The Song of Skybrooks
by Matt Spencer
were no real surprises when they showed up at the old place, at least
it came to the three young folks doing the showing up. Randall was
from driving. Sylvia was so glad to be off the road that her face lit
up like a
freshly woken firefly. Roger sat quietly in the back, still not sure
surprises would play polite hosts, and not start ’til
everyone was settled.
couldn’t have gotten out of the car too soon. She wiggled her
bare toes to
catch and feel the grass between them, soft and delicate, with just the
tang of sharpness to the tiny blades. Then she drew in the late spring
honeysuckle air, threw back her head, and did a spinning, dreaming
across the sloping lawn, all the way to the porch.
and Roger watched from the car as the wind sent waves through
hair and made her oriental tapestry skirt flow out around her legs like
blooming cloth bell. Randall opened his door, swung out his legs, and
flexing and stretching his long body. Roger unzipped his backpack, and
had a rough idea what Roger would say next.
“Long car trip got you down, Randall
my boy?” came that mountain gravel drawl. “Well,
Dr. Roger’s got the cure to
what ails ye.”
turned and accepted the little hand-carved pipe and rolled-up zip-lock
Roger held out to him. He saw Roger’s old smile -- that
smile, so intimate yet somehow secretive all at once, eyes narrowing
guessed he was used to it by now.
that thick aroma of mountain-grown Lord’s Leaf as Roger
called it, wafting up
from the bag. Then the strike of flame, then the flood of green-blue
through Randall’s lungs, hot and cool all at once. Roger
never smoked any
himself, just sat and smiled, seeming to get high from watching the
of his friends. There were days when Randall wondered if he was some
modern-day Faust, and Roger was his Mephistopheles, the way Roger
so eager to help indulge his bad habits, often seeming to notice
before Randall did.
how Roger always seemed to come from nowhere, yet seemed to carry
and everywhere with him, within him. The way he took all those things
yet left them to linger long after his own departure.
was the devil, they must have made the Fatal Wager on
Randall’s soul – or
whatever the eventual fee – when Randall was too stoned to
out of the car, stood up, and took in these new surroundings. Not just
them, but really feel out the area, find the core essence that lay
anything Randall or Sylvia could perceive. Here was a place of sloping
and rushing rivers, where the beasts weren’t so inclined to
hide from human
eyes as elsewhere. The earth was so rich that the air was laced with
all the way to the tips of the proud-standing trees. It was supposed to
town, this place named Skybrooks. It seemed more like a sparse web of
highways, threaded through a kingdom of forests and pastures, sprinkled
houses, churches, a general store or two, many abandoned buildings, and
wonderful little family-run restaurants. People here lived year-round
crops they grew in summer and the meat they hunted in winter.
consciousness drifted through it so he felt the essence of these
people, and he
loved them already. They were old-fashioned, yes, but not so full of
spiteful delusions as his own family. No, these people
weren’t hiding from the
outside world. Rather, it felt like a small part of the outside world
flowed into this land, letting itself be absorbed. The town might have
between Bradder and the mountain home where Roger had grown up, though
places were miles away. Truly far away, out here with his
friends… his final
separation from his family seemed official for the first time.
weeks now since Roger had come down out of the forest into town. It
unusual for him to show up, but it was unusual for him to still be
week later, still sleeping on various couches, asking some people if
like him to start chipping in on the rent. He’d been selling
Lord’s Leaf –
marijuana, pot, weed, the people in the outside world called it
– like he was
making a profession of it, his backpack full of a bigger harvest from
family garden than he’d ever dared carry around before.
you think your family’s starting to wonder about you by
now?” Randall had
Roger sneered and said, “I’m done with those
also how he said he was done talking about it. Just like he
wouldn’t talk about
what had happened with Jack or Fey.
thought of his family, shut off in their time-capsule puritan paradise,
wondered if they’d finally learned to hate him in his
absence. Probably not.
wondered if his father was dead yet, or close to death. That seemed
three weeks crashing on the couch of Randall’s super-stoner
brother Irwin, it
still hadn’t felt quite real: he was a man of the outside
world, the real
world, like he’d always said he would be.
want it to start feeling real, because he knew deep down that
that’s when he’d
start feeling scared.
Sylvia had told him how her grandmother had called her the other night,
old friend in another state had died. Sylvia’s grandmother
lived in an old
house, in a little town called Skybrooks about two hours from Bradder,
could Sylvia please come up for the weekend and watch the house, while
caught a plane to New Mexico for the funeral?
and listened. Sylvia always told him what was happening in her life,
told her as much as he ever told anyone about his.
Randall was going to drive Sylvia out to Skybrooks, and they were going
spend the weekend in the old house, off in the middle of nowhere.
Roger bet they were. He was about to say so out loud, then she asked if
wanted to come along.
said yes before really thinking about it.
they were, about as far from Bradder as Roger had ever been. He felt
energy pulsing through this place, from the earth beneath his boots to
of the trees, as surely as he felt his hands and the movement of his
the ends of his arms.
Roger suddenly thought. This place was full of song. At night, if you
listen, you’d hear it on the air like a constant echo, as
though all the land
were a single deep hole for the song to resonate out of. Roger hoped
singing came tonight, that he would get to hear it.
thought of his friends here with him, and was struck by a rare moment
sentimentality. He felt alone in his constant, heightened perception of
surroundings, down to the molecular, energetic make-up, and he wished
share it with them. He glanced over at Randall. Randall had stopped
leaned against the car, staring off across the horizon, where the
soon start. Roger knew, if he let Randall see long and deep enough into
eyes, Randall would see the hidden world, would ever after see and feel
world as Roger saw and felt it.
Randall was probably stoned enough by now, probably had his brain in
a floating, receptive state, that Roger could have shown him all these
and not driven him irrevocably insane.
Roger had sworn to himself never to make that decision for anyone, ever
Not after Jack. Not after Fey.
check out the house?” Randall asked.
on. I’ll be along in a few minutes.”
headed on towards the house. Roger stood at the edge of the lawn,
up and down the road on which they’d just come. A few houses
were visible in
either direction. Off down to the left, the road forked. One way led
the main highway. Far down the other way, a broad bridge stretched out
roaring waterfall. On the other side of the bridge, from down below, an
abandoned factory building could be seen. Roger listened to the roar of
waterfall, and as he got lost in the sound, he felt himself tumbling
cliffside, over and over and forever, as though he were the eternally
river itself. The feel of the river seemed to carry him on forever, but
carry him to the true core of Skybrooks, to the source of the song, to
mystery of the place. And that was what Roger sensed most of all, more
more, as he felt his way along the underlying spiritual contours of
great and ancient mystery.
suddenly felt like the mystery, rather than Sylvia’s
invitation, had truly
called him here.
was visibly old, a mass of warped boards and peeling paint, so Sylvia
tread a little more mindfully than on the grass. Up here, rusty nails
sticking up. There was no lock on the front door, which was probably
had wanted Sylvia to come keep an eye on things. Granny had called on
said she’d need to leave Friday morning with the friend who
was going to drive
her to the airport, and could Sylvia please come up as soon as she
Granny would be gone when Sylvia got there, but she’d be back
Sunday. And of
course Granny would be thrilled to see Sylvia again, to meet the nice
Sylvia had found for herself.
was hard to tell how Granny would react to Roger. It was hard to tell
would ever react to Roger. Sometimes Sylvia didn’t know how she
to him. Too often her impulses towards him came unbidden, like inviting
on this trip.
under her left arm, Sylvia held the sketchbook that was seldom more
feet from her person. She wanted to draw the house while she was here,
to draw both Roger and Randall in the house, surrounded by this distant
her life, so unconnected from the two of them ’til now. Then
through the front door into the living room, and there was that hazy
right in front of her all over again.
hadn’t been here since she was – what? –
thirteen? That’s right, her dad had
brought her here one last time after splitting from her mom, not long
getting himself thrown in jail, which was where Sylvia guessed he still
She’d kept in touch with Granny by the phone and sometimes
letters, but hadn’t gotten
around to visiting ’til now. It didn’t matter. When
memories decide to come
back, they never care how long they’ve been gone. They care
even less when
you’re the one who’s been away. And they
don’t give a damn what new memories
you thought you’d put between yourself and them.
living room was the same – ratty carpet, the rattier leather
’50’s-model TV that still sort of worked, the
single light bulb dangling
precariously in the center of everything. Sylvia already knew exactly
what she would
find when she went exploring: the kitchen, Granny’s bedroom,
room, the staircase and hallways – narrower still, now that
Sylvia was all
grown up – all pristinely kept. Photographs and quaint
Americana artwork would
decorate the walls here and there, but there’d be no trace of
dust or clutter.
All except for Grandpa’s private room, left just so beneath
its thin, eternal
layer of dust. During Grandpa’s life, that dust had only ever
aside at his desk, left to settle on the bare room behind him. When
last peeked into that room seven years ago, the dust had claimed the
private room sat directly adjacent to the living room. It had its own
which led through to the kitchen. Sylvia thought about sticking her
the study, but instead went straight into the kitchen. No, she
wouldn’t look in
there yet. But still her thoughts turned to the abandoned factory
river. She’d been eight years old the first time
she’d been in the abandoned
factory. That had been on the same family visit when Grandpa had died.
pretty sure no one had known she’d been in the abandoned
factory. No one but
Grandpa anyway, and the ones who’d been in there with
she was sure none of them knew about the times she’d gone
afterwards, searching. She hadn’t heard until much later
about the rumors
around town. Not rumors about her, or about Grandpa, but about that
about lights seen there at night. She guessed she’d have to
go back there
sometime this weekend.
shivered slightly. Yeah, she’d go there, but not tonight. She
into the living room, just as Randall came through the front door. In
sleepy light, he looked even more fair-skinned, clear-eyed, and gangly
usual. His long limbs made him look bony sometimes, even though he was
thickly muscled all over. In either hand, he hauled the groceries the
them had bought for the weekend. The sight of him chased away some of
or at least stole some of their strength. He set down the groceries,
started to say something, but she threw her arms around his neck, and
her up to kiss her. He was so tall, he practically had to pick her up
time they kissed, but she didn’t mind. Being in his arms felt
right and safe,
always made sense, especially here.
smelled, tasted, and generally sensed that he was stoned, which
her. It seemed these days that you could hardly put Randall and Roger
without Randall ending up stoned. Thinking about it must have sapped
her enthusiasm, because he drew back and set her down.
started putting the groceries away, then Randall stopped midway to make
a sandwich. Sylvia broke into a pack of Triscuits and soon decided she
afterwards, Randall went exploring through the house, and Sylvia
to the porch. Roger stood on the edge of the lawn in the receding
the Man out of Another Time, the Man out of Nowhere. It had been almost
month, since he’d claimed to have said goodbye to whatever
mountain life he came from, and he still wore those old-fashioned
simple white shirts, the soft-cloth black pants, the home-tailored
boots. He’d been dressed like that when they’d
first met. They’d both been ten
years old, and it had been the first time he’d left his home
up in the hills,
to come discover and explore “the outside world.”
thought his old-style clothes were cool, she’d told him.
crossed the lawn and stood next to Roger, right where the ground
steeply, down to a ditch that rose just a foot to meet the road. He
down that road, his thick black hair partially tied back, a few loose
hanging in his face as usual. Sylvia thought of Randall, wandering
through Granny’s house, and she thought about bitching at
Roger for it.
Instead, she followed his gaze and saw the top half of the factory
the long-dead smokestacks rising neck an’ neck with the
going on in Roger’s head?” she asked.
at her. She stared back in fascination, as she often caught herself
was like Skybrooks to her: a tangle of winding, intertwining backroads
secret trails, sloping, rising, deeply forested, more there to discover
single lifetime could hold. You wanted to go exploring for hours,
trying to see
everything, to find all the mysteries. You had to be careful though,
steep and rocky places, or you’d take a long tumble and end
up bruised and
much is going on in Roger’s head right now,” he
she almost said.
“Why’d you invite me along?”
you’re our friend, and I thought the time out of Bradder
would do you good.”
but I just thought you and Randall might, you know, want the time to
and I find plenty of time to ourselves.”
stepped sharply towards her. She almost stepped back, but he took one
hands in his. “Thank you,” he whispered.
her palm heat up, then go cold with sweat against his. Her heart was
faster, but not from discomfort. She thought about the factory, thought
seeing Grandpa in there, the night before Grandpa died.
you’re here,” she said.
was. In fact, for some reason, there was no one she would have wanted
more, not even Randall, during whatever was to come. Roger understood
somehow. When he was around, she felt like she understood things a
better too. Or maybe she just felt more comfortable with all the
Maybe he’d help her understand the things here.
glanced off to the side. The light was fading around the old factory,
squeezed Roger’s hand tighter.
Sylvia was eight years old again, on
a walk with Grandpa beneath the mid-afternoon sun through Skybrooks.
glowed lighter and gentler than usual like thinned-out watercolors.
like that in dreams and memories.
walked an old forest trail, crossed the river at one of the shallow
now they were back on the main road, headed back to the house. Sylvia
loved visiting Granny and Grandpa Greco, especially ’cause
Grandpa Greco was
the only other person in any part of the family who liked going for
just exploring the woods like she did. It was neat to explore like that
someone else, ’cause they always noticed things you
wouldn’t normally notice,
and you’d notice things they wouldn’t normally
notice, like a certain patch of
flowers or a hole where a certain type of animal lived. And even when
didn’t point these things out to each other, you’d
notice the other person
noticing, and you’d see those things too.
What’s that building there?”
the old war factory, kiddo.”
Like they made parts for things like airplanes and bombs and guns and
Back during the second big war, that ol’ place brought in
more big bucks, made
us richer than any big businesses or fancy shops ever could have, put
us rich? So how come we ain’t rich now?”
“Not us, I mean it didn’t make us, as in the family
rich, but it brought in
money and jobs all around, made things good for the town.”
come all that money and jobs ain’t here now?”
didn’t answer at first, like he didn’t know or had
tried to forget. Then he
finally said, “Well, the war came and went, and for a while,
there was no big
war, so after a while the factory just closed down. People always said,
there was another big war, and they opened that place back up, this
one of the first places to get bombed. Then there was that big thing
Vietnam, though, and the place stayed closed down.”
town never got bombed?”
laughter. “No, I don’t reckon it did.”
Sylvia tugged Grandpa’s hand. “Let’s go
look inside the old factory.”
got a strange look on his face, like fear maybe. He covered it up with
laughter. “Oh no, Sylvia, you don’t ever wanna go
in there. Everything’s all
rusted and broken down. Too much stuff to slip and cut yourself on, too
holes to fall in and never get found, too much hangin’ stuff
that might fall
and knock you on the head.”
Sylvia would later learn, when she actually did see the inside of the
factory, not so much of that sort of thing. But there were other
things, things Grandpa hadn’t told her about ’cause
Grandpa didn’t have words
to explain, and he didn’t want the words.
In a way,
though, Grandpa had been right, for he’d already fallen into
what was in there.
Years later, Sylvia still felt like she was wandering through that
still not finding him. Her dreams skipped to when she discovered these
or started to.
was Grandpa’s wake. Granny was crying harder than she had
since it had
happened. Sylvia sat off in a chair, away from everything, head
shoulders slouched forward and inward, little feet pressed tight
Somehow she realized, Granny wasn’t just crying because
Grandpa was dead.
Sylvia overheard why Granny was really crying so much. She’d
heard the reverend
whisper that Grandpa hadn’t really been saved, or that
he’d somehow lost his
salvation. Said Grandpa had let his soul wander from Jesus, get too
in things God didn’t want His children to know about.
Sylvia’s dad was outside
arguing with the reverend. Sylvia’s mom told Granny not to
worry, of course
Grandpa had been saved. Just Granny wait and see, and Grandpa would be
waiting for her in heaven, right next to Jesus.
Sylvia knew that Grandpa hadn’t been saved, not in the end,
at least not by
Jesus. She didn’t tell anyone, though. Sylvia
didn’t think she was saved
either, not even then.
By now it
was half a dream, half a waking memory printed like silkscreen on her
eyelids. Twenty-year-old Sylvia lay in her and Randall’s
sleeping bag, on the
floor of what used to be Grandpa’s private room. She rolled
and pressed her
face into the crook of Randall’s neck.
tightened his arms around her. His brain had only come half-awake, but
was vaguely aware of the hardwood floor through the sleeping bag, more
the softness of her body moving against his, seeking refuge from her
dreams, increasingly aware of his own body’s response. She
shifted closer. He
nuzzled against her neck, and she relaxed. He started tasting her neck,
hands do more to her body than just cradle it close, let them find
inside the flimsy T-shirt and panties she slept in. Her body moved more
more against his, but no longer with discomfort. He teased her neck
shifted so their mouths met. Roger lay wide-awake in the next room,
them through the walls. He clenched his teeth and glared at the
for letting the sounds through. Sylvia gave a few muted sighs, then
audible gasp from of the first penetrating thrust. Roger was getting
listening, in spite of himself. His palm slipped to his crotch and
and forth over the hardness through his pants. He caught himself doing
jerked his hand away with a silent snarl.
Roger that Fey had been the last girl he’d slept with, the
only girl for more
than a year actually. And he hadn’t gotten to really touch
Fey during the last
week before she ran off. That made it how long? Two months? Three? He
muddled and furious right now to think clearly about it.
clenched his teeth harder and yelled at himself inside to cut the
bullshit. It would just make him angrier, which would make him more
which would remind him further how alone he felt, which would just
cycle back around.
breathed louder and quicker. Soon she’d start giving little
Roger was tempted to undo his pants, work himself to the rhythm of
noises, spend himself right in time with Randall. At least then, he
might be able
to sleep. If he really concentrated, he could probably have stretched
melded his consciousness with Randall’s, could have really
felt what it would
be like inside Sylvia, to really hold her in that way. He did none of
course. Neither of them would know, at least consciously, but it would
felt cheap, and the last thing he wanted was to feel cheap when it came
told himself, just no. It was one thing to lust
idly after Sylvia
sometimes, but it would be bad to start thinking of her like he was in
with her, like he might have a shot in hell at getting her into bed and
her there. Love was the easiest emotion in the world for him to give.
hatred even came close. Receiving love was the tricky thing. It was
you had to compete, bargain, and manipulate for. You’d have
to compete against
someone else’s love, whether it was another boyfriend or
girlfriend, a parental
figure, or whatever imaginary god told them what a bad, bad, bad
were. If it wasn’t someone else, it was something about you
that wasn’t good
enough, something you’d have to compromise or lie about to
lovable. Sooner or later, competition and manipulation always left
broken on the floor. He wasn’t going to leave Randall broken
and he wasn’t going to leave Sylvia or himself broken from
manipulation. And he
never bargained. Instead he’d just fuck himself until he
found someone again
who he wouldn’t mind manipulating a bit, or competing
meantime, though, he just lay in the dark with a painful hardness in
In the next room Sylvia’s little squealing moans broke into a
climactic cry, and Randall let out a satisfied grunt.
kicked off his sleeping bag, which had suddenly felt intolerably close
around him. He stood up. The whole room felt just as intolerable, so he
out onto the porch, not caring if Randall or Sylvia heard him. Outside,
the porch felt too close somehow, so he stepped down into the grass. He
feel the need to go back for his shirt. He’d gone to bed
wearing his pants, and
he’d left his boots out on the steps. He grabbed them and put
He had to
go for a walk, clear his head. Maybe he’d work himself over
out in the woods,
get himself calmed down, then be able to go back to the house and sleep.
he was just having trouble, sleeping so far from home.
to the edge of the lawn, made a tumbling run down the embankment, then
out of the ditch and crossed the gravel road. He jumped another ditch
scrambled up an even steeper embankment, to another stretch of grassy,
earth. Roger had spent his childhood traversing treacherous terrain,
preferred it any time to level ground. Most of the swelling in his
gone, now that his blood circulation was more evenly distributed.
height of the rise of earth, Roger stopped and listened. There it was:
secret song of Skybrooks. One didn’t need the heightened
perception to hear
this song. Still, most people here never heard it, not consciously.
were afraid to let themselves listen. Roger heard it, though, and he
Before he realized where he was going, he was halfway across the old
Beneath him, the raging falls mingled with the ever-nearing song.
glanced over at the big abandoned building that rose up from around the
of the falls. It looked like it had been some kind of factory. Earlier,
they stood out on the lawn, hadn’t he glanced Sylvia looking
off at this
building, or had it just been one of many things in her line of sight?
way, now that Roger headed over the bridge, he was definitely feeling
building’s unique energy, and the song of Skybrooks was
hurried to the end of the bridge and stepped off the road. The ground
and slick, thick with underbrush and old leaves. Roger found himself
running, one part walking, one part sliding towards a cluster of
thorns downwind of him. He craned his body backwards and stretched out
arms, trying to keep from spilling over face-first. He caught a low
tree branch, grabbed more branches with both hands, and maneuvered to a
where the ground was more walkable. He couldn’t see the old
building from where
he was, but he imagined that once he reached level ground, the place
present itself fairly easily.
but the song was so loud now!
reached the bottom of the hill and hurried through the trees, until the
underbrush thinned and gave way to sandy, rocky earth. The
sat behind a fallen tree that lay across a jutting tangle of scrap
Lights spilled clearly through what had once been a loading dock. Roger
effortlessly, over and through obstacles, then pulled himself onto the
inside walls looked and felt surprisingly sterile. There were some
walkways, broken glass, a few metal rods and such strewn about, but not
left-behind, broken-down machinery. No hanging lines of unused parts,
The windows were all boarded or painted over. The light spilled from a
handcrafted candles in handcrafted holders, hanging from the ceiling on
handcrafted twine. About a hundred people stood about. Their clothes
simpler than Roger’s, made from everything from dear pelt to
silk, though some
of them wore round, golden caps on their heads. They appeared to be of
races, with white, black, brown, and brass-colored skin. Their bodies
perfectly proportioned and well angled. Many had hair that went down to
their ankles, touching the straps of their sandals and moccasins.
none of them were close enough for him to be sure, Roger guessed
they’d come up
to a little below his knee.
stood proud and straight-shouldered, not arranged in any perceivable
but somehow uniform. And they sang. And their song was the night song
Skybrooks. When Roger came into view, a shot of discourse ran through
harmony. In the next instant, they all stopped and shifted their eyes
The impeccable, uniformed posture was gone, and they were only people
very small people in a very large room – all looking at
ceasing of the song seemed to throw something intangible out of
through Skybrooks, Roger sensed, men, women and beasts were tossing and
with discomfort, whether they ever consciously heard the song or not.
were the little people of legends the world over, Roger realized, the
tricksters of every countryside, the original magicians… the
ones who, it was
rumored by some, had given birth to the human race eons ago.
he doing here?” one of them asked.
Little Rose-Hair would come,” said another.
curly-haired man stepped from the center of the room, saying in a
carnival-master’s voice, “Now, now, now, folks,
there’s no need for excitement.
Little Rose-Hair will be along any time, and things’ll get
right on schedule.”
he sees us, too,” shouted one of them from the crowd.
“What if that spoils
Little Rose-Hair for us, makes her do as the one before her
curly-haired leader heard this, he looked really afraid for an instant.
all his jovial hospitality came back. “Oh, I don’t
think we need to be worried
about her doing that. She’s younger and tougher than that
other one, don’t
forget. Besides, she knows this boy here’s in the right
spirit of things. She
won’t mind that he knows.” He looked at Roger,
smiling hospitably. “And you
ain’t gonna give her a reason to mind, right son?”
raised an eyebrow and half-smiled. “Well, that depends. I
assume you’re talking
about Sylvia. So just what the hell do you have in mind for
curly-haired leader’s eyes widened. A stunned murmur flooded
you expect?” Roger said, smiling fully, his eyes calmer than
ever. “You think
everyone’s going to just fall to their knees and be
spellbound at the sight of
a bunch of fifteen-inch magicians?”
disquietude increased in everyone but the curly-haired leader, who came
to Roger. “Now, now, now, my boy, there’s no need
to get mean-spirited. See, we
have a history with Little Rose-Hair, of sorts, and we’re
just glad to see her
finally back in these parts. We’ve been hoping she and us can
keep going on
something we got started lots of years back, first with her granddad,
er, um, son, maybe we’d better wait to discuss that
’til she shows up, so we
can talk about it together.”
makes you think she’ll show up?”
we knew you were gonna show, son, from the minute you started following
song. She’ll follow the song here, too, just like before.
Except this time,
she’ll know where she’s headed. In fact,
she’s on her way here now.”
you mean, just like before?”
really wish you’d just wait for all the big explanations
’til she gets here.
It’d make things so much easier.”
these little people knew it or not, a lot of the big things had been
There was the song, obviously, and then there was the real reason the
had closed down – no way a lot of mystical creatures like
these were going to
let a modern, obscene thing like an industrial factory exist but so
their sacred soil. Come to think of it, that could go a long way
explaining the town’s continued isolation and
underdevelopment. If these
critters had wanted to drive Skybrooks back into the Stone Age, Roger
doubt they could have sabotaged the whole town’s dealings
’til it happened.
there was Sylvia. So she had unfinished business with these little
she? Roger thought of how she’d told him about this trip, and
how she’d invited
earlier that evening. I’m glad you’re here,
she’d told him.
she sensed more about him than she let on, and now she thought it might
matters here. But how, exactly?
fact,” the curly-haired leader went on, “you
won’t have to wait so much longer
as it is. She’s on her way now. In fact, she’s just
come in sight of this
and have a look, if you don’t believe me.”
turned and headed back towards the door out onto the loading dock, but
casting a suspicious eye back at the curly-haired leader. He stepped
into the night, and peered all around for Sylvia.
she was, coming down through the trees from the bridge, on the other
side of the
water. It wouldn’t do to wait here for her. He wanted to go
meet her properly,
have some words without the little people there to butt in. He glanced
water. It looked shallow here, less than half a foot deep, not too
plenty of rocks sticking up to skip across. Roger’s eyes
darted back up and met
Sylvia’s in the distance.
thinking, Roger jumped off the side of the loading dock –
And into the raging river.
current shot him down and along so fast, past the building, moving
of sight of everything, that he didn’t have time to be
surprised. It was well
over six feet deep all around him. He thrashed madly, first just trying
from getting sucked under, then to master the current, to swim to
could grab and pull himself to shore.
quite worked himself into a real swim, not in this rush, but he managed
catch a low-hanging branch. Once he’d scrambled ashore, he
didn’t spend much
time collapsed on his back, heaving for breath, before the shock
the rage set in.
curly-haired leader, that’s who’d done it! Sylvia
hadn’t been standing there on
the other side, any more than the river had thinned into a stream. That
fucker had gotten inside Roger’s head, and Roger like an
idiot had fallen for
it. These were little people he was dealing with, after all, and well,
he should have remembered that the water had been a full-bodied river
little people enchantment was a tricky, lulling thing like that.
found his feet and ran back through the woods, tearing through brambles
underbrush, cutting his bare arms and chest on thorns, their stings
fueling him on. He reached the building, circled around the side
river, sprang onto the loading dock, and stormed back inside like a
monster. The little people scattered, all except the leader who
time. He started to run, but Roger closed in and kicked him square in
sending him flying.
leader of the little people gave high-pitched, drawn-out yelp, then
the nearest wall, hit the ground, went up again, then landed and
went over to the little man and hoisted him off the ground by the arm.
little man squirmed violently, not seeming to have any broken bones or
major trauma. Durable fuckers, these little people.
that enchantment shit on me again,” Roger roared,
“and that’s a trifle to what
you’ll get. And next time, I won’t use physical
violence, either. Understand?”
curly-haired leader nodded quickly.
out, all of you,” Roger called to all the dark corners of the
I’ll rip your leader apart from the inside. Then
I’ll come after the rest of
you. And you all know I can do it, too, without laying so much as a
hand on any
had emptied, but now it slowly, reluctantly filled back out with the
people. Roger stood in the center, soaking, muscles drawn tight from
river, chest red and pink as blood from bramble cuts mixed with the
held the leader high by the arm. The rest of them could only stare on
face was calm and smiling again. “All right, as I was
saying… What is all this
you have in mind involving Sylvia?”
lay with Randall ’til she was sure he was asleep. He was
in moments when he acted the lover. The rest of the time, his touch was
unbearably light. Maybe that’s why she loved him: that a man
of such thorough,
blocky strength could be so gentle, as though his nature never came in
anything else. There were honestly moments when she’d have
liked a bit more
wildness from him, maybe even a touch of roughness in bed.
now, though, she preferred for him to stay asleep. It was never hard to
free without waking him. Her T-shirt was still mostly on, pushed up to
armpits. She pulled it down and hunted for some pants. When she pulled
they felt thick and muggy around her sweat-caked skin. Her eyes
she looked down at Grandpa’s old study. The afterglow licked
sweetly at her
innards, and she felt dirty in here. At the far wall was the desk, then
middle of the floor, Randall basking comfortably in post-coital
left the room quickly, treading even quieter than usual. She
hadn’t planned on
sleeping in there, and didn’t know why she’d agreed
to. That evening, she’d
been leaning over Grandpa’s desk, finding all the old papers
and folders still
there. She wasn’t sure what she’d been after;
Grandpa’s collection of old
Skybrooks news articles, maybe whatever he’d written up of
that town history
he’d talked about sometimes, as he might actually have
included any clues about
the little people. Would he even have written about them, just for his
thoughts? Not likely, so what the hell had she been doing, going
old things like that?
Randall had wandered in, sleeping bag rolled up under his arm. Sylvia
back sharply from the desk, feeling caught and cornered, as if Randall
have known he was catching her at anything.
wanna sleep in here?” he’d asked, still stoned.
agreed quickly, because how would she have explained it otherwise?
next room, Roger’s sleeping bag lay flat. The only bed in the
Granny’s, and no one was gonna sleep there, so Sylvia had
told the guys in
advance to bring sleeping bags. She’d given Roger the living
room so he could have
the couch, but he’d apparently preferred the floor.
She’d heard him storm out
earlier, and she felt bad all over again. She hadn’t planned
on it. It had just
sort of happened, before her brain was awake enough to realize what her
was doing. Randall had been the one who’d really wanted it at
that moment, and
she guessed she’d complied to shake off the dream.
dream felt stronger than ever, and Roger was still out in the night
Sylvia felt the need to go find him, to –
– To do
what? Apologize? It would have been beyond embarrassing, actually
over, especially if Roger was still in a bad mood.
matter. It was time to go out and face Roger. More importantly, it was
face Skybrooks, time to face the song it had left singing in her head
out onto the porch, scanned the yard, but didn’t see Roger.
He’d left his boots
on the porch, she remembered. Now they were gone, probably carrying him
off into the wilds of Skybrooks. Sylvia went to grab her sneakers from
put them on, then took off down the road. She figured she’d
run into Roger,
like she always seemed to on those sleepless, wandering nights back in
weren’t in Bradder tonight, though. And Sylvia
didn’t just wander the physical
terrain around her now. In her mind, she also walked these roads as
years ago. She’d known Grandpa had been going out every
night, just as surely
as she’d heard Roger leave the house less than an hour ago.
She’d heard Granny
and Grandpa arguing about how Grandpa wasn’t going to church
anymore. He was
getting like those wild Indians, Granny said, the ones who’d
been around in the
days of Granny and Grandpa’s parents, looking for salvation
down in the earth
where the devil was, not on high where God was. And Grandpa had yelled
Granny, said she didn’t understand him. And
Sylvia’s mom and dad had tried to
step in, tried to calm down both Granny and Grandpa, find out what was
going on, and Grandpa said none of them understood him, so fuck
’em all. They
didn’t understand anything, he’d said. Sylvia had
stayed back in the other
realized, none of them understood Grandpa. She didn’t
either, but unlike the rest of them, she’d really wanted
Now she’d found her way onto the old
bridge, was halfway across. And there below was the rushing river, and
the side, the old abandoned factory. She thought of the first time
towards that building with the direct intention of going inside, on a
very much like tonight, except she’d been eight years old,
and she’d had no idea
what she would find. All she knew was, that’s where Grandpa
went, and she
wanted to know what Grandpa found in there, why Grandpa
didn’t go to church
anymore, why he said no one understood him.
everything from that night, what Sylvia remembered most was the thing
noticed least at the time: Grandpa’s sad face, doing his best
to hold the
smile, hiding how crushed he’d felt by Sylvia’s
discovery. The same creatures
that had inescapably enchanted him – enslaved him whether
intentionally or not
– had drawn his little granddaughter into that same web. And
all that night
she’d danced and played and run with the little people. And
Grandpa must have
known that this meant something terrible. She woke the next morning,
as though she’d slept the whole night soundly. Then she went
down to breakfast.
Everyone was crying, and Mom told her Grandpa was dead.
’til now, whenever Sylvia snuck away to the abandoned
factory, she’d found just
that: an old abandoned building, rotting to pieces, ever more
forgotten, as it
probably deserved to be. But she always found her way back sooner or
Eventually she’d catch the little people in their night-time
revels again, or
they’d choose the time to reveal themselves to her. And one
way or the other,
she would have the answers she wanted.
reached the other side of the bridge and hunted for the best way down
slope. There was a torn, beaten path someone had created recently. She
abandoned, frantic run down the path, knowing that one false step would
her smacking into a tree, and if she tried to stop, she’d
topple one way or the
other, likely as not breaking her neck. She reached the bottom and kept
running. There it was, the old loading dock entrance. Lights shown from
and she knew it wasn’t the flashlights of poor scavenging
townsfolk or kids out
on a dare.
climbed cautiously as she could manage through the branches of the
then over the tangled scrap metal. Finally she climbed onto the loading
headed straight inside and around the corner.
little people all turned and looked at Sylvia. She remembered all their
all one hundred or however much of them. She couldn’t have
known their exact
number even if they’d stayed still long enough for her to
count, yet she
recognized every face her eyes met. Roger stood at the center of them,
Grandpa once had, except that Roger was half-naked, soaked to the bone
wasn’t on his knees like Grandpa had been. Grandpa,
submitting himself to
creatures that didn’t even have enough of the same notions of
devotion to appreciate such things from Grandpa. Roger didn’t
notions either, Sylvia was pretty sure. And instead of standing around
amused by his reverence, the little people stood transfixed themselves,
fear and awe. Roger held the leader off the ground by the arm like a
hauling around his Raggedy Andy doll. Sylvia saw the fear in the
eyes, the pain in its stretched limbs, and something clenched in her
put him down!” she cried out.
Rose-Hair,” one of the little people cried.
Little Rose-Hair now,” another pointed out.
turned and saw her, but didn’t yet lower the leader. His eyes
burned into her,
like he meant to blister and peel her away layer after layer
’til he found the
answers he wanted. The obvious questions were:
hell were these little people?
it they wanted from her, and vice versa?
this why she’d really invited him along?
guessed the answer to the last question was, yes. How it all broke
couldn’t have said, but it had to do with that strange
something extra Roger
had, what Sylvia always found herself so caught up in, that strange
gave off. Somehow, unconsciously, she’d known it would lead
them to this, draw
the little people out into the open, not on her terms exactly, but not
either. She’d known that to get the answers she wanted, it
couldn’t be like
before, couldn’t be just her wandering in the dark, waiting
for them to come
out, come out, wherever they were.
should have been more honest with Roger, but how could she have been?
understood so little herself. Now she’d put him before her
playmates, Grandpa’s gods, and he held them in terror. What
had they done to
him to make him do that? She wanted to yell at him again, but her voice
locked up, and she felt too much like yelling at herself.
Rose-Hair,” cried the leader, still gangling from
Roger’s fist. “He’s a demon!
Don’t let the demon hurt us!”
came forward. Tears blurred her eyes, and she found her voice.
“He’s not a
demon! Roger, you’re not a demon, right?” She
stared into his eyes.
a demon.” He said it to her, not to them, and he
didn’t sound so certain. “I’m
blinked back more tears. She hadn’t meant it like
that, just wanted him to vouch for himself. So why, just for an
she feel as uncertain as he sounded?
don’t let him hurt us!” cried the leader.
broke in her. “Yeah? Why not? Why shouldn’t
I let him do whatever he wants to you?”
“We’re your friends! Don’t
remember, Rose-Hair? We all ran, and we all played together, when you
Old Iron-Hair here. We all…”
remember,” she said. “I remember my Grandpa. I
loved my Grandpa, and I remember
never being able to figure out what it was he loved more than all of
it was that made it so none of us, not even me, could ever be really
him. Then I remember that night, that one night when I finally thought
I was in
on it, that I could love the same things he loved and really be close
to him, that
everything would be different from then on…”
fucking call me that! You killed my Grandpa! You showed me everything,
you… Goddamnit, tell me now, just… what the
all through the room. Sylvia’s eyes went back to Roger. The
venom had drained
from his face. He still held the leader of the little people in that
but he wasn’t thinking of his captive anymore. Instead he
looked gently at
we do?” asked the leader finally. Certainly it was out of
desperation for Roger
to be called off, but maybe there was regret there, too. Just a touch,
creatures like these could even know regret, any more than they could
want to understand,” Sylvia sobbed. “Make me
understand why you took my Grandpa
from me. I don’t want to know what you are, or where you come
from, or anything
like that. I just… why?”
the truth,” Roger said, the menace creeping back.
“If you lie to her, I’ll
know, and you won’t like what happens.”
leader of the little people took a deep breath. “We
didn’t kill Old Iron-Hair.
He killed himself.”
looked on. Roger’s face stayed sullen, but didn’t
get any worse. Sylvia guessed
he detected no lies.
leader went on, “we didn’t kill him. We liked him.
We liked him because he just
naturally sensed we were here, and he didn’t hate us or fear
us like you people
usually do, and he didn’t want to make a mess of everything,
with all the
machines and all the stores and all the money, like the rest of you do.
wanted to come and listen, just wanted to play. It was nice that one of
actually heard the songs, wanted to come and play and sing with us,
much other bad stuff. It had been so long since we found one of your
was like that, since well before your light-skinned tribes ran off the
ones who were here before you. Even back then, we hardly ever brought
you in. But it had been so long, and we wanted to give it a try with
problem was, he... wanted all of it.”
face had gone from anger to sadness. Slowly, not gently but not roughly
carelessly either, he lowered the leader to the concrete floor, until
little man stood on his own two feet again. The little man rubbed his
looked warily up at Roger. Right then, the other little people might
scurried back into hiding, without fear of whatever night magic Roger
threatened them with. Instead they stayed and watched.
leader continued with, “For the longest time, we watched Old
Iron-Hair when he
wasn’t here with us. We watched him with you and the rest of
the family. He was
right, none of them understood him. But you, Little Rose-Hair, you
You understood him better than you ever could have realized back then.
none of us understood him quite well enough in the end.”
whole body shook. She knew she would break down soon. But not yet, not
she’d heard the little man out.
why we let you find us too, Little Rose-Hair. We thought you might
us. That you’d like us, the way Old Iron-Hair did. We thought
he would like
that too, that he’d want to share us with you. That you could
come and be a
part of it all like him, with him. It turned out, he just
couldn’t handle that,
watched Sylvia and listened to the little man. He didn’t know
understood, at least not yet, but he did. Or at least he thought so.
little people, the old man had wanted something that was all his own,
himself to be the only one to worship and to know these secrets, the
of Skybrooks. In short, he had wanted his own salvation, carved from
the rest of them didn’t know, something they would never
corrupt. Why exactly
he hadn’t been able to live with even his precious
Sylvia, sharing in the mystery, was the one remaining question. Maybe
wanted their world to absorb him, to leave behind everything and
whence he’d come.
answers, Roger realized, would always be mysteries, lost in the chaos
everything. Maybe Sylvia would understand this now, or maybe not. Maybe
would eventually, or maybe she would draw different conclusions. As for
little people, Roger decided, human men and women could no more
complexity or simplicity than the little people could have figured out
Maybe it was best that their magic stayed hidden, an enchantment
only a few, like Sylvia’s grandfather had wanted it.
looked down at the leader of the little people. “So you just
wanted to be
friends with Sylvia’s Grandpa, then with Sylvia?”
He asked matter-of-fact,
leader looked up startled, as though Roger had just threatened him
was probably the first time someone of Roger’s height had
ever spoken to him
like that. “Yes…”
hard to be real friends with something you put on a pedestal, something
as a god or a demon or whatever. Sure, most anyone’s gonna
see you that way
when you first reveal yourselves. But you have to learn to let that act
you want any connection worth having to form. Sounds to me, you never
to do that, with Sylvia or her Granddad. Maybe we’re similar
enough at the
source for our kind and yours to be real friends. But you’ll
never know, ’cause
you won’t let yourselves act like anything but mysterious
towards us big, ignorant, lumbering apes. Maybe you should stick to
singing and whatever else it is you do amongst yourselves.”
man didn’t answer. His little face was unreadable.
to her. “I’m here, Sylvia,” he said
tomorrow, it would make more sense. Maybe tomorrow, it would seem so
a dream that neither of them would acknowledge it as anything else for
years to come, at least not to each other. There within the moment,
they simply came into each other’s arms. Holding each other,
they rocked back
and forth. When they looked around, the factory spread empty around
flickering candles were the only sign of the little people. One by one,
candles went out. Roger and Sylvia left the building as the last flame
each other for the whole walk home. Sylvia’s sobs died off,
and Roger’s shivers
subsided as her body warmed him. All around them, the song of the
rose again and flowed out into Skybrooks.
© 2007 by Matt Spencer.
Spencer is the author of THE DRIFTING SOUL, illustrated by
award-winning artist Stephen R. Bissette. His short fiction has
appeared in InfinityPlus,
Lilith's Lair, and Hardluck Storis.
Mr. Spencer has worked as a
film critic, film script editor, and professional chef. He now lives in
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