The immense bulk of Chaozz the Black glided smoothly through the air over Highpattern. He glided between the twin spires of the Cathedral at Sarbad. The gargoyles watched him intently from their gutter spouts in fearful silence.
For hundreds of years, Chaozz had longed to knock those spires over with his tail. But his powers were limited. If only he could convince all the people in Highpattern to forsake worship, they themselves would knock the cathedrals down. Then he would rule highpattern from his eryie. Gargoyle slaves would bring him fresh meat daily, and the people below? Ha! They would be his slaves too. Ignorance is bliss! No festivity in their lives. No singing. No Psalms. No days of rest.
It had been 13 years since anyone had renewed the cathedrals. True, King Titus and Queen Lydia of Adelphia were continuing to feast and worship, thwarting his evil designs. True, there were others who continued the ancient patterns.
But it was not like the old days when Queen Tirzah had gone on pilgrimage, many had been inspired to recover God’s patterns. That woman had been so successful that his black style had been cramped beyond endurance. But she was now his prisoner. The old patterns were being forsaken. He gave a final thrust of his powerful wings and folded them neatly, coming to rest on his eryie. He could bide his time. More and more gargoyles were enslaved by him every day. He enjoyed seeing their heavy wings become more and more like vultures wings circling the cathedrals.
Though he always slept with one eye open, he let himself drift into a peaceful sleep. Peaceful? He advocated total chaos for everyone else he could enslave. He knew deep down that there would never be peace for his wicked old self. Oh well, Perhaps even God had forsaken Highpattern…
Martha always looked forward to these walks with Dad. After dinner, on winter nights, Dad would ask who wanted to go for a walk. They would all bundle up in snow pants and go traipsing about in the woods behind the chicken coop. Old apple trees formed Gothic arches with their knobby branches. Rumor had it that Johnny Appleseed himself may have planted them: reminders from apple seeding generations past.
On this particular winter night, the powdery snow looked like moon dust flying off Martha’s feet as she followed her older sister Mercy.
“Hold on!” said her little brother Malachi, as he stooped to grab an old frozen apple. She noticed that his hat was about to come off.
“Don’t lose your helmet!” Martha laughed as she pushed the fleece back on his head. “You might need protection from whatever’s in the woods!” She pushed his hat down– a little too far forward. His brown curls showed themselves, and snow got down the back of his neck.
“Yeow! That tickles!” said Malachi, putting snow on Martha’s face in turn.
“Quiet now,” said Dad, “we don’t want to be spotted.”
The trail led across the lawn of an old mansion. Cautiously, as if they were tracking someone, they emerged from trees. Their feet softly crunched the snow 15 or 20 more times, moving to the cover of a hedge row, pretending to avoid being spotted. Martha asked, “Dad, why do we pretend so much?”
“Well, it develops character.”
“Yeah, okay Dad.” Sometimes Martha felt that they were the weirdest family. They were constantly pretending one thing or another: you name it, elves, dwarves, far-off kingdoms and fair vistas. She had to ask: “but how come other people don’t pretend much anymore?” she persisted.
Dad let that question be absorbed into the snow and silence of the grounds for a long moment. Then he waved them forward toward the next clump of shrubs. Martha couldn’t resist rephrasing her question. “So…Dad, why do you encourage us to pretend?”
“Marrr-tha! You’re making too much noise!” whispered Mercy, who took these pretending times very seriously. “When you’re supposed to be quiet, you should be quiet!”
Dad signaled a huddle and spoke in a low conspiratorial voice: “Martha is asking why we pretend. Well, when you pretend to be a virtuous princess who uses her wits, dresses prettily, and shows compassion…
“Well, you become a virtuous princess who uses her wits, dresses prettily, and shows compassion.”
“Sure you do. And, when you pretend, you can forget that you were bored.”
“Yes…okay Dad,” Martha said. In a very non-pretending way, she laid down on the snow to look up at the moon.
“Princess Mercy,” Dad continued, “have you seen any more tracks?”
“Just some ruffled grouse.”
“What’s ruffled grouse?” said Malachi.
“A fluffy, puffy bird with brown and white feathers,” replied Mercy with a giggle.
During these walks, Malachi usually pretended to be a ranger armed with a longbow, which, he felt sure, would be good for a real shot if it came to it. When you were pretending, anything was okay– as long as it did not give you too much of an unfair advantage over enemies. After all, any battle worth winning had to involve a real struggle.
The girls often pretended to be shield maidens delegated by the King and Queen for an important assignment. The good thing about shield maidens is that they could dress up like a princess when the occasion demanded. Their training included both palace manners and combat arts.
They moved on more quietly now, walking behind the chainsaw sculpture of the bear. They had always wondered about that bear. Was he a sentinel for something important? When they passed him, they felt like they were entering into a different world.
They descended some stone steps into a garden. At least, they knew it was a garden from previous experience. Right now, it seemed to be sleeping under a blanket of moonlit snow. In the middle of the garden, they came to the Victorian style table. The delicate wrought iron webbing, and circular shape made one think of tea on Saturday afternoons. Parasols anyone? It was set on a rock ledge overlooking the smooth shadows crossing the lawn.
Now, when you’ve been traipsing about in the woods, and you’re dressed for winter, it can feel good to sit down at a table just breathe the crisp winter air.
Martha happened to look up at the moon. “So far away,” she thought. “And yet I almost feel I could reach out and touch it.”
They all began to laugh at one another as if their breath were pipe smoke reflected in the moonlight. Hmmm…Let’s see…what could they pretend now? Well, this was a Saturday night. They had just eaten Sabbath dinner–church tomorrow.
“Let’s pretend we’ve come from a long journey.” said Mercy.
“Yeah, yeah, a pilgrimage,” put in Martha. “And this table, (she paused…), this table could be the center of a great outdoor Catheeee-dral!” Her voice was high-pitched and they all began to laugh again.
“Yeah, and we can take communion!” said Malachi.
At first, Dad hesitated, “you mean you guys want to pretend to take communion like we do on Sunday?”
“Course Dad! It’s like a wedding rehearsal,” said Mercy, on a roll now. “You know, you’re not really being married at the rehearsal, but you say the same vows, and everyone knows you’re just practicing.”
Dad shrugged. “Okay, just practicing.”
They all sang a Psalm at the table, gave thanks, and broke the imaginary bread.
“Mmmm. Good bread!” said Malachi in the way he would on Sundays.
As they pretended to eat, the air around them began to stir in a most peculiar manner. A breeze began swirling the trails of their breath. Gradually, the sparkling snow and the moonlight turned into a whirling cloud (as you know, of course, when garden tables are round, this makes the ideal place for whirling clouds).
Mercy and Martha looked at each other. They noticed that the hair escaping from under their woolen caps was moving the direction of the spinning air. Everyone began to laugh and smile.
“This is cool!” exclaimed Mercy.
“Even c-c-cold!” said Martha, shivering a little.
The spinning moonlit snow reminded them of fairie dust or some such. They were lost in wonder.
After a while, the moonlight on their faces began to change to firelight. The white spinning snow gradually turned into spinning torches. The centrifugal force was combined with a feeling of downward motion. After a moment, they experienced a slight lurch like an elevator coming to the first floor. With a thump and a bump, they found themselves sitting around a solid oak table. Dad had disappeared. Where was he?
“Where are we?” Asked Malachi.
The two girls shrugged and remained a little too shocked to speak. On the table were two warm ends of real bread–just as if they had really broken memorial bread.