A Star For Emily Gaye
For some reason I remember it well. How long has it been? Yet I have seen her again today, lying on her belly in the grass and in her hand, a simple flower, a dandelion, gazing dreamily into the future. Nothing has changed. The old black and white image still radiates tranquility, peace and perhaps, the anticipation of good times still to come. Unfortunately for Emily, the experience of a long life, enriched with its share of joy and sadness was possibly a bridge too far, a promise of youth broken.
I remember often seeing her in the hallway between classes. Not being part of anyone’s inner circle and with books tightly secured beneath her arm, her diminutive frame would carry her inconspicuously, almost mouse-like, to and from the classroom. Pale in complexion, I also recall her hair as fine, sandy brown and like in the picture, cut short for easy maintenance. Walking briskly into the room, Emily seldom made eye contact with other students. Instead, she would elicit a slight upturning at the corners of her mouth, a sort of half-smile. Shy, bookish and although a good student, Emily was also an enigma.
Does anyone else remember her? The majority of the other students paid little attention at the time. There was no teasing or things of that nature because most knew, either by rumor or intuition, that something was wrong. Emily, as she was, just sort of came and went.
There were days too that she would be missing from class with a frequency that seemed at times to be scheduled. During these periods of absence, Emily’s name would not be called when the instructor, upon seeing her vacant desk, performed roll call. They understood too that within Emily’s world, something was wrong. Something terribly wrong.
Of the many years that have passed, this is my remembrance of Emily Gaye, a fragile, delicate flower of another time. With that being said, let us now attempt to learn more of her story...
Spring, a time of rebirth, renewal and a time for letting one’s hair down in celebration of the winter’s passing. For high school students, also a time for new love interests or perhaps, the rekindling of an old flame. A time for holding hands and of late night telephone conversations. A time of weekend dates, dances and parties with the anticipated outcome of a youthful embrace, lips meeting and nervous hands exploring where few, if any, have earlier travelled.
But the spring of which I speak did not come gently to Emily. Rather it was one of an ill wind, masking itself behind a facade of blue skies and a robin’s song. A vicious wind, biting in its approach and relentless while in pursuit of its prey.
Emily’s spring consisted of more hospital visits, diagnostics and of course, clinical analysis. Not that these exercises were radically different considering her past history, but what was alarming to her family were their increasing frequency. The wind was getting stronger, bolder. Emily also felt its anger growing within her like a vile, unwanted guest who would on occasion vanish, only to return again a short time later.
As spring with its beckoning glow began to fade and summer break only weeks away, her situation became more precarious. During this time the frequency of her treatments and severity of her condition were both increasing and she often found herself too fatigued to complete her assignments. Would she need to repeat the 11th grade? This was of a great concern to her, considering the many hours spent in attempts to keep up with her studies.
The radiation treatments, carefully calibrated in purpose and though only moments in duration, hummed repeatedly through her body as they sought out their target. The chemo drugs, the pills, all taken in accordance with her team of physicians, were having little success in taming the growing beast within her. The wind was becoming a spinning vortex, burning, throwing out its tentacles in directions not totally expected, thus making it even more difficult to vanquish.
“Why me? Where will this end? When will this end?” Emily, in ever-growing frustration and pain finally cried out. Since her earlier diagnosis, she had been one to limit her complaints and had faced her challenges with the purpose and steel of someone much older. Now feeling it as her only chance, and in spite of a crack medical team and loving family, she felt she had to find a way, somehow within herself, to beat the beast into submission or at the very least, deny it further success.
Upon returning home and exhausted from her latest treatment, Emily took a deep breath, closed her eyes and drifted away into a deep sleep, such a sleep as she had never before experienced. And she dreamed. In her dream she found herself peering into a well. The sunbeams that kissed the upper reaches of its shaft were quickly vanquished to darkness only a short way from its entrance. Below that point all she could see was darkness; a blackness so total and so complete that it terrified her. Instinctively stepping back, a sudden cool breeze pressed against her body, instantly chilling her.
As Emily stood trembling from the wind’s biting breath, a large raven appeared from above. Crying out only once as if to announce its arrival, it circled overhead for a few moments before coming to rest on the stone wall encircling the ancient well. Surprised by its bold maneuver, she hastily retreated, only to stumble and then fall, into the tall and unkempt grass.
Scrambling to her feet, she looked with alarm at the magnificent creature now perched only a short distance away. With feathers glistening in the midday sun, its coal black eyes calmly studied her as she attempted to compose herself. Moving its head from side to side in continued observation, Emily, unsure of what to do, nodded her head and offered to the raven a nervous smile. Without giving further thought, she then raised her arm and with a wave of her hand, presented to her visitor a further awkward greeting.
In response to her gesture, the raven, visually excited, flapped its wings and emitted a series of cackles so loud that Emily grimaced and reached to cover her ears. However, and in noting her distress, it immediately became quiet once more, returning to its role of silent observer. Then, following a short period of unsettled silence and with eyes locked in an embrace of mutual impasse, Emily, speaking softly, attempted to break the ice.
“H-hello? W-who are you? Where am I? You startled me so with your arrival. Did you come...”
“Ca-Caw!”, interrupted the raven. “Ca-caw!” it cried again as it rose up, furiously flapping its wings. “Ca-caw!” Standing tall on the well’s rim, it shifted its weight from leg to leg, as if in a dance with an unseen partner. It then did the impossible; it spoke. Time, from that moment on, became hostage to a greater force.
“I am Orbis!”, the raven declared. “Do not speak but listen closely! Come nearer. Hear the voice within your well of yesterday’s tomorrows. Be strong. Be not afraid. I will not harm you. Come, come closer!
Bewildered, but obeying the raven’s command, Emily cautiously approached the well. Upon reaching it, she placed her hands upon its rim, took a deep breath and afraid to look in, closed her eyes. Orbis, in close proximity, inched nearer to where Emily stood, positioning himself close to her left shoulder. Leaning toward her, he then whispered, “Emily, listen carefully. Hear the voice from your past and your present speak to you of the future, of your future!”
As Emily stood at the well’s edge, the wind that had so chilled her abruptly departed, allowing a warmth to envelope her body. With this welcome relief, she began to listen intently for any sound coming from the well’s depths. Then she heard something, something peculiar. “What was that, a voice?” she asked Orbis, who gently responded, “Listen closely Emily. Look and listen carefully.”
The sound began anew from deep within the abyss. At first it was whisper-like and within moments, became louder, clearer. “Emily, Emily. Is that you?” it called. “Come to me. Oh, it hurts so. Help me! Please, help me...”
“Orbis? Who’s calling me? How does it know me? Emily, now wide-eyed, cried out in alarm. “Someone’s hurt and they want my help but what can I do? We must try to do something! We must!”.
“We?” asked Orvis. “Now what would you expect that I, a simple raven, could do?”
“You speak, so you can surely perform other magic! Please!” pleaded Emily.
“Look again into the well. What do you see?” asked the raven.
“I-I don’t see anyth...Wait! Yes, there is something! I can see it now. It’s small, swirling. No, it’s growing, glowing! Red! Orbis! What is it?” she cried.
“Move away from the well! Now!” Orbis commanded, as he took to flight from its edge. Within moments a torrent of fire spewed forth, growling, its hot breath sucking the air from Emily’s lungs and forcing her into further retreat. Flames, like tentacles, momentarily licked at the surface surrounding the well before returning, silently, into the darkness.
Emily, stunned by what she had witnessed, called out to Orbis, who in the meantime, continued to circle overhead. “Orbis! I’m frightened! I want to go home. How do I get home?”
The raven responded with a curious rhyme,
There are many paths to walk.
Some are low and some are higher.
The best one’s in between,
But there you face the fire.
The fire’s in your well today,
It’s with you day and night.
Learn of ways to vanquish it,
Be strong, take up the fight.”
“The fight? I know I am not well Orbis. I have fought for so long but what does this have to do with going home?” she asked.
Orbis replied, “Home is anywhere, it is everywhere. It is happiness. It is where you are free, free to live your life, free from anger, from pain, from sadness! Today your home is not happy and is surrounded by the worries of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Yes, you have a good family, but there is much unhappiness and uncertainty about. Why would you wish to return without making it better? First, you must repair your well. Save your well! A healthy well will provide life’s abundances. ”
“I-I think I understand. But the voice, the one I heard from within the well?” Emily asked.
“It is yours.” replied Orbis, landing gracefully nearby. “You see, you are trapped, along with the fire, in your well of yesterday’s tomorrows. You fight the fire but you have been unable to defeat it. It grows stronger, it threatens you. Unless you can destroy the fire, this beast, all of your yesterdays and tomorrows will be one in the same.”
“Does that mean I will die? I expect that it does.” she asked with resignation.
“Yes Emily. It means that you will die.” the raven replied as he turned to gaze westward into the setting sun.
“I see. But the fire Orbis. What is it called? Does it have a name? I want to know.”
Abruptly returning to the sky and once again to rhyme, Orbis exclaimed,
The fire, the fire!
See it how it conspires!
To hide away the truth,
To steal away one’s youth.
Its mystery and its name,
Are sown of ancient earth.
But victory can be found
Within the walls of Kenilworth!
“Kenilworth? What is Kenilworth? Tell me, please!” Emily cried out.
“The journey is far but look to Kenilworth for your star. Remember, it can be found there. It awaits for your arrival from across the sea, this star of yours, your victory key! Ca-caw!”
“Orbis! Wait, come back! Please come back! Orbis...”
A note to the Reader: This short story will not be presented in its entirety online. Additional content will be added from time to time however.