Monday, May 21, 2012

Chapter Seventeen - The Pine Crest

The Pine Crest is chapter seventeen of Alistair Edwardo Vogan's novel How To Lose Your Voice Without Screaming

The air pack was surprisingly light on his back in the new atmosphere. It rested between his shoulder blades comfortably, humming lightly. He watched the giant boots rising and falling through the tall grass, his boots, the gate slow and long. He couldn’t hear it but suspected that twigs were snapping beneath them. He knew miniscule life forms were being crushed under his boot and felt some remorse. Perhaps this wasn't happening. Judging by his gate he couldn’t weigh much in this atmosphere. There were moments when neither foot seemed to touch the ground at all.  

He heard a gentle beep, a reminder that he’d have to adjust the pressure in the suit. A large white-gloved hand came into view through his visor and a second hand pressed a series of buttons. Pffffffft. Activated. He felt the pressure disappear from his face, and the weight come off his chest. Immediately it was easier to breath. He moved on into the forest, noting the edge of neighborhood peaking out behind the forest to the north, like a movie backdrop. He turned off the transmitter. He knew they’d soon be trying to get through. They’d begin to panic. “Can you hear me? …Can you hear me now? I AM pressing the button. See! Captain?! We’ve lost radio frequency!” 

He’d collect the samples. He’d do his job. He was a professional. But he had to go it alone this time. There was The Mission. The secret one.

*  *  *

A swing set blew in the wind and he noted the rust spread across the chains, the moss covering the seat like a shag rug. He saw the wooden slide, dull from disuse, the broken, jagged wood at the end. His mind was a metal trap. It took in all the details. Back at the ship, he’d document observations made.

Birds chirped then stopped and watched as he moved through the forest towards the worn path that traveled through the woods where it grew thicker up the hill. From the spacecraft, above the trees, the path had looked like a long scar across a scalp. 

Something in the distance moved. He froze. 

Life forms. 

There was more than one. They appeared in the breaks of the trees in colourful flashes, moving stealthily. There, then, suddenly gone. Four of them. He distinguished them by their colors, movement and sizes. One was stronger, racing ahead, two of similar weight and height followed closely behind. The forth, smaller, feeble, struggled to keep up. It was anxious. A long pole dragged behind the leader. It dug into the ground.  

The spaceman would cut them off. Intercept them. He knew exactly where they were going. He adjusted his trajectory and moved towards that destination. Punching a series of buttons on his left wrist, he began to recite a poem in a husky voice,  “Once I was an eight year-old.” He thought he sounded like Jack Kerouac, hoped he sounded like Jack Kennedy, sounded mostly like Eartha Kitt. His breathing was shallow. White noise. “My brother was …a pine tree,” he continued, then stopped. Maybe he was just dehydrated? He didn’t know. He felt dizzy suddenly. Could he even remember the whole poem?

The life forms were moving towards the destination at a thirty-degree angle. He could easily cut them off. He saw the leader moving ahead. Around his torso, the spaceman noticed, hung a toy bow and a quiver of arrows from a discarded children’s Indian costume. The leader wasn’t carrying a pole, the man now realized. It was a ladder. A wooden, decrepit ladder. The muscles in his leg flexed as he leaned forward, dragging it up the steep hill. The spaceman pulled his arm into view and punched the buttons. He added, “Legs, solid and powerful, lifting his torso ever higher.

Finally, the spaceman made a connection with the smaller life form’s optic nerves, first through the right eye, then the left. He heard the telltale pop then saw the three forms from fourth’s vantage point. These connections to the optic nerves always made it tricky when you, yourself, were moving. Even dangerous. There were logs covered in moss and mushrooms, saplings arching then snapping against his suit, tree trunks like pillars around him, as the small life form’s vision came into focus. The spaceman stopped and tried to understand what he was seeing. After a moment he realized he was looking at a gigantic tree. A pine. His heart raced. Maybe it wasn’t too late… He saw the leader of the group place the ladder against the massive trunk and the other two, standing to his right, look up. “Arms stretching into cold blue infinity.” White noise. 

The small life form looked up. The treetop disappeared into the clouds and a gust of wind hit them like a small tsunami. 

Hair – tempest tossed. Lost in cloud, floating past.” 

When he looked down he saw leader nod and look into its eyes. The other two did the same. The leader looked up once more and bit his lower lip. 

He saw what could not be seen.” The spaceman thought about it. “What… did… he… know? Giant among men,” he said, then added to terminate, prematurely, “…Out!” 

White noise, then silence. 

*  *  *

The spaceman could feel his excitement growing. It was happening. He had never been this close before. He stopped. The tree was growing in the vision. No. The eyes of the young life form were nearing the tree. They were moving towards the tree. Through these eyes the spaceman could see small hands reach out. They were the hands of a child. 

“My hands…” he said to himself. “They are my hands…” 

It seemed impossible. The hands gripped the ladder and the rungs of the ladder slid below. He now knew the boy was climbing the tree at that moment but the spaceman tried to focus on the immediate trees around him. He had to get there, before it was too late! Like a blind man, he eased forward tentatively, stiffly, his hand falling on birch trees the same color as his suit. 

He could hear the voices faintly and they were growing in volume. He was moving in the right direction. It wasn’t too late, he told himself. 

Suddenly, the ground dropped away. Water and mud splashed against his gloved hands. He’d stumbled, and fallen sideways. He realized he was on his knees and hands, in the bed of a stream. He straightened his back and leaned up, saw the cloudy water moving around his knees and boots. As you might expect, there was a flash and, to his irritation, he understood he’d short-circuited his pants. Now, the vision was gone. He could see the mud-stained visor.  He began to panic. “What happened next? What happened?” he asked, hitting the side of the helmet. He tried to control his breathing, the way he’d been taught in the academy. Breath deep. Breathe deeply goddammit! Use the diaphragm. 

Gradually, control was his. The spaceman remembered what was next and punched the buttons, “I climbed!” he recited, teeth clenched.  “Cheered by birdsong and whistling wind! And walked out on the chipping, creaking limb!”  From where he stood in the stream, he attempted to make out the top of the tree. What is up there anyway? He wondered. 

*  *  *

“Climb Kingsley!” an eleven-year-old boy’s voice pushed. 

The spaceman whispered into his arm with growing urgency, “Gum and hand and on knees, the horizon was marred by yet more trees.” He was definitely sounding like Richard Burton. The spaceman stopped and thought of the words to complete the poem. 

The leader called up. “There’s a stove and an icebox and a sofa up there. …I think I left my wallet up there too.” 

He looked back at his friends and shook his head smiling. 

The spaceman tried to make out the edges of the structure, the tree fort. If he squinted, he could sort of make it out. “It’s a house really! Trust me. I’m your brother!” the boy said with mounting impatience. Yes. It was his older brother, Michael. Michael pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and glanced at the other two who were also smoking. “Kingsley, I will be right behind you…” 

Michael smiled, “What a asshole.”

*  *  *

Through the mud, the trees and bushes, the spaceman could see himself as a young boy looking down at the stronger, more confident ones, could see his uncertainty dissolving. He was only ten feet in the air standing on a limb. Young Kingsley swallowed, hesitating, then seeing something in the older boy’s demeanor, reached up for the next branch. 

“Don’t go up that tree!” the spaceman said, and slid behind a thick oak.

No one seemed to notice.

Michael looked at his friends incredulous, as young Kingsley pulled himself up shakily then stepped onto the next sticky branch, straining to see the mythical tree fort at the apex of the giant pine. Young Kingsley blinked hard then reached for the next branch, losing himself in the rhythm of the climb as he slowly gained moment amongst the limbs and the pine needles. 

I was eight and alone. Myopia and Eternity…” the spaceman said, watching himself disappear in the canopy above, “boy… among… trees.” 

The spaceman’s eyes fell to the base of the tree and he realized, just like that, that he was standing before his brother, Michael. Michael was right there in the flesh, still a child, perhaps a hundred yards away. Michael looked over and squinted, as if sensing the grown Kingsley. Slowly, he slid the toy bow off his shoulder, and placed the end of the arrow on the sting. Michael pulled back and the spaceman ducked behind a strawberry bush. The dome of his helmet, white and glowing, rose above the bush like a large egg, with a copper windshield. 

An arrow whizzed overhead and sunk into the trunk of a tree.

The spaceman leaned towards his arm and the colored buttons, “And my brother, at eleven…was perfection………OUT!” 

White noise. 

Michael looked away, suddenly bored with it all, and languidly returned his gaze to young Kingsley up the tree. “See you later retard!” He reached for the old ladder and tossed it town the hill. It rolled through the bushes like it was doing a cartwheel. Michael turned back to his friends and flexed his arms. They laughed.

The spaceman sat on a fallen oak trunk. Above in the opening of the canopy of trees, white clouds drifted in a southerly direction, indifferent. The spaceship shone visibly behind it.

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We would like to gratefully acknowledge assistance provided by:
Rose Street
P.S. Winn
Ben Culhane 
Kingsley Vogan 
Ken McDavitt 
Safia Adam
Robert Bodrog 
Bob Studholme 
Brian Borgford 
Craig Lauzon 
Patreshia Tkach
Chi Diep 
Colin Rivers 
Anum Siddiqui 
Sara Ryan 
Hannah Taha 
Shaikha Alain 
Ayesha Sayed 
Leanne Wherret 
Bruce McCullouch 
Susan Cavan 
Tanya Nguyen 
Margaret Lambert 
Peggy Vogan 
Mahmood Farra 
Barbara Vogan 
Paul Marlow 
Alison Belsham 
Brian L 
Sir William Newman 
editors and story consultants at The Ivan Von Noshrilgram Foundation, Antarctica.)    

Copyright 2000 (Alistair Avery Vogan / the Von  Noshrilgram Foundation)

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