Weekly Wednesday Serial: The Memory Book

Gus is on the Island, but doesn’t find what he expects.

The Memory Book, Scene 45

Gus Hears Music

The stables are empty. Gus stands in the broad doorway, the one that faces the sea, and bites back his disappointment. He should have been expecting this; the school is abandoned, he knows, has been for decades, ever since it was attacked during the Painter’s War.

Gus was never a student here. He was raised in exile by his aunt, after his birth. His parents had long ago been destroyed—first his seraphim mother, and then after a long brutal hunt, his father. He, half-seraphim, half-power, had been raised as a full-blooded seraph by his mother’s sister, Honoria; she schooled him, most especially in combat arts, honing his gifts for tracking.

Touching the brickwork of the stable door threshold, Gus closes his eyes; he can smell the sweet must of the winged horses and their dwelling, hear the rumbly sounds they made as they conversed with one another. When he was quite young, Honoria sent him to Saint Angela’s to work; he was not happy about it, but when he arrived and saw the beasts, his heart broke with happiness. Wheedling, begging, he eagerly hung around the pegasi-keepers until, to shut him up, they allowed him to fork and sweep the dung.

What has happened to the beasts?

It’s been barely a week since Beatrix was here. The school is abandoned. At least one pegasus was here when Beatrix arrived. But pegasi do not thrive alone; they are joined tightly in their tribe, at the hip, as mortals like to say. Yes, they fly singly with their masters but always return to the herd.

Leaving the doorway, Gus walks to the cliff-edge and looks down over the wall to where the sea batters rocks. Turning, he gazes at the main school building, silent and dull under the heavy clouds. The wind is dying as the squall moves west, and Gus leaps into the air.

He circles the island, mapping it yet again in his mind; the granite tors at the island’s apex, the west and southward forests, the spring-fed stream that glints in broken sunlight. The pegasi should not still be here, Gus knows. Who will feed and water them? There is no pasture here. Also Gus knows of all the islands in this part of the sea—none of them would be habitable for the winged horses.

Arrowing around the island’s southern tip, where the beach is—such fond memories of that beach—he arrives back at the school and touches down in the formal garden entry. He can’t linger. Now that the storm has passed, he must try to find the steamer. It was not in view on the ocean surface during his flight.

The lawns are smooth and the hedges clipped. There is no fragrance of dust or mold, signs of long neglect. Perhaps the divinity of a place that housed so many angels is somehow, mystically, tending the school and grounds.

A flicker catches his eye from one of the windows to his right, near the building corner. Narrowing his eyes, he stares at it. He can’t tell if it was a trick of the intermittent sun breaks or what his first impression told him: someone had just turned off a lamp.

Could it be Mayor Rosemary Place stayed behind when Beatrix escaped the island?

Without hurrying, because the watcher up there was likely still watching him, Gus walks away toward his left, along the southern-most wing. There is a door the staff used to come and go from their dormitories in the end wall. It’s locked but that is not a problem for Gus, who has it opened in seconds. He dashes up the inner stairs to the third floor, gently cracks the door to the long hall of empty student rooms, and peers out.

The hall, stretching into darkness, is empty. Gus sees well in the dark—acutely so, due to his mixed blood. There is a shape there, but it’s nebulous and indistinct. With a shock, Gus realizes who this is, even before music from an oboe echoes along the corridor, reaching his ears with sorrowful loveliness.

© Jill Zeller, April, 2020

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