. Maxwell watched as the light surged, and the starfish, one by one, moved back down the branches of the tree.
     "It's working," he cawed. "Don't stop. They hate the light."
     So the moon, her eyes still closed, glowed and glowed and glowed until she could do it no more. "It's all right," Maxwell called. "They're gone." She opened her eyes. She saw the last of them slither down the trunk beneath her and disappear among the waving black folds.
     "Thank you," the moon said. "Whoever you are."
     "I'm over here," Maxwell called, and the moon tried to see through the forest's branches. She thought she saw something, but it looked like a part of a tree. Beyond her, a small lump sat, darker than the branch.
     "Is that you?" the moon asked. "What are you?"
     "My name is Maxwell," the raven said. "Can't you see me? I;m a raven."
     "Come over here, then," the moon said. "Let me get a better look at you."
     "If only I could," Maxwell said, his voice mournful. "I can't move. The owl had his falcons break my wings."
     "Oh, no," the moon cried, horrified. "Oh, my heavenly body."
     And so Maxwell told the story of his mutilation. The moon wondered at the young bird's calm, amazed at the lack of bitterness in his voice.
     "I don't think it was you the owl wanted, but another raven named Deirdre. She came to tell me she had flown back to the meadowlands to get help."
     "I don't know anything about that," the young bird said.
     "Don't despair," the moon said, trying to be cheerful. "If the owl had the ravens move me here, I expect it's because he's feeling threatened." Yes, she thought. Deirdre! A feeling of great affection passed over her. Maxwell was thinking of other things.
     "Is there any way for you to help me?" he asked piteously? "I have no way to feed myself."
     "I don't see what I can do," she said. "I'm caged in this tree."
     "I'm afraid I'm going to die," the raven said.
     "There, there," the moon said kindly. "There, there."

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     In front of Derin, in the distance, so far away they looked like heat distortions on the horizon, the mountains shimmered. "How far?" he asked, pointing.
     "A good day's march," the fox said.
     "Then we should be marching," Matthew said. "And hoping for a good day."
     It was hot on the Plain. They'd awakened, bathed in sweat, throwing off the blankets which had barely kept them warm during the night. The temperature rose as they walked; the sand sifted under their feet. It seemed the heat ascended to the clouds and was reflected back, intensified.
     The boy thought of the mountains ahead, the ascent from this plain. There, his feet would touch rock and solid earth, something permanent. He hated this waste; the heat made him dizzy. It was one step after another, with no sense of forward motion, no landmarks to judge distance against. They might be walking in place, for all he knew.
     He stripped to a thin cloth around his waist, and still the sweat streaked his chest and back. The salt stung his eyes. A haze of fine sand hung in the air, and as he walked through it, it dissolved and rain in rivulets down his thighs and calves.
     Matthew reached in his pack and pulled out his panpipe. He begun to play, falling into step behind Derin, and his music picked up the cadence of their walking. It floated up to the vault of sky and hung there, a bright cloud of its own making. Against his will, Derin felt his bad temper begin to evaporate. The music was sly, infectious; it nagged at his mood, refusing to allow it room to grow. The melody Matthew played reminded the boy of the meadowlands, provided a tie to all he'd left behind.
     He thought of how Matthew would sit in the clearing's edge as day waned and play until animals came from the woodlands and the meadow, birds fluttered across the fading colors of the sky, mesmerized by the music. At moments like that, Matthew was hypnotic. His eyes would gleam in he gathering dusk. He would stand as if possessed, his hips would pick up the rhythm, and then his hooves began to move. As Derin watched him, feeling the music enter through a portal in the head more mystical than the ears, Matthew's horns would glint and seem to grow, the fleece on his hips become shaggier, until he was more animal than man. The music would throb in the clearing, sensual and cool, like the touch of a hand on burning skin. Derin had seen him change that mood with a few haunting bars , each breathy phase poised on the edge of attainment before it trembled and faded off. Then he would change keys again, alter the rhythm, and the dirge would become wry, insouciant, building in speed until the clearing was full of animals who shuddered and twitched, possessed as well.
     Vera's ears pointed, and she sniffed the air. It was as though she were remembering something from long ago. She tried to shake it off, but couldn't, and finally she turned to Matthew and glared at him. Without missing a note, the melody changed abruptly to a quicksilver tune Derin hadn't heard in years. It was a song the satyr taught him when he was a boy, and the old words came back to him and he sang.
                    There was a tortoise and a chub
                    Who swam all day in a wooden tub
                    Their life was simple as could be
                    The tub was theirs and the air was free

                    The tortoise had a magicshell
                    The chub had scales and a silver bell
                    Their cymbal was a lily pad
                    And they sang all day of the luck they had

                    And this is how the world is made
                    With fire and laughter, stone and wind
                    And this is how the music's played
                    We will sing this song till our throats give in

                    And when the turtle's stomach growled
                    The sun burned down or the water howled
                    The chub would bring him icy snow
                    A fly to eat or a boat to row

                    By day the sun, by night the moon
                    Though storms rain down, they'll leave us soon
                    And winter's cold will fade away
                    The deepest night will turn to day

                    And this is how the world is made
                    With fire and laughter, stone and wind
                    And this is how the music's played
                    We will sing this song till our throats give in

     By the time the song had ended, Derin was out of breath. They were moving more quickly. The music changed again, recalling the melody Motthew had played earlier, and this time Vera trembled from the tip of her nose to her tail. The boy felt light-headed, as though he were made of air. Around him, the sand took on subtle colorations, the yellow grains streaming into runs of red and blue. He was no longer tired, or dizzy from the heat. He thought he was floating above the surface of desert; the sand buoyed him up. Under him, so far away they seemed someone else's. his feet were dancing.
     He saw a smear of silver hair, the startling image of white skin, the flash of a collarbone. And he was running, Matthew behind him, whooping, both of them flying, throwing sand behind them like a smokescreen.

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