Forever winter (Part 30 – The End)

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The Lady of Europa

The snow was falling, coming down in huge puffs that peppered the trees that surrounded the cottage, adding another layer to the white blanket that silently covered all. Sleigh bells jingled, turning on the bend that took the path over a small bridge and brought the cottage into sight. The river had frozen over in parts, but little trickles of running water struggled through, flowing under the small bridge that the sleigh now crossed. The children were running alongside the great wooden beast, hopping on the back, and riding along with it. Along with the snow clouds, came the diminished light and the great silver lanterns of the sleigh twinkled at the front and back, catching the white expanse like pockets of tiny diamonds.

The gentlemen of the boxes pulled the sleigh, his huge bulk doing the work of any animal and with seemingly little strain. He watched as one of the children threw a snowball, ducking at the last minute as it sailed by and caught one of the other’s smack in the mouth.

“Close one Benjamin.” He said, laughing heartily, gripping the rope tighter that pulled the sleigh, turning it around the bend.

”You’re so big, it’s amazing he missed you!” Chu said, giggling as she jumped up onto the sleigh which was somewhat empty. They had travelled with the gentleman as he passed through the village and the neighbouring cottages and houses, delivering much needed items such as food and firewood to those stuck by the snow. The children were cold, but happy, eager to get to the cottage now and warm by the fire.

The cottage stuck up like a yellow tooth in a mouthful of white teeth, topped by the snow with its layer of icing. The gentlemen pulled the sleigh to a stop by the gate, breathing out a warm breath into the cold air.

“You’re coming in, right?” Samuel asked, already taking off his mittens. The others stood silent, waiting for his reply. The Gentleman looked into the sleigh, noting the remaining items, and deciding he had some time still and could stop for a little while.

“Sure, as long as there is cake.” He said, smiling and rubbing his hands together for warmth.

Stacey rolled her eyes and sighed.

“You know there’s always cake!” She said, matter of factly. And they pushed through the gate and made their way towards the small cottage door. The lamp that stood illuminating the path glowed with a blue light, casting a magical glow across the garden, now hidden by the snow.

“Can I do it this time?” Victor queried, running towards the door.

“You did it last time, it’s Rachel’s turn.” Gina pointed out, flicking off some snow from her shoulder which had fallen from the alcove above their heads.

“Ohhh, fine!” Victor said and stood back a little, allowing Rachel to shuffle to the front. The gentlemen joined them by the door, his mind taken only briefly to times gone by when this place had meant something most different to him. He watched as Rachel reached up to a glass jar. Its contents were red, almost like a curling smoke which moved around the sphere. She tipped it upside down on its bracket, and the contents began to bubble and swirl, emitting glorious little golden sparks. The smoky substance seemed to slide and move downwards in the jar, turning to a vibrant aquamarine.

“I love this bit.” Victor said, watching the sparks now as they trickled out of the jar and washed over the doorframe. Around the bracket of the door, a stone archway began to glow, the sparks of light drawn to it and creating a magical entryway.

The lady of the jars sat by a small swing in the back of her cottage as the sun shone down and basked them in tangerine light. P’erl was going higher and higher on the swing, smiling, and closing her eyes as the wind washed over her. The lady of the jars smiled as she watched P’erl, who more than once rode the swing around a full rotation, then returned to the book she was reading, or at least trying to read. She had been learning Europan, but she still struggled with many of the symbols of the alphabet.

“A half flower type one?” She called to P’erl who whizzed on by her.

“Sacred or sanctify.” P’erl called out, closing her eyes once again and allowing the strange gravity to pull her up and around.

“Ah, yes; that works. Thank you.” The lady said, popping the remains of a sandwich into her mouth as she continued to read. The book was huge, but weighed next to nothing, the paper thin and almost translucent. She loved the books on Europa, they had a magical element to them. She had spent hours already in the huge libraries there, filling her mind with the wonders of the universe.

“You have guests!” Came a voice from the window of the cottage. Ezra shook out a duster as he called down to them both.

“Oh, is that the time already. Wonderful!” The lady said, and she shut her book, carefully placing it down next to the now empty plates, the remains of a light lunch she had just enjoyed with P’erl.

The swing slowed, and P’erl hopped off, joining the lady of the jars as they made their way to the back door which stood ajar, letting the warm air inside. A grasshopper fled from the mat as they reached the door, hopping off into the grass.

“Any room for biscuits?” The lady asked P’erl as they stepped inside and entered the kitchen, going across to the counter where an array of cakes and tins of biscuits stood, ready for the guests.

“Always, especially homemade ones.” P’erl said, helping her get some plates and cups from the shelf.

Ezra appeared at the doorway, looking dusty and sweaty. He’d tied a bandana around his head to keep his hair out of the way to clean. and was wearing a cleaning apron that sported bluebells on it. The sight of him in full view made them both chuckle.

“Laugh all you want, but a bit of elbow grease is always needed around this place. It’s falling down you know! Why it’s only me who seems to do the hard work I do not know.” He said, despondently.

“Thank you, Ezra, for doing the cleaning, you don’t have to you know.” The lady said, plonking some gingerbread on a tray.

“Down to me as always.” Ezra replied. Coming across to help with the plates and trays.

They made their way through to the front room, the light pouring in through the windows. Ezra had tied the curtains up during the cleaning, little motes of escaped dust now speckling the room.

“Please could you start the fire P’erl, I hear it’s pretty brutal there at the moment.” The lady said, putting on a huge jumper and making her way towards the door. A jar next to her front door was bubbling with a blue substance, the insides jumping and glowing like a spluttering firework.

“Of course.” P’erl replied, and she knelt next to the huge open fire and conjured a brilliant blue and green flame which roared the area to life and cast a brilliant heat.

“Ready?” The lady asked, and she tapped a little script of words by her door frame. With it came a flash of white brilliance, the transformation happened.

For many one house is enough, one thing to take care of, one thing to clean and keep tidy. She loved her cottage by the river, she loved the children who came to hear her stories and listen to her amazing tales. The lady of the jars also loved Europa. She had fallen for the beauty of the planet, the kindness of the Europans, and the pull of something within her which told her that is where she needed to be. P’erl had been a missing piece in her life. Her arrival and her changing nature over the lady of the jars; and indeed, those around her, had given her exactly what she needed to grow and to be of use. To pass on her knowledge and to help make the change that was needed on earth. The world was better for what had taken place, and as the dust had settled; P’erl had explained to her the need for that process and how it was also required on other worlds, on other planets.

The Lady of the jars had stayed. As the gentleman of the boxes had returned, back to a world with regular seasons and weather patterns, he had shifted in his own soul, but she had also. She remained on the moon and with the help of P’erl she had replicated her cottage there on Europa, with the help of some magic. She lived in both places, learning, and growing, planning to help others in the great cleansing and returning that had so benefitted where she lived on earth. Using the power of the stones, she was able to build them into her little cottage, transforming it into a portal back and forth between Europa and Earth. Captured in a huge bubble on Europa under the ice, almost like a giant jar, her cottage in its own wizardry sat like a pocket of air. Many Europan’s fascinated by the types of weather that could be displayed in that little sphere. She was happy to share ranges of weather that could be displayed, no longer stuck with only winter and no longer fearing the sunshine.

As the sparks and the dust fluttered off into the snowy wind, they all bundled quickly into the cottage to get out of the cold. A few took off their shoes by the door, but many of the children rushed to a spot by the fire, closest to the heat and the treats which had been placed with care and attention by P’erl and Ezra. The lady of the jars hugged the gentleman of the boxes as he entered, a friendship now strong there and respect engrained. He couldn’t stay too long he’d explained, the tasks for the day not completed yet. Malthrop was on his list of deliveries, and Ezra said he would join him when he left to go see him also. They all settled cosily into the front room, thankful of the heat and eager for the wonder.

“Hello all, and merry Christmas!” The lady of the jars said as the children, their mouths already full of cake and gingerbread, listened quietly.

“Not just yet, besides you’ve not got any decorations.”   Benjamin said.

P’erl laughed.

“Well, yes but it is very nearly Christmas and the wintery weather I imagine is making you all festive.” The lady said.

“Can we help with the decorations?” Stacey asked, she sat properly on the mat by the fire, not helping herself to any cake just yet.

“Of course, how about this weekend? You know, I know some Europan children who would love to learn about the season too.” The lady said, and the eyes of those there in the room bulged in delight.

“Oh, and do please tell us a story about Europa.” Chu said, eagerly. The others chorused in in agreement.

The gentleman of the boxes had sat down in a huge chair opposite the lady, Ezra handing him a mug of hot chocolate. He passed around mugs for the children too, and as the fire spluttered and shone, P’erl looked at the lady and nodded her head.

“With the help of P’erl then I will tale you the story of K’lmatoi, the great ice creature which is a bit like a dragon, and who came to Europa in the tail of a comet.” The lady said, and above the children a small cloud appeared, hovering there in space. P’erl lifted her hand and out shot brilliant light which projected images and movements that helped tell the tale. As the images played out, and the children’s eyes danced in wonder, the lady of the jars popped some coconut ice into her mouth between sentences, following it with the hot chocolate that everyone seemed to be enjoying; letting the delicious drink warm her insides much like the good feeling that was burning brightly there in her little cottage. And was something that continued for many years ahead.

The snow, which had once fallen in it’s forever perpetualness before had now slowed, and the warm glow from inside flowed out of the windows, casting a bright hugging light to all around as the last few snowflakes tumbled. Winter no longer prevailed, but a forever feeling of love and joy certainly did.

The End


snowflake up close

Halfway from home

Jasmine, and if he closed his eyes, the sound of the ocean. The smell though was always the strongest, it was what always clung to him. The ghost that gently haunted, touching his heart. It came and went, sometimes intense, taking him to that place where he always felt safe. Always felt them there.

He looked out of the window at the planet below, the strange orb spinning silently in its indifference to him. The purple hues lifted off the surface as if into a dream, blurring and smudging with the swallowing blackness of space.

Jasmine and warm sand.

He stole himself a moment to close his eyes, feeling the history shiver through him. An irritant beeping began in his ear, and his eyes opened to see the planet once more, slipping slowly from view as a stream of white slithered across the windows. He stepped back, releasing the metal banister from his grasp and turned to the yawning corridor behind him. There were a few people making their way along it, eyes glowing from the screens that ensnared them. Detached from the beauty that space could offer them.

Why should they be so dazzled by its brilliance? Space was taking something away from them. Distance and time.

He had come to terms with his own arrangement, but for the others, he guessed it was difficult still. He walked away from the huge windows, away from the calling of the beyond and made his way back to where he would spend most of his time. Alone, which is what he knew.

In his own little pod, his room of sorts on this floating chrysalis. Many of the travellers would enter one way and leave another. Changed by either their own trauma, or the perils of interstellar travel. He would not of course, he had already changed enough. If anything, he would retrograde, like Saturn returning, back into the pupa of his early days where things were so different.

Alone in his room, he turned off the lights, casting the space in the neon blue phosphorus glow. It was known to aid sleep in these conditions, but he would not be sleeping. How could he? His insomnia was welcomed back the moment he stepped aboard. Nights and days meant nothing up here anyway, so his patterns of rest blended and ebbed away. The blue now though comforted him, like an incubator heat lamp hung over an egg. The yoke of his mind turned, tumbling over the memories of a world he knew was forever lost.

“2.377.8”

The soft voice whispered into the room.

He turned over, the blue phosphorus blinking slightly like a heartbeat.

“Keter.” He replied to the nothing, and the room hung there in silence for a moment.

“Understood.” The soft voice replied, disappearing away like a ghost.

He had become used to these intrusions. They were passengers of course, guests even. Many had exchanged their savings just for their souls to be classed as passengers on this voyage through the stars. These numbers, all the time, numbers. Tracking, and recalibrating. Confirming and informing. Many that he spoke to set their times around these indications of location, celestial longitude. As if the mapping meant something to someone.

Only people meant something to someone else.

The number usually meant the distance, or the time left to arrival. For him, they meant something different. Like the length of rope thrown for safety, slowly falling away. The further he got, the closer he was. The journey beginning at the end, like the thoughts in his head. Chasing his own tail. The room scanned his body, noticing some change in the space. He’d found his was extra sensitive, monitoring his pulse and liquid extraction to the smallest degree. He’d stopped crying long ago, setting off too many checks and queries, the systems unsure of what purpose the leaking ever did.

He wasn’t travelling alone, but everyone thought he was. He sometimes forgot he wasn’t here by himself, but then he was washed in guilt. They were here in both places. In his heart, and in the cargo bay that was probably above his head now, the rotating section of the ship which spun around like a carousel. Their body was secure, he’d been assured. Packed next to boxes of memories and other people’s goods. Machines and provisions for a new life for the others. Well taken care of. He’s welcome to come by any time to check, though he is yet to do so and not likely to ever.

What was in the body really? The soul had left long ago. Even on Damara, the soul had slipped out through the atmosphere, heading back to earth. Back to their real home, where their bones would want to lie. He’d have buried them there if he could, but their family wanted them back. It was the least he could give them, having taken so much from them in their departure.

They would want to say goodbye, not through a video call or hologram burial across the stars.

Earth is where they would come to rest, put into the family tomb and forgotten about in a few years. But he would not forget, for their ghost drowned them now. Breathing into him along with the blue. Always blue, blue, blue.

He closed his eyes, hating himself. Remembering what they had said before they had left, those years ago. That death would snatch them there, on that cold side of space. Yet they would go non the less, for he seemed to want it so badly. And in truth, he did. He’d wanted to get away, try something different. Get as far away from Earth as humanly possible. To build them a new home on a new planet, a place where they would live longer, be healthier and stay together.

Home, they’d said is wherever they were.

“2.5, R HH” The soft voice spoke again, harder this time.

Halfway.

Halfway on their journey, from where they’d left, to where they were going.

He closed his eyes, and though no sleep came, fantasies and dreams washed through his head like a pageant. Illuminating visions that meant nothing and everything to him, silencing him for some time.

He saw a shell, a purple scallop shell before him on its side. All around a mist floated, he could see the water inside, sloshing back and forth as if the little shell were a boat out on rough waves. It began to lift slowly, coming towards him. The water began to ooze and leak away from the middle. Draining out and away into nothing. The shell continued to rise until its profile faced his eyeline. And with a deafening thunderclap, the shell cracked down the middle and he opened his eyes.

Making his way along the corridor, he touched the sides to feel the glass. Just beyond lay space, hidden from him by the greyed colours of the walls. But he knew it was there of course. Many didn’t, they forgot where they were, either by their screen diving or the long bouts of hibernation. It was easy he supposed, to forget you were where you were. Flight, travel. It disrupts violently the ordinariness of life, but in a surreal detached way, it can also be forgotten. Like you were in a waking dream, and things were going on without you.

He turned at the end of the corridor and climbed upwards, through a stairwell which led to the cargo bay area. He didn’t bother to ask anyone or sign in as he was told to do. Instead, he snuck through the huge doors as quiet as he could and was successfully undetected by anyone. He’d been tracked of course, eyes always on them, but nothing had come of it he’d noticed.

Moving steadily, he made his way to section 5t, the ‘living containments’ section. Ironic he’d thought, seeing as everything here was frozen, sleeping, or dead. He could see a red light blinking on the box some distance away, and he hurried forward at the sight of it. Error messages flashed across the box, symbols and numbers which meant nothing to him. He saw the number 16 flash by, and his mind was reminded by their birthday, cakes and smiles, images of kissing and the scent memory of blown out candles attacked him at once. He saw it then, a little pool of water just beneath the box.

“Fuck.” He said aloud to no one.

He scanned his wrist across the glass by the numbers, and the red light stopped flashing, but remained red. He pressed a button at the side and with an artificial exhale, little jets of air hissed the lid open. Whatever the error, or malfunction, the body inside had thawed. The crystal struts that kept the body in position glistened as the liquid inside sloshed around them. The head faced him, but the eyes were closed. He was thankful of that. He didn’t want to see their brown eyes. He would always remember them speckled with golden light, and he knew now the light would be gone.

What to do, what to do.

He stood there, not knowing for some time. The pool of water had spread a little towards his feet, but since the box had been opened, it seemed to have stopped leaking. The display on the side slowly climbing little bars up to a 100% destination. Aiming for perfection.

They looked peaceful at least, they looked like they were unaware of anything around them, even him. And of course, they were. Dead, gone, already back on earth. This body, these bones cared not for the journey they were on now. He reached out then, touching their hair which was wet and trailed slightly in the pooled water around them, floating like leaves in a pond.

The water was warm, and as his feet plunged into the box it rose above his socks and kissed his skin. He plunged down on top, his arms reaching around, through the crystal struts and finding the fleshy body and bones behind at the bottom. He hugged, and squeezed them, his eyes filling both with the water and the tears. He knew they were gone, but he had to hold them. He had to be here now with them, encased in a water filled box shooting through space.

“2.51.” The voice overhead announced, this time echoing in the vast space of the cargo bay.

He closed his eyes, jasmine filling his mind. He was no longer halfway. He wasn’t even before. He was only lost and alone. This he knew was how it would remain. So, he stayed and cried until sleep finally snatched him away, his body drained of energy from all the weeping. The voice overhead continued to call out many more marker points, little dots that now tracked his fall into nothingness.