This one was very, very hard. There were fewer entries than last time, but all of you outdid yourselves. Of course, two of the entries didn’t “count” since they came from past winners, but they were nevertheless wonderful, and I could see how much effort went into every description. Wow.
Since there were fewer entries this time, I only chose four honorable mentions, but even those were difficult because the quality of the writing was so uniformly high. But I did have to make a choice. The two winners are Emily Gilman, who chose to travel to the City at the End of the World, and whose description of it was both mysterious and magical, and meabhchildhoodreads, whose description of the forest that no longer exists was so beautiful and sad. The past is a foreign country we will never be able to access. I loved both of these descriptions thank you both for posting them!
I’ll be in touch with the winners by email!
From Emily Gilman:
For years I have wanted to make a pilgrimage to the City at the End of the World. I want to stand in the desert heat and feel how cool the stones of the white Wall are even at noon, how deceptively soft the winds have worn them. And I want to see for myself how the powder that coats my palm afterward glitters starlike so different from the sand kicked up by the bus’s tires.
I want to sit up late into the night listening to the story of the woman who wept. I want to hear her story in the strange syllables that are no language and every language, that all can understand but only those who make their home in the City learn to speak. I want to hear how the woman stood and wept so long that her hair turned white as bone and her clothes turned to rags and at long last the merciful wind blew her away, like sand, over the Wall to her beloved.
I want to watch the lights that churn and dance through the night dark above the Wall until they fade into persistent hallucinations with the dawn.
One thing stops me: I am afraid that if I travel to this City, if I feel the Wall under my hand like a cat that ever wanders and ever returns to this one spot, I will never leave. I am afraid that if I learn this of all languages I will never speak another, and that I could only truly love someone who spoke it back to me.
I fear that, for better or worse, if I meet the eyes of one of the silent priests I will be called to join them, to climb their tower and gaze deeply as we reach out to set the ashes of the dead free of our world.
The entrance to a forest lies at the end of my small country road. Flanked by a green field and small brown bog water river, the tall conifers stretch into an almost always greying sky. The entrance is marked by a particularly muddy stretch of land: the kind you have to gingerly tiptoe through, for fear of sinking down to your ankles in muck. There’s nothing really special about the forest, that exists purely for the harvesting of timber, deliberately filled with pine that grows quick and chops easy. But there are small moments of beauty inside.
Unintended willows grow upon ledges, whose branches drape over passers-by. There is a tiny bridge that an equally tiny river flows beneath. During the summer if the weather stays dry the cress starts to flower above the water, creating a river of white buds. Tree stumps sit idly covered in moss while pink ragged robin snakes around their roots. And, on those rare days when the stars line up and the clouds part ways, there is sunshine. Sunshine that escapes through the clouds and sends shafts down through the tall trees that are off the path. Rays of light that make the very dust in the air sparkle and land upon the pine needle carpet of the forest floor. I can almost imagine the ghost of a little red-haired girl in a white dress racing among the trees.
That was my very favourite place in the world. Last summer when I returned home to walk in the woods I discovered a heart-breaking sight. My grove of trees that had always caught the sunlight so perfectly, was gone. It was replaced by the open air and a sea of fresh tree stumps, raw and wounded. Their flesh was open to the sky, where I could count the rings. The little dancing girl was gone, forever.
If I could go anywhere in the world I would go back to when my forest was still whole and watch the sun amid the trees, just one last time.
As I said, I also have four honorable mentions, but the truth is that I loved all the entries, and although I didn’t reprint it here, I would love to go on a journey to Middle Earth with Wendy S.! Seriously, after I had read all the entries at least once, I sat rereading them for at least an hour, trying to make a final choice. Finally I had to, because it was almost midnight. So here are the honorable mentions, but please do look at all of the entries, since they are quite wonderful.
From Shannon Blue Christensen:
I was told to pack lightly. It would be necessary to disturb unused paths to reach my destination.
So, I packed my books and my music and my boots and toothbrush and a change or two of underwear and my sentimental jewelry. I checked my tattoo for verification. I leafed through pages and pages to find the right paper and drawers and shelves to find the right pen. I brought no food, for this was a passage of purification; not of curiosity. My passport and car keys were unnecessary.
I began my journey in an overstuffed beaten leather chair. No footstool. I curled up and pulled an over-stuffed blanket over me.
My books didn’t fit and had to be left on the floor.
I thought, “Surely a tiny iPod must be fine.” But it didn’t fit either.
My chair was full of me, the thoughts I feared most, the noise in my head, and the paper and pen daring me to write it all down.
It was terrifying. I was statue-like with solitude, frozen with confrontation. I could not hide from myself for my hiding spots were all on the floor. My fingers grew stiff with cold and I began to hyperventilate. “Quiet!” I told myself. “Quiet, or you’ll find you!” And I tried. I tried until the tears slowly washed my face and my hands were numb. Exhausted, I stopped running. Closed my eyes. Took a deep breath. And peeped inside.
I saw a young girl, underfed but otherwise lovely, with the same pen and paper as I. I sat down across from her. She began to write dreams emptied, wishes still floating, daydreams birthing. And I looked at my own paper. I had written the same pictures. We wrote together for ages and seconds until she looked at me. “You will return? No more shadow?”
After so many quests, so many vehicles of hunting and escaping, I finally found my prey. Sitting unobtrusively inside my soul, the one place I had always feared most. Yes, I will always return, now that I know where you are.
I’ve always wanted to go see the Northern Lights, because I’m the kind of person who likes lights and colors and looking at the sky. So I would head somewhere north, Alaska perhaps? I’ve heard you can see the aurora borealis from most anywhere there during the spring in Alaska, considering 2012 is amongst the years of peak solar storms one of the “reasons” the world is going to end this year. Once in Alaska, I would ask the locals for the best location to see the lights. “Any empty field with a clear view of the northern horizon will do, but one with a backdrop of a mountain range will add to the spectacle,” they would say. So I would find myself an empty field with a clear view of the northern horizon and a mountainous backdrop to sit and wait, shivering because I never dress warm enough.
I don’t want to expect anything of the aurora borealis for fear of disappointment. But it’s too late for that. I can’t pretend I don’t expect it to be a fury of green streaks similar to a lighting storm without the thunder. Or swirls of green lines lingering in the sky in the pattern of my fingerprints. I can’t pretend I didn’t have that dream where time traveling was possible when the clouds turned green and the sky bright red, banded with more green. I mean how can I not expect anything short of spectacular of the Northern Lights, who once induced enough current into manmade telegraph lines that people could communicate cross-country without a power source? It’s definitely too late to not expect anything of the Northern Lights.
From Jenny @ Stone Soup Books:
I have never seen this place, but I look for it wherever I go.
It is a small house with badly peeling white paint and a sagging front porch grown over with star jasmine and clematis. Ivy has infiltrated the house, crawling inside through a broken diamond paned window. The house has planted itself firmly on top of a hill that is covered in cornflowers, poppies, ox-eye daisies, sweet William, rocket, and Indian blanket. Small birds fly out of the grass that scratches my thighs as I approach.
Gossamer dresses and faded floral pillowcases are draped over the clothesline peeking out from behind the house. There are trees by the road; weeping cedars and a crab-apple. There is a pond almost hidden between two small hills. It is filled with arrowroot and snakes and the sunken remains of a rowboat.
I would walk up to the front porch and sit down on the rotting steps. I would let the sun spin my hair into gold and dazzle my eyes. I would let ants and ivy cover my skin. I would hold the house and the hill and the pond against my soul and thrill to the thought of being
From Margaret Fisher Squires:
In the Runcible Spoon restaurant, unique blend of smart bistro, Irish pub, and hippie coffeehouse, a Portal gives entry to the realm of Dalreyn, and its Friendly Forest. I have paid for my lunch and tipped. The wooden booths are empty of other patrons. This is my moment. I duck into the small cupboard below the stairs . . .
. . . and emerge in a grove of tehagon trees. Tall and straight, they bear summer foliage in shades of wine and gold and cream. Their spicy resinous fragrance exhilarates me.
I have come prepared, and dig into my pocket for a small bag. Kneeling, I heap nuts and fruits onto a cushion of moss as an offering to Derith, the forest’s spirit. The forest is called Friendly, but isn’t always. Best to be careful.
Following the chuckle of running water, I find a stream and walk beside it, accompanied by a large blue dragonfly that hovers over the dancing current. I wonder if I will hear the song of the Joy Bird, who was created by Yeshal the All Mother and her daughter Ayshulan of the Moon as they sat eating strawberries with Derith. Ayshulan designed its plumage, a tracery of pearly gray and indigo, silver and shadow-purple, and on its breast, an ivory circle glowing faintly like the full moon. Yeshal gave it a ravishingly sweet song. The three divine ladies rejoiced in this beautiful creature until the goddesses began to bicker over whose contribution was the best. They argued back and forth until Derith had had enough. She decreed that the Joy Bird would be visible only at night, and audible only during the day. Only on the Autumn and Spring equinoxes would the bird be both visible and audible. So saying, she sprinkled the bird with a dusting of iridescent laughter.
Either goddess could have reversed Derith’s will; but sometimes mother and daughter are quietly glad when someone smooths the friction between them. So all remains as Derith decreed. And it is said that if the Joy Bird sits on your shoulder, you will be the happiest of mortals.
Deeply content, I walk listening to the chirping of finches. My stream flows out of the trees into a meadow, dividing into a score of interweaving purling strands. I stand surveying a mosaic of islets. An oak shades the largest of these, and a rowan tree graces one the size of a living room carpet. Others are no bigger than a dining table, a footstool, a slipper. Amethyst spirit flowers and yellow sun-badges spangle the grass. Stepping among them, I discover that every isle, every mossy pebbled bank, is home to a small frog, and each frog is a different color: Spring green, turquoise, tangerine, golden . . .
With my back against the oak’s bole, I gaze in reverie until I am drawn through the Portal to share what I have seen.