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￭ In our image and our likeness
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2018-01-29 | |
Once upon a time, a small poor child was crying on the edge of his bed. In this prodigality of joy from the long-ago-abandoned childhood, I was that kid crying on the edge of myself, trying to understand something which cannot be comprehended from this world. And never will it be comprehended by anyone who casts his shadow upon the silent ground, in this interlacing of darkness and light.
Near me was a white bear, a polar bear, stuffed with cotton balls, with flax perfumed coat and a black nose, with half a smile because the rest of its mouth was unpicked, like it was smiling to an unseen forgotten world. It had always been my favourite toy, but now it was lying aside, not even it being able to touch my bewildered soul. Still half-smiling with the button eyes fixed on my curved shaking back.
In the thick air of that day, while the dusk was flowing to the darkness of wonder, something changed. And that something remained the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me. I found a friend. Not whom I had expected, nor something from this world, but someone far closer to my deepest dreams.
Once upon a time, a child was crying on the edge of his bed all alone, without even noticing his beautiful toys spread across the room, smiling and looking so glamorous in their colour-woven world, like compensating for a lack of love and kindness.
Like awakening from an angel dream, the left white paw of his polar bear moved, and his beloved toy gently caressed his back, barely touching his shirt, like a butterfly touching a young petal. Trying not to scare him, his bear came a little closer and reached for his shoulder. It didn't try to speak, as if that would have dazed and frightened the boy more. So it nursed him more and more, with the love of one father, with the love of one mother. Clouded by tears, the boy's eyes turned to the bear. Half-smiling with its half unpicked mouth, it looked at him and finally asked him blandly: â€śWould you like to go on an adventure? It might be good for you.â€ť. The boy smiled back. And that seemed to be enough, as the bear reached the darkness of the ceiling as if touching the tarnished night sky, and drew a door of light, so bright that the boy blinked, hiding his eyes, looking through the scarcely spread fingers. It was his first day of joy and wonder when the door opened. Almost like his birthday.
And there it was â€“ the world of magic.
As the boy stepped through the door, the polar bear held his arm, floating in the bright azure blue cloudless sky, mirrored by a calm large sea. The boy grabbed it hard, holding its paw, scared. â€śDon't be scaredâ€ť, said the bear, â€śyou will fly with me to the shoreâ€ť. And there they flew for a short distance.
When they reached the beach, the boy gradually felt himself again. And under the beautiful sun his heart blossomed as he ran around touching everything, even running and splashing through the waves with bare feet, getting wet from hair to toes. The sand stuck to his clothes and skin like a gold dust. Finally he crushed tired to the ground and rested. But something stirred inside. He pushed himself up and ran to the sea to swim. â€śMake sure you don't get beyond the rock barrierâ€ť, said the magic bear, â€śbecause that is the farthest line that I can reach by flyingâ€ť. But the boy was far away, too thrilled to listen to the words of the white bear.
And he swam further and further, whipped by the tides of his soul. All of a sudden he was too far. The sea split and a ship made its appearance. It was a pirate caravel. But the pirates on this boat were different from any other pirates, because they had animal heads instead of human ones. Some had tiger heads, some had puma heads, some lion heads, some cheetah and so on. They threw a fishing net to catch the lost boy. The boy twisted like an eel, but the ropes entangled him. The pirates roared with joy and pride. â€śLook what a good catch we've got in here. This should go straight to the kitchenâ€ť. The chef was a small pirate with a zebra head. He was the farce of all the other pirates, because he liked to cook with vegetables. â€śHere is some meat!â€ť, said one lion pirate throwing the boy to the floor, with his hands and feet tied up. â€śMaybe you can get it right this time!â€ť, he trumpeted in the zebra's face, turning swiftly after that and getting upstairs, leaving the poor boy on the bottom of the ship. The zebra-pirate was helpless, looking ashamed at the boy. He had never killed anyone. He only cooked, trying not to harm any being. â€śDon't be afraidâ€ť, he mumbled. â€śWe shall figure something out.â€ť And he threw a few nets over the boy, hiding him under that pile of ropes. Then he started to cook shaping costards and dressing them in sea grass, using red algae to shape a heart and making his best to do a kid-like veggie sculpture. And then he made a soup with this substitute, cutting the pieces to look like human body parts. It was a masterpiece and when he went with it upstairs and laid the kettle on the table, all the pirates were pleased with the soup's smell that tickled their nostrils. And they ate it all. That night they fell asleep with full bellies. Only after making sure that no eye was flickering any more, the zebra-pirate went down and brought the boy to the deck, pulling the ropes apart. After calming him down, the pirate told him that his only chance was to get away in a small boat which he carefully lowered. The boy thanked him, and jumped into the escape-boat, rowing as delicately as he could, trying not to wake up the other pirates. He oared all night, until the ship became a small dark dot on the surface of sea, and even after that he didn't dare to stop rowing. When the morning came, it found him curved in sleep, with one of the hands still laying on the oar's brace. The boat was floating on the shallow water near a strange shore.
The boy flinched with a painful numbness, and caressing his asleep-arm, he rose, looking around. It was a green-sand beach, with red and blue shells spread all over it, sheltered by a beautiful forest.
Almost without thinking, he jumped out of the boat and pulled it to the shore. There was a delicate emerald sand, spread over miles on the coast of a small island. A volcanic island, because it was trembling every now and then, breaking small waves of sand into the sea. The colourful shells holding beautiful fist-like raw gems, rubies, topazes, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and hessonites were spread along the shore. Some of the precious stones were polished by the tides, shining under the sun, some were not. But the boy didn't know their values, for him being just beautiful shards-like stones. He adorned himself with a few beautiful shining pieces around the neck and wrists using an algae interlacing, leaving the rest of the gems to the water and to the fish.
And he went into the forest, searching for a high peak to have a good look around. In the forest there were some cheeky monkeys, with feathers instead of fur, which were gliding in between the trees' canopies. Those monkeys were so bold that the boy felt a few times their skinny fingers lingering across his neck and arms. Obviously the shiny stones were very attractive for the monkeys as well. But the boy didn't feel like sharing. So jiggling his wrist he managed to daze and even scare most of the feathered naughty monkeys, escaping through their fingers. Just in the nick of time, because otherwise the monkeys would have stoned him to death from the shadow of the canopies.
At the inner edge of the forest rose the mountain. A big apparently dormant volcano spreading small fog-like clouds from its peak, shaking the island while it was spitting the reeky fumes, along with precious minerals. It was dangerous to stay for a long time in one spot, so the boy rushed into climbing, until he reached a good perspective.
But all he could see was water all over. No sign of his golden shore and no sight of his polar bear. The disappointment was huge. But the boy didn't give up. Because he didn't dare to go back the same way that he had come, he decided to climb down the other side of the mountain. This side was less timbered and rather unshaded. No feathered monkey ventured on this flank. So the boy was safe from that point of view. Still, he rushed, because of the hot blazing stones hissing through the thin air.
Once he reached the sand, from small branches he made a rude raft, which was large enough to hold him, but it was not safe for a long journey through the drifts of the sea. Yet the boy had the confidence of any young heart, and didn't hesitate to jump in. Anyway on this island the food was scarce. No wonder that the monkeys had feathers and were so naughty. â€śThey should have become this way if they wanted to surviveâ€ť, thought the boy.
â€śAnd no matter where I might end up, it can't be worse than hereâ€ť, said the boy stroking with his bare hands his way towards a warm drift.
â€śWell, it might be worseâ€ť, he thought after a few days, when no shore was anywhere in sight. He felt alone, so alone that he didn't care if any pirate would find him. He longed for any encounter, and a whale tail above the water made his heart jump. He burst out laughing, but quickly faded into tears. And he cried, cried and shouted unspoken words to the sky, until full of despair he collapsed into his small hand-made raft. Like a pearl into its shell, he lay unconscious in there, sliding through old warm memories, while the floating shelter took him towards a faraway coast.
It was a seagull who made him raise his head. He couldn't believe his eyes, and even rubbed them quite a few times before jumping into hope. Because where there is a gull, there are fish, and definitely should be a land not too far away.
So there he was again, dried like a straw in the summer, poking with his weak hands through the salty water towards the misty shadow of a land. And there it was indeed. A beautiful white-sand beach glared before his eyes, and a friendly shadow of a singing forest promised some food and shelter for his stinging skin.
After biting from a few pulpy leaves and sprouts and drinking from a cold spring, the boy felt quite tired, and he was indeed exhausted. But at least he was not hungry. He fell asleep in the comfort of the sweet water. Never had he been happier.
But when he woke up he felt a bit weird. The forest, which had been full of songs during day, was silent then like a tomb. Those songs might have been soothing and might have performed miracles on his wounds. He wasn't sure if it had been the water, the food or the songs, but something had worked like a charm, because his skin was not hurting, his hands were more steady and, well, his mouth was not distressingly dry any more. Despite of that, he couldn't shake that odd feeling. It was like finally the forest had noticed him, and right then it was watching still. â€śIt would be dangerous to walk through the dark forest anywayâ€ť, thought the boy, squatting next to the trunk of an old and tall tree, and trying hard to reach the comfort of hope again.
And so he stayed, shivering a bit, half asleep, until dawn, when, like yawning, the forest started to fill all of a sudden with noises. â€śFunny, pretty funnyâ€ť. The boy felt better. But with the light came more than he had expected. Fairies, really small - not bigger than a mushroom, as tall as a finger, were floating around in flaming flocks, they were coming from everywhere, going God knows where, all the time busy, just fluttering their funny colourful wings for barely a second when seeing the boy, and then rushing on their ways. â€śThis is the land of fairiesâ€ť, he thought. Indeed it was.
And the boy tried to ask them about his white-bear and gold-sand beach, but the fairies were hard to disturb from their habits, only a few stopped for a brief touch of the boy's eyelashes, hair, cheeks, hands. They seemed to understand his feelings, but as far as his words were concerned, the boy wasn't too sure. Because they sang weird songs back in response, briefly, before breaking away, always flying. But a few notes were the same in their songs. The boy tried to memorise those and started to whistle the melody. Suddenly a few flocks of fairies approached him, responding with a similar song, dancing around and flying in only one direction. â€śOh, I got it! You want me to follow you.â€ť smiled the boy. And he continued to whistle the notes, adding a few more here and there. The fairies took him to a clearing full of strange flowers and bright-red tall mushrooms. In the centre of that clearing it was a thick mushroom, covered in moss, so big that it had windows and even a door. â€śThat must be what you wanted me to seeâ€ť realized the boy. â€śThank you!â€ť, he said, even trying to sing that. Although most probably it wasn't the melody for gratefulness, the fairies laughed with a jingle, before scattering among the nearby branches in a cheerful effervescence. So he made his way to the mushroom-house, trying not to disturb the peace and perfume of that glade.
But the door opened before he could reach it. â€śWho are you?â€ť asked a beautiful dark-eyed human-like fairy, who was even taller than him. â€śAnd why do you come to me so bewildered?â€ť. â€śI wish I could answerâ€ť, whispered the boy. â€śIf only I knew the answer myself.â€ť â€śNobody knows the answer until one finds it.â€ť â€śThat's the troubleâ€ť, replied boy, this time with no more fear, â€śI don't know where to start searching... I am lost.â€ť â€śWell, I beg to differ!â€ť, smiled the fairy. â€śHow can I help you?â€ť, she continued. And the boy opened his heart. And inside there were darkness and fear that made the beautiful lady frown. And when the last word hurdled like a grasshopper from the boy's lips, she kept silence for a while, gazing above his shoulders and listening to the forest's sounds.
Then she turned around and asked the boy to come inside. â€śYou must be hungryâ€ť, she said. â€śI was waiting for youâ€ť, and she pointed to a table full of dainties. The smell and the sight made the boy dizzy, so he leant against a wall for a few seconds. Inside, the mushroom was more spacious that he could have imagined. And one could see a sort of order in every corner. The walls were straight and full of colours, somehow reminding of the boy's room. There were potions, and magic wands, powders in jars and small stones, mostly resembling the boy's bracelets and necklace. But his hunger was hurting him inside more than curiosity. So he stumbled to the table. It took a while to gain the power to break apart from the delicacies spread across the white table. â€śNot so white any moreâ€ť, thought with a smile the beautiful fairy. After the boy was done with the feast, she gently touched his shoulder and invited him to rest.
As soon as the boy fell asleep, she went into the forest singing to her fairies. Her song was a sad one, and all the creatures in that magical forest along with the fairies answered back in a hurry to their queen. And she sang again in that strange dialect, and they sang back. And so on, and so on. Until they finally reached an understanding. Only then she returned to her bewitched palace. But she didn't disturb the boy's deep sleep.
â€śHello, sleepy-head!â€ť she whispered noticing the flickering eyes of the boy. She let him stretch out, and after that she told him what she had learnt. â€śUnfortunately, I don't know which way to go to find your white-bear, nor the way back to your home. But I know that there are four bears in this Universe, each one in one corner of the world. Maybe one of them is your white one. Those bears are â€“ The East Bear, which is the Goodness' deity of that land, The South Bear â€“ which is the father of Joy, The North Bear â€“ which is the wisest one around here, and the West one â€“ which is the guileful bear.â€ť â€śIt should be the East one, then!â€ťcried the boy. â€śI thought so as wellâ€ť, said the fairies' Queen, â€śbut now I am not so sureâ€ť. â€śI shall go and look for it, then.â€ť â€śBut before that, I shall give you something that will help you even moreâ€ť, said the Queen, giving him the wand of The Singing Tree. â€śWith this you can mould the wood and everything that is green in any way that you wishâ€ť, she added. â€śI'll show you the way to the East side of the worldâ€ť. â€śMilady, I won't encroach upon your time any moreâ€ť, said the boy, kissing the Queen's hand. But she leant and embraced him, kissing his forehead. â€śDon't worry, my boy, you will find your way home!â€ť.
The boy reached without any problem the shore that the fairy Queen had described. Using the wand of The Singing Tree, he moulded a really exquisite raft, with a shelter from the sun and a grass-woven sail which he installed on a mast in the centre of his raft. And with that he went to navigate the sea once more.
But the road to the East ground wasn't an easy one. It was full of dark storms and hurricanes, and many of the ships who dared to sail towards that realm were shattered to pieces on the bottom of the ocean. The boy went into a huge storm, and the water was almost sinking the raft. Being afraid not to drown, the boy used his wand to transform this raft into a ball of wood. Despite being almost enclosed into this shell of wood, a few twists and turns of the waves flooded the ball, but not enough to sink it. The boy was shaking, but he knew no more why â€“ the cold and the fear merged one into the other. He endured them. At least he knew he was alive, not buried under that dark and insurgent water as all the other unfortunate ships that the wand of The Singing Tree helped him see on the bottom of the sea. The sky didn't change its dark and angry face, but the sea did as the demons inside consumed their fury. The silence was floating along with the wooden shell, but the boy didn't dare to open it. â€śNot yetâ€ť, he thought, â€śnot yetâ€ť. And as he was floating over the waves, leaving a white tail of salt, air and water behind, a huge sperm-whale emerged from the deepest gloom and seized the wooden shell mistaking it for a squid, trying to shatter it, before swallowing it. But the whale didn't succeed in neither of its intentions, and almost chocked with its prey. The boy's wooden ball got stuck in the whale's throat. The boy knew that something was wrong. He thought that the bites and the scratches were from a few sharks and who knows what other odd fish. But he didn't imagine being inside a cetacean. Only when the pressure changed and the dizzy spells began once the whale started to breach, he knew that he wasn't floating adrift any more. He tried to crack open his shell, just enough for a peep. It seemed like he was inside a cave, and he saw big sharp white stones on the edge of the cave, with the water splashing about in huge waves, while the cave was moving, opening and closing, and was clicking loudly. â€śThis is a big sharkâ€ť, he thought, cooking up a plan. He closed the shell for a second while from the sail he made a whisk with the help of the fairy's wand. Then he suddenly opened the shell tickling the roof of the cave with the whisk when the tide inside was low. When the clicking sounds changed into a rumble, he quickly sheltered back inside the shell. The whale sneezed or maybe coughed, puffing and dispersing a huge amount of water around it. But when the animal felt the wooden kernel deep in its throat loosened by the cough, it spat it out, almost cursing that strange squid with a loud snarling sound, splashing it away with its huge tail. The boy inside was almost knocked out by the hit. When he recovered and couldn't hear any menace around, he finally dared to open the wooden shelter.
It was a cold day outside. The sun was far above the clouds. But there was no more darkness. The boy smiled to the ashen sky. And, beyond the reek, the sun smiled back, but warm.
The boy followed the directions of the fairies' Queen. And on the second day of the third week of his journey, he reached the shoulders of a shore. The ground under his soles felt so strange. He buried his feet into the sand and dragged them, leaving two snakes behind. But soon he felt the solid ground under his feet and the shadows of trees above. It was a beautiful forest, with huge trees, so tall that they were touching the girders of the sky. In between the spots of blooming glades here and there, everywhere in this jungle-like full of excitement place there were restless birds and small animals, some crawlers, some hoppers, and some climbers, creating a tumult and a chorus of sounds resembling elephants and doves, and blackbirds, and squirrels and moles.
The boy was not sure where to find The East Bear. He knew about a huge and thick tree that allegedly was the palace of the Goodness of the East. But where to find it and how to get inside it, he didn't know. Soon he noticed that only one side of the trees was green and full of spores, and on the other side they were full of dust and scars. He chose the green as it was resembling moss, and he figured that this might show the East, just like one can find the North wherever moss grows. And anyway, he thought, it was the side that sounded more alive, with merry songs. As he went farther following the pathways through the forest, the boy could see that the green was spreading even on the other side of the boles. There he noticed strangely shaped trees â€“ some looked as if they had claws, some with fangs, with branches resembling heads and limbs, but full of flowers, while on the ground brawled water springs woven in one flow. The boy washed his face and drank so much from that beautiful green flow of water, until he felt his tummy was about to blow up. Then he walked downstream, following the water-flow. The river flew into a large lake, with violet cauliflower-like water lilies on its bright surface, and eight-legged-toads looking like spiders or perhaps like berries on arches, croaking through their round shaped vocal cords in a chorus of angel-voices. Near the lake was a large field with small trees bearing different fruits. The sun shed its undiminished light over this place.
Far away, almost farther than the eye could reach, it was a huge tree, so thick that it almost filled the horizon, losing its branches into the clouds above. But as he got closer to this tree, the boy couldn't see any windows or doors. â€śSo... how to get in?â€ť, he wondered, â€ś...undoubtedly this must be The East Bear's palaceâ€ť.
He felt the tree's bark, which was wrinkled like an old-man's skin, but he found no break, no hidden doors. He went around the tree looking for anything that might have been odd. The only strange thing were a bunch of angle-shaped mushrooms that were covering a small area of the bark. â€śThese look like stairsâ€ť, thought the boy. He gently climbed on them, afraid not to fall. But they were hard and resistant like stones. At the top again there was no sight of any entrance. The only breach was a small worm-like hole. â€śMaybe it's a key-hole!â€ť, he thought. Unfortunately though, he had no key to match this tiny hole. â€śMy magic wand might help.â€ť He inserted the tip of the wand inside the hole, and thought about the green water-flow that he had seen, about its shape. Since nothing happened, the boy tried to imagine the bittings of the key in the form of the boulders with different shapes on one side of the river which he had considered to be strange. It didn't work. Maybe the cauliflower-water-lilies and their frogs. Again it didn't work. He felt disheartened. â€śMaybe it's not a keyhole after all.â€ť He missed his mother's cheering kiss on his eyebrows and her comforting hands on his temples. Just then, the wand made a weird sound like a knock on a door, and suddenly the bark around that hole turned greener, and greener, turning into fine twigs with long leaves, every one of them recoiling inside, until a tunnel was formed, just big enough to allow a small creature to pass through. The boy stepped in.
Unfortunately, the bear was not at home. The throne placed in a huge room inside this tree-palace was empty. There was no courtier around. Just small animals and strange butterflies and some glass-like snakes, floating like spirits and moving in circles near the throne.
During this time, the bear was caught in a fight on the other side of the forest, in the direction towards which the dusty part of the trees was facing. It was trying to defeat a grey octopus-ogre, with claws at the end of each serpent-arm, one of the servants of the guileful bear, the last one from the small army that had attacked the South part of the East Island. The weapon of the bear was a small magic stick, with carved woven shapes of trees and birds on the sides, and with an egg-stone at the tip. From there different lights were cast, transforming every limb or flesh of the grey-ogre into green-stones and trees. A part of the ogre's body was already caught by trees, but the monstrous head was still at large with fangs trying to bite. Missing the bear, the ogre was biting just stumps and bulky logs, spitting them out with fury and disgust. The bear was moving very fast, jumping from tree to tree and shooting lights. When the last limb of the ogre was caught by green, the good bear, avoiding the poisonous fangs, threw a seed as small as a pellet into the ogre's mouth. When it swallowed it, the ogre screamed as its head and body were transformed into a blooming tall tree, from its mouth rushing out with thrilling sounds birds and small animals, insects of all kinds, like a blood flow.
The bear was tired. It had been an exhausting fight. The armies that The West Bear was sending lately seemed to be larger and larger. Our good bear climbed down the tree and turned its stick into a walking aid, returning at a slow pace to its palace-tree. Reaching the mushroom doorsteps, the bear found the door open. â€śI've been fooledâ€ť, it thought, turning the magic stick into a defensive weapon, â€śthe ghouls must have attacked from North, looking for meat and goodsâ€ť. And it entered carefully through the tunnel towards the tree core. Didn't expect a strange boy to jump in its face. After the long fight its senses must have been numb. It shot with its weapon and the light clasped around the boy with a splash, turning him into a stone, almost like a statue. â€śYou fool!â€ť, the bear cried. But it was too late.
The silence filled the throne-room. The bear knelt with the magic stick dropped on the wooden floor and its face hidden in its palms. It took some time until it came up with a plan.
The bear carried the boy and buried him near the lake, together with the rare seeds of crystal-tree. And it watered that place day after day until the first sprouts emerged from the ground. They curled around each other. One shoot was not strong enough to grow up into a tree. They were usually growing together, helping each other rise towards the sun. The tree shaped out of more than seven sprouts was growing fast. It took about 7 years to reach the hight of a mature tree. It constantly needed the bear's attention as other plants were dangerous to the precious tree and sometimes threatened to suffocate it. The trunk and branches of the crystal-tree were white and almost transparent, thus the name of the tree. This time the tree was red coloured. Bloody-red spirals of fluids were visible through the core of every branch, and in the middle of the twisted trunk, embedded in the red-crystal-wood, there was a large red heart pumping the fluids up and down. Even the leaves had a red-stained core, leaving only some green edges. Only the youngest leaves were green. In the wind the tree was singing with harmonious clink-clangs, like a xylophone. The first flowers that bloomed where orange with violet pistils. But unfortunately they didn't bear any fruits. The flowers from the second generation were yellow and green, with a tint of blue over the green spots. They didn't bear fruits either, fading and falling down one by one. The third generation of flowers came into blossom in the tenth year and they were sienna-red with yellow pistils and dark-red anthers. Those finally turned into fruits. The fruits were glass-transparent with rainbow iridescence and a very sweet pulp. But the bear gave a lot of attention to these fruits, making sure that no birds or other animals were touching them. And when the fruits were fully grown, it harvested them and buried them around the tree. From those spots, magical springs emerged, which were bathing only the crystal-tree. The tree changed its colour to a whitish grey, and after a while it changed its shape as well. In the twelfth year, the trunk of the tree split, and the boy stepped out whole and unharmed, like from a womb, having the same age as he did when he was frozen. The magic wand of The Singing Tree had been stoned together with the boy. By the time the boy was reborn, every cell in the boy's body had been imbued with the magic of the Singing-Tree wand, so the boy was able to mould the wood with his mind and hands, not needing the wand any more. It took a while for the child to recover the power of speech and his memories. Then the boy was able to understand where he was and what was the goal of his journey. He realised that the good-bear was not his polar bear. Nevertheless he told the bear what he was looking for so far away from home.
â€śI am sorry for my hastiness! But I can't help you in your quest.â€ť
â€śOh, that's all right!â€ť, answered the boy. â€śI might need directions to find The South Bear, though.â€ť
And the good bear told him everything that it knew about The South Bear.
The boy thank it, and continued his journey. At the South-end of the East realm he moulded some trees into another raft. The trees he used were rubber trees, so the boy managed to create a beautiful even raft. But when it dried up, it couldn't be moulded any more. He plunged with it into the sea, hoping for a good drift.
Following the directions from the good bear, the boy found himself sailing on a very dark foggy sea. It looked like a whale's open-mouth, with an obvious contrast between the blue-sea left behind and the dark-sea lying ahead. When the fog cleared, the boy could see only a dark starless sky above. He tried to light a torch, and when he did manage to do that, he noticed that there was no sky, but the dark canopy which was shining now in billions of lights was the dome of a huge diamantine cave, and the dark sea was a subterranean sea. He couldn't keep the torch afire for a long time, as brands were dropping on his hand. So he had to put that out. And while putting down the burned stick he hit the deck. The sound reverberated through the cave, but the sound coming back from one side was different. The wand of The Singing Tree which was dissolved in his flesh must had made the boy able to perceive the sound somehow different than ordinary men. With hit-and-miss he followed the anomaly that he had found.
He wandered on that sea for quite a while until he saw a faint light, far, far away. The sound had guided him towards that light. When he approached the light, he was amazed by what he saw. The light was coming from a huge stone which was shining like a star, almost as bright as the sun. Underneath that cone of light was an island of chocolate and other sweets, in thousands of colours and shapes. Every kind of sweets ever imagined was there. Even the furry animals, birds, reptiles and insects were all made of chocolate and burned sugar. â€śOh, I could eat them allâ€ť, thought the boy. â€śDefinitely, I would!â€ť
And he started to eat some mint-sugar leaves, and to lick some dark-chocolate trees, and then he drank from the cream river, until he saturated every part of his body with all sorts of sugar. In the end he found himself collapsed in the middle of the island near a huge cream cheese and white chocolate palace.
â€śI shall have no problem getting inâ€ť, he thought. â€śBut first I need to rest!â€ť And he fell asleep. While he was asleep, a blue fudge coated bird stopped and watched him for a while. Its dark eyes looked human, and were penetrating behind the skin and flesh, going through time. It shook its head with a tweet, and before taking off, it scratched the boy's cheek with its claws.
When the boy woke up he started to dig through the walls of the sweet-palace and entered without any problem, and while walking through the palace's corridors, he met a couple of sugar-candy soldiers, which caught him without warning and put him down. The boy tried to resist, but it was pointless, as the soldiers were pretty heavy and very firm about their thoughts. One of them held a crystal-sugar sharp sword to his neck, but as he saw the bird's mark on the boy's cheek, he stopped. With a sign to his companion in arms, they raised the boy on his feet, and without moving their lips, they started to speak, finishing one another's sentences. â€śYou were luckyâ€ť â€śboy that we saw the sign onâ€ť â€śyour cheek, otherwise you'd beâ€ť â€śdead. That is the mark of one-crisp-bird thatâ€ť â€śis so rare in our world. It used to markâ€ť â€śonly the kingsâ€ť â€śso you being marked is kind of weirdâ€ť â€śto start with. As you're not king, not even closeâ€ť â€śabout that I am sure. But you destroyedâ€ť â€śthe joy-palace, thus punishment you shall receive.â€ť â€śSo start rebuildâ€ť â€śand when you finishâ€ť â€śyou will see our real king.â€ť
â€śThat is what I wish for!â€ť said the kid.
But they stopped talking to him, and one soldier positioned himself on one side of the hole in the wall, while the other stayed on the other side, with the boy in between. The boy started a small fire and with what was at hand he began to cook as best as he could and, brick by brick, he rebuilt the wall. When he finished, the soldiers placed themselves one in front of the boy and one behind, taking the child to the throne hall. In front of the huge doors they stopped and one of them knocked on the door and disappeared for a couple of minutes inside the room. On his come-back he said to the young boy: â€śOur king wishes for you to step inside alone!â€ť. And so he did.
Inside there was a strange looking bear, not his bear, that's for sure. The coat of this bear king-of-joy was velvet-soft, but full of sweets, with drops of chocolate on its paws, and with a small gilded crown onto its head. The bear wouldn't sit still for one second, all the time running around, blowing soft-chocolate baloon-animal-shapes through its fists, with meringue bones and blocks or strips of sugar-candy as flesh and hair and even as eyeballs. Every blow from the king of joy was bringing another shape to life. And shortly after the shapes started to breathe, usually they shook, dropping every excess and getting into their definitive form, and finally running outside through a cave-tunnel in the floor. â€śSo that's how this island was builtâ€ť, the boy thought.
â€śIndeedâ€ť, said the bear as if hearing his thoughts, not keeping still, â€śbut here is nothing of what you are looking for. At least not yet.â€ť And then the bear, which was a telepath, carried on not only with asking mental questions to the boy, but also with making fine and remarkable strange creatures all along. So the boy told him his story, but this funny bear couldn't help him at all. In the end the boy asked for directions to The North Bear. The South Bear helped him as much as it could, and asked him to come to it whenever he will need it, or only just for joy.
So the boy built another smaller raft with the pieces of wood that he could chip out of the older rubber-tree one. He built a higher-speed water-craft, which could be moulded. With that he proceeded out of the cave towards the North realm, where the wisest of all bears lived. There was a long journey ahead of him before he could reach that kingdom. A few marine creatures attacked his boat, because of the resemblance with a fish. But when the boat was grabbed by teeth or tentacles or God knows what, the boy moulded it with his mind into a ball with sharp spikes all around. Every time he succeeded in driving away the creatures. One time he was even attacked by a pirate caravel, but he avoided successfully the cannon balls by submerging into a moulded submarine, and by crushing into their sailing boat's hull he took a few more chips of wood with him and gave them quite a trouble to keep their ship floating.
He finally reached the North realm. It was a clear-blue-ice realm without any grain of dirt in it. The ground was deep under the dome of ice. So no plant was able to grow over there. A cold wind was sweeping into drifts the superficial milled ice, which was driven across the ice land like the small clouds of sand in the desert. The ice was so clean that one could see through it like through water, far away. The wise bear was like a small dark dot visible in the distance through the ice sheet. But there were lots of other shadows around that black dot. On the other hand, the milled ice eddies made the surface of the North realm cloudy and white with a tinge of blue, so one couldn't see too far. One could look through it only where the ice was cut, like near the shore, or where big chunks of ice had crumpled from the top of the ice-mountains into the valleys, leaving behind large blue flanks.
The boy didn't leave behind his water-craft this time, but transformed it into a tubular sleigh with a beak in front, and a circular opening at the back, allowing the kid to slide in. Inside there was a mechanism that resembled an unicycle, but with a spiked wheel. He made linear apertures on both sides of the beak, not very large to let too much wind in, but large enough to allow seeing outside. He also made at the lower front end of the sleigh a tiller-like wood structure which ended with a ski to steer the whole thing. Still, it was very cold inside. The kid covered himself with wood chips to keep warm. And he carried on pedalling and that helped him endure the cold weather. Downhill the job was easy, but uphill it was pretty hard. The journey with the sleigh took a couple of days, with a few stops on the way near the blue rifts to check the proper course towards the wise bear's palace. The shadow silhouettes were growing, becoming clearer as he approached the palace.
The palace of The North Bear was huge, carved in the ice and decorated with spikes and a few spires. The milled ice was snowing under the palace, which was deeply embedded in ice anyway, so it was hard to see inside from above.
At the gate of the palace there were four white-griffins, one on each of the four spires, which were guarding the entry. When the boy came closer riding his sleigh, one of them glided noiselessly and landed with a mighty posture in front of the boy. The griffin was three times taller than the kid, so the boy felt almost squashed inside the sleigh, so tiny and apparently insignificant, silent, waiting. The griffin started to speak in bizarre sounds, and it spoke in a few other strange languages, some of which resembled human speech, while others didn't. Then it said â€śGreetings, stranger!â€ť and afterwords carried on speaking in other odd languages until it finally stopped. The boy understood that the creature expected him to respond. So he stepped outside, trying to keep his heart still, and said to the griffin with a faint voice â€śHello!â€ť. He would have wanted to sound more heroic, but, to be perfectly honest, he didn't feel like he was anything like that. The griffin looked at him with intensity, studying every aspect of the boy. â€śMaybe it hasn't seen a human being beforeâ€ť, the boy hoped. After an awkward moment of silence, the creature started to speak fluently the boy's language, asking him what he wanted, and why he had ventured so far in the cold. The boy told it his story as briefly as he could, and asked it if he could see the wise bear. â€śIn order to see our king you need to pass a few trials. The first three of them will open the gates for you, and you'll be allowed to speak with our king. But be aware that the king itself will test you before deciding what to do with you, boy!â€ť The boy had thought that this might happen, and he didn't look surprised. After all the same thing had happened in the South realm. Kind of. So he asked in a par voice about the trials. Amazingly, the griffin took off and returned with a very large gold bowl. The griffin told him what was the first task, and concluded â€śYou will be told about the rest of them later.â€ť
â€śWhere could I find cold water salmonids, and how am I supposed to gather so much roe from them?â€ť, the boy thought. He moulded his sleigh into a double wall house to keep him warm while he was thinking. After a few days of analysing the situation he managed to come up with a plan. He transformed his house in a drilling machine and succeeded in making a hole in the ice deep enough to reach the ground underneath. In there he sowed a drop of his blood as a seed. Then he minded the seed and helped it grow its roots, making them as strong as steel. From the seed a beautiful stem emerged, which very soon grew in the space that the boy had cleared inside the ice. The boy drilled even more to allow the sapling to grow majestic and he also carved a few rooms in that deep ice, with some channels around the roots of the blood-tree in the middle of the cave. He burned some of the wood that he had to keep the tree warm while it was young and fragile and also to melt the ice into clean water, nurturing it, and using the remaining ash as a fertiliser. With the ice which he had dug out from the deep cave and he hadn't melted, he built bricks of ice with which he made a crystal-pyramid. The pyramid was not just a design feature to cover the upper edge of the tunnel which was linking the surface to the cave, but it had a precise role â€“ to gather any daylight and focus it in a thick vertical beam towards his tree. With his utmost care, the tree grew fast, and soon blossomed and after a few days it bore some transparent garnet fruits. The boy ate the seeds from those fruits, and he hoarded the pulp aside. He wove the leaves that had fallen into small wires together with the bark from a few old branches. With those wires he made huge nets. When he decided he had enough, he gathered everything and brought them to the surface, where from the rest of the sleigh he built a bullet-like suit, all around his body, elastic, but very sturdy. It's helm was a beak-like shape on the top end. This structure was easily convertible into an armour, also allowing the boy to walk when he was not sliding. All around his body he made small and large compartments in the wood which he filled with what he had collected. Then he went near the sea shore of the ice land. Hoping for the best, he jumped into the sea, making sure his costume was protecting him against the cold water. Within the waters he laid the fibre-nets, making a huge sphere out of them, only with a few gaps in it, which could be closed if need be. Inside the net he laid in small packs the pulp from the fruits of the blood-tree. The fruits were very very tasty, and soon shoals of fish were swimming around the nets, searching for a breach in. The boy was keeping still, trying not to scare away the Arctic salmonids, if he saw any, but making sure nothing else was getting in. When he considered that there were enough fish inside, he tightened the knots. He nurtured the fish with the same care that he had had for the tree, making sure that they had enough to eat, even returning to his tree and bringing more when the food in his suit compartment was running low. And he waited patiently for the fish to lay their eggs, gathering them, but leaving some of the spawn, enough to breed even more salmonids. When the golden bowl was full, he freed the salmonids back to the sea. But curiously the salmonids remained in that area, as they had got used to live there.
The boy returned to the palace gate with the first task completed. The second griffin flew down to him, and without a word it took the bowl into the palace. On its return, it told the boy about the second task. This seemed a little more radical than the previous one. â€śHow am I supposed to make this land green again?â€ť, the unsettled boy asked himself. But after a few days of thinking inside his deep ice-cave, he came up with a plan. With his costume-bullet-sleigh he returned to the sea. There he transformed the costume into a spiked-sphere, in which he was running like a hamster, so that the sphere could float and move on the surface of the water. Like so, he reached the East realm, where he asked the goodness bear to give him as many strong seeds as it could, while he was gathering dry old-logs, moulding them into a huge water-craft. But the good bear also gave him a gift, by touching the boy's head with the crystal at the end of its magic stick, which made him able to control the green, almost the same way as the bear could. With that he returned to the North realm and grew a forest in the cave below the ice dome as he had done before with his blood-tree, melting as much ice as he needed with the wood he had brought, and even sacrificing some wood from the old trees that he had stimulated to grow faster into the cave. When the forest grew big enough, he enlarged the entrance to the tunnel, which was melting anyway, and raised instead of the pyramid a huge lenticular building, with a similar function to the pyramid. When everything was ready, he returned to the palace, and told the third griffin - â€śI grew a forest inside the ice, and with your help, this place might become even greenerâ€ť. And he invited the griffin to the cave. The griffin seemed pleased. So the boy was given the third task.
â€śOh, boy, this one seems to overtop the othersâ€ť, thought the kid. But weariless he transformed his bullet-sleight, and sailed with the sphere towards the subterranean sea, to the playful bear. The bear was so delighted to see him, that it made him stay longer than he had planned. At the end it just pressed its paw onto the boy's chest. But the chest and the paw seemed to melt together, until the boy's heart started to beat in strange melodic notes. The child gathered the power of life, as the bear had it. But it was only a temporary gift, so the boy rushed to return to the North dome, where he managed to make from thin air beautiful creatures, birds, and insects, and reptiles and so on, none of them resembling anything seen before. So he brought the forest to the second life, turning the silent rustle into a beautiful full-of-life green sigh. Then he returned to the palace of the wise bear, inviting the fourth griffin down to the cave. This one seemed older than the other ones. It stayed in the cave astonished, admiring every creature and every flower and fruit that caught its eye. Finally when it spoke, the boy couldn't help but thinking that the king's trial would be for certain more puzzling than the previous ones.
So he followed the griffin inside the wise bear's palace.
Inside it was cold like inside an ice-cream cake, but the rooms were very spacious, so in the centre of them it was warm enough to allow a feeling of comfort. The throne room was so huge that one couldn't see the end of it. And it was full of all sorts of animals â€“ tigers, foxes, hares, lynxes, wolves, wolverines, owls, caribous, squirrels, seals and so on. All of them were living together, predators with their catch in a perfect peace and understanding, speaking a strange fantastic language. When they saw the boy, they parted with a courtliness rarely seen even between humans, leaving a way for him to pass through.
On the throne there was a huge light-grey bear, looking completely absorbed by its thoughts. When the boy showed up in front of the throne, the bear looked at him intensely. Suddenly the boy felt like being lifted in another space, another time, and began to fully understand all the words spoken by each animal in that room. But there wasn't any ice, nor cold any more, but a cloudy space, with dulcet winds and strange lights, which made everything look so far, but yet so close. Animals were changing shapes fast, becoming either grossly thick, or thin and tall, others round and flat, or small reabsorbed in a tiny-tiny microscopic creature, expanding quickly to planet-size dimensions in a matter of seconds. They were almost merging one into another, either complementary or antagonistic, while the space was varying from an absence to an infinite distance. The fluency of the shapes was augmented by the lack of a specific colour â€“ it was like there was no colour in this fantastic world. Not even white or black or grey. And it was all like a ball, with sudden twists of space, like in a dance. It felt so weird, and yet so familiar.
â€śWelcome to this world of subject and conqueror. Everything is full of it. And you can smell it, drink it until you fill your every pore. Yet it's not saturating you, and if you carry on you can dissolve in it. We fill it with ourselves after emerging from a spore. Still, it doesn't end and it doesn't meet a purpose, but multiplies them all. So far from what we want â€“ a verb with which to feed our need of purityâ€ť, said the bear with warm eyes, strange words and fluid hair. â€śCan you give us that?â€ť, asked the bear. â€ś Because we are starving, dear boy!â€ť
â€śI thought I gave you that by doing what you had asked me toâ€ť, faintly replied the boy. But suddenly his words rolled over a mirror and exploded into a tubby roar. He looked at his words with the feeling they were silver fish turning their heads towards the sea that had spat them to the shore. But the bear's reply turned those last words into birds which were flying like butterflies, with huge palmate leaves instead of wings and small scales of tiny fronds instead of feathers. â€śOh, that was just like a drop of salt into the brine. And we so yearn for much, much more. So give us what we need in wholeness and in part!â€ť
â€śWhat shall I give?â€ť
The bear's voice climbed slowly with its rustling eyes towards one point - â€śYour heart!â€ť.
â€śBut how?â€ť, thought the kid. â€śHow?â€ť was a good question indeed!
The boy thought of how close he had been to dying in the East realm when he was accidentally frozen in stone. But this wasn't even close to that. And then he thought about his parents â€“ why does a heart stop, what makes it still and pale, what is the reason for all of that. He didn't know. No answer was filling the gap. He missed them. Every single day. So many memories and all hurt. He cowered like a seed. He used to be somebody's boy.
â€śWell?â€ť the bear's voice purled near his ear.
â€śMy heart is all I am, and before giving that, I wish for...â€ť
â€śNothing at all, just for you to remember every piece of my soul.â€ť
â€śHow can we do that?â€ť
â€śOh, that's easy!â€ť And like a star emerging from the cold, the boy started to unfold every memory that he had of life, since he was born, and loved, and he warmed up remembering every step that he had ever taken. Just like a drum, his heart started to feel the beauty of so many hot-and-cold moments, all of them overflowing with an intense feeling of living. With every blossomed word his body was moving in a dance. It looked like the dance of a limping creature which is gathering force just to explode, barely avoiding that in tremble, pulsating in effort and climbing back, and falling, then twisted and turned in agony and pleasure, and cuddling an imaginary bear like cuddling an unborn future. In all of that was love beyond the point of non-return. Pure, majestic. Still, love. And when the last sound hit the twisted body of the kid, he crashed down on the ice-floor, and gave his final breath just like a kiss.
â€śRest well, my boy!â€ť said the bear leaving the moistness of his breath lift. But when that soft cloud was just about to break, it took it all in its chest with a deep breath and blew it back into the pale body of the boy. â€śWe said we needed your heartâ€ť, smiled the bear when the boy grasped back his life, â€śbut warm. And what you did was beautiful enough to make us believe in life once moreâ€ť.
The boy was tired, consumed, he collapsed when he tried to stand up and do a reverence. But the animals around didn't let him hit the ground again, instead they took him on their shoulders, out of the dream.
When the boy woke up after a long time, he was in the king-bear's bedroom, resting on its beautiful bed.
â€śWas that a dream?â€ť
â€śNo, you have been deadâ€ť, he heard the bear saying in his head. â€śBut you convinced me that you have enough to live for. That's why I brought you back.â€ť And the bear told him how to reach his lost polar-bear beach. â€śFor that you need to find that pirate-ship that brought you here in the first place. Luckily that ship is doing its annual route around the same areas, sailing near your golden-beach in the autumn. But in order to get on board, you need to make them believe that you are one of them. For that you need to learn not only how to look, but how to feel in their skin.â€ť
â€śFrom whom should I learn, from you?â€ť
â€śNo, I can't do such a trick. I am afraid that this will be the Western feline-Bear's teaching.â€ť
The bear told him how to reach that West realm. And after giving the boy a kiss on his forehead, the bear left him rapt in his thoughts.
The realm of the sleek bear was not ordinary at all. It was floating and made out of clouds, but with different densities, from cotton wool to as hard as rock, all moulded in all sort of shapes, from reeking trees, to mushrooms and beautiful delicate flowers dissolving their petals into the air. There were also mountains and valleys, with rivers of pure water flowing through them, and animals - some winged, some not, and birds, insects, flying monkeys and a few dragons. The realm was hidden by fog, and from outside it looked like some colossal cumulus clouds, floating above a large area, pushed by the powerful West winds, bringing forth only darkness, drought and terror to the lands shadowed by it.
Before leaving the wise-bear's kingdom, the boy returned to the ice-cave forest were he said his goodbyes to every speaking tree, leaving the blood-tree last. That tree was making him feel like home, so he hung around its trunk for a long time, caressing the wrinkled bark, while the tree was gently touching his shoulders with leaves and sprigs. Finally, when he anchored his soul, the boy moulded some branches which had fallen on the ground from the blood-crystal tree. The branches became fluid, and flew towards the boy like snakes. He interlaced them into an armour, and he transformed himself into a bird, with wooden wings, with fronds covered in tiny crystal leaves as feathers. And he flew towards the sky, drifting this time in the strong winds sometimes above the clouds, sometimes just gliding through them for fun. This journey took a couple of weeks, with regular breathers. Even before seeing the Western realm, he could feel it as the air gradually changed to a dense moist taste. He landed on a plateau on the top of some rocky mountains. From there he could see a large portion of the cloudy ground. Folding his wings, the boy realised that flying to the castle was no alternative. So with the help of the crystal wood and some carefully woven cloud-leaves, he made a camouflage costume to blend into the luxuriant vegetation on the ground. With that he carefully approached the castle.
The castle was a huge and amazing building positioned in the middle of the West sky realm. It was surrounded by crystal-water lakes, and guarded by eight agaric-shaped towers, with plenty of elvish archers inside them, and also regularly patrolled by small bands of ogres and dark furies, some stationary around a few red-violet fires in certain spots, some walking in between those. Hippogriffs were floating above the castle, coming up and down in flocks like flames. At the gate of the castle, wreathed around two barbicans, there were two tamed stone wyverns, spilling dark clouds of poison out of their guts.
The boy started to spy the camps of ogres and dark furies. To his surprise, he was able to understand the language that those creatures were speaking. He could even understand the languages of all animals that were swarming around. It seemed that with its kiss, the wise bear gave him a beautiful gift of knowledge. With extreme caution he examined every road and camp and tower, trying to find a safe way in.
From the chatty young ogres he learnt about how the non-winged creatures were getting in and out of this floating land. Their first trip between the lands was on the wings of the other creatures. Afterwords, there was a flower-of-the-one-thousand-dreams that they used to instantly go in any area that they had visited before, and from there they were travelling by foot to any territory that they were attacking or where they were plunging into. One thought of a destination while touching that flower was enough to travel with the speed of mind. But the boy hadn't seen anything resembling the magic flower mentioned by the guards. â€śSo short will be my travel to the golden beachâ€ť, thought the boy, trying as hard as he could to pick up more from the sparse dialogues.
â€śBut how to reach this flower?â€ť So the boy came up with a plan, as it seemed to be impossible to pass through the gates without being caught or even killed. He went to the front gate, not even blinking when the wyverns started to roar, spraying their venom from their gullets, as the crystal armour was protecting him against any harm. Alerted by the half-dragons, two dark furies and a pack of ogres ran to the gate with their arms up. When the furies saw the kid, they started to laugh with a sinister sound, while the ogres were pointing their sharp spears towards the boy's neck. â€śWe know why you are here, young ladâ€ť, one of the furies said. â€śAnd you've done well to come forward, as we would have caught you eventually, dead or alive, as it is written in your bountyâ€ť.
â€śI would love to see your king!â€ť, asked the boy.
â€śAnd so would it.â€ť, said the dark fury, â€śIt is expecting you!â€ť
â€śNow, if you don't mind putting your arms upâ€ť, said an ogre pushing against the boy's throat with the blade. But a hippogriff stopped the nasty ogre with a thundering voice â€śLeave him alone!â€ť, and the second hippogriff added â€śWe shall take him to the emperor!â€ť. â€śBut he is mineâ€ť, squeaked the dark fury, â€śand I intend to collect my bounty in blood and gold!â€ť. â€śWhen the king finishes with him, you will receive your reward.â€ť â€śPleasure spoiler, that's what you areâ€ť, hissed the fury. â€śDon't push your luck, you beast!â€ť, said the hippogriff firmly thrusting the fury away.
And they marched with the boy between them. The boy entered the throne room, which was shinning with a fascinating dark light. In the highest part of the dark stone room there was a diamond throne.
â€śWelcome!â€ť said the sleek king in the same strange blazing language as the other creatures. The king-bear was so bright, so incandescent, as the angels are. But its heart was cold and dark as a starless night. It looked at the boy and its eyes cut a hole through the boy and passed through, farther and farther away, through the wall, through the flying realm, through every creature that was barging on the crust of the Earth. They were seeing all, possessing all, and knew it all. After a few interminable seconds, the king-bear reabsorbed its half-closed eyes into their orbits, like a snail retreating in its shelled fears, and ordered its hippogriffs â€śUntie him! I know why he is here! But I know that for a bargain you need a good lever, and if you don't have it, no trade can be done. So let's see what has he got to offer us. Or has he still got so much childishness inside, such as to believe that we are going to be good hearted and spoil our prize, and teach him how to return unnoticed to that damned pirate-ship?â€ť
â€śI do not believe that you will take pity on me. But I was hoping that you would accept my humble service. I want to learn not how to escape this kingdom any more, but how to become powerful and feared as you are.â€ť
â€śSo he wants to serve me and to learn my waysâ€ť, whispered the bear, like talking to itself. Its heart was flickering like a blaze of dark. â€śLike a son!â€ť, said the bear with a mealy smile, turning again to the boy. â€śLet me tell you a story about my father, then!â€ť And it ordered the hippogriffs and the other creatures to leave, and waited patiently until it was finally alone with the kid.
â€śMy father...â€ť. The bear was fiddling with its satin cape, stirring some imaginary dust off it, while the last words were slowly fading in the darkness of the room. It changed its position on the throne, facing the boy. â€śI think my father was a bit crazy when he drew us up in his mind. He made four moulds of mud and then he breathed into them. When we woke up â€“ he smiled, and we smiled back. He told us the greatest story of them all, with life, light, dark and nothingness unfolding. And after that he spoke with each one of us. To the good bear he said â€“ â€śGive joy to everything that you bring into this world.â€ť And it did. And it still does. The poor old bear picks up from the ground every feather that is left there behind after each flight that dashes out of its eyes through the millions and millions of skies embedded in its breathing and in its smile. And shortly after it builds another nest for another heart, unspoiled, unharmed, until it flies away. And that warms any being, from the coldest to the most adamant one. But not me. He told the playful bear â€“ â€śDo good before bad, and bring as much delight as you can without ruining it in pain.â€ť And it never dares to touch a drop of blood and to make it flesh with the dust of infinite other sorrows and memories from other lives. So it creates from nothingness a certitude of death. But like a dream, filled with delights and games and false wings. Enjoys what it creates, indeed. But inside my brother is still a kid... Thank Heavens it's not touching me. Our father also asked the wise bear of ice to hold its love so close to heart before letting it fly in thoughts, and only when they're mellow just enough to give them wings and harsh goodbyes, but not to look at them much more than a tree does to falling foils. And so it does and did. What a puny job for a bear which was enclosed by ice.
And when he finally thought of me, it was nothing else to wish for. So he simply said â€“ just be yourself. A simple wish. But not for me. Because I was more. Much more. To make him proud, seeing me good, delightful and so wise above them all, I wished. But graspingness has not just one, but double sound, like with the twist of a coin â€“ one is from victory, the other one â€“ from blood. And with the shadow of the twist I've lost control. And my first wish just faded, as my cup of sourness and nothingness grew. Crushed by my pure emptiness in this cursed, endless war between life and death, I have finally chosen my side. And it was death. I turned against my father and killed him while he was still asleep. After that I drew my sword to conquer everything, and even more.â€ť
â€śEverything but the soul!â€ť thought loudly our boy.
â€śIndeed.â€ť said with a faint smile the dark-hearted bear. â€śBut nor I need it just to live.â€ť
â€śOf that I am not sureâ€ť replied the boy. â€śYou seem to find a life just in between the plenitude of breathing and the lack of it. But while you lost your gravity of hope avoiding the reflections of the soul, my road gave me no choice, but to endure. So I choose not to lose the centre of my world. If death awaits at the end of my road, I'll give it all, except for what I lived, I felt and been as a soul.â€ť
â€śBut you are staining every second with your soul!â€ť
â€śIndeed!â€ť this time the boy replied. â€ś Because I am bleeding through them all. And inward every single drop of time I am forever free. As music I'm for thee!â€ť
â€śNot any moreâ€ť snarled the sleek. And the bear opened its claws.
â€śBut before my oblivious ruthless death, may I kindly ask you at least one thing?â€ť said the boy swiftly bowing his head and closing his eyes to hide the fear. â€śIt's something that I overheard as a legend while I was wandering bewildered in this magic world.â€ť
â€śSpill it out then!â€ť, shouted the feline-bear, slowly retracting its sharp claws back in its concealing white feathered paws.
â€śMay I find out what is the flower-of-the-one-thousand-dreams, the flower of the Ogres? Is that just a legend, or is it real? And where does one find such a thing?â€ť
The bear was stunned for a second. Then a tubby laugh burst, gradually becoming louder and louder, until the bear was laughing with all its black heart, wiping the tears from the corners of its eyes.
â€śThere isn't a flower of the Ogresâ€ť, it said. And when the bear saw the astounded face of the boy, it added â€śAt least not something that you can touch or feel. The Ogres are sons and daughters of the Earth. And when they are born, the elders touch their chest with a blow, like the wind which is blowing the leaves from the trees. They call it the kiss of life and dream. And they say that on the other side, within every newborn, there is a flower kissing back the wind. It is a legend indeed, nothing real.â€ť
The bear slowly came closer, breathing its blow of darkness near the boy's chest.
â€śAnd now prepare your flower for its death!â€ť
â€śSo the flower-of-the-one-thousand-dreams is my soulâ€ť, thought the boy. â€śAnd all I need to do is wish, and it will take me to my dream!â€ť. The claws were pushing against his neck skin, while the boy was trying hard not to think of it, but focusing on his dream. While the first drop of blood was making its way out, his thoughts were pouring with the speed of light within.
And he remembered the first sight of the beach, his heart blushing and running in his chest. â€śIt felt like being born againâ€ť, he thought. â€śAnd a little bit like this as well. What am I afraid of? Being killed? What if I am dead and everything is a dream of life and breath?â€ť. And he took a deep breath in and said â€śThis is not real! I wasn't living, but slipping still in darkness, like poisoned by fangs of sin! But now I know that when there is no hope, you should not look in the loop of life and death, but within, where, like in a mirror, an infinite is exploding every second, slowly being reabsorbed back in. The only thing that remains untouched is the flower-of-the-one-thousand-dreams.â€ť
He heard a loud snap and a wheeze. And when he opened his eyes he wasn't in the dark den of the sleek bear any more, but on his beach of gold-sand, with the toy bear floating above him.
â€śI was looking for you!â€ť, said the polar-bear. â€śWhere have you been?â€ť
The boy's face turned into a blissful sunshine, as his heart was pressing once more hard against the sternum and the rib cage, recklessly trying to leave. He threw himself with the arms wide open and hugged the bear, caressing its back with his hungry curved palms.
â€śI am so glad to see you!â€ť
â€śI think that we have stayed enough in this magic realm! You are shivering! It's time to get back to what is real.â€ť
â€śBut what is real?â€ť, asked the boy. â€śNothing as it was before. Nothing will.â€ť
â€śBut you are real.â€ť
â€śAm I indeed?â€ť
â€śAs real as a boy can get! It is getting dark and cold in hereâ€ť, said the bear, opening its chest and drawing up a golden key, which it put in the thin air of the dusk, turning it twice and opening the drawn door of light. â€śDon't look back!â€ť
â€śDon't you worry about that!â€ť, smiled the kid.
And he suddenly found himself in the bedroom, with the innocent toys spread across the room, looking at him, all smiling with their unaging kindness. It took a while to realise that this was his room. When he reached that feeling, everything else felt strange. Like awakening from a long sleep. The white polar-bear was hanging lifeless, with one paw caught in his fist. There was a plastic love in its eyes. He waited for the bear to start speaking, but the toy was lying helpless in his hands. He was just about to give in and believe it to be a dream. But a thorn-like sensation in his neck made him scratch. When the pulp of his fingers touched the skin, the boy felt his heart thrilled and thumping. On one side of his neck there was a scar like one made by a claw, covered with a crust of blood.
â€śIt can't be!â€ť, he shouted, unsettled. â€śWhat? A dream?â€ť, he heard.
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