GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 19-25-06-01
SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: (See Spotify Link at End) A Christmas Cornucopia (Album), Annie Lennox.
I swing through the air and I love it. Here there are clouds and nothing else. Each one is another world for me to explore. I have wanted my full wings for a while and they are nearly there. When it is time to sleep, in the black clouds, I count my feathers. Some time ago there were a couple of sprouts and then a tuft and then two full round feathers. That was a good day. A few weeks after that I didn’t have to ride on my mother’s back any more.
Today is an exciting day. We start the journey to the star. Every year, as is expected, we do a full ring of the cloud rock. A full journey means a year. The last stretch is the route to the top north of the rock and above is the star. Our bright shining lord. I have made this journey as long as I remember but always clinging to my mother’s back. This time I get to do it on my own.
Up ahead is my mother, she is stirring from her sleep. Her face, round and pink, is just moving. She smiles and opens her wide eyes. He wings lull sleepily just keeping afloat. We have walked on the ground before and I have seen my mother do it many times, but we prefer not too, sleeping in the clouds is best. My mother smiles and embraces me, we are high up now and below is a valley with spirals of grey and white towers. She nods forward and flies smoothly. My mother is the best flier I’ve ever seen, she can twirl and backflip, and go lighting fast. I wish I could fly like her.
I’m looking across the cloud waiting for my family to wake up. Suddenly with pops across the white swirls they shoot upwards and shake off the night’s sleep. They are everywhere. One of my brothers swoops past; he is fully grown now and even has a bright white beard. He drops some food into my hand. Him and the others must have gone down to the surface for some supplies. It is fruit today, a round red thing. I know it’ll be good, the food changes across the surface as we travel but here on the star path it is always best. I bite into it and the red juice flows down my cheeks, it is sweet like the moment you break through into the sun.
There is a bellow – the call of the tribe mother. She is my great-grandmother, I learned the other week, but we all call her Tribe Mother. She has a huge set of wings, bigger than I’ve ever seen and can even move clouds with them so I’m told. She is kind but also scary. Everyone follows her path. As we always do we rise up into the sky above the cloud valley. All my brother and sisters are here. My cousins too and their parents. Hundreds of pairs of everything. Smooth legs and chests, feathered wings, soft eyes. The tribe mother is pointing in circles and swining her arms round. I know what this means, I think. We have to fly through the valley separately as not to disturb the formation too much. I don’t know quite what formation means, only that it is hard to say. I was taught this by my father long ago, he has gone down below gathering now forever. I miss him. Last year he was here on the star path.
It is important we make it to the star point to say thank you. It is there under the light that our people were born. They say once we walked on the ground but one day a child was born and on his back were tiny stumps. At first they thought he was strange, the ground dweller had smooth backs. But as he got bigger they saw the stumps grow into beautiful wings. As they saw him take off into the sky they found wings growing on their backs too and joined him in the sky forevermore. I love this story. The thought of walking all my life glued to the surface makes me shudder.
The tribe sings in response to the tribe mother’s bellow. I sing high and clear. At each age we are given a new note, a new voice to show our place and to show how we fit in. The singing fits together perfectly and echoes out across the sky. Suddenly there is movement everyway, water splatters across my face as my cousin swoops up past me, he turns quickly and laughs then shoots off again. I see the gatherers separate from a huddle as they fly through a hole. The tribe are separating into their passages. I know mine. I’m to go on the outside, through the thin wispy white. An easier route for me. I wanted to go through the middle but my mother wouldn’t let me. I see the valley beyond me. On the other side, just colouring the horizon is the deep clear. Out of the clouds we will come into nothing. Just a patch of open sky. Then it will be the new year.
I am feeling sick. I’ve never flown for so long before. I want to be on my mother’s back still, moving through the middle not out here on my own.
I take a deep breath and fly down over the clouds and turn left towards the edges of the valley. Things feel a little darker than before. The white is turning grey. I see my cousins turn right, some of them are young too and are taking the wisps at the other side. My mother is just heading down and looks at me. She nods and smiles and then disappears. I reach the edges of the cloud valley, beyond are clouds too thin to keep us afloat and after that another valley. My wings are already feeling tired, they’re not used to beating for so long. Now there is silence everywhere, I can’t hear the cries and laughter of my family just the wind. I am alone now.
This is why they make us go to the edge. I always wondered as I watched my brothers and sister go the edge of the cloud valley why they couldn’t come with us. But it is to make them fly alone and now it is time for me to fly alone. I set off smoothly through the thin edges. I thrust forwards and twirl. I want to see the sky above but all around is becoming greyer. I turn on to my back and soar. Fear grips me. It shouldn’t be happening not at this time of year but there it is. Crawling like a herd of surface beasts over the top of the valley is a storm. It is black and huge and crackling with lighting. Suddenly it is over me and raining fiercely. The drops are sending the wisps flying to the ground. I fly forward and sing outwards. The rumbles from above are deafening.
I stop and look around. There is no one there. The storm is moving thick and fast to the middle of the valley. The tribe must be right in the middle of it. There is a crack of lighting to my right. I leap away. Everywhere seems to charged with electricity. Another bolt strikes just by me. and then another one up ahead. Its like I’m in a cage I’m trapped. I fly lower and lower there’s nothing I can do. Eventually I dip below and see the brown rockiness of the surface. Up ahead is a battleground. I can’t see any of the tribe. Not one has dipped below.
I can’t go back up. I can’t go to the surface. This must have been me. I must have failed the path because I was scared. Because I doubted the path. Now we will never get to the star. Now a new year will never begin. It is my fault. I hover with my wings outstretched and wait in shame. If the boy with the first wings started our journey in the sky, I am the one who has ended it.
I hover for what feels forever but I eventually I hear the rumbles move off into the distance, the sky is lighter as usual but it is still so quiet. I look around. Far off there is no sign of anyone else. If I am the only one left then. I have to make it to the star no matter what.
The edges of the valley are clearer now but still feel scattered. It’s as if the map has been cut up into pieces. I wonder where the tribe mother is. I long to hear her deep, rumble voice. I fly upwards over the ridges and further into the valley. I don’t care about the rules I just want my family now. But there is no one around. Not a catch of laughter or a moment of song. Here the clouds are thicker in scoops and I flow over them. My wings are not tired any longer, they feel strong. I am becoming old now, much older and stronger than before. The deep blue on the horizon is getting closer. I must prepare for myself alone. If I am there though, if I make it then at least we still give thanks, at least the new year will begin.
I can see it up ahead the last wall of cloud out of the valley and into the clear at the star path’s end. I burst through into the clear blue. My eyes fill with light but my ears with something else. It is singing, singing in beautiful harmony. The low rumbles of the elders, the mellow middle notes of the mothers, the sweet highs of the young. As my eyes adjust there in the clear blue is my tribe, my family their wings outstretched and signing their song of thanks. I fly towards my mother and she embraces me.
‘I got lost,’ I sign. ‘I’m sorry…’
‘I know my child. You have brave the storm my dear not go under it, always brave the storm.’