The Space of Eternity
by Bertil Falk
For hours she had flitted across the green desert. Now she faltered, her strength decreased, but her intention was stronger than it had been before she decided to find the place. When she discerned a dark streak far away at a distance on the horizon, she got a feeling that she had overcome the first of many difficulties. But it was not that easy.
“You’ve not reached that dark streak as yet,” her mental alarm clock tinkled, and with a surge she went upwards towards the blue crystal of the sky.
It was just in time. Out of the green sand an enormous feeler reached out at her. The rumors of a dreadful horror awaiting trespassers on the desert turned out to be more than an old-fashioned legend, much more than a tale nurtured by drunken poets and troubadours in public houses where the Absolute Ale of the Stars was served around the clock. Or by bards and minstrels, dwelling inside the secret basements of illegal taverns, where the juporo-addicts spent their time dreaming. She realized that the ancient legends were based on pure experiences met with by desert-dwellers in a distant past.
And now she escaped the danger by a hair’s breadth. Moving in circles she soared higher and she saw how the ground went in waves under her, a whirling desert storm of green sand, whipped up by some strange creatures disapproving of disturbances above their roof.
She headed for the dark streak. The effort to keep aloft gave her a splitting headache. Slowly, she lost altitude and she did not seem to get closer to the dark streak. In order not to fall down, she began to tramp on air. It meant that she would not budge, but it spared her wings for a while. It gave her breathing space. She could rest her wings, not overstrain them.
She had arrived at the town at the end of civilization two weeks earlier. She had done her best to conceal her carefully folded-up wings by keeping them close-fitting to her back under her kurta covered by a cloak that reached down to her feet. She had walked between juporo-addicts and brain-sailors and pale space-dreamers, and she had listened to every secret that was breathed between dying lips of dry mouths.
Somewhere, beyond deserts and pitfalls, across red lakes of blood and along the rotten dread of poisoned rivers, the Space of Eternity was placed, guarded by the evil winged ones. Once the evil winged ones had tried to defeat the kingdoms in order to rule the worlds outside the Space of Eternity. The struggle had been long drawn-out until the last of the evil winged ones were killed.
Individual specimens had been able to hide themselves, but ultimately those beings, those who wandered about like stray dogs, were discovered and destroyed. If there were any evil winged ones left, they were no longer a threat. They had to be in hiding and would not have been able to find each other, which prevented them from mating and breeding. But the evil winged ones were still hated.
That was what she heard, and she froze in the tropical heat when they told those stories, well knowing that if they as much as began to suspect her, it was all over for good. They dealt summarily with winged people. No questions, no justice, just death by whatever means available, a fast and efficient execution.
Every day she looked into the green desert that stretched as far as she could see, from the verge of civilization all the way to the legendary Space of Eternity, situated somewhere beyond the beyond of the beyond.
Early in the morning, when only the chowkidars walked the streets and the sound of their lathis hitting the cobblestones signaled that all was well, she had crept away. She had moved through the maze of alleys and by-lanes to the verge where the desert began. There, when nobody was in sight, she spread her wings, flying into the darkness. She had chosen a cloudy night. No starlight, no moons would betray her and after ten minutes she would not even have been discernible from the city in daylight.
But it seemed as if she had taken on more than she could fly. She had been flying all night, straight into daybreak, all through the morning and now in the late afternoon she was still in the air. If there at least had been some wind, an upwind, a following wind or a headwind, any kind of wind she could have used to her advantage. But not as much as a slight breeze.
And she was tired. Her legs were getting stiff by treading air and her knees began to jam. The sand-dwellers would make short work of her. In that sense there was no difference between them and the city-dwellers. She wondered if they would kill her before devouring her or maybe she would be swallowed alive.
Then she saw the yellow oasis, and as happens to a drowning person catching sight of an island, her willpower and her energy were both renewed. Summoning all her remaining strength, she reached the golden spot and touched down between a low tree and a stone and folded together her wings. She drank water from the well. It was warm. She found a few edible fruits. She unfolded her wings and rose to the midst of a tree, where she fell asleep on a limb close to the trunk.
She walked through a world of wingless humans. She knew their hatred. She felt their fear and she asked herself if her winged kinsmen really had been as evil as they were described. Her mother was the only winged person she had known. Her mother, who had been stoned to death by a furious crowd of people when they discovered that she concealed wings under her cloak. When her mother was killed, she had herself been fifteen years old and she had been able to hide in the cellar of an abandoned and dilapidated trading house.
She had never had a boyfriend. A boyfriend would have found out the truth and killed her. She had worked as a cleaner and a chambermaid. But she had never stayed for long at the same place. She had always gone on westwards, for she knew that it was somewhere in the west that the land was situated, the land where the Space of Eternity was shining, the place where the winged women and men had come from.
That much her mother had said, but her mother had never been in that land herself. She too had been born among the wingless people in a time before the extermination took place. All that passed through her mind in the dream, the same dream she always dreamt.
She was awakened by quarreling voices. She looked down and saw two wingless women sitting by the well, desert-dwellers. They were neither black nor pink nor brown. Their skin was like a checkerboard. Every second square was blue, every second yellow. She realized that the squares were adornments. She gazed past the oasis towards the dark streak and found to her surprise that it was much closer than she had thought. Obviously, the streak was the edge of a forest.
She dived into the air and the two quarreling women jumped to their feet when they heard her big wings flapping and saw her climbing towards the sky. Soon enough, the oasis was far behind her and she only had to fly for a short while before she reached the forest region.
She knew that the forest was strewn with pitfalls, but she thought that since she flew and the pitfalls most probably were down there on the ground, she was relatively safe as she hovered over the trees, reaching further in the direction of the red lakes.
The forest was filled with life. She saw animals jumping and killing and eating everywhere. The red lakes came into sight after a while, a few to begin with, then more and more and at last she had a land of thousands of red spots of all sizes under her. Huge saurus-like animals grazed open spaces and drank from the lakes. Thermals made gliding easy. She could rest on her wings and enjoy the thermal gliding.
How many winged people lived at the Space of Eternity? Among the wingless ones, she felt as if she was the last winged being in the whole world. Probably, a few of her kind still dwelled on the continents among the wingless people, but they were hiding in remote caves of impenetrable forests or living behind secret doors in houses they never left. Why would life be so difficult to live? Why did people hate her and her kinsmen? Had they really been that bad? The thoughts that had haunted her for years continued to worry her as she flew westwards.
She felt the danger rather than saw it. There was a chilling threat along her spine. Then she saw it: it was like a cloud to begin with. It dissolved into its constituent parts and the parts turned out to be giants, colossal flying ones, like winged crocodiles, dragons?
They swept along towards her at high speed. She could dive and come down somewhere. Or she could soar above the monsters. What if they came after her if she dived? Would they pursue her if she gained height? She decided to dive and at the same moment she found them approaching so fast that she got the feeling that she was too late. She pulled in her wings and nose-dived as they reached her. She found herself diving through a rain cloud of giants with bad, blazing breath.
The nasty wind of their breathing swept her like a sudden dry monsoon. They did not so much as take notice of her, and suddenly it was all over and done with. Surprised, she circled over the land strewn with lakes that looked like bloodstains. She saw a herd of other winged monsters grazing the tops of enormous broad-leaf trees. That was why they did not care about her. The crocodile-like giants were leaf-eaters. Relieved, she continued westwards.
In the late afternoon she went down on a small island in one of the sanguine lakes. The sun was setting like a gleaming, lilac ball at the horizon. The violet evening darkness changed faster and faster and became the purple of the night darkness. She washed her face with the red water and she drank from it. She picked some fruits. She found a bare hillock with a cave opening, but she turned her back to it and found a tree where she could spend the night.
Who am I? What am I? The questions raised their ugly heads like monsters out of her subconscious mind and made themselves important in her dream. Am I as evil as the wingless humans said? But I don’t want to hurt anyone, do I? I don’t want to kill anything living at all, do I? I’ve done no wrong and I don’t have any urge to harm, have I? No, no, do. Then who am I? Why am I a banned kind of being, belonging to a victimized species of men? Will the Space of Eternity be the lost Paradise? Will I find it?
Yes, would she find it? And this solitude, this desperate loneliness, did she deserve it? Or was she — her mind turned a somersault — the chosen one, the one destined to save her race? Why else had she been spared, when most others, probably all the others had been exterminated?
A hot drop of rain hit one of her eyelids. Another scorching raindrop hit her forehead. She opened her eyes, blinked, but there was nothing to see. She was surrounded by pitch darkness, a sort of blackness with invisible streaks of dark blueness. And now the branding rain poured. She had to take shelter. With her face and body burning from the stinging hits, she dived down to the ground and went into the cave in the hillock.
The sound of sudden thunder sent strong sensations of something tangible but at the same time impalpable through her spine. Out there in the ever-land were powers that transcended even the might of the wingless people. Powers that could submerge big cities and upset high buildings. A spectacular display of thunderbolts flashed in the sky, and for a nanosecond she saw the blood-red lake surging in an agitated mood. Not only was she small, she felt small and she retired into the cave. Her heart was pounding what-if-what-if-what-if. What if what?
If there were evil things inside the cave, biding their time, things with twilight vision seeing all of her, every step she took as she drew back from the cave opening into a darkness even darker than the darkness outside the cave. Another flash of lightning illuminated the cave. She laughed out loud. There was nothing at all in the cave. It stretched a short distance into the hillock. Its walls were smooth, the floor empty, and no vampires were hanging from the ceiling.
She lay down and before she fell asleep she told herself that she had imagined too many non-existent perils. It was a result of her adolescence among the unwinged people, who would have killed her if they had known. Now she had that particular danger behind her. If there were other menaces, they were unknown to her and therefore she had a reason to fear and observe and take care and with that she fell asleep again.
She smiled in her sleep, for she recognized her dream. It was a quotation from her previous dream. “Who am I? What am I? Am I as evil as the wingless humans said? But I don’t want to hurt anyone, do I? I don’t want to kill anything living at all, do I? I’ve done no wrong and I don’t have any urge to harm, have I? No, no, I don’t. Then who am I? Why am I a banned kind of being, belonging to a victimized species of men? Will the Space of Eternity be the lost Paradise? Will I find it?”
As she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, she prepared herself to resume her quest for the Space of Eternity. The thunderstorm was over. She unfolded her wings and hung, slowly flapping them, over the lake, looking at herself in its sanguine surface. She had grown, she was no longer a child, no longer a youth, she was a woman, not very beautiful perhaps, but not bad-looking either. What-if-what-if-what-if her heart pounded. What if she met with a handsome winged boy, a glorious young man, who would find her perhaps a little bit pretty?
And now she soared, leaving the lakes behind her, flying along the breaths of wind, surfing westwards across the forests with the many watercourses, the poisoned rivers, the waters of which she could not taste, however thirsty she might become. Oh, how could these beautiful rivers meandering between trees and cliffs and meadows be so dangerous?
Why were attractive things so often carnivorous in this the most unjust of worlds? Brainy philosophers and dedicated researchers had tried to answer those questions many generations before her time. The answers they had come up with had been more meaningless than a handful of blue dust, which at least was blue.
Now that she floated in the air, she felt elated, filled with happiness she never before had felt. To follow the free wind like this had been an experience denied her in a world where she had not been permitted to unfold her wings, much less flap them and soar.
She had come to an end of the forest. No rivers ran between trees and cliffs and meadows any more. Something approached her, a winged thing, a man, a young man, a beautiful young man, his golden hair gleaming in the sunlight, his bronze-colored skin gleaming in the sunlight, his swelling muscles gleaming in the sun, the youth of her dreams.
Her heart pounded it’s-him-it’s-him-it’s-him-it’s-him. He dived down at her, lifted his hands in a greeting and grasped her hands and smiled at her.
“Welcome home,” he said. “Welcome to the Space of Eternity.”
A big sphere was in front of them and she could see that inside that sphere was a city of silver-colored buildings and gold-coated streets. The Space of Eternity was Paradise with those famous streets of gold that legends told of.
Together they dived through an opening in the sphere. She followed suit as he banked to the left and touched down beside something that actually looked like an old-fashioned scaffold. Beside it was a woman and to her surprise the woman was wingless.
“A good catch!” the woman said. “Where did you find her?”
“She practically flew into my arms.”
The man with the golden hair took off his golden wings. There he stood, a bronze-colored wingless hunter, his muscles swelling, his eyes gleaming with pride and happiness. Satisfied, having caught one of the evil winged ones as she approached the legendary Space of Eternity not knowing that it was a trap set to catch her and what was left of her kind.
“Not many left now, I would think.” He plumed himself.
She did not even cry, only stared unbelievingly when they ripped the wings off her and without ceremony carried her to the scaffold.
Copyright © 2008 by Bertil Falk