Ian Stewart Black

Modern master of classical poetry

Category: Short Story

Bedtime Stories – Crimes Of Tobias Crawley

Prologue

As with any story conveyed by word of mouth and recorded only in the nightmares of those who hear it, the story of Tobias Crawley is hard to authenticate. Details have been known to vary from person to person, with the truth ultimately surrendered into legend. For instance, the name of ‘Tobias Crawley’ does not appear in every telling of these stories, and it does indeed seem difficult to verify the presence of the same individual in all three tales. Regardless of speculation and reinterpretation, I have not charged myself with creating a work of fiction, but rather with recounting the version of events most akin to truth. However much we cannot know for sure about Tobias Crawley, we can be certain of one thing: it is remarkable that he grew into adolescence before he committed his first horrific deed.

Eyes

Tobias Crawley was not to be as we are, that much was clear from an early age. Unwilling to play with the other children, he would sit on the periphery and observe, blankly stalking their every motion with his eyes. Tobias’ father, a stern and brutal man, had taken steps to correct the boy’s unsettling behaviour – administering rigorous beatings on a daily basis. Despite these efforts, the boy grew into his teenage years with barely a word spoken, and seemed to meet his father’s cruelty with indifference.

It was Tobias’ sister who drew the only kindness from their father, and became a source of fascination for the brooding young man. Unnoticed at first, Tobias’ long study of his sister began to unsettle Mr Crawley, compelling him to lock the boy in the cellar each night for fear of what he might do. From then on, they could hear a muted clawing beneath their feet as they lay down to sleep, but neither ventured into the darkness where Tobias dwelled.

Weeks went by like this, the boy surfacing each day and returning to his dingy room beneath the earth at night; his father kept a closer eye on his ghoulish child than ever, watching as Tobias put his eye to a door left ajar and stared transfixed at the other side. Mr Crawley’s footsteps resounded as he loomed over Tobias, opening the door to find his precious daughter standing naked on the other side. He erupted in such terrible fury that his knuckles were that very second streaked with blood, and his son lay perfectly still on the hard, wooden floor; taking steps to protect his daughter from the malevolent youth, Tobias was locked in the cellar – the wretched boy was to be forgotten.

That night, as the father lay sleeping in his bed, Tobias’ sister stirred from her rest. She lay awake and listened to the silence… this was the first night in some time that hadn’t been accompanied by scratching from beneath the floorboards. As the minutes wore on, she realised that the silence was more chilling to her than the eerie noises from the cellar, and her heart began to race. These thoughts would soon subside as she was overcome by another dreadful sensation – that of being watched. She opened her eyes, and a few seconds passed as she adjusted to the murky dark of her bedroom… Tobias Crawley stared blankly at his sister as he pressed his thumbs into her pupils, pushing deeper and deeper still, immersed in the comforting warmth of her skull.

Creak

Late evening, many years later, a young couple were about to settle into bed for the night when there was a knock at the door. Police were going from house to house in search of a man who had been witnessed fleeing the scene of a particularly brutal murder; the couple were informed of the killer’s description, and given the urgent instruction to lock all doors and windows as a precautionary measure. The couple proceeded to do so, securing the ground floor and, on their return to the bedroom, they found a window left ajar and a couple of stray wet leaves on the windowsill. Looking at the gale blowing outside, the pair contented themselves that there was nothing unusual in this, and locked up for the night.

Before retiring to bed, the couple checked their phones one last time, imbibing wild speculation about the grisly occurrence in the area. Among various comments was one about local legend, Tobias Crawley, whose crimes were many and great for someone who may not even exist; after the murder of his own sister, Tobias seemingly disappeared beyond the reach of justice; to this day he surfaces only to recapture the orgasmic delight of that first execution, before dissolving into shadow once more – so the story goes. The pair joked together about how some people will believe anything, before turning off the lights and going to sleep.

During the night, the woman was briefly awoken by her partner going to the bathroom, and by the same creaking door that routinely disturbed her slumber. When she awoke again, she felt her lover’s hand around her waist, and through her lethargy she heard the faint sound of the bathroom door creaking. The sound began to unsettle her, though it was easily explained away by the door being left open. Even so, the noise continued on the far side of the room, and it was only her partner’s comforting warmth on her body that quelled the tremors of fear inside of her. The hand began to caress her body amorously, and soon it was all she thought about; before long, the eerie creaking had left her mind, and fallen silent.

The next morning, she reached out for her lover, but his side of the bed was empty. Slowly opening her eyes, she noticed that the bathroom door was closed, but no noise came from within. She made her way over to the door, turned the handle, and pushed it open… there on the cold tiles lay her lover, his throat cut, damp leaves strewn around him. She saw that her own body had been smeared with his blood, and it was then that she realised: the creaking sound she had heard was a desperate warning, the final tortured cries of the man she loved, as his killer lay in bed beside her.

Home

The witness reports would tell of a haunting presence outside her house, a man who some tried to describe in common terms, but most simply called “brutish”, “fierce”, and “demented”. His dead-eyed stare was mistaken for absent-mindedness at first, but any who saw him came to know his gaze as that of a hunter with his prey in sight. No official documentation links these events with Tobias Crawley, but those familiar with his name and deeds are left in little doubt.

The house was fairly unremarkable, tucked away in some anonymous suburb where nothing of note is likely to occur. The occupant lived a similarly ordinary life, dividing her time between an office job and home, where her cat had been a constant companion until a recent tragedy had claimed him; only mangled pieces of the animal were ever found, and his death had been attributed to a larger predator – in a way, that was true. At any rate, the woman now lived alone and felt a certain trepidation which only worsened after dark.

That particular night, she had chosen to entertain herself by reading some gruesome literary work which preyed upon her fears; the night, the dark, the loneliness, the words on the page: she was scared. Even so, she told herself that this is the real world and there was nothing to fear, and so she began the long walk to her bedroom, the long walk through the dark. Her imagination conjured villains from the shadows, and yet she carried on as adults are expected to. Once inside her bedroom, she glanced around and turned off the light, climbing into bed and burying herself beneath the covers a little more quickly than usual.

As fearless as she told herself she was, a doubt lingered at the back of her mind; a doubt lingered there and grew until she had no choice but to brave the dark once more. She tentatively lowered one foot to the ground and then tread as carefully and quietly as she could downstairs. She pressed down on the handle of the front door and… locked. Satisfied that her mind was playing tricks on her, she turned around and proceeded toward the stairs until a clattering sound from the street startled her; her heart racing, she peered through the living room window to see a few drunken men staggering home, a bottle freshly broken on the street.

Allowing her heart a moment to settle, she made her way up the stairs once more, the darkened corridor no longer a source of anxiety. She returned to her room, immersing herself in the comforting warmth of her bed, the night’s apprehension so far from her mind; as the minutes passed, she soon found herself drifting off to sleep… It was only then that she began to feel the warm breath of Tobias Crawley on the back of her neck.

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Another Dream

The air swirled warm and thick with dust as Adrian’s slumber waned. His eyes would be greeted by a melancholy blizzard of grey, drifting through the room like ashen snow. The light decanting from the windows barely filtered through the infested air and could scarcely scorch his flickering gaze. No sooner had his wearied body begun to move than his hand made its way to the bedside drawer, whence he retrieved a familiar tome: worn, and free from the smothering granular fog that filled the air. With almost feral urgency, he foraged through countless hastily scrawled pages before alighting on immaculate parchment. He traced his finger down the centre of the book and breathed deeply of the viscous air. Before the memory could leave him, he would once more make account of his mind’s delusions.

November the fourth
Yet another night for which I may claim no easy rest.
My dreams are those of a man possessed. The dreams of one without the means to live and so confined to a life of dreaming. My own mind is a realm in which I am powerless, it seems. Upon waking beyond its shores I am subject to screams that echo from nowhere. My hands, cold and bloodied as they are, reach into the darkness. There is a door that glistens in a sinful crimson light and then… blackness. As if my own thoughts conspire to asphyxiate me in my sleep. And as I break free, always the same, as I break free from that torment: The sands. Outstretched before me, as far as my mind’s eye can see and further still, the dunes of arid sand are eroded.

Adrian shut the book and sealed it back in the drawer. Once on his feet, he paced from wall to wall, from room to room, but never lifting his gaze from the floor. Even as he rested his head on a pane of glass through which daylight streamed like water, his eyes were fixed ever downward. He made his way downstairs, never looking up, never meeting the eyes of his forebears, staring at him from the walls. The portraits hung like dead men, stiff and still, with lifeless eyes that wound the living in their jealousy. Their eyes watched him from the shadows, from the corners, from the walls. Adrian sat by the fire, on a dusty armchair that groaned, even beneath his meagre weight. His head would fall limp and his sleep-enraptured stare would be drawn to a scurrying from the corner. Amplified amid the moans of the old manor and the crackling of the fire, a mouse gnawed at a hole in the skirting board. Adrian’s gaze flickered slowly, like a light. Off, on. Off, on. Off.

His eyelids weighed impossibly heavy on his damp and manic eyes. He tried, for what seemed so long, to open them again, and yet the darkness would appear blacker and blacker. No sooner had he relinquished his resistance than his eyes had opened of their own accord. The gnawing and scurrying that had echoed so loudly had abated. In the corner of the room, there now resided a crimson puddle. Adrian’s weary eyes traced the path of footsteps in the blood. The impression made by each was smudged, like some haggard zombie shuffle, dragging its feet across the floor. Wearily, he smirked as his feet began to tingle with the cold, dripping blood. The fire crackled louder than before, almost spitting out its fuel. The portraits on the wall secured their gaze upon Adrian, now laughing, as the burning rodent’s stench suffused his lungs.

Adrian awoke to the sound of the mouse in the corner, still carving out its home, unhindered. He frantically swiped his arm to the side, to reach for his journal, meeting only dust-infested air for his endeavour. He looked to his bedroom, past the staircase and the sentinels that awaited him there. The frenzied flame within his eyes burned to a final ember, and then nothing. He had no memory of his dream. The mouse had always been alive, had always been in the corner, his gaze had never lifted from its struggle. He sank further into his chair, and watched without expression.

Some hours passed without remark. The mouse had carved its home and Adrian had been fixed in a stupor, unmoved and silent. He was somewhere along the path to waking up, or to falling asleep, when a knocking at the door jolted him back into reality. He dragged himself out of his chair to answer the call and was met by a young man, unfamiliar and dismayed. Adrian looked into the man’s eyes without care or courtesy and stood in silence.

“My name is Charles. I’m sorry to trouble you, but I’m looking for my sister, Rachel. Some months ago, she set off to look for work around here, as a maid, and we’ve heard nothing from her since. At first, I had assumed that she was too engrossed in work, but her silence has begun to trouble me. I don’t suppose you would have seen her?”

Adrian continued to look at Charles and, by now, was genuinely searching his mind. He even adopted an air of concern and appeared, to anyone who saw him, to be a man consumed by sympathy. “Rachel, you say? I’m sorry, I don’t know anyone by that name. Besides, I have been alone here since…” Adrian paused long enough to forget whatever he had intended to say. If, indeed, he had ever known at all. Before long, Charles was on his way again and Adrian’s gentle façade once more fell prey to that vacant, lethargic trance.

November the fifth
More disturbing visions. Omens?
Last night, a man appeared at my door, asking questions. Something about a girl. A wife or a sister, I can’t remember. That same man appeared to me in a nightmare. Swathed in shadows, he made his way through the manor and to the crimson door that haunts my slumber. I saw his silhouette against that sinful light. Without pause, I found myself upon the ground, covered in blood. He was gone and in his place sat a knife, dripping. Dripping with my blood? As I fell pray to the wounds HE inflicted on me, all was darkness. And then, as ever, the rolling sands. The dunes, eroding in front of me. What does any of it mean? What could it mean… He said her name was Rachel.

Thunder resounded with such might above the manor that the sky was cracked by a bolt of lightning clawing at the land. The fading evening was shattered over and over as the sky roared and flashed like bombs, like gunshots. It carried with it a vicious rain that beat hard upon the ground, and a malevolent wind that shook the windows of the forsaken manor. On the other side, Adrian’s head rested on the pane of glass, his gaze towards the ground. A figure in the distance drew nearer and nearer, a black speck among the eternity of grey. Eventually, Adrian’s shadowed eyes were drawn upwards to meet the gaze of this traveller. Once at the door, Charles seemed more purposeful, more certain. “I was wondering if, perhaps, you’d remembered anything?” he said, as Adrian stared blankly into his eyes. “About Rachel?… About my sister? I came by here yesterday and I…” Adrian instinctually interjected: “I don’t know anything”. Charles stared back, on the brink of anger, and said “I asked around, you know. The innkeeper says that she sent Rachel to see you. Said that you might have work for her”. Adrian’s eyes flickered a little, awake with fear or anger, he couldn’t tell. He had remembered his dream, if only for a second. “Do you intend to trouble me every day? I know nothing of this girl and I don’t care what’s become of her”.

November the Seventh
I have been left to my solitude. The boy has not troubled me in two days. Perhaps he has found whatever he was looking for. The manor creaks and groans in the harshness of this perpetual storm. This November is the most ferocious I have ever seen… At least, for all that I can remember. There are times when I could swear that I hear footsteps leading away, a door creaking, a woman screaming. But when I open my eyes, nothing remains but the harshest Winter I have seen. The walk from my chamber to the fire has seemed longer each day and now I have taken up residence upon this armchair. I can never face the portraits on the stairs. The faces of my kin, their eyes reminding me, judging me. They all know what I have done and they condemn me for it.

Adrian turned to put his journal on the table by the chair, and then withdrew his arms. In his hands, he held everything he was and everything he used to be. And he no longer knew what that meant. He felt compelled to peer into the tome, into its long forgotten pages, and to read of what he used to know.

April the seventeenth
She is bewitching. She is captivating, enthralling and rapturous in her beauty. In all my years, I have loved and I have loved well, but never have I loved so deeply. To think, such a woman could just arrive upon my doorstep, carrying with her the grace of god, such elegance that I had thought illusory… She is light and truth, she is everything that is good. My life, my heart, my eyes and spirit were conjured from the void of nothingness merely to look upon her.

April the twentieth
Oh, what fortune have I enlisted? What heavenly guardian have I found to bestow upon me such wondrous joy? It has been six days now, since she first arrived. And in that time, my heart has never settled. Every moment of my waking life is spent in some delirious bliss. The warmth of her hand against mine, the spirited glee in her eyes, the spell within her very presence! She is magnificent.

May the fifth
Excuse my negligence of this journal, but I have no need of it. For why would I wish to spend even a second making note of my joy when every waking moment serves to bring me yet more?… This is love, true love. I have not known her long, but I intend to ask for her hand in marriage. Perhaps one happy day, I shall look back at this journal with her by my side. The woman I truly love, beyond all hope and sanity.
Rachel.

Adrian coldly placed the journal to one side as if reading the memoirs of someone long deceased. He settled into his armchair by the fire and descended into a tormented slumber. His dreams would be blinding, disorienting and disjointed. Dunes of sand flashed through his mind, a woman’s face, laughter, tears, the crimson door, the young man, the bloodied knife. All of it came at once, all of it came to haunt and torture Adrian and quicken his bedraggled mind. As the dunes eroded in the darkness, he was awoken by a crashing sound upstairs. Half asleep, he stumbled into the kitchen and found a knife, glinting in the moonlight, and carried it past the portraits and to his abandoned chamber.

There was nothing there. There was no sound to speak of, but the winds whipping through the trees outside. As Adrian turned to leave the room, the distance to the door grew and grew. Every step he took, the room took with him. He turned towards the drawer, now empty, as his journal lay downstairs. And still, he stared into its depths. He reached into the back, behind the journal’s resting place, where he would never need to reach. It was there that he found the missing pages, torn and yet pristine. He began to read, and as he did, every muscle in his body began to seize up. He couldn’t stand to see what he did, and if he could forget, he would. He had. And yet he kept reading.

May the sixth
What cruel twist of fate is this?… What demonic ‘god’ can lay claim to the torture that has fallen at my feet? Do I deserve this? What have I done to earn such a mockery. Such humiliation. No… such pain. Pain that burns and tears, pain that rends the flesh from my bones and scorches the soul from me. What heart? What eyes? What life and what spirit? Truly, I have wept them all away for her.

May the seventh
She remains in my manor. If I were to listen so intently, I could hear her breathing. I could hear her heart beating… for she still has a heart, and what am I left with? Misery. All my sanity for her, and what am I left with?

May the eighth
She sleeps, now. She sleeps, even as I howl at the moon to comfort me, and still I find no answer. She sleeps, now. As she shall sleep forever, and yet sleep no longer. I will go, now, into the dark. Whether I shall find a light beyond this abyss, I care not. I only wish to be rid of her. She shall sleep no longer.

May the twentieth
It seems that I shall remain haunted by these dreams. Over and over, I see the same images, the same ominous depictions and yet I don’t understand… Perhaps seclusion has not done me good. This manor has become a prison for me. As it had for all before… The portraits on the wall do not depict a happy lineage, for I see the madness in their eyes. I have not known the company of another soul for some time, now. I cannot remember the last time I spoke with anyone. It seems that I have been alone with this journal for time immemorial.

As Adrian devoured the forbidden pages, he could see his own sanity eroding before his eyes, like the sand dunes of his dreams, and he writhed in agony. As he stared blankly into the parchment, his eyes burned with the memories, he heard footsteps downstairs. Ever so slowly, they crept along and then a door began to creak. Adrian breathed deeply, gathered his senses and his blade, before chasing after the echoes. As Adrian crept downstairs, the noises continued. More footsteps… a match being struck and burning. And, as Adrian turned to face the intruder, a bloodcurdling scream the likes of which he had never heard. Stumbling backward through the darkness was a lone silhouette. Charles ran for door and fled the manor, whimpering, with tears streaming down his face. At last, Adrian turned toward the door beneath the staircase. He slowly made his way into the room, lit by a lone candle. And as he stood at its centre, he lifted his gaze to see the full horror of what he had done.

At his feet were long-dried pools of blood, that was specked across the ceiling and printed on the walls by his fingers and palms. And at the centre of the room, hanging inches from the ground, was Rachel’s rotten corpse. Adrian fell to the floor and crawled toward the exit, every second being haunted by the sight of her body, mutilated with countless incisions, countless stab wounds long left to fester. Adrian grabbed the candle and threw it to the floor, now staring at his sin, weeping beyond control in the face of his unspeakable evil. As the flames began to rise around him, he once more picked up the glinting blade. This time, he took it to himself, dragging it across his wrists until he could no longer move. As he collapsed to the floor, in the moment before everything faded to black, he saw the quiet mouse in the corner. Placidly staring up at the armchair upon which he had seen this night so many times before.

Synthetic

In the half-light, as the sun descended behind the still trees, the gentle sound of the waves washing up on the shore was matched only by a delicate sobbing from the beach. Here sat a girl who seemed to personify all elegance and grace, and yet in the most modest manner possible, she wept; ‘I’m not even real…’ said the angelic beauty to her young love. The boy sat in front of her, holding her hands softly. He reached out and swept aside a portion of her long, midnight black hair, revealing two of the brightest and most majestic blue eyes that nature has ever seen. His eyes remained fixed on hers, as if searching for some truth inside of her. ‘There is no ‘girl you love’; there is only an object, a thing, not a person. You can’t love someone who doesn’t exist.’ The boy’s expression revealed the pain inside of him, the pain of feeling someone who you love so dearly slip away from you. ‘But you do exist, Natsumi. Can’t you see that you are so much more than all of those things, that you are real, you live and you breathe?’ The girl flicked her gaze up for a moment, as if reacting to some lifeline that had been thrown to her, only for it to be lost among the waves. ‘Only because I was made to live and breathe… Only because someone decided that I should act like a living thing. I am nothing, I can never be more than… nothing’.

The boy’s hands clasped hers tightly, ‘Natsumi, I swear to you, you are every bit as alive as I am. I just have to feel the warmth of your skin, I just have to know the caress of your sweet breath against me and I know that you live. You think, you taste, you feel…’ The girl gazed into his eyes and, for the moment, fought back her tears; ‘I feel what I was made to feel. I am not human, and you cannot love me. You cannot love someone without a heart to love you back’. The boy continued to look into her eyes, bestowing on her all the love that he had ever known, ‘But you do have a heart. If you didn’t have a heart, you couldn’t shed the tears that are rolling down your cheek right now’. The girl looked towards the sand, ‘My heart is synthetic, can’t you tell the difference? I am synthetic. I’m not real!’ The girl’s voice now contained a frustration, telling of the sorrow inside of her. ‘Yes, the heart in your chest is merely physical, but so is mine. It’s not the substances from which you are made that define you. It’s what you feel in your heart, in your celestial heart, which makes you who you are’. The girl looked up, intrigued, and sought answers behind the boy’s loving eyes. ‘I don’t understand. I wasn’t born like you, I have no soul. I’m just a machine. You can’t love some… thing, like me.’

The boy gently smiled towards her, ‘Natsumi… look into my eyes. Can you sense that I am a real, living being, with thoughts, with feelings? Can you feel the warmth of my heart emanating from inside of me? Can you see how much I love you when you look into my eyes?’ The girl looked down once more, into the warm sand, and as a last tear fell from her chin, she gave a careful nod as the urge to cry subsided. The boy reached out his hand once more and placed it gently on the girl’s chin. He softly lifted her head and their eyes met once again, ‘And when I look into your eyes, I feel a heart warmer than any I have ever known. When I look into your eyes, I feel a love flourishing deep inside of you that can put any woman to shame. Natsumi, I just have to look into your eyes, and I know that you are as real as I am’. The girl dove deeper into her lover’s eyes, ‘And you would spend all your days beside me… knowing what I am?’ The boy smiled again, and this time gently laid his hand on her cheek, ‘I will spend the rest of my life, holding you close, knowing that I love you more than I could love any other’. The corners of the girl’s mouth rose ever so tentatively, and a sublime smile rose from between the glistening trails of forgotten tears, ‘And all it takes to be alive is to know the sensation of love burning deep inside of my heart?’ Gazing ever deeper into her eyes, peering beyond her earthly being, the boy ventured one last declaration, and gave peace to her restless heart, ‘I swear, Natsumi, your love is what keeps you alive. If ever I stop loving you, then you will know my spirit has left this world’.

Natsumi wrapped her arms around him and held him close forevermore. She knew what she was, she knew what made her human. It was the roaring fire of love inside of her, the love that would burn inside of her soul for eternity.

The Living Flowers

The gentle evening sun, descending softly behind the oak and sycamore trees, leant an odd and entrancing glow to the emerald meadow now coming in to season. The sky and surrounding land found itself painted in the most beautiful blushing amber hue, and as the architect of light itself stole away to some unknown land, a new life was delivered to the meadow. This life was of a most mysterious and rare kind, having flown on some obscure wind and, perhaps by chance, found its home beneath the lone sakura tree; the jewel of the meadow. This rare and precious life was little but a seed, and yet it quickly thrived and, before long, became a flower, both timid and fair.

As spring began to find its feet and the meadow, too, came into its beauty, a strange and wonderful visitor appeared in the distance. Merrily making her way towards the cherry tree, this outsider found herself at home amongst the beauty of the flowers in bloom more swiftly than any other. In fact, her very gaze seemed to lift the spirits of every living thing around. She moved like none before, with steps more akin to a graceful skip than a walk of purpose or solemnity. Her arms, too, moved with an individual elegance, slowly stretching out as if to greet the new, verdant world in which she, alone, seemed to belong. Beneath the tree, now in all its glory, blossoming for all to see with tender, silken bloom, the young woman found something to be out of place. Proud and alluring beneath the mighty sakura, a lone flower refused to blossom. Refused to show the world how beautiful it was made to be or, perhaps, knew not how.

The girl sat beside the naïve flower and watched it remain still. In truth, it was her desire to entice life from its dormant state and, yet, nothing happened. She lay in the sunny, spring grass for hours on end, closing her eyes and resting in the shade; looking up from time to time to see the white, secluded flower, remaining still and infantile. With the night approaching, the girl gazed at her floral companion and wished silently for it to bloom, yet it remained as still as ever. The girl traced her finger across the bud and smiled, before softly sighing and ascending to her feet. Before she departed, the maiden of the flowers turned towards her new companion and made her vow. ‘Don’t worry. I’m like you, you see? And you don’t have to be alone’. As the same strange and wonderful visitor made her way back into the distance, fading, like the land itself, to the horizon, the pseudo-night of spring descended on the meadow. When the sun’s gaze turned away from that place, only one exotic flower stood, shaded and forlorn beneath the delicate cherry blossom.

The following afternoon, as the sun had once again begun its slow and gradual descent, a newly familiar figure appeared in the distance. Beneath the cherry tree, however, was not the lone flower as expected, but a new companion. A young man who was to find unparalleled grace in the flower of flowers. Turning towards the midday sun, this new companion caught a glimpse of white and tender life, blossoming before his eyes. The figure approached and feature by feature, the gravity of her beauty was revealed. Beneath the old sakura the boy sat, transfixed, in awe of this maiden. Without comprehension of how such a tender, pure bloom could be without ties to the earth, to walk and breathe and love. Her skin, like the whitest rose of eden, was enough to steal his heart and instil in him a yearning like no other. Her hair, the deepest and most pure ebony, held in place with a simple sapphire ribbon. Her lips themselves were a mirror to the process of his heart, the most profound and charming scarlet ever to honour the eyes of man, or so it seemed to him. Above all else, her beauty, her grace, her virtuous, loving nature was to be witnessed in her eyes. To say that no sea, nor sky had ever been more blue; to say that the sight of any mortal or god had never been set upon a tone more rich or deep; to say that grace had never before been carried as it was by those two angelic eyes would be to render all the beauty of heaven itself as little more than fleeting.

Once again, the figure approached the tree, gracing every plant with her gaze as she passed, before that same gaze settled on a half empty bench beneath a cloud of blushing blossoms. Looking up, the boy questioned himself, trying to disguise his wonderment and confusion, trying to prove this beautiful dream as something more. The sun above lit her completely and yet in the softest, most intricate manner possible, as if the aura of amber-rose was a gift to her alone. Around her, the smallest of flowers and the grandest of trees united in their display; to him, now so much more alive than they had been just moments ago. He recognised those same angelic eyes, now honouring his own with their joyous gaze. Those small, yet striking lips widened into a delicate smile, before carefully issuing the words ‘do you mind if I sit here?’ The boy had no breath left with which to reply and so simply smiled and nodded sincerely.

The pair remained silent for some time, cautiously looking around for fear of catching the other’s eye. In truth, the young lady used this time to gain some insight into the welcome stranger sitting next to her. In her mind, there was no accounting for the way he had watched her, the way he had taken to reverence as she approached. The sweet young maiden turned to her companion, with an inquisitive smile, eager to understand his wonderment. ‘My name is Aimi’ she said, attempting to look into his bewildered eyes. The boy blushed slightly and smiled back with his reply; ‘Nice to meet you’. Aimi looked patiently back at him, before requesting his name. The enamoured young man had been too overwhelmed to reply in kind and now seemed to blush even more. ‘My name is Haru’ he said, commanding himself to look away, and towards the single white flower in front of him.

‘It’s a strange flower, isn’t it?’ Aimi said, trying to distract him from his clear discomfort. Haru smiled again, thankful for this diversion and, with gaze firmly fixed on the closed flower, sighed ‘both strange and beautiful.’ The maiden applied herself to the task of drawing him from his shell, speaking in a language that neither could, yet, understand. ‘I dare say that, when it blooms, it shall be the most grand in all the meadow, don’t you think?’ Haru, determined to affirm himself, turned his body towards Aimi in such a way as to make the meeting of their gaze inevitable. With an honest smile and attentive eyes, he declared proudly, ‘Certainly. When this flower blooms, it shall outshine all others in its brilliance’. Aimi found herself more puzzled than ever. Haru’s sudden alteration had served to both surprise and please her. With a warm smile, she looked into his eyes and seemed to find the answer she desired. Looking back at her was a young man, tender and coy, startled by the impulse of his own heart.

For only a moment, their eyes were together, but that moment was enough to seal their kindred bond. In that single pulse in which their gaze had met, Haru saw new life awaken in those angelic eyes. Staggered and afflicted beyond all help by her glory, Haru weakened once more, diverting his attention. ‘I must go now’ said the newly awoken man, rising to his feet. ‘Will you come back?’ said Aimi in distress. Haru looked at her once more, her eyes now fearful and transfixed. Haru smiled gently, slowly turning to walk away and blissfully answered ‘I’ll be here tomorrow’. Before Haru could even complete this sentence, he found himself in Aimi’s embrace. Clasping tightly at first and then withdrawing. Aimi’s rose white skin blushed for the first time, gently, and with elegance that Haru could attribute to her, alone.

What was to ensue was a night of metamorphosis. Unseen by any and yet majestic as the rising sun, the new and fragile flower became something greater. Its roots, deepening, spreading through the soil as if some wintry light, dispersing the frost of infertility. The once fragile stem had now swollen with life, conducting precious water as if vital blood to the heart. If any single flower had, in all time, been destined for beauty, it was this one pure and reluctant blossom.

As the morning light ascended to the pinnacle of noon, Haru found himself truly able to comprehend the beauty of the meadow. Around him, he found the most resplendent and manifold vision of eden; every form of life at its peak; every winged creature, rapturous, revelling in the enchantment of spring. Never before had his eyes been opened to the beauty of the world; to the organic artistry of nature; to the overwhelming elation of life in the season of rebirth. Every tone and cast of vibrant iridescence had been awakened and, for the first time, Haru could view the full spectrum of chromatic elegance. As he approached the vivid and sublime sakura, the most captivating semblance of all secured his gaze. Around him, the immense and incomparable beauty he had previously savoured now seemed, although as majestic as ever, somehow diminished. All the blooming violets, pristine lilies and passionate, sanguine roses that had called to his heart were now in silence. To Haru, the only colour left in the world was that same exceptional sapphire.

Beneath the weightless, rosy bloom of beauty, Aimi stood, her eyes sparkling, exultant in the midday sun. Without a word, they both knew that some certain and glorious awakening had befallen the other. ‘Haru’ exclaimed Aimi, without the slightest impulse to restrain the joy abundant in her voice. ‘Look at what our flower has become’. Haru looked towards the latent bud and, in its place, saw the beauty of a lifetime contained in one single blossom. Never before had simple petals seemed so intricate or grand. The swirling floral rings of immaculate white, bound tightly to one another, seemed to emulate the banded chronicle found at the core of an aged tree. Every petal in this elaborate formation seemed to take on a life of its own, each equated to every other by an invariable inclination toward bliss. At the heart of it all lay a deep and impassioned scarlet tide, permeating each petal as surely as the first.

Haru smiled profoundly and Aimi clasped his hand. As Haru felt the warmth of her soft and pure skin against his own, he turned toward his angelic love. Gazing into her blissful and adoring eyes, he said ‘There are so many petals’. Aimi stood close, against Haru, and lay her head on his shoulder. Closing her eyes, she whispered; ‘Every one as beautiful as the first’.

For Honour

Feudal Japan
Ashikaga shogunate-1562

The old and majestic sakura stood firm, though a gentle breeze flowed across the cherry blossom. It was shortly after noon and the land and sky were bathed in a glorious and divine amber bloom. Beneath the tree sat a man of noble calling. He sat very still, distant from the little village only a few dozen metres behind him, and somehow entwined with the steady branches and the blossom that shivered in the wind. His breath was rhythmic, never breaking pattern, never beyond control. His hair was tied neatly in a topknot, revealing the face of a man somewhere in his early thirties. His eyes were closed and his mouth parted slightly to ease the drawing of his breath.

The sound of considered footsteps grew, the warm grass disguising their origin. The man’s eyes opened, his senses heightened, he remained completely still. The footsteps subsided but the man showed no signs of diminished awareness. With a still mind and agile senses, he listened intently. Suddenly, the footsteps grew to an immediate climax, followed by an excited yell. The man moved with utmost grace and with the lightning reflex he had trained all his life to achieve. In a single sweeping motion, he had his attacker on the ground. A brief silence. The assailant giggled and announced ‘mother sent me to get you’. The man smiled and patted the young boy’s head; ‘getting better’ he said, ‘soon you’ll catch me off guard’. The boy picked up his little wooden katana and clambered onto his father’s shoulders.

Father and son walked contentedly through the beautiful fields around the village. The long grass had a way of radiating from their presence, as if there was some mystic aura that forever bound the man, the boy, and the world together. In a short while, they reached the tranquil lake that provided fertility, serenity, and even life itself to the area. ‘Mother will worry’ said the boy, looking at his father with a gentle affection, telling of the previous decade spent in complete reliance of the one ever-present comrade whom he held as his mentor and closest friend. ‘We won’t be long’, the man uttered with a thoughtful smile. The pair rested quietly by the sparkling lake, embodying the soft and all pervasive resonance of vitality that flowed around them, like the gently rippling water. The man ran his fingers through the grass and felt the familiar, gentle texture. He lay back and cast his gaze across the pool of timeless, healing elixir. The water shimmered so gently and trickled with such peace. The man seemed to bask in the glorious sunlight and needed only to close his eyes to become inseparable from the gentle lake that barely stirred under such celestial splendour, gleaming from the vivid golden orb above.

Beyond the thin forest that lay in the distance, flashes of colour danced to and fro, and dust gathered between the trees in such a way as to obscure the source to the observer. Ripples tore through the lake and the adjacent figure of serenity opened his eyes to the travellers. In these same eyes, there was now a restless quality. The man watched as the travellers rode out of view, and the dust settled behind them, returning harmony as if these war-makers had never passed through. The boy looked up at his dad and smiled sweetly. Only a child could beam with such happiness, as if there was no world and no past or present, only that one moment of tranquillity. ‘We could come back here one day. Maybe we could go fishing’ said the child, grinning in reverie. Meiyo looked at his son and smiled widely. Giving a slow nod and sincere laugh, he stood and turned toward the village.

Now at home, the boy rushed to his mother and tugged on her kimono, greeting her with a telling grin. She smiled back and looked up at the man: ‘You’re just in time, Meiyo, I was about to serve dinner’. The man, Meiyo, took his son by the hand and sat down to eat. The next few hours were spent with much laughter and joy, the small family enjoying their simple country life. When the amber bloom had gone, and the bloodless moon was nestled peacefully in the crepuscular clouds, Meiyo’s son was fast asleep. Meiyo, too, was retiring to bed when his wife turned to him, with newly misted eyes and asked; ‘What if we never see you again?’ Meiyo had no answer and simply held her until she regained her composure. ‘You will see me again. I will fight for the glory of our clan and for our honour’. Finding no comfort in these words and through devotion alone, she quietly said ‘I understand, Meiyo’. In truth, she didn’t understand. Meiyo, however, had no doubt in the honour of fighting for this cause. No doubt in his duty to defend his family’s home.

The boy lay resting peacefully. His eyes were closed to the world and yet behind them lay a brighter sphere where life never gave way to change. The boy dreamt of whole days and nights spent by the lake, with his beloved father. In his thoughts, the amber bloom of his days remained without impurity until the heavens themselves shone down on him with a million stars, rendering any blackness beyond possibility. Meiyo and his dear son lay by the lake, without a single vital thought, with all utterances that of faith or love, but never duty. The boy surveyed his own dream landscape and marvelled at the happiness in which he found himself. His father sighed and laughed with deep fulfilment, and the boy joined him. Only in this child’s vision could such simplicity be attained.

The sun shone brightly through the swaying trees, projecting little clusters of hindered light on the small village Meiyo called home. Meiyo woke and opened his eyes to find his wife lying awake. Less than a week had passed since she had been misty eyed and had questioned his calling. After breakfast, Meiyo sat with his wife and child for a while. He kissed them both and, with a tenderness almost foreign to a warrior such as he, held them with tears in his eyes. As if for the last time. Meiyo’s wife shared in his expression and, with strong and quiet dignity, bid a warm farewell to her husband.

Meiyo’s family went out to the fields and he was left in peace to prepare, both mentally and physically, for what was to come. He sat down in his family home and cleared his mind of all things. Soon he recited learned and self-taught philosophy on the nature of life and the transience of all things. He thought once more about the place of honour and his role as defender of his clan. In a near-forgotten room, Meiyo stood in awe, gazing at his beautiful red armour. This set had served him well and seen many a tough battle ‘til the end. He fetched his long-serving katana, patiently waiting in the saya from its last opportunity to taste war, many years ago. He now had all that was necessary. It was time to go to war.

* * *

Far to the east of the peaceful little village, swords clashed and men roared in anger or writhed in agony. The battle had begun. Meiyo fought well amongst his fellow clansmen. Like a graceful ballet of finality, he swooped this way and that, rising and falling, cutting through hordes of his enemy. Alas, his efforts were in vain. Some time in to the battle, an arrow struck Meiyo and penetrated the small gap in the armour covering his thigh. Meiyo fell and, although he tried to fight on from the ground, there was nothing he could do. The war was over for him. He had fought valiantly but his skill had failed him and his freedom was lost.

When he came to, some time later, Meiyo found himself in good hands. His wounds were being seen to, he had food and water. He was allowed to walk freely, though he could not, and he was given a roof over his head. He was even allowed to carry his katana with him, and he often looked at the blade with reverence as if it were some divine being and he were on his death bed. He had found himself behind enemy lines. He was a prisoner of war. A samurai, defeated and held captive. He had been disgraced and his honour was forfeit. Meiyo developed a routine to get through the day. Key to this was meditation and reflection on this world, which he should no longer be a part of. When he was well enough, he took to walking through the streets, being watched by his enemy with a strange compassion and a sense of pity. This pity was understandable, he was a disgraced samurai and there was only one way to put that disgrace behind him. For himself and his family.

One morning, Meiyo was meditating beneath a flowering cherry tree. His spirit had become pure and cleansed of all earthly stain. His mind was at peace more than any other time. All war was behind him. He was a man without enemies. He could look upon the people here and appreciate them, for they were just like his own clan. Just like his own family. All this killing he had done, all the killing that was still going on somewhere out there. His own clansmen and the people who had taken care of him and nursed him so gently, tearing each other apart until their blood ran thick through the soil of the country that had belonged to all of them. Meiyo had seen enough.

The samurai removed his katana from its saya and stared deep into its shimmering, resplendent surface as if he were staring into the void itself. Meiyo uttered one final thing unto himself.

Neath these dancing blooms
I restore my tarnished name-
I find my honour.

And with that, the dancing blade found itself within his core. Meiyo did not cry out, he remained still and peaceful. The sun shone so beautifully that day, over the far hills. The cherry blossom did not even shake, the air was tranquil. All was well. All was serene.

Meiyo closed his eyes and bathed in the warm sunlight.