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Today's Story by St. John Campbell

The song ended, and for a moment the music came to a halt. And then, over my shoulder, I heard a voice whisper “Run.”

Midnight Blue

I was alone in the forest.  I was alone on the hill.  The sky above me was midnight blue, and its darkness shone like a sheet of glass in the moonlight.  But there was no moon.  There were even no stars, though there should have been:  the nearest town was dozens of miles away.

I stared up at the empty sky.  Midnight blue, the color of a ceramic tile from ancient Persia.  I walked through the brush looking up, catching glimpses of the perfect night through the tree tops.

I heard a flute.

You’re going to tell me this was circumstantial.  I know you are.  Because any time we hear about something out of the ordinary, we try to explain it away.  Sometimes this is wise:  we have to protect ourselves against swindlers and hustlers.  But sometimes this is a sickness, a malady:  a gangrene eating at the limbs of life.  Sometimes it is the act of a willful child, holding his ears and shouting “no no no!” at something he doesn’t understand.

So yes, it had been a week since I’d last spoken to another human being.  And yes, I had gone a day and a half without food.  I have nothing to hide.

But I heard a flute echoing through the forest.

I stopped.  I reached out and put my hand on a tree.  The music seemed like it was all around me, coming from every direction.  It would be as hard to explain the melody as it would be the color of the night sky.  In my mind, now that I think of it this way, they even matched.  A haunting midnight blue melody under a sky without stars.  The flute rising up and down with the hills, winding its way through the trees, without any light to guide it.

At the time, I thought it was a silver flute.  Now, thinking back, I think I was a wooden one.  You’re going to tell me that this inconsistency makes the whole thing less likely.  But you weren’t there, and the sound of the music has never left my mind.  Not for a second.

I came to a small clearing and I looked up at the beautiful blue sky and listened to the flute echo through the forest and realized that no other human being was around to hear this.  There was no path, there was no way back:  so deep there was only a way in.

The song ended, and for a moment the music came to a halt.  And then, over my shoulder, I heard a voice whisper “Run.”

I didn’t turn.  I didn’t look.  I ran.  If you had been there, you would have understood.  The voice, that voice that came where no other human being could have been, didn’t say to investigate.  It didn’t say to turn around.  It said “Run,” and I listened, though I was tired and lonely and starving.  If you don’t understand that, we will probably never have anything to say to one another after my story is through.

I ran through the forest, stumbling  over branches and lurching to keep from bumping in to trees.  I ran as fast as my legs would carry me, and the music picked up from every side and played a tarantella.  I ran to the tune of a merry Spanish dance and nearly killed myself as tree branches whipped at me in the dark, and from a hundred yards behind me I heard the sound of a woman scream.

It was a panther, hunting.  That’s what they sound like when they find prey.  And I did what I had been told to do, long before I ever left for woods this deep:  I took off my shirt and threw it behind me.  The cats hunt by scent:  it would stop and maul the shirt and give me time to get away.

I ran and I ran and my face was bleeding and my legs were bruised and my hands were bleeding from times I had fallen against the ground, and I heard another cry behind me, like a child wailing, and I took off my pants and threw them behind me and ran further as the flute played its dance.  And later my shoes, and my socks … and at the most dreadful cry of all, my underwear … and I ran, naked, through the woods far, far away from any city, under the midnight blue sky that was empty of stars while the flute played its Spanish dance and something terrible hunted behind me.

You’re going to tell me it didn’t happen this way.  That’s what people tell me.  They say I was deluded:  they take the fact that I’m honest about my hunger and my loneliness and use it against me.  I’ve come to expect it.

But I ran until I couldn’t anymore.  I ran until my body heaved and my legs buckled and I collapsed.  Not many people ever do that:  push their body to the point that it just stops.  But I did, and the spot where I fell was beneath a giant tree with enormous roots and great limbs, and for a long time I couldn’t breathe at all:  I just stared up, through the spaces between its leaves, at the midnight blue sky.

And then the flute, the flute that I’d never gotten any closer to or farther from no matter how hard I ran, stopped the dance, and instead it played slow and it played gently.  It played a soothing melody, the kind a mother would hum to her child while she was holding it absently, her mind on something else.

My breath came suddenly:  my lungs filled, and I wept while the air went in and out of me and the flute cooed and I couldn’t turn my head away from the midnight blue sky.  I began to shudder, and I felt a hand on my head:  someone stroking my hair in time to the music, and the whole world vanished.  Everything except the flute, and the hand on my hair, and the midnight blue sky.

That’s what it was.  That’s what it was like.

When I walked out of the forest, maybe it was the next night, maybe it wasn’t, I was here.  I was taken in by the constables and given clothes.  They always itch.  They say the whole world is explored and connected, and so I expected that someday someone would find me, or recognize my accent.  But it hasn’t happened.  Every night since, there have been stars.  Someday, there won’t be, the sky will be midnight blue, and on that night I’ll head back.

Until then, I’m here, and I don’t think we have anything to talk about.


St. John Campbell is a pseudonym

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