Sunday, February 3, 2008

Skye Citizens

Here's a story I wrote oh, about 20 years ago, I guess. I originally envisioned a series of stories that would make up a book about this magical land of Skye. (Only later did I research my geography and discover the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Maybe I'll visit there someday.)

Did I tell you I've been revisiting some old writings?

Let me know what you think. (As in, are there any parts of the story, anything I mention, that you'd like to hear more about? Are there other stories here?)

Skye Citizens

I remember well the day I first met Chase. The sky was hazier than usual and my left wing was ailing me again, so I chose to walk. It was a welcome chance to be alone since the roads into town were hardly used anymore. My momma always told me not to walk with my head down, but I was thinking hard. I didn't see the kid, and I walked straight into him.

"Hey! What are you doing?" Boy, he had some lungs. I was pretty embarrassed, a mature bird like me, knocking over a little boy. I guess it'd been too long since I walked. Longer than was right.

"Sorry, son. Wasn't looking where I was going." Before my tired body could stoop to help him up, he was brushing off his trousers and elbows, wearing the biggest scowl on his face I've ever seen on anyone. "You all right?"

"Yeah, just fine." The dust from his out-dated clothes made little puffs of smoke as he hit at them. He was a handsome boy, with short brown hair that looked like his momma probably cut it. His jaw line was hard and stern, making him seem too serious for his age. His body looked to be about nine or ten years old, but he had a wisdom about him, like he was older than me. And I'm pretty old.

"What's your name, boy, and why are you way out here?" It was highly irregular to find a child walking alone on the road to town.

"I'm Chase. Chase Landon Rutledge. And I'm just watching. Mom says it's safe to watch from here." As he talked, he looked up into the haze, shielding his eyes. We stood there like that for a minute, then he looked at me again. "Who are you, anyway?"

I puffed out my chest with pride. "The name's Jay. If you asked anybody else, they'd say I'm nobody. But since you asked me, I'm somebody pretty special. I've been everywhere and seen everything. You could learn a lot by knowing me."

"So why are you walking?" His skeptical brown eyes looked me up and down like he didn't see what was so important about me. Now, I know I'm not much to look at. The feathers on my left wing have never been the same since the accident. But the rest of me is okay, I think. Okay enough to earn me a lifelong appointment to the Skye Council on Air Safety.

The boy was still looking at me, waiting for my answer. I could've told him the whole sad story behind why my wing doesn't work. I could've told him how the bullet caused permanent damage and how long it took me to fly again. But I don't go spilling my life's tragedies to just any little boy standing on the ground watching the traffic above. "My wing gives me a bit of trouble now and then. Things don't work as well when you've been flying as long as I have."

That answer seemed to satisfy him, or else he wasn't really interested in the first place because he turned his attention back to the clouds. His eyes darted this way and that, keeping up with the traffic patterns. He was concentrating really hard. It seemed a shame to interrupt him, but I had to know. "Why aren't you up there with the rest of them?"

I could almost feel the pain showing on his face. There was a great sadness in his eyes when he looked at me, like a thousand dreams were trapped inside of him, never to be set free. The impression lasted only for an instant, then he was asking me another question. "Do you have a place to stay for the night? It's almost dark and Mom will be expecting me home before supper. We have a big barn filled with hay. It would be perfect if you wanted to rest there for awhile."

I thought it was generous of him to open his home to me after I'd knocked him down and all. I was tired, and rest sounded good. I hadn't walked the road in this land in so long, I wasn't sure how safe it would be to travel alone after nightfall. I accepted his invitation and followed him to his house.

It was the beginning of a different kind of friendship. I didn't know I could learn so much from such a young boy. Of course, he's not so young anymore. Chase is finally making his dent in the world. He's never had many friends because he doesn't do things the accepted way. But he's learning to compensate.

I remember a talk I had with his mother one night after supper. Janelle was a most gentle creature, with sunlight-golden hair and eyes like blue crystal. She loved her boy very much, and it always upset her when the children in town made fun of him.

"Jay, he doesn't know how to fly. In a world where everyone is born knowing how to spin and dip and twirl through the heavens, my son got left out. Asking 'Why?' doesn't bring any answers, so I've quit asking." Her small hands moved quickly to clear the table and wash the dishes. Their house wasn't fancy, but it was always clean. "Before Russ died, he wanted to teach Chase to fly. He felt like he'd let his little boy down. He always blamed himself for Chase's handicap."

As she talked about her family's pain, I saw the same look on her face that I'd seen on Chase that first day. It wasn't fair that such a good boy was kept from being normal. I had to do something to help. "Janelle, I could teach him how to fly. The way a human flies is probably a lot different than a bird, but I could try."

She looked at me with the faintest glimmer of hope. "Oh, Jay, would you? It would mean so much, and I know Chase would work hard."

It was settled. The next morning, and for many mornings after, Chase and I would climb to the top of the barn. After I explained the best I could how to hold his body and feel the wind currents, Chase would muster all his courage and jump off the edge of the roof. Every time, he would land in the pile of hay stacked outside the barn door. And every morning would end the same, with Chase stomping off through the woods in frustration. He kept trying until the day he missed the haystack and bruised his rear end. We all three agreed to wait on the flying lessons, at least until Chase's pride had healed a little bit.

One season passed, and then another, and still he wasn't ready to try flying again. I encouraged him as much as I knew how. I even tried bribing him with promised trips to the seashore. I told him he could ride on my back and see all the sights. Nothing worked. He would just say, "No thanks, Jay," and softly close his bedroom door.

I soon got busy doing other things. My life had always been the exploring kind, and the Land of Skye is a big place. A lot of time passed when I didn't see Chase at all. Yet I never quite forgot the look in his eyes when he watched the clouds. It was if his spirit lifted right out of his grounded body and joined the other air-travelers. I'd never thought twice about flying, just took it for granted, I guess. Knowing Chase sure changed that. Now when I lifted toward the sun, I thought of my friend who couldn't know how it felt to soar.

I finally decided to find out how he was doing. A few years had passed, so I tried to prepare myself to see him all grown up. When I got there, Janelle told me he'd been shut up in his room all day. I tapped softly on the door. "Chase? Can I come in?" There was no answer, so I opened it slightly and peeked in.

The curtains were drawn and the room was shadowy. I could barely see him sitting in the middle of his bed. He was drawing, squinting hard against the gloom. Wadded-up paper was thrown all over the floor, and the foot of his bed was piled up with books. "Look, Jay, I'm going to build one of these." I walked over and peered closely at his drawing. It was a bunch of lines and curves and numbers. I couldn't make any sense of it.

"What is it?"

"It's called an airplane. My dad told me stories about them. They used them a long time ago before people could fly. That's how they traveled from place to place." His face shone with excitement as he talked, and he couldn't keep his hands still.

It sounded crazy to me. Seems you'd miss the exhilaration of the wind in your face, and the loud silence in your head, and the tiredness in your bones after a long flight. Flying always cleared my head. I couldn't imagine getting inside something to fly. Seems it would take away the freedom of it all.

I didn't want to discourage him, though. If there was a was a way for Chase to fly, I wanted to help him find it. I let him explain it to me. He talked about vectors and aerodynamics and velocity, and other words I'd never heard before. He assured me it made perfect sense. He said he was going to start building that week and asked if I wanted to help.

Did I want to help! I couldn't turn down the chance to help Chase build his dream. And of course, there was Janelle's cooking. She fixed me a nice place in the barn, way back in the corner. After a few days, I got used to the smell. It was nice to be able to put my feet down in one place and stay for awhile, instead of always leaving with the first light. I guess this was about the closest thing I had to a home.

Chase set up shop out in the open field next to the barn. He put up a shelter in case it rained, and he began to build. He worked on his contraption from before dawn until after dark. I'm afraid I wasn't much help. I'd hand him tools, or hold a part in place, or bring him iced tea from the house. I enjoyed watching him work. Nothing could distract him from building his machine.

One night, he worked later than usual. I gave up waiting for him and went to lay down in the barn. I squiggled and squirmed until I finally found a comfortable spot, and I was just dozing off when I heard a noise. It started as a few loud coughs, and after a wheeze or two, I heard the hum of a million bumblebees. My fuzzy brain took a few seconds to wake up, and then I realized what the noise was.

I threw off my covers and ran outside. I couldn't believe it. Chase had built a metal bird! It had red wings that stretched the whole length of the barn, a red cigar-shaped body, and a gray circle where the head should have been. It wasn't a solid circle; in fact, it looked fuzzy. The big lights on the barn glinted on the metal legs, and instead of feet, it had wheels. The whirring sound was so loud now, I had to cover my ears.

I could see Chase's head just behind the front wing. He waved to me, and the big bird-like thing started moving forward. It went faster and faster through the open field, and then lifted into the air. Higher and higher it went, until its dark shape melted into the night sky, taking the sound with it.

It was so quiet now. I looked toward the house, where Janelle's slim shadow held the screen door open. She watched the sky for a few moments, then went inside, the screen banging slightly behind her.

I wondered how the Council would accept Chase's invention. I doubted people would treat him any better. I went back to bed and slept soundly until just before dawn, when I heard him come home. I knew he wouldn't stay for long. He'd take his own trips to the seashore, and to a million other places. I rolled over, thinking I'd stay around here awhile and let Chase have a turn at traveling.

1 comment:

betsygarmon said...

resonates in all the parts of me that feel like I'm not enough. Grounded in a world of flyers...powerful image. Back to what we were talking about. The lies come in and say, "You don't fit." "You're too different." "You missed out." "You don't look/act/fit the part." "It's too late."

But hope says, "There's a plan..."