The Black Horizon

The Hourglass (I)

Jacob’s father craned his neck as he looked up at the tower. The light from the rising sun was just touching the top of the spire. “What an adventure, eh? Maybe even a Great Adventure.” He reached down and patted Jacob’s shoulder then read from the scrap of paper in his hand. “Up and down again before the sun sets, and whatever you desire shall be yours. Not everyone gets one of these, you know,” he said, holding up the paper. “We need this, son. And you can do it, with time to spare. I would do it myself, but …” He looked down at his twisted leg and tapped it with his cane and sighed. “Go on, now. I’ll wait here.”

The boy shook a little, his feet rooted to the ground. He could do it, he supposed. But of course it wasn’t as simple as going up and coming down, not if half the stories about the Hourglass were true. And if they were true and he was delayed, and the sun slipped beneath the horizon before he emerged—Jacob didn’t like to think what that would mean. He eyed the yellowed parchment in his father’s hand and wished again it had not come to them.

But if he did do this thing, if he embarked on this Great Adventure and succeeded … He imagined his father’s face – the absence of disappointment – and this made him shake a little less. What I desire will be mine, he thought.

“All right,” said Jacob. He took the paper from his father and without looking back he walked across the square, up the spiraling stair, and entered the Hourglass.

When he emerged from the tower nine hours later, the sun was just above the western horizon. Jacob was battered and bleeding, and he shook, but this time with excitement. He shaded his eyes and looked eagerly out across the square. But of his father there was no sign.

When he arrived home, the house was dark and his father’s bag was gone.

Foundations (II)

“How high are we building it?” asked Sesha. She was out of breath and the way she flexed her fingers seemed to indicate that her hands hurt from carrying the sharp rocks. She didn’t complain, though. Sweat beaded on her forehead and ran down her cheeks.

Jacob looked back at the circle of stones he had laid. They were stacked atop one another like the stone walls that bordered the fields. The circle was only up to his knees. “We have a ways to go.”

They worked in rhythm with the sound of the waves on the shore below until the sun began to sink toward the sea.

“I have to be home soon,” said the girl. “Are we finished?”

“No,” said Jacob.

“What is it? It looks like a well.”

Jacob lightly touched one of the stones and said, “It’s a tower.”

“Like the Hourglass?”

“I suppose so.” He swallowed and looked away.

“What happened in there?” Sesha asked.

For a long time Jacob said nothing and only stared out at the horizon. Much had happened inside the Hourglass, but those injuries, those pains, the ones sustained inside the tower, had long since healed. He cleared his throat and said, “You’ve heard the stories.”

“I would have waited for you, Jacob.”

Jacob leaned down so that she wouldn’t see his face and picked up another stone. He brushed it off and laid it carefully. Then another. Finally he said, “I think I’d like to work alone tomorrow.”

Birdsong (III)

Jacob sat at the top of the finished tower, in a room that looked out over the sea. He had brought his charts and instruments and papers up the night before and they now lay scattered across the floor. The plans for his boat were coming along. He had been spending his time at the docks lately with the traders and sailors now that the tower was done. He was learning what he could from them and felt confident about his progress.

Taking up his looking glass, Jacob peered through it to where three stars still hung in the early morning sky. Below them was a dark smudge on the horizon, almost like a cloud. He paused long enough to grab a piece of paper and make a note, bending close to see his markings in the dimness.

A piercing call cut through the morning air and a bird landed on the stone sill beside him. It looked at Jacob and said, “Why do you so often look to the West?”

Jacob opened his mouth and then closed it again. Then, “That’s not your concern.” He shooed the bird away and put his eye to the looking glass once more. The bird hopped down to a pile of papers and landed on an old folded piece of yellowed parchment.

“Hey, get off there!” shouted Jacob. The bird didn’t move. It simply turned its head and looked at him. Jacob hesitated and then swatted the bird away. He picked up the old parchment, tucked it carefully into his pocket, and then went back to his looking glass.

The Black Horizon (IV)

I’ve gone for weeks without seeing a soul, feeling nothing but the roll of the waves and the breeze on my face as I sail toward the setting sun. Anticipation has been building. I sighted the Sparrows, where I had calculated they would be, the last lonely islands of the West. Some might have stopped there, content with reaching that all but unreachable place, but I knew that the Sparrows were just the beginning: the Greatest Adventure was still before me. I took to the quickening waters, leaving the last island behind, and aimed my prow toward the Darkness. After the Sparrows I didn’t even need to hoist sail. But I did anyway, to hasten my journey.

How I’ve longed for the Black Horizon and the Falls! I don’t know much about them (who does?), but the longing is in my blood, in my bones, it even creeps into my dreams. I’ve been waiting so long for this, fearing it, but needing it. It’s the Greatest Adventure. The Horizon is there, beckoning, drawing me, whispering to me.

Tomorrow, if my calculations are correct, I will reach it and then – the Falls.

The Final Journal Entry of Jacob Hardcastle

The Falls (V)

The boat had been falling silently into blackness for days. Jacob stood gripping the rail, watching the stars and planets streak past, watching the Greatest Adventure unfold around him. He waited with expectation, and as he stood, his feet rooted firmly on the deck, the eerie silence was broken. There was a piercing note, vaguely familiar, and a clear birdsong, and the flapping of wings. A shape emerged from the inky blackness and alighted on the rail beside him. The notes faded and the bird spoke.

“Why do you fall, Jacob?”

“Excuse me?”

“Why do you fall? Why… this?”

Jacob was silent for a time as he looked at the bird and traced his journey from the morning of the Hourglass and his father’s absence, to the tower, the Sparrows, the Falls, the plunge, and all the blackness and silence since. “This is what I’ve been working toward my whole life.” His hand went instinctively toward his pocket.

The bird cocked its head and gazed at Jacob with its glistening eye. “It will not be enough. This will not be enough. You’ll forever be falling and what you hope to find is not at the bottom.”

Jacob stared at the bird, its feathers unruffled by the upward-blowing gale, its eye unblinking and steady.

“Come,” said the bird. “Fly with me. This is the way. This is the Greatest Adventure. Only this will be enough.”

A tightness eased unexpectedly within Jacob. His palms were suddenly moist, his mouth suddenly dry.

“Fly with me,” whispered the bird. And then with one last look it spread its wings and ascended into the darkness.

Jacob loosened his grip on the rail. He rubbed one hand across his face. All around him, the wind swirled as the boat plunged down, down, down into the unknown. And somewhere in the darkness far above, the birdsong patiently called to him.

Back to the Skilewood…