Speculative Literature Foundation Fountain Award Winner (2004)

The Annals of Eelin-Ok

by Jeffrey Ford

Copyright (c) 2004 by Jeffrey Ford. This story appears in The Faery Reel: Tales
from the Twilight Realm
edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (Viking)

When I was a child someone once told me that gnats, those miniscule winged specs that swarm in clouds about your head on summer evenings, are born, live out their entire lives, and die all in the space of a single day. A brief existence, no doubt, but briefer still are the allotted hours of that denizen of the faerie world, a Twilmish, for its life is dependent upon one of the most tenuous creations of mankind, namely, the sand castle. When a Twilmish takes up residence in one of these fanciful structures, its span of time is determined by the durability and duration of its chosen home.

Prior to the appearance of a sand castle on the beach, Twilmish exist merely as a notion; an invisible potentiality of faerie presence. In their insubstantial form, they will haunt a shoreline for centuries, biding their time, like an idea waiting to be imagined. If you've ever been to the beach in the winter after it has snowed and seen the glittering white powder rise up for a moment in a miniature twister, that's an indication of Twilmish presence. The phenomenon has something to do with the power they draw from the meeting of the earth and the sea; attraction and repulsion in a circular fashion like a dog chasing its tail. If on a perfectly sunny summer afternoon, you are walking along the shoreline during the time of the outgoing tide and suddenly enter a zone of frigid cold air no more than a few feet in breadth, again, it indicates that your beach has a Twilmish. The drop in degrees is a result of their envy of your physical form. It means one is definitely about, searching for the handy-work of industrious children.

No matter how long a Twilmish has waited for a home, no matter the degree of desire to step into the world, not just any sand castle will do. They are as shrewd and judicious in their search as your grandmother choosing a melon at the grocery, for whatever place one does decide on will, to a large extent, define its life. Once the tide has turned and the breakers roar in and destroy the castle, its inhabitant is also washed away, not returning to the form of energy to await another castle, but gone, returned physically and spiritually to Nature, as we are at the end of our long lives. So the most important prerequisite of a good castle is that it must have been created by a child or children. Too often with adults, they transfer their penchants for worry about the future and their reliance on their watches into the architecture, and the spirit of these frustrations sunders the effect of Twilmish Time; the phenomenon that allows those few hours between the outgoing and incoming tide to seem to this special breed of faerie folk to last as long as all our long years seem to us.

Here are a few of the other things they look for in a residence: a place wrought by children's hands and not plastic molds or metal shovels, so that there are no right angles and each inch of living space resembles the unique contours of the human imagination; a complex structure with as many rooms and tunnels, parapets, bridges, dungeons, and moats as possible; a place decorated with beautiful shells and sea glass (they prize most highly the use of blue bottle glass tumbled smooth as butter by the surf, but green is also welcome); the use of driftwood to line the roads or a pole made from a sea horse's spike flying a sea weed flag; the absence of sand crabs, those burrowing, armored nuisances that can undermine a wall or infest a dungeon; a retaining wall of modest height, encircling the entire design, to stave off the sea's hungry high-tide advances as long as possible but not block the ocean view; and a name for the place, already bestowed and carefully written with the quill of a fallen gull feather above the main gate, something like Heart's Desire or Sandland or Castle of Dreams, so that precious seconds of the inhabitant's life might not be taken up with this decision.

Even many of those whose life work it is to study the lineage and ways of the faerie folk are unfamiliar with the Twilmish, and no one is absolutely certain of their origin. I suppose they have been around at least as long as sand castles, and probably before, inhabiting the sand caves of Neanderthal children way back at the dawn of human history. Perhaps, in their spirit form, they had come into existence with the universe and had simply been waiting eons for sand castles to finally appear, or perhaps they are a later development in the evolution of the faerie phylum. Some believe them to be part of that special line of enchanted creatures that associate themselves with the creativity of humans, like the monkey of the ink pot, attracted to the work of writers, or the painter's demon, which plays in the bright mix of colors on an artist's pallet, resulting in never before seen hues.

Whichever and whatever the case may be, there is only one way to truly understand the nature of the Twilmish, and that is to meet one of them. So here, I will relate for you the biography of an individual of their kind. All of what follows will have taken place on the evening of a perfect summer day after you had left the beach, and will occupy the time between tides--from when you had sat down to dinner and five hours later when you laid your head upon the pillow to sleep. There seemed to you to be barely enough time to eat your chicken and potatoes, sneak your carrots to the dog beneath the table, clean up, watch your favorite tv show, draw a picture of a pirate with an eye patch and a parrot upon her shoulder, brush your teeth and kiss your parents goodnight. To understand the Twilmish, though, is to understand that in a mere moment, all can be saved or lost, an ingenious idea can be born, a kingdom can fall, love can grow, and life can discover its meaning.

Now, if I wasn't an honest fellow, I would, at this juncture, merely make up a bunch of hogwash concerning the biography of a particular Twilmish, for it is fine to note the existence of a race, but one can never really know anything of substance about a group until one has met some of its individuals. The more one meets, the deeper the understanding. There is a problem, though, in knowing anything definitive about any particular Twilmish, and that is because they are no bigger than a human thumbnail. In addition, they move more quickly than an eye-blink in order to stretch each second into a minute, each minute into an hour.

I've never been a very good liar, and as luck and circumstance would have it, there is no need for it in this situation, for out of the surf one day in 1999, on the beach at Barnegat Light, in New Jersey, a five year old girl, Chieko Quigley, found a conch shell at the shore line, whose spiral form enchanted her. She took it home and used it as a decoration on the windowsill of her room. Three years later, her cat, Madelain, knocked the shell onto the floor and from within the winding labyrinth, the opening to which she would place her ear from time to time to listen to the surf, fell an exceedingly tiny book, no bigger than ten grains of sand stuck together; its cover made of sea horse hide, its pages, dune grass. Since I am an expert on faeries and faerie lore, it was brought to me to discern whether it was a genuine artifact or a prank. The diminutive volume was subjected to electron microscopy, and what was discovered was that it was an actual journal that had once belonged to a Twilmish named Eelin-Ok.

Eelin-Ok must have had artistic aspirations as well, for on the first page is a self-portrait, a line drawing done in squid ink. He stands, perhaps on the tallest turret of his castle, obviously in an ocean breeze that lifts the long dark hair of his topknot and causes his full length cape to billow out behind him. He is stocky, with broad shoulders, calf muscles and biceps as large around as his head. His face, homely-handsome, with its thick brow and smudge of a nose, might win no beauty contests but could inspire comfort with its look of simple honesty. The eyes are intense and seem to be intently staring at something in the distance. I can not help but think that this portrait represents the moment when Eelin-Ok realized that the chaotic force of the ocean would at some point consume himself and his castle, While Away.

The existence of the journal is a kind of miracle in its own right, and the writing within is priceless to the Twilmish historian. It seems our subject was a Twilmish of few words, for between each entry it is evident that some good portion of time has passed, but taken all together they represent, as the title page suggests: The Annals of Eelin-Ok. So here they are, newly translated from the Twilmish by the ingenious decoding software called Faerie- Speak (a product of Fen & Dale Inc.), presented for the first time to the reading public.


How I Happened


I became aware of It, a place for me to be, when I was no more than a cloud, drifting like a notion in the breaker's mist. It's a frightening thing to make the decision to be born. Very little ever is what it seems until you get up close and touch it. But this castle that the giant, laughing architects created and named While Away (I do not understand their language but those are the symbols the way they were carved) with a word scratched driftwood plaque set in among the scalloped maroon cobbles of the courtyard, was like a dream come true. The two turrets, the bridge and moat, the counting room paneled with nautilus amber, the damp dungeon and secret passage, the strong retaining wall that encircled it, every sturdy inch bejeweled by beautiful blue and green and clear glass, decorated with the most delicate white shells, seemed to have leaped right out of my imagination and onto the beach in much the same way that I leaped into my body and life as Eelin-Ok. Sometimes caution must be thrown to the wind, and in this instance it was. Those first few moments were confusing what with the new feel of being, the act of breathing, the wind in my face. Some things I was born knowing, as I was born full grown, and others I only remember that I have forgotten them. The enormous red orb, sitting atop the horizon, and the immensity of the ocean, struck me deeply; their powerful beauty causing my emotions to boil over. I staggered to the edge of the lookout post on the taller turret, leaned upon the battlement and wept. “I've done it,” I thought, and then a few moments later after I had dried my eyes, “Now what?”


Phargo


Upon returning from a food expedition, weighed down with a bit of crab meat dug out from a severed claw dropped by a gull and a goodly portion of jelly fish curd, I discovered a visitor in the castle. He waited for me at the front entrance, hopping around impatiently; a lively little sand flea, black as a fish eye, and hairy all over. I put down my larder and called him to me, patting his notched little head. He was full of high spirits and circled round me, barking in whispers. His antics made me smile. When I finally lifted my goods and trudged toward the entrance to the turret that held the dining hall, he followed, so I let him in and gave him a name, Phargo. He is my companion, and although he doesn't understand a word of Twilmish, I tell him everything.


Faerie Fire


Out of nowhere, came my memory of the spell to make fire - three simple words and a snapping of the fingers. I realize I have innate powers of magic and enchantment, but they are meager, and I have decided to not rely on them too often as this is a world in which one must learn to trust mainly in muscle and brain in order to survive.


Making Things


The castle is a wondrous structure, but it is my responsibility to fill it with items both useful and decorative. There is no luckier place to be left with nothing than the sea shore, for with every wave useful treasures are tossed onto the beach, and before you can collect them, another wave carries more. I made my tools from sharp shards of glass and shell, not yet worried smooth by the action of the waters. These I attached to pieces of reed and quills from bird feathers and tied tight with tough lanyards of dune grass. With these tools I made a table for the dining hall from a choice piece of driftwood, carved out a fireplace for my bedroom, created chairs and sofas from the cartilage of blue fish carcasses. I have taught Phargo the names of these tools, and the ones he can lift, he drags to me when I call for them. My bed is a mussel shell, my wash basin a metal thing discarded by the giant, laughing architects, on the back of which are the characters “Root Beer,” and smaller, “twist off,” along with an arrow following the circular curve of it (very curious), my weapon is an axe of reed handle and shark's tooth head. Making things is my joy.


The Fishing Expedition


Up the beach, the ocean has left a lake in its retreat, and it is swarming with silver fish as long as my leg. Phargo and I set sail in a small craft I burned out of a block of drift wood and rigged with a sail made from the fin of a dead Sea Robin. I took a spear and a lantern; a chip of quartz that catches the rays of the red orb and magnifies them. The glow of the prism stone drew my prey from the depths. Good thing I tied a generous length of seaweed round the spear, for my aim needed practice. Eventually, I hit the mark, and dragged aboard fish after fish, which I then bludgeoned with my axe. The boat was loaded. As we headed back to shore, a strong gust of wind caught the sail and tipped the low riding craft perilously to one side. I lost my grip on the tiller and fell overboard into the deep water. This is how I learned to swim. After much struggling and many deep, spluttering draughts of brine, Phargo whisper barking frantically from on board, I made it to safety and climbed back aboard. This, though, my friend is also how I learned to die. The feeling of the water rising around my ears, the ache in the lungs, the frantic racing of my mind, the approaching blackness, I know I will meet again on my final day.


Dune Rat


The dunes lie due north of While Away, a range of tall hills, sparsely covered with a sharp forbidding grass I use to tie up my tools. I have been to them on expeditions to cut blades of the stuff, but never ventured into their recesses, as they are vast and their winding paths like a maze. From out of this wilderness came a shaggy behemoth with needle teeth and a tail like an eel. I heard it squeal as it tried to clear the outer wall. Grabbing my spear I ran to the front gate and out along the bridge that crosses the moat. There I was able to take the shell staircase to the top of the wall. I knew that if the rat breached the wall the castle would be destroyed. As it tried to climb over, though, its back feet displaced the sand the battlement was made of and it kept slipping back. I charged headlong and drove the tip of my spear into its right eye. It screeched in agony and retreated, my weapon jutting from the oozing wound. There was no question that it was after me, a morsel of Twilmish meat, or that others would eventually come.


The Red Orb Has Drowned


The red orb has sunk into the ocean, leaving only pink and orange streaks behind in its wake. Its drowning has been gradual and it has struggled valiantly, but now darkness reigns upon the beach. Way above there are points of light that hypnotize me when I stare too long at them and reveal themselves in patterns of - a sea gull, a wave, a crab. I must be sure to gather more driftwood in order to keep the fires going, for the temperature has also slowly dropped. Some little time ago, a huge swath of pink material washed ashore. On it was a symbol belonging, I am sure, to the giant, laughing architects, a round yellow circle made into a face with eyes and a strange, unnerving smile. From this I will cut pieces and make warmer garments. Phargo sleeps more often now, but when he is awake he still bounds about senselessly and makes me laugh often enough. We swim like fish through the dark.


In My Bed


I lay in my bed writing. From beyond the walls of my castle I hear the waves coming and going in their steady assuring rhythm, and the sound is lulling me toward sleep. I have been wondering what the name assigned to my home by the architects means. While Away -- if only I could understand their symbols, I might understand more the point of my life. Yes, the point of life is to fish and work and make things and explore, but there are times, especially now since the red orb has been swallowed, that I suspect there is some secret reason for my being here. There are moments when I wish I knew and others when I couldn't care less. Oh, to be like Phargo, for whom a drop of fish blood and a hopping run along the beach is all the secret necessary. Perhaps I think too much. There is the squeal of a bat, the call of a plover, the sound of the wind, and they mix with the salt air to bring me closer to sleep. When I wake, I will………


What's This?


Something is rising out of the ocean in the east, being born into the sky. I think it is going to be round like the red orb, but it is creamy white. Whatever it is, I welcome it, for it seems to cast light, not bright enough to banish the darkness, but an enchanted light that reflects off the water and gracefully illuminates the beach where the shadows are not too harsh. We rode atop a giant brown armored crab with a sharp spine of a tail as it dragged itself up the beach. We dined on bass. Discovered a strange fellow on the shore of the lake. A kind of statue but not made of stone. He bobbed on the surface, composed of a slick and somewhat pliable substance. He is green from head to toe. He carries in his hands what appears to be a weapon and wears a helmet, both also green. I have dragged him back to the castle and set him up on the tall turret to act as a sentinel. Getting him up the winding staircase put my back out. I'm not as young as I used to be. With faerie magic I will give him the power of sight and speech, so that although he does not move, he can be vigilant and call out. I wish I had the power to cast a spell that would bring him fully to life, but alas, I'm only Twilmish. I have positioned him facing the north, in order to watch for rats. I call him Greenly, just to give him a name.


200 Steps


I now record the number of steps it is at this point in time from the outer wall of the castle to where the breakers flood the beach. I was spied upon in my work, for the huge white disk on the horizon has just recently shown two eyes over the brim of the ocean. Its light is dream-like, and it makes me wonder if I have really taken form or if I am still a spirit, dreaming I am not.


A Momentous Discovery


Phargo and I discovered a corked bottle upon the beach. As has become my practice, I took out my hatchet and smashed a hole in its side near the neck. Often, I have found that these vessels are filled with an intoxicating liquor that, in small doses warms the innards when the wind blows and in large doses makes me sing and dance upon the turret. Before I could venture inside, I heard a voice call out, “Help us.” I was frozen in my tracks, thinking I had opened a ship of ghosts. Then, from out of the dark, back of the bottle, came a figure. Imagine my relief when I saw it was a female faerie. I am not exactly sure which branch of the folk she is from, but she is my height, dressed in a short gown woven from spider thread, and has alluring, long orange hair. She staggered forward and collapsed in my arms. Hiding behind her was a small faerie child: a boy, I think. He was frightened and sickly looking, and said nothing but followed me when I put the woman over my shoulder and carried her home. They now rest peacefully down the hall in a makeshift bed I put together from a common clam shell and a few folds of that pink material. I am filled with questions.


The Moon


Meiwa told me the name of the white circle in the sky, which has now revealed itself completely. She said it was called the Moon, the bright specks are Stars, and the red orb was the Sun. I live in a time of darkness called the Night, and amazingly, there exists a time of brightness when the sun rules a blue sky and one can see a mile or more. All these things, I think I knew at one time before I was born into this life. She knows many things and some secrets of the giant architects. The two of them, she and her son, are Willnits, sea faring people apparently who live aboard the ships of the giants. They had fallen asleep in an empty rum bottle, thinking it was safe, but when they awoke, they found the top stopped with a cork and their haven adrift upon the ocean. Sadly enough, her husband had been killed by one of the giants, called humans, who mistook him for an insect and crushed him. I can vouch that she is expert with a fishing spear and was quite fierce in helping turn back an infestation of burrowing sand crabs in the dungeon. The boy, Magtel, is quiet but polite and seems a little worse for wear from their harrowing adventures. Only Phargo can bring a smile to him. I made him his own axe to lift his spirits.


A Small Night Bird


Meiwa has enchanted a small night bird, by attracting it with crumbs of a special bread she bakes from thin air and sea foam and then using her lovely singing voice to train it. When she mounted the back of the delicate creature and called me to join her, I will admit I was skeptical. Once upon the bird, my arms around her waist, she made a kissing noise with her lips, and we took off into the sky. My head swam as we went higher and higher and then swept along the shore line in the light of the moon. She laughed wildly at my fear, and when we did not fall, I laughed too. She took me to a place where the giants live, in giant houses. Through a glass pane, we saw a giant girl, drawing a colorful picture of a bird sitting upon a one eyed woman's shoulder. Then we were off, traveling miles, soaring and diving, and eventually coming to rest on the bridge moat of While Away. The bird is not the only creature who has been enchanted by Meiwa.


150 Steps


Magtel regularly accompanies me on the search for food now. When we came upon a blue claw in the throes of death, he stepped up next to me and put his hand in mine. We waited until the creature stopped moving, and then took our axes to the shell. Quite a harvest. It is now only 150 steps from the wall to the water.


Greenly Speaks


I did not hear him at first as I was sleeping so soundly, but Meiwa, lying next to me, did and pinched my nose to wake me. We ran to the top of the turret, where Greenly was still sounding the alarm, and looked north. There three shadows moved ever closer across the sand. I went and fetched my bow and arrows, my latest weapon, devised from something Meiwa had said she'd seen the humans use. I was waiting to fire until they drew closer. Meiwa had a plan, though. She called for her night bird, and we mounted its back. We attacked from the air, and the monsters never got within 50 steps of the castle. My arrows could not kill them but effectively turned them away. I would have perished without her.


While Meiwa Slept


While Meiwa slept, Magtel and I took torches, slings for carrying large objects upon the back, and our axes, and quietly left the castle. Phargo trailed after us, of course. There was a far place I had been to only one other time before. Heading west, I set a brisk pace and the boy kept up, sometimes running to stay next to me. Suddenly he started talking, telling me about a creature he had seen while living aboard the ship. “A whale,” he called it. “Bigger than a hundred humans, with a mouth like a cavern.” I laughed and asked him if he was certain of this. “I swear to you,” he said. “It blows water from a hole on its back, a fountain that reaches to the sky.” He told me the humans hunted them with spears from small boats and made from their insides lamp oil and perfume. What an imagination the child has, for it did not end with the whale, but he continued to relate to me so many unbelievable wonders as we walked along I lost track of where we were and, though I watched for danger and the path through the sand ahead, it was really inward that my vision was trained, picturing his fantastic ideas. Before this he had not said but a few words to me. After turning north at the shark skeleton, we traveled a while more and then entered the forest. Our torches pushed back the gloom, but it was mightily dark in there among the brambles and stickers. A short way in, I spotted what we had come for. Giant berries, like clusters of beads, indigo in color and sweating their sweetness. I hacked one off its vine and showed Magtel how to chop one down. We loaded them into our slings and then started back. There were a few tense moments before leaving the forest, for a long yellow snake slithered by as we stood stiller than Greenly, holding our breath. I had to keep one foot lightly on Phargo's neck to keep him from barking or hopping and giving us away. On the way home, the boy asked if I had ever been married, and then a few minutes later if I had any children. We presented the berries to Meiwa upon her waking. I will never forget the taste of them.


The Boy Has A Plan


Maglet joined Meiwa and me as we sat on the tall turret enjoying a sip of liquor from a bottle I had recently discovered on the beach. He said he knew how to protect the castle against the rats. This was his plan. Gather as much dried sea weed that has blown into clumps upon the beach, encircle the outer wall of the castle with it. When Greenly sounds the alarm, we will shoot flaming arrows into it, north, south, east and west, creating a ring of fire around us that the rats can not pass through. I thought it ingenious. Meiwa kissed him and clapped her hands. We will forthwith begin collecting the necessary sea weed. It will be a big job. My boy is gifted.


100 Steps


I don't know why I checked how far the ocean's flood could reach. 100 is a lot of steps.


We Are Ready


After a long span of hard work, we have completed the sea weed defense of the castle. The rats are nowhere in sight. I found a large round contrivance, one side metal, one glass, buried in the sand. It had a heart beat that sounded like a tiny hammer tapping glass. With each beat, an arrow inside the glass moved ever so slightly in a course describing a circle. Meiwa told me it was called a watch, and the humans use them to mark the passage of time. Later, I returned to it and struck it with my axe until its heart stopped beating. The longer of the metal arrows, I have put in my quiver.


The Truth, Like A Wave


Magtel has fallen ill. He is too tired to get out of bed. Meiwa told me the truth. They must leave soon and find another ship, for they can not exist for too long away from one. She told me that she had used a spell to keep them alive for the duration they have been with me, but now it is weakening. I asked her why she had never told me. “Because we wanted to stay with you, at While Away, forever,” she said. There were no more words. We held each other for a very long time, and I realized that my heart was a castle made of sand.


They Are Gone


In order to get Magtel well enough to take the flight out to sea on the night bird, I built a bed for him in the shape of a ship, and this simple ruse worked to get him back upon his feet. We made preparations for their departure, packing food and making warm blankets to wrap around them as they flew out across the ocean. “We will need some luck to find a ship,” Meiwa told me. “The night bird is not the strongest of fliers and she will be carrying two. We may have to journey far before we can set down.” “I will worry about your safety until the day I die,” I told her. “No,” she said, “when we find a home on the sea, I will have the bird return to you, and you will know we have survived the journey. Then write a note to me and tie it to the bird's leg and it will bring us word of you.” This idea lightened my heart a little. Then it was time to say goodbye. Magtel, shark tooth axe in hand, put his arms around my neck. “Keep me in your imagination,” I told him and he said he always would. Meiwa and I kissed for the last time. They mounted the night bird. Then with that sound she made, Meiwa called the wonderful creature to action, and it lit into the sky. I ran up the steps to the top of the tall turret in time to see them circle once and call back to me. I reached for them, but they were gone, out above the ocean, crossing in front of the watchful moon.


50 Steps


It has been so long, I can't remember the last time I sat down to record things. I guess I knew this book contained memories I have worked so hard to overcome. It is just Phargo and me now, fishing, gathering food, combing the shore. The Moon has climbed high to its tallest turret and looks down now with a distant stare as if in judgment upon me. 50 steps remain between the outer wall and the tide. I record this number without trepidation or relief. I have grown somewhat slower, a little dimmer, I think. In my dreams, when I sleep, I am forever heading out across the ocean upon the night bird.


Greenly Speaks


I was just about to go fishing when I heard Greenly pipe up and call, “Intruders.” I did not even go up to the turret to look first, but fetched my bow and arrows and an armful of driftwood sticks with which to build a fire. When I reached my lookout, I turned north, and sure enough, in the pale moonlight I saw the beach crawling with rats, more than a dozen.

I lit a fire right on the floor of the turret, armed my bow, and dipped the end of the arrow into the flames until it caught. One, two, three, four, I launched my flaming missiles at the ring of dry sea weed. The fire grew into a perfect circle, and some of the rats were caught in it. I could hear them scream from where I stood. Most of the rest turned back, but to the west, where one had fallen in the fire, it smothered the flame, and I saw another climb upon its carcass and keep coming for the castle. I left the taller turret and ran to the smaller one to get a better shot at the attacker. Once atop it, I fired arrow after arrow at the monster, which had cleared the retaining wall and was within the grounds of While Away. With shafts sticking out of it, blood dripping, it came ever forward, intent upon devouring me. Upon reaching the turret on which I stood, it reared back on its haunches and scrabbled at the side of the structure which started to crumble. In one last attempt to fell it, I reached for the metal arrow I had taken from the watch and loaded my bow. I was sweating profusely, out of breath, but I felt more alive in that moment than I had in a long while. My aim was true, the shaft entered its bared chest, and dug into its heart. It toppled forward, smashed the side of the turret, and then the whole structure began to fall. My last thought was, “If the fall does not kill me, I will be buried alive.” That is when I lost my footing and dropped into thin air. But I did not fall, for something caught me, like a soft hand, and eased me down to safety upon the ground. It was a miracle I suppose, or maybe a bit of Meiwa's magic, but the night bird had returned. The smaller turret was completely destroyed, part of it having fallen into the courtyard. I dug that out, but the entire structure of the place was weakened by the attack and since then pieces of wall crumble off every so often and the bridge is tenuous. It took me forever to get rid of the rat carcass. I cut it up and dragged the pieces outside what remained of the retaining wall and burned them.


A Letter


The night bird stayed with me while I repaired, as best I could, the damage to the castle, but as soon as I had the chance, I sat down and wrote a note to Meiwa and Maglet, trying desperately and, in the end, ultimately failing, to tell them how much I missed them. Standing on the turret with Phargo by my side, watching the bird take off again brought back all the old feelings even stronger and I felt lost.


The Moon, The Sea, The Dark


The water laps only ten steps from the outer wall of the castle. Many things have happened since I last wrote. Once, while lying in bed, I saw, through my bedroom window, two humans, a giant female and male, walk by hand in hand. They stopped at the outer wall of the castle and spoke in booming voices. From the sound of their words, I know they were admiring my home, even in its dilapidated state. I took back the enchantment from Greenly, so he would not have the burden of sight and speech any longer; his job was finished and he had done it well. I dragged him to the lake and set him in my boat and pushed it off. Oh, how my back ached after that. If the rats come now, I will not fight them. The dungeon has been over run by sand crabs, and when I am quiet in my thoughts, I hear their constant scuttling about down below, undermining the foundation of While Away. A piece of the battlement fell away from the turret, which is not a good sign, but gives me an unobstructed view of the sea. Washed up on the beach, due east of the castle, I found the letter I had sent so long ago with the night bird. The ink had run and it was barely legible, but I knew it was the one I had written. I am tired.


The Stars Fall


I have just come in from watching the stars fall. Dozens of them came streaking down. I smiled at the beauty of it. What does it mean?


A Visitor


I saw the lights of a ship out on the ocean and then I saw something large and white descending out of the darkness. Phargo was barking like mad, hopping every which way. I cleared my eyes to see it was a bird, a tern, and a small figure rode upon its back. It was Maglet, but no longer a boy. He was grown. I ran down from the turret, nearly tripping as I went. He met me by the bridge of the moat and we hugged for a very long time. He is now taller than I. He could only stay a little while, as that was his ship passing out at sea. I made us clam broth and we had jelly fish curd on slices of spearing. When I asked him, “Where is Meiwa?” he shook his head. “She took ill some time ago and did not recover,” he said. “But she asked me to bring this to you if I should ever get the chance.” I held back my tears not to ruin the reunion with the boy. “She stole it from one of the humans aboard ship and saved it for you.” Here he produced a little square of paper that he began to unfold. When it was completely undone, and spread across the table, he smoothed it with his hands. “A picture of the Day,” he said. There it was, the sun, bright yellow, the sky blue, a beach of pure white sand lapped by a crystal clear, turquoise ocean. When it came time for Maglet to leave, he told me he still had his axe and it had come in handy many times. He told me that there were many other Willnits aboard the big ship and it was a good community. We did not say goodbye. He patted Phargo on the head and got upon the back of the large white bird. “Thank you, Eelin-Ok,” he said and then was gone. If it wasn't for the picture of Day, I'd have thought it all a dream.


The Tide Comes In


The waves have breached the outer wall and the sea floods in around the base of the castle. I have folded up the picture of Day and have it now in a pouch on a string around my neck. Phargo waits for me on the turret, from where we will watch the last seconds of While Away. Just a few more thoughts, though, before I go up to join him. When first I stepped into myself as Eelin-Ok, I worried if I had chosen well my home, but I don't think there can be any question that While Away was everything I could have asked for. So too, many times I questioned my life, but now, in this final moment, memories of Phargo's whisper bark, the thrill of battle against the rats, fishing on the lake, the face of the moon, the taste of blackberries, the wind, Greenly's earnest nature, the boy, holding my hand, flying on the night bird, lying with Meiwa in the mussel shell bed, come flooding in like the rising tide. “What does it all mean?” I have always asked. “It means you've lived a life, Eelin-Ok.” I hear now the walls begin to give way. I have to hurry. I don't want to miss this.