Story of the Month: November
We thought it would be a funny idea to challenge us every month with superb illustrations for our “Little Lights Story of the Month” – if you would like to join in drop us a line, you’re very welcome to contribute stories as well.
This month’s image comes from the amazingly talented Ty Carter, Visual Development Artist at Blue Sky Animation Studios. His outstanding design work and concept art work has contributed to the look, feel and lighting concepts of animation blockbusters like EPIC, ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT and the upcoming PEANUTS movie. Tyler also directed the awesome animated short DREAMGIVER, a Little Lights favourite. Thanks so much for contributing your cherished piece. Find more of Ty Carter on www.tycarter.com or Ty Carters Tumblr.
And here our two stories:
CHAPTER 1: THE MAGIC DESCENDANT
As long as Carl could think – and he firmly believes that he remembers his first visit to the farmers market when he was six months old – he was sure that he will be a wizard one day.
The stick his dog Houdini brought him on his first birthday had to be a magic wand, since he suddenly was able to bewitch his father – whenever he waved the stick, pointed to something he couldn’t reach and mutter the secret “hmmmmmmmmm” noise, Mister Jacobs would stop what he is doing and give it to him – pure magic!
He was sure that one day he will be a great wizard, just like the one on the picture in the living room – his pregnant mother wears a mysterious outfit and stands on a huge stage next to an enigmatic man hiding in the shadow – “FIMBULTYR” – the greatest magician of all time!
Carl firmly believes that he inherited the magic powers of his mother, sadly he never got the chance to ask her about it. His father always said that flashy tricks don’t make you a wizard, but Carl always suspected that he was just afraid of magic – he couldn’t even look at the picture of this great wizard.
CHAPTER 2: CARL THE GREAT
As soon as Carl finished his homework he holds his secret magic shows on the farm – enchanting the cows in the stable to moo along with him, creating a barely visible crow shadow in the hen house until the chicken would go crazy, or – and this is his favorite magic trick of all – summon the wind on the wheat field to let straws fly in the air.
Houdini always was a reliable companion, at first he just watched the magic shows but soon he was promoted to be Carls assistant – mysterious cape included.
Carl notices his dad secretly watching his shows from time to time, but he just pretends not to notice – after all his father is afraid of magic and he doesn’t want to scare him.
Winter always was the most annoying season of all, many tricks don’t work that well in the snow – fortunately he discovered a passage into the attic that Carl uses as secret magic workshop. The attic is huge and is fully decorated with mysterious curtains, wands and drawings. At the end of the room the roof ascends even higher and a ladder leads up to the highest window of the farmhouse.
He experiments with different spells, potions, runes and even teaches Houdini some little tricks. Through a little hole in the ground he could see down into the living room – a perfekt way to test a new formula of pixie dust on his father.
CHAPTER 3: THE GREAT ILLUSION
While other kids would have their advent calendar, Carl invented a tradition on his own: every december morning he quietly sneaks into the attic while his father is still sleeping.
He draws the curtain on a very special shelf and reveals a collection of jars – each one with weirdly colored powder in it and each one with a number – from 1 to 24.
Carl opens the jar, mixes the powder with some water and empties the colored water out of the window. Every single day in december the same procedure with another jar in a different color.
He mixes the powder of the final jar, opens the window again and pours the liquid out on the roof. He smiles, turns a hourglass around and paces through the room until the sand has reached the bottom.
Carl rushes to the end of the room and climbs up the ladder to reach the highest point of the building. Carefully he opens the window, glances outside and just smiles.
The liquids he poured out every day are frozen under the window and form an utterly beautiful sculpture of colored ice. Rainbow icicles are hanging on the roof and Carl indulges in the magic trick that took him 24 days to complete.
He comes down and hears some squeaking from the living room, he slowly bends down and takes a look through the hole: Carl cannot believe his eyes and is shocked beyond believe – his father slips into a Santa Claus costume.
CHAPTER 4: VANISHING MAGIC
Carl rushes down and and screams at his father – was it him all this years? What about Santa?
Clearly Carl is not ready for the “Santa is not real” talk Mister Jacobs tries to give him, if Santa is not real, what is? Fairies? Imps? Wizards? What if there is no magic in this world at all?
He is devastated and locks himself in his room, not even Houdini is welcome here now. Carl looks at the key to his secret workshop – is this all a lie? All for nothing? Just cheap tricks and nothing to believe in anymore?
The snow gradually melts, colorful water drops fall from the roof and seep into the ground. The secret door to the workshop is cobwebbed, nobody has been up there for a long time.
CHAPTER 5: SPRING AND SUMMER
There is much to do on the farm, Carl and his father plow and seed the fields, fix the stables, extend the henhouse and paint the fence together.
In the evening they read a book together on the porch, brush their teeth next to each other and Carl kisses his father good night – he is not angry anymore.
Carl and Houdini play in front of the house – Carl throws different items and Houdini brings them in the exact order in which Carl threw them. After the last item he strangely chases away again, Carl looks where his is going, but he’s no where to be seen.
Behind the corner Mister Jacobs waits with the magic wand, Houdini retrieves it and Mister Jacobs glances around the corner – Carl is puzzled, he has not seen this for quite some time. He looks at the wand, waves it in the air a few times, then brakes it into two pieces and throws it away. His father frowns.
The Summer has come to an end and Carl eats breakfast together with his father and Houdini. He leaves with a huge backpack and kisses Mister Jacobs, Houdini follows him for a while.
Mister Jacobs cleans the table and passes the bookshelf with the picture of Fimbultyr and his wife – it’s lying flat on the shelf and a huge layer of dust has gathered on top of it. His face saddens, he picks the photo up and blows the dust off.
CHAPTER 6: THE MAGIC RING
Carl returns from school, but neither his father, not a hot meal await him. He searches the house, but his father is nowhere to be found.
Carl pushes the back door open and freezes – his eyes widen and his jaw drops, he cannot believe what he sees.
Mister Jacobs in the middle of the field and hay bails FLYING IN THE AIR around him. Carl slowly sets one foot before the other, still staring in utter disbelief.
He reaches his father and almost can’t take his eyes off the flying bales. His father puts his arm on his shoulder and for a brief moment Carl dares to look away from the magic – he notices a pulsating red ring on his fathers finger. Slowly he lifts his head and looks into his fathers eyes.
Just as he starts to tear up he hugs his father and squeezes as hard as he can.
The picture of the magician is standing on the bookshelf again, the glass is polished and the frame freshly painted. As the sun shimmers through the window a red ring begins to sparkle on the wizards finger.
(c) 2014 Michael Sokolar
THE SKIES, MY DESTINY
They had planned their escape since the middle of winter, knowing that the minute their shackles were not attached to the ground anymore, they would flee and escape their fate. Stalk had told them that he was not going to get eaten like the others. He had seen what their captors were capable of. How they would nourish them, fatten them, guide them towards the sun from their prison cells underneath the earth, only to cut them down and devour them, sometimes while they were still lying there, bleeding from the cutting, helpless.
Stalk had decided when he was still an infant that there was nothing noble in living and dying like this. The older prisoners spoke about a circle of life, about how you had to give yourself because of what you got. It was the way life worked, for all the races that lived under the powerful Sun God that let them grow long and thin and teased you upwards, ever upward. So what if they were murdered many summers before they probably would have died from natural causes ? No one was spared ever, and of the few that had escaped using the wind or a smaller animal to carry them off the meadow where they usually slaughtered them, no one had ever heard another peep. The elders took this as a sign that the world out there was a dangerous and deadly place, probably a lot more than the compound. Stalk had arrived at the conclusion that no one ever came back because there was a better world out there.
He looked down his body, so lean and green, a miracle of creation, a temple for all that was him. The sun-god had certainly not wanted him to sacrifice it for the hunger of the beasts. He could feel the life force in him stirring, could feel that he was going to enter the age of mutliplication, that he would soon be able to have children. He would have to let these go when he escaped. But not before teaching them a few things.
He had discovered the special power within him around the time he first formulated a theory why the ones that got away never came back. The night stood out clearly in his memory, a vision so stark that it appeared like it was cut out of dead bark and rendered in black and white. He was a monthling, then, with no body to speak of and packed in with a mass of the other babies, like their captors liked to hold them, in a sort of battery: it was called the Dark Nursery, dry, quiet, and dim, with thousands of babies waiting to be carted into the light come springtime, onto the Fattening Ground so that they could start their journey from under the earth into the mouth of their prison wardens.
The other babies where mostly asleep, and when they woke, the only thing they were talking and thinking about was their Mommas and Poppas and where were they and why had they left them. Stalk knew that they had been forcibly separated from their parents, but he seemed to be the only one who had a clear memory of separation at birth. The others had all but forgotten that dreadful day, the cries and the pain of separation. Stalk however, had not. The anguish was like a distant ring of the lonely bell you sometimes heard from outside, from beyond the place of fattening. The faces of his parents were within him still, and would always be.
The fiest inkling of his special powers came when Stalk tried to talk with one if the others about this – and realized that he did so because he had heard the other child, Fib, THINK about it. When Fib asked him, both in awe and more than a little afraid, how he had known that he was thinking about his parents, Stalk had lied and told him he had guessed it. But Stalk had heard it in his head, as loud and clear as his own whispervoice and the sharp bellows and commands of the prison wardens.
He immediately knew that he had to keep silent about this. Conformity was ingrained in their race, what with how much they looked a like and how no one could ever imagine a life outside of a community of less then twenty or thirty thousand. He scanned the minds of the others, sleeping there in the dark with him. Every one of them had the power, but unlike in his mind, it was dormant and capsuled, like a leaf before the budding. He tried to awaken it in on of the babies next to him. The mental capsule would not break. Instead, something happend that changed Stalks perception of himself and his people forever – and brought the escape plan to him in a single, white-lighting stroke of clarity.
Stalk had just located the nucleus of the power within the sleeping Fib and tried to connect, to crack it open, to make it hum when he felt something shift. At first Stalk was sure he had awakend the power in Fib. Surprised and scared, he looked over to where Fib was lying, the flat and soft breathing of his sleep barely audible in the Dark Nursery.
Fib was not there.
Stalk frantically scanned the Nursery, spotting Fib at least ten paces away of where he had been before. The feeling that he had done this, that he had, in fact, lifted Fib out of his crib and onto the Nursery’s floor came as a shocking and powerful insight. Stalk latched onto Fibs mind again, this time staring hard while he ruminated inside the boy’s sleeping head.
Fib’s body stirred. At first the movment was nothing but an almost imperceptible vibration. Suddenly, with a jolt, Fib slid across the floor.
It took Stalk hours to even come close to functioning normally after that. He remembered putting Fib back, carefully this time, amazed that his power worked, even more amazed that it could be channeled to lift Fib tenderly, careful not to wake him up. Stalk also remembered the high of a mad inrush of ideas and connections and insights that arrived, it seemed, all at once like the torrential summer rains he had heard the elders talk about in the rafters of the Nursery. It was a flood and all it carried were ideas of freedom – for everyone inside this Nursery.
Whole generations slaughtered before their time in the name of spirituality and a circle of life that no one could make sense of ? Stalk simply refused to believe that. It was not right. In fact, it felt so wrong that he was sick to his stomach just thinking about it.
In the end Stalk was convinced that he could get them all out of the prison, that he could in fact save his entire generation from the slaughter.
He began training immediately, every night, in the Dark Nursery. At first it was hard to do more to Fib (and it was always Fib, for Fib was blessed witha sleep so deep not even the arrival of their captors stirred him) than slide him across the ground. Eventually, though, Fib was hovering more than sliding, and Stalk could cover greater distances.
The full moon helped. It was a Night of Little Lights and a Large Moon when Stalks powers blossomed into what the were supposed to become: in the pale light of the moon, Stalk first managed to lift a dozen babies across the room, then three dozen and finally over a hundred Seedlings.
On the night of the full moon, Stalk meditated for a long time before attemting hos most ambitious lift yet. He positioned himself into the middle of the babies of his generation, all 26000 of them and focused his power. He dug deep, envisioning gheir future, their final escape to a better world where they could spread out their roots, live free, whisper to the wind and pray to the Sun as long and as free as they pleased.
A ripple ran through the sleeping Seedlings, an energy both soft and powerful, as they disengaged from each other, and the grown with the sound of a hundred dry leaves stiring – and finally, they lifted into the air. Stalk could hold them at a grown man’s height, when they slowly started to drift around him like rice grains in the swirl of an flooding river. A galaxy of sleeping babies, Stalk moved them across the floor to the place of Selection, where the prisoners where put who were next to be moved out onto the Fattening ground. By the time the moon had waned, Stalk had moved his entire population to be selected next, and to stay together in one part of the meadow. By the time dawn broke everyone knew what Stalk had done and how he had done it. They energy of the mass lift had awakened all of them, and many had witnessed the magic that Stalk had wrought. They all understood its implications for escape. They talked among themselves about it. They did not tell anyone else, not the elders, not the other Seedlings, and certainlynot their captors.
Soon after the lift, they were put out to seed, to cross pollinate, to multiply. The captors spread them across the meadow, and – as nature demanded it – Stalk and his generation drove into the fertile ground, struck roots and startet their Asana-like prayer to the Sun God that teased them into long reeds of green, sprouting fat and bountiful leaves, their bodies growing strong and lean and powerful in the sun of the spring.
By them Stalk could feel the power in him grow immensly. He knew he could lift them out of the ground when the day came, edging out their roots and carrying them away. He had tested his endurance and his strength, had even managed to block a small furry meadow dweller from invading their turf and gnawing at their roots bysimply lifitng it off the meadow, it shrieked in outer panic and sent out vibes of fear across the whole country. None of its kind appeared on the meadow after that.
The others where confident that he could do it. They would willingly participate in his training, creating strange and wonderful patterns into the green thicket of their formations that their captors contributed to the wind but where really Stalk’s training for evading their blades and their hungry mouths.
Because of that, his miscalculation of the moons until the slaughter was all the more devastating. He was certain that they had one more cycle before they would cut them down. He had counted and had put the number of pebbles at his roots to remember. He looked at them often and that was probably why he didn’t notice that after the episode with the furry meadow dweller, one had gone missing. But one was all it took.
In the morning of their 5th moon, Stalk awoke with a sharp sense of disconnection: he felt completely lost. He also realized he eas lying in the ground, unable to lift himself up, the sun beating down mercilessly at his back. He could feel he had lost a lot of liquid and he didn’t need to look towards his roots to realize that he had been cut.
Slowly, his senses returned, he could hear the surprised and painfuly cires of his friends, mowed down before the break of dawn, in their sleep. He tried to reach out to them but only got pain. In the end it was Fib who answered him, Fib’s voice that drifted into his mind like a soft murmur, »We have to do something.« Not »you«, but »we«. And all during the moring, all during the day while they were lyingghere, being dried into hay, Fib’s lament became a chant among the his once-green brothers and sisters, powerful enough to stir him, powerful enough to create a glowing ember of the power that was once a roaring fire within him. Still, Stalk was desperate: what he had in him jnow would not move, let alone lift any of them.
It was their captors who contributed the final piece of the puzzle for their escape. They came onto the meadow, clumsy and trampling like always, ill-begotten creatures hell bent on turning them into food for their masters, the larger furry versions of themselves with hirns on their head that made their captors move about and collect Stalks race as food. He heard them call him and the others by the name that they used, the insultinng short hiss of a word, »grass«. salk and his people called themselves The Meadowfolk, in the ancient language that bound their whispers in the wind. »grass« was an insult, a slur, something that their captors uttered with the same tone as the other insults they traded, like »nigger« or »cur« or »spink«.
They had a large machine with them that moon, the first time they ever brought it onto the meadow, and this machine was supposed to crush Stalk and his kind together to destroy them for sure, turning them into large bales of hay. What the machine did instead was knit them together so tighly that they were finally as close together as they had beend when they were little babies inside the Dark Nursery. The touched. They felt each other, and slowly, something becan to happen to them: inside each body, each blade and leaf and piece of root, the power that they all posessed, the power that had awakened full inside Stalk so many months ago bec gan to bloom and spread like a virus in a bloodstream. Stalk could feel the thrum of the evergy surging through the bales, the ancient music of that energy that spoke of harvests and moons and meadows and endless plains–
And with that, all the bales of hay in the meadow started to lift from the ground. It was not a hestiant, halting move, either: they lifted gracefully, softly, with the rustle of tousand of dried bodies disengaging from the ground. Before their catptors eyes, the gained traction, clearing the head of the umans and the cows that had enslaved Stalks kind on their farm for as longas anyone could think and rusehd up into a blue sky dotted with puffy clouds that greeted them like long lost brothers.
Stalk could see them pointing at them, yelling over and over again »the grass… It’s lifting, look, the grass..« he could feel the anguish and wonder of their prison wardens the utter feeling of wonder and awe and fear at the sight of them escaping. It was better than he had ever imangined it. So what if he didn’t have time to pick a destination for his flock – the Sun God would guide his people to the place they needed to go, the final place of freedom where they would die but their seedlings – already stirring as small, hard pebbles inside their dried bodies – would grow up to be free as the wind.
Stalk closed his vision but opened his senses to all that was rushing in, welcoming the cold wind and the warm rays of the ancient Sun and becoming one with his people who had managed this escape together and whose bind was stronger than he had ever felt before. He was happy and content, curious of their destination and already forgetting all about the old meadow.
On September 28th, 1958, the hay took to the sky on a farm in Monroe, Oklahoma, under the surprised and watchful eyes of Jebedaiah Greenly and his son Monty. Jeb would later proudly tell the folks that his son had heard the grass whispering among themselves for most of the spring and that it was no surprise to him that the massive hayballs would just lift up on their own and sail into the sky like golden colored blimps dripping leftover seeds onto the dried open plain. He failed to tell the people that he had teased young Monty (who certainly came after his wife, and not after his side of the family what with the storytelling and the overactive imagination) mercilessly for weeks when the boy first mentioned the whispers. When that failed to crush the little faggot’s spirit, he beat his boy at least twice a week and that was the end of the stories.
But since people had seen the hayballs lift into the sky for miles around, Jeb started to reconsider his position on the matter. There was money to be made here somewhere, he just did not have an idea how. The answer came when old Idgy Threadgoode wanted to touch the boy, »so that some of his can rub off onto me« and Jeb realized that many people might want to brush up against a small innocent-looking boy who could hear the spirits inside living things. This was the bible belt, after all, and people talking in tongues and laying on the healing hands were held in high esteem.
Monty himself was not fooled by his Dad’s newfound pleasantness and knew that his tormentor’s heart was in the nickles and dimes, not in the freedom of his son. But the grass had given Monty and idea of escape – and more: he had felt the powerful surge of freedom, of a million souls released into a wide open space of wonder and promise and possibilites. A world where the only hurt you experienced was not from the calloused, muscular hands of a father afraid of a son that saw a larger world than himself, but from your singing and humming heart vibrating with the freedom ahead, vibrating so hard in your chest that it felt like it would burst any second.
Monty could not ever forget that taste, that painful thrumming inside his heart, and when he felt that his father had rubbed all the nickels together he would need to get drunk for the rest of his life, when he had made enough money from his talent in tents and barrooms and baptist revivals he just fled one night into the world and never looked back. He didn’t go as spectacularly as the corn and hay had, just a quiet walk out of a Masachusetts hotel room one night when his father was sleeping off investing their hard earned money in a sour-smelling portfolio of Jack Daniels stock.
The feeling of stepping onto the open road however, for the first time in his life free and unshackeld felt just as big and thrilling as the thing that had soard inside him the day the grass had lifted: sweet and electric, with a tint of bitterness that comes with all the things in life that are good and free and powerful. They come at a price, these things, and the bitterness you taste is a foreshsdowing of the price you have to pay for them in the end. He knew he would be glad to pay once the time came, and gladly.
Monty started to walk, putting one foot in front of the other, hearing the soft slap of his frayed Chucks on the tarmac that was begining to warm up in the morining sun. Like the grass that went before him, he realized he had absoutely no plan at all where to go.
(C) 2014 Toni Weiss