The Voice In the Night
Previously, the boy searches for the old man, but finds only the wreckage of the seaplane and a voice that speaks to him from out of the night…
The boy couldn’t guess who spoke, nor where the quiet voice in the dark had come from. The looming shapes of weeping trees and the breath of the wind were the only clues he had, and they told him little. He might’ve felt afraid, but he supposed he didn’t have much right to be afraid anymore: he’d left his fear behind in the prison at the end of the world. At any rate, if he were to die here there would be no avoiding it; so he just stood where he was and tried to hear where the words came from.
“I have no intention of being here should anything come along,” he answered the somebody who wasn’t there, feeling the cold breeze from over the lake pulling at his neck and ankles in drafts like fingers and imagining something terrible creeping up behind him.
“Well it doesn’t seem to me like you’ve got much idea of where you’re going,” said the voice rather rudely. “Else wise you might’ve seen that your friend left footprints on the beach where he went to the forest to get away from the Farlong.”
“Then I must follow him,” answered the boy.
“Not in the dark.”
The voice he couldn’t see and the matterly way it spoke was annoying to him, so he said, “Get out of where you’re hiding and show me who you are.”
“I won’t,” answered the voice.
“Why won’t you?” he asked.
The voice only gave a tinkly little laugh, and said at last, “I don’t suppose you’ve any idea where you are, at all. You silly sky-men just drop from the clouds thinking you know all the answers, but you know so little.”
“No, I don’t really have any idea where I am,” said the boy, not wanting to give too much away. “I’d guess this is America, for I’ve never seen it; but this might just as easily be Australia.”
“No, silly boy,” answered the voice. “This isn’t whatever lands you just named. It’s nowhere you’ve ever heard of, I’m sure.”
“Then what is it?” asked the boy, who was growing more curious every moment. He’d by now quite forgotten to be afraid, in spite of the darkness, which was much more complete than any night he’d ever known at home, or even in the world-prison.
The little voice laughed again, and a shower of sparks spilled out of the bushes in front of him so that, for a moment, he could see the shadows cast by the boughs, and in them he saw a face looking out. It was small and round, had pinpoint eyes and merrily laughing dimples in each cheek.
“It’s not safe in the night to stand by the water,” said the voice then when the light had died away again. “I’ll make a small pathway into the thicket if you’ll go. It’s safer in here.”
He hadn’t anything to lose, he thought; so when the sparks again lit up the trees in small showers of stars falling to the grass at his feet, he followed the lights. They led him under the boughs, through places he wouldn’t have found in the dark; and when he was deep underneath of the weeping branches, the voice whispered close in his ear, “Stay here until dawn, and then it is safe. Don’t venture out, for the night time belongs to the winged and the reptile.”
“But who are you!” cried the boy, yet he only spoke to the gentle night breeze and the tinkling laughter that was racing away into the night.
He lay under the thicket in the blackness of night, and though he couldn’t sleep, he felt some comfort in knowing the trail of the old man wasn’t far away. The dry earth at his back smelled of needles and willow and was gentle to him; and that was well, because the night-sounds of that place sent chills down his spine. By the time dawn had come with its waves of grey mist, the sleepless boy was eager to see the world anew and put time between himself and the horrors that had plagued his rest.
He returned from the thicket by the way he had come, through a tunnel of boughs overshadowed by great yawning clusters of fruit; and when he emerged by the lakeshore once more he was famished with hunger. He stole down a fruit and peeled it. It was very like a banana, though it tasted nothing of the sort: more like honeysuckle. But he would’ve been glad for it even if it tasted like pinewood.
He followed the shore then in both directions till he found the trail the old man had left: two footprints came up from the water toward the forest. At the edge of the lake they were clearly defined, for the earth was wet and rather silty; but where the ground was fine sand, dried beneath the noon-day heat, the trail was ended and the boy had only his reason to determine if the old man had made for the forest or not. “It must be the forest,” he said to himself, for where else would his friend have gone?
He returned to the forest then, and under the trees, he picked up the trail. The earth beneath the weeping boughs was fine and soft and left footprints wherever he set his feet. So he followed those of his friend easily as he made into the woods.
The old man’s footprints weren’t the only ones there beneath the canopy, though. The boy was dismayed to see great claws had been set in the earth as well and would run from time to time in the same direction he went. If it was the Farlong, he hoped it had gone far from him.
He stopped some hours later and rested beneath the limbs of a tree where the ripe fruit was hanging, to fill his rumbling belly. The trail was still fresh and clear, and he still had some hope of finding his friend, undevoured. But as he sat by the tree he noticed the inclining sun was throwing long shadows of the high pinnacle mountains over the forest, and the day was growing cold. He hadn’t a jacket but wanted one now, and was still looking about for something that might keep him warm when a voice said, “You strangers are slow, and you take such a long time to do anything at all. It’s a wonder you make it anywhere in a day!”
He started. He hadn’t had any idea there was anyone near, and he wouldn’t have guessed the voice in the night could sneak up on him during the daylight; but when he looked up he saw that there was a girl sitting in the branches over his head, swinging her feet and smiling down at him.
“You aren’t likely to find your friend soon as this rate,” she said.
“Then you find him,” he answered crossly. The least she could do was help him instead of making fun.
“I know where he’s gone and who’s done it,” she said wistfully. “You both are blundering about like such fools, it’s a wonder they haven’t come back for you, too.”
“Why, who!” cried the boy in frustration. “Who are you talking about!”
She laughed, and he knew at once for certain she was the voice in the dark, for it was the same tinkly laughter that chattered like water in a brook. “The Men of the Forest, of course!” she cried. “How have you both come down from above knowing nothing of these things?”
He would’ve thrown something at her, but there weren’t any sticks or stones within reach, and the leaves fluttered harmlessly to the ground at his side.
“We’ve been plane-wrecked!” he yelled back. “Maybe you could help me find him instead of making fun. Or fly far away and leave us alone!”
“Oh, I cannot fly,” she answered, sounding a little put off by the notion. “Only the Farlong fly around here. That’s why I came when I saw your creature fall from the clouds, for I thought it the Great White Farlong which isn’t afraid and sometimes will take us away from this place to the island above.”
He looked at her puzzled. She was such a queer person, and she said stranger things still.
“I thought at first you were sinners from heaven,” she said then. “The other one, certainly, for he is quite old. But you are so young still. I thought it must be a mistake, so I carried you off to the hill. But when you were waking I grew afraid and ran away.”
“We are neither of us sinners,” said the boy – his turn to be offended. And he only hoped it was true.
“I see that now,” said the girl. “But I couldn’t have stopped your friend from running away, because he was so scared of the Farlong.”
“Aren’t you?” asked the boy.
She laughed again. “Sometimes. But they don’t bother us much anymore, they are so busy with their great engines.”
The boy looked around at the trees and the wood and found he couldn’t imagine any sort of industrial engine working in that strange world. It was much too calm and tranquil a place for factories and assemblies and anything else that belched smoke and made a racket.
“I can take you to your friend,” the girl said then. “He isn’t far.”
“Okay then,” agreed the boy, rising from where he was sitting and making to leave. “But if I’m going to follow you I need to know your name.”
The girl looked down at him curiously. “What’s a name?” she asked; then, having apparently thought it over to herself, she asked delightedly, “Is it a kind of token?”
“No,” answered the boy. “It’s what people call you.”
“I don’t have one of those,” she said with some disappointment. “I don’t know anyone who does.”
“Then I’ll call you Sparks,” said the boy. “Because that’s what I saw last night that led me into the thicket to safety.”
She shrugged disinterestedly, but he thought the sparkle in her eyes meant she was pleased with it.
Sparks didn’t walk on the ground. In fact the boy wasn’t certain she walked at all, because he never saw her do it. She seemed to flit through the boughs of the trees like a bird, sometimes only just over head, sometimes high up where he couldn’t see her. He knew she had legs, but if she’d also had wings he never knew.
They went in this way for some time, until the sun was rising toward noon. The forest grew deeper, the trees larger, and the weeping boughs gave way to great and gnarled trunks that reached away to the sky and blotted out the clear blue and the islands of green and stone. And it was shortly after they’d emerged into this deep wood that Sparks stopped astride a branch and looked down at him, all the laughter gone from her little round face. “They are just ahead,” she said.
“Who is?!” cried the boy, who’d known nothing of any they until now, and had expected only a he.
But the girl had vanished from off the branch and was gone.
This work is written by AD Bane and published by adbane.com. It is solely the property of ADBane.com and may not be reproduced in part or in whole for any reason except at the exclusive permission of the author. © 2018 ADBane.com