The Brief Journey of Hugo Lebroque
It begins, as all stories do, with a girl. For a boy such as Hugo Lebroque, it could not have begun or ended more splendidly. The girl with the flashlight, with the hair like the night and whose eyes held the very stars – ah, but I get ahead of myself. First, we must paint for ourselves a setting. People, after all, are defined half by who they are and half by the world around them.
Hugo lived in a world where the sun never rose; indeed, Hugo did not even know what the sun was or looked like. The only sun he knew of was the moon, and the sky was not the fluffy blue of day that we all know and love, with clouds draped across the grand globe dome like curtains, but was instead a perpetual night. The moon hung still and misty in the sky above, unmoving, her dress of a million stars scintillating in the vast distance, the clink of a cold champagne glass. And from time to time, Hugo would look out of his house, the warm wood cottage with orange candlelight spilling from its windows, and stare out into the unblinking wild and the ocean of hills. The breeze always washed across the grass towards the moon, never away, the tide that never receded, underneath which the grass danced and waved its soft blades beneath the diamond night. And it was here that Hugo resided, in the cottage on the side of the smallest hill in the sea of rolling hills, undulating and swelling endlessly past the horizon on every side, the celestial night caressed by the moon and bursting with innumerable stars; the world, awash with silver down to every last blade of grass. This was his world, Hugo’s nocturnal world, dark and beautiful, the solitude divine.
Chin on palm and elbow on table, one wonders why the night is so entrancing. The stars, less in the sky than in the blood. One feels the enigma, the most ancient and familiar of mysteries, la linceul, drawing in, beckoning, seducing and the soul through the eyes. But when the eyes turn to behold that splendorous goddess, there is nothing but the stars winking mockingly, and the moon with her frozen mask.
She exploded into Hugo’s furniture world with a flashlight in one hand and a blazing key in the other and a face flush with excitement and urgency, leaving the door to swing in the breeze.
“Come on, you have to get out! There are people coming, they’re going to burn your house down because it’s in the way, hurry!” She said all this very rapidly and without much breath. She ran her eyes hurriedly over his sparsely furnished dwelling, then back to Hugo’s very alarmed face. “Come on, come on, they won’t spare you just because you’re a small boy. They’ll kill you!”
“I’m not small,” he protested.
Sighing exasperatedly, she rushed forward, grabbed his wrist, and wrenched him through the door. “Look, look, they’re coming over those hills now,” she said. Two figures in the distance, so far away that Hugo had to strain his eyes just to see them, were heading towards them at a worrying pace.
“Follow me.” The words tumbled from her mouth haphazardly, and she took off running towards the moon. Hugo could hardly make out the two faraway figures at all – they were just two fuzzy black dots, really – but the flashlight girl’s words gave them menacing enough features for Hugo to flee after her as fast as his bare feet would take him, questions and caution tossed to the wind.
She did not stop for what seemed to Hugo to be forever. By the time he noticed the fire behind him, his throat was torn to a million little bits of fluttering paper shreds, and his chest was heavy with fatigue. Still he ran, his house fifty hills and one lifetime behind, a great conflagration leaping and twisting towards heaven, erupting lustily in the sky, free at last. And Hugo cried, because the cottage was all he had known. Loss is an emotion that only those who have felt it can understand, so I cannot describe his feelings to you here, except to say that the tightness in his chest was not only from exhaustion. But even as he cried and his tears blurred all the stars together into a single luminous river, he ran after the girl with the flashlight ahead of him. The boy who till then lived by candlelight felt the lush grass beneath his soles, the cool twilight wind driving through his bones, and as he glimpsed the wall-less landscape around him, the horizon seemed to fling its arms wide and let loose a wild silent roar up into the cosmos.
Ahead, the girl laughed a windchime laugh that mingled with the harsh cracking of the fire. Hugo knew at once that the girl was mad, and that for some reason she had nothing to lose.
“Who are you?” Sitting around the campfire, smoke whispering, curling. Hugo next to the girl.
“Oh, just a servant girl.” Smirking. “Before I stole the key to the sun from the throne room. This flashlight saved my life, you know. If it weren't for this...” Tossing the flashlight into the air. Flip, flip. “...I'd probably be dead. You know, when I was just rounding the corner out of the eighty-fourth wing--”
“Who were those other people, who were chasing us? What's a flashlight, and what's the sun?” Hugo, after all, had ever only known the moon.
She stared. “Bit rude of you to interrupt me, don't you think? And why do you ask your questions like that; where's your personality? Anyways, I hope you realize that I've saved your life. Those other two guards from the palace, they would have killed you. And what sort of person doesn't know what a flashlight is? It's this; they're everywhere!” The girl wiggled the flashlight in front of him. “Help you see in the dark, they do.
“And the sun...well, that's something else. We've only ever known the moon, but this key here is the key to the sun. You'll know what it is when you see it; in fact, we're going to unlock it right now!”
“Oh, I don't know. I guess we'll figure it out when we get there.”
They sat there for a long while, staring into the fire. It flickered and danced before them, as if alive, warm and kind. Its light crept through the million-strand grass; orange, aglow in the sea of silver. Hugo looked into the fire, more than alive than anything, and then looked into the eyes of the beside him. Her gaze was fixed on the fire, but the fire seemed to blaze brighter in her eyes than on the grass. Hugo wondered if the fire blazed in his eyes as well.
Crackle, crackle. The smoke, like the soul of the fire, rising up. Suddenly, she stood up; Hugo watched her curiously.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Come on!” she said, with her bag and flashlight in her hands. “Follow me, we're going to go somewhere nice.” So Hugo followed, and he found himself chasing after her again, his footsteps matching hers.
When they had walked for quite a long while – long enough so that the fire could no longer be seen except for the distant light it left upon the hillside – Hugo began to hear the faint sound of water.
“Is that a river?” which of course it was, but Hugo wanted to ask anyways. The girl didn't say anything and kept walking, the grass caressing her feet, softer than air, until the river came into view. (There was always grass, Hugo thought. It stretched on forever, and would always be there. The one feature the entirety of the universe held in common.)
As Hugo watched her, he realized that she was the night itself. Her eyes closed, turned up towards the roofless sky, breathing in deeply the world through her nose, and her hair dark as the infinite space between the stars one with the space above ground below sky, and the wind kissing her bare legs for her clothes were ragged as is expected of a servant girl of the palace, the grass cold between her toes, and in that single moving-picture second that lasted for a minute then an hour then a millenium Hugo saw her fully and (he did not love her for he knew not love) but he understood fully the beauty of the world through the lens of another human body, for what better way to appreciate nature than with is most complex creation?
She lay down on the grass. He lay down next to her. Neither of them moved. Their eyes faced upwards and soaked in the view.
There was a long silence before she said, “Look at the stars. You've seen them before, right?”
“I've seen them through my window, yes,” replied Hugo indignantly.
“Could you imagine a world without them?”
“Without...stars?” The notion was alien to Hugo.
“Yeah, and instead of black there's just blue. All the way across the sky, only blue. No stars or anything.”
Hugo had nothing to say to that.
“Well, that's what the sun is like,” said the girl rapturously. She sat up and faced him, the stars in her eyes glowing vivaciously. “Don't you ever get tired of the stars, Hugo? The stars seem so distant, and far away. They look so lovely, but we can never get to them, like they exist outside our own existence. And the grass! It never ends, ever, and I bet it just keeps stretching into the stars. Oh, what I would give to see the ocean, or some trees, or a cloud or two!”
Hugo had never heard of these things before in his life.
“It's just that the night – it's so...dark, as if the air was water and we were all drowning. Yes, it is beautiful,” she said dismissively, for Hugo had interrupted her, “but don't you get tired of it all? Wouldn't you like to see something new?”
“I suppose,” said Hugo, thinking to himself that the night was plenty beautiful already and that he didn't need anything more. But he allowed his mind to revolve a little, glimmering slowly in his mind, and he wondered what it would be like to see something new.
“What's a cloud and a tree, anyways?” asked Hugo, remembering that out of everything this girl had told her in the past few days, he only understood half.
“I'm not really sure,” she said. “I've only ever read about them in the palace books. I haven't ever seen them, but the royal books are always true, and I'm excited to see something new anyways. Um, a cloud is like a big ball of fluff floating in the air, and a tree is a big plant. Kind of like a blade of grass, but really big, larger than you and I.” Hugo pictured an enormous flat stem, swaying to and fro above their heads.
In the distance, thunder rumbles abrasively against the air, accompanied by the lightning, flashing silently.
“Will the storm reach us?” said Hugo anxiously.
The girl reassured him that the the storm wouldn't even come close, for it was heading in another direction. Don't worry, Hugo; look at the clouds, they're going the opposite way! But her eyes had became blank, as if she had closed an invisible eyelid, and for a second or two her starlit eyes forgot to shine.
Two days later, while they were trudging through unending grass, Hugo spotted a kaleidoscopic glistening emerge from the depths behind the horizon.
“What's that?” Hugo had to ask. Every question reminded him of how little he knew about the world.
“That,” she replied, “is our way to the moon. We'll climb on it, and it'll carry us up and up, and it is there that we will see the sun.”
The two of them continued on heavily, Hugo still behind his mysterious friend. The wind, as it had done for the past week, ran its fingers through their hair. Always the night's cold companion, the moon looked on impassively. The stars flickered, as if unsure of themselves. Hugo's legs ached in a pleasant sort of way.
At last, he could no longer resist asking. Painfully aware that he had yet to say something that was not a question, Hugo asked for her name.
“Ah! Sorry, Hugo,” she said. “I've forgotten completely. My name's Eve.”
What a strange name, thought Hugo to himself, for someone who found the night boring.
When at last they reached the polychromatic light, they found before them an enormous bird. It regarded them haughtily and glared down at them from over its beak. Robed in resplendent feathers of various colors (Hugo counted seven: violet, orange, red, green, yellow, and two shades of blue), it seemed more king than animal. It certainly didn't think very highly of them.
Ignoring its death gaze, Eve hopped on the bird stolidly. “Come on,” she beckoned him over.
“I can't go on that,” said a horrified Hugo. “It'll kill us, look at that thing!”
“Oh, don't be a coward and get on. The moon is so close, you can't stop us now.”
Still Hugo refused. “Ugh,” she said irritatedly, and pulled him on forcefully by the wrist. “Hold on tight, or you'll fall.”
With a great leap, the grand bird took flight. Hugo felt his heart splash into his stomach, and gripped the feathers till even his knuckles were pale with fright. The ground beneath him was already so far away, far enough so that Hugo could no longer see the individual blades of grass, and it all melted together into one undulating wave until it truly became a sea of green. In front of him, Eve spread her arms and fingers and stared against the sky till the wind made her eyes water. Her sable hair, as elegant as the night, flowed with the wind, so that instead of an exhilarating, beautiful journey through the star-flecked sky, Hugo had only a faceful of hair.
The moon grew in the sky as they approached it. The royal fowl tilted its wings and landed amidst a great cloud of moon-dust. As Hugo dismounted gingerly, struggling unsuccessfully to display both gratitude and deference on his wind-whipped face, he saw with wonder the rainbow trail that the bird's feathers had left behind. Swaths of color shifting and weaving together, arcing broadly through the sky, marked their nocturnal trajectory. Hugo was tempted to take a step, then two, then three on this multicolored anchor to the earth and run back down, but behind him, Eve called out.
“Hugo, come on. We haven't got much time left,” she yelled, but her voice seemed feeble. He rushed obsequiously over.
“Stand here,” said Eve, and spun him around so that he faced the deep cosmos. She stepped next to him. “Now close your eyes.” So he closed his eyes, and beside him Eve lifted her fiery key.
Hugo suddenly experienced the distinct feeling of plunging into darkness, as if the darkness was a primal pool, the omnipresent entity, glossy since before the universe began. The stars simultaneously extinguished themselves, leaving behind only candle-smoke. Far below him, the last standing post that remained of Hugo's charred wreckage of a house, which he had now become aware of, fell down against the hillside and crumbled into black smoke, destined to ride upon the wind's chariot for eternity. And a hundred miles away, the palace of the Night King, from which Eve had stolen the key, leapt forward in time. All its servants and its master aged seventy years and died standing up. Before their bodies could collapse upon the floor, their flesh rotted away into the wind. Their bones followed shortly. After tens of thousands of years had passed in a single second, the palace was assimilated back into the ground, swamped by moss and grass. Its millions of books and soaring architecture was lost forever.
The wind that had swept westward through the palace and then over Hugo's desiccated house was charged with electricity, an omen of something greater. Through his closed eyes, Hugo witnessed the storm that Eve had previously assured him was nothing at all. On the contrary, it had since grown tremendously in size and lay waste to whatever poor hill happened to be in its way. Grass was ripped from its roots and hurled irreverently into the swirling bowels of the storm, where lightning vanquished it completely. With clouds black as sin, writhing with animosity, it was truly the Beast.
“Hugo,” said Eve gently. “Open your eyes and turn around.”
When he opened his eyes, he was greeted with a starless night. The universe yawned before him, too cavernous to return even an echo of light. Hugo gave a cry of dismay.
“Hugo,” Eve said again, her voice now frail and serene. “The East Wind is coming to take me.” She was crying. “I want to see the sun before I go. So please, turn around.”
Realizing that something was being cut short, he pivoted slowly, and there was an impressive ornate double gate, black and gold on the left, gold and red on the right, and a keyhole where the colors all met.
The gates swung open outward.
There was no storm. The stars were gone, the sky a uniform blue. The moon vanished beneath him, and he and Eve fell towards Earth.
“You'll be fine when you land,” said Eve. “And thank you.” Then death took her tenderly and she vanished into time. Only her night-black hair was left, and then it sailed away on the wind.
Tumbling downward, Hugo could see the sun, brighter than anything he had seen, coming up from behind the horizon, its glorious halo of light spilling out over the sides. Clouds grander than mountains promised adventure. Hugo had never beheld anything so beautiful in his life. But then he remembered that Eve was no longer there beside him, and his little heart broke in two.
End Round 3
< Message edited by Eukara Vox -- 7/10/2014 11:30:28 >