Flight of the Phoenix: Prologue (Fantasy)

Flight of the Phoenix is a fantasy series I am extremely slowly working on. I was an idea I’ve had for well over 10 years, but feel I’m not ready yet in my skill level to deliver such a rich, vibrant and alternate world. Suffice to say I will take my time with this as I want to write it well.

An October Day, 1845
‘Slater’ her voice carried feebly as the wind hurled dirt and debris from the ground up into the air.  Meredith struggled, gathering the nails and hammer.  She wanted to get off the wooden ladder as quick as she could, its rungs were barely visible in the swirling dust. Her eyes squinted against the sudden dust storm.  Her vision briskly scanned the valley in search of her son. He had been playing by himself near the well just a while ago.
Above her the wooden window pane rattled violently against the sill.  She stared at it for a while, unsure whether she should quickly nail it to the sill –worried that it was going to fly off in the wind.  She shook her head, her long heavy skirt tangling and pushing against her legs, whipping around her ankle.  ‘The repairs will have to wait till the storm blows off’ she mumbled, carefully dropping the hammer to the ground.  She started climbing down, one rung at a time, trying her best not to trip and fall.   However, her skirt was trying its best to tangle her legs amongst its material folds.
Meredith suddenly stopped her descend.  There was no point; she’d have to resort to drastic action against the maddening wind.  She looked left then right.  Her sharp vision spied the land around her house for miles, able to see the few houses that lined the dirt road connecting the farms.  None of her neighbours seemed to be out and about.  Suddenly a mischievous glint crossed the unnaturally amber iris of her eyes like a sudden burst of fire.  Her thin red lips curving up into a tight grin.  Holding onto the ladder with one hand she reached up to her hair held in a bun.  A beautifully painted gold hair pin the likes of chopstick holding it in place.  Her long fingers delicately held the pin and pulled it out of her hair, which, as if rejoicing at their sudden freedom flew about her beautifully pale face like the licks of flame.  The almost golden strands glinting like fire as sunlight illuminated them.
Meredith pointed the narrow end of the stick to the earth below her. Her eyes skimmed the grounds around the farm again –still free of nosy neighbours.  The stick twitched in her hand in anticipation –it felt warm against her skin.  Looking at her feet Meredith mumbled under her breath and let go of the ladder.  Her tell slender figure rose gracefully off the rung a few centimetres.  Now, with a subtle flick of the stick in her hand, she floated down to the ground.
It had been ages since she had done such a thing and Meredith was absolutely delighted.  The dust storm had provided enough cover for her to do a little indulging.
‘To relish such fickle tricks-’ she heard the raspy voice of her mother and suddenly turned around to see the woman standing on the front patio, a wide smile on her barely lined face.  ‘In my days-’
‘Yes, mother’ Meredith spoke curtly, gathering her long tresses and trapping them again in a bun with the stick.  ‘To do such a thing in your days was another matter, but to do it here, now-’
‘Do not mock my concern, Edith, you could still be hanged or prosecuted if anyone saw such a thing – they have no desire to grasp such knowledge, it is as unnatural for them as talking animals’
Just then a low guttural voice issued from the belly of the house.  ‘Looks like it is going to rain, better take shelter soon’
The women defiantly stood their grounds.
‘Get a move on you great lumps’ the voice spoke again, ‘or I will shut you out –I cannot afford any weakness in such weather or they will easily track you down.’
Meredith ruefully looked around the land, concerned.  ‘Where is Slater, I cannot see him anywhere?’
‘He is already in the house, my dear -’
Sighing somewhat with relief, Meredith climbed the stairs and joined her mother.  As they entered the house her mother whispered quietly.  ‘For the sake of your son, the lands, and its people, do be careful you fool of a girl’.
Meredith looked regretfully at her mother as the woman shut the door behind her.  ‘Don’t forget who you are Meredith, you are who stands between the destruction of your people –and you must not give into such temptations.’
For a moment, Dora thought she saw flames of anger leap into her daughter’s gentle kind eyes.  ‘When will the day come, Mother, so as to give my son his freedom?’
‘He is not born for freedom, his purpose is something else’. With that Dora walked past Edith and entered further into the warm house.
When Meredith joined her mother into the dining room she saw her son, his ghostly body sprawled on the dusty carpet at the foot of the table. His scrawny, snowy-white hands slide gracefully across white sheets of paper that had textured dots on its surface.  She absolutely hated seeing her child like this, blinded with ignorance –one of her mother’s marvellous works. Dora hadn’t wanted her only grandson to grow up adopting the Regretfuls’ lifestyle.
‘Mother,’ Slater called out as he heard his mother’s distinct footsteps pass him by, ‘you sound tense, you gait is rather rigid, and you are stomping.  Are you alright?’ He pushed himself up and sat there, his legs folded beneath him.  ‘It sounds like a nasty weather outside’
‘Yes’ was all she said as she entered the kitchen to fix some lunch.
‘Rather unlucky I am,’ Slater spoke louder as he returned to his reading.
‘Why do you say that, darling?’ Meredith asked as she passed over some potatoes to her mother.  ‘Would you peel those for me, mother?’ She asked, a hint of disapproval hanging in her voice, ‘I do not wish to be careless.’
Dora sighed and shook her head at her daughter’s childishness.  She quietly pointed at the potatoes, her mouth moving listlessly, and the five or so potatoes hung in mid-air as if invisible ropes suspended them from the roof, the freshly washed skin peeling off with invisible hands at work.
‘I was rather thinking we could make a picnic by the river on such fine warm spring day, but I am cheated’ Slater cried out again, oblivious to the chattering of the two women.
‘Cheated?’ Dora asked.  She raised her hand and moved it in the air, sending the potatoes zooming past Meredith to thud into a colander by the sink.
‘Yes, cheated Grandmother, cheated I am.’  Slater flicked a page and his fingers resumed dancing over the Braille.  ‘If only I had sight then I could have perhaps seen the gathering of the clouds, and thus wouldn’t have dreamt of spending a lovely afternoon by the water’
The women couldn’t help but laugh at the boy’s candidness about his disability.  ‘Perhaps we will make a picnic tomorrow, but for now, you ought to be studying.’ Meredith kindly said and continued to prepare ingredients for lunch.
The Next October Day, 1845
Impatiently, Slater tapped his feet on the ground, occasionally whooping and clapping his hands as he waited for his mother and grandmother to ready the picnic basket.  He could feel the warm wind caressing his face as he stood in front of the open door.  There was the smell of jasmine and roses in the air, along with freshly baked bread and tangy mouth-watering taste of chicken salad.  Of rice pudding and oranges, but there was also a smell in the air that he could not quite place.
‘Come on Mother, come on, the day is slipping and the warm water is waiting, come on’  Slater shuffled back and forth, his feet itching to walk on the dirt road, his fingers twitching to touch the world.  It was spring, and he could touch the flowers and their velvety softness, smell their nectar, and lay under the shades of cool leaves.  He could give anything in the world to know what colours looked like.  To see the many colours his mother was able to deliciously describe. To see without the need to touch.  Ah!  He thought and sighed.
‘The day is aging’ he cried.
‘If you’re in such a rush then head off, dear child.’ Dora came to join him by the door, ‘Go talk to you friends, your trees and your animals, your mother won’t be long.’
‘Are you not coming?’ he asked, forgetting all about his impatience.
‘Perhaps some other time, I need to rest for today.  The sun’s heat is not so refreshing for me these days’
‘As you wish’
‘Run along then, Edith will join you in a short while, but don’t go wondering off, will you?’
‘No’ and with that Slater grabbed his stick and running it along the ground, exited the house and was on his way.
Fifteen minutes later, Meredith picked up the packed basket, grabbed her sunhat, kissed her mother goodbye and was off, walking down the trodden dirt road, barely visible beneath overgrown grass and weed.  She breathed in the late afternoon air.  It’s warm dryness stealing what little moisture from her nose.  The gentle breeze rustling the young leaves.  She passed a bottlebrush tree and watched as the bees buzzed and feasted on the nectar.  She heard the incessant clicking of invisible crickets, the birds’ tweeters.  She peered from under the rim of the hat and saw that the sky was almost cloud free.   Its blue expanse made her long for the cool of the water where she was headed.  She made haste, thinking that her son had been waiting for her for quite some time now.
Her upper lip tingled with sweat as the merciless heat beat down on her.  She trudged the dirt road faster, her skirt billowed around her quick feet causing the dry dirt to rise and dance around the hem.  She sighed with relief as the sparkling surface of the water danced into view.  She walked close to the water and finding an appropriately shady tree, dumped the picnic basket, loosened the hat and took it off, putting it beside the basket.
She looked all around the bank, trying to see where her son had found a spot worthy of playing.  ‘Slater’ she called out standing with one hand on her hip and the other over her eyes blocking out sun’s ray.  ‘Slater, where are you?’  Her sharp eyes peered through the branches of trees around the bank; she implored the water to clear so she could (anxiously) search for her son.
Her heart jumped to her throat, choking her with panic.  Her son was nowhere to be seen.  Just ahead of her, she saw his walking stick, abused by the water lapping on the bank.  A small collection of pebbles piled beside it.  She knew that not so long ago, her son had perhaps been collecting pebbles.  Only the ones that felt nice in his little seven-year old hands.  Oh God! She could imagine his colourless, sightless eyes dancing with excitement as he gathered the cool pebbles.  His sliver-grey hair sticking to the back of his neck –she remembered he hadn’t even worn his hat.  She ran, panic frothing up inside her.  Where could her blind son be?
She ran along the bank calling out his name.  She searched high and low, into the woods, up in trees.  She even jumped and swam in the river, dipping her head below the water and searching the river-bed for a little body.  By the time she came back to the picnic spot, the sun had dipped below the horizon and she hadn’t yet found any trace of her baby.  Heartbroken, she fell to her knees and sobbed, her tears falling onto the dried up grass which immediately sprang back to life.
It wasn’t until darkness veiled the land that she heard footsteps approach her.  There soft tread releasing low thud on the ground which reached her sharp ears.  Meredith immediately raised her head and turned around.  In the darkness, a figure was approaching her, arms splayed out in front to keep one from crashing into trees.  Her heart leapt to her throat with relief.  Slater had found his way back to her, and Meredith stood on her shaky leg ready to embrace her little joy.
‘I was beginning to worry.  Night time isn’t very safe to be wondering about by the river.’
Meredith’s face fell back to grief and from the shadows her mother emerged.  ‘Where’s Slater?’ her raspy voice asked of her distraught daughter.
‘Mother,’ Meredith cried agonizingly, ‘I can’t find him…I can’t’, her voice hiccupped out of her.
‘Have you searched for him everywhere?’ her mother asked calmly.  Edith nodded.  ‘Okay, don’t panic.’ Dora said peering around at the woods, ‘He must be around here somewhere playing hide and seek, that’s all love.’
‘No’ Meredith snapped, ‘I’ve checked…everywhere I can think of.’
‘Well, then you mustn’t have searched where he’s hiding’
‘Mother’ Edith’s voice boomed demanding.
‘Okay.  Well, what do you want me to do then, girl? Wake up every single tree and animal, and have them, search for him?’ Dora asked exasperated.  The thought alone was draining her energy.  She hated being old –it had its limitations.
For a moment Meredith thought.  Her body swaying bathed in the moon’s shimmering steel-blue light.  Suddenly she straightened up, her eloquent confidence returning to her.  She held her head up high, reached up to it once again, and took a hold of her powerful but otherwise insignificant looking wand in her determined hands.  Then she marched to the tree where she had dumped the picnic basket earlier that day.  With swishing and jabbing movements made in thin air, Meredith suspended their belongings in mid-air before she began walking through the dark woods towards the house.  The lifeless items followed in her wake.
‘Edith’ Dora tried to protest, ‘if people see this…’
‘Not now mother, I don’t care if they do.’  She navigated expertly through the bushes and came out onto the often trodden, but private dirt path.  She had only one thing in her mind now, and that was to reach home as soon as possible.  Her mother, intentionally or otherwise, had given Edith a brilliant idea for a search party and she did not want to lose any more time feeling helpless.  Her son, her only son was out there, blind, and scared.  And no matter what, she had to reach him.  Find him.

…..to be continued…

 

Related article:

Playing Hide and Seek

 

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