Category Archives: Short Stories

Elysium

Elysium2

Precursor

Chapman describes, in blank verse, how Odysseus, washed up on the island of Calypso, and finds where:

”A grove grew
In endless spring about her cavern round
With odorous cypress, pines and poplars, crowned,
Where hawks, sea owls and long tongued bitterns bred,
And other birds their shady pinions spread.
All fowls maritimal: none roosted there
But whose labours in the water were.
A vine did all the hollow cave embrace,
Still green, yet some still-ripe bunches gave it grace.
Four fountains, one against another, poured
Their silver streams and meadows all enflowr’d
With sweet balm-gentle and blue violets hid,
That decked the soft breast of each fragrant mead.”

John Keats wrote his poem ‘On Looking into Chapman’s Homer with a similar leap of the heart’

Now my story…

pexels-photo-755397.jpeg

Elysium

Leading Seaman Johnson’s ears were roaring when he recovered once again from the stupor of days adrift on a life raft. His ship had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine east of the Philippine Islands ten days before. The emergency rations and water lasted three days and he lasted two more days in the blazing sun before losing consciousness.

He had been recovering degrees of consciousness and slipping back into oblivion so often that he had lost all sense of time except that he was aware of the rotation of light and sunburn, and cold and darkness. He was in one of the states of unawareness when he realised that the surging and crashing noise he could hear was the sound of breakers. He let go and slid back with profound relief on the raft into the slumber of utter fatigue.

He half awoke to find himself being carried in somebody’s arms. Before slipping back again into a wave of nausea he thought that at least he hadn’t landed on this tropical shore only to be eaten by a komodo dragon. What might have been hours later he began to perceive light through half-opened eyes and felt the warmth of soft flesh on his face. He felt like a baby, perfectly secure while energy seemed to pervade every cell of his body. He breathed deeply and slept.

When he next woke he found to his astonishment that he was being suckled by a woman. He withdrew his mouth not knowing whether to continue or pretend to be sorry for a misdemeanour.

‘I feel like a baby’, he said. The woman had been waiting for him to speak. ‘Don’t worry’ said her soft voice. ‘You need sustenance, take it from me’. The speaker was the most beautiful woman Johnson had ever seen. Golden red hair, pale skin and clad in a loose white robe; she shone with kindness. He dropped into sleep again.

This infantile pattern continued for some days until Johnson could stay awake and look at the woman and at his surroundings. He was in a cave hung with flowers and strewn with herbs just above the beach.  He was lying on a raised bed, nothing more than a ledge protruding from the rock wall. He asked ‘Where am I?’ The woman who had been watching him came over and knelt beside him. ‘You are safe here on my island. Slowly you will get better as you imbibe from me. Like ambrosia it will give life to you’. And so it was to be but there were a thousand questions that Johnson wanted to ask. ‘All in good time’ said the soft voice.

The daily suckling continued and Johnson felt better than he had ever felt in his life and he made some exploratory steps in and around the cave. One morning she said to him, ‘I have to leave you for a little while I go to bathe. You will be perfectly safe but when I am away you must never follow me’. At this time Johnson knew that he was not yet strong enough to follow even if he wanted to. He contented himself with wandering around the area outside the cave and kicked around in the leaves and bushes there. One day he found a long bone and with horror recognised a human femur, then scraps of blue cloth, a couple of tarnished brass buttons and more bones.

He hurried back and fell on his couch full of apprehension and fear. Who was she, what was she, and what did she live on? When she returned she sensed, with that unerring instinct inherent in women that something was wrong. She sat down beside him and said ‘I need to tell you about myself. My name is Miomene and I am an immortal nymph of the woodlands. Aeons ago, longer than your human mind can envisage I was exiled to this island by our father Zeus’.

Johnson was mystified. ‘Olympian gods! I thought they were just myths, things that mankind made up’.

‘They have always existed since before the world, even the universe began’, she said, ‘It’s just that mankind constantly reinvents them in shapes that suit the particular age’.

‘But why so cruel as to exile you here. What did you do wrong?’

‘I must not tell you why but I have been here on this tiny island ever since and nobody except unfortunate sailors have ever been my company. I have nurtured them, and cared for them over the years’.

‘But why did you breast-feed me?

‘You would have died without it. I imbued you for a short while with my immortal nature, a rescue remedy against your intense fatigue. Soon you will crave for human food and you will forage and find it here on my island’.

‘And the bones in the undergrowth out there?’ he asked.

Miomene paused and pensively replied ‘There were others before you. Being mortal they could not live forever even with my divine nourishment. I can restore a fading life and give a little longer time than is permitted to mankind but I cannot make them immortal’.

Johnson’s curiosity was not completely satisfied and the desire to find out the place where she went came upon him so that one morning he determined to follow her even though he felt disloyal. Keeping her at a distance he saw her walking until she disappeared from his sight long enough for him to creep upon her. First he saw the robe thrown carelessly over a bush. He could see no sign of Miomene only a creature like a huge amoeba bathing in a stream. He ran back to the cave frightened beyond measure.

Miomene returned now in her former beautiful form and knew he had disobeyed her. ‘You have followed me. Are you satisfied now that you have seen me as I really am? I shall not harm you’, she breathed.

‘But why the disguise?’

‘How could I do differently?’ she asked. ‘You were dying and you needed me and I brought you back to life in the only way open to me. If I had appeared to you in my true form, would you have accepted nurture from me then?’

‘But this Greek god business. I thought all the gods on Olympus were supposed divinely to be divinely beautiful as I see you now.’, said Johnson.

‘Ah, the gods! It is in their nature to manifest themselves in forms that you humans would like them to have. Your Jehovah-like god would appear as a burning bush because that was what Moses had been taught by his culture to expect as a divine sign. Sometimes they have manifested themselves as great warriors, spirit animals, rivers, and eruptions from volcanoes’.

He thought about this carefully and asked ‘Well, what about your manifestation to me?’

‘There is in every man’s deepest mind an ideal of perfect womanhood. You are simply seeing the perfect form that you have in your mind. You are seeing what you would like to see. I have done nothing except draw it out of you as I did when I divined your language’.

‘What about the other castaways, the human remains out there?’

‘My sea husbands come, I love them, they die and I mourn them.

‘Don’t they ever get’ he paused to get the right word, ‘don’t they ever get er, rescued?’

‘Sometimes ships passed by and they would light a fire to attract attention to the island and so be rescued as you put it. When they are safe on board they look back and see nothing of me and the memory of their stay with me fades. Yet in later life, perhaps while sitting alone in a pleasant garden on a summer evening, they will look up pensively as if trying but never succeeding to recapture a beautiful dream.

There were some who hid from the ships choosing to stay with me until they died. You may perhaps have to make the choice yourself one day but until then you will find yourself living in complete happiness with me’.

‘But what about you, Miomene, when they were rescued? What if I should go away or die as I must?’

Miomene gave a long sigh.

‘I have no choice but to exist until Zeus should relent’.

Harry Wells

Comments and critiques welcome

pexels-photo-758524.jpeg

Save

Advertisements

Ginny Tickler

Rose Petals on Water
England. Nineteen forty three.

She had a wheelbarrow
A plain square box
With long wooden handles
And bicycle wheels.

She had a beautiful face and a woolly hat
Fourteen, sweet, innocent and mute.
In the words of the era,
She was not all there.

She collected vegetable parings
A war-time measure to feed pigs.
When she saw children playing
She would stop and wait and smile.
Always on the edge, looking through
An invisible barrier at a fairy story.

Boys would tease though not hurtfully
The girls would say, ‘No! Leave her alone’.
They understood more.
Once only, I touched her finger tips
As through a sheet of glass.
And loved her across the divide.

She went home one dark afternoon,
Taking a short cut by the canal towpath.
They found her body face up in the water
Surrounded by floating potato peelings
That should have been rose petals.

Will she be there with other angels
In a place where the curtain has been lifted,
The haze removed and clarity reborn
I hope so. There are things I need to tell her.

Harry Wells

Comments welcome

A Fable

 Rowan Tree

The Covenant

The rowan tree stood between a gnarled apple and an errant hazel in what had been, at one time, an orchard. Later, left to its own devices, the orchard tried its best to revert to the wild but in time became appropriated into part of the large back garden of a small stone house. The rowan, the mountain ash, had been planted by Alan’s grandfather and was now surrounded by a wooden seat built by Alan in his youth as a first project in woodworking.

His granddad, now nearly at the end of his term of life had advised him, told him the about the joints and the most appropriate wood to use. Alan fifteen and full of strength expected to finish the job in a day and became irritable if things didn’t go right straightaway. Granddad advised caution.

‘Alan’, he said ‘You’ll never make a good job this way. You must address yourself to the materials lovingly. You see, this piece of wood never wanted to be a seat. It was quite happy being a tree. And yet such is the nature of trees that it will have no resentment against your use of it. But let it know that you have none either and it will co-operate with you’.

Alan had thought his granddad was going a bit dotty and didn’t think too much about what he’d been told and got on making the seat.

‘Anybody would think the tree was a person’ he thought. Yet, somehow he never forgot what Granddad had told him. From time to time he would sit under the rowan and often Granddad came to mind.

‘It’s funny! Here I am sitting under the tree like I did with Granddad so many years ago’. He closed his eyes and it came to him that they were like three old friends, Granddad, the tree and him.

‘Hold on’ he smiled, ‘Who’s going dotty now?’

When he married, Alan told his new wife about the tree in that almost forgotten part of his garden, told her with affection and reverence about the seat.

‘It’s a lovely story’ said Alice, ‘Let’s go and sit down on your seat now’. And sitting there became the habit of a lifetime. On warm summer evenings they would talk about how they had each spent their day and plan for the future.

Five days after the birth of their daughter they took her down to be introduced to the rowan. They laid her small palms against the trunk and, unbeknown to each other, made a wordless prayer on her behalf, a communion of togetherness and mutual respect. They were silent, walking back to the house, each feeling a little embarrassed yet fulfilled.

As she grew, Silva, for this was the baby’s name, played around the rowan and sometimes danced a slow gavotte bending and casting old dry leaves into the air, singing a ditty and looking upwards through the leaves. At other times she would talk, half to herself and half to the tree, about school, her friends and little problems such as occur to teenage girls. One day, while doing her homework under the tree she leaned back against the developing trunk and wondered what the rowan’s personal name might be. His leaves rustled and murmured a name to her only. He was called Luis he whispered, one of the ancients’ names for the rowan tree.  And at that very moment the tree chose her; chose for him to be her spirit helper through life.

One year the rowan bloomed early. At first the blossom was no more than a trace, a delicate shade of pink that later became a flush of warm red among the foliage. There, one soft summer evening under the canopy and beneath a sliver of crescent moon, the maiden felt the first stirrings of womanhood within her.

There came the time when Silva, now a young woman, took her new husband to introduce him to Luis and he smiled gently and understood. They sat together under the canopy and held hands as they did most evenings that first summer. Sitting there one evening Silva looked up just as a gibbous moon found a window in the cloud cover. She placed her husband’s hand on her belly and together they felt the first kick of a new life that was to come a few moons later.

Wrapped in a linen shawl embroidered by her grandmother Silva took her baby to the tree, like her mother had done, and renewed the covenant. As she walked back to the house a green shoot from the rowan’s last year’s fruiting that had been blown a zephyr’s breath away burst out of the soil. Luis opened the leaves of the canopy and let through the moonglow and the seedling opened its tiny leaves to the soft light.

The cycle of regeneration was complete until the next turn of the great wheel of birth, renewal and growth.

Harry Wells
Comments welcome