There was a great fair in Calgary, and despite the early chill of a late summer evening many good folk came to see the sights. The barns were full of livestock and the exhibit halls were brimming over with cakes and pies and pastries of every description. Games for a quarter. Games for a dollar. Games that promised great prizes but yielded naught but plastic pocket combs and key chains. And then there was the midway, where the rumbling and whirring of a half a hundred rides shook the very air. The scent of carousels and candy apples was intoxicating to the young, and perhaps to the old as well.High above thebright din at the center of the fairground towered the double Ferris wheel, or "Skywheel", as it's name - spelled by flashing lights - proclaimed. And it seemed a general sentiment that one must ride the Skywheel to truly experience the spirit of the fair.
Maria held tight to her father's arm as the skywheel dipped graceful towards the ground. The warm air met them with a scent of sawdust, fast food, and motor oil. Then, up again to the top... and the upper wheel paused as the lower wheel spun beneath. Maria looked out over the carnival and to the hills beyond, where an overcast sky met the black line of trees on the horizon. It was almost silent up here, she thought to herself. The only sound being the gentle hum of the green fluorescent light near the side of the carriage where she and her father sat. And then came the snow. It surely must be the first snow of the season. Tiny flakes drifted down, brushing Maria's face with cold kisses. She watched one snowflake as it fell and landed upon the green fluorescent light. But no, it didn't touch the light at all; rather it seemed to hover a bit above it.
"Good God" cried Papa Wodzinska - who was Maria's esteemed father. "I'll catch my death. Here Here!" Papa Wodzinska, who failed to discern the poetry of the moment, banged his cane on the side of the metal carriage and demanded to anyone within earshot that he - and Maria - be brought down at once.
On the ground again Maria felt a sudden weariness come over her. So much so that her father found it necessary to carry her back to the car, where their driver was fast asleep behind the wheel. "Wake up, man" Papa whispered hoarsely, elbowing the window. Roused, the driver quickly exited the car and held open the rear door door as Papa gently laid the child across the back seat. She was sleeping soundly now. The old man removed his great coat and covered her with it. "Did she enjoy the outing, sir?" asked the driver. Papa sighed. "I had hoped... I thought the excursion might do her good..." She looked very small, lying there. And as pale as snow. "Perhaps it did, sir", answered the driver as they climbed into the car. "A change of scenery often will."
Can't we go, Papa; can't we go farther north?
Practicality is the devil that destroys the dream. Marie's father explained again that adequate medical facilities were not to be found within the proximity of the arctic. Their present abode, a rambling estate house on the outskirts of Lloydminster, had demanded a good chunk of Papa Wodzinska's fortune.Marie's bedroom was now her world. A dark paneled room whose windows were, during daylight hours, hidden by thick burgundy coloured velvet curtains. The mahogany bed, ornate and ancient, dominated the chamber with it's spiraling fore posts and it's cherub laden headboard. On the night stand by the bed a green shaded lamp cast a dim light over all. But a dim light was all that Marie could bear.
It was a dusky late afternoon, which was Maria's favorite time of day. After a light dinner of broth and bread (prescribed by the locally renowned Dr. Tannis and prepared according to his exact specifications) Papa Wodzinska would spend the evening hours amusing his daughter to the best of his well-intentioned ability, which more often than not required him reading aloud from one of Maria's favorite books. But sometimes nothing would do but that he tell her about his own youthful adventures; his school days, the military service that he disliked to speaking of; and of meeting the girl that would become his wife - and later, Marie's mother.
Mirelle Cousiane had been but a girl of 23 when she shocked her family by consenting to marry a man nearly 35 years her senior. It was to be a happy, albeit brief marriage. At 27 Mirelle had given birth to Marie, and survived her infant daughter by a mere three weeks. Marie loved hearing her Papa tell her about Mirelle, and pestered him with more than a few questions about her.
"It was your mother's choice to name you Marie" said Papa in answer to that precise question. "She wanted you to be named after my great great great great aunt Marie Wodzinska, who was famous for breaking the heart of the illustrious Chopin. She had promised him her hand in marriage, but as time progressed and Chopin became more and more ill..." "Was she quite wicked, then?" asked Marie. Papa Wodzinska sighed "No more wicked than any girl of sixteen... and not half as wicked as you." Papa smiled as he tucked her into bed. Marie woke about an hour later. She could hear her father playing the harmonium in his room. She knew the piece; a Mazurka, by Chopin. "A Minor - Opus 7 - Number 2", she whispered to herself. Even the title sounded like music, whispered to herself there in the dark.
"A Minor - Opus 7 - Number 2... A Minor - Opus 7 - Number 2..."
It was evening again, and Papa Wodzinska Was reading aloud. Maria had come to love the melancholy prose of Sir Destrin Kaye, and certain passages from his romantic novella "A Tailor Of Tin" (written in the first person, no less) were among her favorites. There, in the dim green lamplight, the words had the gravity of gospel:
"For here we are, the most blessed and the most pitiful of creatures. Made in God's image, yet clothed in fading forms that crumble away with every breath. Our life is but a glimmer of light held fast between two timeless eternities, until that day of death - that all of us in our heart of heart longs for - shall come. And it will come, be it with the thunder, or with the softest of sighs. I do think of it often, especially on a winter's evening, when the tide of sunset pulls back over the fields of snow, and the blues and violets fill every shadow with the promise of night, and of rest. It is not a sad thing. We who have chased the sunset all our lives know that our reaching it means to leave our homely form behind. Let it rest, then, in those same shadows, for from there are born the stars, as surely as the butterfly is born from the worm. Be it yet that the sunset shall become my home? From my youth I have wished it... These were the thoughts that came to me in that instant, where eternity seemed to draw near and to call to me from a window above. And as Rem Stuart and I stood on the cliffs edge I daresay we shared the same feeling of awe as we looked out upon this unknown ocean, where waves as black as midnight crashed upon sands far below. Like great beams of obsidian they came, rolling slick from the horizon, capped with a snow white froth, causing the very mountain we stood upon to tremble..."
"It's the north sea he's speaking of?" The question startled Papa. "I would think so". Papa flipped to the front of the book, reading the chapter titles. "It would seem that Young Destrin seldom ventures into the southern regions." Maria considered this northward inclination of Destrin Kaye, and found that she liked it. "Shall I continue, dear?" "Do, please", answered Maria after a moment of silence, "but skip ahead to the dark island..." Papa smiled. He could practically recite the entire chapter "Dark Island" by heart. Maria never tired of hearing it. And, with the not unhappy sigh of a man who has trod the same path many times, he began:
"We came upon the island that first Friday in December 1854. The sun was no more than a disc edge skirting the horizon, and our days were hardly brighter than twilight. We first thought the rough-rounded mound in the distance to be a stray berg, but as we steered our vessel closer we saw at last that it was indeed an island. Cyprus trees stood tall, clustered at it's center, with algae green shrubs and vine bushes ringed around them. A breeze brought the scent of roses to us across the water. "How extraordinary for roses to be growing in such bitter cold", observed Rem as he surveyed the island through the spyglass. "and there seems to be a path there... leading up to the trees...." Far off to the west two great waves crashed upon one another, eclipsing the feeble sun, and sending columns of water high into the sky. The wake kept The Eronan rocking for the better part of an hour."
"Of course there was no question but that we must investigate the island. The scent of roses grew stronger as we prepared the dingy for our exploration, and both Rem and I remarked that this particular scent was unlike any we had previously encountered. It seemed indeed to have been masking something else... Taking few provisions (a modest dinner of dried beef and bread, a flagon of wine - and a pistol) we made for land. Our transit took little more than a quarter of an hour, but it seemed an eternity with those dark waters rippling beneath us. It was not wise to consider long the depths that yawned below..."
Marie had been dreaming. It was a recurring dream; of a snow white raven that flew into the sunset, higher and higher before falling into the waters below. Each time the bird touched the water, Marie would wake with a start. Often times she dreamed that she was running across great drifts of snow, chasing the raven as it flew high above her. She called, but the great bird took no notice of her. She must have cried out in her sleep, for she woke with her father leaning over her. Maria told him of her dream.
"Papa" began Marie, yet half asleep, "can I have a raven like the one in my dream?"Papa Wodzinska smiled. "Fantastic creature, my dear, he began, "but unfortunately your raven only exists in dreams..." "No Papa" the child interrupted "I mean can one be MADE. It's white, and it's eyes are a deep blue... like jewels... and it's beak and claws are golden. Can't Madame Lourette who made Antoinette for me make a raven?" Antoinette had been Marie's favorite doll, but since the advent of the dreams had been consigned to the top shelf of the bedroom closet, where a little brown spider had taken up residence in her coiffure.
Of course Papa Wodzinska could not say "no".
The very next day the esteemed Madame Lourette - the same who had crafted the aforementioned Antoinette - was hired to create the desired toy - to Marie's express specifications, of course. When completed the snow white raven stood nearly twenty inches tall, with star sapphire eyes, golden beak and claws (gold plated - unbeknownst to Marie), and a near miraculous rendering of feathers with tiny patches of iridescent silk. All who saw it admitted that Madame Lourette had outdone herself. Marie was pleased, and not surprisingly insisted on sleeping with the raven every night. Most times she drifted off with it clutched to her breast, and the sensation of cool silk against her skin felt like the caress of the north wind as she flew in her dreams over dark glaciers to the aurora lit cairn of the fabled Tanillairene... and Es.
And now, with her bright new bird, the child found herself not dreaming of chasing beneath, but riding upon the back of the raven in a sky where even the dimmest stars of Camelopardalis glimmered like jewels. Riding up and dipping down in graceful arcs. Almost like riding the great Skywheel of Calgary...
Tonight the supper of bread and broth was largely ignored. Papa was reading once again - at Maria's insistence - from "A Tailor of Tin":
"A pathway of mossy stones led up through the bushes to a grouping of cypress trees at the island's crest. Having made our way to the top we found ourselves within a circle of perhaps thirty feet in diameter. The trees surrounded us as would a wall, and the only sky that was visible to us was directly above, where the stars of the lesser bear shone down upon us."
"It was Ren who first noticed what appeared to be a sunken area there in the center of the enclosure. And here, o reader, I ask your forbearance in what I must yet relate: upon the gods I swear it to be the truth. We approached the mouth of the pit with some trepidation; perhaps it was the heavy scent of roses; or the baleful runes that we had deciphered the night before that imparted to us a feeling of expectation. And surely the circumpolar stars did shine brighter in theses waters than they ought..."
"My God..." exclaimed Ren, who had advanced several steps in front of me. I stopped there where I stood. It wasn't fear, but a feeling that I knew full well what I would see. It makes little sense as I attempt to relate it all now. Some, I believe, call the phenomena deja-vu. I would describe it more as the dread of a circle's fateful trajectories meeting and joining at their appointed and unalterable time."
"Look here, Des..." Ren caught my sleeve and pulled me up to the pit. But it wasn't a pit at all. No more than two feet down there was an oblong pane of clear blue crystal, measuring perhaps 6 by 8 feet, beneath which lay the bodies of two young maidens, one fair-haired and one dark, lightly covered with a white wrap. In the dim light I could see that though immaculately preserved, they were long dead. At their feet was what appeared to be the decayed remains of some small beast; above their heads was a vial of some yellowed liquid with a faded label, upon which only the letters 'M' and 'Z' could be discerned. The maidens themselves were quite untouched by any obvious signs of corruption. I had heard of this phenomena before; of those pious beings who lived saintly lives, and, years after their demise suffered the indignity their tombs being opened, and were found to be unaltered in appearance. Incorrupt.
"Is there no memorial?" Ren exclaimed, searching the scrubby growth around the grave. But I only heard him speak as if from a distance. As I looked down into the crystal I could see that the fair-haired maiden's eyes were not completely closed. It seemed for a moment rather horrible, but then I felt myself drawn into the deep blue that slept there, and the glint of Kochab from far above us seemed itself to radiate from the maiden's sightless eye..."
The dream was different this night. As before, Marie flew with the raven into the arctic skies, following the eternally receding sunset. But this time, as they arced above the fields of ice, the sun did in fact sink from view. It set with little fanfare, leaving a salmon coloured glow on the horizon. But high above, the aurora began to turn, and coil, forming two great circles of green and gold... Marie woke suddenly.
"Papa!" Her father had only been half asleep, and started at her voice. "Papa... I know my last wish now." "Humph, let have no talk of Last wishes my dear", he said, stifling a yawn, "last wishes are for the dying, and you're merely 'the ailing'". "Remember Papa, when you took me to the carnival... and we rode the great Skywheel together. It was night, and as we were riding it, it began to snow..." "Certainly, certainly", said the old man, "and I was ill all the next day. Damnable weather in Calgary..." "I wish...", began Marie, her voice growing softer as she met her father's eyes. "I wish I could, perhaps... have that wheel here?" Papa Wodzinska laughed, though good-naturedly. "And I wish, my dear, that gold grew on grapevines." "Would it be quite impossible, then?" asked Marie, punctuating the question with a plaintive 'cough'. It was a serious request, and with a voice that suddenly seemed more mature than that of a girl of twelve. "Nothing... is impossible", said Papa after a long pause. He looked into his daughter's eyes and saw that no coquetry flashed behind them. "But my dear", he began, "wouldn't it be just as well to wait until you're stronger. Then you and I can go and ride the Skywheel together..." "I don't want to ride it, Papa," Marie interrupted. "I just want to watch it; to see it out there in the old cornfield. I want to see it's lights as it turns..."
And so it was. Nothing being impossible, Papa Wodzinska assured his beloved daughter the necessary arrangements would be made for the procurement and delivery of a skywheel to the outskirts of Lloydminster. Later that night, as Maria lay dreaming of the north, Papa Wodzinska sat alone in his bedroom mulling over the promise made to Maria. "A fool and his money... and I am most certainly the fool." Sighing, he closed his eyes, " but she's all I have. All I'll ever have..." It was past midnight. His mind fell back though the years. He thought of his long dead wife; how often had they spoken of growing old together. He had only her memory to grow old with now, and tonight her memory seemed almost tangible. He looked out his bedroom window into a starless night. Twelve years... Papa sighed as he pulled out a dusty manuscript from the compartment beneath the harmonium's bench. "Nocturne in E flat major by Freidrich Fesca". In a moment's time the room was filled with a longing melody that had not been heard in over a hundred and fifty years.
"Cough, please" The doctor listened intently as the child managed a half-hearted cough. "This should have cleared up weeks ago." The doctor turned to Papa Wodzinska. "Have you kept her out of the damp, as I instructed?" Papa bristled, "Of course, you damned fool. I wouldn't dream of paying such an outlandish fee and not follow your instructions..." "Well well, I only ask." The doctor walked to the window and held his hand over the sill. "There doesn't seem to be a draft..." "My daughter's room is immaculately kept," said Papa haughtily. The doctor smiled. "Indeed." Maria stared out the window opposite her bed. A bird was circling high over the cornfield; a tiny dark speck against the grey afternoon sky... "Maria", the doctor walked back to the child's bedside, "You do want to get well, don't you?" Maria watched the bird. It seemed to trace invisible circles in the air. "I want to be well, yes sir," she answered at last. "Otherwise Papa won't take me north..." The doctor looked puzzled, and turned to Papa Wodzinska for an explanation. Papa ever so slightly shook his head as if to say "Not now. Later." The doctor sat on the edge of the bed and took her small hand in his. "Are you at all unhappy, my dear? You must tell us. We want only to help you..." The bird disappeared behind the trees that obscured the greater part of the cornfield from view. She wished she could fly beyond the cornfield. "I'm not happy... but I'm not really sad, either. I just don't enjoy anything anymore... except when Papa reads to me..." Marie's father and the doctor exchanged uncomfortable glances. "I'm too weak even to get out of bed. Every day is so long. And at night I dream the same dreams; always flying so far above the snow... even though I fear high places... Marie sighed, and looked at the two men. "At least it's winter now," she said attempting a cheerful tone, "and the days will be shorter..." "My days are never short" said the doctor standing up, and putting his implements back into his bag. "I have four more calls to make before my day is done". "And I have these workmen to contend with, "said Papa Wodzinska as he helped the doctor with his coat. "They promised me that the wheel would be ready by Friday, and now..." "We are all the slaves of time" sighed the old doctor. "I feel it more so now... now that I have less of it..." The doctor remembered Marie, and checked himself. But Marie had not been listening. "I hope it's ready by Friday... or at least by Saturday", she said, looking out the window at nothing at all.
It was Thursday evening, or "Friday Eve" as Papa was so fond of calling it. Dinner was done, and Papa had just returned to inform the household that the Skywheel would be up and running by tomorrow night. Maria brightened noticeably at this news, and held her raven close as Papa again read from her favorite book...
"December 12, 1854. I have dreamed the thing again. I daresay I shan't sleep again until we have left these waters behind us. The island lies far to the north, now, but it's cold poison has replaced every drop of my blood. I pray that God forgives what I feel compelled to relate, though it be only a dream:
"I stand alone on that damned island named Krelisstuan. I am wearing a robe of white (and a blasphemous thought that I am, by some insane necromancy, the young man mentioned in the fifteenth chapter of Gospel of Mark resounds within my mind), and standing at the edge of the pit where lie the two long dead maidens. Suddenly the earth beneath me heaves, and I fall into the grave, breaking the blue crystal as I tumble into the bier. The scent of roses chokes me as I attempt to cry out for help, and the pale, brittle limbs of the maidens crackle and break as I struggle to free myself. But the more I struggle the more I become entangled in their shroud. Then, a black wave of water and sea ice engulfs all, and even as I drown I feel the arms of the dead ones embrace me; their stiff fingers cutting into my flesh with horned nails; and teeth tearing at me with all the animated insistence of starving beasts. I can do nothing. No prayers by me were prayed, or even thought. I look up, but only the seven stars of the lesser bear meet my gaze... I awake to find that Ren, alerted by my cries, had pounded upon my cabin door for a good fifteen minutes..."
Maria remembered being terrified by Sir Destrin's nightmare when Papa first read it to her, years before. But now it had all the familiarity of an old friend. She fell asleep knowing that Destrin would survive his dreams.
It was, with much curiosity (and talk of a possible circus) from the locals that the Skywheel was installed in the cornfield that was visible from the north window of Maria's bedroom.The doctor arrived at six, and stood on the porch shaking the rain off of his overcoat. "Dreary one!" exclaimed Papa Wodzinska, taking the doctor's hat. "Aye" the old fellow coughed, "the Good Lord gave us half a moon last night, and no sun at all today". The doctor glanced up the stairwell. "Heaven only knows what this night may bring."
December 2nd. Twilight, and the evening took great time slipping it's grey hands into the earth. But at last came the dull sky of an overcast autumn night. The curtains of Maria's room had remained closed while the Skywheel had been erected in the cornfield. She had expressly stated that she did not want to see it until the night.
Dinner was postponed, seeing as how Maria had no appetite and no interest. Neither the good doctor nor her Papa could persuade her to take even a little broth. "Later, then," said Papa, and sent the broth back to the kitchen with the instructions that it should be kept warm. The doctor excused himself saying that such a dinner would be just the thing to "wring the damp out of my bones," and made his way down to the kitchen. Maria and her father were alone. Outside, a gentle drizzle tapped at the window panes. A whisper that hovered above the silence. The minutes passed; perhaps an hour. It was full night when the waited for signal finally came from the workmen in the yard.
"All is ready, my dear," said Papa. Somehow the moment felt as if it were sacred. "Shall we proceed?" Marie nodded, her eyes closed. "Now, Papa", she whispered. Papa Wodzinska pulled back the heavy curtains and held a candelabra up to the window, (a predetermined signal) and but a few seconds later the distant whine of gasoline generators could be heard from across the field. The bright lights of the Skywheel blazed into view; yellow and green fluorescents illuminating the night air and cutting through the line of trees that hid two thirds of it's height from Maria's bedroom window.
Maria, feeling the light upon her face slowly opened her eyes. And, as the great wheel turned, each of it's wheels rising and then dipping in a graceful arc, the little girl lay quietly and watched, clasping the white raven so closely that it's golden beak pierced her cheek, drawing blood. The green shaded lamp flickered on the nightstand. "Maria..." Papa Wodzinska gently turned the beak of the raven away from the child's face and wiped away a little blood drop. In the muted green light the blood looked black. Maria heard nothing. With her eyes fixed upon the Skywheel and it's slow rotations, Maria found herself again in the deep blue skies of the north, riding upon the white raven. The aurora above began to take shape as before, and soon the two great circles, and then wheels, wheels of green and gold were turning high above. But this time there was no falling, no spiraling into the dark waters beneath. Now Maria felt that she and the raven were being pulled upwards. And as they rose she began to feel that her flesh was turning into air, and the very air into light. And then there was a face, dimly shining between the wheels of green and gold. It's eyes were closed as though it were sleeping; Suddenly the raven rent the air with a cry that echoed into the emptiness... and the two eyes slowly opened. The sight sent a thrill of horror through the child; but as she stared into those eyes of ice blue she began to feel a sense of what had been promised her by the winds and snows of her dreams. There was no living, no dying, and no striving for happiness in those eyes; only the cold crystalline peace of the ice flow, and the purity of the frozen, breathless moment of a cold midnight that never ends, and was never begun. The eyes seemed to sing, "Sweet child, once my rain; sweet child, now my snow..."
To Papa Wodzinska it seemed almost as if Maria had stopped breathing; but in that same instant the child caught her breath and reached for her father's hand. "Papa, tell them to make it stop..." and the Papa Wodzinska went quickly to the window and signaled to the workmen in the yard who relayed the message to those operating the wheel. The drizzle outside had become a soft pelting of sleet and of snow. "See there Papa', whispered Maria "If only we could stop time like that. Out of all time... I think I could be happy in that little instant. Like long ago when we rode the Skywheel together, and they stopped it when we reached the top. Remember? Just the sky, and the lights around us. Frozen in one second of time. I can see my spirit up there, with my raven... and we would float together above the light of the wheel. We could be there in the light, and we wouldn't mind the rain... and we'd be content in our little bit of time. No past... and no future." There was a long pause, and the room was silent, save for Maria's shallow breathing. "Do you think that God would grant us that second of time, out of all eternity? It's all we want..." Papa Wodzinska looked out across the field to where the skywheel was shining brightly against the grey of night. The wheel, along with the child's words entranced him, and for a moment a window opened in his mind. A window that had always been there, but that he had never noticed before. He almost, almost understood what Maria was saying... and he felt a longing for that which she had described. "Maria...", he began, turning from the window. But he saw at once that Marie was beyond answering. The window closed.
The old doctor was called upstairs, but everyone knew that Maria had breathed her last. Prayers were prayed, and the snow white sheet drawn across a face that seemed at last to know contentment. "The snow of sleep doth drift across my path..." the doctor whispered, looking down upon the little dead child.
Papa Wodzinska, in his grief, fumbled with the candelabra, which was inadvertently taken as a signal by the workmen outside to start again the motion of the wheel.
And so Time began again, and what had been rain was now snow.
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`anmari has been spreading her infectious positivity throughout our community for over 6 years. Throughout this time Ana has been at the core of all things devious, passionately developing an eclectic gallery, helping organise devmeets, participating in chat events and also recently completed dedicating her time as a Community Volunteer. We are absolutely delighted to bestow the Deviousness Award for May 2013 to `anmari, congratulations! Read More