My first literary short story. Enjoy!
Fiction Short Story
November 17, 2012
Violet, azure, and jade danced their eternal waltz on black and navy stages. Warped their theatre, rippled and refracted their image; a sky-born ocean, held to the heavens by envy and hope. As wispy dress hems chafed one another, their luminescence scraped off the aurora and fell through the water, joining a duller world of air and dark silhouettes. Black forms transcended menial darkness into branches, leaves, or stone as these droplets of light fell by, only to revert when jealous dirt and earth swallowed the light whole.
Gazing upon this spectacle, Sora couldn’t help but wonder if he dreamed, but if he dreamed, then he had dreamed for many, many years after losing his life. Dreams did not flow coherently with the passage of time, nor did dead people dream. Dead people just wandered this beautiful existence, forever entranced by this never-ending night, by infinite aurora. He just wished he could appreciate the depth of his vision as others did.
Sora had no left eye, no counter or compliment to his right eye’s opinions. His only sight spoke of beauty and hope. Would his missing eye tell him the same? Could he descend deeper into this trance with two eyes? Or did demons of apathy and despair hide behind the veil of his eye-patch. He shouldn’t seek to know, he shouldn’t disturb an already comfortable existence. Perhaps his trance had deepened too far already, for his empty eye left a vacancy in his soul, a missing piece of himself required to feel complete.
The lost link pulled at him, tugged him along the rugged ground as it had for all his after-life. Sometimes, he felt lured… toyed with… the victim of a higher power that delighted in teasing this poor young man. Years of fruitless pursuit conjured an expectance of failure. Years of endless walking had toughened his heels and hardened his small body till the sensations of touch fled to the fringes of this trance.
He should give up. He should settle anywhere the fruit trees grew, or where spring water pooled. Sora had grown accustomed to half-blindness, but so too had he acclimated to the longing, to the search, that he no longer knew how to stop. He’d find his eye, but when during this never-ending night? He searched for a single point on infinity. Logic, sense, and all odds stood against him. Sora should give up, but that fallacious human yearning, ‘hope’, drove him onward.
A fool he was. A fool clinging to faith instead of reason, but a fool he’d rather be, because God could only make miracles for fools. So to her, this fool pled a simple prayer.
“Please show me a sign. Herald my journey’s end so that I may finally rest…”
A droplet fell from the sky, a simple luminescence of white and green no different from the thousand other rains that fell, but Sora followed this one light with his eye. So small, so pure… An angel falling from heaven, falling from grace, falling into the crooked wooden claws of dark demons, splitting over their branches and breaking into pieces for the lowly and outcast dirt to claim as its own. A droplet of prophecy past, falling fatefully upon its fruition where a white feather lay.
Sora’s vision of the feather lasted as briefly as the droplet, but he had quick memory and feet. Thoughts and estimates guided him toward his quarry. He could recognize the powdery caress of soft dirt, the jagged hilt of a buried stone, or the sinewy skin of a leaf. Sora’s feet had conquered nothing else in life or death, so when gentle fibers tickled at his toes, he knew where his feather lay.
He plucked that feather and held it to the first light to fall his way. White, bristling hairs attached to a thin stem that could break to wind alone. Simple, this beauty, and oh so fragile. Just how did humans find beauty, find love in things so easily broken? Over the course of eternity Sora would lose the feather for sure and then cry for his loss, but he’d rather break his heart than leave it an arid basin, and so he pocketed this feather, joining it with a needle as his only treasures.
The missing eye tugged at him once again, and Sora renewed his amble. The feather made a wonderful distraction, but that’s all it was, a brief and finite interruption in eternity.
“I’ll never rest… I’ll never rest…”
The rope around his soul slackened.
All the weights of longing and apathy and despair slipped off his shoulders along with the noose. Disbelief numbed his legs. Sora finally drew near to the eye he always sought! Or, rather, his eye drew nearer to him.
One silhouette disturbed the Nether’s sacred monotony of stillness and silence. Aside from the ocean sky, the world after death remained motionless, inanimate. Any vision or sight could be confused for a painting on a wall; a borderless image that he could manipulate through himself to many ends. Sora could alter his vantage, observe a scene through the various illuminations that fell from the sky, or even move the silhouettes with his hands, but never would this painting have life. Death’s decree froze this world into instances of image, but life now sprang before him and defied everything he knew of this Netherworld.
Sora took a step back from the unknown, and the shadow stopped. The two waited until the rain finally shed a few lights to dispel their misplaced fear. Where imagination once placed a demon or other nightmare, he now saw a girl almost as petite as himself.
The girl held up a pale rose and caught the next raindrop in its petal frills. The flower absorbed the water’s light and glowed with its white color. Sora could see her clearly now, and he felt compelled to do so.
He admired long hair, and hers fell longer and fuller than any woman known to him. So many pale blonde strands overflowed the crown of her head till they spilled over her shoulders, racing the tattered fabric of her white gown down her sides until they settled at her waist. Her fair skin ran just as softly, just as smoothly, except for the stitches. They grabbed the eyes, those stitches, and just as strongly invoked the mind. The black threads rounded high up her arms and legs, revealing where her limbs had been sewn on and at one time, torn off. The only implication more disturbing wrought a stitch-line about her neck.
Just as he studied her, two eyes gazed back, and when Sora gathered the courage to look at them he saw two different eyes. Her left eye reflected the shining rose off a dark brown mirror, but that blue iridescence in her right eye belonged to him.
“Ah…” was the best his feeble tongue could muster, but she seemed to understand. The girl pointed at her blue eye and spoke.
“Is this yours?”
Sora nodded, and without hesitation her fingers reached for the eye to pluck it out. Imagery of the girl lying in pieces on the ground flashed through his mind. With his eye, she became whole. He did not wish to take that from her, and so he grabbed her wrist.
“You can keep it.”
Her innocent gaze widened.
“Really?” she asked, as though generosity defied the nature and essence of people. If it did, then Sora would strive for defiance.
“Thank you”, she said. Her eyes started searching him, roaming aimlessly before locking onto Sora’s pocket.
Sora withdrew the feather and held it up.
“Is this yours?”
She nodded and offered her rose in trade. In her other hand, two pieces of white flesh brimmed with feathers like the one Sora found. A few fallow regions contrasted a beautiful pattern, but with the feather received she rejuvenated her plume, even if just a little.
“Are those wings?”
She separated the two pieces and held them up to show off their dismemberment. Putting them closer together, Sora could see where they should’ve come together as one. Instead, she held segments of a jigsaw puzzle.
“Would you like me to put them together?”
Sora showed the girl his needle. In the Netherworld, no tool or instrument could compare to this simple strip of metal. A pointy tip on one end, a loop on the other, and just enough girth in between to pierce flesh, hide, and cloth alike without bending or breaking. With a needle, Sora could reattach body parts or patch together pieces of fabric to make or mend clothes. With a needle, Sora was both doctor and tailor.
Thread was simple enough to find. Amongst every crop of trees Sora could always find the harrowing fingers of a spindle tree. Those branches kept splitting into smaller and smaller limbs, intertwining fine woods into a web spanning all three spectrums of dimension. Hell’s widow could not spin a more diabolical weave, a weave made more confusing by the threads of black silk hanging from each twig end.
This nightmarish product of Nature and Nether lay in Sora’s wake, and a moment’s backtrack found him a spindle tree. Its silk fell low to the ground, and he merely had to close his grip in its web to pull away a fistful of threads.
Sora changed venues to a friendlier oak tree and sat at its base. The girl sat on her knees before him and watched as he pulled thread through the needle loop and tied a knot at the end. “You are quite skilled”, she said, though Sora had to wonder if she sincerely possessed any frame of reference. He certainly didn’t.
“Did you use a needle often in life?”
“No”, Sora said, “I grew up penniless, worthless, and homeless, and died with just as little dignity and possession as my birth.”
The girl’s head bowed as her expression silently apologized.
“But it’s all right! At least I am here now in the Netherworld. It’s rather beautiful here.”
Curiosity replaced her sorrow. She opened her mouth, but after “Um…” her tongue got lost, stumbling over a name she didn’t know. “Sora” he told her, “Sora…” he trailed off before admitting that he forgot his last name, if ever he had one. A single name satisfied her though, and she smiled while repeating his call.
“Sora… Sora… I love your name. Simple sound, but beautiful.”
And he loved her voice and words. How sad that it took years after death to finally receive a compliment, to know some feature of his deserved admiration
“Sora, how did you get here? To the Netherworld?”
He hoped her curiosity would not venture on death. Sora could not envision a cessation more pitiful than his life, but he shared it. From that face, that innocent expression, he could not possibly hide; he could not lie. Those wondering, childish eyes would just reach into his soul, reach into his truth.
“I died for a piece of food. I found a morsel of cake on the streets. I’ve never had cake, so I eagerly took my find into an alley to savor, but a man, a much bigger man saw me. I really, really wanted to know the sweet taste of cake, so I refused to give it to him.”
Sora paused, yielding the focus to precisely position the two pieces of wing together and make that crucial first pierce.
“The man beat me and took my food, and then he continued beating me until my flesh and pain swelled unto agony. I died in that alley, unable to move, unable to scream. I could only whimper as my body withered over days.”
A pitiable death she agreed, “But how did you get here, to the Nether?”
Sora thought he answered, only to realize his error. She wanted to know why he walked under an ocean sky instead of Heaven’s sun. “Well, when I stood at the gates to Heaven, a crowd told me I was born a mongrel, lived a mongrel, and died a mongrel, and that Heaven has no place for a mongrel. I suddenly fell into darkness and wound up here.”
“How cruel”, she whispered through horror and astonishment before silence stilled her. She sat quietly, content to watch him delicately weave the thread between two halves until they bound together whole. Sora offered her the completed fragment, but she did not accept it.
“Is something wrong?”
Her eyes evaded his, even with the advantage of duality. Her lips moved, but only a deaf ear could hear her words.
“What’s your name?”
“That’s a pretty name! Say, anything on your mind?”
“Will you help me find the rest of my wings? I want to fly.”
Saylene turned around and started off toward the first piece, following the hope that tugged her soul along. High up her back, mounted behind the shoulder blades, two bloody stumps marked what she lost and sought to reclaim.
Fortune gifted her more generously than it had Sora. Feathers and the rare white flesh cropped up with the passing of hours and sometimes minutes. When Saylene discovered matching segments, they stopped while Sora sewed them together. Up hills and peaks they scaled, down slopes and the cheeks of mountains they descended. By lakes and rivers only heard, through the ghoulish grasps of forest trees they trekked. Despite years committed to searching for his eye, he felt he traveled more following this girl, that he had explored more of the Netherworld in her company than he had ever accomplished alone. Sense couldn’t explain it. Had his trance deepened with love, so drunk that the passage of time eluded him? Or had Saylene’s presence finally awoken him from years of sleep-walking? Feelings and emotions forgotten… love, infatuation, caring… revived by her light.
It was curiosity though that leapt furthest from the mind-bound grave, spinning conjecture and theory as he tried to wrap his head around Saylene’s past. He could fancy a guess to her nature. Wings only blessed angels, but why did an angel walk under an ocean sky instead of Heaven’s sun?
“You’re an angel, aren’t you?”
Saylene did not stop or slow. She answered without looking back.
“I was the Angel of Love, but I’ve lost both my wings and love. I’m just a girl fallen from heaven now.”
Fallen or not, a measure of reverence permeated his body with warmth and respect for this holy being before him, but also deepened his confusion. He hoped that he did not venture unto sacrilege as he asked, “But why are you fallen?”
“Mm… I guess Heaven doesn’t need love anymore, so I was cast out.”
“You mean humans?”
With but one eye and mind, Sora could not comprehend such a ludicrous Heaven. A heaven where humans could throw out an angel, a heaven that did not need love… “How is that even possible?” Surely, the superior power and grace of angels could rule over humanity, but Saylene told a tale of Heaven nothing like the warmth Sora believed in.
“I was thrown down a pit, an endless hole whose walls writhe with the evils of all beings. Demons embodying the wickedness of the spectators above grabbed at me, pierced my body, infested and wriggled through my veins and organs and tore me apart from the inside. Whomever the demons slay and eat, divine or mortal, they find themselves here in the nether as I did. To my fortune, an old woman was kind enough to sew what she found of me together.”
Suddenly the death Sora suffered appeared quite generous and satisfactory. He wanted to console Saylene, offer his condolences and whatever support he could muster, but a vision cut him out of reality.
For a brief moment, Sora saw through the darkness and witnessed Saylene’s agony. Warped, mutated monsters of illogical design grabbed at her with hands, claws, and tentacles, holding her up like game trophy. Terror held her eyes wide, tears streamed down her face. She begged for salvation or at the least a merciful death, but fear and choking grasps curtailed her voice. The mutilation and horrification of her body filled his mind’s sight with vitriolic imagery, but gore held only a blunted edge to symbolism.
No matter how hard he tried to cast it from his mind, Sora could not stop the echoing sights of Saylene’s wings being pierced and broken. Blood trickled between the feathers as unholy appendages gouged her angelic gift, defiling her until finally the demons tore the wings from her back one at a time, stealing each into the darkness slowly, taunting her feeble struggles to save her precious light. And always, always the scene ended with the cheers of people, of human beings. No remorse, no empathy, just delighted celebration that the soles of human feet could shove angelhood into the dirt, that not even divinity could withstand human conquest, human ambition, human ruination.
Sora felt guilty for being human, for belonging to those that would see this angel’s soul raped for entertainment. “I’m sorry,” he said, unable to shake a sense that the vision he saw originated not from some foreign entity or a connection to Saylene’s soul through his loaned eye, but from recollecting his own contribution to that writhing mass of human folly. Sora could not deny the envy he felt in life, the desire to join those who lived with full bellies and in warm homes. In death, he might have envied Saylene’s beautiful wings had Heaven taken him in.
Saylene took Sora’s hands into her own, and through this simple touch he felt her undeserved forgiveness. “I saw what they did to you,” he said, “I saw from the envy in my heart, my darkness in that pit, and I can’t help but wonder if I could have been one of them.”
Saylene just shook her head.
“No. You gave me your eye. You would make me whole before yourself. You are much kinder than I.” To be praised higher than an angel, even a fallen one, warmed Sora’s cheeks with humility and happiness, but still he wrestled with shame, a need to be punished for those who would go free after their crimes. “Those were my kin…” he tried to argue, but one does not match grace with an angel.
“Silly Sora. Cruelty beckons to anyone weak enough to savor its cheap satisfactions. That could have been angels laughing at me, or angels and gods and humans in company. It really doesn’t matter.”
“Angels can be evil?”
“Anything capable of choice can decide to live harmoniously or wickedly. God could commit evils if she willed it, and she’d be as fallible as if you or I chose the same.”
Her palm stroked Sora’s cheek as she smiled for him. “I have darkness too, darkness that resides in that pit. My spite, my contempt delighted in destroying the divinity and higher purpose humans ascribe to me… My covetous nature tried to take and hoard my wings, never to share a feather. Divinity does not grant moral impunity. I hope if ever I erred, you would have courage enough to correct me.”
Sora could have used a few eternities to contemplate Saylene’s words, but she pulled him along by the hand. “Let’s keep going,” she insisted, “just a few more pieces… a few more feathers and I’ll fly under an ocean sky.” Sora had many questions, questions about a Heaven that didn’t need love, but he held them, he held them and forgot them while treading the Netherworld, while stitching pieces of wings together, while watching the smile and warmth return to Saylene’s complexion as her wings neared completion.
The end of longing began in a clearing, an absence of silhouettes separating forest and mountain. Where rain fell here, the light penetrated the surface and dissipated into sinking mist. Somewhere beneath this strange surface both flat and clear, the final feather glowed white and gentle.
Saylene took a step forward, and Sora grabbed her out of fear that she’d sink with the rain.
“Silly Sora. It’s just water. A lake.”
Silly Sora let her go, and she plodded forth through shallow water. She bent down and plucked her feather from the shoals, returning to dry land and completing her plume. Even with black threads weaving through the white sheens like a shattered pane, Sora still found glory in those severed wings.
“Not quite,” she said, turning her back to him and holding the rose high above to shine over her back. Sora wielded his needle for one last feat, sewing and restoring each wing as slowly as they had been undone until two broken, but proud wings spread wide as her outstretched arms. Sora admired his handiwork for the few seconds before reality crashed down upon him.
“Sora, you can sew them on now.”
“…I already have…”
Saylene looked over her shoulder, touched her feathers. “I can’t feel them.” She closed her eyes tight, tried with all her might to beat her flight muscles, but aside from a paltry bounce they did not move, they did not fly.
Saylene bolted forth, thrashing through water before leaping into the air on mortal feet, but rather than sail on divine wind she crashed thunderously into the lake. Sora chased after her, wading in knee deep before finding the sullen wreck of a broken girl.
“I can’t feel my wings… I can’t fly…” she sobbed till her voice choked and she settled for the comfort of Sora’s arms. “I wanted to fly under an ocean sky… I wanted to carry you with me and see the auroras together…” Sora held her close to his bosom, and as her sorrow bled over his chest, he realized the nature of Saylene’s suffering.
She accepted her fall from Heaven, losing her position by God, but she agonized about the loss of her wings. Tendrils had eaten her from the inside out, decapitated her head and limbs by bursting out from under her skin, yet only the theft of her wings tormented her. Sora blamed his kin for committing sacrilege against a divine being, for usurping Heaven, but these were just crimes against the vanity of his faith.
Saylene loved her wings. She loved to fly and feel the wind flowing through her hair and feathers. A simple happiness had been broken. A fundamental wrong had been scarred onto her heart, a wrong no worse than claiming a mother’s child, wilting a florist’s gardens, or stealing a morsel of cake from a homeless man. No matter how he tried to elevate her, Saylene’s feelings were mortal. She suffered pain and cried tears as he did.
Sora cast off his reverence for Saylene and threw away holiness and sacredness. To worship her, to idolize her and obey the ease of faith and fear left her alone and isolated in this Netherworld. He discarded humility and summoned the courage to stand as her equal, to say “You can lean on me, you can cry on my shoulder”, to love her as a person and not as an angel.
Sora lifted her face and gently kissed her lips. Her tears stopped and her cheeks flushed hot with embarrassment.
“You… you kissed me!”
“Sorry… It felt like the right thing to do.”
Saylene burst out laughing, bellowing and cackling and sounding so very human. “Silly Sora…” she said many times before pushing him along towards the shore.
Halfway there she stopped and looked out over the lake’s crest with wandering and wondering eyes.
She ran back out into the depths and dived under the surface. She did not resurface for a minute, two minutes, three… Sora held up the rose, but the lake’s core just looked like a black abyss, even under lantern.
Saylene eventually returned, looking horribly pale as she coughed up two lungs worth of water. As she forced herself breathe, she laughed and joked, “Can’t drown a dead person!”
“Why did you drown yourself?”
“I didn’t try to drown myself… I was just looking for this.”
Saylene held up an eyeball in her fingers: a little white sphere glossed by veils of water and light. Its iris matched Saylene’s brown eye. “Now we can both be whole,” she said and reached to pluck Sora’s eye from her socket once more, but she stopped herself.
“Take off your eye patch.”
Sora took it off, and tried his best not to wince or squirm as Saylene pushed her eye into his vacant socket.
“And with this,” she said, “we can always find each other, no matter where we are.”
Vision that once gazed without partner now felt the depth of company and the deeper understanding afforded by difference. With her eye, he fell deeper into this Netherworld trance. Sora still felt the tug of his eye on his soul, but he did not mind being tied to her for all eternity.
“Let’s go,” she said, taking him by the hand.
“It doesn’t matter…”
They were together, in company, in friendship. Free of mortality, free of divinity, safe from a Heaven that did not need love.
They walked under an ocean sky, entranced by this never-ending night.