Monday, 22 October 2007

A Place on Earth

A nice cheery wee story this. It was written for a competition a (good) few years ago & is my husband's favourite - but then again he can be pretty depressive too.

A Place on Earth

I lie sweating my pain into the twisted sheets of this hospital bed. The air around me is filled with the soft sounds that bind me to this world. The hiss of bellows. The beep of a heart monitor. The soft whimpers and sighs of my bedfellows. I open swollen eyes and turn my gaze toward a window that has never known sunshine, even on the most perfect summer day.

My vision, dim at the best of times, is further blunted by the exhaustion that follows each progressively longer bout of delirium. Try as I might I am unable to pick out any features of a landscape that I know from memory to be heartrendingly beautiful. Of all my regrets it is this which grieves me most; during the years that I have roamed this earth, gazing over my beloved land has always been the greatest pleasure of all. Once again I squint at the rectangle of brightness, staring so intently that my eyes grow grainy. My weakened body is too dehydrated to produce the tears necessary to lubricate the delicate membranes. I don’t care, so desperate am I to penetrate this veil.

And suddenly, it lifts! The pastel-coloured haze resolves itself into the living landscape that still exists beyond that slim pane of glass. The green blur coalesces, forming the grass that carpets the hospital grounds. Gemstone flowers border the footpaths. Dusky violet hills recede into the distance. The sky is a gentle blue, striated with white cloud.

The tears that pain could not force from my eyes flow now at the rapture of this moment. My final wish has been granted. But elation turns to confusion and then to fear as I feel myself rushing headlong toward the glass. I utter a wordless cry as, instead of crashing into the casement, I pass through unharmed. I know then that this is no miracle. The scales have not fallen from my eyes. The delirium must have taken me again, in an even crueller manner than before.

I rise up, far up into the crystal air. I look at the modern structure below, the corners and angles of its pink and grey stone contrasting sharply with the natural curves of the surrounding grounds. Sprawling out around the hospital like a starfish is the town where I have lived all my life. Traffic runs steadily along the arteries and veins of its roads. In between and all around move the tiny cells that are its people, each an individual but coming together to form the lifeblood of the town. At its heart sits the abbey where our most famous king lies at rest, his name cut into the huge square tower.

I sense another presence close by. I am not alone in the sky. My viewpoint swings southward and I briefly register the narrow expanse of tidal water, bound by the twin edifices of its bridges, one grey the other a deep arterial red.

My attention is captured by the savage beauty of an approaching buzzard as its down-curved yellow and black beak opens and it looses its raucous cry. I try to evade it but the bird heads straight for me. I feel a momentary stab of panic before I remind myself that none of this is real. I see the glint in the buzzard’s eye as it ploughs unheedingly through me, intent on its search for prey.

I’m caught! Riding the air in the mind of the bird I can feel the wind that eluded me before, ruffling its rich brown plumage and whistling past its huge wings as it flies. I feel the hunger in its - in my - stomach as it scents the air. The town passes in a blur as together we head for open country. Hovering low over the fields, the wind in my face, I marvel at the buzzard’s acute vision. Never in my wildest imaginings could I have dreamt of being able to see so clearly. Through the bird’s eyes I scan the ground below, watching for the telltale movement of some tiny creature too panicked to remain still. There! The buzzard pounces, talons outstretched.

In the moment before impact I am jolted from the mind of the bird and into that of the young rabbit which has become its prey. I feel the rabbit’s terror as the cruciform shadow of the great bird blots out the sun, feel the talons slice into its tender sides. Then, mercifully, I leave the dying body and fly free, watching the buzzard as it takes off toward nearby woodland, its meal dangling limply in its grip.
Moving under my own power I pass over the buzzard, now intent on feeding, and fly free over the green canopy below. I catch sight of a grey squirrel and briefly my mind touches its and I am there, scampering from tree to tree along the inter-twining branches, aware that while the buzzard feeds it is not a threat.

I fly high over the land, feasting my eyes on her hills and hollows, seeing her as if for the first time from this unfamiliar perspective. I soon come to a vast expanse of water filled with a thousand rowdy ducks. The bottle-green heads of the mallard drakes glow amidst the modest browns of their mates and the round, golden eyes of the tufted ducks sparkle like sequins. My eye is caught by a sudden flash of emerald. I plunge toward the loch and again I see the world through another's eyes. The drake that I now inhabit takes off from the water, running along its surface, neck outstretched and wings a-whir. He flaps madly, aiming for the far bank, while from behind comes the laughter-like cry of a female. He reaches the bank and stops but I continue, flying onward over fields and hills, isolated farmsteads and bustling villages.

Occasionally a creature catches my attention and momentarily it is mine. I hear through its ears. I see through its eyes. I share in its experiences. The contentment of the tomcat sprawled in the sun outside a kitchen doorway; the hunger of the crow as it scavenges amongst the carelessly discarded litter; the watchful timidity of the red deer as she grazes in the upland meadow. With each encounter my excitement rises. This is not the delirium that earlier held me in its confused and twisted grip. That had neither the clarity of thought or of vision that I experience now.

Joyously I race over a landscape that seems to be rippling up to meet me. Lowland fields criss-crossed with burns and dykes give way to rolling hills mottled with dark, secret pine forest and bright deciduous woodland. I pass over a majestic cathedral, its grey stone bulk nestled on the bank of a wide sparkling river dotted with graceful swans. For a moment it seems that the angels have climbed down from their tombstones to bask in the sunshine.

I pass again over evergreen pines, gazing down into secret gullies where white water races through rocky channels, smoothing the stones into sinuous curves. With each fleeting contact I make - a timorous pine marten, a secretive wildcat - I smell the fresh menthol scent of the trees, feel the lush warmth of the sun, hear the sound of a million breathing, living, growing things.

I see below me a loch; a placid expanse of blue dotted with leaf-shaped boats. Their oars leave expanding ripples on its surface. I pass unheeded overhead, over the lush trees and graceful ferns that line its banks and are reflected in its calm waters. As I admire the kaleidoscopic greens and browns I sense a steady beating in the air behind me and again I am taken. I ride the wind easily, relishing the strong, easy beats of the bird’s wings as it makes its way from the loch and follows a wide river. The gorge narrows, hemmed in by forested hills. We fly, the heron and I, along the pass, the dark water below spanned by the concrete and metal bridges that knit its banks, stamping mans presence onto an otherwise wild landscape.
The bird lands on the rock from which a terrified soldier once leapt for his life and I am free once again. I travel invisibly, pulled along now by I know not what. The land below is mountainous; granite carved by long-melted glaciers into fantastic shapes. I see wide valleys separated by knife edged arĂȘtes. The green troughs are strewn with massive boulders deposited carelessly by the departing ice, as though a giant child has forgotten to pick up his toys. Small lochs and rivers wink up at me in the sunshine. Tiny cars twinkle along roads that wind through the steep slopes covered with broom and purple heather.

The rugged landscape below reflects my own emotions; my soaring joy as I contemplate my beautiful land is tempered by my despair at the knowledge that this cannot be real. I know, know, that my body lies, now scores of miles behind me, in a stuffy airless room. Yet, in those brief moments when I occupy another creature’s mind, I feel the sun. I hear the soughing of the wind and smell the fresh wild scent of the highlands.

Onward now, over mountain and valley, snow-capped peak and dark trough. A crumbling ruin lies in the centre of a loch on its own tiny island. Where once people lived, loved and died crows now sit, hunched and hooded, contemplating their next meal. I pass through eagle territory, soaring over their eyries. I thrill at each glimpse of these most spectacular of predators as they wheel over the land in their relentless search for prey.

Ahead I see the great glen, that ancient fault line that yearns to split our land asunder. Great lochs stretch westward as far as I can see, each long narrow ribbon leading into the next. As I travel over the most famous of these I reach out, trying in vain to make contact with that which legend tells us lurks in its peat-dark waters. I am disappointed and turn my attention instead to the graceful ruins of the castle perched on its shore, standing guard over its murky depths.
Soaring on I feel an overwhelming sadness as I pass over the windswept moor where my ancestors fell in that final, terrible battle. The tall flags flutter in the breeze, red and yellow, while below lie the stones that mark the graves of the brave clansmen. I briefly sense the terror, the agony and despair that soaked into the earth along with the lifeblood of so many men.

I fly further over the rugged landscape. Below me passes castle and croft, mountain and moor. Villages nestle in the uneven terrain like jewels hidden amongst the rocks and as I fly over I catch sight of a mother, remonstrating with her son as he stands howling in the middle of the street. For a moment I see him through her eyes, feel her mixture of love and frustration as she regards her squalling child.
Faster and faster I fly, with no control. The wonder I feel is slowly replaced by unease as I see the edge of the land approach. I do not want to break that boundary, to fly out over the blue-grey sea, so cold and forbidding.

I try to pull back, to find that place where my body lies and to force myself to return. I hurtle on, alarm now escalating into terror as I am dragged to the edge. I feel the link to my self, to my land, strain against the force that is trying to pull me onwards, ever onwards.

Suddenly the terrible tension snaps; I am jerked backward. I career back over the land that I couldn’t bear to leave, moving so fast that everything blurs around me. Confusion, terror and elation mix in a sickening swirl somewhere deep inside and now I am plummeting down, down...

My back arches and I gasp in a convulsive breath. My hands are by my sides, clenched tight around the noisome sheets. My eyes fly open and I stare at the ceiling, willing my heart to slow as it pounds inside my sunken chest. As I recover slowly from the shock I relax, uncurling my fists and allowing my body to settle.
I know, now, that I will never leave this land. Its earth will cocoon my bones. My memory will live on in the hearts and minds of those whose lives I have touched. While my spirit soars.

I smile. I close my eyes. I rest.

1 comment:

MadCrafter said...

Not depressing at all, a truly uplifting piece I felt.

Daring descriptors that not only drew me into the mind of the narrator but left me looking for more.

A great piece.