Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Ghost of Foggy Peak - Part 1

If one could see through the fog to the sky above it, they would have only seen it painted thick with a brooding grayness, a low, dreary coat that blotted out the sun’s saving rays and the glorious sapphire blue that was the breath of God. But visions of blue were rare here, the ocean’s breath obscured it so often. The land, lost in heavy fog for weeks at a time, reviled the sea and her incessant battering, and though the waves had pounded at the walls since Poseidon was a babe, the rock held firm and grim in its stand. The ships that circled the cape, whether sloop or galleon, tightened their sails and swung wide of the graveyard hidden beneath the frothing tide. This place, where raging sea and stolid rock met, was where the Ghost of Foggy Peak sat, seated aloft within his foggy cocoon, listening to the voices riding upon the curling wisps of salty mist that drifted up and past the grasping crag that jut out beyond the cliffs.

He was a mystery to all, for the figure never descended from his place perched on the cliff. If one were at a particular place at the precise moment, the rolling fog might break and offer a glimpse through its drifting veils of him there, a distant figure unmoving among the rocky throne he gripped, facing the wide open sea. How long he had been there... no one could say. His house, as tall and shrouded in mystery as he, had been built and forgotten long before the town spread below it. Its tall spires, weathered wood, its round turrets sporting rusted wind vanes that whined with the battling winds were only seen or heard by the unlucky few, for the ominous sense that clung to the desolate winding road that led to his unlit house. The story would have ended there, the ghost and his house still a mystery, were it not for two young men shunned by society for the sins they bore.

Moses and Abraham, fourteen and fickle, rendered bored by the unchanging landscape and the unforgiving blanket of fog that hid so much of their surroundings from them, often sat teetering above the beach past the cove. They had carved out a cave from the soft, moist sandstone wall, filled it with all the things young boys cannot do without, and kept it warm by a fire eagerly built and fed by anything that would burn. It was where they spent much of their time, unless they had need to be in town, with its smell of sodden wood and the bitter smell of burning seaweed and gutted fish. Any fishing town would have had more to offer than this one. But few had more fish choking its shores, so its hardy people plied the harsh sea and prayed to their harsh God. Moses was long and lean, a bastard child with unruly black hair who was a testament to how cruel life could be. His father was rumored to be a sailor, possibly a pirate, but it mattered little in this age where children unclaimed were punished for the sins of their parents. His only guardian, Tyler the nightwatch, had been given the duty of raising him because everyone knew bastards grew up to be thieves and murderers, and a man as coarse and unforgiving as he was sure to save the town from a criminal blight. Moses used to follow him as he lit the street lanterns, staying several steps away so that none would see them together, for the nightwatch feared for his reputation being seen with the boy. But Moses was born with a quick mind and an passionate heart, and nights soon arrived when the nightwatch would turn a corner to find the flames already flickering inside their glass houses, a begrudging smile hidden under a heavy beard. It is said now the bastard did not become a thief of bread as much as he had become a thief of hearts. Still, he was a bastard son, with no last name, and never a family to call his own.

Abraham, his friend and confidant was the son of a preacher. His father was colder than the brass of the bell that called sinners to the church steeple, and the man felt he had license from God to pass judgement on those around him. He wielded the scepter unsparingly. His son Abraham had proven unworthy early, and through the switch he tried to temper the boy’s predilection for devil’s play, but there was not a branch stout enough that would direct the boy back toward the righteous path. His flaw? The boy was prone to humor and flights of fancy, always to be found telling stories and collecting tales. His father believed that if the stories were not of the bible, they were only the seductions of the devil. Too often the boy had put his gift of words to the pen, creating tall tales that outraged the God fearing. The boy lived in a world of fantasy, of creatures God would deny ever felt his hand. The courser folk wondered at his imagination and his memory for such things. His stories imbibed the weak and sinful with bursts of emotion, uncontrollable emotions, of laughter and pondering sorrow, of anger and startling fright. A child who could stoke the appetites and fire the desires ought to be knees down in service to the lord that made him. The boy had rejected the open arms of God. He would not deny himself, stop his tales of giants and unicorns, elves and their magic, he would not stop his propagating the lures of Satan. Abraham had tried to quiet his singing heart and questing mind, but he saw too much in the bird wheeling above him or the distant wails of the wild when night cloaked the world in darkness. The bible had answers, but he thought wisdom came in the questions one asked. His father disowned him out of shame. The loss crushed Abe, as it would any boy. He had tried to be the man his father wanted, but there was a better chance of a seagull untying a sailor’s knot than him being able to quiet his mind. He often envied Moses’ circumstance, freed from missing a father because he never had one. To have had and lost, it seemed a cruel play.

Moses empathized with Abe all he could, but the sins that separated them from polite society were alike only in their suffering. The fact that the two of them lived as outcasts spiriting meals from where they could found them willing companions. It is not so surprising then that they looked up at the lonely castle and the lonely figure that haunted it with something near kinship. All that kept them from venturing toward it were the stories they had heard growing up about the ghost that wandered alone within. Abraham knew them all, and told them with chilling effect. The old man of the sea, they called him. Mad, he was, driven senseless by drink or devilry, and those that had gone to see him never returned. He was but a ghost, others warned, hardly different fromthe fog that hid him, and none had ever gotten close enough to see more than the spectre at his seat. Still other’s said it was all an illusion, the house, the man; the fog played tricks on tempted minds, it was best to pray for clarity than wish for proof of the Lord’s damnation. So the town had willingly relegated the house and its haunts to legend or worse. The house on the cliff and the staid brown town below it stood aside each other willfully blind, but for the secrets that hung between them, beyond sight, disguised by dark misgivings.

“ I think I see ‘im. Yea, there he is.” offered Moses, from his cross-legged position, his squinting eyes peering over Abe’s right shoulder and deep into the fog. Abe quickly turned around to catch a glimpse but only saw blinding white passing before their cave mouth and on up the cliff side.

“ No you didn’t. I can’t see the hand in front of my face!” Abe answered, turning a skeptical face toward his friend.

“ It was only for a second, can’t blame you for missin’ ‘im.”

“ Let’s switch sides!”

“ I’m stayin’ right here, Danish.” That was Moses’ nick name for Abe. “ You been lookin’ your whole life, and you never seen ‘im. Don’t suppose that’s ever gonna happen’, so I’ll stay here and see what I can.”

“ I know what you’re doing, Red!” Abe answered. “ You wanna go up to that house but you’re too scared to do it!”

“ What? Your mad! Though I’ll say this, I already seen ‘im. But if that’s the only way your gonna... well, yea, go up there.” Red couldn’t hide the nervous wrinkle around his eyes as he stared off into the mist.

Abe read him easily and the fight lost all its spirit. He tossed a piece of rope in the small fire behind them, the black smoke rose from the flames direct to the low ceiling and headed for the yawning cave mouth. “ Well, what are we missin’ anyhow? It’s a ghost on a cliff, looking out into the sea.” He blinked a few times dramatically. “ OK, I think I got it. What do you wanna do now?”

“ Let’s walk the beach.”

“ Right.”

The two of them climbed nimbly down the face of the cliff, their hands and feet reaching flawlessly into every crevice carved for the purpose, until they made it to the path and from there, meandering along, they reached the beach and traced the reach of the tide with their footprints. The sun had risen four hours earlier, but the jealousy of winter held from them any of its golden rays, infusing the heavy fog that hovered close to the surging water with a moisture so heavy that their faces shined with a salted sheen. The kept their eyes scanning the shoreline, calling out sight of anything that might be worthy of claiming.

That was the first time Abe saw the old man of the sea. A gust off the ocean cleared out the veil of white and up above, far above, he saw a misty dark figure seated atop the cliff. It was tough to tell but it seemed the spectre’s head turned a bit toward Abe, as if he felt his eyes on him. Abe did not look away, though a shiver ran up his spine. The fog quickly snuffed out the sight, and Abe trained his eyes on Moses, now far ahead walking the shoreline. He ran after him.

“ I’m goin’ up there.” Abe said when he had caught up to Red.

“ Up there?” his friend answered with a finger pointed into the hidden world above them.

“ Yea, now. You comin’?”

“ Ah...yea, sure. Now?”

“ Now.”

“ Shouldn’t we tell somebody we’re goin’ up there? So they could come and get us if we’re trapped there?” answered Moses.

“ No one comin’ for us, Red.” Abe replied slowly. “ Just like no one came for him.”

1 comment:

Avery DeBow said...

Beautiful prose. Very impressive.