Castles in the Clouds

Once, in a far off kingdom, there lived a young man.  His father had wanted a son who would be good. What he was given was a son who was good at being good for nothing.  

Even as a young man the boy would wake up early on the family farm when the rooster crowed, swore to his father he was going to go milk the cows or hunt for eggs in the hen house, but instead searched for a spot to sleep the rest of the day away.  He was surly at mealtimes, unhelpful around the farm, and whined every time anything was asked of him.

The young man’s father, like most fathers, hoped that such lazy and unruly behavior would change with time as most problems tend to mellow with age.  Such was not to be.

As he became a man of a full eighteen years his youthful behaviors took on new vigor as he found the joys of the bottle, gambling, fighting, and general carousing and slovenly behavior.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a man engages in such things they often cling to compatriots who wallow in the same pig pen. Such it was with this particular young man whose name was Tomlin.  There were a choice number of unkempt lads with bad intentions that rolled around with him, each going by a name other than the one their parents had bestowed upon them.

It was an average spring morning that found the lads passed out in various places around Tomlin’s family farm.  VineBean, the tallest, snored away as he lay awkwardly in the limbs of a nearby tree. PortPot, the widest, had fallen into the horse trough, his jowly face and massive stomach the only things sticking out of the water.  DingbatDonagan was the shortest of the pack, also the darkest of hair and skin, and he had the presence of mind, before slipping into unconsciousness, to gather disparate clumps of straw and fashion a thin palette on the ground to sleep upon.  Tomlin, who was dubbed by the other three as FarmStench, naturally knew the best areas of the farm for sleeping, and so found himself blinking awake on a small patch of clover that lay behind the barn.

He rose with the dawn, his stomach feeling as if he’d swallowed a hundred angry wasps, and looked for a place to let them fly to freedom.  He ran first to the horse trough but, upon seeing that it was otherwise occupied, ran hand over mouth and arm across stomach to the base of the tree where VineBean lay in awkward repose.  The sound of the escaping “wasps” caused VineBean to shift in his place with a groan. When the bouquet reached his nose Vine Bean shifted too far and came falling down two levels of branches until one cradled his neck and another happened to prop him up behind the knees.  This caused Tomlin to laugh until the effort made his head hurt at which point he looked back to the trough. He was hot, sweaty, and his mouth tasted as though he had eaten something sheep’s wool flavored in the night. He didn’t fancy a drink of what PortPot had been stewing in all night.  Still, he thought, splashing the water upon his face would grant him some relief. The taste in his mouth could wait.

Now, as I mentioned, it was spring.  His family’s field lay before him, tilled but not yet showing any signs of life.  Each carefully planted seed sat below waiting for the ancient magic of rain and the sun.  It appeared tended but barren to all who looked on it. The only place it seemed truly full of life was in the mind and intention of the farmer, Tomlin’s father.  

Far away, beyond the field and resting on the horizon, though no one knew how far away they truly were, stood the great northern mountains.  They were peculiar mountains in that you could walk for two days and still appear no nearer to them than you were. They were so large that they seemed easily within the grasp of any adventurer but those who took up the chosen task soon gave up for feeling discouraged after two days and no apparent progress had been made.

They were peculiar in another way, particularly that they were covered in clouds constantly.  A good distance to the east and to the west one could make out some smaller peaks that then descended into foothills, but the majority of the center lay continually shrouded.

The clouds shifted, flowed down so that even the base occasionally was covered, and occasionally crept out over the fields, but no one ever saw the center cluster of peaks.

Well, I say never, but we all know that when in a tale someone “never” saw or “never” could accomplish some great feat or were doomed to “always”, which is just a different way of saying “never”, then what comes soon behind is the fact that it does happen.  Such is the nature of this story.

Tomlin had just wetted his red and sweating face and then began to wipe the water away with the end of his shirt when suddenly he stopped and his mouth opened.  He blinked once. He blinked twice. He splashed water on his face again, paying special attention to washing the sleep from his eyes, and still his mouth lay open staring at the great northern mountains.  He staggered forward until the fence of his father’s field caught him around the midsection. In his new stupor, though for certain he was still feeling the affects of the first, Tomlin climbed over the fence without realizing what he was doing and trod through his father’s field toward the mountains.

The young man shook his head again and gawped.

“Do you…” he sputtered weakly and pointed ahead while looking back at his unconscious compatriots who, of course, remained unconscious and oblivious to what was before him.  He returned his gaze to the north and felt a stirring he had never experienced before.

There before him a window had opened in the clouds and he could see that what lay at the top of the mountains weren’t peaks at all, but a vast wide ranging castle, with gleaming white walls and towers that jutted majestically up, up, higher than he could imagine.  The morning sun somehow shone directly into the absence of cloud and caused the city of white to glow and revealed glittering lines of gold running through some towers and topping some domes.

At first the sight was entirely unbelievable.  He blamed the vision on his drunken state but as it persisted, not wavering but instead becoming more distinct, he came to accept it.  It filled him with joy and no end of wonder. How had there been such a city, such a castle, there among the great northern mountains and no one had known it?  How could it be there up so high and white and gold, and so glorious to behold? It was easily the most beautiful thing he had ever beheld drunk or sober. He was consumed with an intense longing to go there, to walk the streets, to know those who lived there.  He longed for it in a way he had never known longing for the bottle.

It wasn’t until his cheeks began to ache that he realized he had been smiling, and even that was only as he found himself running back across the field to tell his friends.  With every other step he looked over his shoulder to make sure that it was still there, his city of white and gold. Still he feared that it was a mirage, a dream born on the spirit wings of wine and beer, but no.  It remained. He woke PortPot, VineBean, and DingbatDonogan, who each rebelled with groans and curses upon his person. The groans decreased and the curses increased as he shoved PortPot’s head underwater, leapt to grab and then shook the branches on which VineBean hung, and threw handfuls of straw into DingbatDonogan’s face causing him to spit and sputter.

“What in the wicked world was that for, FarmStench?!”  Each shouted some variation in turn.

“Look!  Look!” he shouted to them as he ran about pointing wildly at the northern mountains.  “Can’t you see it? Isn’t it amazing? We have so much to do. We have to pack, we have to ask my father for provisions, and PortPot, I know your mother can help with food, though the amount you need might strain your back.  Everybody up! We have to go!”

The image of such an adventure had welled up into Tomlin’s heart that it couldn’t even be dampened or snuffed out by their confused and disbelieving looks.

“There!” he pointed behind himself at something over the fence and across the field.

There was a long silence as Tomlin hoped that they would see what he had seen and be as taken by it as he.  It was VineBean who first spoke, each of the compatriots unwilling to admit to their friend that they may not be seeing what he was seeing.  

“What are you on about, Stench?” VineBean said cautiously, not wanting to distress his friend further.

“It’s right there!  On the mountains?” he ventured a clue.

Each compatriot looked in the direction and then blankly at one another.

“Don’t you see it clear as day?  A city of white and gold on the mountain tops?”

Finally fed up with his friends density Tomlin turned and saw what they had been seeing all along; nothing but the same white, puffy clouds that they had seen on the mountains since they were babes in arms.

“Oh, I get it,” chuckled PortPot as he pulled himself from his watery bed. “You’re trying to get out of paying for drinks tonight.  Faking that you’ve drunk too much; that’s a new one on me.”

Tomlin shook his head and rubbed his eyes again, stared and squinted trying to will the sight of the white and gold spires to return.  He had seen them, if only for an instant, hadn’t he? The smell of hard drink was still on him and on his breath, so perhaps there was room for some doubt.  

“Well, that’s not likely to happen, is it?” VineBean said with a punch to Tomlin’s shoulder.  

“Why’s that?” DingbatDonogan asked dimly while pulling straw from the back of his head.

His friends moved in front of him but Tomlin kept looking around them, seeking something in the distance.

“He’s one of us.  Right?” VineBean answered.  “Stench,” he called seeking for Tomlin’s eyes to meet his own.

“Huh?” Tomlin grunted and with a shake of his head he was alright again.  Everything felt suddenly normal and clear again, or as clear as a morning after could be.

“You’re going to be alright once you get some grub in your gut and we’ll see you again tonight, right?  It’s your night to buy,” VineBean said while holding his friends gaze.

“Yeah,” Tomlin reassured. “Just like every night.”

“You’re many things, FarmStench, but you’re not a churl.  C’mon boys. It’s your mum’s for breakfast, right PortPot?”  

“Whatever we can shove in our gobs before she wakes up,” PortPot replied with a laugh that shook his considerable belly.  

“Last time she chased us out with a stick.  Pretty sure I’ve still got bruises,” DingbatDonogan said with a whine.

“Ah, you’ll be fine.  PortPot’s used to the stick, aren’t you?  He’s big enough to get in between the pair of ya,” VineBean reassured with a sly chuckle.

The trio walked away from their bewildered friend who, once they stopped looking at him, returned his gaze to the distant cloud shrouded mountains, the peaks of which none had ever seen.  Hadn’t he seen? Hadn’t the clouds parted? He couldn’t have made up towers and spires of white and gold, could he? It wasn’t something he could have seen so well defined. Hard drink made everything bright but fuzzy, not crisp and unbelievably beautiful.

Tomlin continued to stare at the clouds, once believing he saw a shadow side of a minaret, the next moment the possible crest of a turret, but each time the images shifted revealing themselves to be nothing more than the clouds morphing and seemingly mocking his desire and longing.  The longing. He gasped at the thought of it. Hadn’t something stirred inside of him, like so much hot coals, an aching longing desire to go, to leave everything and everyone behind, to trek as long as it took, to at least set his feet on those streets, and that would be enough? If he was honest even that wouldn’t be enough, but that wasn’t the point.  He couldn’t have made up that feeling, that longing that kindled more the longer he stared.

“Mornin’, Son,” his father said.

Tomlin gave a start and clutched at his chest.  

“Oh, Father.  You scared me.”

“Scared me seeing you out here in the field like you was ready to work.”

The man let out a deep, disappointed sigh through his nose before he leaned toward his son.

“Should have known better,” his father declared as he turned his attention to the dark, fertile field before them both.

“Figured you’d be still snoring away giving the ox a run for his money,”

“Nah,” Tomlin replied quietly, as if already far away.

“Yer good for nothing friends skedaddled off my land or am I going to find one of them cozied up with the sow?”

“Nah,” Tomlin said again.

“Son,” his father said waving a hand in front of his son’s face.  “Son! You’re not still drunk are yeh?”

“No, dad,” Tomlin replied dreamily.  “Though I do feel plenty peculiar.”

Telling his friends about the castles he had seen seemed so easy, but once they disbelieved him it seemed all the harder to reveal the source of the peculiar feeling to his father.  

Tomlin blinked the moment he noticed a rawhide gloved hand waving in front of his face.  

The young man turned to face his father with a smile and a laugh.  It was a stabbing sort of moment that he realized it had been a long while since he had last given his father a smile let alone been the cause of one for his father.  He looked at the old man his father had become; the rosy cheeks, the predominantly grey stubble around his face, the squinting dark eyes, and the cap under which Tomlin knew were thin wisps of white hair carefully combed over a large patch of baldness.  

“No need to feel concerned, dad.  I’m just,” Tomlin balked, blinked, and tried to put a name to just what he was.  “…different.”

“You seem like you’re looking for something in them clouds.”

“Yeah.  I keep thinking I saw something there,” he replied.

“Well, so long as you feel that way and you’re looking that way, how ‘bout you and me toss a few bales down out of the loft.  Loft door looks that way.”

“Yeah, dad, that…that sounds fine.”

Tomlin’s father was acting cleverly, not that Tomlin would have been able to notice, but by keeping the young man’s work turned towards the foothills and the thick clouds that moved over them he managed to get a full day’s work out of his son.  Soon Tomlin began to look away from the clouds and towards his work more often and it was only about a month later, when the wheat was just an inch or two out of the ground, that Tomlin looked out over his dinner, past his mother washing dishes and on towards the clouds that covered the northern mountains, that he realized what had happened.

The herald of the realization was a loud pounding at the front of the door.  It didn’t take long for Tomlin to figure out who must be the cause of such a racket.  It could only have been one of a possible three people. His father was about to rise from his place at the table and answer when Tomlin assured him that he would take care of the disturbance..

Sure enough, once he opened the door the motley trio of VineBean, PortPot, and DingbatDonogan appeared before him, PortPot’s ham sized fist having done the pounding.

“Stench!” VineBean exclaimed with an actor’s approximation of genuine excitement at seeing his old friend.

“Hey, Stench,” Dingbat said with a chuckle at nothing in particular.

“FarmStench, my old palsy walsy,” PortPot slurred at him punctuating it with a hiccup.

“Hi.  What’s up, fellas?” Tomlin asked awkwardly.

“You, are what is currently ‘up’, my good man,” VineBean answered with a pointed finger.  “Where you been, Stench?”

“Yeah,” Dingbat said with a braying laugh, “Where ya been, Stench?”

Tomlin leaned back from the door and looked at his father and mother who stood waiting to eat.  His mother sat with her arms folded staring at some point on the opposite wall from her, brushed a hair from her face and then recrossed her arms.  He knew the look. It happened every time his father would corner him and tell him to wake up, to get his head out of the ale, and make something of his life.  His father’s body language was completely different. The man had turned toward Tomlin, a hand on each knee, and a look upon his face that was neither rage nor judgement, but merely appraising and expectant.

With a deep breath inhaled and exhaled Tomlin turned towards his former comrades.  

“I’ve been helping my dad around the farm,” he declared boldly.

VineBean looked as if someone had slapped him with a particularly wet and smelly sock.  He reeled back, closed his eyes, shivered, and then used a hand to wipe from brow to chin.  

“I never would have believed it if I hadn’t heard it myself.  I’ve heard it and I still have a problem believing it. What about you, Dingbat?” VineBean asked his eager follower.  

“Don’t believe it, and not sure I heard it myself,” DingbatDonogan replied blankly.

The three young men stared at Tomlin without saying another word.  A breeze blew past, a pair of chickens clucked in the yard, and the windmill at the other end of the farm creaked loudly as the wind changed direction.

“And you fellas?” Tomlin finally asked to cut through the awkward tension.

“Sober two days out of the week, that’s what we’ve been,” PortPot replied with eagerness and ease as if he had been waiting for that exact question.  

“Sorry, fellas, I just haven’t been feeling like it,” Tomlin replied uneasily.

“Sorry don’t cut it, do it, Dingbat?” VineBean added.

“Don’t cut it.”

“You said you were a man of your word last we spoke, if you’ll remember, and by my reckoning it’s been eight times you went back on your supposedly reliable word.  Now, if you aren’t a man of your word, what are you, Dingbat?”

“A liar,” Dingbat replied with a hungry gleam in his eye.  

It was a gleam Tomlin was familiar with.  It had been there the night they rolled the traveling panhandler, took all his money and left him a lump on the back of his noggin to remember him by.  The gleam had been there when they set farmer Dooley’s hay ablaze just because VineBean had a hankering for roast sausages. And hadn’t that self same look been in his own eye during every other deed they had simply excused away under the label of “a bit o’ mischief”?

“A liar,” VineBean confirmed.  “A liar what owes us as well. See, FarmStench, it was all fun and laughs when you was one of us, but if you ain’t one of us then it ain’t going to be fun and laughs.  We’ll get what’s owed us one way or the other, now.”

Tomlin looked at each of them in turn; VineBean smug next to his lapdog Donogan and then to PortPot who looked less confident and a bit squeamish.  The young man realized that PortPot had to be full up on spirits to confront him. One moment he would look sure, and the next pained and ready to vomit.  Tomlin leaned back to look at his family; his mother had her face covered by her hands as if ready to cry, but his father had not changed his stance one inch.  

“It was nice to see you boys,” Tomlin declared, “But there’s nothing here for you.  I am a man of my word, but it’s a different sort of word than before. Enjoy your night.”

And with that he closed the door on his former pals.

Tomlin sat at the table aware that his parents were both looking at him in shock.  He looked out of the window towards the cloud shrouded foothills and then asked his mother if she could pass the mashed potatoes.  

“Son…” his father said quietly.  

Tomlin looked up at his father with a spoonful of potato perched on his lip.  He paused there, unaccustomed to seeing the worried look on his father’s face.  His father’s eyes were such a bright blue that Tomlin wondered how it could be that he had never notice them before.

“Do we need to prepare for some sort of… shenanigans?”

Tomlin smiled, completed his bite of potato, and reassured his father.

“Most like they’ll find some easier pickings.  They can be dangerous, but they are also lazy. We often made threats we didn’t follow through on.  Sorry,” he said with a cough. “They. That’s not a part of who I am anymore. I suppose I have some amends to make to you both and some others around the village.”

 Tomlin continued to eat, but couldn’t help notice that his parents took it in turns to stare at him strangely and then absently pushed their food around their plates.

“Are you both done?  You don’t seem hungry.  I’ll clean up.”

It gave him a smile to shock his parents so, especially when it produced a contagious smile between the pair followed by a chuckle that was so warm Tomlin felt it leap to himself.  It was a new life, who knew how long it may last. He’d tried to create a new life before, but it only lasted for hours at least and a day at most before he was back to his old ways, the kind that pleased him greatly for an hour but turned the rest of life into a drudgery.  Something about this change this time felt different.

“Don’t worry, dad.  I’ll stay up and keep an eye out.  I know their tricks, but really I doubt there’s anything to worry about.  One sniff of wine elsewhere and they’ll be hard after it and forget about us.”

And forget about Tomlin they did, for a time.  Tomlin spent his days laboring hunched over, weeding the fields by day, and darning his own socks and scrubbing his own laundry down the washboard at night.  It was hard work, the kind that gives a person callouses, backaches and scars, but when his head hit the pillow at night his heart felt happy and full.

Harvest time came and Tomlin’s father instructed him on the use of a scythe and set him to work.  The young man clipped a half inch off the toe of his boot during the first half hour, but he soon fell into the rhythm which included every now and then staring up at the distant mountains, almost without thinking, as if to check to see if just maybe the clouds had parted and he could see the castle spires again.  Oh, what magic that would be, how his heart would feel alive again at that sight. It was nothing new, the glancing. He had done it all spring and well into the summer. Under the shade of a broadleaf tree at midday his father finally asked him about it.

“What do you keep thinking you see out there, son?”

“It’s not what I keep thinking I see, it’s what I know I once saw,” Tomlin began.  “It was the day you found me at the fence rather than sleeping off a night of hard drinking.  If you remember, I was staring that way when you found me.”
“I surely do remember.”

“It was earlier.  I swear, dad, I swear I saw the clouds part and behind them I could see the mountains, I saw the most beautiful castles with spires of white and gold.  I can’t describe them. You probably think I’m crazy just like my old drinking friends. They blamed it on the hard drinking, and I would have believed right along with them if it hadn’t been for how much I’ve changed.  It sounds daft that seeing castle spires changed me, but the proof is right here.”

His father worked the stem of wheat in his mouth from one side to the other as he squinted looking across the field.  

“No,” he stated very simply.  “I don’t think you’re daft.”

Tomlin was more than a little sure his father had more to say but was either choosing his words carefully or reluctant to say more.  

“Help your poor father up, lad,” the man commanded with a hand held out which Tomlin took. “Not sure how many years I’ve got left.  I sure am glad you came around. Not sure what would happen to the old place if you hadn’t.”

There was a strain of melancholy in his father’s voice that affected Tomlin deeply, so deep that he wasn’t sure why or what in the words made him feel suddenly tender towards the man.

It was a few weeks later that his father continued the conversation as if no time had passed.

“I do want to warn you though,” his father said after a few silent moments in the shade of the same broadleaf tree.  “You’re not the first to have seen them, you know; your castles in the sky? There have been folk throughout this village’s history what have seen them and chased after them.  They get a sort of fever that drives them mad, some of them. They can’t be restrained and they, well, live for the sight of them again. Some go years, maybe decades until they can stand it no more.  They don’t pack a thing. They just wander off leaving friends, family, all sorts of life and connections behind. Others see the towers and stay where they are just hoping to glimpse them, but content to let that be enough.  Folk of the town would say that those what stay are the lucky ones, living with the dream and the stability of daily life. Those same folk would tell you the ones what wander away never reach even the foothills of the mountain because they’ve not prepared due to the fever.  The wanderers starve or die on the way. Naturally folk don’t believe there’s anything up on the mountains, just more mountains. Because it’s been shrouded by clouds all our lives they think there’s nothing to see. So, I guess what I’m asking is if I need to worry about you leaving in the middle of the night and being lost to us?”

Tomlin smiled while looking down to the shaded ground beneath the tree.  

“Honestly, I don’t know, dad.  I saw it. I know I saw it. And, it’s changed so much of my life here.  I want to be there. I’ve got a longing like I’ve never known but…to be honest I’m not sure I can leave.  I’ve been a pretty terrible son, and I’d like to make it up to you if I can. I never wanted to be anything to you and mom, but now I want to help, I want to take care of this place and eventually take care of you.  I feel like it’s only right to do right by you for now. So, no. Sometimes I find myself on the other side of the field getting ready to jump over the fence and walk on, but I always look back and think of the son I should be…for now.”

Tomlin’s father clapped him on the shoulder firmly and gave him a smile.  

“Just promise me you’ll say goodbye if you do leave.”

Tomlin nodded while still looking at the ground unable to meet his father’s eyes; not out of shame for once, but out of the emotional intensity that filled him such that he could feel his throat beginning to clench.

Three autumns later the barn was full, the animals were fat and happy and all as a result of Tomlin and his father’s combined efforts.  The family had never known such prosperity. Such was their future that they felt confident in buying the neighboring field which doubled their ability to produce for the next year.  It also doubled the distance Tomlin could allow himself to get towards the cloud shrouded mountains he knew hid the white and gold towers he longed for.

As is often the case with such prosperity there often comes with it, fast on its heels, a great sorrow.

As Tomlin, his father, and some hired men had finished filling the barn to capacity and laid up their tools by for another season, Tomlin’s mother fell dead upon their kitchen floor.  The menfolk were heading towards a well deserved autumn feast that had never been finished.

The winter was shrouded in grief, the white snow that fell upon the ground cast a shroud over all that once seemed so great and so successful.  Tomlin’s father was given to weeks of silence but for keening wails in the night when the loneliness proved too much. More than once Tomlin was tempted to return to the solace of drink and once-close companions.  In the midst of that pain and sorrow he forgot about the towers and instead was consumed by a darkness.

By the time the snow had melted away and planting time came Tomlin felt that he had grieved enough, though the pain still lay lodged like a ruddy great thorn in the center of his chest.  Spring reminds us that life goes on, raised from the decay of death, and so should we. And so it was for Tomlin.

He tried to rouse his father to action, but to no avail.  The man lay in bed now and ate naught but whatever soup Tomlin could concoct.  They were both thinner for it, but strong enough. His father would do nothing now but lay in bed and stare at the side of it that had once belonged to his wife.

Finally Tomlin left his father where he lay and decided to take action.  If his father had once planted and tended the farm by himself, certainly he could.  It was not unlike a reversal of the situation that once was between them; father and son, one oblivious to the world and the other taking responsibility.  Tomlin was certain it was harder to begrudge his father than his father him when he had been so.

Upon coming out of the house to walk the field for the first time of the season a sight greeted his eyes that he had not expected.  Beneath the tree near the fence line stood a beautiful girl with long flowing blonde hair that fluttered in the breeze. Why she was there or who she was, Tomlin had no idea.  She stood not looking at the house but north; across the field; towards the mountains.

A great flash of light and heat went off inside Tomlin.  His eyes went wide as he dared to hope. Turning to look in the same direction as the maiden he saw what great thing his heart had longed for during the last three years, what he alone had seen and wondered if it was madness without another seeing it as well.  There stood the self same towers, in their same glory, alabaster white and glittering gold, looking more beautiful than they had years before. He had wondered if their beauty had been compounded by the drink, but it was no such thing. If anything he now believed that the drink had dimmed their beauty and a very familiar longing gripped him once again

The girl forgotten, he climbed over the fence and began to walk across the field until he ran into the fencing on the other side.  Gripped so tightly by the heart as they remained so beautifully in view, he began to climb the larger fence, and turning to do so with one leg over and facing the way he came, he caught sight of the house wherein his father lay grieving alone and the light and heat dimmed a little, and he was pulled firmly in the opposite direction.  

He stood there, between destinies as it felt, one leg on each side of the fence one forward and one behind, and he felt that he could stay there for hours thinking, feeling, and still not choose, when a soft hand came to rest on his.  He was jolted from his indecision and looked to the owner of the hand. She looked at him bewilderedly, equally shocked by the contact and the pair looked at each other and smiled.

Her name was Cora, and her family had sent her to help Tomlin and his father after they learned of the death in the family.  She was sent to cook, to clean, to launder clothes, but no one in her family or Tomlin’s quite expected what came next. In short she became a joy to both Tomlin and his father.  

As the arrival of spring shrugged off the shroud of snow, so Cora seemed to remove the pall of death from the farm.  It wasn’t long after her arrival that Tomlin’s father began to come out of his bed and down to meals, which led to all manner of lively activity one cautious step at a time.  

In seemingly no time at all Cora became a joy to both men, but particularly to Tomlin.  The two sat by the fire most nights til long after his father had wished them a goodnight, talking about everything they could think of.  Most nights, when the conversation would halt for a moment in quiet enjoyment and neither could think how to begin it anew, their eyes would grow wider, a smile would tickle the corners of their mouths, and they would each seemingly try to say the now familiar phrases first.

“Did it really happen?”

“Are you sure you saw it too?”

“It was so beautiful, wasn’t it.”

And the familiar joy they shared upon that day blazed within each; a joy out of reach, but shared between the two of them so that it was nearly as good as the real thing.

Before long, as I’m sure you can guess, the two fell deeply in love and Cora’s temporary assistance borne out of kindness became a permanent help out of love.  The two were wed under the the broadleaf tree by the fence with the pair looking out to the north, each half hoping the clouds would part and make their day of union even more special.  The clouds remained closed, but the pair smiled at one another just the same, envisioning with their minds what they had glimpsed together on the day they first met.

Seasons passed one by one as they always do, but for Tomlin and Cora it seemed a blur.  The pair and Tomlin’s father laughed, worked, and lived through many without complaint or suffering until one day Tomlin’s father caught a cough.  The cough turned to a wheeze, which became a pain, which led to an infection, which led to him being bed ridden, which lead to concerns, which led to fears, and the old man and son knew the chill of oncoming sorrow once more.

It was near the end of his days that Tomlin’s father bade his son to draw near.

“I’ve not much time left, son,” the man wheezed. “And there is much to tell you.”

“Don’t talk like that, father.  You’ll be fine and up before planting,” Tomlin remonstrated.

“Don’t make me laugh, son.  I’m likely to cough up something I need to hold onto for a while longer.  No, you know it as well as I, and I want you to know not to fear it. A man knows when it’s the end, and I have something to tell you that I never told anyone before, not even your mother.”

Tomlin’s father looked out the bedroom window that looked out onto the field and towards the mountains of the north.

“I saw them, you know; your spires or towers.  I always called them spires. Beautiful things.  I was walking aimlessly back then, consumed with my own self importance, shirking my work as usual.”

“Apple didn’t fall from the tree then?” Tomlin interrupted.

His father laughed and choked, causing a coughing fit that took him a while to recover from.

“I warned you,” his father said red faced before he took a drink of water to calm his cough.

“Ah.  There now, try not to be so funny,”

“Yes, Papa,” Tomlin said with a grin.

“I was shirking my work when the clouds parted just like I’m sure they did for you.  I stopped and stared, completely enraptured. I’d heard the legends of course, the rumors, and I didn’t want that.  So I turned from my useless ways and worked until I had enough money to buy this field. I built this house with windows facing the north for that reason, hoping to see them one day.  I met your mother, married her, and stayed; always looking, always hoping. I was more than a bit jealous when you said you’d seen them, but I was happy because I knew that like me, it couldn’t help but change you.

“I’ve heard you two talking at night, you know.  I’m glad you’ve got someone who has seen it beside you.  The window over the sinks in the kitchen face north because I hoped your mother would maybe see them.  You know, at times I like to think she did see them that day when she, well, you know; that she was overcome with joy instead of pain, but I suppose we’ll never know.”

Tomlin watched a far away look come into his father’s eyes as the man stared at the wall and then craned his neck to the window to search the skyline.  

“Papa?”

“Oh, yes.  Right. An old man on his deathbed should make a point with his final words, and here it is.  I don’t want you to end up like me. I know I warned you away from those towers, telling you stories of the people who lose their way and wander off.  Townsfolk say the wanderers have a fever dream and die up on those mountains, but I say…what if they made it? Don’t you end up like me. Don’t you be committed to this place, this farm.  I don’t even want you to bury me, Tomlin. When I pass you take your wife by the hand and you walk out that door. Don’t even bother closing it. You walk through that door and walk straight for those mountains.  Don’t look back out of some misplaced sense of loyalty or worse, pride. Just let this old place rot and die. It’s nothing more than dirt and wood when it comes down to it. You go on and you live, you understand?”

With tears streaming down his face Tomlin embraced his father and assured the man he would do exactly as he was told.  The pair remained that way for some time until his father told him that they would speak again in the morning. Unfortunately it was a promise his father couldn’t keep.

Tomlin awoke the next morning, found his father cold and dead, kissed his forehead and did exactly as he promised the night before.  He took Cora by the hand and they walked side by side crossing field after field heading straight towards the north.

They were seen, of course, by multiple farmers and villagers who all shook their heads as they watched them pass.  For the first time in years Tomlin heard the once familiar voices of PortPot, VineBean, and DingbatDonogan, calling after him.  At first they welcomed him, asking where he was headed, but once they saw the direction the pair were walking in they began to mock and jeer.  Tomlin and Cora endured it with smiles as if they hadn’t heard a thing, which of course they hadn’t. There was nothing but joy and peace, light and warmth, in their hearts and their eyes saw only each other and somehow, through the thick clouds, the towers of the castles in the clouds.  


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