The Cliff and the Old Man

A chapter from a fairy tale by Eric Barnum, illuminated by Matthew Whitney.

The wind whipping off the cliff into the abyss was what finally woke her.  Her bright blue-green eyes glistened and blinked quickly against the golden rays streaming down from the sun.  She shivered as she stood.  The wind was cold and it howled a lonesome tune as it leaped off the edge of the cliff and out over a seemingly never-ending sea.  She picked up a small pebble, threw it as far as she could.  She watched it hover for but a moment before dropping out of view.  Leaning forward carefully she peered over the edge.

“That wind will grab you and carry you away child,” said an ancient voice behind her.  She leaped in surprise from the voice, nearly off the cliff’s edge, and turning, saw an old man sitting on a nearby rock.

“Have you been here the whole time…and why are you wearing pajamas?” she asked innocently.

“Yes, I have been here the whole time,” his eyes shown as he winked, “which in fact has been a very, very long time indeed.” His smile turned to a frown as if realizing something very important.  “But, to answer your second question, I like to sleep, I suppose.”  His smile returned.  “And I’ve decided that its easier to sleep with pajamas on, then pajamas off!”

“Well, that seems silly,” she replied bravely.  “You just sleep here on this cliff?  …and you can’t do very much with pajamas on all the time.  Don’t you go anywhere?”

“I’ve been everywhere, my dear child, but that was long ago, when I was very young, much like you.  But time is different now.  I am afraid a new king and queen have taken power in this land.”

“A king and queen, how grand!” she exclaimed happily.

“Oh no, my child, they are a fearful pair, bent on evil and destruction.  It was they that banished me from the land of my youth and have forced me to remain here between the cliff and the forest.”

The girl frowned.  “Evil kings and queens.  How terrible.  Why not stop sleeping and do something?  Can’t you fight them?  What can be done?”

The old man chuckled as he turned towards the cliff that descended to the great sea.  “You are so brave, my dear child, but also young.  What can be done?” he whispered.  His voice then raised like a trumpet to join the howling wind and cascaded down the expanse. “Of whom shall I speak?  What deeds could be told to bring hope to dull eyes?  What songs could be sung to quench the heart of its thirst for joy?  Gone is peace.  The wheel that moves the soul, sun, and stars is forgotten.  Lost is the song!  Lost is the song that tuned the mountains and gave rhythm to the sea.  Lost is the song that birthed beauty and guards truth.  Even worms in their earthly habitats see farther than we!  We claim a knowledge, an understanding, an enlightenment…Shadows!  Shadows and clouds, all.  Lost is the song that was sung at the foundations of the earth!”  He turned to the girl with tears in his wild, fiery eyes.  “What can be done?  The song is lost.  Is there no one who will sing?”  He slouched and grew silent.

by Matthew Whitney

Terrified by the old man’s voice and the words that he spoke, she walked up to him trembling, and held his hand in hers as she looked out to the sea.

“I will find the one who will remember the song.  There must be one who will sing this song, although I know not where they are or what the song is…

I can’t just stay here and sleep forever.  Will you come with me?  Please come with me.”

The wizened man turned.  “I cannot come with you, though I would with all my heart,” he said with a tearful eye.  “Yes, you must find the song.”

“Then I will go alone.”

The old man in the pajamas watched as the frail little girl walked towards the dark forest, away from the cliff.  A mist was gathering in the trees and as she faded into it, he called to her.  “Though you do not see me, I will be with you Carys!”

She turned quickly, surprised, and called back, “How do you know my name?”

She heard his distant voice, “I have known you from the moment of your first heartbeat…”

Then there was only dark trees, and fog.

 

Matthew Whitney’s amazing painting and other artwork can be found at http://www.matthewwhitney.com.  You can even see a painting of me at http://www.matthewwhitney.com/highres.html, and click on Blue in a Happy Way.  His style and intent has always spoken to me on a very deep and profound level.

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2 thoughts on “The Cliff and the Old Man

    • Me too! 🙂
      This is just a very long project between two artist friends. I may drop another chapter or two on here along the way in the future, but this is definitely just a fun, occasional hobby for both of us. For the most part it has been a gateway for us to discuss philosophy, allegory, metaphor, etc. which is always a fulfilling activity. Thanks!

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