Place of the Heart, Part 3 of 3 Meier was too tired and too awestruck to feel as foolish as he otherwise might have for cuddling a woodland animal like a child with a grossly oversized teddy bear. It was a night of incongruities, and Meier accepted this as unthinkingly as he had the great creature's latest gift. Still kneeling, he regarded the sprig in his free hand, relieved that it showed no sign of withering at his touch. He was slipping it into a pocket when his fingers touched the creature's earlier gift, and this he pulled out to regard once more -- the pearl in his palm, the runner of periwinkle flowing between his fingers. For a moment he thought the very vine in his hand was moving unassisted -- but no, one of those claws was bending it, until the flower at its tip bowed down to eclipse the pearl. Meier looked up, and the creature pointed once more toward the city dome. "I wish I understood you," Meier said. "I want to -- I truly do. But I am a stranger here. I don't know the language, it seems. I wish you could _show_ me." The creature responded with another of those impossible grins, then straightened to its full considerable height. It seemed to stand on tiptoe, raised both forelimbs, then slowly moved them down. As if they were indeed wings and that gesture a singly mighty wingbeat, it rose with majestic slowness from the ground. Midway up the trees about it, it paused, rear claws en pointe, arms outspread once more, and seemed to widen its eyes at him. Levitation! Meier had regarded it with mixed feelings when it numbered among the powers of other Nobles. His scorn for such a pretentious mode of flight was a thin veil for his envy -- flying with wings was a skill he took pride in having mastered, but it was nonetheless no small feat: fatiguing to maintain using a body designed to be earthbound, and with its share of risks and obstacles. Those who could levitate, it seemed, simply wished for flight and flew. But there was no directing envy or scorn at the embodiment of magic when it smiled down at him, and Meier quickly pocketed his treasures and leapt skyward, cape merging to his arms. Two wingbeats bore him to the height where the creature had hovered, and two more carried him through a dark, intangible tangle. Suddenly he was well above the forest, overflying its dense unbroken canopy. Unbroken canopy? Meier's wings faltered for a stroke as he stared down, incredulous. There was no sign of the little glade that the stars had gazed upon. It had been swallowed up. Meier swooped and circled, blinking. Change of height and angle made no difference. "Is it gone?" he shouted to the creature. "Have I lost even her grave?" Meier's companion responded with a smile and several whisker-twitches, then flipped in a loop-the-loop before gliding forward -- toward the great dome of the City of the Night. Meier followed with more economy of motion and more puzzlement than ever. He had powers that violated what were usually thought of as the laws of physics, but making bits of woodland appear and disappear was another matter. And then he reminded himself: he had found the mysterious glade twice now. Surely a third time was possible. The dome, already huge, grew larger and larger in their view. Nearly at its edge, the creature performed a pirouette and simply sank down feet first like a cooling hot-air balloon. <<Show-off,>> Meier thought dryly, but the dead zone about the dome gave him space for the angled descent that his own manner of flight permitted. His cape fell free of arms that were arms once more, and he retrieved the pearl and the periwinkle, hoping that they were keys to the puzzle before him. The creature lifted the pearl from his open hand -- Meier still could not believe its claws were so dexterous -- and pressed it into the dry dirt so only a half-sphere was visible. Meier knelt to look closer. The creature tapped the side of the pearl -- this with astonishing delicacy -- then tapped the city wall in an identical gesture. "The same thing," Meier murmured, referring to the gesture, and then it dawned on him: "The city and the pearl are the same thing? The pearl ... represents ... ?" "YAWWW!" the creature enthused, whiskers twitching with the force of its grin. It plucked the periwinkle from Meier's hand and laid it down so the pearl was concealed entirely, then pulled the pearl out from under it, returned it to Meier, and smiled once more. "And you'd rather there were green things in its place," Meier concluded. "That's ... that _is_ it. The city -- it even _looks_ like a pearl. And it's no more welcome to this planet than a pearl to a shellfish. You would make green things grow in its place if it were gone ... yes. Yes, you would." The creature returned the periwinkle sprig to Meier as if bestowing laurels on a student who had scored particularly well on an exam. "Well." Meier rose, expression pensive. "I don't know what you want me to do, now that I understand. The city ... the City of the Night is dead. There's nothing alive in it, and there hasn't been for centuries." He sighed. "There's nothing for me there. Now I'm not sure there ever was. And there's no one else who would miss it. Your woodland ... is very different from our technology. Inferior, most of my kind would say. But they aren't here, are they? And I am. If Charlotte had seen what I have seen --" Tears threatened again, and after a long moment Meier said, very softly, "I don't know how to undo what we've done." The creature turned its grin toward the pale wall and whispered, "Yawp." The wall seemed to tremble, and a section of it nearly the creature's size shimmered, then coalesced into grains of white that silently floated to the ground. Meier stared at the new breach in the wall, then at the creature. "You can do that?" The grin was as plain as a spoken _I just did_. "Then do it," Meier whispered at last, and his face fell as he closed his eyes. But he couldn't help opening them again and raising his head at the creature's great indrawn breath, and at the soaring, reverberating "YAAAWWWP!" that seemed to shake the very earth as it glided over the city dome. The dome's pale skin trembled and grew frosty; the very fabric of the whole structure was a fabric no more, but a mass of particles that glided down. The vista was like a great snow globe, the remnants of the skin coating the buildings and ground with white. And then the buildings themselves followed suit, trembling, shimmering, and slowly slumping into piles of sand. These too grew smooth as bits of dome continued to glide down onto what at last was simply a great white plain. Gazing across it, Meier could see treetops at a distance. It had been a huge city, a huge pearl ... or perhaps a huge tumor. But now the land could heal. Meier let his gaze travel the full compass of what had been the great city. There was in fact one remaining irregularity in its horizon -- a single great rocket ship, the one that had borne him here. The silence had been long when Meier's voice broke it. "That's a hint, isn't it?" Meier turned to see if he had placed the correct interpretation on this anomaly -- but he was alone. * * * The shining dust of the city was like sand; it sank beneath Meier's feet as he made his way across what was now a great circular expanse of desert. Although walking was difficult, he felt no inclination to use his wings but continued to trudge toward what had been the city's heart. He had touched the earth there once; would any hint of what he had seen still remain? At last there was an irregularity in the perfectly smooth surface: a small indentation. Meier felt certain that this marked what had been the earth bed. <<Then let his be a memorial,>> Meier thought, <<at the grave of the Nobles whose time is past. Let me remember them, offer this at least.>> Digging aside the pale dust, he scooped the earth beneath it into a little mound and wondered -- would it be ungracious use of a gift? Surely not. He retrieved the sprig of periwinkle from his pocket. It was surprisingly fresh, even the tender petals of the blossom undamaged. He carefully sank the stem into the mound. The vampire-kind had no prayers for their dead, no rituals of farewell, but Meier knelt, head bowed and eyes closed, for a long moment, in honor of those who had built the city as a refuge for Earth's children of the night. They had done their best, surely, and he owed them this acknowledgment even though their works had not offered what he sought. Meier rose, and the breeze that stirred the dust about him moved the sprig so it seemed to bow. Meier bowed in return, then leapt up in flight, cape-wings striking the sand. His wings caught the wind, and he lofted himself up, circling high, high, higher than the dome had ever stood. Above him he could see the sun-touched tops of the clouds; below, the planet outspread, as much a ring of green as a circle of white. Meier looked down to the smudge at the circle's heart -- but in only the time it had taken him to rise above it, what had been a sprig had become a bright patch of green. Even with dawn so near, Meier smiled. * * * Meier could take a hint. But not before taking one last look to seal into his heart what he had brought to this place and what he had left here where he himself could not remain. Why not take Charlotte back? Earth had been her home as much as his -- more, some would say -- and there he could bury her anywhere he pleased, could visit and honor that grave any way he liked. But coming here and remaining here had been the dream they shared: let it be true, at least for her. The Earth might change, but if ever a spot promised to hold true, it was that quiet place where she now lay -- that place, and the place it held in his heart. It was the greatest leap of faith Meier had ever taken, greater than stepping into Carmila's long-disused rocket and giving the A.I. the command to take off. He stood in the woodland at what had been the city's perimeter, head bowed, and softly said, "Great One, let me be with her one last time." The world shifted ever so subtly, and Meier did not open his eyes until he had taken a half dozen paces forward ... and felt grass rather than leaves beneath his boots. It was there, all there: the clearing, the grass, the periwinkle still in bloom. Meier sighed an oddly happy sigh and sat at the foot of the grave. Strange that he could sit here quite content with the realization that the City of the Night was gone, and that he had in effect signed the death warrant of his long-sought goal. If the creature who ruled this world could have wrought that destruction at any time, why had it not done so long ago? Meier could speculate -- and did indeed pursue several trains of thought -- but knew its forbearance would remain a mystery. He felt only a distant amusement at the realization that he was no less obliged to leave this place than he had been to depart the Earth. He could not feel bitter at the prospect of returning. On Earth he had found Charlotte. It was where he belonged, whatever belonging meant. He would return there soon enough. Or perhaps not; the rocket was old, and (as the City of the Night demonstrated) even the Nobles' technology was not infallible. It might leave him stranded in space, or collide with a meteor and end in a grand silent smash. But just now Meier could not mourn or fear the thought of his passing. A little of the wonder and magic of this place had found a home within him, and would be with him wherever he went. Perhaps it was even to be found on Earth as well. Meier hoped so, for now that he had tasted it, it seemed too rich a thing not to be woven into the fabric of all existence. End part 3 of 3 Afterword: About allusions and stuff. The brown-and-yellow moths that I've associated with "Totoro" are regal moths and imperial moths -- or that planet's answer to them. :-) I used them because of their names, but they make great inhabitants of the Totoro universe: their larvae feed on trees, and the adults are huge and fuzzy and quite beautiful. Either species would make a great model for a moth plushie. The story of the pearl that was not a pearl and spiritual eternal life is a Middle English poem that modern editors have titled "Pearl." It is thought to have been written by the same author as "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and two less-known poems, "Cleanness" (or "Purity") and "Patience." The creature's one utterance -- "Yawp" (notice that everything it says consists of part or all of this word) is from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself":"I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world."More information about _My Neighbor Totoro_ is at nausicaa.net. If you haven't seen _My Neighbor Totoro_, it is WAY PAST TIME you did. _Totoro_ is truly a movie for all ages, classic Miyazaki that doesn't hit you over the head with its "green" way of thinking. It is known and marketed as a children's movie, and a particularly quiet and gentle one at that -- some critics have in fact found it TOO quiet and gentle. I'll admit that the first time I watched it I found the beginning almost intolerably slow; my finger was literally headed toward the VCR stop button when the first "little Totoro" showed up. I never got anywhere near the stop button again. The very long synopsis at nausicaa.net goes into almost absurd detail of the movie's events and (as it warns) does include some spoilers. Watching the movie is probably the best way to make its acquaintance. It has been released on both VHS and DVD in the USA and should be readily available. If you're embarrassed to be seen renting a kids' movie, (a) lie and tell them you're babysitting; and (b) it serves you right. ;-) While my enthusiasm for Totoro isn't quite up there with my fanaticism for VHD, I'm definitely a big Totoro fan. It is a movie about truths rather than facts, a movie set in literal reality that keeps the fantastic or supernatural at the edges rather than front and center -- and yet the fantastic or supernatural has a supporting role; it's not just a bit player. One recurring notion in descriptions or reviews of _Totoro_ is that only children can see the Totoros. This is a sensible approach (though not the only workable one) in a movie set in our reality; but the more fantastic the reality, the more visible "magic" can become. I think the underlying truth is that there are times when we all have a need for something outside ourselves, something outside the box we call mundane reality. Children need it more than adults; among adults, artists need it more than accountants. I wanted to write a story about someone who needed and could accept the magic of the Totoros; the D that we know is simply too hard-edged and stoic to fill the bill. Enter Meier the romantic. I didn't have a way of getting him to the original Totoro's home in Tsukamori forest, but in the movie Meier was last seen headed for a place that left my creativity practically unfettered. It would make perfect sense for the Nobles to have set up housekeeping on a planet with physical characteristics similar to Earth's, but in a way that would minimize the disadvantages of their nature: a structure to keep out sunlight and rain, and otherwise provide environmental control ... in every sense, right down to aesthetics. And that was all the setup I needed. The magic, like the truth, is out there. Feedback is welcome.
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