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The Aria

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The Aria
(Or My Fair Lady)


The piercing, futile cries of a young girl fell upon unhearing and uncaring ears as she was carted through the town in a silver gilded chariot. Amidst the rural village of straw, wood, and cobblestone, the bright chariot stood out like a dove among ravens, the cries a mournful song. They were silenced by the crack of a whip, and only barely audible whimpers and the deafening clatter of wheels on cobblestone broke the silence of the otherwise mumbling town. This was Etria, a village lying in the shadows of the main road, known only to its residents and the few dealers that were allowed past the iron-wrought gates; potters and their elegant urns, stone cutters with the clang-clangity-clang of chisels ringing in their ears, lamp makers with fine rice-paper lanterns, and the likes. None were sure whether those padlocked gates were created to keep foreigners out or locals in. Either way, nobody was allowed to leave and those who were out stayed out.


No one knew when the curse had begun, either, but on the night of the full moon, one girl from the village was chosen to become the Aria. The reason was unknown, but whenever the silver chariot of the Aria was driven into town by its marionette charioteers leading horses of the purest white, the Etrians waited to hear which child screamed and which parents retreated to the shunning comfort of their run-down home. Sometimes the girls never returned from the forest where they were carted off to and were never heard again. Some wondered if those screams were their last. Other times they returned broken, pupils dilated, flitting wildly in circles, always muttering something under their breath. One girl returned from the forest unable to stop dancing to the eerie song she sang with a cracking voice. That same girl was buried a day later, one of the few bodies in the graveyard-memorial to the Arias; most of the other two hundred fifty seven graves were placeholders for long-gone corpses. And always, the same mourning song was sung. Some said it was once an innocent nursery rhyme, yet no one knew where it came from or when it was first whispered.


“All the birds of the air

fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,

when they heard the bell toll

for poor C*** Robin.”


Some said the Aria was a sacrifice to appease the rumored spirits in the forest, others claimed that they were brought beyond the gates to an outside world or parallel universe. Old wives’ tales, all of them. Mere theories told over a pint and a warm fire, safe from whatever else was out there with senses dulled from a day’s work in the fields. One young girl was about to find the truth, the same girl chained by a fine silver noose to the chariot wheeling its way through the twilit gloom to the heart of the forest. She was called Celeste, named after the heavens where she belonged. Through the murk of wood and mud, a single wooden sign pointed to Banbury Cross and a faint voice could be heard accompanied by the gentle tinkling of bells, light as laughter.


“Ride a c***-horse to Banbury Cross,

To see a fair lady upon a white horse;

With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,

She shall have music wherever she goes.”


The fog was parted by a single beacon, a girl clad in flowing white, lighter and more pure than any cloud. She was dancing and hopping with great skill, appearing as though she floated on the air, all while she managed to sing the same song, a simple nursery rhyme, over and over and over again. Suddenly, spontaneously, mysteriously, from the shadows, a chorus of voices interrupted the dancer. The chant, a different nursery rhyme, had a sense of finality about it, not unlike the mourning song of the villagers. Coming out of her dancer’s trance, the girl in white ran to the chariot, her bare feet kicking up small spots of mud, soiling her dress. The eerie echo carried on as if from another life.


“Who'll toll the bell?

I, said the Bull,

because I can pull,

I'll toll the bell.”


The dancer threw open the well-oiled chariot door that swung easily at her touch. Moving quickly, she unchained Celeste, removed her own jingling bells, and gently tied them to Celeste’s wrists and ankles. The dancer screamed as a smoky black hand grabbed her shoulder, pulling her away from the other girl, but half-cloaked in the sinister smoke she smiled, finally able to rest.


Her eyes clouded over as she whispered to Celeste, “Sing and dance, little bird. Your Aria begins. Stop at no cost.”


The bells of midnight rang loud and clear, like twelve gunshots in the night. The pale dancer disappeared without another sound and the smoky ashen mass turned to the only other human left.


“Entertain us, Aria. Entertain us until the next full moon. Should you stop, turn and face the consequences.”


Celeste was pulled out of the chariot by two mouse spirits, their coarse fur bristling with spikes. A star spirit flitted by on a cloud of dust, baring sharp teeth and a thrashing tail. She could smell the choking smoke of fire spirits, feel the chill of deep ocean spirits, hear the roar of cat spirits with their nine tails and twenty eyes. And she knew that they were closing in on her, holding their breath, waiting for… something. She stumbled back, causing a jingling discordance and nearly losing her balance. Yet it was the laugh of silver bells that pushed the spirits back to the shadows from where they came. In that moment, it became evident that song and dance were all that could save her, and with her clear child’s voice, Celeste sang the only song she knew.

“London Bridge is falling down,
falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

“Build it up with silver and gold,
Silver and gold, silver and gold,
Build it up with silver and gold,
My fair lady.”


It was going well, the spirits had retreated past the trees in the clearing, and all that remained was the smoky amorphous blob of a spirit. In a voice colder than the touch of death, it whispered,

“Silver and gold will be stolen away,
Stolen away, stolen away,
Silver and gold will be stolen away,
My fair lady.”


Celeste paused. No, this couldn’t happen. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. If the spirits continued, she could only live for so long. Was the end inevitable? Regardless, she remembered the dancer-girl’s last warning. Stop at no cost.
Regardless, the spirits’ echo still challenged her.

“Set a man to watch all night,
Watch all night, watch all night,
Set a man to watch all night,
My fair lady.”

“Suppose the man should fall asleep,
Fall asleep, fall asleep,
Suppose the man should fall asleep?
My fair lady.”


Yes, fall asleep. That would be nice now, to lie among those soft blankets of fog, so much richer than her worn cot at home. Home. Where was that again? Celeste didn’t know, but that didn’t really matter. Sleep would be nice now, she needed sleep. She thought in tangents, nonsensical as she stumbled blindly through molasses air. How long had it been since the beginning of her Aria? The unneeded meaning of start and end for the disappearing soul. No one remembers characters of the book once only the story remains. Insanity, like floating on the air. Psychopathy, a carefree life. Insanity, an illusion that can no longer end. Captivity, unable to run away. Insanity, a solo melody, and aria with a spotlight of black. Insanity, an endless rest, even if all else is stolen away.


The discovered conclusion of disappearing. Outlines fading to black. In the darkness, there's no such thing as light. From the window of madness, she supposes this is farewell. What sanity? Can’t you see the dark already? So much for purity, when days were once longer. Sanity, it must sink. Sanity. But alas, what was that?


It wasn’t much of a goodbye, more of a twisted good night. Out of tune, out of breath, out of will, Celeste sang the final lines as she collapsed to the ground underneath a gentle flower petal rain. The cherry blossoms were finally in bloom, framing a half moon. Fourteen or fifteen days to the end of her Aria. Fourteen or fifteen days too many.

“Give him a pipe to smoke all night,
Smoke all night, smoke all night,
Give him a pipe to smoke all night,
My fair lady.”

“And smoke, they shall,” laughed the black spirit. “You, your village, the forest, and all you’ve left behind, down to the last shadow, the last pin, the last speck of shimmer or light. For I am the spirit of ash, and ashes are all that my flames shall leave behind.”

=-=


It was a very nice urn, actually. A good size, it fit nicely between the pot of flowers and the classics on her bookshelf. There. Now Dickens and Shakespeare could have some company. Next to the dusty leather-bound books, the pristine blue and white pottery looked too new, though she knew it was not. The urn was an antique, with the design of a beautiful girl dancing under the lightly falling petals of a cherry blossom tree. Brushing off a fine layer of dust, she cleared a place for the pot, setting it down with a soft thunk. Just as she was happy with the placement, a small pile of dust- no, ash- caught her eye. Where had it come from? Certainly not… She opened the lid of the urn, using only two fingers on the intricately crafted cap and keeping it at an arms distance as though the relic may spontaneously combust at any moment.



Ashes. Gray-black smudges, like the color of a cloudy half-moon night sky. Yet among those ashes, a single scrap of fabric lay. Though it was decayed with age something about its shimmer told that the scrap could have once… perhaps… just maybe… maybe could have been white.




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OnlyOfSilver said...
Jun. 2 at 1:07 pm:
What I don’t understand is why TeenInk censors words without looking at the context. Both Cock Robin and Banbury Cross are children’s nursery rhymes that use have used the word “cock” in a non-suggestive way since the 1700s.
 
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