Over the Horizon
Once upon a time there was a girl with whom laughter abided day and night. One morning, Joscelyne, for that was her name, did not hear laughter. She only heard Slunke. Slunke was a legend she had thought long dead. It sounded like crying. She wasn’t sure from where it had come. It seemed to approach in snake-like warm fog, wrapping tighter and tighter till the laughter was squeezed out.
The next morning Joscelyne heard Slunke suffocating the entire forest, the Lacia Forest a mere shadow of what it had been. When the songbirds were scarce to be found, with laughter all but eliminated, Joscelyne officially decided to leave her only home.
Joscelyne travelled east, for past the horizon there was a fabled beautiful land where all dreamed of going someday, where laughter would be safe. At the edge of her beautiful wood of green lace she saw a lone songbird rising in flight. “Wait! Where are you going?”
The lightly blue colored songbird slowly turned in flight and regarded her, whistling a slow sorrowful tune. “The songbirds have escaped with laughter. I too, am about to follow them.”
“ I must also find laughter. How can I?”
“All you have to do is listen carefully and you can hear the bare remains of laughter trailing through the air.” With this the bird again lifted in flight and began to leave.
“But wait,” Joscelyne called, “what is your name?”
The bird answered in a chirp, “They call me Mochni.” So Mochni began to flap toward the horizon as quickly as he could.
The girl was not just going to let Mochni fly away. She shimmied down the tree and began to run as fast as her small legs could go. As she ran she stopped and listened one last time to the sound of Slunke. It seemed to grate down on her ears, so Joscelyne quickly ran on.
The girl arrived in a grove of pine where Mochni had stopped. Joscelyne heaved an exhausted breath and collapsed on the ground. She shot up a couple seconds later when she felt the beautiful flowers blooming all round her… flowers like she had never seen! The stems were pure silver, and the flower had four petals with deep purple on the outside and rosy pink in the center. Each of these four petals connected on top where four other mini petals were placed as a sort of crown. Joscelyne was so enchanted by these that she began to pick the flowers, weaving them into her plain green dress. The flowers looked so beautiful and regal that she decided to pick a name as regal as they, The Forest’s Scepter.
No longer tired she began to dance through the pine trees singing of the joy in her life, feeling as if laughter was encircling her, chasing away all signs of Slunke.
Mochni was confused. This girl was singing and dancing? Slunke began to surround him as he considered using her for his own purposes.
He whistled, “Would you be able to carry me over to the rest of my flock? I am exhausted. ”
Joscelyne smiled and looked at Mochni, “Of course. Will you help me follow you songbirds to laughter? I love laughter too.” She looked so innocent and sweet that Mochni, against his better judgement, agreed.
“Promise,” Joscelyne asked again. At this point the bird should have remembered, remembered where laughter was going and what they would have to do to get her there. He didn’t.
Joscelyne began to run. She ran so fast that even the wind could not comprehend that she was there. She would find laughter! In her speed she did not notice the Slunke lurking around Mochni, thinking it only the lingering remains behind her. She stopped on the edge of a wood where the birds perched. All of the birds flew down in an explosion of color and began to greet Mochni, twittering in a language so fast that Joscelyne could not understand.
Anxious for laughter, she queried, “How will I get past the Great Chasm that separates us from the land past the horizon?” Her light blue eyes were bright as she stared at the birds, completely innocent.
Mochni began to fidget, as did all of the host of feathers around him, the heat of Slunke pressing hard. Finally he answered, “I do not know if there is a way for you to pass over the Great Chasm.” Now that this girl had mentioned the Great Chasm, Mochni remembered, and realized his mistake. Laughter departed even farther.
So Mochni turned and was about to fly away when Joscelyne called after him, “But you promised to help me stay with the songbirds! You promised! I call on you to fulfill your promise to me. If anyone of you noble and glorious songbirds birds thinks this promise should be fulfilled, bring Mochnito me!” The sound of Slunke was so loud that she couldn’t even hear the songs of laughter. It was strangling her till she could hardly breathe.
The birds shifted till one brought Mochni forward. For if what this girl said was true, than Mochni must be brought forward. An unkept promise disgraced the bird and tarnished the flock.
Finally one of the songbirds asked in a slow and hesitant warble, “What did he promise?”
The little girl stood big and tall, her thin frame shone in the shadows made all around her, outlining the tears slowly dripping down her face. “Mochni has promised to help me stay with you songbirds as you follow laughter.”
The birds began to chit-chatter, twittering here and there as they discussed this controversial matter. Finally one bird piped up, “How do we know that you didn’t just make up this story to get to that beautiful land over the horizon, the land of dreams?”
Joscelyne tried to yell the truth but Slunke had woven itself through all the birds tangling them in its coils.
At last the birds stopped their muttering and one fluttered forward to answer her. “It has been decided that since there is no proof for you, or against you, you must prove yourself by following us all the way to the horizon. If you can make it to the edge we will carry you over the Great Chasm to the land beyond.”
Joscelyne had known they would not honor her,but it still pained her. She fell to the grassy ground, surrounded by flowers, and cried herself to sleep.
Joscelyne woke rubbing the sun out of her eyes. The sun! She jumped up and began to frantically glance around, but the tall trees loomed over her, standing tall, preventing her from seeing anything. Finally she realized, the birds had all left!
As she sat on the ground, doing nothing, she heard something rustling in the bushes. Afraid of what she could not see, she backed away, trying not to think of the monster that it could be.
When the thing came and jumped on her Joscelyne screamed. Something was on her and she was so scared she closed her eyes for many moments. When she eventually opened them she saw a giant tongue licking her face. It was a dog! Joscelyne began to laugh as her face got layered with drool. “Stop! Stop!” She finally began to cry as the drool was becoming a bath. When this shaggy mound of fur finally sat down and looked at her, she wiped her face, laughing. “What is your name?”
The dog said quite simply, “My name is Blythe. I am happy.” The world seemed to brighten in the world of Joscelyne, and the familiar ring of laughter began to resound in the distance.
After thinking for a bit, Joscelyne finally blurted out, “How can you be so excited? We are close to the Great Chasm and its depression, and Slunke has maybe overcome us.”
Blythe looked at her quizzically as if confused. He then responded, “Why not be excited? I still have food to eat, mud to play in and flowers to smell.” He turned away as if the matter was closed. The sound of laughter seemed to be increasing each minute the dog was there.
Even before the dog had finished saying this, Joscelyne had a beautiful glimmering idea. “Could you track some birds I need to follow?” Blythe nodded, sniffed a feather, and began running. So Joscelyne followed.
Instead of the frantic run of yesterday, she skipped and sang. Somehow even by doing something that would seemingly slow her down Joscelyne was going faster than ever before, keeping up with this dog as it galloped over the landscape. She now understood the dog’s excitement. There was an echo as she thought she heard laughter urging her forward toward it. She smiled.
All day Joscelyne skipped barefoot through course yellow grass waist-high with its grass itching terribly at her skin. The heat of the sun was getting stronger every moment and Joscelyne felt the heat beat down on her and drain her of energy. Just as the sun came down, the pair came upon a muddy ditch that might have once been a water-hole. Joscelyne was overjoyed as both she and Blythe had the same idea. They both jumped into the mud and rolled until they were thoroughly plastered in the mud. Giggling and splashing Joscelyne finally got up to see the songbirds staring at her in wonder from a nearby tree. She had not even noticed them till now. She didn’t care, for laughter was with her.
The birds left even earlier the next morning, before the sun had peeked its eyes over the horizon. Joscelyne was up as bright-eyed as ever, playing with Blythe as the birds flew overhead. That day there seemed to be a short span of beautiful meadows, dotted with flowers of all colors. Whenever Joscelyne came upon a kind she liked, she picked a bunch and wove them together through her hair and dress, along with her Forest’s Scepter. With each flower she felt another step closer to laughter.
The first thing to change was the terrain. It became rocky, with the flowers barely poking through the ground. Then Blythe began to bark. At first she saw nothing, just the normal blue sky, and the sound of laughter resounding in her head. Suddenly something else began to sound. Slunke was pursuing them! She could hear its awful racket approaching. She turned and saw the mists of Slunke transforming into terrible coyotes before her eyes. They were big enough to easily eat her as an appetizer.
She dropped her flowers, and her song stopped. She was terrified and began to run over the rocks that were stabbing her as hard as they could. The songbirds overhead picked up their pace till the peaceful rhythm of their wingbeats was a frantic cacophonous roar. Where had laughter gone? After feeling so close, it had suddenly abandoned them!
Joscelyne ran through the rest of the day and into the darkness of the night, trusting Blythe and the birds to lead her. When morning began to show its fingers crawling up the horizon, Joscelyne was about to collapse. The mud that had cooled her earlier now smeared and itched. The birds still seemed to be going up, and she couldn’t stop, laughter was so close! She must find it soon.
Blythe poked his wet nose into her fingers, helping her push through her exhaustion. There! Up ahead she began to see the beginnings of a forest. As she neared the forest she began to question her excitement. This forest was unreal! It was dark and burnt. The claws of the trees were reaching out to her. She ran ahead into her fear. The dark came, the coyotes howled in their pursuit. The darkness of Slunke settled like a cloak lined with burrs. She tried to push it away, but Slunke stabbed at her mercilessly.
She ran this way and that, looking for a place of refuge. After her feet began to ache and bleed with all of the wounds of running she saw her only hope, a bramblebush. Joscelyne ran towards it with all her might as the coyotes’ shrieks seemed to surround her. As the bramblebush was nearly on top of her she grabbed Blythe by the scruff of his neck and slid on her back beneath all the brambles in a miraculous way that could never be explained. So she and Blythe slept, frightened and beneath a blanket of thorns.
When the Joscelyne woke she could barely make out the remainder of the day’s light leaving. She must get out of here before there was no light. She could not be here in the dark. When she scurried out of the bramblebush with Blythe, she saw a furious battle. There were birds darting everywhere so fast all she saw was a mess of feathers. Then Joscelyne saw blood. Blood dripping from the mouth of a coyote holding a songbird.
Joscelyne then got angry that any animal would dare to hurt a songbird, with their beautiful songs. So she stomped out of her hiding and slapped the coyote on the nose so hard he dropped the bird. Realizing what she had done and where she was, Joscelyne grabbed the bird and scrambled around till she could shimmy up a tree. The songbirds all gathered around her.
Than Joscelyne heard a frantic yelping and remembered Blythe. She pleaded help of the birds and they complied. All Joscelyne saw of her friend is the vague image of him being carried off toward the horizon. She got teary-eyed and asked of the nearby birds, “Where are they taking him?”
One of the songbirds answered, “They are carrying him over that Great Chasm to the land beyond.”
Joscelyne began to grow excited, and said, “So are we at the edge? Take me across. I am ready to be with laughter. ”
The birds fluttered nervously till one answered gravely, “We cannot. In our deal it was agreed that you must make it all the way there yourself.”
Joscelyne nodded in agreement, still enthusiastic, “Then how much farther is it? Let me run there, so you can fly me across.”
At this her face took on a look of such pure bliss that the birds were afraid to respond, till the bird in her lap, Mochni, answered, “There is still a days worth of desolate land where the raw rays of the sun have burned away all life. At the edge of this is the blackened and scorched edge of the Great Chasm, where all good things leave and despair lives unopposed.”
Joscelyne stared ahead, trying to see this land, but all she could see was the black mist of darkness and smoke. She listened for laughter, but all she could hear was Slunke wailing. She turned back to the birds and nervously asked, “You sure that there is only one days worth of...that?”
Another bird quickly flew on her shoulder and replied, “Yes. We birds have less to worry then you for if we fly high enough we can escape the abomination of the black mist. For in this area you are not only deprived of the physical means of life, but the black mist deprives you of thought and hope of life. The only thought you can have in that black mist is despair. There is no one who has made it through that land of forsakenness.”
Joscelyne began to realize what was happening and whimpered, “Then how shall I make it.” This was not a question but a statement of pure hopelessness. Tears began to drip from her eyes, smudging the mud previously smothered on her. The birds grew sad, and some began to whistle a mournful tone till the wounded bird on her lap, Mochni, trilled high and shrill till all other sound stopped. “Excitement! Joy! Be the opposite of that place. Be life!”
Joscelyne looked at this bird in wonder till she got an idea. She whispered to the birds and they flew off, bringing back bunches and bunches of flowers. Joscelyne began to fashion them to her in the way of a dress till she looked even more colorful than the songbirds themselves. As she did this she began to hear laughter, first quietly but growing louder every moment.
As the pink dawn rose and scorched the land before her Joscelyne saw for one instant the land she would have to travel. It was barren and forsaken, a land covered in black coals and blackened rocks. Joscelyne feared for a second, but then she remembered her songs, and heard the sound of laughter reassuring her.
So she dropped to the ground and began to skip and sing as she had done before. The birds accompanied her with their own descant from above, reminding her that she was not alone. The Slunke coyotes dared not follow her, and their sound slowly faded into the background. Soon her feet began to blister on the hot coals, and her clothes began to tear and blacken beyond recognition. Still she skipped. Her eyes began to water and she coughed from the smoke till she could barely breathe. Even though her voice grew smaller and smaller she still heard laughter, ever growing louder and louder, urging her to go on. She crawled over the last ridge and looked down into the deep abyss of the Great Chasm, where some said was the entrance to the dark world below. The last note of her song trailed off her lips. She collapsed, but on her face was a smile as she heard laughter.
When asked later to recall what it was like to fly over the horror of the Great Chasm and into that magnificent land beyond, all she would ever say was, “I do not know what happened, all I know is that it was wonderful.”