Isa – Standstill

One casts runes in the same way one casts dice, with much the same implications. If you believe in Fate, the runes were fated to land where and how they did. Reading them is reading Fate itself, fully aware of all the pitfalls that go along with that.  However, if one does not believe in Fate, but in Luck, then the casting of the runes puts you entirely within Her domain. She may give knowledge and insight, or She may take away hope. The only way to know which is to play.

I lean to the latter view, though maybe talk of Luck takes it too far. Then again, maybe not. There is no reason to anger a divine-like being who might exist. Still, I have never seen any evidence of Fate. Or at least, I have seen no point in believing in It. If Fate exists, our beliefs do not matter. And if It does not exist, why believe at all?

In front of me was a single rune from my casting. A straight vertical line, a rune which cannot be reversed. And yet Isa was always reversed. It represents a freeze in activity, a standstill. It requires letting go of something that prevents progress. It is a lone person, in the cold, trying to drag something too heavy. In order to move forward, in order to get to safety, the burden needs to be released no matter how important it seems.

Unless one enjoys the cold. That is Fate’s problem, It cares not a whit for individuals. It assumes we all want the same things. The cold is my home, and I can move freely in it. Perhaps Luck, if She is real, intended to freeze my pursuers so that I could escape. That is how I chose to understand this casting, at least at that moment.

The Great Tree

It continued to rain all day as he walked, his cloak and hood insulating him from the majority of the downpour. Everything else in the woods had sought shelter hours ago; only he moved, and only the rain made any noise. It was still early in the season, and the chill in the air threatened to turn the rain to snow. So far, it had held off.

This journey was always arduous. It was meant to be; the Great Tree was not supposed to be consulted on a whim. The storm made it especially difficult, however. He pulled his cloak tighter with one hand while the other held his staff tightly.

The path now gave way to a clearing and the rain stopped abruptly. In the middle of the open area stood a large tree. It would take at least six men, arms stretched wide, in order to completely encircle the trunk. The branches stretched out from the trunk, starting about as high up as he was tall. They reached nearly to the edge of the clearing on all sides, and there was not enough room to see the top of the tree. It was called the Great Tree for good reason.

In spite of his usual stoicism, he asked, “Was the rain necessary?”

Though the air was still, branches rustled. They sounded like laughter.

“I see. Well, I am honored to be a source for your entertainment.”

A deep booming voice came from within the branches, “You have your sense of humor still. Things cannot be all that bad. What brings you here, child?”

He stopped himself from objecting to that. The Tree’s answer to any protestation about age was always met with the same response. He could live to see his two hundredth year, and the Tree would still find him young.

“A new sage has been born. I have come to ask you for her staff.”

“Hmm.”

“As you know, wood that is away from you…”

“Yes. Your staves do not out last you, so they must be replaced every time a new sage arrives.”

“Exactly.”

“So this means you… that your staff is near its end?”

“The staff is your wood. You already know the answer.”

“It is tiresome. I have lost track of how many have come and gone.”

“I doubt that is true. We are not intended for long lives such as yours.”

“Is this the last visit I should expect from you?”

“No. I will return once more with her, when her training is at its end. And here I will stay.”

The tree remained silent. Something fell to the ground from its canopy. He walked over and picked up a staff, taller than his own. The grain on it was distinct and ornate, swirling in many complex patterns.

“She will be tall, then?”

“Indeed,” the Tree replied. “And wise. If you must end, you will find her a worthy successor.”

“Thank you.”

“Do not hasten your return.”

“It will be a while yet from me. You will think it is a short time, however.”

“You are likely correct. Raise her well, my friend.”

That caught him off guard. The Tree never referred to him other than as ‘child.’ “I will,” he said eventually.

He turned and left. The Tree held back the rain it had been planning on sending after him.

The Statue

A breeze sent waves of ocean air up the path. The night was quiet, and the sky was clear. The further they walked from the small resort they were staying at, the more stars were visible, freed from the noise of the lights.

The path they walked was not the one to the beach usually used by guests of the resort. Indeed, the overgrowth and generally poor condition suggested no one much at all used it. But it’s out-of-the-way location made it that much more appealing. Perhaps it led to a secluded cove that had been relatively untouched.

It was the hope, and a general sense of mystery, that led them through the trees in the dark. Enough of the path remained that the light from the stars let them proceed without losing their way. It was their first night on the island and the beginning of their honeymoon. The thought of adventure was enticing.

Five years they had been married. Five years saving and planning this perfect trip. Without saying anything, they both agreed it had been worth it. They squeezed one another’s hand as they walked.

After nearly half an hour, the trees gave way to the sea, and the winding path ended. Sand stretched the entire length of the tree line, more than a hundred feet in either direction, ending at rocks that marked both ends of the beach. The ocean, itself nearly a hundred feet in front of them, gently washed the shore in the warm summer evening. No one else was present.

For a moment, both just stood there, drinking in the beauty that surrounded them. Then she let go of his hand and ran to the edge of the water. She laughed as her feet sunk a little into the wet sand. He joined her, and they dragged each other into the water, not very far, but far enough that the water was well over her knees when they tipped over. Then they sat on the shallow ocean floor, the water brushing against her chin, and enjoyed each other’s presence.

Later, as they were walking back to the path, he stopped.

“Do you hear that?” he asked.

She cocked her head slightly, but heard nothing except the ocean behind them. “No,” she said finally. “What is it?”

“Music.” The song was faint but familiar. He couldn’t name it, but he knew it from somewhere. Had always known it. It came from the trees.

Without saying another word, he charged into the forest to look for the source of the melody.

She yelped in surprise and called after him, but he had already disappeared. Following the sound of his mad dash, she entered the forest as well. No music guided her, only the fading echoes of her husband’s movements. Moving as quickly as caution allowed, she made her way to where she thought he was.

After a time, the noise disappeared completely. She continued heading toward where she had last heard it, but every time she turned to move around a tree, she became less certain of her direction. Her calls to her husband went unanswered. A sudden flash of orange light appeared and vanished in an instant. It had come from ahead of her, a little off to the left.

She began walking in that direction, even while she was apprehensive about what had caused it. Soon, a small clearing appeared. A statue stood in the middle of it, and smoke hung in the air, but nothing else was present. The smoke suggested this was where she had seen the flash, but there was no apparent source. The statue itself was made of stone. Its gender indeterminate, it had five arms that seemed to be frozen in the middle of some intricate dance. In the moonlight, it was both wonderful and terrifying.

But her husband was not here. And she had no idea where he might be. To make matters worse, she had no idea where she was, either. She wanted to go back to the resort; surely he would find his way back there. But her sense of direction had failed her walking amongst the trees. She could head back to the ocean, find the path they had taken. But the sounds of water were absent, and the salt air came from everywhere.

She decided it would be better to stay put, at least until morning, when she could use the sun to guide her way. The statue, upon further consideration, did not seem menacing. Perhaps it would even keep watch over her. She sat down on its base and leaned her head against its legs. The stone was surprisingly warm, which was welcome in the sudden chill of the night. In the warmth and safety of the statue, she drifted off.

When the sun rose, the statue faced it, soaking up the light and heat. It was alone in its little clearing; its six arms still caught up in the dance it forever performed while it hummed a song it had been taught long ago.

Friends

“You’re staring off into space again.”

“Sorry. Just thinking.”

“Never a good sign.”

“Shut up.”

“Okay. What were you thinking about?”

“It’s silly.”

“So? Tell me anyway.”

“I was just wondering if winter was the end of the year, or the beginning?”

“The end contains the beginning.”

“Is that deep?”

“I don’t know, is it? But it is true.”

“So it’s both?”

“Sure. We use lines to represent history and events, but that ignores all the circle imagery we use in keeping track of time. Sun dials. Analogue clocks. The rotation of the earth. The orbit around the sun. And the cycle of the seasons. Time flows, but not straight ahead. It always takes us back to the beginning.”

“I can’t decide if I should be impressed by that, or just irritated by your tendency to take all the fun out of idle mind wandering.”

“As you like.”

“So have we met before? Destined – or doomed, perhaps – to become friends over and over again?”

“Why not?”

“Hmm… There are worse fates.”

“Indeed.”

Resolution

Seven days in, and his resolution was already over. He sat on the couch and drank his coffee. Outside the wind howled as it picked up snow and moved it around. The sun was well on its way toward the horizon in the southwest.

All he had to do was pick up the phone and call someone. It wouldn’t be that hard. Surely someone would spend a little time with him. His therapist told him just an hour was all he needed. Just start reconnecting with people. He said he would. New year and all, what better time to make a new beginning.

But he knew no one wanted to talk to him, much less spend time with him. His voice grated on even his own ears. He had nothing interesting to say and made everyone around him uncomfortable. When he did speak, he could tell that he offended others, or sounded stupid. Whatever false confidence he had had when he made his resolution was gone, evaporated like rain on a hot summer afternoon.

The wind gusted once more, as if to remind him how far away summer really was. The voice of his therapist echoed through his mind, telling him it wasn’t too late, that he could still get back to his resolution. But he knew better; there was no one to call, no one to talk to.

Maybe he should have made an easier resolution. Perhaps to eat healthier. Or drink less caffeine. Resolutions were silly anyway. And what did it matter if he broke one? Besides, he liked staying at home. Things were comfortable here. He didn’t have to talk or worry what people thought of him. He could just do what he liked. Nothing was expected of him.

The phone rang, and, wondering what to do, he just stared at it. After a few rings, it stopped, and he began to breathe again. Probably just a telemarketer.

Looking into his empty mug, he was glad he hadn’t resolved to drink less coffee.

Annual Meeting

“It’s been a year.”

“Of course. We only meet once a year. On this day.”

“No, no. I mean, it’s been quite a year.”

“Ah. I suppose it has.”

“Do you think we overdid it?”

“Honestly, I didn’t do a thing.”

“Wait. That thing in the east?”

“Nope.”

“That wasn’t you?”

“Nope.”

“I was sure it was you.”

“Really? I thought I was always more subtle than that.”

“I guess that’s true. So you mean they did that to themselves?”

“Yep. I couldn’t come up with anything worse than they did.”

“Wow.”

“Indeed. I actually had great plans for this year. I think you would have been impressed. But before I could even get going on any of it, the first day of the year already made me redundant. Vandalizing a cultural monument to an attack on a nightclub. And it just kept going. Lies, racism, violence, shootings, upheaval. I just sat, watching, waiting for a lull in order to get something done. But it never stopped. You seemed to be having fun, though.”

“Well, I was behind a few of the storms. But after the first hurricane, the weather spiraled out of control on its own. I actually tried to stop a few of them. Even now, there’s a few things out of control. I’m almost scared to start the next round.”

“Maybe all our work over the years has finally paid off. Maybe we don’t need to do anything more. They’ll take care of themselves without any more help from us.”

“That’s going to be boring as heaven!”

“Yeah. I guess you were right. It’s been a year.”

The Christmas Heist

The tree and its lights provided the only illumination in the living room. Outside, snow was falling. It was a picture-perfect Christmas Eve. Two small figures huddled on either side of the fireplace.

The larger one whispered loudly to the smaller. “Okay, Kevin, you remember what to do?”

“Yes, Rob.”

“When the bag drops, you grab it, and I’ll close the flue.”

“I said I remember!”

“Shh! We don’t want Mom and Dad to hear.”

They fell silent, listening for any movement upstairs, but it seemed their parents had not stirred. The boys stayed quiet, just in case, and waited.

It was so quiet and dark and peaceful that it was hard for Kevin to keep his eyes open. Every so often his head would start to drop and would jerk back up. Why was this taking so long? Couldn’t they just go to bed? But he knew better than to ask his older brother, who had spent days planning for tonight. Rob would call him a baby. So he forced himself to stay awake.

A thud in the fireplace fully woke him up. He lunged and grabbed at the large red sack. “Now, Rob!”

But Rob didn’t move. The light, regular breathing indicated his older brother had fallen asleep. Kevin fumbled around for the flue mechanism, but it wasn’t easy. He hadn’t practiced this like his brother had. After what seemed like forever, he found the lever and pulled it closed.

He fell back onto the floor exhausted from the panic. After he recovered his breath a bit, he laughed. Rob had fallen asleep! This was perfect. Finally something he could hold over his brother’s head for a change.

“You know, Kevin, there are other ways into the house. The chimney is just convenient.”

Kevin’s heart stopped. He looked up at a large man, red outfit, white beard.

“And before you ask, you and your brother are not the first to try.”

“Santa…”

“Quiet now. We don’t want to wake your brother. Let’s talk over some milk and cookies. You did leave some out, didn’t you?”

Kevin nodded and followed Santa Claus over to two chairs. Between them was a table with a plate of cookies.

“So you were going to take my sack for yourselves?”

“Yes, Santa.”

“Why?”

“Well, Rob said we would get lots of presents.”

“And what about all the other boys and girls?”

Kevin shrugged. He hadn’t thought about that.

“Hmm. Do you think you deserve a present now?”

Kevin recognized that same tone from when his mother was upset with something she had done. “No.” He didn’t even look up as he answered. “I’m sorry.”

“Well, then, that’s that. I should be going.” Santa stood as he spoke and walked over to his sack. He reached in and pulled out a present, which he then placed under the tree. “Now that stays unopened until the morning, okay?”

Kevin nodded. “But why?”

“Because, Kevin. We all make mistakes. One mistake doesn’t put you on the bad list. And you’re sorry. You admitted what you did and didn’t try to blame your brother.”

“Thank you, Santa, but…”

“But?”

“What about Rob?”

“Do you think he deserves a present?”

“No less than I do. Sure, he can be a rotten big brother sometimes. But he’s my big brother. I don’t want a gift if he doesn’t get one, too.”

Santa smiled. “Very well. Here’s a gift for Rob, too. And Kevin…”

“Yes?”

“Tell him Merry Christmas for me.”

“I will, Santa. Thank you. Merry Christmas.”