Tales from the Regions: Erstwhile

All pictures by Aoife Lorefield

By Lyric Weston

From square white rooms cloaked in shades of beige
I pass through doors to flat concrete plains
Lined by rows of small drab houses
Crouching in the shadow of gray monoliths.
In the indifferent world of real life
Days rise and fall with numbing sameness
Flat smiles and empty pleasantries
Bland food at room temperature
Vacant corridors leading nowhere
The sedate prison of a life that is nice.

But on my desk is a secret door.
I can touch the key
And awaken in an enchanted portal
Where drab dissolves into decadent color
and reality blossoms in shimmering light.
Iridescent glass nests in towering arches
Gleaming with promise and lighting the way.
I rise ascending spirals of hope
To embark on journeys out of time
In rugged ships on the verge of being.
They carry me to gilded cities,
Mystic forests, ancient dungeons,
Warm deserts, cool ocean depths,
On hidden paths of dizzying beauty.

And you are there to take my hand,
Filling my heart with wonder and joy.
Fully awake and deeply alive
I cast off mundane and don the fantastical
Exchanging pleasant for passion
Drinking from the vibrant spring of love.
You are my destination.
I know which life is real.


Arrivals and Departures
by Caledonia Skytower

In Memory of Richard

I was enraptured with the light. Luminous panes of jewel-like light everywhere. Violet, emerald, gold that beckoned and warmed. I pulled my hand back, stopping myself, from a crystal that I had unconsciously reached for. It could not really be polite to start handling things the very moment you arrived. But why was I here?

The message had come to me on a very worn piece of ivory paper, soft from much handling. It was folded carefully in four with its message scrawled in blue ink, “Come now,” followed by this address.

My heels clacked on the lucent stairs, as I climbed into Erstwhile Station. The lounge was as vibrant as the landing, yet framed by the subdued dark wood of the main structure. Chairs, richly upholstered and comfortably worn, dotted the room which was about half full of people standing or sitting. Everywhere, the elegant contrast of dark wood and luminous glass guided your eyes. Mine fell on a familiar pair of brown eyes that lit up with recognition, though I had not seen them in a long time.

He stood up, “I knew you’d come.”

I stepped around a line of people streaming into the room from the ramp marked “Arrivals” and smiled as I took his proffered hand and shook it.

“I am a little surprised that you sent for me,” I admitted. We had only known each other the briefest of times, though I had been aware of his work for ages before.

“Surprised? No, you are just the person I need right now.” We sat together. He poured me a cup of tea, offered a croissant, and sat back with a look of satisfaction on his face. I ripped my roll in half and took a bite, sipped my tea, and waited. We just sat there, convivial and silent for a time. People came and went, the sound of their comings and goings softened by the carpets, and stone pavers worn by the passage of millions of feet.

He finally cleared his throat, speaking softly, “I am sure you are wondering why I sent for you. I have to confess, it’s really nice just to be here with you and not be alone.”

I looked at him intently. I couldn’t imagine this man ever being concerned about being alone. Always so charming, talented, affable. Surely he had no lack of friends or companions – people who had known him much longer and more intimately. I still had no idea why he had summoned me in particular; a mere acquaintance, little more than the people who came and went from the lounge, whom he had greeted with a nod and a courteous smile as they recognized him.

He leaned closer, “I’ve received the order. My departure. It’s time.”

I had no idea what he meant. That must have showed clearly on my face, for he smiled that brilliant smile of his, “You don’t need to understand right now. It’s enough that you are here. That’s what’s important,” he paused, “to me, at least.” He sat back and sighed deeply, clearing his throat again. “If I didn’t believe that you would eventually understand, I wouldn’t have asked for you.”

I still did not understand, but contented myself in looking around and studying the faces still streaming from the arrival ramp. They looked about, as I had, absorbing the light, the vibrant colors, easily lead by the patch of sky to the stairs and the outside.

His head turned abruptly, and my attention snapped back to him as he listened intently.

“Did you hear that?”

I had heard nothing and said so.

“It’s time,” he replied, and rose from his chair. His usual confidence was shrouded, for a moment, in veil of apprehension. He looked tired. “Come with me, please.” He reached his hand out for mine, beseeching, “Don’t let me go through this alone.”

I took his hand and we stepped onto the ramp marked “Departures,” ascending the spiral, around and around, our feet making the slightest of scuffing sounds on the dark wood.

At the top I saw ships, a whole fleet of them arrayed around a great “O” of a dock area. Well now, this made a lot more sense! He had flown a vast array of vessels in his time, and surely he had been recruited to lend his years of experience to this flight group. I moved towards the ships, letting go of his hand.

“I have never seen this model before.” I looked back at him for the briefest moment before returning my attention to the ships, their engines were purring softly like a mechanical chorus of cats. “They look a little antique, but there sure are a lot of them. Have you flown one of them before? I hope they have thumb controls.”

He reached for my hand again, taking it firmly and pulling me in a different direction.

“No, this fleet is not for me. I am destined for a different departure. Now, don’t be afraid.”

“Afraid? what…?” The thought barely achieved speech when he began to float, pulling me with him.

We flew up, up, over the dock railing. The sensation was alarming, but he smiled at me, reassuring, “It’s okay. It’s going to be alright.” We sailed through the air and up to the high tower in the center of the circle created by the docks, landing gently on the top, where a great beam of blinding light shot up towards the heavens.

An attendant stepped forward, discretely dressed to blend in with the building’s darker aspect, “This one’s not called, not their time.”

He never let go of my hand.

“I know. My friend is only here to keep me company till my departure.” He smiled confidently at the attendant, and I saw once more that part of him that was hero, leader, teacher. He didn’t need to shout, order, or threaten to command. He had always achieved wonders, inspired loyalty with the confident earnestness of his sincerity. When he said, “It will be alright” people believed him, and it was.

I pulled him away from the attendant, who backed into a shadow. “Departure? What departure? What is this all supposed to mean?”

His face seemed even more worn by time and care as he said, “It’s time for me to leave.”

“Right, I get that, but…”

“No, it is time for me to leave.”

“But, but….” I stammered then stopped as the reality of his words finally came into focus.

“No,” I said.

He smiled patiently.

“No, you can’t. It can’t be your time.”

The emotion began to rise in me, and I clutched at both his hands, as if somehow the strength of my will could hold him there, keep him fast and secure in a reality I could comprehend.

He tightened his grip on mine with equal intensity.

“Listen to me. There is something I need you to do for me, something you must promise me before I depart.”

“But you can’t…”

“Listen to me!” He shook me, and locked his eyes on mine, before continuing in a quieter voice that was no less imperative.

“I have been a storyteller all my life. It was my profession to portray characters, tell tales of all kinds: large epics, intimate moments of drama. Telling stories was important to me – genuine stories that came from deep inside, that inspired people to dream and imagine.”

He paused, his former ease returning for a moment.

“I was pretty good at it too.”

Thinking this moment was passing I relaxed a bit, “Yes, you were very good. You cared.”

“I still care,” he tightened his grip once more, all earnestness again. “You care about stories too – passionately. I know we only met and worked briefly, but I saw it right away. You care about the stories, and the importance of telling stories.”

I nodded, confused.

“I cannot tell stories in this reality anymore. It’s time for me to depart. And since I can no longer tell the stories that matter, those genuine stories from inside the human heart and soul, you must tell them for me.”

“How? What?” My grief at his departure was now in equal measure to the weight of responsibility I felt in what he asked of me. Both were threatening to choke me.

He smiled again, squeezing my hands encouragingly. “Don’t panic. You don’t need to do anything different to what you are doing right now. Just promise me, promise that you will never stop. Not until it’s your time to stand here, and make your final departure. Do you understand?”

Dizzy, numb, and struggling for words I said, “Yes, I … I think I do.”

“And when the order comes, when it is your time, you must pass this responsibility on to another. Because our ultimate salvation, all of ours, will only be found somewhere through our stories. I believe this with everything that I am, and I know that you do as well. Will you promise me? Will you tell the stories I will not, and the stories that you must?”

I smiled bravely, unable to deny him anything in this moment, “I will. I promise. And when my time comes, I will pass this commitment along to another. You can depend on me.”

In that moment, I watched the years wash away from him like morning light sweeping across a field of new grass. Only his eyes and his smile remained exactly as they were, exactly as they had always been.

“I knew I could. That’s why I sent for you.”

He took a deep breath, and it seemed to me he stood a little taller, held himself with the same strength he had shown when first he had come into my knowing, all those years ago.

“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for coming when I called, for walking this last path with me, and for accepting this commitment.”

“I am honored,” was the only reply I could manage.

His eyes flashed with a certain excitement, “It’s a new adventure for me, you know? I love adventures!”

“You’ll be in command in no time, my Captain.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe this time I’ll be what I have always been: just a soldier, just a teller of tales.”

“Never ‘just.’ Not to me. Not to anyone who has ever met you.”

He flushed with the beguiling humility I remembered from his youth, dropping his chin and looking up at me with brown eyes dancing.

“That makes one more thing I have to thank you for.”

With a final squeeze he released my hands and turned to the attendant, handing him a small slip of paper made from the same paper as the note he had sent to me.

“It’s my time” he said simply, turning to give me one final stellar smile before he stepped into the bright beam of light the shot up from the tower, and faded into infinity.

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