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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 30: Brown 65
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 29: Slade 53
Derek and his sprite family spent the winter walled inside the tree. Whether they were counting days, waiting for their home to be warm, or watching the tree itself for some sign of the change in seasons, they seemed to have no reason to open the barricades raised against the cold. They spent the colder stretches snuggled together, a threesome buried in moss and leaves, the bed kept in the center of their hollow. When it was warmer, they moved about, ate the cold stored food, and tried to get some exercise. For him, that meant moving around the walls, sometimes walking with his hands held, and standing on his own. His parents would sometimes stretch their wings and rise off the floor, an effort that also blew the air around and caused their bodies to radiate much heat. Derek stretched his wings, and figured out how to move them, but he did not leave the ground.
Again he had the experience of realizing something that he could do of which he had been unaware. To say he hadn't noticed something so glaringly obvious sounds foolish. It would be more accurate to say he hadn't given the matter any thought. Their winter home was entirely boarded up. The door was closed against the cold, and leaves piled against it to keep out drafts. There were no windows. It had to be dark within; yet he could see what he needed to see. The mystery was not so great. The only things for him to look at were his parents and the things which were within reach; the walls of the room were only visible when he was close to them, or, he now realized, when his parents were close to them. He now understood that his parents glowed, a strange and perhaps magical light which was sufficient that he could see them but not so bright as to make it seem that he was looking at lamp or flame. Yet despite the fact that the glow was so very subdued, it somehow was also sufficient to illumine whatever was within a few inches of them (that was a significant distance, given that their entire home was probably not four feet from end to end in any direction). This led him to realize that he, too, had this glow. He could see his food because the glow from his hands shone on it. For much the same reason he could see the wall, his bed, and whatever else was around him.
As he considered this peculiarity further, he realized it was yet more peculiar. The light did not come from inside them, as it seemed very like reflected light and not at all like illumination under the skin (which, he realized, would have looked quite different, even a bit ghastly). But then, they were all wearing clothes, and the light did not seem to shine from under their clothes but again to reflect from it. It was as if some invisible light shining from some unseen follow spot were aimed at each of them, becoming visible as it reflected from them. Yet at the same time, they cast no shadows, for the light came off them in all directions.
He wondered that he had not noticed it before; he wondered whether it was something that only happened in the winter, or whether perhaps it was something that sprites learned to control and he was only just discovering that he had it. Yet he did not ask his parents about it. This, he realized, was the ordinary experience of the ordinary sprite child, and such a child would be no more surprised by it than a human child would be to discover he had hands or hair. To express such surprise would be to suggest that he was not, inside, a sprite, and that was something he was not willing to do.
By the time Spring arrived, he was walking on his own, although he fell a great deal. He also had sufficient control of his mouth that he could make his words understood, at least by his parents. He did not talk so much when they had company; his vocabulary was far too extensive to be easily explained, and he knew that once he started talking he might easily say something much too advanced for his age. They left their tree, retreating to it only on the chillier nights.
Watching his parents when he could at night, he decided that indeed the light was something they controlled. It was always, he thought, present to some degree (although on consideration he realized that if it were not present in the dark he probably would not be able to see them to know that they were not glowing). It was sometimes brighter, and this usually when they were trying to see something.
The days grew longer and warmer, and the nights were growing more comfortable. Derek was stretching his strengthening legs into running, and making his words clearer, and handling objects with greater precision. From time to time he forgot that he was ever human; or perhaps it was that he forgot he was a sprite. He certainly forgot any concerns he had had about being seen as a deliverer of a people in need. He enjoyed being with his family, and particularly his mother, and just worked on the tasks of growing up.
But there was one question that nagged him, and now he felt it was time to ask. "Mom," he said, "when should I learn to fly?"
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #170: Versers Explore. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: