The Firebird XIX


Apple 001


I was awakened at last by a voice whispering in my ear:

“Eat.  It is long since you have taken anything, and you must eat if you are to reach your journey’s end.

I obeyed, hardly knowing what I was doing, for my mind was still a blur.  Drawing the basket of apples from the folds of my cloak, I looked inside and found that it still contained seven apples.  But how much larger those apples seemed to have grown!  The basket, too, looked bigger than before.

Without stopping to puzzle over this apparent change in the relative size of things – for I was indeed thoroughly famished – I reached in and took out one of the bright green apples.  But just as I was about to bite into it, I stopped short, arrested by the sight of my own hand.  How small it looked with the great apple in its palm!  I wondered at the skin, so smooth against the smooth skin of the fruit, and marveled at how like the two skins seemed to have become.  This fair, smooth hand was mine without a doubt, and yet it had undergone an unmistakable change.  It seemed the hand of a small child beside the huge apple, which appeared to have grown to the size of a grapefruit.

I ate with great relish.  Again the golden juice refreshed and strengthened me, cooling my lips and tongue, quenching my thirst, satisfying my hunger, and warming me from the inside out.  The glow returned to the wound in my heart and I was comforted.

As was my habit, I would have devoured the apple completely but for a very strange thing that now met my eye.  At its core I saw a bit of paper, rolled up into a scroll, like a note thrust into a bottle by a shipwrecked mariner.  As soon as I unrolled the paper I knew immediately what it was:  the first page of the little book I had read in my room when the walls and ceiling were transformed into reflecting glass.

“Keep this paper with you,” said the voice at my ear.  It was, of course, the voice of the small gray bird.  “Hide it within the folds of your cloak, inside your nightgown, next to your skin.  Do not let go of it.”

I did as the bird said.

On and on I went, then, and just as before time passed without seeming to pass at all.  I knew that it was passing, at least insofar as I understand the meaning of the words, for I continued moving forward, carried by the current which grew ever stronger.  I went through the cycle of watching, sleeping, waking, and eating over and over again, but the light of the approaching sunrise never changed.  It seemed as if the great fire below the horizon was moving away from me at exactly the same rate as I was pursuing.

Meanwhile, the little scrolls of paper continued to appear in the cores of the apples I ate, occasionally at first, then with greater frequency as I continued on my way.  When unrolled, each scroll turned out to be yet another page of the little book.  You will have some idea how long I traveled and how many apples I ate when I say that eventually I had collected all of the pages and had the entire book tucked away inside my clothing and next to my heart.

From time to time I saw things.  As I watched, blotches of darkness on the waters ahead would grow larger and clearer as I moved closer, and then take shape as rocks, small islands, buoys, boats, ships, or the backs of great sea creatures.  In the beginning I grew highly excited at each of these sightings, desperately hoping that each might prove to be my salvation.  But always the voice of the small gray bird would speak to me and say, “Let it pass.”  And so I did.

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