By Jack Snow
Author of The Magical Mimics of Oz, Spectral Snow, etc.
Originally published in Weird Tales, September 1927.
Nerle stood for a moment in the window looking far down at the moonlit garden with its nodding, moist blossoms and lichenous, aged trunks. A moth flitted past his shoulder in search of flame. A rush of cool air swept around him, fluttering the window draperies. He was wrapped deep in thought, his mind far away, like an adventurer in strange lands. He stood on the very edge of the open window. Suddenly he felt himself falling--down--down. He closed his eyes to shut out the sight of the earth rushing toward him. A host of lights sped like comet-tails across his eyelids. He waited for the impact.
He was still falling--gently now--like an autumn leaf on a full, swelling breeze. Slowly he opened his eyes. The earth was only a few feet below him, he was floating toward it as gracefully as a feather loosened from the plumage of a bird. Now the tips of his toes touched the glistening, dew-beaded grass-blades and became moist and coolly damp with the crystal drops. And then just as his toes touched the grass he felt himself soaring high into the air again, rebounding as if he were the lightest of airy bubbles.
Far above the tops of the tallest trees he rose and floated on and on. How cool the breeze! How gently it caressed his tired body, as if it would soothe him into rest!
The earth lay far below him. He flew gracefully on through the silver darkness. At times he rolled on his back and watched the blue, peaceful heavens flow past him. The twinkling stars nodded as if all were understood between them and there were no mysteries at all. Again he lay with his face toward the dark, sleeping earth. How sad it looked and forsaken--the quiet, shell-like houses, the dim, deserted lanes and alleys, the feeble street lamps flickering, the melancholy trees sighing as the flowing wind plied their branches to and fro in a mournful revery and seemed to whistle a sorrowful accompaniment to its own melody as it swept around corners and rolled up hills and sank into vales!
All this Nerle saw as he flew on and on, and the flying was no effort, for he was a bit of the merest flotsam on a great soft sea. Once he passed over a town and swept low into the streets. Two men saw him and pointed and opened their mouths as if to shout in wonder, although Nerle heard no sound whatever. Again he circled around the belfry of an old church. The dust of the village lay thick on its stones, and as he swept past, three large bats fell from their perches and began swooping about in ever-increasing circles, their ribbed wings clicking through the wind like ghostly castanets.
He followed the liquid path of a stream whose waters were bathed in moonlight and leapt over mossy stones to leave them dripping with streams of the purest silver. He watched it farther on as it hurtled madly over a fall and dashed headlong onto the rocks below. He flew low enough to catch the cool spray in his face and listen to the roar of the waters and glimpse a silver fin leap for an instant from its depths.
Farther on, the stream widened into a lake, a placid, moonlit, shimmering lake, whose still surface rippled calmly in the breeze, hurried by no rushing current. Its edges were stagnant and fringed with round lily pads and tall, slim rushes with forms like young girls. The lake was peopled with water insects that scurried like bits of broken light over its glassy surface. From marshes came the voices of the stream animals--the nocturnal birds, the loons sorrowing and the chants of the devout frogs.
And all the while the breezes were fondling him, flowing over his naked body, tracing his shape, fluttering his hair and touching his eyelids with cool fingertips.
And then the sense of motion seemed to lull and become gradually slighter and slighter until Nerle seemed almost to be at rest. The heavens grew dim and the stars receded and glimmered like the minutest pin-points, far, far away in a remote background of nothingness. The earth became blackness and at times all was swallowed up in the blackness--earth, sky, heavens, Nerle and stars.
Nerle lay like a dead, motionless planet midway between the stars and the earth for some minutes. Then slowly he opened his eyes. He lay flat on his back in his narrow bed, gazing up at the ceiling.
So he had dreamed again. Yes, it was a dream, like those he had had many times before. Oh, the times he had flown! The times he had swung high above the earth in triumphant flight! And the still more numerous times his power was limited to short hops when he must return to the earth as if for momentum and fly only at broken intervals! He supposed everyone had dreams of this sort; he had found many accounts of them. King and beggar alike flew by night from the downy softness of velvet couches and the unyielding hardness of beds of stone.
And each time that Nerle had flown (and he had be-gun in his childhood), he had thought that surely this time he would remember after he awoke how he had done it. But always the mists and fogs of reality arose to ob-scure the revelation. There remained with him, however, the conviction that flight was as natural, as instinctive, as walking.
Tonight he had dreamed more perfectly, more vividly than ever before, and he had awakened while the dream was yet fresh and real. He was wide awake--and he re-membered! There was no doubting it, he remembered clearly, perfectly. He was not disturbed nor excited, he was entirely cool and calm. Well, why not? What else had he been expecting, waiting, hoping for? It dawned upon him that the only reason it had ever seemed difficult to fly was that he had not guessed its simplicity. How he would surprise his friends with his power! He lay staring solemnly and unblinkingly up at the ceiling.
For some time he lay motionless, his mind quivering with thought, and then he arose and crept from his bed. It was not yet morning and he could safely prove his power without fear of interference or detection.
He slipped his night-clothes from his body and stepped quietly to the window. He threw wide open the doors of the window and gazed out. It was just such a night as he had left. There was the slumbering garden; there, the tall, murmuring trees; there the starry heavens and the moon like a silver lady stepping among the twinkling flowers of her garden. Already the breeze was wrapping itself about his body, filling him with intolerable delight.
He stepped from the window. He fell horribly at first, as he had in his dream. He closed his eyes and a myriad tiny balls burst into flaming light. His bare toes touched the grass for an instant and then he soared aloft, high into the heavens. He opened his eyes. Ah, the bliss, the rapture of that flight! The floating in nothing, the contact with nothing; the complete, airy lightness; the relaxation of the strained muscles, and then the breeze--caressing, soothing, stroking, cool!
The faintest rosy glow was in the east, and toward it he was flying.
Early in the morning, just after dawn had broken, the old gardener who had some new rose-trees to set out under Nerle's window found the white, naked body of the sleep-walker lying on the ground beneath the window. It was moist and covered with the dews of the morning, which glistened like a magical cloak threaded with diamonds and possessed of miraculous power.
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
From the Philadelphia Public Ledger, February 4, 1917
The Puzzle Corner
Mr. G. Ography's picture represented Lapland and hiding in Forgetful Poet's verses were forbear and negotiate, as many of you discovered for yourselves. Four prizes will be awarded at the end of each month to the boys and girls having the best puzzle record. Send in your answers to Mr. G. Ography, care of the Boys and Girls' Page.
The G. Ography man thought up these puzzles and the Forgetful Poet set them to verses:
My first's an appellation
Used to designate a man;
My next makes honey;
Next comes A--now guess me if you can!
My first you'll find a vegetable,
My last means to regret;
My whole's in South America--
Now have you guessed me yet?
My first means to trip
And my second is O--
My last means a meadow--
My whole you all know!
[Answers next time. Sorry, no prize or surprises will be awarded--this is merely a historical presentation of Thompson's writings.]
Copyright © 2002 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.
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