Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced, displayed, modified, or distributed without the express written permission of the copyright holder.
The White Lady
A book rested on the nightstand in Gramps Johnson’s bedroom. It wasn’t new, with stiff binding and fresh smelling pages, one that invited a reader to begin a new adventure, nor had it sat on a bookcase shelf for years, to be read, and read again to continue the dream, no, it was the type of rare book sought by a collector. It was bound in leather. Once it may have been dark brown, but now it was worn and stained from years of use. The once bright silver clasps were now tarnished and green with age. The binding was cracked in places. The pages along the open seam were yellow with age, stiff, and appeared made of something other than paper. The book was out of place in this digital world of e-books and e-book readers. It looked old, even for a printed book. It was old, very old. If one looked closely, the cover of the book had once been embossed with a symbol, a type of glyph, inlaid with silver. The symbol was still visible but darkened with age: seven stars arranged in an irregular pattern.
The book was quiet for now. Time flowed differently for it, for ages had passed in a moment, but the present flickered forward like an old time movie. As it lay on the nightstand, it was aware of Gramps Johnson. He shuffled about in the room. He was insubstantial to the book, immaterial, barely visible – almost a ghost. Gramps flashed in and out of vision. He vanished into a closet and later materialized in the room. He tossed pants, shirts, and sweaters on his bed. They floated in the air like feathers before they settled. Then he retrieved a suit. He held the various items up for inspection.
Should he wear the suit or the sweater, the plain grey shirt or the plaid one? It was like this every Sunday afternoon when he dressed for a visit to his son and grandchildren. What he wore had to be just right. It had to fit the story he would tell.
Now just what story would that be? He thought about it, and the events of his life flashed through his memory. Then he thought about the book and remembered the old warehouse and the mysterious dark room.
Time changed to flow with ordinary lives. Gramps felt the sound and stopped. He looked up. His eyes probed his bedroom, but nothing moved in the room, at least yet. The sound was low pitched, just below the level of human hearing, but he was aware of it. His body resonated to that sound like a well tuned violin. The first time he heard it he was ten, on the very day he found the book. It started with his first touch of the book. Now he was in his sixties. The sound rustled the hairs on his skin and rattled deep into his bones. It was soft, almost a whisper. If it had been louder, a clutter of items would have shaken off the shelves in his bedroom. He turned toward the book. The cover slowly opened. Gramps watched the pages flip madly forward. Then they stopped. Gramps bent over the book and looked at the open page. He smiled.
“About time,” he said out loud.
He closed the book and set it on the bed. He wasn’t a wizard, but then, this was no ordinary book. It hadn’t been written by a human hand. Some might say it was written by magic, but what is magic to us is science to another. Magic was the glue that held the book together, but the magic had weakened and the book become stained and cracked during the time the book had passed from generation to generation innumerable times.
The face of the book changed while Gramps watched. At first the embossed seven stars began to glow. Then they rose above the surface of the book. A face followed. It was the face of a young girl. The seven stars floated above her head like a crown. She looked eighteen to his aging eyes, but could be much older. That was the problem with magic. The young girl continued to rise out of the book until she stepped out and stood in front of Gramps.
“How long have I slept this time,” she asked.
“Most of my life, Jeanne. My memory isn’t what it used to be. I was what, twenty-three when you last went to sleep. I’m sixty-five now. Forty-two years then.”
“That long. It seems like yesterday.”
“Yesterday, when I was in love with you.”
“I told you then it could not be. I live a half-life where a hundred years could be a day. It won’t end until the task is done.”
“And just what is that task?”
“You’re responsible for the book until it passes to another.”
Lady of the Sea
I looked in the direction of the black rock. Waves broke on rocks and washed around thin black spires further out to sea. Then they smashed upon the shore. Gulls winged back and forth and sandpipers ran up and down the surf line, dodging waves. Driftwood tossed ashore by storms littered the beach. The wind was less here, at the base of the cliffs, and carried with it the tang of salt spray. I listened to the breakers and breathed in the salt air. This was home. Still, the compulsion to swim in the ocean assailed me. Now that we were here, my feet began to throb and the itching in my ankles intensified. What in the heck was happening to my legs?
We planned to cook a dinner over a bonfire. James pointed to the large tree trunk that was wedged into the gravel and rocks.
“That might do.”
He was right. The trunk was about the right height to sit on, and by the looks of the charred wood next to it, someone had built a fire there not that long ago.
We walked toward it. Empty beer cans and broken bottles littered the fire site. James walked toward the mess.
“This is senseless. When I was seventeen and near the end of the summer, I stepped on a can hidden underwater at a public beach. It sliced open my foot and required eight stitches. Since the stitches were on the bottom of the foot, I couldn’t put weight on it. It healed slowly, and I had to hobble around on crutches for weeks after I went back to school.”
“We can pick up their trash.”
“We shouldn’t have to.”
“I know. You can’t stop people from being stupid and inconsiderate.”
“I wonder if they’d feel the same way if they sliced their foot open like I did.”
“James, just how do you get anyone to change their bad behavior?”
“I don’t know, Kaia.”
It took only a couple minutes to clean the beach around the fire site. Then we lit a fire and heated hotdogs stuck on wooden sticks.
“I’d rather have salmon,” I said.
“Sure, I’ll just wade out in the surf and catch you some.”
He stood up and turned toward the ocean. I grabbed his arm and laughed.
“You’re right, I could have bought salmon when we stopped at the store, but how would we have cooked it?”
“You heat rocks in the fire, wrap the salmon in foil and then lay it on the rocks at the edge of the fire to cook.”
I thought about it, and the taste of salmon lingered in my mouth a long time. For some reason that remembered taste eased the growing agony in my legs and feet.
We sat around the fire and talked about everything and nothing until the fire faded into dark embers. James smothered what embers were left with the nearby wet sand. That done, we moved to the black rock, sat on it, and looked westward. The sun, now a red ball, lay on the horizon and was slowly swallowed by the sea. We watched the deep red skies slide slowly into darkness. Finally, just as the sun dipped below the horizon, the Zodiacal lights arched high. It signaled nightfall. Soon it was dark, and the full moon was already visible in the east above the cliff tops.
“Years ago,” James said, “You could still see the bones of the wrecked ship over there.” He pointed up the shoreline to the north. “Dad has a picture of it on the wall in his office. There’s a newspaper clipping framed with it. It said the bodies of the sailors washed up on this shore. People think their ghosts still haunt this place.”
“One of them was your grandfather, wasn’t it?”
James nodded. “He died in that shipwreck, but his body was never found.”
James became silent, lost, I guessed, in melancholy thought.
The wind died shortly after sunset. A light mist formed offshore and was pushed onshore by the cool air. The mist became trapped between the ocean and the tall dark cliffs that framed a wall far behind us. It thickened. Tall, thin, rocky spires from four to six feet high jutted upward near the shore. They faded in and out of vision with the movement of the mist.
“I guess in fog and the spray of waves, these rocks could become ominous to someone with an active imagination,” James said.
That brought us both a nervous laugh.
We continued to sit on the black rock for hours. Sometimes we were silent and listened to the waves; sometimes we talked about our lives. Later, the mist dissipated and the moon rose mid-sky, lighting the breakers in soft silver light. The tips of waves flickered and went out one after another as they rose and broke. The breeze blew stronger now, in from the sea, cold knives that stabbed through our light jackets.
James knew about the message, that someone would meet us tonight. So we waited.
It was now midnight.
“Hush,” I said, “something’s moving.”
We remained motionless, scarcely breathing. Something indeed was moving, something in the water, but near the shore. At first a hump, like water over a rock, disturbed the waves. Then a woman’s face with long black flowing hair rose above the surf. The disturbance moved inward, the waves now washing around her naked torso. She moved steadily toward the shore, unmoved by the breakers, until she was on the beach. Her nude figure glistened silver-white in the moonlight, and rivulets of silver water ran down her body. She stared directly into my eyes and only briefly looked aside at James. She paused to remove something from her neck and laid in on a rock near the shore. It shimmered, bright silver-gold, in the moonlight.
“She’s not human!” James said.
In the beginning we were few – outcasts. Like you, but unlike you. You drove us away into the forests and marshes, into the hills and mountains, across desert sands and restless seas. Yet some lingered near you, hiding in the shifting mists. Still others came to you in your darkest dreams. You told stories of us to frighten your children and we became your legends. You sought to slaughter us. Rocks injured and killed but did not silence us; neither did axes, knives, or swords. And now you threaten us with guns. Why? Because we are different, but so are you. You think differences make us evil. Rather than trust reason or search for truth, you trust fear, unbridled, irrational fear. And fear turns you into a consuming fire. It is enough that we are different. Differences so easily condone all wars and genocide.
You continue to deny us what we might become. Like you we are lawful, civilized, but we are also wild and free, unfettered by the confines of cities and the false sunlight which lights your streets at night. We know joys you have forgotten, scents you no longer smell, colors you’ve never seen, and views seen only in dreams. There have been a few of your kind who had the wisdom to embrace us for the spirits we held inside and have grown with us. The rest didn’t even try, but killed us on sight whenever they could. In truth, most of us, like you, live ordinary lives. Most of us help your kind when help is needed. For eons we have walked and fought by your side, sometimes in our form, sometimes in yours.
There is a universal truth. Some of us are evil just like some of your kind. Some kill for the pleasure of it. So, like you, we struggle against the dark and seek the light. We have learned from our past mistakes and your murderous rage. We now hide ourselves within your midst – your neighbors, friends, and associates. You do not know us, good or evil, unless we wish to be seen. Your human frame imprisons us. We must cast off our human skins to be free.
“Pal” she yelled across the pasture.
Then she saw him. He was at the back of the pasture near the old growth forest, a tall, dark forest that had never felt the axe or the saw. That brought back memories. Despite warnings from her parents, she had ventured into its borders a couple of times as a child. The forest felt old, even ancient, something out of place in the world. It spoke of tall mountains, of clear streams, and wild creatures. In the breeze, it whispered in voices no longer spoken. It smelled of pine and oak and cedar and had huge trunks and limbs that seemed the bones of the earth. The trees called to her, and she ran away, afraid of what she might find – afraid of becoming lost.
She called to Pal again, and he raised his head to look at her. His ears went up, and he started to run toward her, but as he did, a bright glimmer of light flashed over him. The glimmer flickered on and off until it took shape. She saw a spiraled horn jut out of his forehead. His body became a brilliant white and sparkled in the sunshine.
Pal’s a unicorn, she thought. But no, they’re not real. She continued to watch him and his horn as he rushed toward her. He came closer, and she couldn’t deny what she saw – a brilliant white creature like a horse with a single horn, a unicorn.
Could this be real?
The Stable Girl looked around her. Did anyone else see what she saw?
No one was in sight.
Pal stopped his gallop and slowed. He walked up to her. The horn was still visible but seemed to overlay his head; it was substantial but not substantial, of this world but not of this world. She felt odd, strange, like she had trespassed into a secret world. She placed her hand on his neck and he bowed his head to her. She ran her fingers through his mane. It no longer felt coarse, but felt like fine white silk.
She moved around to face him and the shining horn. She wanted to touch it; to know it was real. She delicately moved her hands to his face and began to work them toward his horn. It’s dangerous to touch a horse’s face. She knew that, but Pal didn’t seem to mind. He stood still and turned his eyes toward hers. There was trust, and something more, an intelligence, in those eyes. She touched the base of the horn and felt its sturdy spiral. A thrill ran though her. Then she worked her hands up the horn until she touched its tip. It was sharp like an arrow. Suddenly, she felt power flow into her hands and run through her body, a jolt of electricity.
She encountered a form of double vision. She saw the pasture, but beyond that in the distance, beyond the old forest, she saw a castle. It faded in and out of her vision. It felt like a dream, one she had as a child. One she had the day she first met Pal.