By Ivo Dominguez, Jr. (all rights reserved 2013 ©)
This is a fantasy story I wrote years ago that I have updated a bit and have posted as something fun for the holidays. I hope you enjoy it.
He'd hurried home from school and left a note on the refrigerator, "Gone Skating". Among the many changes in David's life since his parents' divorce was the relocation to what seemed just shy of the middle of nowhere, and the more than annoying loss of access to the university's skating rink. As he ran onwards through the overgrown path, he began to wonder if he'd taken the wrong fork. He hadn't remembered a barrier of brambles and thorns on the way to the pond. His experience with the outdoors until the month before had been limited to the little bits of green and manicured groves that pass for the wilds in the suburbs. Night was approaching fast upon his heels, threatening to close in before he reached the pond. He decided to leave the twists and winds of the path and cut straight through. Several steps off the path, he knew he'd made a mistake. He pushed and was pushed as he ran the gauntlet through the undergrowth and low hanging branches. When he did reach the pond it was a sudden release, a relief from struggle. He ducked past a bough, and was upon its banks.
The shadows of the holly trees ringing the pond were now at their full length in the waning light. The holly leaves' spiny, scrawling, calligraphic, shadows on the ice were punctuated by the elegant slashes and ovals of cattails in silhouette. The ice was like black glass glinting darkly red in the sunset of the shortest day of the year. It wasn't a part of the pond he'd seen before. It was a place more beautiful than where the path had led before. The clearing was washed in the rich colors of a winter sunset unmatched in clarity and hue by anything in nature except the flowers of spring. David sat down on a log, crumbly with the work of carpenter ants, and put on his skates. He gazed at the sapphire glint of Venus, bright in the sky before the stars could be seen. He stood and paused , oddly reluctant to take to the ice. Marking its surface would remove some of its pristine beauty. He was aware of a quality in the air as if the moment of time that he occupied hovered content in the now, and uncertain of the flight of the future.
The ice had formed in silence, unruffled by breezes, or the wings of south bound geese, or even by the ripple of slumberous fish. Now, that silence was broken by the crisp sound of metal blades on ice. At first he moved just for the sake and for the sensation of speed. Then as he relaxed his moves became a dance upon the pond with a grace he dared not show in the company of his peers. He became aware of his reflection in the ice below. The pond reminded him of a mirror, framed in art nouveau vegetative flourishes like one of his mother's antiques, with the mirror's silvering gone cracked and crazed with spots of dimness and iridescence. The rhythm of his skating, and the singular joy of solitude in such a hidden place was intoxicating. Stars began to peer through the deepening blue. He marveled at the spectacle of ice filled with reflected stars and the meteoric streaks of his passage across the pond's surface. His starry reflection seemed to soar through the heavens, upside down in a dizzying gyre. His multicolor knit cap spun wildly as he spiraled, making him smile at the absurd beauty of this image.
The first crack went unheard. The second crack was followed by the third, fourth, and others in a quick crackling succession. His stomach lurched in fear as it realized his fate long instants before his brain registered the terrible meaning of the cracks that dashed across the ice. His ankles turned beneath him and he was through the ice. Frigid waters rushed into his mouth drowning his scream before it could surface. He flailed ineffectually as he sank deeper into the dark, fighting his lungs' demand to breath whose only answer could be death. The weak, uncertain, circle of light cast through the ice from the surface seemed infinitely far. He tried to take off the skates as he sank but his fingers were numbed beyond use. His sight was sparkling with the phantoms of oxygen deprivation. The only warmth he felt now was the burning pain in his lungs. He looked up again at that distant circle of light at the surface, and knew he was dying. In mounting desperation, trapped between the cold fear that pressed against his heart, and the fiery brand lodged against his lungs, he screamed again. A glacial torrent of water quenched the fire in his lungs, and with that his consciousness fled. His body ceased to move and settled into the yielding silt for the longest night of the year.
The disturbance in the water had not gone without notice. From yet a deeper place in the pond three presences approached his stilled form. Tremulous pulses of light, of a grain too fine for the coarse nets of human retinas, approached his body. Upon reaching him the pulses became intricate filigrees of shifting colors. As they examined him, the flow of spectral colors took on the contours of two women and a man.
"A manling? On this the night of Sunreturn?" said Merlissa.
"Yes, Sister - and he dies," said Tessa as she quickly examined him. In her sight his physical body was but a translucent shell amidst the more brilliant auric body. There in the flickering patterns of his auric body she read the essence of his history and his being. "It is not his time. He has yet to touch the work of this life." she said with a peculiar pain in her voice.
"Who are you to judge such a thing?" said Corlon. "Difficult enough are the choices of our fate. And have not our affairs with humans all ended in sorrow?"
"Truth" said Merlissa with some finality.
"Whose truth?" said Tessa. "To our pain, perhaps but was that not pain of our choosing? And to our sorrow? Our sorrows are old and deep and the passing clouds that pass for human sorrows do not compare to the joys we have shared. No, you may question my judgment but I question your truth."
"And what would you have us do?" said Corlon, his voice thick with unresolved emotions.
"Help him to live. Hope that his people will come," said Tessa.
"What say you Sister?" said Corlon
"That does not change our Path. The lines of our fates are not entangled. If it is your wish I will not prevent it," said Merlissa.
With that word Tessa drew closer to David's body and placed a glowing hand to the outer layer of the boy's life forces. The swirling energies reacted sluggishly. Stagnant areas were forming. The beautiful crystals that meant death were forming in his aura. Tessa grew brighter in the water, shedding a pale azure light upon his face. "Manling, do you wish to live?" she said. Silence.... "Do you wish to live?" she repeated. Again silence. He was dying faster than anyone that Tessa had ever seen die, but Tessa had never seen the death of a human. The nearer he came to death the clearer his physical form became to her. In that moment he was as lovely to her as the lilies that had bloomed all too briefly on the banks of the pond. She felt despair building within her as she continued to repeat, "Do you wish to live?" The rage of powerlessness began to rise in her being like a mighty wave that crested in a terrible choice.
Tessa plunged her hand deeply into the boy's aura. The shock was inexpressible, its concussion as deafening as a thunderclap. Faint, as if distant, she heard Merlissa and Corlon's cries of anguish and anger. Then their cries were gone. She was rushing upwards through a featureless dark, accelerating towards a light too bright to view even as a pinprick in the seamless black. This time her question was answered - by many voices.
"Mom. Mommm, is that you?" pleaded a child's voice.
"Ahrrraah, Aaaa, Aaaa!" cried the boy's animal nature.
"I return to the Source. I return." said the calm voice of his soul.
The cells in the boy's answered wordlessly in images of molecules moving to maximize waning resources.
Tessa closed her senses. She was reeling in pain, nausea, and disorientation, unable to master the tumult of alien sensations, and the inexorable energies of an incarnate spirit. She braced herself for torment, and reopened her senses. She was clutching the form of the boy as they rocketed upwards towards an inconceivable brilliance. The dark was beginning to yield to a purple-blue luminescence deeper than the heart of a mussel's shell. For the second time in her long existence Tessa was truly afraid. The Faerie folk may not enter the Summerland through the gate of the bodied. What lay before her was not the bright gate of death and rebirth but the blazing gate of oblivion. A shudder coursed through her, but she held tight, afraid to release her grip for the sake of her being and the boy's life. Her fear refined itself into distinct visceral torments as she felt herself becoming more and more physical.
The boy stirred. Her hands went weak with surprise almost surrendering their grip. His pale lids fluttered open and his brown eyes looked with amazement into eyes the color of mother of pearl. "Answer me quick, do you want to live?" she said.
"What? he answered lazily. "Who are you? .... The light is so beautiful."
"Child, I am Tessa and you are soon to be dead and I am to be nothing."
"They're waiting for me. I can hear them."
"I am doomed. May the Great Ones forgive me."
Tessa released the boy and fought to swim downwards against the implacable current. She made no progress. Her stamina gone, she desisted in her struggles to await the inevitable with dignity. She sensed that the boy was still looking at her. She turned and saw him far above, rising with limbs spread in the relaxed buoyancy of the dead man's float. The crown of his head touched the surface of the bright gate. For a second his face was suffused with the glow of peace, and then as quickly his eyes filled with horror. His lips formed an unvoiced "No!". He jerked in his arms, tucked in his legs, and cannon balled towards her. He overshot, fell past her, and spread his arms to float upwards again. Encouraged, she swam furiously to hold herself against the current. He grabbed her hand, and he said in a voice more sure than his years, "I am David and I am more. You were right, my tasks were not done but I will have other lives. I do not want your destruction on my conscience."
"The current is too strong. I cannot return without the weight of a body."
"I will try," he said. "Put your arms around my chest." Tessa complied with arms feeble from exertion, and awkward from a foreign sense of physicality. He strove courageously against the current, and against the increasing lift from the nearness of his body's death. Tessa's consciousness began to unfocus as she clung to him. She could feel his pain in her core, and he could feel her loss. He also felt the melancholy of loss and of a dream never fulfilled. Unbidden, the image of dolphins leaping in the waters off of sunny Cape Henlopen filled David's mind. He was David again, but he was also a dolphin diving deep. He was a dolphin carrying a twoleg to safety. Blearily, Tessa saw that she clung to a dolphin. She was beyond wondering how this came to be. Salt kissed her eyes with tears of joy. Truly she felt her end was blessed by Mother Ocean, with a vision of the sea.
Tessa returned to sudden, sharp, clarity. A circle of black ice snapped into being about a fathom below them. The dolphin kicked its flukes and they crashed through with a sound like the fall of an iceberg from a glacier. They were back. Before her was the boy, his auric flows in the pattern of life held in stasis, and though shaken she felt whole. Merlissa and Corlon approached her slowly. Tessa said, "He lives. Summon one of his people."
"You have tangled the lines of our fates. The clarity of our Wyrd is gone and you...you ceased to be. You were gone and yet you are here." Corlon held his energies apart, shielding himself from her as he spoke.
"We must save him. It isn't his time to die. And I have seen the sea...." said Tessa with an uncompromising firmness.
"Very well I will summon help." said Merlissa with a tone of resignation. Then timidly she asked, "Dear one did you actually see the waters of Mother Ocean?"
"Yes. Now go!"
Merlissa rose to the break in the ice where the boy had plummeted into their realm. Casting a glamour upon herself she surfaced in the form of a swan. She grasped tight on a shaft of moonlight to steady herself in the unfamiliar world of the surface, and began to sing a siren song of welcome. Her song rang outwards like swift ripples on smooth water. Her song reached a man in a vehicle on the strange roads of stone the humans make. The man was singing songs of the Christ faith. Merlissa's song called to him, said to him, "Come, what you need is here. Come, what you long for is here. Come." Turning a curve, the man's headlights caught a flash of green in the woods, and he pulled over. It was the prettiest stand of holly he'd ever seen. He grabbed shears and a bag out of his pickup, and started collecting some holly. The berries were as bright as the garnet necklace he'd be giving his wife for Christmas. In the quiet of the winter night he thought he heard the cry of a swan. He put down the shears, and started back into the woods. There it was again. The wrong time and place, but it had to be swan. His curiosity wouldn't let him go without checking. He ducked under a bough, and was at a pond ringed with hollies and cattails. He heard the cry again, but when he looked he saw not a swan but a jagged hole in the ice, and a knit cap floating in the water.
"They say they've never seen anything like it - at least not in someone his age. The nurse says someone from the College of Marine Studies, and one of the doctors wants to do a paper on David, and mammalian diving reflex. If David wasn't alright I'd be furious about all this scientific interest. It's a wonder that he's alive. It's a miracle that he doesn't have brain damage." Michelle faltered and looked directly into her brother's eyes. "You do think he's alright Paul? Don't you?"
"Yes, he's fine." Paul pulled her into a bear hug, and she placed her head beneath the tickle of his thick black beard. He was glad she couldn't see the dark crow of worry that raked lines across his brow and creases about his eyes. "Give him time, its only been two weeks. Besides the physical trauma, coming that close to death is a big shock when you're in the you-think-you're- -immortal teens." He felt her relax in his embrace, and her breathing began to steady. "I heard Steve was here earlier." She disentangled herself out of his arms, and stood in front of Paul with her arms crossed tightly across her chest.
"Yeah, he wasn't much of a husband but he does love David."
"I saw him on the way up, he's still downstairs in the cafeteria. It might be good for you two to talk." said Paul with an impish smile.
"Butt out. This isn't your business." Michelle returned a scowl for his smile.
"The hell if it isn't. I happen to love you which means your misery is my misery so go downstairs and talk to Steve, and put us all out of our miseries." He rarely got this loud talking to her, but he sincerely felt that Michelle and Steve had something worthy of a second try. Softening, he said, "I'm still hurting from my own break-up. Sorry Shell."
"I know you care." Michelle's childhood nickname, Shell, was still a password to her heart. "Alright, I'll go have a cup of coffee with Steve. I know he's worried about David."
"Great. I'll go sit with Davey until you come back up."
"Ok, I won't be long." She saw that the elevator had just opened and dashed down the hall to catch it.
Paul grabbed his backpack off the sofa in the lounge, checked to see if there was anyone at the nurses' station, and walked the hall to David's room, wincing a bit at the clack of his boots against the tile floor. He opened the door tentatively, quietly, then heard David say, "Come on in, I'm awake." Paul was cheered by the strength in his voice. He stepped into the room, closed the door behind him, and turned with his face beaming with the biggest, most reassuring smile he could muster.
"Yo, Davey, how're you feeling?" Paul thought the boy looked pale, thinner than he should, but surprisingly vital. He told himself that perhaps the pallor was just the cast of the fluorescent lights. David's eyes had changed in some way that Paul couldn't define, found disquieting, and spoke of pain and longing beyond the experience of a boy.
"Not too bad." He grinned and said, "Uncle Paul, people don't say 'yo' anymore, that's in the tar pits."
"I stand corrected." Flopping down at the end of the bed he said, "And now I sit corrected. I brought you something I know isn't in the tar pits." He zipped open his backpack and pulled out a box wrapped in turquoise paper with the silvery tangle of a homemade bow. David pulled himself up in the bed, and Paul put the gift in his lap. "The price just dropped, and I thought you could do with one more Yule gift." David ripped into it with the childlike abandon that many begin to hide at the sober age of thirteen. His grin filled his face as he saw that it was a portable wifi hotspot.
"Thanks! This is great."
"I knew you'd like it. I remember how much I enjoyed the walkie talkies I had at your age, and figured that this would be your equivalent." David had taken the modem out of the box, and had found one more tiny box. "That's a little extra you may need now." David shook the box. It made a quiet little rattle. He opened its end, tilted it into his hand, and a small silver pentacle on a fine chain sparkled in his palm. As he looked at the pentacle it began to pulse with a blue-white fire. He picked up the chain between two fingers. It was swinging from the shaking of his hand, pulsing brighter as it swung. The light grew until David was engulfed in an incandescence like a star wrapped within its birth nebula. Images began to coalesce and dissolve in the brilliance. Frightened, he dropped the pentacle. The brilliance vanished as quickly as it had come, and left him sitting in his hospital bed with his uncle regarding him with eyes grown deep and inscrutable. "I saw it too, Davey."
"Did you see them ?" said David as a shiver raised the hair on his arms.
"No, I didn't see any other beings. I did see your aura and it was brighter than any I've ever seen before. What happened Davey?"
"You mean now?"
"Now and the night of your accident. You're eyes have looked different since then and.......though I don't see auras often, I've seen your's often and it doesn't look exactly human."
"I already told you and mom about the dark tunnel and the beautiful light
I was rushing towards." He stopped, lowered his head, and ran a finger over the folds in his blanket. Paul waited patiently, without a word, a motion, or a change on his face. Finally, David lifted his head, and with a pained smile said, "You're not going to think I'm weird or nuts are you?"
"Remember who you're talking to. I'm the person the whole family thinks is, well, at the very least eccentric. And thank goodness for TV talk shows or else your mom would've thought the bit about the tunnel and the light was weird. You're lucky that near death experiences are fashionable this year." Davey giggled, and Paul continued, "After all, I am the good witch of Sussex County. So are you going to tell me?"
"Yeah. There was a woman in the pond. She was very beautiful, but kind of clear and shimmery like those wind chimes they make out of shells. She helped me, but got in trouble, and I had to help her. I'm not really sure what happened, but I remember becoming a dolphin, and I remember the top of my head touching the white light. My head itches where I touched the light."
"May I look at the top of your head?" In response David hunched forward so that Paul could look. On the crown of his head there was a patch the size of a quarter where silver roots contrasted against the golden brown of David's hair. "It looks like you've got a streak of silver hair growing in." David slowly straightened up, his back held stiffly.
"Do you want to know what happened tonight?"
"Yes I do."
"I saw her again, and there was another woman and a man. They're still in the pond, and they're incredibly sad." His eyes brimmed with tears. "Uncle Paul, they're so, so, so sad." He paused and the weight of silence filled the room, pushing back the walls until it felt as if they sat in an unnamed place, far away and desolate. His tears could no longer be held back nor could the small, sharp, gasps that articulated the cheerless mood that held them both. "We have to help them."
"If we can."
The full Moon draped the bare February forest in gauzy scraps of pearl gray fog. The mingling of shadows, mist, moonlight, and ice shards left from the thaw had made the pond into an opal set within the ring of the land. Four figures cloaked in green and silver walked round the water's edge. Thrice they circled the pond, troubling the stillness with only the rustle of their feet upon dry leaves, and their hands upon the branches that tugged at their capes. The third time round, one stopped at the East edge of the pond, another then in the South, the third in the West, and the last in the North. The four figures threw back their hoods, and awaited at their stations. Once more there was a rustling in the woods, and Paul and David emerged from the thorned embrace of the hollies to the lip of the pond. There they climbed into Paul's canoe, and paddled to the center of the waters. David looked at the figures along the shore with apprehension and asked, "Who are they?"
"Members of the coven I belong to. They'd rather you not recognize them. Some are friends of your mom's, and you know she isn't too comfortable with all this."
"I'm trustworthy. I wouldn't tell her about this. She thinks we're at the movies." His mood had shifted from anxious to indignant without so much as missing a breath. "Davey I trust you. Give them some time and they will too." Paul lit a floating candle, shaped like a five pointed star, and placed it in the water."Are you ready?"
"I guess so."
"Remember, whatever happens you're safe if you stay in the canoe." David nodded. Paul raised his hand, and waved to the figure in the East. Spread thin and faint, over the water came a woman's voice, high and sweet.
"Hail eagles of the East wind heights, truth swords of the quicksilver dawns. Hail dancers of yarrow strewn lawns, fleet followers of skyclad flights." She did something with her hands, and David felt a breeze push at the pentacle that hung about his neck. "The Gate of the East is open!"
"Hail noon eye, the Lady's bright bonds. South brilliance crowns the Queen of Names. Hail Solar Lion, Summer's flames, fire heart king of will and bright wands." This time it was a man's voice, and he felt a pulse of heat. They were all doing something with their hands, and David wondered what it might be? "The Gate of the South is open!"
"Hail twilit warrior of pearl, gray dusk prince, Autumn cupbearer. Hail West waters, questing seafarer, sail on the sundering seas' furl." This was an older woman's voice, deep and husky. Ripples began to lap against the canoe."The Gate of the West is open!"
"Hail Earth power, keeper of keys, bull of midnight, shooting star ram. Hail dark Maiden of mysteries, the North star of the pentagram." It was a young woman's voice that David knew was familiar yet unrecognizable within the power of the invocation. A sonorous vibration, starting in the marrow of his bones, spread outwards until it felt as if his entire body rang like a bell. "The Gate of the North is open!"
With the last word of the invocation a sphere of blue fire encased the entire pond with the floating candle as its center. David then looked to his uncle. Paul was standing, holding a silver dagger skywards that shone like a crescent Moon, then pointed it down to the depths of the pond. David looked down at his hands, and saw that he too was glowing. David stood and said, "They're coming." Three pairs of hands with skin as pellucid and phosphorescent as jellyfish breached the surface, yards away from the bow of the canoe. Slowly they rose like bubbles in honey. Their hands were clasped like divers, but their flight was from the water to the air. They rose until their toes, held pointed like dancers, barely touched the surface. Paul took his dagger and sheathed it. He took deep breaths to recover from his labor, his face flushed and beaded with sweat. They turned their heads towards David. "Tessa, we're here to help you," David said.
Tessa came closer and said, "David I am pleased that you are well, but do not trouble us with false hope." Then pointing to a streak of golden brown within the silver of her hair she said, "We are doomed and I doubly so."
"Are you sure?" said Paul breathlessly. "Begging your pardon Shining One, I ask to hear your story."
"You can hear me? I had not willed it so." Tessa image rippled with surprise. Merlissa and Corlon floated closer with a motion like leaves on a stream.
"I am kin to David. You two mingled your life forces to survive so now I am kith to you Tessa." Corlon's form cycled through subtle shades of rose, and periwinkle, and apple green that shifted uncertainly.
"Is that truly you?" Corlon had stretched out his hand to Paul. Seeming to squint he said, "Your physical body is different but it is you." Merlissa looked at Corlon with eyes that radiated pity.
"Corlon. Oh Corlon. Humans do not remember who they are when they change bodies. The love you had was centuries ago - a long time to them," said Merlissa. Corlon was the youngest of them, and with all the woes of their fate she had not had the heart to redouble his sorrow with this painful truth.
"I will try to remember," said Paul poignantly aware of the hurt of a love lost.
"It matters not," said Corlon, the words a disconsolate capitulation.
"Tessa tell us what's wrong," said David. "Uncle Paul is a witch in a coven, maybe he can help."
"Is that so. I thought the old green magic was dead to the Humans," said Tessa
"It almost was, but like humans it has been reborn," said Paul. "I am Paul of the Circle of the Oaken Staff, and we offer you our aid."
"I shall tell it then," said Merlissa, her face grown hard and golden with an austere dignity. "I am the eldest of the Tessarra here. We are of the Lesser Sidhe that dwell in the ocean shallows. We are creatures of sea foam and sand; of Moon and tide; of freedom and song. We are of the realm of Faerie that is closest to you, and is still of Earth, yet seen by few. Many centuries ago there was great storm that shook all the planes of being. There was a great shifting of the sea bed, and a vast wave of the waters of Earth and of the Astral waters crashed upon the shores of this continent. Many of the Tessarra were carried inland. Many flowed back to Mother Ocean with the receding waters or found their way through estuaries, but some like ourselves were trapped in lakes and ponds. In what is but a little time to us, lakes and ponds dry and die. Without water we cease to be."
"How many of you are trapped?" said Paul
"We do not know. When the veils between the worlds are thin we hear cries, answered Tessa. "We have lost two of our number. Recently humans dug channels to this pond, but they led to fields of corn where Shash and Hallap were stranded on dry earth. With the waters of this pond being bled into that field our time is short."
"And we will cease to be, without new forms, without hearing the sea speak our names one last time on the waves and rocks and spray. Cooohrluuun. Tehhhsahhhh. Mmmerrlisssssah." Merlissa sighed so deeply that the water dimpled below her.
"Why can't we put you in a big tank, and take you to the sea?" asked David.
"You're a clever one," said Merlissa. "But just as you need air we need water rich in the life energies of Mother Earth. No bowl however large will do that."
"No bowl would but there might be a way," said Paul "We cast a circle around this pond to blur the boundaries of the planes to extend your stay on the surface. If we could maintain a circle around a tank in a truck could you survive?"
The three sea spirits stretched out their arms, and moved in unison in a languid pirouette. Skeins of nacreous light spun out from them to test the strength of the witches' casting then returned, and were reabsorbed by their makers. Their faces grew bright and terrible with faerie passion. An explosion of light, sound, and joy knocked Paul and David to their knees, nearly overturning the canoe. The backwash extinguished the star candle, and the magic circle lost its center. The sphere of blue fire that surrounded the pond began to ebb. The three Sidhe were shouting, "It can be done. It can be done!" They sank until they were waist deep in the pond, retreating with the fading spell.
"We will return at the next Moon to plan your journey," said Paul. Corlon swam to the canoe and looked at Paul, his kelp green eyes carefully taking in each feature.
"This body suits you well. Though you do not know me now - I know you and I thank you for returning to me," saying this Corlon slipped from sight.
Merlissa and Tessa drew near,"To the sea David?" said Tessa as Merlissa laughed.
"Yes! To the sea, and to swimming with the dolphins!" cheered David.
The last wisp of the circle's blue fire faded . A pearl rested on the star candle that bobbed in the fading concentric ripples as a gift for a gift for a gift.