Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking.
– Brene Brown
The laws of the past follow a distant norm.
– Lessons of Time Travel for Children, Book I
Oranges are one of the few fruits that will not overripen if left on the tree.
I believe in the magic of coffee and oranges.
– Paul Hodgson
There was another fruit tree other than the pear that now grew wild. There were less of these but they grew nearer and chose to intersperse with the lady’s pear trees that had once been part of Father’s orchards, rather than mingle with the giant oak and pine that lived near the stream. Orange and pear now had to reach for water and they did so with intermingling roots. Oracion noticed that none of the fruit trees that had been planted so long ago grew on flat land. They grew into the foothills of mountains as if someone had been experimenting with elevation.
But the fruit Oracion had on her mind this evening was the orange.
She recalled when Father had first had the gardeners plant the trees which bore these delicious treats. It was before Priest had begun experimenting with darker things. Since the climate did not naturally host the tropical, Father had induced the hybrid makers to regraft a wondrous, older variety of orange tree that would constantly and simultaneously fruit oranges and flower, while remaining impervious to the elements.
Father had loved his gardens.
When the weather was kind now (in the present) Oracion would make the trek just to hunt for and gather these special oranges, while her godmothers sat nearby, contenting themselves with spinning necklaces out of blossom and vine. Oranges were one of Oracion’s favorite fruits and reminded her of childhood. This evening however, Oracion was time traveling and it was only by chance she found herself headed towards the old groves, because she had chosen the longer, more circuitous route through the forest, embracing the arduous incline. She had wanted to come up upon the old castle from behind, and avoid emerging from the woods into village streets altogether.
The hunters would be on the lookout for stag and the priests were doing the testings, but since Oracion had cloaked herself in invisibility she was not certain why she intuited such a strong need to be cautious. She sought to avoid the scouts and dichobots as well, who inevitably would be out and about looking for her, despite the fact they were as unlikely to see her as they were to become suddenly aware of what they themselves had become.
Oracion did plan to show herself if necessary, but only once she had shifted safely into the past, and only when she had found Father. Though she could communicate with people in the past that she loved that had gone on in the present to other realms, she could not yet effect the past directly, nor could it effect or harm her. Nonetheless, the weight of this evening’s importance lay on Oracion’s shoulders as heavily as the fog that blanketed the trees all around her.
It was getting colder as well, which was strange for late spring.
Usually in the evening, the dark black, lacy limbs of upper tree branches stood out in sharp contrast against a setting sun, and its violet-purple sky. Now the moon, full but obscured, was the only language by which Oracion could find her way through the younger trees towards what had once been orchards. The godmothers had cloaked themselves into invisibility as well, though Oracion of course could see them, and they occasionally appeared to her as nuthatches or robins. This was intended to amuse her she was sure, but as birds they appeared to have no place to land. Upper portions of oak and pine now disappeared altogether into the heavy mist. It was as if branches had been lopped off by a crazy gardener, who rudely defrocked trees of their budding leaves.
This was extremely disorienting, and Oracion felt like the forest she knew like the back of her hand had turned malevolent against her, and was playing tricks on her mind with its own newly found wit. Or, perhaps Mother Nature could also shift, wanted to tell her something, warn her away from this route and the knowledge she intuitively sought. Nevertheless something in the present, even other than logistical strategy, was drawing Oracion toward what had once been the orange grove where she had first seen the boy, as if she sensed in the boy’s absence invaders had overtaken the land.
She had seen the boy with the knowing eyes (that reminded her in the present of the pear tree madonna’s) many years ago, when she, as a child, had induced Father to let her accompany him on journey.
Father had been meeting secretly with someone on this farther side of the forest, a mysterious stranger she now recalled in the present as a messenger, or a scout perhaps, from a distant land. Father had safely secured little Oracion into his stagecoach, then for an hour or so she slept with her head leaning against his big, broad shoulder, as Father drove the horses further and further into the woods. Simply content to be at his side, the ride had lulled Oracion to sleep. But before she drifted off Father told her, when she asked on what business the special messenger or courier came, he could not tell her for her own protection.
If she squealed, he had said, the tree monkeys would get her. They could fly and had sharp teeth. He wasn’t going to take that chance. Oracion started to suspect Father was making things up now, for purposes of their own amusement. It had been a long journey, and he liked to see her smile.
She awoke when the stagecoach came to a bumpy stop beneath a canopy of orange blossoms, and in that sweet spring day of many years past the flowers and fruits blossomed in such heavenly abundance they emitted a memorable, heady and potent, but at the same time delicate fragrance. This scent was better than any perfume the ointment makers made, even better than the lilac butter Mother had dabbed on her wrists, or the honeysuckle milk that Mother bathed in. Father often brought back sweet oranges to Oracion when he traveled alone this way, but this was the first time Oracion had been to the magical grove that produced them.
He got out of the coach then, and disappeared into a thicket of trees, but not before he had solicted from Oracion another promise.
Whatever she did, she was not to get out of the carriage and follow him, and no matter whom she might happen to see here, she must speak to no one.
Sleepily, little Oracion had agreed.
Sweet, silly, dear Father, she thought.
The day was so bright, and so warm.
Oracion couldn’t imagine then she might chance to meet anyone here, for the child found herself quite alone with the birds that thrilled harmoniously amongst fair fruit and blossom. One branch held many ripe clusters of sun-kissed oranges which peeked out at intervals between petals, and one single, very perfect orange, dappled with sunlight, dangled within her reach as if to tempt her. Oracion was hungry and overheated, and surmised if she could just take one bite of its cool, rosy flesh it would cure all remaining laments, and she could just get on with enjoyment of this beautiful day.
So, cautiously, she had stood up in the coach and leaned her small body outside of the window as far as she could reach, without falling out.
But this nearest orange was just out of reach.
And that’s when she saw him.
The boy had not been standing on the ground at all but was sitting way up high in the tree branches, looking down at her. He was quite tall and well built but definitely still young looking, surely not much older than herself. Oracion had never seen an angel before, but she had seen drawings of them on the castle ceilings, and they suddenly came into her mind much as the boy had suddenly seemed to appear above her. His face was like porcelain, and in his fine blue eyes as deep and sad as the sea he spoke a thousand stories, but didn’t seem inclined to tell any of them. At that moment he just stared at Oracion silently, the juice of an orange dripping silently off his chin, as if he was as shocked to see her there as she was to see him.
Though Oracion recognized him (hadn’t they known each other, once upon a time?) she marveled then, that if he was the gardener’s son, he could now possess wings and the fine countenance of nobility, beneath long, wavy locks of fiery, cinnamon hair.
“Christmas” she remarked, simply observing, before she could realize why she had spoken that particular word, and the magnitude of what she had done – spoken to a stranger – which was exactly what Father had forbidden.
“Why don’t you use your wings?” he responded, with a voice like a chime, or a dulcimer chord.
“My wings?” she asked, noticing that she spoke again.
“To reach an orange,” he explained. Why don’t you just use your wings?”
The boy had asked the question so sincerely and innocently it frustrated Oracion to no end. She was unable to understand why a boy with the face of an angel and wings would ask her such a question about wings, as if she possessed her own pair with which she, like him, could use to fly upward to secure the choicest fruit.
But just then what must have been his given name was called out by someone she could not see.
This word was shouted by what seemed to be a very cruel man’s voice, and it echoed heavily throughout the woods like it bore the threat of impending brutality.
And in that instance her new found friend had disappeared, but not before he tossed Oracion the rest of the orange which he had been holding in his hand.
Christmas (as Oracion often thought of the boy ever since, not Cosmos ) vanished instantaneously, into the warm, spring air.
When Father returned to the carriage, Oracion had been savoring the sweet, refreshing fruit flesh that had been mysteriously given to her.
But thinking of the hard, cruel voice and fearing for the angel boy (but hesitating to mention to her father that she had spoken to someone) she simply asked “Was the man you met Father – was he bad?”
He looked at her not suspiciously but with surprise, as if Oracion had asked a question to which she should already know the answer. “Oracion, you know the Maker does not make bad men, but people do. And this man that I met wants to delay what is rightfully yours.”
She had turned to look up at Father when he made this cryptic remark, once again expecting him to look disapproving, but he did not. Instead Father looked solemn , his eyes as knowing, if not moreso, than the boy’s had been.
She had never seen Christmas again, and even now Oracion wondered if that day had all been a dream, especially in the contrast of this strange spring evening present, with its heavy, dream like qualities and mist so different from sun dappled oranges.
Occasionally (in the present) adult Oracion noticed that some animal or beast imitated her pace and direction in the trees adjacent, but this was not so unusual.
Animals could sense Oracion’s presence and often drew near her, as if they felt there a safety they could not otherwise easily obtain. Through the thick fog Oracion could tell that one of these gentle creatures followed her now, but if it was a stag it was large for a stag, like Noble Beast had been. For a moment Oracion felt that this beast was less real than her own memories, which, when she was not literally revisting them, were continuously revisiting her. Were those really majestic antlers she saw cutting up through the mist, like steely knives cutting into gray cloud, or just the sharp curve of tree limbs?
The thought of Noble Beast had brought to her in the present circumstance a bittersweet combination of excitement, hope, comfort and joy, intermingled with sorrow and feelings of loss.
And since for Oracion, emotions were as wild, strong and dangerous as she was, she made a conscious effort to harness and focus them now, so that they would not lead her astray, and instead work to her own advantage.
Not so far off she had heard a strange noise, as if large walls of metal creaked and scraped, one against the other.
But when an orange tree emerged in front of her, she knew she was in the right place, for she had found the remains of orange trees near the old pear grove.
Suddenly, there was an enormous, dark shadow overhead, a flurry of wings and horrible talons pulling painfully at her hair.
A giant bird screeched its horrific cry as it passed over Oracion, a cry much louder now for the sound was in her ear this time, like metal against metal, or a glacier of ice seizing, then crashing into the sea. As Oracion put her hands over her head protectively, she wondered if this apparently blind creature could actually see her despite her cloak of invisibility, or if it just sensed her presence through scent as animals were wont to do.
The velociraptor, being unable to fly very high or far, settled awkwardly and noisily into the branches of an ancient orange tree, his tail curled in serpentine formation down and around the crook of its trunk. The weight of his body cast too heavy a load on the fruit bearer, and Oracion feared the tree (though much thicker and sturdier now than she had seen these trees in the past) would break in the bending.
Oracion stood at a distance of about fifteen feet away from him, unable to move, staring in fascination. As she watched the dinosaur-like bird pull at the oranges on the branches with huge jaws, she guessed that he was frustrated that he could not use his too huge teeth and disproportionately small, stunted wings to separate and loose the treats. Then beneath the sound of snapping twigs and frustrated screeches, Oracion suddenly heard the Madonna’s voice whisper something silently into her ear.
“She was with child when she was taken”
…like a fragment, of knowing.
It was then that Oracion noticed the creature’s eyes, blind apparently and glazed over, as if with filmy white cataracts. They reminded her of the eyes of a dichobot. Oracion couldn’t help noticing that the creature’s eyes appeared in some way inexplicable, unhealthily human, but perhaps even more troubling was that she sensed she somehow knew or recognized the beast.
As an animal much in appearance as well as behavior, the creature resembled a hybrid mix between a proud, preening peacock, and an angry, small-brained dinosaur. In her sciences Oracion had learned velociraptors did exist – and wondered if it was now possible that the priests could have returned them to the woods, much as Father had reintroduced cold climate oranges.
But his eyes, oh his eyes! – how Oracion pitied the creature for his eyes. With what had they mixed the poor creature?
“And wanted her son to carry the gene” said the lady gently, but firmer this time.
Then with horror Oracion remembered what Father had taught her one night when they were standing on the turret rooftop, under the light of a magnificent moon.
Even though lineage played a factor, he had explained to his young daughter that the ability to shape shift was rare. Shape shifting women of nobility who had turned to the dark side, wanting to assure the gene was passed to their first born sons, were going to priests who meddled with hybrid emulsions and vapors. These pregnant women consumed such potions in great draughts for the price of their soul, a trikerion lamp, or traded agreement, each morning for nine months. For some, there was biological success, but other offspring were caught in a void-shift, part human and part beast.
The creature Oracion saw before her was a Blender.
And though the Blender seemed to sense or smell Oracion’s existence at least to a certain degree, it did not seem to realize her godmothers, who now were hanging back in trepidation. For though Oracion was still invisible (and she had checked, glancing down at her feet, which still weighted the grass) the creature seemed to get more and more irate, even to, and in proportion to, the degree to which she pitied him. Oracion had slowly been getting closer even as he spat at her, shaking his head violently back and forth, leaves and debris spewing out of his mouth in every direction, in an angry shower of fury.
Then, to her right, there was a movement where the gentler, antlered, pacing animal had been. Suddenly Oracion feared that the Noble-Beast-like creature that had followed her had actually been tracking her purposely, for he emerged out of the woods not as a beast at all, but as a man.
A very huge and strong looking man.
Oracion had never seen a dichobot so tall and formidable, even greater a force than Trock had been, with steel plated shoulders spanning an expanse wider than the velociraptor’s chest.
But this dichobot, unlike the mad, screeching dinosaur creature, could see Oracion quite clearly.
This didn’t make any sense.
No dichobot could see Oracion when she cloaked into invisibility, and though his plated visor was down, obscuring his face, he seemed to stare directly at her, one arm extended towards her in urgent supplication. He was either commanding her to stop or was indicating for her to come towards him. Could it be that one of Father’s soldiers remained, having survived the scourge? She thought about that possibility. No, that couldn’t be. Hadn’t all those that had not transformed into dichobots been executed?
But the soldier was real and saw her nonetheless, for in that moment several things happened at once.
He rushed Oracion just as flames shot from her brother’s mouth in a deadly, fiery conflagration. She noted the harsh, acidic, pungentness of burnt oranges and instantaneously disintegrated twigs in her brother, the Blender’s, ashy breath. The heat wave alone would have killed Oracion had not the large soldier-man covered her with his steel plated body. She then found herself on the ground staring up at an emblem of a lily on a chest plate, as flames radiated and reflected in the metal – red, orange, blue then white.
There was a flash of memory in her mind like the echo of a little boy’s voice.
“Why don’t you just use your wings?”
Oracion was so disoriented and shocked she felt herself suddenly shifting, beginning to jolt helplessly and violently far back into the distant past. The current scene – with its heat, trees and everything around her – disappeared, but not before she heard the angel boy’s voice, deeper and all grown up now, but still like a dulcimer chord or a chime.
“Christmas,” he said in transfixed amazement, as if that was her name now.
Then once again, they were apart. Yet in that instance Oracion realized that Father had intended them, all along, to meet.