Thread: Small Worlds
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Old 05-05-2011, 06:24 AM
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In Lauren’s lullaby
There are promises and stories
Older than the stars and younger than
The something something something something thing.

Hmmm... I think the beat's right. Not sure about the words, though.
On a whim,

In Lauren’s lullaby
There are promises and stories
Older than the sun and younger than
The dreams that linger after day has come.

I don't think it'll stay like that, if nothing else then because the internet has ruined the word 'come' for me.

Aaanyway, in a classic example of the previously mentioned 'stories being what they want to be', I tried to write the story in the 'swan' stanza of the poem.

In Lauren’s lullaby
There is a swan
That sings words in human speech
More beautiful than flowers in spring,
More haunting than autumn moonlight.
In a stone room, a crumbled cottage
The swan turns into a beautiful,
Sorrowful girl. She has a chain around her neck and waits
For the chance to win her freedom
And her heart.

I did write it, but the result is probably not something you'd sing as a lullaby to a young girl. Because stories are what they want to be (that or I've been reading too much by Neil Gaiman).

Contains some mild horror of the 'Brothers Grimm' variety, and is therefore rated PG13, and has a typically awful title.
Don't read on if you're in need of a happy ending.


Swansong


Under starlight, in a cold pool beneath winter-bared trees is a swan. Its neck is elegant, its white feathers pristine. Its black mask hides its tears as it opens its beak to sing.

To hear it would break your heart, the most haunting and beautiful ballad beyond the work of any composer or poet. It is a song to make writers turn in their pens and papers and live in darkness for the rest of their days.

As the sky greys at the coming dawn, its aria ends and it glides to the shore. With less elegance it strides onto land and moves silently into the woods. It is a pale wraith beneath the dark trees.

In the woods, near the pool, is a stone hovel, long-ruined. Its ceiling gone, its walls decaying, it daily moves closer to the clay. Here the swan comes and stands silently, its neck erect and its eyes fixed firmly on the east as the sky pales.

At the first showing of the sun it changes. Feathers fade into dust and its body swells up into its neck. Its wings twist forward and stretch into arms as its legs grow thick and lithe and after ten seconds she stands erect, naked and beautiful in the dawn. She is frighteningly pale, her eyes sunken and dark and her hair silver, though she is not old – a few years beyond puberty. Her nearly-white skin is unmarred, but for a livid red scar above her left breast.

Around her neck, like a sadistic bauble, is a thin, cold, iron chain. She raises a narrow, perfect hand and touches it, assuring its presence, and she sags as she feels it, hope stolen away again, as every morning from the dawning of her memory.

With a hissing and shuffling, a hunchbacked hag hobbles into the ruin. Her eyes are wide and mad, her hair a grey tangle. She wears rags and carries a simple white robe, which she holds up. The girl takes it submissively and slips it on. It seems thin and inadequate against the pitiless late-winter chill, but the girl does not seem to feel the cold. As she puts it on her hand brushes the red scar on her chest and the old woman grins madly and holds up a small, moon-silver chest. The girl takes it and holds it to her ear. She hears inside, faintly, thud, thud... thud, thud...

The hag wears a white-gold key on a cord around her neck. The chained girl sighs listlessly and hands the locked chest back before following the old woman out of the hovel.

The hag points to a black iron cauldron that the girl fills at an over-grown well. She points to a pile of sticks which the girl builds into a fire and lights. She points to an earthen-ware dish which the girl picks up and carries back to the pool, to fill with frogs and leeches.

-

The prince is round-faced but his jaw is firm. He wears a light, cloth shirt under a woollen coat, for the season is cold. He rides his horse effortlessly through the winter forest, relaxed and laughing with the riders around him. Hounds pad gently at the legs of the mounts, but there are no horns, no rush, for there is no hunt today. A warm-up in the hope of the coming spring, and nothing more.

The lion that charges onto their path is mangy and starving. Its hunger makes it desperate and it takes the party by surprise. It tears four of the dogs and leaps at the mounted beasts, which scream in surprise and bolt all ways. The one it leaps at directly rears, and the prince is thrown from its back before it brings its forelegs crashing through the lion’s skull. Without realising it has killed its foe, the animal flees for its life.

-

After many hours the prince awakes. It is nearly dark and he feels hot blood on the back of his head; it stains the stones of the path. The dead lion, its skull crushed, and the luckless dogs, lie nearby, swarming with flies and small beasts which do not miss an opportunity in the cruel season. The prince rises. He is disorientated, but stumbles back down the path towards home.

Night falls, and the sky fades. Soon the path is lost to his sight, the chill of the dark biting at him, and pain in his head tearing him apart. He wakes from a daze to find he has lost the road. He has lost himself. He stumbles through the wood, trying to retrace his steps, but hours pass as he walks.

Distantly he hears a melody he takes to be the howling of wind (though the air is calm). As time passes and his wandering feet move nearer, the sound becomes a song: a strange, alien voice. Seeking company, shelter, he follows.

He finds the star-lit pool and watches from dark shadows the circling swan. Its song stirs his heart and he weeps and weeps and does not dare approach lest he scare the elegant creature to flight.

So lost is he in its lament that the paling sky takes him by surprise. He finds the unwitting performer has fallen silent and looks up in surprise to see it walking into the woods.

A wind has risen up now, rattling the naked branches and hiding the sound of his frantic pursuit of the singer. Pushing through bushes he sees the swan vanishing into the ruined hovel and stops, breathless, waiting. The sky pales and the sun rises and moments later a pale girl walks out of the crumbling cottage.

She is upright and elegant and more beautiful than he could have imagined. His desire is raised and his heart aches to speak to her, but then another figure emerges. The bent old woman is foul and the sight of her fills him with a nameless, primal dread. Animal panic stirs him to turn and flee; he fears the hag like the mouse fears the owl. It is all he can do not to scream as he runs.

-

Later that day, he is found. He returns to his castle, his people, but day and night he can think only of the song of the swan on the starlit pool, and sight of the girl who walked from the ruins. She has stolen his thoughts and becomes his obsession. He has to see her again.

Not long later, when his head is nearly healed, he leaves the castle with friends. It is a cold afternoon and the first snowdrops are white against the black earth of the woods. The friends are trusted and trusting, and he has arranged to leave them and wander alone. They will camp in the woods and meet him the next day when he has won his prize.

His companions left behind, he walks through the depths of the woods, tripping over branches and falling into gullies in the darkness. He fears now he will not find her again, or for the first time worries that it was nothing but a dream. Was she ever real? He begins to feel a fool. He is just about to turn back when he hears the song. He runs towards it.

On the silver pool the swan swims its circles and sings its heart-rending aria. He watches from shadows, blissfully hypnotised, drinking in the sight and sound of the bird.

As the sky lightens he stirs himself from his reverie. As the bird closes its beak and turns to swim for the far shore he pushes through the bushes and shouts, “Wait!”

-

She turns her head, observes him with a black, masked eye. This is something new to her. He makes strange sounds that mean less to her ears than the whistling of birds or the chittering of squirrels. She watches, impassive, as this new creature wades into the cold pool, holding a hand out to her, eyes wild and desperate.

She feels nothing, but the throb of the scar on her breast (now hidden beneath her white feathers). But she stays and watches him, for she is curious, and she does not understand the hearts of those who have them.

-

He is torn between longing for the swansong, and dread of scaring it from him, so he stands up to his knees in the freezing water, a hand half held out to it, needfully, longingly. The creature is more beautiful than he remembered, more elegant than any of its kind he has ever seen.

It watches him, still as stone, as the sky pales.

The sun rises. He stumbles back, eyes wide in amazement, as her feathers melt away, her beak vanishes, her shoulders move up, she rises into her erect neck, and before him is the beautiful girl who has, for the last month, haunted his dreams and daydreams. She is naked, her pale skin flawless and perfect but for a sore, red scar above her left breast. He speaks to her, babbles, but she looks at him uncomprehendingly.

Her lips part slightly, shining silver in the dawn-light. Her need seems as great as his. She raises a hand and beckons.

-

The iron chain is heavy at her neck, but perhaps this strange creature is what she has waited for.

-

He follows, almost unable to resist, and anyway he is unwilling. He would follow her into a tomb. He runs, splashing, through the frigid pool and up onto the far bank. She walks ahead of him through the trees, her pale, naked back, legs, buttocks, all he desires. She leads him to the crumbling hovel, and through a yawning gap in the wall.

He follows her in, forgetting what he saw before, until he is face-to-face with the hag, and fear and magic root him to the spot. He cannot move, cannot speak; his eyes are wide in terror as the hag turns to the girl, who meets the old woman’s eyes and points back to him.

The old woman pulls from her rags a small, silver chest. He sees the girl’s face in profile, the desperate longing in her eyes, her half-open lips, as she tugs at the iron chain around her neck, and reaches out for the silver box. The old woman taps it with her bony fingertips, thud, thud... thud, thud... thud, thud... She points a crooked finger at the prince, and draws a dark-bladed knife from her belt and hands it to the girl.

She holds it; she looks confused. The old woman points to the chest again, and to the prince, and dread floods into him. Understanding dawns on her face and she turns to him. For the first time he sees the hollowness of her eyes, and the blankness behind them.

Unfeelingly, she pulls open his coat, and unbuttons his shirt. His heart hammers frantically in fear, giving itself away. She places the dark knife against his skin and drops of blood form on its edge. She thinks only of the contents of the silver chest.

-

When she turns his heart is bloody and still in her hand, and the hag is holding the casket open. The girl drops the knife onto the stones and reverently lifts out from it a purple organ which beats steadily in her grip; thud, thud... thud, thud... She stares at it greedily, like a lost lover at last brought to her, and almost absently places the still, dead, bloody heart into the chest; the old woman slams it closed and draws out the white key. The prince is slumped on the ground, eyes empty and skin already growing pale and cold.

The girl, after a few moments uncertainty, raises her heart to her mouth and bites into it. As she chews and swallows the first mouthful, the rest in her hand still beats. As she eats it the iron chain around her neck crumbles link-by-link and falls away. The livid scar on her breast pales and disappears. She swallows the last mouthful and steps out of the hovel.

There she stops. She turns. She observes the lifeless prince on the ground, the blood on her hands, and her eyes widen as she realises the murder she has committed. For the first time in her life she feels the emotions long stolen from her and they stir and toss and burn more than the scar ever did. She falls to her knees and weeps, leans over the dead prince and kisses his mouth. When she moves back from him her pale lips are stained red with his blood.

Leering, the old woman waves her hands over the weeping girl and mutters dark, foul words; the girl does nothing to resist or prevent the spell. Her feathers return, her body diminishes, her sharp pain becomes a dull ache that will never go away. She spreads the wings she will bear for the rest of her life, and lifts into the air. She rises and fades, a white speck against the pale dawn sky, leaving behind only the last echo of her haunting, heart-breaking swansong.
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Oddworld novel: The Despicable. Original fiction: Small Worlds.


Last edited by Splat; 05-05-2011 at 06:39 AM..
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