Tuesday, January 27, 2009
An old story - "She"
I unearthed this story via the Wayback Machine imprint of my old website. Nearly forgot about it as I wrote it nearly 10 years ago. Since it isn't as "winceable" as some of my other old stories, I am reposting it here, flaws and all. The original backdrop music was some haunting melody by Enya. Can't remember it now.
The night was cool and calm, the blue waters crystal with merging shadows and light. Two sister moons guided her onward to their destination. The man and woman sailed on.
"How far?" he asked, his voice echoing in the shelter of the surrounding mountains. Although distant, the purplish blue ice-capped peaks drew sound into them, absorbed it into their many caverns and ravines, then sent it back to the travelers trebly in repetition. The sound of his fear was also trebled.
"It isn't much farther," she answered. Again the echoes. "You don't have anything to fear."
She looked at him, saw the wariness in his face as he looked around at the unfamiliar setting. He was a stranger here. She must be patient with him.
"How long have you lived here?" His eyes looked up at her, a beacon of humanity in this otherwise strange night, in this strange but beautiful place. She was beautiful, also, this woman with skin of midnight velvet, smooth and dark, with upturned breasts bared to the glory of the moons. A cloth in brilliant colors was wrapped cozily around her well-rounded hips. She stood tall and lithe, moving the boat forward with a push of the pole in her hand. Her dark eyes were all but invisible in the night.
He had lain naked and alone, lost and disoriented on the banks of the waters. It had been night then as it was now. Although he tried, he couldn't remember how he had gotten there. And when he pressed his mind for memories of who he was and how he had come to these shores, it refused him the story, telling him to trust in the here, in the place, in the woman.
She'd told him her name was Kyana. As for his own, he decided that right now it wasn't important. Especially as he could not remember it. Maybe this strange woman knew. Maybe she also knew why he was here. Maybe she would tell him before their journey ended, before they arrived at wherever she was taking him.
"I have always been here," she finally said. "Can't remember there ever being a time when I wasn't sailing these waters, bringing travelers to and fro."
"Where do your travelers come from?" He was interested in her story, since he didn't have one of his own to tell.
She smiled and shrugged. "Oh, all over and nowhere, from places I have only dreamed about."
He liked the sound of her voice. It sang to him of the mountains around them, of the waters they sailed on.
"I wish I could remember where I came from," he said softly to himself, looking down at the waters. His reflection in them was as pale as his skin. The blond of his hair shone almost white.
"You do not remember because you choose not to."
He shook his head in protest. "No, I don't remember anything, nothing at all, not who I am, how I got here. The only thing I remember is waking up on the banks of the waters and seeing you sailing towards me."
She was silent again. He didn't like her silence. It seemed to condemn him. Her face looked toward another bank of mountains, their towering peaks disappearing into the sky.
"Where are we going?" This was not the first time he had asked her, but she had never answered him.
"We are going home."
"Home? Whose home, yours? Because I certainly don't live here. I've never been to this place before in my life." He was certain of this, even though he couldn't have said why.
"Thought you said you didn't remember anything." Laughter was in her voice, but she didn't turn to him, her eyes remaining on the course ahead.
"I don't remember," he said like a petulant child. "And I don't know why you're trying to make me think that I do."
She sighed. Sometimes her travelers truly did not remember their pasts. But she knew that he was not one of those people. Ah well. She wasn't going to argue with him. He would remember soon enough.
"I'm not trying to make you do anything. I'm just a river woman, taking another traveler across, that is all. Whether you choose to remember or not is none of my concern. As soon as we enter the tunnel through the mountain over yonder, we will be home. And you can go where you please." A calm complacency had taken the place of the laughter in her voice.
Home, he thought bitterly. Where was home? Surely not this place. He looked up at the twin orbs in the sky. An image of a single moon hung in the back of his mind somewhere. Along with a woman's voice. A voice edged with something he didn't want to remember. But in the silence of the night, he heard her calling him back.
"Jerry, please...don't leave me. I'm sorry."
He heard his own voice then, impatient, pitying. "It's over, Lorraine. Can't you understand that? I don't love you anymore. I want to be free."
He heard the soothing, flowing sound of a moving river, smelled the pungent earth around it. Her sobs had filled the night as they sat along the bank. He had brought her to that quiet place, hoping to talk with her, to reason with her, to soften the blow. But she had turned from him. And when finally she turned to face him again, a loud sound had exploded in his ears. He remembered the blazing pain searing through his chest, and the life flowing from him through his blood. As he left his body, he thought he heard Lorraine's voice still beckoning him not to go.
"I'm dead, aren't I?" Surprisingly, the fear left him now as he accepted what he must have already known.
"Depends on how you define death." She sounded pleased with him again. "Some people would say death is when the body loses the soul. But they'd be wrong. The soul is never lost. It simply goes on until it finds its way home."
"Are you dead then, too?" he asked.
She shook her head. We are not the dead ones. We are the ones who have just moved on. This here is not a land of shadows. The true shadowland is what you have just left behind. Shadows walking around thinking they're real when they are really nothing more than spectres, ghosts." She shook her head in pity at the thought.
"This place here, this is real. This is where life begins. And just ahead of us lies our only true home."
After that, she did not speak again for the remainder of their journey through the mountain tunnel. He contemplated what she had told him, and what was being revealed to him by his memories. They all came flooding back now: the hectic pace of his life; the pressure of living up to an image imposed on him by others; the long, tedious hours at a job that had slowly but completely strangled his freedom, much as his relationship with Lorraine had begun to suffocate his life. He had tired of the arguing, followed by the painful silences between them. Had he ever really loved her? He didn't think so.
He felt sad then, realizing that he had died without truly knowing love, without truly knowing that there was someone to share his life's journey with him.
Just then, they passed inside the tunnel and darkness surrounded them. He wished suddenly for the moons and their brilliant, comforting light. Was it always night here, he wondered.
He saw a pinpoint of light near the end of the passage. The light grew larger as they neared it. Soon it reached out to them and pulled them into its embrace, welcoming them. Finally, they were on the other side.
Everywhere he looked, bright colors beckoned - the greenest pastures and trees, the bluest lakes, all of it stretching for miles and miles. The sun blazed golden and warm. Castles dotted verdant hills. Off the shore, people walked along smooth pavements of ivory. They were as naked as he, but did not seem to care.
She helped him out of the boat and set him ashore. Her hands were soft, yet strong
and comforting. He noticed a soft fragrance coming from her, a pleasing mixture of fresh tilled earth after a light spring rain, and summer flowers welcoming a new day. Her smell brought back halcyon memories of childhood summers spent at his
grandparents' home. Why hadn't he noticed it before?
"Is this heaven?" he asked, looking around curiously. Oddly, she shook her head.
"No, this is not heaven. This is simply Eden. A place lost to those who decided to live in shadows, who opened their eyes, refusing the light, eagerly accepting the darkness. Eden didn't go away. They did."
She got back in the boat after settling him on shore, and he realized suddenly that she was going away. For some reason, the thought of her going away disturbed him. She had made the journey less frightening.
"Are you coming back?" he asked. She caught the hope in his voice and smiled. He could see her eyes now, eyes as lovely as amber, as warm as the sun above.
"I'll be back," she said, the laughter in her voice again. Then she pushed the pole to manuever the boat around. He stared at her as she began moving away, wondering when he was going to see her again. Wondering why it made him happy to think of it. She looked over her shoulders only once at him as she entered the tunnel.
Then she disappeared, this woman named Kyana, this gentle escort of souls into paradise, this most beautiful death he had ever seen. Yes, he hoped to see her again really soon.