Saturday, July 28, 2007

Part Four - The Fire

Turstin sat cross-legged with his back against a rock, covering himself with the wizard’s traveling cloak, shivering and glancing nervously from left to right and back again. The wizard perched atop a small boulder several feet above ground, looking through the large, blazing fire at Turstin’s face, studying him indiscriminately.

A snap somewhere in the surrounding darkness stole Turstin’s attention. He stared wide-eyed into the bushes for just a short moment before forcing himself to look away, trying desperately to compose himself on behalf of the wizard’s insufferable scrutiny.

Suddenly, a terrible urge pulled on Turstin’s mind, one that was contrary to his very demeanor while in the presence of his master ever since the day they first met. Turstin had never once looked directly into the wizard’s eyes, more out of respect than fear; but now fear took control of him as he struggled against what felt like a gigantic invisible hand cupping the top of his head, turning it slowly toward the ominous figure on the rock. He clenched and pushed against it, tried to squeeze his eyelids shut and grabbed hard onto his knees as he fought and tried to resist. Only a few seconds later, the wizard had a firm hold on Turstin’s entire visual scope, but let go soon after they made eye contact. Turstin did not break this connection, though he could have; the urge to resist had been miraculously transformed into an urge to never look away.

The wizard was beaming, smiling at Turstin as would a proud father. Turstin immediately felt comforted, relaxed and strangely invincible while in his master’s vicinity. The wizard leaned forward and Turstin heard a soft noise emanate toward him; the sound became words that floated on the air, but the wizard’s old gray face never moved.

“Be afraid of nothing. We are perfectly safe in these woods.” The crackle of the fire burnt the sound away as a large teetering log atop the roaring heap cracked in two and rolled into the surrounding rocks.

“I understand,” muttered Turstin, embarrassed, but then turned quickly to his right when another snap in the darkness seized his notice. He wanted to giggle at the absurdity of his nerves, but withheld as he shook his head exhaustedly and looked back toward the wizard.

“Why did you submit to me for this journey?” the wizard asked him suddenly, returning to normal speech. Turstin was taken aback, flustered and sickened by all the constant changes in mood, but found comfort in the fact that his master was at least still smiling. He sputtered before answering timidly:

“Well, um… I didn’t exactly know what this whole thing was about, and I just heard in town that you were looking for assistance, and I know I can carry stuff and help you with most of your basic traveling needs, so I submitted… more to the pressure of my mother than anything.”

“You heard nothing of the details?”

“Well, not before we left. I mean, you said something earlier about some great fire and the idleness of fortunate people and something else…," Turstin mumbled, feeling uneasy at the inconsistency of the wizard’s glowing, kindly attitude versus the subject matter of his prying questions.

The wizard detected Turstin’s uneasiness and said smoothly, “You seem to have no knowledge or even… interest in magic at all. It was my intention to train someone in my craft... but unfortunately you were the only person who submitted for……” and the words stopped.

“Oh, I’m definitely interested!” Turstin said with bold enthusiasm. “I don’t know anything about it at all, but I’m all ears if you... well, if you would have me.” Turstin hoped for an equally excited response from the wizard, but the old man said nothing. Turstin sat back and sighed.

The wizard continued to stare straight ahead, unmoving. After several awkward seconds, Turstin moved slightly to his left, noticing that his master’s gaze did not follow; the wizard’s eyes squinted as the smile left his face. Turstin leaned to brace himself on his elbow and turned completely around to see what his master was looking at; a small gasp escaped him as he realized he was staring straight down the shaft of a crooked, jagged arrow and up into the eyes of the ugliest creature he had ever seen or could have imagined.

The nasty, festering ball of flesh grunted and chortled, “Well, I see... come on, Greust, stand up...” and the woods seemed to Turstin to be suddenly infested with a whole army of hideous creatures like the one standing before him, all bearing worn, partially broken weapons. Turstin wrapped the wizard’s cloak around his shoulders more tightly and shuffled away from the troll-ish monster, staring at the wizard accusingly. The wizard glanced at Turstin and blinked, slowly opening his mouth.

“So what?” he said. “I can be wrong about some things too, you know.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Part Three - The Bridge

The towering monstrosity stumbled backward, away from the wizard. He knew he was bound to whatever task the wizard may demand of him, however dangerous or tedious. Anger bubbled along the sedimentary muscles that formed his hideous face, casting dust where wrinkles crushed together. In a swift motion, his right arm swung upward along his waist, pounding its fist thunderously into the left palm, breaking finger pieces into shards that fell in low thuds to the ground. Turstin lifted his left arm to shield his face and leaned the staff in front of the wizard as a way of protecting the old man. The wizard calmly batted the staff from obstructing his view and looked pitifully at Turstin.

The creature lunged and pitched forward, thrusting his arms toward the river. In a moment, several other rocks lying about began to grumble, crack apart, shift and lift into malformed structures resembling enormous men. Dazed and drunk with sleep, they tumbled about as they stretched their legs and struggled to maintain balance. One stood quickly to straighten his back and reach toward the stars, but leaned back too far. Toppling into one of his confused comrades, his spine broke in the middle and his torso fell in an avalanche; the two figures crumbled together in groans and rolled about until the pebbled pieces lay lifeless in the sand.

By now, the Magician had lost his patience: he made an obscure sign with his left hand and directed it toward the original creature. Without a sound, the leader and his five remaining kin began to move toward the water. They waded in formation, one after the other, until a fine line of stepping stones began to form along the tops of their jagged heads. Turstin looked to the wizard for instruction and received an invitation to lead. “No, no... after you, please,” he said with a shudder.

The wizard whisked to the shore and jumped solidly from one rock to the next. He looked over his shoulder at Turstin and beckoned with a short wave. Turstin quickly tightened his pack straps and belt and held his staff aloft as he followed, hopping to the first rock successfully. He jumped for the second rock but slipped on its slimy surface, cracking his shin on the monster’s shoulder and creating an uneven splash as he fell sideways into the water. The unfortunate creature turned away from Turstin and brushed the boy’s kicking feet from his back, sending Turstin helplessly on his own.

The magician chuckled from the opposite shore and said, “Well, there’s no use now, my fine gentlemen. I thank you for your assistance. You are freed.” The stone monsters immediately disbanded, some wading off to the shore, some simply sinking into the murky water and out of sight. “Come on now, Turstin. Let’s get you out of those wet clothes and next to a warm fire.” The wizard smiled, put his hands together and walked into the woods.

Turstin was annoyed with his master’s lack of assistance, but felt more comfortable in the water than atop the cracking heads of the rock men. Holding his staff above his head, he trudged cautiously to the shore and was wringing out his clothes when the magician returned with wood and kindling.

“You can hang your clothes to dry on this,” the wizard said as he handed Turstin three sticks. “Stand two of them in the sand and lay the third across them.” Turstin quickly did as he was told, trying to watch with great interest as the wizard built a pyramid with the sticks.

“It is love that brings fire,” the master announced. “It is the union of wood with wood.” And in the same way as Turstin himself would have done, the wizard piled old, dry leaves around a flat log and spun a stick in one of it’s divots until smoke began to thicken the air.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Magic Lamp (a new squirrelbirds song)

Rub this magic lamp three times; a genie will appear.
His skin is red, his hair is black, his eyes are crystal clear.
He will look into your heart to find what you desire;
a brand new car or peace on earth or wealth when you retire.

Make sure you word your wishes well.
Listen here, my boy….
Make sure you word your wishes well.

Those were the words the old man said to me today;
after handing me the lamp, he laughed and danced away.
I held it to my face and gazed into its mirror shine.
A greedy voice inside my head said, “Finally it’s mine.”

I thought about the things that I could use.
I said, “Forget that dumb old man”
and thought about the things that I could use.

I studied it suspiciously and rubbed it on my cloak;
it shook and jerked and issued forth a blinding cloud of smoke.
The genie floated on the air and bowed his head to me,
then offered up his wizardry to grant me wishes three.

What an amazing opportunity!
I told myself don’t screw up
such an awesome opportunity.

I wished to see an end to all the pain and poverty,
I wished to see an end to all the woe and agony,
I wished to see the world become a better place to be.
The genie smiled and spread his arms and granted them to me!

Approaching me benignly, he embraced me…
then reached his hand inside my heart
and stole my life away.

As I lie here dying, I now realize my mistake:
every wish I asked him for was phrased for my own sake.
He took away my life to make me blind to everything,
to all the pain and all the woe and all the misery.

The Squirrelbirds at their first gig!!!

Steve and I played the open-mic at the Dripolator here in Asheville last night and they offered us a gig the first friday night of September!

So if you're around, come see us!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Part Two - The Light

Turstin, the apprentice, pushed his way through the dense brush, continually snagged by the sharp, bristly branches of the surrounding pines. An attempt to free his pack strap from a jutting thorn bush spun him around; the struggle left him at a loss of both breath and direction. Turstin’s heart quickened as he realized he could no longer hear the footsteps or occasional scolding of his master.

“Lord, I have lost sight of you! Where are you?” Turstin braced himself on a rotten, old fallen tree trunk. The softness of its decaying splinters put Turstin in mind of thick, matted hair. He withdrew his hand quickly and held it out for balance, perching precariously on a large, uneven rock.

“ASTAVES SYLVANIE EDULAMIN!” his master called. The great booming voice of the magnificent seer overwhelmed the forest ambiance, sending several of its nocturnal creatures into an uproar. Squirrels skirmished up into the branches, raccoons hurried beneath low bushes and a frenzied flock of birds burst into the air in a moment of alarm.

A soft glow appeared, permeating the blackness of the dense growth, illuminating the surrounding area as if it were bathed in midday light. The apprentice shielded his eyes until they adjusted to the growing radiance. All was white to his eyes, yet they remained open and unburned. The master’s silhouette slowly darkened into view, standing directly ahead of Turstin. He floated on the light as would an angel delivering blessed tidings.

“Come to me,” the master urged. “Pay no mind to your steps.” Turstin walked with confidence toward his master without ever taking his eyes off his goal. The light dimmed as he neared the wizard, and the surrounding darkness had completely enveloped them by the time they reconnected. Turstin forced his breathing to slow into a soothing pace as a soft breeze caught his hair, cooling both his face and temperament. He turned toward the wind to take in the fresh air and found himself facing a large, wide river.

“We need to cross,” said the wizard. He stood for a long time with his eyes closed, entangling his hands into various formations. Turstin shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he waited for instruction.

After some time, the wizard opened his eyes and walked toward a large, nearby stone. Kicking it with all his strength, he screamed into the night air: “EMOVA SEDIMENTIS EDA CONETRIS!”

A great rumbling issued from the rock and shook the earth deep beneath the sand. Turstin wobbled and braced himself on his mentor, grasping the wizards’ thin, bony arm. The stone broke and separated into large masses that moved individually and yet remained somehow connected, forming a grainy monstrosity that stood and bent beneath the sky like a hulking, human form. Turstin covered his ears to protect them from the intensity of the creatures wail.

The sound faded long after the stone man had finished his cries. He glared at the wizard and his apprentice before shaking, flexing and stomping thunderously toward them. “Why have you woken me?” he demanded.

The wizard leaned forward and patted his new friend’s shoulder tenderly. “You will help us,” he replied with a smile.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Part One - The Departure

On a cold, misty night outside of a tiny village, a small group of simple townsfolk stood gazing hopefully into the dark looming forest lining the main road. They watched with held breath as the local wizard and his apprentice slid down the overgrown slopes into the foreboding brush. All hearts and eyes were with them, supporting them, carrying them with their dreams of freedom and security.

The wizard stopped, turned and glared over his shoulder at the apprentice who stumbled behind him. "Back straight, one foot at a time. Learn to feel with your feet before completing each step. You will soon be able to achieve this in one fluid motion, and it will seem to any onlooker as instantaneous. TheVillage Mage should always maintain stable composure."

The apprentice listened to his master with an attentive ear, concentrating on each word. He closed his eyes and breathed in through his nose, inhaling the apple scent of crushed chamomile as his teacher skipped gently ahead of him across the blanket of flowers that covered the forest floor. He spread his fingers at his sides and tried to push the tinge of anxiety out of his throat, down through his body and into the ground.

The apprentice attempted to walk with confidence, but was tripped up by the nervousness in his feet. Losing his balance, he wobbled and grabbed for a nearby branch, calling to his master, "Where are we going, my Lord? What do we seek?"

The Great Wizard stopped again, his demeanor rich in patience and love. He blessed the night sky and prayed for Wisdom. "The One is disturbed," he explained. "A terrible force is consuming the minds of humankind. Consciousness has suffered a great loss in the battle against the Self. The Fire of Eliades must be rekindled to burn away the idleness of the fortunate." The apprentice closed his eyes, squeezing the words through a sieve in his mind, filtering the confusion from his thoughts. He opened his eyes wide and peered into the impenetrable darkness, hoping for a light to lead him. Finding none, he swallowed his fear and took a blind step forward into the great woodland abyss.