Sunday, 8 July 2012

In a Purple Sky

Welcome to the Xeroversary! We're celebrating two years of the Xeroverse with guest fiction from some of my favourite flash fiction writers. Thanks for dropping by, come in, enjoy the fiction, say hello. =)

...and don't miss the afterparty! ^_^

***

In a Purple Sky

by R.S. Bohn


Stars shone in a purple sky. To the west, night still reigned blue-black over the streak of pines. To the east, a growing gold-white. That was where the bus would come. Jake turned over stones with the toe of his sneaker and counted, again, the days until school was out: forty-seven. Behind him, the old farmhouse sagged in the shadow of the enormous oak beside it.

A bird tittered from the field across the street. I-do-believe-you. I-do-believe-you. He shifted the weight of his backpack and saw, across the deep, dew-flecked grass, a thing that made his breath catch.

He thought it was a cougar at first. Mrs. Brunnell swore that she'd seen one in her backyard, but Jake was quite sure no one had mentioned gold and white wings or a curving beak.

It was a gryphon. Standing at the edge of the field, looking up at the same flickering stars that Jake had been watching.

After a moment, the gryphon pawed the ground, shook its feathered head, and began a massive charge across the field. Its wings opened, it lifted its head, and with a lurch, it launched itself into the air.

It fell to the ground with a mighty thump that Jake felt in his Keds.

The bus turned down the road in a haze of dust, roaring towards him, and when Jake looked back, the gryphon was gone.
___ ___

By three o'clock, Jake had convinced himself that he had only seen a cougar. Stepping off the bus, his gaze swept the field, but there was no trace of a cat, little or big or mythical.

After dinner, he swayed in slow circles on the old tire swing, feet dragging through the dirt. Mosquitoes bit him, and still he stayed out, waiting for the inevitable call to come in.

When he went to bed, the cougar was not even that – it had been a dream, like summer camp. He pulled the covers over his shoulders and, sighing, drifted into sleep.

It was a low roar, as if he'd heard it underwater. Some time later, it came again. He jolted awake, eyes open wide in the dark, breath stopped. After a few minutes, he relaxed. It had been nothing.

The silhouette of the huge oak waved outside his room. Its branches shook, jaws snapping silently at the moon passing behind it.

The roar came again.

He got out of bed, padding softly down the hall past his mother's room. He tried to remember where the floorboards squeaked, tried not to make any noise. When he got to the front door, he turned the lock with exquisite slowness and stepped out onto the porch.

Moonlight shone down on the back of the pacing gryphon, the creature's wings shaking as it crossed the field. Jake crept through the yard in bare feet, wobbly with excitement, wanting to run across the street. Wanting to run back into the house.

The gryphon snarled and whipped around, hurtling across the night-damp grass. Jake gripped a fence post, stifling a shout to urge the creature on.

It shoved itself into the air with a powerful snap of its wings.

And tumbled to the ground in a heap.

It lay for a while in the grass, still and silent. Finally, it heaved itself up again, raising its head to the sky. The roar rumbled through him; Jake yelped and caught himself.

The beast twisted and looked at him.

When he had had all he could take of the gryphon's gaze—perhaps a minute, or five seconds—he galloped back to the house.

His mother, miraculously, slept on. He got back into bed, and with trembling hands, pulled the blankets up. All through the rest of that night, he listened. But he heard nothing more.

The next day was Saturday, and when he went outside to play, he discovered the tire swing on the ground, rope in a coil beside it. In the dirt around the oak tree were the prints of a lion. Carefully, he scuffed them all out with his sneakers.
___ ___

Bedtime was a lesson in casualness; he kissed his mother goodnight and got into bed, feigning sleepiness. His grandfather had come over to repair the tire swing; the new rope creaked on the branch. Every creak could've been a creature climbing the tree to his window.

Hours after the television was off and his mother had gone to bed, he slipped out and went to wait for the gryphon.

A shadow broke away from the others at the edge of the woods. The gryphon stalked onto the field. The moon was full, and it sat on golden haunches and stared up at it for a while. And then it stared at Jake.

It was large, so much larger than he thought. Jake came closer, and closer, until he could've reached out and touched the feathered head.

A yellow eye regarded him, and after a moment, it returned its attention to the moon.

It flinched when he touched its shoulder. His fingers passed over stiff white feathers onto thick fur. A wing shivered, and he laid his palm on it.

"Why can't you fly?" he whispered to it.

The gryphon turned and, laying its massive head against his, whispered back.

Jake closed his eyes, heart plummeting, falling away. The moon was at his feet and overhead, in a stone chamber that smelled of night and incense. Black water passed around him, and when he looked, the head of an eagle stared back at him.

The chamber turned to sand. He felt the sun and tasted young lamb in his mouth. A smoke-eyed princess stroked his cheek.

A thousand dark forests, a hundred seas.

The stars called him.

When Jake opened his eyes, the gryphon stood there. Ancient and glorious and tired, so very tired.

It left him to walk to the edge of the field.

When the gryphon began its charge, he ran alongside, until the huge beast outpaced him, opened its wings one last time—

And beat into the air, stroke by powerful stroke.

And didn't fall. Instead, it lifted itself above the trees, into the cool night air. Towards an unnamed constellation. Until it was a dark speck, and then nothing, and then only stars glittered in the purple sky.
___ ___

In the mirror, he stared at freckles stretched over his nose. Touched the bony precipice, the slight roman curve that had been straight yesterday.

He wasn't surprised, then, to find that the itch that drove him crazy under his t-shirt was his shoulder blades, and that upon each scrawny bone was a nub, small and hard.

Outside the tiny bathroom window, the oak tree murmured in the breeze, and the tire swing swung in the shade, moving in circles over well-worn dirt.



***

R.S. lives in the land of dinosaurs and giant Martian robots. Please visit her at http://rsbohn.blogspot.com. Do Not Feed The Velociraptors.

Xero says: R.S. has such a casual way with myth, fantasy and science fiction that her work often seems like a smooth blend of all three, woven from threads of wonder and subtlety. It is always a great pleasure to read her writing.


20 comments:

  1. This is absolutely packed with wonderful detail, a well-crafted lesson in word usage.

    A wonderful story too. I found myself pitying the poor gryphon, and happy for it when it finally managed to fly again.

    I was kind of expecting some violence somewhere along the way, and the ending came as a surprise.

    Jake's life has now definitely changed forever.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Steve, thank you so much for such a kind review.

      Normally, I do like the twists and darker moments in fiction, and violence as punctuation can work so well, but this one wanted to stay somewhat gentle. Again, thank you.

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  2. A really lovely, well-told story, RSB. I actually haven't read a story featuring a gryphon for a while. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you, Jack, for reading and commenting. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

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  3. This is myth-a-licious. The whole story is just laid out so perfectly, and the boy's ordinary innocence makes him the perfect counterpoint to the gryphon's "magnitude".

    Loved it.

    (And congrats on 2 years, John!)

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    1. Hi, Chris! Thank you so much. And because I've forgotten to mention it until now... You really helped me out on this piece. Yes. Your post on cutting work, "Half-Life," made all the difference when I was struggling:

      http://chrisallinotte.blogspot.com/2012/06/who-wants-to-play-game-of-half-life-no.html

      This was 2500 words, and I started to play the "game," and realized how well it was working. Actually, using that method now to pare down another story that's gone over a word limit. So thank you. Not only does it help when there are word limits, but honestly, one doesn't realize how much of one's writing is, ya know, superfluous. :)

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  4. I think my favourite part was when Jack was 'talked to' by the gryphon. And, if you ever write a story about the 'smoke eyed princess', let me know. ;)

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    1. Thank you, Peter. And that smoke-eyed princess does tug at me sometimes...

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  5. Jack is going to have a hard time hiding *this* one from Mom, for sure!

    Beautiful imagery in this. To help the gryphon, you must become the gryphon.

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    1. Indeed. :) Thank you so much, Larry.

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  6. What a wonderful story Richard, and wonderful word craft, the story held me captivated and you ignited the imagination of the reader with those visual details.

    I loved that the boy wanted to help the gryphon and in doing so may just become one himself.

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    1. Thank you, Helen.

      And would you believe that this is not the first, but the *second* time in a week someone's called me Richard online? True!

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  7. Oops Sorry Rebecca, I had a senior moment there calling your Richard - that's my husband's name ^__^

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  8. Rebecca, this is an exquisite example of your craft. Your relationship with nature - real or mythical (and who says they are myths?) is always so beautifully presented. I love the curiosity here, and how Jake is captured by the knowledge of what he has seen. The final sharing - the gryphon's telling of its own story - raised hot tears in these old eyes of mine. Jake's tale will be a long one.

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    1. Maybe in another life I was Gaia. Stranger things have happened.

      We gravitate towards certain themes, don't we? Like a puzzle our minds are always striving to unlock. Thank you very much for your kind words, Lily.

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  9. I love the dreamy atmosphere in this; the "nightland", the gryphon´s whisper, the transformation... You know how your shoulder blades come out when you twist your arms back and put them flat against your back, right? I did that and said those are wings growing out. All the kids are waiting for me to turn into an angel now =)

    The way you handle magic is, as always, magical!

    And John, congrats on two great years! Here´s to many more!

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    1. You aren't already an angel? Are you sure? You should check again.

      ;)

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    2. Thank you, Asuqi. Wings are powerful sigils, are they not? And don't all three of us have wings that take us places our feet never will? =)

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  10. Becky and John; it seems my wings aren´t fully operating yet. When they are, I´ll land in your backyards. Keep an eye out for me! xoxo

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  11. Hi there Rebecca -- love the seamless 'oneness' of the real world and fantasy in this piece. You couldn't even really say transition from one to the other, unless it's the joyous sprouting of wing nubs. Nice to see Griffins getting a story -- those guys get tired, what with the paws and mane messing up the aerodynamics.

    And beyond that, happy Xeroversary John and many writerly returns, boldly holding back the blank page of the un-storied. A noble deed, indeed. St.

    ReplyDelete