The Flying Morning
Santiago Sanchez Cordero
The golden light shining through the trees made Lucientes’ body arch, arch arch arch like a bow, her head shake shake shake, and the whole skin of her face pull up up up, as if she had an objection to make. Her sneeze was a faint whistle that first cheated her father into looking for a little bird among the trees. It announced her eyes had met the itchy light, and it was time for breakfast. Lucientes engulfed the day’s first handful of berries in a single bite, licking her hand clean, and as soon as she finished chewing the colorful cocktail and her tongue made sure there wasn’t a trace of blue or red on her lips, she readied herself for the light’s pursuit. The Flying Morning traveled fast. A sea of leaves sailed above Brandt and Lucientes. His hand ruffled and tangled her yellow hair while the wind’s surf dissolved upon the wood.
Today, the Morning headed south. Yesterday it had headed north. The light couldn’t make up its mind where it wanted to go, it was so confused and capricious — it led them here through the fallen trees, there through the open grass, rushed them through foliage and rotting wood, through lurking puddles and mushy mud, through a swamp of snot and a symphony of sneezes. Lucientes kept her gaze on the fire flying in the sky, until it faded.
Her father seized her hand and hastened to the withering light. The warm glow that had outlined the shapes of the trees and leaves, that had thawed the cold from Lucientes’ bones, now sickened to a pale afternoon. Her father’s stumbling urged her to halt, and as he caught his breath, the gray veil blackened into night. Nightfall came so suddenly it barely gave Lucientes time to put on her hood, withdraw her arms into her clothes, and take shelter under her father’s cloak. The light was so shy it hid from Brandt and Lucientes behind darkness and rain.
The night chilled the fervor of their stride. Lucientes couldn’t see anything, not even from the peephole she’d carved out of her father’s cloak. Arms wrapped around his waist, head leaned against his tummy, Lucientes held on to Brandt’s aimless stroll. She fumbled a twig from the ground and held Brandt’s cloak up like a tent’s top; she wielded it like a sword, thrashed it here and there until she hit Brandt by mistake. She was petrified, but he didn’t stop walking; she hit him again and again, and still he walked in a cumbersome swagger like a big and tired tree ready to fall. His heavy head, sagging and swinging side to side, grew a bump in his back. His hands constantly felt Lucientes, as if she was a prized possession hiding in a pocket of his cloak. All they did was walk and walk and walk. She let her body go limp and hung on to her father’s cloak as if he were a horse. She pulled from it to mush or halt him, but Brandt went on and on. Perhaps he had forgotten one of his steps counted for eight of hers, and in trying to keep up, Lucientes dropped her stick. She bent to pick it up, but it was lost in the darkness. That was it. She stood still and let her father’s cloak sail above her until it too disappeared. Brandt shrieked her name, and Lucientes instinctively replied. He charged back to her and before she could say anything else, he yelled at Lucientes in the rasping tone that scared her, to stay close. His hand pressed her face against him so hard she could scarcely breathe. Lucientes tried to break herself free, but as much as she kicked, pushed, and screeched, Brandt kept her face stuck to his bony waist and walked so fast Lucientes’ feet dangled above the ground.
Brandt’s grasp eased as his eyes shut. Lucientes stayed up all night, feeling the fat raindrops break against her naked face. Brandt’s chest bellowed and whistled. The muscles in his arm weakened, and Lucientes slid under it, first her chest, then her neck and then, little by little, her face. Once her head was out, she rose slowly, softly dipping her feet into the neighboring puddles, mingling the sound of her escape with the falling rain.
The darkness hid him from her. She could only hear his rusty breathing. It was colder at this hour, her drenched cloak did little to keep the sudden gusts of wind at bay, but she didn’t care. She didn’t want to be near him anymore, and as she made her way noiselessly through the slush of fallen leaves, she knew she’d never forgive him. When she couldn’t hear his breathing anymore, she ran. She couldn’t tell the shape of a tree from the darkness of the night, but she ran because he had hurt her; she ran far away enough it would hurt him. Lucientes didn’t need Brandt anymore. She’d collect her own water, she’d learn to hunt, she wouldn’t carry a knife like he did, she’d make a sword of her own… she tripped on something. The softness, what she thought was only moist moss and tangled reeds, the feeling when she ran her hands upon it and felt its hair, its cold cold hair… the sensation that scurried under her skin and prickled every one of her own hairs in her own body, her scream, her father’s voice in the dark…
It wasn’t the first time Lucientes had seen a lifeless person. Loss pervaded the woods. The cold and the rain washed away many people she’d known and loved. Their memory squeezed her heart.
The rain didn’t let them build a fire that night. Lucientes laid her head on her father’s chest; it rose and fell so calmly, the chest that had stood high and proud and was now wrinkled and willowed. Her father’s burning skin blazed her ears, his sudden trembling woke her just when her eyes were starting to shut. Lucientes nestled under his neck, and her hands tried to touch one another as they strived to embrace the entirety of his back. That night she dreamt she was frozen, forced to look upon the corpse, and when she ran her fingers through her locks she felt they weren’t her own, but coarse, black wires… Another of her father’s tremors snatched her from her sleep, and she cuddled closer to his warmth, holding her father tight and tighter.
Brandt and Lucientes spent their breath catching up to the Flying Morning, and though Lucientes had felt its light, she had never seen its source. Her father had told her songs and legends about the life-giving light, but she wanted to see it with her own eyes. He said it had wings, the only thing about the Flying Morning Brandt ever cursed, for a single beating of its wings counted for hours of walking (just like one of Brandt’s steps counted for eight of Lucientes’). They knew no other light than that of the moon and the Flying Morning’s, the light that was shy and quick and made Lucientes sneeze.
The trail of honey in the black sky brightened. Golden halos crowned the tall trees of the red wood Lucientes liked so much, the trees whose branches got lost beyond the sky and the clouds. Waterfalls of light flooded the darkness, and Lucientes and her father huddled under their heat.
They woke, and the Morning left. There was no need to forage for berries tonight; they had plenty from the day before yesterday’s, when they cleaned entire shrubs of their fruit. They had picked enough for four people, and the two of them weren’t used to food lasting them this long. There was always water though; the sound of the rain was the normal silence of the woods. Lucientes tried wiping it off her eyes. Whatever she did it was always there, always making her cold, always slushing in her boots, always sticking her drenched clothes to her shivering skin. She slid under her father’s cloak, where fewer drops were allowed inside.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“I want it to stop raining.”
“I don’t like the rain either. Sometimes it keeps me up all night.”
A drop landed in her eye. After her fingers gave up trying to fish out the water, she discovered her father staring down at her. The little moonlight shone upon his sparse facial hair and hanging cheeks, his eyes casted back the pale light. He flung his head to the sky and inhaled. His chest whistled.
“What are you doing?” Lucientes asked.
“Raise your nose to the sky and smell.”
Lucientes sniffed the air.
“No, you can do better than that.”
The air was cold. It needled its way through her nose and up her head. “It hurts!”
Brandt’s nostrils spread their wings and nearly took flight. “Smell now, yes, little by little.” He offered yellow-haired Lucientes to the tall trees of the red wood. After a few more sniffs the cold ceased to hurt her, the scent glided into her, and her sniffs slowed to inhalations and tender exhalations.
“The rain gives us the scent of freshness.”
He told her the trees’ name, a name she soon forgot for Lucientes was far too busy tasting and re-tasting that proud, red smell. Her father spun her in the air, and all the smells blended into one as the forest whirled round her.
Brandt was fast asleep and Lucientes was too comfortable on his rising and falling chest to get up and start the day’s chase. She held in her sneezes as best she could. The Flying Morning’s light was young and thin. It moved behind a tree’s candle-shaped flowers, silhouetting the spherical bulges that plagued the green tree’s trunk and made it so appetizing to climb. Lucientes could see the shimmering raindrops slide down the surface of the wood; some got stuck, others rushed downwards like an army of diamond ants racing to the ground. The branches were thick enough Lucientes was certain she could sit on them and even pick a handful of the tree’s flowers for her father.
She raised her nose to the green tree’s scent — a tender, grassy smell, and said, “Allives.”
The name woke her father.
“Allives,” she said again and got up from her father’s chest and rushed towards the tree. It wasn’t as big as she thought, the tree was only a few heads taller than her father, and she was certain she could climb it in seconds. She jumped to a branch and clung to its long sleeve of moss, wringing it like an over-filled sponge. Her feet dangled as they tried to reach the branch above.
“What did you say?”
Brandt hoisted Lucientes onto the branch.
“I name this tree Allives, like my brother,” said Lucientes as she reaped the flowers. “He would’ve loved to climb it.”
She handed them to her father and demanded a ride back down. The drops of last night’s rain animated the forest. The wind dove through the trees, and the mist passed through the emerald leaves. Its smells flourished in the light. Lucientes let go of her father’s hand and went to a tree, this one lean and white. Black stripes lined its trunk, splashed like ashes blown. The tree only lifted three branches towards the sky.
Its scent was much rougher, ashen. She ran her fingers through its bark, sneezed with the light of the leafless branches, and through her mushy post-sneeze voice said, “Agalam.”
She turned to her father but his gaze fell to the forest floor. “Let’s go,” he said.
“Mother.” Lucientes wiped the snot from her nose and rested the palm of her hand on the tree.
She leaned her forehead against the bark.
The air Brandt drew quaked his muscles and contorted his arms and legs into the shape of a humpback tree. It had been a long time since they saw a glimpse of the Flying Morning; the night seemed to last forever, and their progress was a lost wandering. Though she made her father stop and rest every hour, Lucientes got little sleep those nights. She tangled her fingers with her father’s and huddled under his wing. His trembling and the sound of the roar in his chest — the roar of this new fire inside him kept Lucientes from falling into dreams. It was as if the rain and the cold and the dark swept her further and further away from him, as if she was one of the leaves the wind liked toying with so much.
The aroma of the forest fell like a blanket over father and daughter. Lying over her clattering pillow, Lucientes wished they could disappear into the smells around them, that they could remain suspended in the constant and cool freshness of the woods. She’d smell like the tallest of trees, the ones that hid their summit in the clouds. She’d dig her roots deep, deep into the warmth of the earth and spread her leaves to the Morning’s light. Like Allives and Agalam, Lucientes and her father would be hidden in the sounds and smells of the forest.
The cinders of the campfire dissolved into a brief chimney of smoke. Despite Brandt’s whispers to stay as she got up, Lucientes fumbled for twigs and dried them under her cloak. The cold at this hour pried her hand open, and the biggest pieces of wood were destined to fall as soon as she picked them up. Lucientes tried again when she felt a hidden flake land on the tip of her finger. The flake froze the rest of her hand. One landed on her cheek, another on her arm, dozens on her knuckles, hundreds on her face, and Lucientes felt cold, cold not because of the flakes themselves, but because they brought her attention to the cold that was already in her body.
“You’re dreaming, Lucientes,” murmured Brandt behind his shivers, but she didn’t stop tugging from his hand until he was on his feet. Lucientes ran harder than ever before, so fast her father’s legs had no time to tremble. Her hands shivered as she groped the darkness and caught the flakes of warmth, one by one in her little grasp as her father strove to huddle next to her in the width of that invisible path. They ran, through the darkest forest Brandt and Lucientes ran, sensing the heat with their bare faces, trembling as the darkness pulled them back with jealous gales. The falling leaves rushed against them, pushing away the flakes of heat in the air. Lucientes couldn’t see anything, only hear the sloshing, splattering tempest whirling wickedly around them, but the noise at once was drowned. Her father covered her completely and held her so close no wind could touch her. The leaves calmed and fell, and Brandt and Lucientes were left stranded in the woods again.
It was her father who picked her up and led her through the dark. The night’s walk was long, even Lucientes’ legs trembled with weariness. She held onto her father’s cloak and walked in the rain wherever he led her. Figures cut themselves from the darkness. Shadows split from shadows. The scents of the forest began to wake.
And Lucientes flew! She ducked incoming leaves and branches as she held onto her father’s hair like it was the reins of a horse. His breathing was rugged and deep, his body swayed with exhaustion, but on her father’s shoulders, Lucientes saw a dim glow hanging among the woods. Her hands came back to life, and tried to catch the fleeting particles of light rippling by her.
When Brandt lowered her to the ground, Lucientes saw her father in the light. He was a smaller man than she remembered. His beard was long and tangled; his cloak was a dragging rag like the loosening skin of his face and hands. He knelt before her and stroked her hair with his beaten face. The rain fell in quiet unison. The cold left Lucientes the more they wandered into the light. Bit by bit, her body thawed.
And then Lucientes sneezed. The mist turned into a blinding brightness at the heart of the forest. Such light she had never seen. Lucientes had to look away and let her eyes accept the luminescence over time. A wave of warmth undulated across the trees and snuck inside Lucientes’ skin. Her brown eyes devoured the beauty of the light. It transcended the boundaries of her memory, the constraints of her reason, and the breadth of her amazement, for such a light shone upon a child’s eyes dawns in her soul the re-creation of the world.
It was the longest and brightest day Lucientes ever experienced, and the last her father saw. The feathers of the birds clung to the drops of the day’s new rain. The grass’ wetness jumped in the air to the touch of deer, running soundlessly across the green. The Morning’s light framed the forest anew, and Brandt’s name diffused into the smell of the tall trees of the red wood.
When the Morning took flight and its brightness became another star in the dark, Lucientes hunted down its light. She tracked the wake of its glow across the sky, she followed the crumbs of its heat, she chased its radiance across the hills and through the grasslands, and breathed deep, with her nose high to the sky, the springing fragrance of the forest.
About the Author: Santiago Sánchez Cordero is a Mexican writer and filmmaker living somewhere between Mexico City and Vancouver. Currently working on a novel, this is his first publication.