SS: Palace in the Sky


Palace in the Sky

I laid in bed staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. The bright full moon shone through the narrow gap in the curtains and landed on my face. Above me hung several models of airplanes, ships and spaceships. My grandmother would always buy me one to work on over the summer holiday after thirteen years I had a decent collection. Yet as I laid awake, looking at the memories hanging above me, I cringed inside. This would be the first summer without my grandmother, and without a model to build.

It happened several weeks ago; I was still in school when my mom received the news. Since then it was a whirlwind of activity; the funeral, visitors, and the cleanup at my grandmother’s cottage. It felt odd arriving and hot having her be there waiting for me. No cookies on the table, or a new model waiting for me to create. The cottage felt quiet, cold, and dead. My mom busied herself with organizing my grandmother’s possessions. She created piles to be donated, piles to be thrown out, and piles to keep. The longer my mom spent going through the belongings, the more heartbroken she became. I found hers several times crying over a dress or photograph. It was depressing, and even I couldn’t hold back tears when my mom got so emotional. I hoped when my father arrived that weekend, he would help. You know bring my mom back down to earth and make her smile again.

Instead, they fought.

I don’t remember them fighting before – maybe when I wasn’t around they did, but never like this. They disagreed, but always seemed so reasonable in front of me. My mom wanted to keep the cottage, she grew up in there… I grew up in there – but dad said it was too much of an expense and that it would be easier to sell the place. The next argument was about moving into the cottage full-time, selling their small city loft for something with space. Again dad shot down the suggestion, claiming he couldn’t work from home and the commute was too much. That’s when the fighting began, the yelling, screaming… of how dad didn’t understand what mom was going through.

It made staying in the cottage unbearable. They ruined it for me. This place was my summer escape, where I learned to swim, climb trees, catch fireflies. It was a place full of laughter… now all I wanted to do was cry. My parent’s voices rose again from downstairs, they shouted insults back at each other. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Pushing the covers off, I ran to the closet and grabbed my red coat and threw it over my white nightdress. I moved to the bedside table and opened the lower door where an old oil lantern hid. Grandmother taught me how to use it and left it there for me to use whenever I had a nightmare. I hadn’t had one for the past two summers, but she kept it there just the same. Slipping on a pair of boots, I pulled open the curtains and lifted the window pane open to crawl out. I was on the second floor, but a lattice full of vines grew right next to my window. I reached over and grabbed the wooden lattice frame and climbed down.

The kitchen light was still on and shadows of my parents moved back and forth. I hunkered down on my hands and knees to crawl under the windowsill without them noticing me. Clear of the obstacle, I pushed myself up and ran the rest of the way across the grassy green field to the old, twisted oak tree that grew on the hill just at the corner of the property.

There, I hung the lantern on the metal hook that grandmother fixed in the trunk. I reached up on my tip toes and impressed myself by growing high enough to hook the lantern with no additional aid. I hurried to the other side of the trunk where several nailed pieces of wood created a ladder up to the branches. A few planks of wood created benches between branches the further up, but I climbed even higher, to the tallest branch where I could pop my head up above the canopy and see the entire sky full of stars.

I was away from the fighting, the yelling and crying. I was alone, and it was quiet. Grandmother brought me out here on warm summer nights like this. We would climb the tree and gaze at the stars. She’ll tell me stories about the constellations; funny stories, sad stories, lessons learned and passed down. I searched for the constellations I knew, the bear, the dragon, and finally the north star – the brightest star of them all. The moon was large and full, and it filled me with a yearning to see my grandmother again.

Before I knew it, tears streamed down my face. I brushed them away, grandmother was a happy person, crying won’t bring her back, and I knew she’d want me to keep smiling – like her. But at this moment it was so hard. I missed her so much that I couldn’t hold back any longer.

Gazing up at the stars, and the few clouds passing by, I tried to brighten myself up by telling the story of the Palace in the Sky. Grandmother told it throughout the summers. I never grew tired of it. When she took me out here to the tree, she’d tell it again, and point in the distance to a bunch of clouds and say that’s where you look if you want to see the palace.

But there was a trick. The palace didn’t just appear to anyone. One had to be worthy. The palace only appeared to those with pure hearts, of loyalty, bravery, and justice in their souls. I would hold my breath and stare in the sky, wishing I would be lucky to see it. Grandmother would laugh and say I’m too young for them to judge. Another year perhaps – or two. She always ended it off with my youth and gave me hope that next summer I’d see it.

I shifted my gaze towards the direction my grandmother pointed at all those years before. I didn’t expect to see anything; I felt too heartbroken to see such a magical display. Through tear-filled eyes I saw clouds shift and circle around each other. More clouds appeared, or the smaller clouds grew larger. I don’t know how it happened, but the clouds took shape. At first I thought it was a storm in the making. Sudden rain storms were common out in the country, but it didn’t frighten me away. Instead, I kept my eyes locked on the numerous clouds all swirling together. A spire shot forth, then another, followed by a domed roof and large arched doorway.

I blinked, whipped the tears away and looked again. The palace kept its shape – it wasn’t my imagination. It formed just under the full moon, the light of which shown over the palace as it solidified in front of me. Maybe it was my imagination… or maybe it was my grandmother’s story come to life.

I climbed to my feet, waved my hands at the palace’s doors. The Palace in the Sky showed itself. A smile crossed my face as I yelled up the greeting that would grant me entrance.

“The earth greets the sky with open arms, I greet the sky with an open heart.”


Christmas Magic


Christmas Magic
By N. J. McKay

Twas the night before Christmas and throughout Narin, people were bustling and rushing to finish their last-minute Christmas shopping. Snow fell in large, soft chunks covering the town in a new layer of fresh whiteness. Children played in the snow, building forts, snowmen and snow angles before being called back inside by their parents. Carollers dressed in Victorian garments gathered in the town square to sing “Silent Night”. A small group of shoppers stopped to listen, others hurried to their cars, eager to return home before the snow built up to a squall.

A figure in a black cloak walked through the streets. In her right hand she carried a lantern with a candle that gave off an unusual bluish hue. She passed by the carollers unnoticed, the fumes of the blue hue light lifting their spirits. They sang with new vigor, emotion and hope.

She passed by the children who cried when told to return indoors. One whiff of the sweet scent from the candle, they stopped crying and hurried to bed, full of dreams of Santa and Christmas morning dancing in their heads.

The shoppers continued to pass around the mysterious figure in black,  focused on their own needs and last-minute deals before Christmas morning arrived. One by one, the stress and frustration they felt fell away as the blue light passed them by. They smiled more and greeted each other cheerfully, finding the joy and comfort the season gave.

Snow melted off cars, sidewalks and roads, not even a piece of black ice remained. The figure smiled under her hood as she watched the elderly lady cross the once icy road safely to the other side. She continued her rounds, passing through every street in the little town, every path, side road and park until she finished her circuit and reached home.

Home was a stone cottage built back in the early 1800s. One and half stories high, a staple family inheritance for centuries. The original sign still hung above the doorway for those who can understand the rune scribbles; “The Witch’s Lair”. If not, the cast iron figure of a witch and broom above it would solve anyone’s curiosity.

Astrid Highmore pulled the hood of her dark cloak back as she approached the doorstep. Lantern in hand she opened the door and passed through the threshold and into the warm cozy house. The main floor was open, with the fireplace, the hearth of the house straight across from her. A small four foot Christmas tree to the right. Kitchen to her left with stairs to the loft. Astrid grabbed a mug from the shelf and poured herself a cup of tea as the blue flame continued to flicker in the lantern on the counter. She climbed to the loft that was her bedroom then out the window to the roof.

The roof was steep, but Astrid climbed to the top with ease, as if she’d done it a thousands times. Sitting on the peak, Astrid set her lantern down beside her and opened the glass cage. Blue lights flickered out and up into the sky. Slowly the snow heavy clouds parted and the stars could be seen. Even in a modern town of Narin with all it’s light pollution from shops, homes and street lamps, the stars could still be seen, just as bright as ever. All the villagers in Narin had to do was look up.

Sipping her tea, Astrid waited.

A wave of blue, pink and purple lights crossed the sky. Astrid’s face lite up with a bright smile. Scientists called it the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. They always like to try and take the magic away from wondrous events like this. These lights wasn’t science, but magic.

The lights above the town of Narin appeared every Christmas eve, and it was Astrid’s job to make sure they happen. The Highmores own Christmas tradition, the renewal ceremony. Every Christmas eve Astrid, her mother before her, and her grandmother before her, would pass through the town in the same circuit with the same blue candle light. Unnoticed by the public, the ceremony was more of a promise than a tradition. A promise of protection, of peace and of thankfulness.

Hundred of years ago, Narin was in the heart of the witch trials that scattered all over Europe and the New World. Except the family of witches in Narin were saved by the public from execution. They had protected the town from evil and in turn the town protected them. The renewal ceremony was first created that day when the Highmore witch was saved from death, Christmas eve. The spell was created to protect the town from suffering, pain and darkness for future generations.

Tonight was Astrid’s turn to carry the candle and continue the Highmore tradition of protecting the town with magic. She understood the spell, the meaning and importance of it even if the the citizens below forgot. The story of the Highmore witch from centuries ago is now just legend, superstition, and myth. That didn’t change things, when a witch made a promise, she kept it.

Astrid looked up into the now clear, sparkling sky and took in the beauty of the lights that spread over the town. Below in the small town a few people would look up and see the wondrous sight, feel awed and safe. Children will look out their windows and see the magic lights wide eyed delight. Santa would have no problem finding their town.

Astrid laughed into her mug at the thought. It was her favourite time of year. She loved the magic lights, and felt a wave of meaning to her life. No matter what happened during the year, here, on this night, she had a purpose, a responsibility.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.” Astrid said into the night.