Aphelion Issue 250, Volume 24
May 2020
 
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Heaven Falls

by Craig Wesson




"When I was a kid, my crazy grandmother would go on and on about this kingdom in the sky and a beautiful princess that would eventually come down and save this rotten, depraved, and violent world of ours."

"I assumed it was a fairy tale, an attempt to cheer me up. The world in which I lived was always in a constant state of war. Pretty frightening for a child my age. Peace was fleeting, barely long enough for one to exhale. I was too young to really understand why but from what I gathered, it was normal, or at least that was how the adults saw it."

"Whatever my grandmother was trying to do, the story stuck in my mind. I imagined meeting this princess. I figured she'd have to be the prettiest girl I had ever seen. I wondered exactly how she was supposed to end the fighting too. I even caught myself staring up at the sky a few times to see if I could spot this kingdom, but that was impossible, my world was always covered with thick clouds that rarely parted."

"Never mind the obvious challenges. I was convinced that this princess really did exist, and I was willing to do anything to meet her."


* * *


It was an extremely bleak and barren landscape, no matter how you looked at it. There were rolling hills crowned with dead grass and exploded trees that shot into the sky like spikes. Craters in the ground exposed layers of raw earth just below the topsoil. Even the breeze was unpleasant. It reeked of death and decay.

A brick and mortar clock tower rested alone in a gulch, the only sign of civilized life within miles. Age and neglect had caused it to lean at a ten-degree angle. Crenels lined its pinnacle and its glowing clock dial shined under a sky too cloudy to let real light past.

Long man-made trenches lined the earth below its faded brick walls, checked by an equal number of trenches a quarter mile away up and out of the gulch. Scores of soldiers filled each trough, learning fast how cruel the world could be. Their uniforms were soaked with a combination of rain and perspiration and their feet were submerged in six inches of cold mud.

Some attempted to sleep, only to be awakened by rats nibbling on their unmoving bodies to see if they were dead yet. Some sat and stared out at the barbed wired killing fields of no-man's land, picking out a spot to hide the next time they were ordered over the top. Most did nothing. Realistically, that was all there was to do.

Out of the gulch and up the hill leading to equally feral conditions, soldiers from the other side of this particular war shambled along trench floors. The uniforms may have been a different shade but they too slept with the rats and stared out at no-man's land like it was all life had to offer. In other words, the uniforms were the only difference between the two sides.

There was a river that ran down into the gulch at an impressive speed. It pumped right into the base of the clock tower, powering its wheels and keeping the hands moving. Dozens of boulders sat along the riverbed and if one managed get on top of one, they could see every grizzly detail of the landscape. Only one soldier was compelled to take advantage of this.

Private Zachary Hart--sixteen years old and indifferent to his grim environment--stared up at the sky. He was naked from the waist up; his undershirt and uniform jacket were tucked under the river water to wash. His eyes were aimed directly towards a rare hole in the clouds that allowed him to see the stars. He could count on one hand the few times he'd managed to see them in his lifetime.

A long bout of time had passed since Zach was a boy in his grandmother's care. He was nearly a man now, and like all men his age he was sucked into the wild typhoon that was current affairs. There were too many wars to choose from. He picked this one at random.

It was midnight and the clock tower's bell rang out with the most dull and emotionless ring. It echoed back and forth between the hills before losing strength. Zach rocked back and forth with anticipation. For the past few days, after the midnight bells, someone in the tower had been singing. Perhaps it would happen again.

His ears pricked up. He was right. It was terribly difficult to hear at such a distance, but it was beautiful. Only a girl's voice could be so mystifying. Certainly the best entertainment he could get in a place like this. Why his comrades felt more compelled to stare at no-man's land was beyond him.

The sound of another soldier's gait broke his concentration. At first glance the apparent stranger was just another soldier in a muddy drab overcoat but the glimmer of silver on his collar altered the paradigm.

"Captain Wesson?" asked Zach aloud.

Captain Craig Wesson spread his arms out. "What the hell are you doing up there, Hart?" he asked in a stern but playful voice.

Zach dressed himself in wet clothes and trudged across the river. Craig was an older gentleman with graying hair plastered to his sweaty face but behind his worn features was a mind worthy of his rank.

"Need me for something? Another patrol?" Zach asked once he was back in the trenches.

Craig tucked his hands into his overcoat, "You remind me how stupid kids are. I need you to sleep. Soldiers need to rest their minds every once and a while."

Zach scratched the back of his head, choosing his reasons carefully, "I'm not stupid; I just like to hear her sing is all."

The Captain raised his eyebrows, "Oh, so you need a lullaby to get to sleep? Well here then, let me tell you a bedtime story. Once upon a time I was at home with my family until some young brat--Prince Cain--decided to raise an army and invade half the modern world in order to capture and marry some foreign girl he likes."

Zach set his gaze on the clock tower, "I know, and this poor girl is supposed to be in there, right?"

"Yes, according to the Department of the Navy. Apparently she's quite a pretty lady, do you know Prince Cain actually made a statement saying she bewitched his heart?"

"Seriously?"

"I can't make this stuff up. This is just what our world needs: another wacko starting wars. Instead of listening to her sing every night you should be thinking of ways to rescue her and help us end all this."

"You know I can't do that." Zach pointed to the sky, "But that princess from the sky can, haven't you heard the story?"

Craig's brow hung low on his face. It made Zach laugh; he supposed Craig was too old for fairy tales about magical princesses.

"This isn't a game. You better pray there is some princess in the sky that can save us, because we sure as hell can't. Now get some sleep. Nothing exciting is going to happen tonight anyway."

Craig turned and marched away through the mud. He was in perfect stride down the trench but his fifth step slipped out from under him. He let it happen. He needed to hug the ground as a firestorm of lead flew over his head.

The sounds of artillery explosions nearly collapsed Zach's eardrums. He dove into a crevasse as rolling clouds of red-hot shrapnel blew directly over his position. A hundred rifles were being fired at once, each one trained on Zach's trench. And if the noise wasn't already unbearable, a hundred more rifles from his side returned the favor.

Clutching his own gun, Zach flattened himself against the wall of his trench, wet boots slipping in the mud. His rifle was loaded and what came next required no genius. Come on, the private thought, he had been waiting for action like this ever since he joined the army. Zach leveled his sights across a barren landscape and fired.

Ka-Bang! Ka-Bang!

He felt the painful recoil in his shoulder bone. In order to accurately aim he had to line up a tiny pin on the far end of his rifle with a 'V' placed at the near end. Such a simple task proved impossible with the ground shaking so violently. He ended up firing blindly instead.

When it came time to re-load, a sudden boom nearby caused him to drop a handful of bullets into the muddy water. "Damn!" He fished out another handful.

Completely focused on the firefight before him, he barely noticed someone calling his name amid the pandemonium.

"Hart!" it was Captain Wesson, wading through the chaos, "Got a job for you!"

In an instant Zach found his rifle replaced with a pair of binoculars.

Craig was quick to explain, "Our mortars are ready to go but their spotter just took one to the chest!"

Zach soon discovered a lump in his throat, what on earth was Craig going to have him do?

"Remember that rock you were sitting on a minute ago?!" he asked, "I need you to get back on it and find out where the bad guys are! Can you do that?!"

Zach wasn't even given a chance to respond.

"Good, now hop to it!"


* * *


It was a short walk back to the river but Zach's favorite perch had become a freeway for stray bullets. This was crazy, how the hell could he be expected to do this? Did Craig hate him that much? It took a very long time before the private could act; insubordination was still an option in his mind. Performing out of fear, not duty, Zach jumped on top of his favorite boulder and stared down at the battle below him.

It was close to impossible to see much of anything, it was dark and Zach's trembling hands couldn't keep the binoculars steady. Bullets hissed past his ears and face, splashing into the water.

"What do you see?!" asked Craig.

Zach's breathing became ragged; he needed to find something, anything. The first enemy trench was a lot like his, save for one wider part where an exceptionally large amount of fire was emanating.

"First trench, right flank!" he shouted, "Machine gun, I think!"

Craig turned around and shouted to the nearest soldier, who in turn carried the message down the line. Soon, the point he had picked out was eviscerated. Geysers of fire and mud drenched the area.

"Good job, Zach!" shouted the captain, "Find us another target!"

Zach came to the realization that his own eyes had become an indirect tool to end lives. Uncomfortable with this new-found power, he tried and failed to decide on a new victim. There was a glimmer emanating from the third enemy trench. Was it important? Zach couldn't see well enough to tell. All of a sudden a very important question shot across his mind, did his enemy have any artillery of their own?

Zach's heart stopped, the object he was sighting was a horse drawn howitzer, and the glimmer he had seen was the binoculars of a spotter just like him. The ground shook like a six point earthquake and a loud whistling invaded his senses.

Beside him, Captain Wesson was jumping up and down like a madman, "Oh Christ! Hart, get out of there! Run!"

If death had a face, Zach was sure it would look something like a gleaming metal shell hurtling towards earth. The ground erupted around him and blanketed him with mud. It didn't hurt, but then again the fear had turned him numb. He crashed into the river water.

"Medic! Hart's down, someone get a medic!" cried Craig.

Zach heard his captain's voice, but he felt nothing else. Not even fear.


* * *


A strange noise tickled Zach's ears: the creaking and groaning of a wooden water wheel on its greasy axel. The sensation Zach felt was that of a person waking up from a very long night's sleep. Hopefully he hadn't been out that long.

He sat up and bumped heads with someone. Opening his eyes, he quickly remembered the emotion that was fear. He was nose to nose with a girl.

"Um..." he stuttered, trying not to breathe on her too much.

She looked rather ordinary. She wore an ankle long ivory dress stained tan with mud. Her face was round and child-like, sporting eyes blue enough to light up a whole room. Zach's army helmet sat awkwardly on her head, covering up a part of her face. The long hair cascading down her shoulders was blonde and her body was slender, so slender Zach had to worry about her health.

Time was wasting; he needed to say something, "Uh, hello, who are you?" he managed, noticing how uneasy his words made her look.

He got a reaction, the girl's lips parted and her tongue moved. She let out the loudest scream Zach had ever heard in his life.

Like a bullet she hit the wall, snow white legs trembling.

In turn Zach panicked just as much as she did; throwing his hands up like it was surrender. "Take it easy. I'm not going to hurt you! I'm a soldier and my name is Zachary."

She stopped screaming but the look of sheer terror remained etched in her face. Zach had to think long and hard about his next move. He stepped forward. She moved as well, father down the wall and out of his way. He took another step and the process repeated.

"Stop that!" Zach yelled in frustration.

The girl threw his own helmet at him, nearly clocking him in the face. Whoever she was, she didn't think him a welcomed guest.

Zach made quick evaluations of his surroundings, careful not to let the girl out of his sight. The eroded brick walls were greasy with the filth of neglect. Diverted river water ran through the center of the room via a man-made moat, turning the massive wheel that had nearly swallowed him earlier. Wooden cogs rumbled a hundred feet in the air, turning a jungle of gears.

Zach snapped his fingers and felt a genuine eureka moment coming on. He was inside of the clock tower the two armies outside had been fighting over. This being known, the strange girl wasn't a stranger anymore.

"You're that girl Prince Cain is after!" he shouted out loud.

The girl flashed an angry frown, "I have a name!"

Zach wiped the sweat off his brow; all the excitement was causing him to perspire, "You have a name?" he asked like it was a long awaited paradigm shift, "Well, what is it?"

The girl worked hard to bring up those important words, "Myra." Before Zach could ask another question, she lashed out, "Why did Prince Cain send you?"

Zach's eyelashes fluttered, "Because he didn't send me?"

Myra maintained her frown and questioned him like a professional interrogator, "You don't work for him? Who do you work for?"

Zach pulled at his shirt, "Look at my uniform. I work for the people trying to stop him." Sighing, the young soldier tilted his head back, "You have no idea how much trouble we've been through trying to save you."

No sign of change from the young princess. An ill omen. So Zach tried something else. "Ah... okay, listen." He spoke deliberately and slowly, "I'm going to get you out of here. So just sit tight and..."

He had to stop right there. Myra was charging him but praise to God there wasn't anything hostile about such an advance. She tackled him, squealing in joy. Zach fell onto his rear and realized just how injured he really was. He cried out in hurt while Myra cried in relief.

"You're here to save me! I thought nobody cared!"

Fighting a blackout due to all the painful pressure on his tailbone, the private wrapped his arms around Myra's back, "Of course we cared about you," he groaned.

Myra pulled her head off his shoulder, dangling her hair over his neck, "Does this mean I'm not trapped anymore? Can I go back to school? Can I see my friends and family again?"

Zach's jaw clenched shut, "Um... Yes, but help me out a little. Who are you supposed to be? What country are you from?"

Myra gleefully hopped out of Zach's arms and danced about the room, "I'm not supposed to tell anyone."

Zach looked at her cock-eyed, "...Pretty please?"

"Okay, I guess I can tell you, consider it an honor. Follow me."

She began to skip up a set of rusty spiral stairs leading to the top of the tower. Acrophobic the princess was not, she pranced fifty feet high without touching the railing.

Zach got up to about fifteen feet before he had to take a break. The iron supporting him creaked loudly, buckling ever so slightly under his unfamiliar weight.

"Something the matter?" Myra asked like height didn't exist.

Zach shook his head and carried on.


* * *


The roof of the tower was a small wooden square surrounded by three foot crenels. Because it was leaning, Zach's foot slipped a little when he stepped out. So high in the sky, the trees below looked like miniature models and the thick clouds that always hung above his world seemed close enough to touch.

Myra's muddy dress and sparkling gold hair were blowing about in the gentle breeze. She walked to the end of the tower and turned around, a single finger in the air. "The country I come from... is up there."

Zach followed her finger. At that moment he found himself recalling the old story his grandmother used to tell him. About a princess from a kingdom in the sky.

"You came from up there?" he dumbly asked.

"Do you believe me?"

The obvious answer was no, but Zach didn't say that. Myra sensed his skepticism and waved her hand up in the air. The sky rumbled. Soon, a great hole in the dreary clouds opened up.

Zach's breath left him. He, like everyone else, had never seen the true sky before. It was so blue! Like an artist's painting or a special effect in a moving picture show.

"I was stupid." Myra explained, "I was leaning over the edge of our kingdom to try and see the world past the clouds and I fell. All the way down." She looked over the edge of the tower, at all the trenches and soldiers below. Her mouth arched. She pulled at the dirty edges of her dress, ashamed, "Into a pond. Into... mud."

No wonder she wasn't afraid of heights. Zach nodded and took a seat where he stood, suddenly finding his legs uncooperative. "And into Prince Cain's lap. Is that how he found you?"

"He found me right after I fell. I was so scared at the time that I agreed to stay with him. He said that he loved me. I didn't hate him but I certainly didn't feel the same way. But I don't think he understood."

Myra clutched her shoulders and trembled, "He kept asking me to repeat who I was and where I came from. I don't know; it seemed to excite him for some reason." She looked at her dress. "He told me to wear this costume all the time. He said I was his goddess. And then, one night, he..."

There was a long moment of silence that drained the color from her face.

"I ran until I found this tower. His army has been chasing me ever since."

Zach's fingers drummed the rotting wood of the tower roof. "Well, my country wasn't thrilled with the situation either, and even if they don't believe you're from the sky, they still want to rescue you."

Myra looked like she was on the verge of jumping for joy again, but she managed to restrain the emotion and convert it into a beautiful smile, "I can't believe it. After all this time I'll finally get to go home."

That was a wish Zach felt honored to fulfill. There was just one small problem: they had nowhere to go. He was cut off from Craig and the rest of his army. She assumed his being here was the vanguard for a rescue, but in reality he was just as trapped as she was. He had to keep her occupied for at least a little while before she learned the truth.

The cloudy sky rumbled. It was a safe bet that rain was on the way.

"Let's get back inside." Zach suggested. As he moved, he faked a pain in his side. Myra rushed to his aide and helped him walk back down the stairs.


* * *


So the fairytale Zach had grown up to enjoy was all true, huh? He regretted treating his grandmother like a mad woman. Perhaps she like Zach met a being from the sky kingdom at one time. Maybe they had always been above the clouds, looking down on them.

"You think I'm here to save the world?" Myra asked in response to one of Zach's questions. She laughed out loud at such a silly notion.

"Come on," Zach began, "Who else would you be?! I'm telling you, you're the princess who is destined to save us!"

Myra laughed even harder, "S-stop! Y-you're killing me!"

Geez. Zach resigned himself.

Then the sky-girl managed to contain her laugher and asked the one question Zach was trying to stop her from asking. "I know it's wrong to ask this with you being wounded but... can we leave before morning? I really want to go home."

She couldn't just walk out the front door; they were still behind enemy lines.

Zach stalled for time, "Uh, well... what are you going to do? Jump back up there?"

She snorted and giggled and turned red in the face. Apparently she would laugh at anything. "Oh, I wish everyone down here was as funny as you. The people of my kingdom will come down to get me personally now that the war is over and things are safe."

"I see..."

Myra was from the sky but she didn't believe the whole princess angle Zach was pushing. Perhaps she wasn't aware of her destiny yet. Perhaps Zach had caught her in the early stages of her development. A light sweat began to form on his brow. If that were true the stakes were a lot higher than he thought. If he messed this up...

"So can we go? Come on, let's go Zach!"

She grabbed his sleeve. Zach tore away, "No! We can't. Not yet."

Myra's cheer died on the spot. "Why not?"

"I think you've gotten the wrong idea. We're still fighting Prince Cain's army. I have no way of getting either of us out of here."

First it was confusion that captured the young lady, then a sudden grasp of what he meant, "I'm still trapped?"

Zach felt a little funny; she was no more than half his size but he found himself taking a step back from her. "Calm down, once we push Cain's army out, and that will happen, I'll signal my guys to come pick us up."

"But you've been fighting him for weeks!" cried Myra, "You won't win! You'll just keep fighting and fighting. I hear it every single day!"

Zach was losing control of the situation fast. His mind failed him; he couldn't get out a coherent rebuttal.

Myra just crackled and began playing with her hands anxiously, "You made me think I was saved. You got my hopes up for nothing."

"Don't do this. Be patient and we'll get out of this."

Myra angled her head down, casting her face in shadow. From that position she hissed, "I'm tired of being patient. I'll never find a way home, I'll stay down here forever listening to everyone else die. No one will ever find us. You'll be forgotten just like me."

The words weren't a play for attention; they were her honest opinions. And if things weren't already bad enough, a small tremor shook the clock tower. A firefight had flared up outside and the sounds of it perforated the walls.

The private whipped his head around, imagining the horrible things that must have been occurring outside.

Myra whimpered when she heard the battle reach high tide, "It never stops. Never... Zachary? I'm glad I met you. You made me happy, if only for a short while, thank you."

What was that supposed to mean? Before Zach could ask, she turned on her heels and made for the rickety stairwell.

Clang... Clang... Clang...

Slowly, step by step she ascended out of sight.

The young soldier had no motivation to follow her, his zeal to rescue her seemed to only make things worse. He walked around in aimless circles glancing at the staircase every time he passed by it. He pondered his grandmother's stories. If Myra really was the princess from that fairy tale then she was the only one who could save the forsaken world Zach lived in. He had to hammer that point into her head. He had to convince her to carry on and live out her destiny, or else they were all doomed.

That being said, he scaled the stairway.


* * *


During his trip upwards, sounds of war shook the wooden beams holding the tower together. Droplets of dust and debris dripped from joints and corners every time an artillery shell landed.

Myra had sure picked a strange place to meditate, considering how much she hated the war. Maybe she felt safer high above the ground. When he made it topside, the night air was heavily saturated with the smell of gunpowder. Thud-thud-thud. A steady staccato of gunshots muffled by distance served as background music.

"I know you're up here!" Zach yelled while looking around, "You don't get to sit up here and feel sorry for yourself. I don't care if I have to drag you out by the feet, the war is going to end and you're going to be the one to end it. You falling wasn't an accident, this is your destiny we're talking about."

Suddenly, Myra's voice caught his ear from behind, "You're right Zachary."

Zach spun on one heel. Myra's eyes were as empty as black holes. She was standing on top of one of the crenels, bare toes hanging over the edge.

Her face was contorted with anger, "If it really is my destiny to end the wars below the clouds, then I'll do that here and now!"

The wind picked up a little, blowing her long dress about wildly. Her body didn't move so much as an inch, like she were made of stone. Zach closed his eyes tight, praying that when he opened them that glimmer of insanity would leave Myra's eyes. It didn't.

He started slow, "What are you doing?"

Myra threw her long blonde hair aside, "Killing myself. According to your precious fairy tale I'm supposed to end all this right?"

"You really think that's the best way to end the fighting?" asked Zach, living one second at a time.

Myra was quite out of her mind, the innocent little girl Zach remembered was gone. Something else was in her place. "Prince Cain started this war because of me." She kicked air, "If I hadn't of run from him, this wouldn't be happening!"

"This isn't your fault, what's wrong with you?!"

Zach made a feeble attempt to seize her. She hoped onto the roof and led him around in circles, laughing like a child.

"I thought you wanted to see your parents again?!" Zach boomed.

Myra snickered, "Please. You don't even know me, stop pretending to care. I'm just a pretty face to you aren't I?"

She kicked him in the gut and ended their silly chase. "You think the prince was the first man to pursue me? I've been pursued my entire life, even when I was up in the sky. Babysitters, tutors, even my classmates. All chanting that they loved me. They all said I was just a beautiful vixen trapping them in my web of seduction."

She looked over the edge of the clock tower, at the raging battle below, "I put up with it my entire life, but I can't put up with all of this."

She hoped onto the edge of the clock tower and balanced herself on one leg.

"You're insane!" Zach hollered, "Don't do this!"

She ignored him and laughed to herself, talking to all the soldiers below even if they couldn't hear, "Look at me! I'm the reason you're all dying! Go on! Shoot me and end this!"

"Myra!"

The clock tower bell rang out loud and deep, shaking the floor beneath Zach's boots. It also shook Myra. She couldn't keep her balance and began to fall.

"No!" cried Zach.

He watched her fall. The battle below her was a dazzling sight, bullets and bombs exploded in the air around her like deadly fireworks. Myra didn't look scared of it at all. In fact she looked as cute and innocent as when he first met her--proof that this was what she truly wanted.

The princess from the heavens had fallen for the last time.

Zach fell to his knees and struggled to process what had just happened. Myra may have been a princess with a grand destiny but she was also a normal girl cursed with nothing more than beauty, perhaps she hated herself above all else. That was something Zach certainly couldn't understand no matter how much he wanted to.


* * *


The battle ended and Zach was again reunited with the wet and dank hospitality of the trenches. How disparaged he felt when he learned that nothing had changed since his little adventure. The battle continued with no clear victor on the horizon. Moments after hearing this unfortunate news, he procured a bottle.

When Craig found him he wasted no time, "I thought you were dead!" He noticed the empty bottle in Zach's hand and the flushness of his face but spared him his low opinion of it all. "I heard you got swept into the clock tower. You find the girl?"

Zach's dull senses delayed his response, "Yeah. We talked for a while. And then she killed herself."

It was a bombshell like no other. "She killed herself?! Where the hell were you?!" asked Craig.

"I tried to stop her."

Craig seized Zach by the collar, "She was just a child! How could you let that happen?!"

Zach looked his Captain dead in the eyes. He could have pleaded his case, he could have told him about the kingdom in the sky and Myra's true identity. But what did it matter now? He had already failed in ways that would affect not only him, but the rest of the world.

Craig gave up and let him go. "You stupid kids," he muttered.

Yeah, thought Zach, he was just a stupid kid.

Artillery shells exploded just outside Zach's trench. Geysers of wet mud doused him, running down the front of his unmoving face. Soldiers scurried back and forth, preparing for yet more fighting and killing.

Zach wept openly. Not because he was scared, but because he knew no one was going to save them.


THE END


2013 Branden Szabo

Bio: Mr. Wesson holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Akron.  While there, he wrote a screenplay that was adapted into a full length film by the university’s independent film club in 2010.  He self-published a kindle book on Amazon.com titled "Angels Don't Fall in love." His last appearance in Aphelion was Oceans in October 2012. 

E-mail: Craig Wesson

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