by Jared Baker
The Swan Song
“The silver Swan, who living had no Note,
when Death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
"Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
"More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise."
Snow fell from the gray sky slowly. With the absence of the sun in the sky, time seemed to move painfully slow. Cold hung in the air and seemed to weigh on everything exposed to it. It was the kind of cold that causes noses to run, eyes to water, and bones to ache.
The wind blew bitter and it howled as it whipped through the trees. Miles of pine trees, which in any light glow with life and eternal beauty. Forever green, but in the dim light of the sunless sky, appeared cold.
Silence hung tense, ready to break into disaster. Something was about to happen, something terrible. Even without the sun above the snow was blinding. It was clean and stark against the gray sky and black clouds. The sky seemed to be absent as if all joy had been killed and all that was left was its cold gray corpse.
It was on this day, within this twilight that a great famine was introduced into our world, a famine of death. In the early months of the famine the lack of death seemed to be a blessing, but after the population began to rise and the amount of resources to provide for all of them began to decrease, the troubles began. Wars between countries began to erupt, revolutions, and disease. The famine had not cured all sickness that comes with death. It had created a state of endless pain for those suffering.
The sky hung ominously one particular night. Earlier that day it had been a brilliant blue, cheerful and teeming with life. The sky was burning scarlet consumed by the fires beneath, flashing yellow and white with each fallen barrage. What had been a proud city had been laid to ruins, fallen under the weight of the angry sky. As the fighter planes released their bombs in one continuous onslaught the sky let out a penetrating wail. The projectiles tore through the heavens and the victims prayed below. Among the rubble and raging fires a single figure stood black in contrast to the inferno in the sky. It was a small hovel made of sheet metal and old siding piled together without care. It was a home built without love, a home without the hope of ever seeing children play or hearing laughter ring. This cheerless shack was all that stood within the falling empire.
Within that small structure the hope of the world was hidden. Through the holes in the ceiling hot ashes fell onto her delicate skin. An infant girl had been forgotten in the frenzy of trying to escape. The gravel of the dirt floor dug into her soft back. She cried, but no one was there to comfort her. The dirt floor began to quake beneath her, yet another sign that the battle raged on.
The wind was dead. The flags of this nation that once flew with dignity and honor, now hang as a mockery of its previous glory. The bright blue on the flags was now stained both by soot and by corruption. This was Andilare, a country in a struggle of the most poisonous variety: civil war. The cause of the war was unknown. Many would say it was like something snapped within the leaders. Others would argue that the fault lay with the citizens. Regardless of liability people were dead and dying and the country was destroyed. Andilare had been a strong and unshakeable country within its prime. Every citizen of the nation was a firm link in a long and prosperous chain, upheld by their sense of national pride. It had been a nation of peace and understanding with a bright future and endless hope. That hope was now crumpled to dust and blown in the wind. Now its legacy was contained in the small hovel among its devastated capitol. There was little left to destroy, the hovel was becoming more obvious as time passed. The little girl was terrified.
Suddenly the door to the hovel burst open, a large man stood in the door way. He had heard her cries and had come to her rescue. He took her into his strong arms and held her close to his body, turned, and exploded from the shack. Immediately she felt a wave of heat that took her breath away. The fires raged on like a furnace and she seemed to be mere kindling. Any part of her skin that was uncovered began to feel scalded, the man feeling the same pain pushed through. The smoke filled her nose and mouth and the hot air made her lungs feel dry. She began to wail and choke, until, exhausted she fell asleep.
The light didn't need a voice. The way it danced as it fell through the window sang with more clarity and beauty than a voice could allow. It fell slowly and glimmered until it hit her porcelain face and radiated ever brighter. The light filled her eyes and set her green eyes to an emerald blaze. The tears that streamed down her face fell like diamonds off of her trembling chin.
The walls in her room were bright lavender, pictures of smiling faces hung all over the walls. The bed in the corner was perfect for jumping or overnighters with her little sister. The sound of laughter still hung in the air as if it had just been blurted out. So much joy emanated from the room but the small girl in the corner sat crying her heart out.
Loss had been the only constant in Mara's life. Mara was sixteen, petit, and broken hearted. She grew up tossed from home to home. In her experience getting attached meant pain, so she never let herself love the families. She thought it made saying goodbye less painful, but really it hurt her worse.
She tried to stay distant, until she met them, the wonderful family that had taken her in. From the first day she came to them she felt at home. For the first time she had a mother and a father that loved her. It was their home that she was now being forced to leave. In her eyes they were the perfect family, they loved her and she loved them. Like all good things they had slowly faded away heart ache after tragic heart ache.
Jim, the father had been the first to go. He was the father Mara had always wanted. He was strong, tall, and smiled with his eyes. They were told it was a heart attack and that he died immediately. Next was Anne, the couple’s biological daughter, she was a happy little girl who loved to laugh. She was hit by a car. She died instantly.
Now it had been Gale, the only woman with which Mara had ever connected. She had a lovely smile and the voice of an angel, and now she was gone. The Social worker told Mara that it was an aneurysm, and that she had died quickly.
There she stood, starring out the window out at the sun sinking into the horizon, her heart wretched as if her last hope for love was disappearing with it. She had gathered her belongings and was waiting for the Social worker to tell her it was time to leave. Mara knew the drill. She would stay at a home for a few days until they found a suitable family to leave her with. Leaving this home hurt her more than any other she had been forced to leave. This home held the only memories of family that she had. These memories, this home, and the family that she had grown to love were now in the past.
Mara straightened her back wiped her tears and stood up. Her cheeks burned red from the tears and her lip was still quivering, but she tried to compose herself. She walked over to the corner of her room and picked up her small duffle bag and walked out to the living room where the Social worker sat waiting.
”Are you ready yet?” The woman said in a deep bitter voice.
Her name was Tabitha. She had seen too many of these cases. She had been desensitized by the years and had no patience for children. She had long forgotten why she had gone into that line of work. She was tired, old, and had six long hairs jutting out from her chin. Her eyes were blood shot and wrinkled, her legs were fat and her blue veins were swollen and pulsing. Mara despised her. Tabitha had been the Social worker that had “dealt with” Mara every time she had to be replaced. Every time it was the same routine, she would come to the door knock three times, and then walk in. She would stand in the entry way, shoulders back and eyelids opened half way.
”Stand up straight Mara. Go get your things. You can’t expect me to do everything for you.” She would bark coldly, Mara would walk quietly to her room and get her belongings. This time it was different. Mara walked out to meet her in the living room, dropped her bag and stood starring at Tabitha.
Tabitha stood with a grunt and looked Mara up and down.
”You’re the same size as the last time I saw you. Didn’t they feed you?” This was about as close to condolences as she could muster.
Her eyes said something different. They were open and bright, she wore a look of deep concern. It was a look that Mara had never seen Tabitha make. Seizing the opportunity Mara leapt forward and wrapped her arms tightly around Tabitha and cried. To her further amazement Mara felt Tabitha’s warm hands fall softly upon her back and shoulder.
”I’m so sorry Mara dear.” Her voice seemed higher and warmer than it had ever been.
Mara looked up into Tabitha’s eyes. She was crying, up to this point in time Mara had never noticed the brilliant blue color Tabitha’s eyes were. Her brow was furrowed and tears fell down her fat cheeks. Tabitha held her close as if she was trying to use the pressure to keep her heart from falling apart.
“Mara, would you like to stay with me for a while?” Her voice cracked and rose again to a higher more soothing tone.
Mara looked up at her again and nodded. She couldn’t speak. Her voice was gone because of her crying, she also had no idea what to say. There was something so different about Tabitha. She had always been the vulture that came after a death to remind her of her loss. Now she was her only hope. Like a surrogate mother taking Mara under her wing.
Tabitha picked up her big floral purse and lead Mara to the door. Mara paused before grabbing hold of the old brass door handle. This had been her home, her true home, it had been security, and now all she knew was gone and she again had to start over.
The sun was setting. It was almost gone behind the forested hills. As the sun fell it turned the blue sky into soft lavender like the walls of the room she had just left for the last time. The grass was long and cool in the shade of the old trees that stood protecting the house, Mara would miss those trees she would miss everything about this place.
Out in the street Tabitha’s car sat. It was a red Ford something or another. It had a lot of rust damage underneath and it needed to be washed. The inside of the car smelled of fast food strong perfume. The passenger seat had a big greasy stain, but Mara didn't care. She was content to be with someone that loved her.
Neither of them spoke as they drove, Mara sat silently starring out the window watching trees pass. Her mind would drift to her family and she would have to distract herself to keep from crying. One such distraction was a little black bird that flew beside the car for most of the trip. She noted how the feathers rippled as they caught the wind, or how it carefully tucked in its feet to keep balance. It worked well to distract her.
They drove through the city until they came to an area of suburbs. Perfect little houses like the one she was just leaving. They continued through them and the quality of houses began to drop, and so did Mara’s expectations.
The ride seemed to take hours but in actuality it had only been half an hour. Tabitha parked the car in front of an old worn-down home outside the city. The shutters were stained with sunlight and hung crooked. The door was bright red and the siding was covered in ivy and dirt but to Mara it was beautiful.
The inside was exactly as Mara had pictured it. The carpets were old and the walls needed to be painted. Mara loved that none of the furniture matched and that there were books all over the coffee table. It was cluttered and had a strong smell of cats but to Mara it was beautiful.
Mara had always hated cats. She hated the way they always acted like they were entitled to luxury. It was even true for the stray cats that were taken in off the streets. Like her they had a rough start and one would assume that a measure of humility would come with that type of beginning, but the arrogant way cats prance and whine was unbearable to Mara. She was relieved to learn that Tabitha’s cat had recently died of old age, but she offered her condolences.
Some life with Tabitha-
I love you tabby-
A night out seemed to be the best way to clear her mind. Throughout Mara’s life there had been two things that could always make her feel better, cookie dough and old books. She loved the crisp pages and the rough broken spines. She felt a sense of belonging among used books. She could feel the previous reader’s emotions as she read. They understood her, they cried when she cried. They laughed when she laughed. It made her feel like she always had friends, with them she was never alone.
Being somewhat new to the area she decided to just roam the streets looking for old shops and quaint book stores.
She spent about 3 hours looking over the shelves of old books and imagining the previous readers as they first discovered the book for the first time.
(Finds book on Russian folklore)
As Mara walked out of the small book store she heard the sounds of horns blasting and crushing metal the sound that only belongs to one event, a car crash. Mara could see the destroyed cars as she approached the accident. Suddenly her heart sank.
”Please no!” she said under her breath.
"Tabby! No not you too Tabby" she screamed as she sprinted forward.
One of the cars was the little red car that belonged to Tabitha. The front end was smashed in and shattered glass fell everywhere. Mara’s pace went from a cautious walk to an intent sprint. As she drew closer she saw Tabitha a few yards from the car lying on the ground face down. Mara ran to Tabitha, blood was everywhere and Tabitha didn’t appear to be breathing. Mara struggled to flip Tabitha onto her back. As she struggled she prayed, it was the first time she had ever attempted it.
”Please help me!”
Suddenly peace came over her. She closed her eyes and began to sing. It wasn’t a song that she knew, and it wasn’t in any language that she had ever heard but it felt natural. The tones floated from her mouth and rose to the heavens. Her heart held hope, and the music held healing.
Slowly the blood that had been spilt onto the pavement began to seep back into Tabitha’s body, her cuts began to close, and she began to breathe slowly. Then before Mara was almost done singing. Tabitha’s hand rose and met her face softly caressing her cheek.
“Mara dear, I’m ready to go.” Her voice seemed more soothing than ever.
”I can’t let you go Tabby! I need you!” Mara cried.
“Mara, please be brave.” She smiled.
Mara began to sing again. Once again the peace came to her but this time it was a different song. It was far more beautiful than the one before, and it held a different meaning.
As Mara sang a brilliant light began to rise from her hands which she had placed onto Tabitha’s head and over her heart. She was at peace. She could feel Tabitha’s pain was gone and she was ready to let her go home. Then at the close of her song, Tabitha gave her final breath. She died with a smile on her face.
The thought sparked in Mara’s mind to get up and get out. So she ran. She ran for what seemed miles until she found herself at a bus stop. She then took that bus as far as the twenty three dollars in her pocket would take her. She knew she could never go back. There would be too many questions to answer, questions that she didn’t have an answer for.
The bus took her to a small town outside
Wandering/ the murderer
(A hint from a member of the cult)
Searching for answers
An unlikely friend
The blade hit Mara on her right side. It dug into her ribs and spliced the muscles. She screeched in pain. She felt the blade slide out of the wound as she fell to the ground in a pile. Blood gushed from her wound. She placed her hand on it trying to use pressure to stop the bleeding by the blood only forced its way through her fingers and fell freely.
Mara closed her eyes tight from the pain and clenched her teeth. She sobbed and thought about all of the events that had brought her to this place and moment in time. She thought about her the people she had loved. Anger filled her and began to pulse through her. She stood in defiance, lifted her hands above her head and let out a scream.
Suddenly hundreds of black birds appeared. They surrounded Trigg from all sides. They whirled around as a single mass growing in speed and intensity waiting to strike. They did as Mara threw her hands to her sides. The birds began to peck at him, tearing away at him, picking him apart. Quickly there was nothing left of him. The birds turned to face Mara, she nodded to thank them, and they disappeared.
Again Mara fell to the ground. Exhausted and in pain she laid wait to either die from her wound or to gain enough strength to find shelter for the night, either way she couldn’t bear to stand any longer.
Mara’s eyelids began to grow heavy. She didn’t have the strength or desire to keep them open. She wanted to sleep. She wanted to dream. She wanted to escape the pain. Every vein in her body ached for blood, spasming with an uncontrollable thirst. Mara had lost a lot of blood and she could feel it in every one of her organs. Her head felt light and sick. Her hands and feet were cold and tingling. The only safe haven seemed to be sleep.
The sun had long since gone to bed and the moon’s light was covered by a layer of thick dark clouds. The dew hung heavy close to the ground, it fell onto Mara causing her to become more frigid, only adding to her misery. It gathered around the corners of her eyes and mixed with the tears cascading off her face.
She laid there unable to move and too scared to cry out. Hours past until finally the sun began to peak out from behind the mountains. It was morning. Mara welcomed the sun's warmth, it gave her added strength. She tried to get to her feet but the pain was unbearable. She fell over almost immediatly.
"I refuse to die out here." she said aloud.
She again rose to her feat and allowed herself to balance. She picked a direction and began to walk. She knew she would eventually come across a small village where she could get help.
A kind stranger
Setting out on a journey
Old friend dies in battle