Image by Dimitris Vetsikas on Pixabay
“… long as a lying whale…”
“… a canoe without paddles…”
“… ten - twelve - enormous wings … piled on top of each other.”
“… like a wedge of swans …"
“… far beyond low tide…”
“… like a tall iceberg, but so thin…”
“… wings on a floating tree …”
“… but the tide was wrong. Not floating. Going.”
“… white foam under it…”
“… against the current…”
“… down on the tree-whale, something moving … “
“….so far off, we couldn’t see …”
“Stop!” I held up my arm. “One at a time. Niimi, Aki, be silent! Bineshi, you’ve said nothing. Can you tell us anything that makes sense?”
Bineshi looked at his sisters, and bit his lip.
“These big girls talk no sense,” I said. Niimi and Aki opened their mouths indignantly, caught my eye, and shut them again. “Bineshi, speak!”
Bineshi scratched a curve in the dust with his toe, and rubbed it out again. I waited. Next year he’d be off with the boys, with his own bow to draw, and his own space to make in the world. He’d be a man like his father before him, and maybe I’d live to see it. But now he carried his basket, following his sisters, and most likely never getting a word in edgeways all the time they were out.
Bineshi gathered his thoughts and spoke. “Three straight pines.” His hands made three vertical lines in the air. “They had wings of snow.”
“This being - it was alive?”
He looked me in the eye. “Ookomis, I saw a man high in the middle tree. His face flashed fire.”
“Ookomis,” Aki seemed suddenly subdued. “I saw no man. I saw a sunbeam suddenly reflected, as if an icicle hung from the middle tree.”
“I see further than you.” Bineshi was no longer shy. “I saw what I saw.”
I followed the path the children had taken. I stood on the bluff. The white-splashed rock was scattered with crab claws, fishbones and sea urchins, a favoured feeding spot. I had no eagle’s eyes, but the air sparkled clear. The ice mountains gleamed far off. I looked beyond the platforms of the dead, and breathed the spicy warmth of the pines.
The sea lay silent. No sea-being broke the surface. No birds sang. The earth held its breath. The sun stood still. Or so it seemed, as if everything had ceased,
and I was no longer in the world.
A jay screeched in the forest. Two seals slid from the rocks with a soft splash. A raven’s claw of wind riffled the water. Ripples widened, catching the sun with little twinkling lights.
Still the cold moment held me. There was no sign of any alien thing. Yet some sliver of the unknown had left its mark. Some thing that should not be still hovered. I shivered, though the sun held its heat. And sure enough, for I have grown old in this wisdom, words reached me.
It is not yet the end. It is only the beginning of the end of all things. The children who saw it - the vision is for them. You, Ookomis, there is nothing you can do to change it. You will never see this strange thing, but from this day forward you know it will come again. That is sorrow enough.
Margaret Elphinstone lives once more in Galloway where she was working as a gardener when her first novel was published in 1987. She is the author of eight novels as well as poetry and short stories. She is a graduate of Durham University and an Emeritus Professor of Strathclyde University where she was a member of the English Studies Department from 1990-2008. Apart from spells of academic work in the USA, she has spent her working life in Scotland including Shetland, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Moray.
She has been appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Association of Scottish Literary Studies.