By CA Clark
The undersides of the clouds moved in slow swirls, ever changing yet never shifting. The roof of my world. Perpetual grey; permanent twilight. Grey mud, grey trees, grey leaves, dark grey patches oozing the slow death of life starved of sunlight. I walked the perimeter of my allotted territory, always alert for deeper shadows within the grey. I, the sentry, guarding against anything trying to rise. It had not occurred to me that something might fall.
Sunlight broke through. Colour flooded in. Something bright fell. I watched it hurtle toward the ground. I felt a compulsion to catch it. The breach in the cloud closed but the light held. Emanating from her, a small human-like creature with broken wings. From the cradle of my arms, her hand reached out to touch the leaves. Leaves remembered green. She smiled at me.
“You will be mine until I can fly again.”
Her voice made music in a world devoid of it.
“I serve humanity.” It is my imperative.
“I am human and more.”
I accepted her order.
I walked the perimeter. She danced beside me, two steps, sometimes three, for each of mine. Where her light fell, colours would appear, only to be sucked back into the grey when she had passed. She talked about sunlight and wind. She spoke of the stars and the moon. She told of dances and laughter and the warmth of her world.
At night I stopped my pacing because she asked it of me. I curled her in my arms. She said it made her feel warm and safe. In the darkness of a world without stars she confessed quietly of how she broke her wing, how she came to fall, how small and insignificant she felt in a world so full of brighter beings. I spoke soothing things to her. She snuggled closer.
We slipped into a routine, walking a deeper path into the perimeter in the slightly less dark of day. She asked so many questions about the darkness of here, wondering why our worlds were separated, why the trees were dying, why I watched for shadows, and I had no answers for her.
My orders did not include curiosity, politics, or history; just walk, watch, and guard.
She laughed and said she would change my orders. I did everything she asked of me. She declared she would stay with me forever. I could not deny her.
And slowly, almost imperceptibly, her light began to fade.
One day I sensed a change in the atmosphere.
I had sensed the same on the day she fell.
The time had come for her to leave.
“I cannot love you the way you desire.”
I balanced her delicate chin on my forefinger and caressed her cheek gently with my thumb; she enjoyed it when I did this. She tilted her head and pressed her cheek into my hand. My fingers cupped the curve of her cheek. A few strands of her hair brushed the back of my hand, softer than a breeze.
“I could say I love you, and I could make you believe it,” I whispered in her ear.
She straightened her head and looked up at me.
“But I don’t wish to deceive you.”
Her eyes glistened with the tears she was holding back. Her chin jerked slightly as she swallowed.
I was expecting an outburst but it didn’t come. Instead she pressed herself against my chest and I slid my arms around her. A little catch in her breath broke her stoicism, her shoulders shook with silent sobs. I held her a little tighter.
“You shouldn’t love me. You know I can’t love you back.”
She shook her head from side to side, little shudders of denial, her forehead firmly pressed against my chest, as if she could drill her way into my heart. I watched as each ear lifted and peeked between her silky hair.
“You can’t hide away here.”
Her hands moved to my sleeves, running over my biceps a few times before finally gripping the fabric in tight little fists.
I momentarily toyed with the idea of using her favourite endearments but it would only prolong the inevitable.
A flash of sunlight poured through a rare break in the clouds. A halo of golden light surrounded us.
I carefully pulled her hands from my arms and held her away from me. My hands engulfed her smaller ones.
“I am not what you really need. You need the sunlight and the stars.”
Her shoulders slumped. Another sigh escaped her lips.
“You have honoured me by bestowing your affections.”
The phrase sounded old fashioned and stilted but I could not find more modern vernacular to express the same thing.
I bowed to her.
She smiled. A damp, sad little smile.
A stark change from the ray of sunlight that had fallen through the clouds dropping her into my world; such effervescence, such energy, filled with curiosity and wonder. Everything around her had lit up with colour but the longer she stayed here the more the greyness had sucked her light away.
I matched her sad smile with one of my own.
“Go back up, and give your heart to one of your own.”
She flew into my arms again, just for a moment, and kissed the end of my nose.
She leapt into the ray of sunshine and lifted into the sky, rising until she disappeared through the gap.
The clouds sealed shut.
I resumed my sentry duties.
About the Author
CA Clark is a writer of short fiction with aspirations to complete that great space saga gathering e-dust in a file lost somewhere on the portable hard drive.
Apart from being too busy to write as often as any writer should, C A Clark squeezes out the odd flash fiction; there are eight flash fictions with AntipodeanSF and half a century of pieces in varying length in anthologies so far.