A Comet From The Big Song
The sun shone high in the sky, this far north the sun never dipped more than halfway down to the horizon. People who’d travelled from the south had real problems trying live in the never-ending daylight. They could never get used to the northern custom of sleeping for a bell or so every three or four bells. After a few months they’d end up red eyed and short tempered, crying or laughing uncontrollably at the slightest thing. They never lasted much past that. Serak though was a born northerner; in her nineteen years she’d never been far enough south to experience night. The thought of the world turning as black as if she shut her eyes tight and couldn’t open them, was something that terrified her. Southerners told northern children tales of beasts and monsters that grabbed and devoured people unseen in the inky blackness. Although she was old enough to know that the tales weren’t true, she could never quell the terror she felt whenever she imagined the world in darkness.
Serak smiled at the white haired lady as she bought her mint tea to the table, then she carried on adding tiny touches to her nearly complete painting. The lady had sat for nearly a whole bell quietly drinking tea and watching Serak at her canvas. As Serak finished painting she stood back to get a better view of her canvas the lady stood next to her.
“It’s beautiful” she said “I wish I had a fraction of your talent.”
Reaching into her purse the lady pulled out four jade blooms, more than a month’s wage for a waitress. She placed the blooms into Serak’s hands and asked for the painting to be delivered soon as possible after it was dry. The teahouse where Serak worked doubled as a gallery and art studio, she was part waitress and part artist. She was paid less than waitresses in other places, but she got to paint during the quiet times and keep any money she made from selling her work. Since she started working here the teahouse had become the most popular in the town of Song. It might have been because Serak was easily the most beautiful girl in Song. It might have been because she had an aura of welcoming and warmth that put customers instantly at ease. It might have been that she was a naturally gifted artist, with a soft and delicate style that reflected her gentle personality. The pale landscapes and understated floral studies that she painted were popular and kept customers coming to teahouse to see them. Whatever it was, Manuo who owned the shop looked after her as if she were a precious china doll. She’d been at work for four bells, long enough that her body ached for some sleep. She waved to Manuo and pointed to the teahouse sleep room. She slipped through the curtains and walked quietly, over to a giant wheat husk bed careful not to wake the three sleeping customers. She sat on the bed and swung her legs up, shuffling backwards until she was swaddled into its enveloping comfort. The husk bed supported and cradled her as if she were a babe in the womb, within a heartbeat she was fast asleep.
It was dark, she knew her eyes were open but she could see nothing. Fear rose in her gullet, tasting of bile and iron in her throat. She inched forward on her hands and knees, fumbling with each clumsy move forward. Something howled in the distance. She stood, still blind but taking bigger steps arms held out in front of her reaching into the darkness. The howl filled the air again, closer this time. Her heart pounded in her chest as she started to panic. Her steps became longer and quicker until she found herself running full pelt in the darkness, the fear of the howling overwhelming every other instinct. Her lungs began to burn, the pounding in her chest now echoed loud in her ears. Then she was falling, as if she’d run off a cliff edge. In the darkness she could see nothing. All she could hear was wind rushing past her ears, then in the whooshing she thought she heard something. A whisper, a soft chant, something repeating over and over just beyond her. She strained to hear it, the sensation of falling ignored as the sound captivated her concentration. It danced about the edges of her senses, sometimes closer sometimes further. Then in one moment she heard it clearly. Instantly the darkness and her fear of it vanished. She was no longer falling; she was flying over a cacophony of colours that whizzed by beneath her. Bright reds, vivid blues, yellows that vibrated with light and deep majestic purples. The colours lay out in graceful arcs that she flew along like roads. She put her arms out wide as she pirouetted, laughing as she dipped and dived through the air. Then with a swoosh she started to climb high into the air, the colours spreading out beneath her. As she rose and soared higher she began to see it was a huge picture far below her. It was nothing like anything she’d ever painted or even imagined. She instantly saw that it was The Big Song, the white stone spire in the centre of town. But instead of creamy marble white, this spire was a twisted rainbow of colours. And stood atop it was a tiny naked figure, shrouded in red ribbons that she instantly recognised as herself. As she recognised herself what ever it was that kept her aloft suddenly stopped. Wind rushed around her, she screamed as the ground came rushing towards her. Faster and faster she fell, so fast that her scream was torn from her lips before it could be heard. She tried to soar with her arms, but she just kept plummeting. Her eyes fixed on her portrait atop The Big Song. Every muscle in her body tensed, she held her hands in front of her to break her fall, and she knew that she was going too fast to stop. At the moment of impact she squeezed her eyes shut and waiting for the pain to explode as she crashed to the ground. At that moment she heard the same whispered word that started her flight but this time it was loud and clear singing in her mind.
She sat bolt upright, her body drenched in sweat. Her platinum blonde hair stuck to her face, the light cotton sari she wore was indecent in the way it stuck to her skin. She leapt from the bed and stormed out of the sleep room, no concern for how much noise she made or who she woke. The curtains billowed behind her as she came into the teashop. Like a woman possessed she grabbed as much paint as she could carry from the studio, stuffed it into a sack and ran for the door. Bursting into the street she started to run towards The Big Song.
The Big Song stood the height of more than two-hundred men and it took a full minute to run around the base. Up its steep sides was a pattern of twisting spirals, weathered deep into the creamy white marble. It dominated the centre of town, the spirals at the base were each the start of a main street, the six main streets spiralled through Song as if the town were a sheet being twisted and pulled upwards in the middle. It was easily visible from anywhere in town and could be seen from as far away as the great eastern forest on a fine day.
Serak careered through the streets, people shouting as they were forced to dodge out of her way. As she ran a seed of a smile tickled her lips and flowered into a loud giggle. By the time she reached the Big Song she was laughing uncontrollably. She reached the base and leaned back to look up at the smooth marble edifice that rose above her. It took her moments to run round the base, searching for the hand and footholds that would give her a path to the top. Eventually she settled on a deep vein of wear that looked promising. She tied the sack of paint over her shoulder and began her ascent. Laughing as she climbed, she gave no attention to the enormity of her goal. In her lifetime she could never remember anybody climbing The Big Song. The sheer joy of the climb filled her with previously untapped reserves of strength and determination. She simply put her hand on the next nearest nub and moved relentlessly upwards. Before she was halfway up her hands, and feet were scraped, bruised and bleeding. The blood dripped down the smooth marble in long rivulets and left long red streaks wherever she passed. For a short while she stopped in a small cove, just long enough to sit down and examine her wounds. Unrestrained by vanity she stripped out of her white linen sari and began to rip it into long strips. She bound the strips tightly over her hands and feet and continued her climb. She ignored the pain as her bandages filled with bright red blood, the sheer joy of the climb dulling the ache in her exhausted muscles.
The summit was a smooth white dome, with just enough room to stand on. Serak shouted with triumph as she stood naked atop the giant landmark. She reached into her sack and started to throw handfuls of paint down around her feet, the paint splashed and ran making the top of the tower look like it was wrapped in rainbow ribbons. Serak stood tall and turned into the wind. The unfurling bandages on her hands caught in the wind and whipped out behind her, her long blonde hair following the crimson strips of sari. Putting her head back to look into the bright sky she listened to the wind. The remnants of her dream echoing deep within her mind. She started a low melodious chant, her tongue danced in her mouth finding new shapes and sounds to whisper into the breeze. Louder and louder she sang in a language that she didn’t recognise. The crescendo climbed and her vocal chords laboured as she strained to shout to the heavens. Then just as she thought her lungs would burst, one final word echoed out of her and she leapt, diving from the edge. The strips of sari flared behind her billowing with her long blonde hair. As she plummeted to the ground her last breath singing the final sibilant hiss of the word that hadn’t been heard for a thousand generations.