Heart of the Sunrise Ch. 03byAdrian Leverkuhn©
The Starlight Sonata, Part III
Heart of the Sunrise
©2008 by Adrian Leverkuhn
(Note: The first part of the Sonata appeared under the title "Woman in Chains"; the second part as "The Stones of Years".)
Anna Podgolskiv recoils in horror when she feels the full fury of the old man's eyes bore into her soul. She stumbles backwards, trips on a fallen limb and loses her balance, her hands out to soften the landing. As she hits the soft forest floor she sees the lights of a concert hall in Paris flicker and dim as if the curtain is about to rise on some vast, grand performance – yet she feels for a moment as if she is suddenly shifting between two worlds – and then the forest is alive with the flickering light of fireflies.
They drift among the trees, tentatively at first, some almost shy, but after a moment she can see a pattern emerge in the chaos. They are moving in a circle – moving around the old man. Slowly, deliberately, everything as if in a dream.
Though the man looks at her his hands remain above his head, gathering airs grow full of silent anticipation.
The fireflies draw nearer and nearer to the man as if he inhabits the center of a vortex, and slowly, as they draw nearer to the man's outstretched hands, each firefly in turn grows brighter and brighter.
The light grows brighter and brighter, painfully so, and Anna holds her hands up to shield her eyes. She sees blood on her hands, the blood of thousands, and at the very last instant she is aware of a concussive explosion.
She feels the very atoms of her body being ripped apart by the furious light of ten billion suns, and for the first time in her life she knows great peace.
The jet circled endlessly in cloud, lurching in violent turbulence as lightning flashed inside the womb of a dark grey morning. Rome lay still mostly asleep below, but every now and then a brief glimmer of the city below slipped into view – but was as briefly gone in the stream.
Todd Wakeman, his face pressed to a plastic oval window, looked at grey wings flexing wildly in the fading night, strobes and shards of lightning pulsed through clouds that screamed silently on the other side of an aluminum membrane that barely separated his body from the howling maelstrom just inches from his face, and he was full of wonder at the very absurdity of human existence. Hearts and bones hurtling through the night over an ocean and a continent, they were time travelers – of a sort. What had once been unthinkable was now accomplished in merest hours, yet it was all a sort of twisted veneer. Civilization itself was just a veneer, a very thin veneer, he thought as something glimpsed below resembling the coliseum flashed through his mind's eye. Rome had never fallen, it had simply been subsumed from within; the bureaucracy of empire had transformed itself into a religion and had become an empire anew – Rome had indeed become eternal. Even though the idea was faintly troubling, Wakeman smiled at the thought. There was order in empire, a mild comfort to be had from the stability of ordered thought...
Wasn't that the very essence of medicine... and of the modern?
Sitting behind the wing he watched as a bewildering variety of surfaces sprouted and shaped the air outside his window, slowed the huge Boeing as it settled toward rubber-streaked concrete somewhere in the mists below. He turned and looked at Tracy Tomlinson beside him, and at Judith Somerfield beside her, and he thought of a young girl wrapped in chains falling into the infinite darkness of a Siberian lake. 'We've all been linked by this – somehow,' he said to himself once again as the impossibility of it all wrapped itself through the womb of his one small life. 'But by what? Or by whom?'
The light was fading, her eyes clearing, and she was aware of his presence beside her. She moved her hands, slowly, from her face, looked up into ancient eyes, almost blue, like a fall day before a first hesitant snow. Clear, yet not. Clouds, but not yet.
The fury contained inside was gone now, latent, manifest; pyroclastic eyebrows arched, an old face lined with sedimentary strata – fragmented by eons, by time unimaginable. Wild hair, storm-streaked and long, long – hanging like tendrils of smoke long. A coarse cloak or tunic, like burlap but woven from the fabric of... what? The earth? Woven from Time itself?
Anna Podgolskiv was frightened. Frightened by limitless power confronting illimitable evil. Sorrow without end, without beginning. She turned her head, looked for a way out of this place, but the forest was now full of stars, radiant, steady, unmoving as if fixed by the power of the old man's eyes.
"Why are you here?"
The words came from his mouth, but the sounds were rounded and full, as if his mouth was full of stones. She wanted to laugh when she heard his voice until she heard the stones of years rolling like thunder though his words, then they held her – like stars in trees, frozen in amber.
"I heard a... a sound."
"A sound." Not a question... a statement.
"A strange sound, like rustling leaves, only metal."
"Chains," the old man said. "You have heard my chains."
"Chains! Yes, that's it. Chains. Did you hear them, too?"
Clouds passed over his eyes, but still they held her.
"You must leave this place," he said after a moment lost to the stream of time. "Now. And do not return, no matter what you hear from those who know this place."
He bent to help her stand and she felt his dry, hot skin on her arm.
"You have hurt yourself," he said when she was standing beside him. She watched as he held her hand in his, watched as his eyes regarded the blood on her hands. He pulled a clean rag from his tunic and wiped her hand clean, yet a fierce heat remained where he had touched her skin.
"Who are you?"
She was hardly aware she had spoken the words, yet the old man seemed to recoil from them, the stars that peopled the forest seemed to flicker and dim – like some vast performance was coming to an end – but he turned to her and smiled.
"Just a useless old man. Go now, please. While you can."
She turned to leave and walked a few tentative steps away from him then turned to look at him.
He was kneeling on the ground, the blood soaked rag in hand, lost in prayer.
She walked quietly back to her house and cooked dinner, not knowing what to think or say.
Tomas had not heard a sound.