This is Chapter 7 of the story Of Wind and Wings
See Chapter 6
“Whoa, wait up!”
Not quite huffing, but close, Ed tripped over some unseen tuft or rock. It was about the hundredth time he had been tripped up as he followed his distant cousin, running through the fields and over the hills in the dead of night, laughing and playing like a couple of kids. Or lunatics.
The shadow in front of him giggled.
“What, can’t keep up with an old lady?”
Liza turned. For a moment she was a beautiful 25 year old with streaming black hair. Her face radiated youth and energy.
Two steps closer and it was just Liza Smyth, the light gone, the hair grey once again. But a girlish grin still on her face. She continued to hold herself and move like an athlete in her prime. Graceful and cat like, unlike the almost clumsy old lady she appeared to be when locked up in a house.
“No, I can’t see where I’m going and almost broke my neck back there. Can you see in the dark or something?”
“Of course! Or at least I can see the moor and all that it is, light or dark. Can’t you?”
The landscape illuminated like a bright summer noon. Ed could see every detail for miles in every direction. He could feel the land, feel the life. He could see it all. The past became clear.
And then the light snapped off. He was back in the dark, the strangely changed woman in front of him.
“Mother told me that I inherited the sight from my father.” She giggled, took Ed’s hand and led him onward, half skipping, half moving in short leaps and bounds, across the field, pulling Ed trippingly onward.
“I always knew who she meant when she said those things, even when I was a very small child. She didn’t need to tell me.” She dropped the hand, but Ed continued to stay very close as they walked, now at a much saner pace. He could feel her warmth, like a fire. A youthful glow was on the edge of the warmth, a glow that made him felt young as he drew closer.
“If she said, ‘talk to your father,’ or ‘ask your father,’ or ‘when your father gets home,’ I knew she meant her husband, Mr. Wright. But when she said that I gained the sight from my father, or that my father knew the moors in a deeper way than others, I knew who she was talking about. My real father.”
She spun and danced like a child. Ed was amazed at how lithe and free she was, like a spirit or a fairy. She continued with a spin which ended with a step in the direction they were going. Without knowing why, Ed spun on one foot, performing a complete 360, and then followed, drawing in as close as possible.
“I did love him as a father, and I think he loved me as a daughter, but he never knew the truth. I talked to mother years later, and she said she had always meant to tell him, but never could. I read their letters. We even corresponded when I was in my teens and twenties. I know. He so much wanted a child, but he said his family was cursed with infertility, with rarely more than one child in a generation, and sometimes none. His line was dying out.”
They walk on in silence. The stars burned brightly above them. Ed could feel them, as if they were little points of flame just inches away. He could feel the ground. He could smell the earth. It was as if the sun was slowly dawning and the world was revealed to him one small detail at a time, even though he was aware of how the darkness of night permeated everything.
“You have two kids, right?” She stopped suddenly and stared at Ed. The weight of her eyes was uncomfortable, as if they saw inside of him and read his thoughts.
“Uhm, yes. A son and a daughter. They’re all grown up now and I don’t really see them often. No. Not much at all.”
“I understand. I have daughter. She left for Uni at 19 and never came back for more than a week at a time. I haven’t seen her face to face in years. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t know she was alive. I hate Facebook, but check in every couple of days so I can say, ‘Yes, I have a daughter.’”
Before Ed could answer, she spun and started off again, at a slightly faster pace, almost a trot.
He followed, but no longer struggling. The quick vision of the moor was coming back, but in a different way. The idea of it set in, crystallized, a bit at a time. It was an odd thing, for he could sense the large scale shape of the land, know how it was created, both by nature and hand of ancient man, while at the same time he recognized every detail, following the easiest path, his feet falling exactly where they needed to go to miss the stray stone, tuft or hole.
Liza slowed down a little allowing Ed to come very close. “One thing I inherited from my father, from Stanly, was the ability to see the past, of the time that never was.”
“Of the time that never was?” Ed wasn’t sure if he heard her correctly.
“Yes. You know. Mr. Brown has his history, which was the past that was. Fine. There are records and archaeological evidence and all of that claptrap. But that past is shallow. Go back a century and ask anyone around here and they will tell all kinds of stories. Some fantastical, some ordinary, at least on the surface. These stories aren’t in Mr. Brown’s history books, but they are no less real. However, they aren’t really what we are after either. They are the shadows of that which never was. They are the reflections caught in a pool of memory. They are ghosts, shades. A memory on the land. But that past was real, as real as the ‘real past’, even if it never really happened.”
Ed’s brow furrowed as he tried to puzzle it out.
“See that tower there, the ancient castle?”
Ed realized that he could see it, even though he knew it wasn’t there.
“A giant lived there. Not a Disney giant, 200 foot tall, but a brute that was over nine feet tall. The average person of that time came up to his chest. There are legends about him that echo through the ages. People instinctively know all about him and his reign of terror from back when the Celts first arrived. Sometimes the stories make him tall enough to scrape the sky and sometimes he is just a very tall man, but the stories are all true, if only reflections of truth. Shadows. On the other hand, he never existed. No, not at all. A figment, a fragment of the history of the time that never was. Nothing but vapour.” The tower faded.
She frowned as the last wisp of ethereal mist blew off of what was a tower. “I think that’s enough for now. Perhaps we need to find our adventure elsewhere.” She looked closely at Ed and smiled again, a youthful smile. The strange, romantic feel, an almost animal sexuality, returned. The dark haired youth became visible just beneath the surface. Her eyes sparked. Ed felt a tug, an attraction, but then it faded. She became a cousin and platonic playmate once again. He half shook his head, not knowing which Liza he was watching or which he wanted to be with. he stepped back. Her face changed, showing a slight concern. “But you’re tired. It’s been a long couple of days. We need to go home. Come. This way.”
They turned and walked in silence.
The landscape became clearer, growing more fully in Ed’s mind. He tried to reach out and almost missed that Liza had spoken again.
“I said, ‘1943’. 1943. My parents married out of desperation in 1943. Both of them thought that Private Wright, Father, Robert, would never survive the war. There was little love between them, but they needed the connection. He had to have a piece of home with him when he met his end on a foreign battlefield. She needed a reminder of the realities of the war as she walked peacefully across the moors. More than that, she felt she was obligated to do her duty for king and country, to give comfort to those who would sacrifice everything. Private Wright the real person meant nothing to her, no more than the photo of his new wife, Morgan Wright, that he looked at every night when he was deployed overseas. They were just symbols. Wartime relics.”
“Oh.” Liza had been delving into her private past, but Ed felt a little uncomfortable by this turn.
“He did survive, of course. They lived together with a happy face to the world. Robert often took business trips, but mother knew the real reason. No, there was no other woman. There was a string of passing fancies, dozens of faces half remembered, a list of female names on his belt buckle. He enjoyed the conquest but hated relationships and could never form any attachments. Though he did have an odd relationship with Mother, an attachment that lasted until he passed away in 1973.”
Ed’s discomfort grew. He began to lose the mental map of the surrounding landscape and felt lost. He half stumbled over an unseen obstacle.
“It was Father, that is Robert, who first met Stanly. He set him up in one of the spare bedrooms that would never hold the children it was created to house. They had met in the war, actually. Stanly came over in late ’44 as a fresh recruit at 18. That is when he first saw the moors and fell in love. He kept in contact with Robert, and came back in 1947, a trip he would repeat every year until 1960.”
They came upon three large stones. Ed knew they had been moved there by the hands of man for some unknowable reason. For a brief moment he saw them across the millennium, setting up the newly dressed stone. Then the present reality returned, the stones long ago toppled, half buried in the soil and brush, almost invisible on the moonless night. Some stones totally buried or missing altogether.
Liza sat down on a stone and Ed joined her. For a while they just watched the stars in silence.
“Mom hated him at first. Stanly, that is. She resented his intrusion into her home. He was strange and silent. He spent his days dreaming. He was lost in his own world and never said more than a word to her. Rude, she thought. But then she caught a part of his dream. He was so, so different from Father, from Robert. Different in a very good way.”
Ed looked at Liza. In the dark she looked more like the young woman he saw earlier and less like the old lady she appeared when in her house. Well, not that old. By the dates she threw out, he figured she must be less than 70. Maybe 65 would be a better guess. If he were the type to guess a woman’s age.
Liza began to talk again, and Ed realized that it wasn’t for him. He understood that his presence had unloosed something in her brain and that she was working it out in her own mind. And just as Ed found his inner monologue becoming outer, so must his distant cousin have a similar trait as her mind churned over the past.
“Stanley’s first wife, Elisabeth, first came in 1950, all starry eyed. She followed him all over and doted on his every word. The excitement of exploration. The discoveries. How romantic! In 1951 her eyes were less starry, but she followed him out of duty. The moors were boring. In ’52 the stars were gone and she spent her days complaining and her evenings drinking gin. And then there was 1953.”
Ed watched her in silence. He had his guesses, but wanted her to continue. Needed her to continue. She turned to him. And smiled, but even in the dark he could make out the tears in her eyes.
“Come on, it’s getting late,” she said.
She patted his knee then hopped up off of the stone. Without a glance at Ed, she walked in the direction he figured had to be “home”. He again drew close to her, but there was no longer a warmth. She ignored him for a few minutes. But then he heard her, quietly talking more to herself than him.
“The day they arrived in 1953, Father suddenly remembered a business trip in London. He said that he would bring Elisabeth with him so she could explore the city on her own. An act of kindness and courtesy, of course. Mother, Morgan, could see the look in their eyes. Even Stanly, blind as he was to the ways of the world and how people really behaved, couldn’t miss it.”
Ed’s discomfort began to increase again.
“Nine months later, when a daughter was born, it was named Elisabeth, after Stanly’s wife. On the surface it was an act of kindness and courtesy, of course, a sign of respect to old friends. Right. Richard had a short affair with Elisabeth out of lust and spite. Stanly and Morgan had a long relationship that occasionally fell into a sexual one out of a shared pain, a mutual need for each other’s company. A need to feel flesh of another human to know that one’s own flesh is real. Her child’s name was both a finger pointed in accusation at the lovers who had flown to London without trying to hide their lust, but also a token of thanks to the other woman, for without Elisabeth’s infidelity with her husband, Morgan would never have known Stanly’s flesh and the child would never have existed. Her child. Her comfort. Yes, the child, Elisabeth.”
A chill went up Ed’s spine at the impersonal nature of such a personal statement. “’The child’ she had called it,” he thought as he watched a grown up version of that child in front of him.
“Elisabeth came back with Stanly in 1954, but understood the moment she laid eyes on the child, heard the name. She never returned and they divorced in ’58. Ed returned for the last time in ’60. I saw him on three occasions after that. He had a very short visit in ’66, his honeymoon with his second wife, Gretchen. They just stopped long enough to say ‘hi’. He then returned for Father’s funeral in ’73, also with Gretchen, and then the last time for Mother’s funeral in ’86, this time divorced and alone once again. I so wanted to tell him on that last visit, but couldn’t find a way to bring it up….”
The chill deepened. Ed shivered.
“As I said, we did correspond by post, but that is a bit impersonal for that type of a message, don’t you think?” She didn’t look at him or question him when she said this. It was much more than rhetorical.
They continued to walk in silence. It wasn’t long before he saw the lights of the house. Liza didn’t look back at him, so he just continued to follow, not saying a word, but his mind flying, as if it had grown wings.
A strange car was parked in front of Liza’s house when they returned.
A woman in her late 30s or 40s, one who reminded Ed very much of his vision of Liza as a youth, was waiting by the door.
“Mother, where have you been? I’ve been standing here freezing forever.” Ed stopped. That voice…
“Lauren, is that you? I didn’t expect you. What are you doing here?”
The daughter shrugged.
“I’m not quite sure, to tell you the truth. I was called. I knew I had to come home. Here I am.”
“The voice from my dreams…,” Ed said, not meaning for the others to hear.
The young woman whipped around to face Ed and took a step back, just realizing a strange man was at her mother’s house.
“Who’s this?” She pointed, almost as much to keep a specter away as to show who she was talking about.
“Your cousin Edward. Come grab your bags. Let’s go in. It’s late and I have a bit of a chill.”
Liza gave Ed a weird look, then walked over and opened the door. She stood back, and waved the others towards the open door. The warm light poured out, inviting them in, illuminating the daughter. She glowed like a goddess.
“What a start to an adventure, right?” The words were out before he realized it. Ed thought back to the voice at the fall. She had said that, hadn’t she? He then said a word, a name, from his unconscious, but he couldn’t make out exactly what he said. It wasn’t the name he knew was his. It was a different name. It was a woman’s name.
Lauren paused, and stared at Ed. Her face drained of blood, turning pale despite the warm light. Her youth evaporated.
“Into the house, the two of you. Now.” Liza’s voice was hard, the last word, a command, more of a bark than a statement. Her odd look had turned into a deep frown.
Not sure what was going on, Ed could do nothing more than enter the house.
Chapter 8 was just posted.
Note – the other chapters are based on Sue Vincent’s #writephoto, but I had to write this and the next chapter out. The photo at the top is mine, though obviously photo-shopped…
Note 2 – I have no idea what the title Of Wind and the Wings means, but it came to me, so my guess is that I will make it work ;)