Saturday, October 20, 2007

Beneath the Orange Sky

I'll get back to the other stuff eventually, but meanwhile here's a special treat, cross-posted from the Outpost. With closure, even!

Into the Land of Shadows

Vicki of the blog "Maraca" is responsible for this week's Round Robin topic, "Shadowland." This is going to be my most ambitious RR entry to date, not so much photographically as, well, you'll see.

Beneath the Orange Sky
by Karen Funk Blocher

They rode toward the mountain side by side, Rona Sable on her horse, Apple, her grandfather Seth on Chub as usual. The oncoming sunset did not pause in its approach, unlike several of the cars that passed them, heading toward the city as the two horses left it behind. While they were still on the long, flat highway, Seth played his favorite game with Rona, asking her questions about stars and planets, brains and botany. Rona answered dutifully, but she was not in the mood for it. Her whole body throbbed with tension, not just from the long ride, but with anticipation. She looked no more than seven years old, but today was her thirteenth birthday. Tonight after sunset, her impossibly youthful grandfather would finally tell Rona the secrets that had been withheld from her, all her life up to now.

Once they reached the base of the mountain, Seth lapsed into silence. They directed the horses carefully along the narrow shoulder, lest they miss their footing in the gloom. Ten feet to the right, the drop was at least a hundred feet, and increasing with every step.

"How far are we going?" Rona asked after a while. "This is getting dangerous."

Her grandfather did not answer immediately. Then he said, "Yes, it is. But for now we're riding only as far as the first vista point, another three miles or so."

Sunset was starting to fade as they turned right onto the looping drive of the Frog Mountain vista. A couple sat on the wall between the paved parking and the drop toward the valley below. Rona knew her grandfather would not want to tell her anything interesting with strangers around, so she wandered along the stone wall, taking pictures with her new camera.

"Point the lens this way," Seth said in her ear.

Rona aimed her camera in the direction her grandfather had indicated, over the wall onto a path that went past of couple of mature saguaros. Beyond the cactus, and over the foothills themselves, the LCD viewfinder revealed a light in the sky, arcing over the blue, like a cloud but not a cloud. Rona glanced away from the camera, but her naked eye revealed nothing.

When she turned back, the couple were getting in their car. "Finally," her grandfather said. "Now, look that way. See the mountain over there, where there's still an orange glow? That is where we are going."

The more Rona looked, the less sense Seth's statement made to her. "From here? Tonight?"

"Yes, from here. Look, that's the way down, over by the two saguaros. Take Apple's bridle and follow me."

Rona protested even as she obeyed. "But why from here? That mountain is down beyond the airport. Half the city is between us and it. And it's getting dark."

"It won't get dark. Not quite. And now that we've passed the boundary, we're not where you think we are. There is no city, until we reach that mountain."


"Wait and see," her grandfather said.

Five minutes later, the switchback they were following turned suddenly onto a disused section of road, where no road ought to be. Below was a flare of light, but it was not a set of headlights. The sky ahead of them was more orange than before, and the ghost of a full moon was in the sky, although Rona knew it should only be a half moon. By its light and the distant orange glow, she found she could see every pebble, every bramble. The horses plodded along the dark pavement.

"Welcome to the Shadow Kingdom," her grandfather said. "While we're here it will never be daylight, but it never quite gets dark, either. "Look behind you."

Rona looked. Behind her should have been the looming mountain, but instead she saw a valley and the twinkling of lights. A yellow glow fringed the horizon, and a much brighter glow above that seemed to hold back the night. "What's that? It almost looks like, I don't know, a bomb or something."

Seth shook his head. In this strange light he looked slightly older than usual, perhaps a year older than his students at PCC. "It's the interface between the world you knew and the one we just crossed into. It's not visible from the other side, except sometimes through a camera lens, when the two worlds come together at dusk. But on this side it's the primary light source. You won't see the sun again while we're here."

"How long will that be?"

"Until you come of age."

"What does that mean? Until I'm eighteen, or twenty-one? Or worse yet, until I look twenty-one? That could take decades."

Seth smiled at her. "It won't be like that. It's the sunlight that slows down our aging in the other world. Here you will finally start to age normally. And no, we're not waiting for you to reach some arbitrary age or stature."

"What then? Am I supposed to go and prove myself in some way, so I can be admitted to some strange tribe? Or engage in ritual dreaming? Or kill a deer with a stone knife? Does this world even have any deer?"

"Mutter's Grey deer. And no, you don't have to hunt them, although some do. You're here to complete your education."

"I can't do that at home?"

"Haven't you guessed? This is your home, the land of your birth and birthright. The things you need to learn, you can only learn here. Your mother will teach you."

Rona stopped dead. "My mother?"

Seth smiled at her. "Of course."

"But isn't she dead?"

"Did anyone ever tell you that she was?"

"No, but I kind of assumed...."

"You know better than to assume things. Observe, hypothesize, and test. But in this case you don't need to. I had a message from Mana, just last week. She's looking forward to seeing you again."


"Truly," Seth assured her. "Now come on. It's time we were riding again. The horses see this road as well as you can, and we've a long way to go."

Full of wonder, Rona climbed into the saddle, and rode on into the endless orange twilight.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Children in the Shoebox: an Experiment

While we're waiting for the collaboration on "Later This Somewhere" to take off, here's something I'm writing off the top of my head, under the influence of E Nesbit and Miss Mullock.

The Children in the Shoebox
An Experimental Faerie Tale

by Karen Funk Blocher
© 2007 by KFB

Part One
Once upon a time there were three children who lived in a shoebox in the cupboard. Their names were Mattie, Maggie, and Maddie. I expect you think a shoebox is a very odd place for three children to live, but it was their home, and they were used to it.

The shoebox was in a cupboard, as I have said; and the cupboard was in a pantry, and the pantry was in a little stone house in a grassy clearing in the Deep Woods. The house belonged to a witch, and the Deep Woods belonged to the King, but he wasn't around much, just once a year to smile and wave and hunt the same magic deer who never let him come close to catching her. She was really a princess in disguise, and the King knew it, so he wasn't as ruthless in trying to trap her as he might otherwise have been. He kept hoping that one year the princess would get tired of being a magic deer, and let him take her home at last.

Meanwhile the King let the witch live in the woods to look after the deer and the children, who were his cousins once removed on his mother's side. They were part Faerie, enchanted to remain in the miniature form the Good Folk sometimes preferred. In this size they fit in the shoebox quite well, with three tiny beds lined with the down of baby robins, for indeed their beds had started out as a large bird's nest. The witch, who was a decent sort, really, had cleaned up the nest so that it was quite habitable and pleasant, and not at all smelly.

Every morning the faerie children would fly out of the cupboard, whose door the witch thoughtfully kept open except at night, for protection, and outside into the meadow for bath and breakfast. The little stream that ran through the clearing was shallow and only a little dangerous, as long as they stayed in the inch-deep water at the very edge. Breakfast was nectar from flowers and tiny millet-cakes the witch left out for them. They didn't actually see the witch, for she was invisible; but they usually remembered to sing out a "thank you!" to her, especially when she came up with something extra special to eat, like honey-buns or a tiny omelet.

Afternoons, the faerie children might go racing with butterflies, or make forts out of sweet grass, or visit with their friend, Princess Doris,
the deer. Doris was secretly in love with an enchanted skunk who lived in the hollow of a nearby oak tree. Years before he had behaved very badly toward the witch's sister, which is a very foolish thing to do. He was sorry about it, but not quite sorry enough yet, in the witch's estimation. So the deer waited for Prince Roger - the skunk's real name - to be sorry enough for the witch or her sister to let him go. Another year, Doris thought, or two, and he would probably be quite reformed enough for them, and for Doris as well. She probably couldn't live happily ever after with a fellow who still went around insulting witches and princesses and thought it an all right thing to do. But the children thought Roger was quite fun to be with, and usually pretended that his smell didn't bother them at all.

The one thing that bothered the children about this life was that it got to be rather dull and lonely after a while. Doris and Roger were very nearly adults, and sometimes acted more like animals than people. The witch was invisible, so if she was even around they usually didn't know it. And the King, jolly as he was, seemed a little awkward around them when he came through every spring. "It's the politics," Mattie explained one year, and Maggie nodded wisely. Maddie didn't really understand this explanation, and wasn't quite sure the other two did, either. But she didn't say so.

The fact remained, however, that the three faerie children suffered, just a little, for lack or a mother or father or playmates aside from each other. Then one day, everything changed.

Well, really, only one thing changed, but it was a very important change. Someone new came into the Deep Woods.

Maddie saw the girl first, in the second clearing over from the stone cottage, on the left. She was sitting on a rock, dressed in a frock the exact color of buttercups. She was reading a large, thin book with a paper cover and colorful pictures on every page. Maddie, who knew her alphabet and more besides, flew close enough to read the words on the cover. "The Amazing Spider-Man," it said.

Careful not to be seen, yet, she flew off to find her brother and sister.