This flash story is written in the first-person perspective, through the eyes of Caiaphas Dace, the Forever Stranger, recalling a moment in his very early childhood. I’ll admit that the ‘dream’ sequence and some of the family details mentioned are from my own childhood. Falling is what the shadow in Reflections In Paradise compels Caiaphas to remember.
With the duvet pulled to my nose, I lie still, silent. A ceiling of fake stars and moons illuminates a hovering metallic disc above my bed, so close I could reach out and touch it. Four plasticine figures stand upon the disc, each holding a musical instrument poised to begin playing. One has a double bass, one a trombone, another a trumpet, and the last a saxophone. The saxophone player – a lumpy thing like a vague, cartoon elephant – stands in the centre, forward from the others. It lifts its instrument to its knife-slit of a mouth and begins to play. The others join in and a discordant, hypnotic tune spills into my bedroom.
Time becomes meaningless as the music plays, and the world shrinks to just the metal disc and its occupants. At last, the music ends. With the fading of the final notes the saxophone player turns to me. Its baleful, otherworldly gaze bores into my soul. It lowers its instrument to the disc and extends a podgy, grey hand to point at me. It looms closer, its head expanding, arm elongating. A clammy digit brushes the tip of my nose and a tingling numbness spreads over my face like an ice-cold spider web.
A voice like the rustle of dried leaves whispers inside my head: “Forever…” The last syllable stretches, just like my grandfather’s dying breath.
And the beady, black orbs are no longer eyes but deep, obsidian pits…
The bedroom door swings open and light spills in. The disc and its occupants shatter into a million motes of moon dust as my grandmother shuffles into the room, breaking the encapsulating spell. All is gone but the lingering, prickling tightness across my face. My grandmother tucks the sides of my duvet tighter under the mattress, her rheumy eyes full of kindness and love. My arms and legs are straight, pinned by the bed covers, and I remember why they tuck me in so tightly: It’s to stop me floating out of bed as I sleep.
Was it my father who first suggested the idea to me?
Son, he would have said, if you don’t tuck your bedclothes in, you’ll wake up on the ceiling and fall back to Earth. And you might never stop falling.
I think it was Dad who said it, but it might have been anyone. Memories are often slippery things. I was only glad there was a ceiling above my bed – a roof over my head – otherwise I might have floated up, up through the plastic moons and stars, plummeting skywards, up through the atmosphere and on towards the Sun. And as the Sun’s fire began to consume me I would wake, and fall back down through the night, charred and blistered all the way to Earth.
My grandmother leans down and kisses me on the forehead, though I can barely feel it through the numbness of my face. My eyesight blurs and her image fades, the moons and the stars dim and go out.
“Goodnight, Caiaphas,” my grandmother says, then I hear the soft click of the door-latch as she leaves, closing me in. Alone again.
Slowly, I drift into another world.
A small world of discordant music.
Like a leaf buffeted in a gentle breeze, I float up through the glow of a night full of five-pointed stars and crescent moons towards a silver circle. Caught in its weak gravity I land lightly on the disc, and the soft impact lowers me to my hands and knees. The metal is yielding to the touch, sponge-like under my hands…
Grey. Like the cartoon elephant’s.
Between them – lying upon the disc – a saxophone.
Next instalment: Stranger And The Shadow.