The following story could turn out to be a total disaster or it could be decent. It remains to be seen. As a disclaimer, the story isn’t completely mine. It’s based off of the work of one of my favourite musicians of all time, Owen Pallett, who put out the wonderful Heartland three years ago. I implore you all to go and buy it from your local record store, it’s ridiculously good.
The story of Spectrum is based on my interpretation of Owen’s lyrics. I know I’ll probably misinterpret some of the lyrics, but that’s a risk I’m taking. Here goes.
He was standing at the edge of his field. “Come tornado!” he yelled.
And then he was standing at the edge of a bridge, numerous soldiers standing with him. It was the middle of the night. “The way will be lit by the bridges we burn,” Lewis said to them, raising a cheer from the men.
And then he snapped out of his dream.
Lewis didn’t need to be woken up by that familiar sound every morning. No one needed roosters to wake them up in the morning; the hiss of Cockatrice, from somewhere high up in the mountain, was loud and frightening enough to stir anyone from their slumber.
His muscles ached. They always ached. It was at the point where Lewis felt like no pain meant he had done something wrong. Just as he got out of bed, he heard Cockatrice’s cry. He plugged his ears, and his wife quickly opened her eyes as well.
Lewis pulled on his clothes and then glanced out the window. There was the sun in the sky. He couldn’t tell any longer whether it was yellow or red. He had repeated the phrase “The sun is red” so many times that his mind could no longer tell what was what. His wife had not fallen back asleep, but instead decided to stay in the bed a little longer. She said nothing, but Lewis knew that every action was more or less spending energy, and all energy needed to be conserved, Lewis was a farmer, as was everybody else in Spectrum. Everybody except for those in the Heartland; but rarely did a farmer ever venture there, with its priests and holy officials.
Mount Alpentine loomed far away, a mountain that rivaled the legendary Mount Olympus in its height. At the top of that mountain, it was rumoured, lay Owen. No one knew what he looked like or whether he existed, but the existing folklore said that it was Owen’s will that moved all beings of Spectrum. All citizens prayed to Owen before doing anything of consequence.
Lewis certainly didn’t feel like a puppet on a string. But maybe the legend was right; maybe his continually darkening thoughts were all created by the Creator.
He walked over to his wife, who had just gotten out of bed. “Today’s a planting day,” Lewis said. “I’d better get started.”
She wrapped her arms around him, and his around hers, and she kissed him. “Whatever you need to do.”
Lewis walked into the mail hall. His daughter was already seated, awaiting the day’s breakfast. “Good morning, Daddy,” she said. He returned the greeting and lifted her up into the air, making her giggle. Then he put her back down and told her breakfast would be ready in a few minutes. He went outside, got a fire started and cooked a few eggs and sausages over the heat. He brought it back in for all to eat.
“I’ll eat later,” he said, deciding to finally start the work. He was a strong man, but even he couldn’t afford to slack off. He went to his shed and retrieved two big bags of seed, each weighing a few pounds.
He got to work on the first field. As he began doing the repetitive task of digging, planting and re-digging, his mind began to wonder. He wondered about where his son was now. Several years ago he had been called to the Heartland, for what purpose no one really knew. They hadn’t physically spoken in many years, naturally, since commoners weren’t allowed in. Every once in a while the family would receive a letter from him, but his letters became increasingly incoherent as the years went on. At this point, the word “sorry” was included in his letters several times per page along with a slew on non sequiturs.
He had planted three out of his four fields, several hours later, when he heard his wife’s voice.
“Lewis!” This was strange. What could his wife possibly need?
Lewis glanced back at his work so far. One field left. He walked back to the house.
“What is it–” he stopped dead in his tracks. Standing beside his wife were two men in long, white robes. What were priests doing out here?
“You are Lewis, are you not?” One of the men asked. He was a good head taller than his companion, which was the only real distinguishing feature. Both had shaved heads.
“Ay,” Lewis replied. “What business do you bring here?”
“You have been summoned to Heartland,” the shorter priest said. “You are to take up a clerical position in the capital. Your pay will be a great increase from your present work. However, the job must be done alone and immediately. We will allow you one hour to pack your things.” There wasn’t a choice in the matter. It was go with them or… Probably be killed.
“‘Scuse us,” Lewis said, bringing his wife into their bedroom. As soon as the door was closed and the priests were out of earshot, they began to talk in whispers. His wife was already crying.
“I know the way this sounds,” Lewis said. “But I must leave. You know how this goes.”
“I do,” his wife said between sobs.
“Worry not,” he said. He held her close to him, so close that she could no doubt feel his heart beating. He pressed his hand over her lips. He spoke his next few sentences louder, so that the priests waiting outside would hear him. “I will be his baron. With him I have an ending. With him I have completion.” And then he whispered a final phrase into her ear: “And the cover of night.” He took his hand off her mouth.
His wife stopped crying. “Do you mean to…”
“Yes,” he replied. “I may be gone for weeks, months or years, but I will return to you.” He kissed her once more and then began to gather what few clothes he had. At the bottom of his meager sack he put in his cutlass and a few small knives. His bag packed, he opened the door to where the priests stood at attention.
“Have you made your decision?” The tall priest asked. As if there were a choice.
“I have,” Lewis said. “I will go with you.”
“A smart choice indeed,” the short priest said with a smirk on his face.
“How are we to get to the Heartland?” Lewis asked.
“We shall go by horse. We must traverse part of the way through Mount Alpentine, but worry not. We shall not be going too high, or the horses would be useless,” the short priest answered.
Lewis nodded. “Let us go, then.” He paused. “Oh, one moment. Let me say goodbye to my daughter.”
“Of course,” the tall one said. He seemed to be at least a tad bit more sympathetic than his partner.
Lewis scooped up his daughter in his arms. She had been silent the whole time, being far too young to understand completely what was going on. “Daddy is going to be gone for a while,” he said. “But I need you to be a big girl and help out your mother, okay?”
“But when are you coming back?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But I will come and see you again. I promise.” He kissed her on the forehead. “I’ll see you soon, okay?” His daughter wrapped him up in the tightest hug he’d ever gotten from her.
“Alright, let’s go,” Lewis said. The priests nodded, and the three of them left the house. Lewis hopped on the back of his best horse, and the priests hopped on theirs. “Lead on,” Lewis said. The priests began heading off toward Mount Alpentine, with Lewis following closely behind.
As the hours went on, Lewis remained silent, but the priests eventually began to talk amongst each other.
“Did you hear about those sons to the altar of the Eternal Sound?” The tall one asked.
“Oh, yes, gruesome indeed,” the short one said.
“How many were there?”
“Three. A darn shame. They were smart boys too.”
“This was all Owen’s will?”
“Naturally. Are you questioning his precedence?”
“No, not at all. It is all part of a plan, I am sure.”
“Yes.” The conversation ceased after that. After taking a brief stop to eat, the company arrived at the base of Mount Alpentine a few hours later.
“We will be taking the Low Path,” said the tall one. “It is fairly flat, but with a few inclines. The horses may need a bit of nudging, but they will take us across.”
Lewis got off his horse.
“What are you doing?” the short priest snapped.
“I have never set foot on Mount Alpentine before. I must pray here before we continue. Come, pray with me as well.” Lewis could hear Psalm 21 going through his head. The priests were suspicious for a minute, but then seemed to be impressed with his piousness. They too joined him in kneeling, and repeating the phrase: “Laudate dominum.” Lewis chanted as well, and as soon as he saw that the two priests had closed their eyes, he began to quietly rummage through his bag. He pulled out the cutlass.
I’m sorry, he thought to himself, before he drew the cutlass in several quick slashes across the necks of both priests. It was over so quickly neither man had a chance to even cry out.
Lewis’ plan was in action.