The Music Be The Food flash fiction event continues with round three. This time, the song is one of my all-time favorites, from prog metal master, Devin Townsend, called Kingdom. Give a listen to the tune and then read the first flash fiction piece, by Jay Wilburn.
Gifts on Wings of Metal Dragonflies
She awoke in her netting of leaves and vines to the sound of the buzzing ring. She smiled into the spotty green light filtered through the canopy above her. Girl rose up far enough to see over her weaved bed at the other nets and nests in the trees. None of the rest of the troop awoke yet. That was good.
She climbed out onto one of the limbs and extended her red furry tail for balance. Her nostrils flared and her wide green eyes darted to and fro high above the ground. Her eyes spotted no movement. As she sniffed her vision blurred, but a very different map of the surrounding area formed in her head. She “saw” the trees by type and blossom. She sensed the droppings of creatures which walked the ground and she knew their paths. There were things with claws, teeth, and appetite living below, but none close enough for her to smell. Her nostrils folded closed and her normal vision returned.
She was surprised to see the elongated, silver creature hovering just in front of her face. She could hear it, but it had no smell. As often as he sent it to greet her, this unnatural lack of odor still unnerved her. It had another silver box clutched in its six sharp legs. It glided a little closer.
She extended her paw under it and the dragonfly set the gift gently in the hairless side of her palm. The buzzing thing darted away again through the trees with its mission done.
She stole another glance over her shoulder. They rest still had not stirred and still were not watching. That was good because they would not understand. And when they did not understand, they grew angry and violent.
The box opened and inside she found a golden seed. She took it and ate it in one bite. Sometimes she tried to savor it, but she could not risk the others waking this time. The seed was so much sweeter than anything she found on her own anywhere in the forest. There were places farther away than her troop traveled, but she doubted she would find such a seed even in those places.
The inside had his markings – letters repeated and formed into words. Unspoken things which had such meaning. Partly because of their own nature, but mostly because they came from him. She had to move her lips and whisper out breath to translate the sounds and make them reveal their meaning to her ears. It was a short message, but she still had to sound through it in hushed whisper three times before she had it. He wanted to see her.
She hid box still within its flattened foil form within the weave of her net like the others. She had to push every corner deep within the folds of the grass. The things would poke her in the night, if she did not. The gifts would return the sunlight like water, if any piece showed. That would be another thing the others would not understand. She could whisper his words to herself when the sun slanted low in the sky and the troop rested late in the day.
Once his gift was hidden, she leapt from branch to branch the way she knew she must go in order to obey his request. She passed a thing with claws and she opened her nostrils only long enough to realize it had seen her move over its head. She could smell its acidic hunger on its breath. It might follow her. It might follow her all the way, but she had to keep going just the same because he had told her to do so.
She reached the tree she sought and climbed down face first along the peeling bark a few body lengths. She stopped and opened her nostrils, waiting. It wasn’t here. Whatever sensed her with its burning appetite had not followed this far. It might be here when she got back, but that was a problem for later.
She dashed to the ground to the strange feel of the grass and dirt before she edged forward. Each step felt dangerous and exposed. She knew it would be here – the doorway. It formed out of light like all the other times and it was still as amazing as the first time she had discovered it by accident so long ago. Within an instant, it materialized into a freestanding thing made of the same substance as his dragonflies with their gifts.
The doors slid open in the middle, vanishing into the nothing on both sides. She hopped out of the grass into the room with the clear walls and the doors slid closed behind her to protect her.
She braced herself by crouching on the flat surface with no branches to hold, but her whole body felt the frightening thrill of rushing away from the ground and forest. She watched the canopy of the trees shrink below her at the same time it expanded out in all directions underneath. In the distance, she stared into the pearly haze until the soft curves of purple mountains formed. She would never stand upon them, she was sure, but she knew what they were because he explained them to her. The flat ground curled down at the edges and the daytime sky broke apart.
She rose through the clear tube into the unending night and spots of stars above her world. The sun shone strange and lonely in the soupy darkness and the land glowed below as if it clutched the daylight to itself out of the night – the land itself now shaped perfectly round as the sun always was. She stared down in wonder at the clouds below her like colorless fur on the face of the world instead of above where they cried the water onto the canopy for her troop to drink.
The room stopped finally and the doors opened on the metal hall. She bounded out and down the corridor. The turns imprinted on her brain even though she could smell nothing in this high place. Like the paths through the trees, her mind held the imprint of the way to go and her muscles obeyed without her effort.
His doors opened and she leapt onto the chair across from him and the flat surface he called his desk. His face was hairless and he wore white skins over his tailless body – white like the clouds he had created. He was a giant and she was in awe of him, but did not fear him in the same way as the giant things with claws and teeth and hunger.
As she waited for him to speak, she opened her nostrils long enough to take in the stunted scent of him. It revealed so little of him. No maps. No shapes. It was a smell cleaned nearly away by water and barely greater than the scentless walls of his high places around her.
“You got my gift.”
She prepared herself to use the words he had taught her. She got no practice with them among her own kind except when she whisper read his notes over and over. It wasn’t the same as the imprint of the paths through her trees and his halls. This trick took a different sort of effort from her mind to the muscles in her mouth and tongue.
“I did. Thank you.”
“I’m glad you came. I have important and big things to tell you.”
She smiled. “I am glad.”
He was not smiling though and now she was afraid. “Things are about to change. The elevator will not be there much longer.”
“Then, how will I be able to come see you?”
“You won’t. I’m being called away to a different sky. A different assignment.”
“I don’t understand. You made us. You watch over us.”
“And I’m not sure I can help you understand this time. I will be far away.”
“You are far away now, but I can still come see you.”
He smiled, sighed, and then looked away from her. She did not like what she read as his disappointment in her. He said, “I will be going to a place you cannot follow.”
“Will you still watch over us?”
“Not like I have been. No.”
“Have I done something wrong?”
“No. No. My work here is just done.”
“You said you wanted to see more like me. More who could understand and speak. You waited to see us all change. That hasn’t happened yet. You are not done. I can try to teach them; try to make them understand like I do. Please, stay.”
“Others want this world erased, when I leave, but I’m going to defy that wish. When I leave, I’m going to leave your world – the way we created it – to thrive and grow on its own.”
She stared for several heartbeats and he waited on her patiently the way he did when he taught her the words on the notes. He spoke of himself often as more than one, but she never saw others. His nature was something she could not grasp and she did not try to fully know him. She just trusted.
“I wish you would stay until you make others like me, so I am not so alone down there.”
“Maybe someday, if your world goes unharmed and unnoticed for long enough, it could happen. Your troops could climb down from the trees, shed your tails, build cities, and maybe someday build places like these where you terraform your own worlds, unique lifeforms, and intelligence. Maybe you will be more successful than us.”
She struggled to follow. “I will lose my tail? And become more like you?”
“Not in your lifetime. Maybe your grandchildren or great grandchildren many times removed. Your kind have fast lifecycles, so maybe you will evolve faster than we did.”
“Will there be others like me? Ever in my life? Others who can know you and why we are here? Others I can read your notes with?”
“Anything is possible. You were born, weren’t you? Maybe your children will be the ones and that’s how it will all start.”
“Will you send your dragonflies anymore?”
His face contorted and he sighed again. “I can’t. What I have given you already will have to be enough. I will keep your secrets out here from above to keep you safe from those beyond your world. You watch out for yourself from all the things which threaten you below the sky.”
She swallowed and looked away. “I will do my best. I wish you would stay.”
“I wish I could too. I really do. This is the best I can do for you though and I hope it is enough.”
He walked around the desk and she hopped down from the seat. He walked slowly through the halls, so she could keep pace and she stayed heel near his feet.
He opened the room for her one more time and she entered without him. As she looked up into his face for the last time, she tried to think of something to say – anything. But her mind and mouth failed to form the words for the only other being who could understand them. He nodded though. She knew he understood without her speaking them and that was a comfort. She wanted to open her nostrils to try to take in a sense of him again, but she did not want to give up seeing him with her own eyes.
The doors closed. The room descended.
She loved to see the sky reform around her. She loved to see the canopy swell toward her as she raced to the ground after a visit. She loved how the forest smelled so strongly again after returning from his high place with no other smells or colors to distract. This time she kept her eyes turned up toward the light above her even though she might never enjoy the other views between her home and his again.
As she thought about never taking his gifts and his words from another one of his dragonflies, part of her wished he would have erased her whole world and her with it.
Read more from Jay Wilburn at jaywilburn.com.