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The International Writers Magazine

Whispering October
David Tavernier

Have you seen the whisperer coming? Over the cloud ends and between the forest leaves, riding his chariot and crying in the box, whipping the horses, whistling in between sad calls that carry in the winds. With a gaunt hand he reaches out and plucks leaves from the trees of memories, one by one, until the forest is plucked bare. A silent storm is playing in the sky. It sounds like cans crashing on the floor, and the light it spawns frightens a great horned owl perching on a dead tree branch.

And the whisperer keeps riding, over the trees and along a small pathway. The pathway curves past two outhouses, and then, further still, past a forlorn playstructure with barren monkeybars, past small hills clothed in dry grass and foxtails, burrs and thistles. The path is long, but he never tires of riding along, never wishes to quiet his song, whistling and sapping the life of the forest, like a violet leech bleeding you dry.

Autumn by Millais

You'll never see him coming, from way up in the sky. You'll dash away but never escape his skeletal fingers, grasping, raking the ground and catching hold of your frightened flesh. In his arms, no one escapes his tune; he opens your ear wide and whistles--and you can scream, but he continues to whistle. Not a deafening whistle, but excuciatingly continous, oscillating between higher and lower vibrations, reverberating in your ear. You would swear, after giving up hope and lying limp in his tight arms, that his whistle became intricate as the time went on, mixing different motiffs and transitional phrases of music--you might even call it beautiful.

But it is ceaseless. And it is merciless. His tongue, between his lips, is black. His mouth is parched of skin--dry bone. And the sockets of his eyes are holes in his head, darkened abysses, blacker than the night, for at least the night has the moon to give it a modicum of light. His eyes have no relief--have been given no relief--leave the impression of a tenacious whistle--perpetual--without end. His face is a mask of death, white in the shround of darkness, but he whistles and whistles, brightening the mood as much as he can while the skeletal branches of the trees reach out in anguish.

He plucked them bare! They reach out for revenge and he flies carefully between with you in his arms, never relenting his whistle, but deftly kicking his carriage, manuevering in and out of wrathful clutching budless branches grasping at the air. Sweeping, they are slashing fleshless fingernails. He looks at his own fingernails and, seeing their similarity to the dead branches, turns his gaze toward you--he had been distacted, stopped his tune! And in that time you squirmed and strugged, bit and pounded on his breast!
"Let me go!" You shout at him.
His answer is a swooping motion. Clearly visible is the foot of a redwood gliding past. Twigs, the understory of the forest whirls around the dipping carriage, and he plucks one out and inserts it there between your voluptuous strands of hair. "Never fear," he seems to whisper into your ear, "They can't touch you so long as you stay in the box with me." His hands zig zag to reach the leaves clinging for dear life to the branches sailing past. He makes sure not to miss one branch. He leaves not one with a leaf of life left behind.

And with his whistling he quiets you so that you cannot stir. You fall asleep in the carriage box as it bobs rhythmically. The dead horses move to his tune, as does the air. The branches move away from him. He forebodes their demise, and as he approaches they scatter, bending their supple stems away from his sphere of dreadful influence. Beautiful foliage at night, never mind his tune, but mind his hastening hands, for the season's end is approaching and his work must be done before dawn.

Whistling October comes for you on his carriage, with his lantern planted under his elbow, and a maiden perched beside him in his carriage box. One beauty each year--same seasons, same chill days--sits beside him on his ride, a token of gratitude from the village for sparing them the forest's withering fate. Over the trees on the hilly horizon, orange lights, lamps burning on porches, torches carried by peasants fetching water--the lights of a dance in a square--festivities marking the season's change can be seen playing their part in the atmosphere.
A whistling peasant is either banished or given a good shot behind the ear for warning the trees of Whistling October's coming. Off to some other locale, relocating to a warmer climate, the forewarned trees live to keep their furry verdure, but all the others, unaware, will die to bloom again by grace of another season's passage. The peasants hold their tongues. They know it is best for good of all that the gaunt ghost man riding his carriage be allowed to do his work unobstructed. He strips the forest, puts it to sleep, enjoins all the trees to stay planted during the cold hours. And his whistling is an assurance to the trees--though year after year they forget it--that dawn will come and when it does, their leaves will stream out of his bag in swimming tides, back, to clothe again their skeletal branches in the warm afternoon sun.

Whistling October disregards the past and pierces the forest wall. Now the game of flight is one without precaution. Wayward branches, haphazard limbs of the leery trees shoot in his way to trip him up. Whistling October strips them bare with his teeth, leaving the carriage to avoid a mass of branches, somersaulting in the air as it continues without him. He'll join it later. Not to worry. Twigs snap as its wooden hulk alights on the forest floor, and Whistling October finishes sucking all the tree leaves in a vortex to his flighty fingertips. Crumpling them in his palms, shoving his arm, elbow deep, into his bag, he never leaves a segment of the forest without finishing his work.

Asleep in the carriage box, you snore softly as he steps over a moss grown log. The two dead horses giddyup at the sound of his song restarting. Never fear. Whistling October will finish before the night's end.
Houses blot out their windowlights. Pathways darken as peasants assigned that night do their duty to prevent a conflagration from engulfing the town's soundly sleeping residents. Not a light. Not a sound but his whistle raising goosebumps on every neck and intimidating every branch. Shivering branches hide their heads together, entire canopies trembling under the light of the moon, under the sea of navy blue. Every stolid Oak becomes a Weeping Willow after hearing the ominously hopeful tune of Whistling October. Sounding from an indefinate direction, skyward, none of the trees can pinpoint him.

Not that it would matter. Once within hearing range, they cannot move their stubby little roots fast enough to escape his vortex. He comes swiftly, and never makes a false move by arousing fear early. He is a master of his trade, though younger than Winter, Spring and Summer. The youngest of four brothers, his pride arises not from his station, but from diligent work and a spotless record, attesting to accomplishment after accomplishment.

Soothing musical man wearing black jeans and a matching tshirt, with scant protection from the chilly evening. His only warmth comes by an orange cotton cloak and cap, and by holding you in his arms. One woman for one night every season--October's coming. Whistling, all he wishes for is your warmth.

Through the forest, on hiis carriage, the sussurus of leaves accompanies the sound of bobbing phantom horses. Swishing branches, dangling leaves intermixing in a clouds of swirling oranges and browns, October comes with a fluttering cape, hands outstretched, eyes--dark pits--mouth--parched white bone--opening wide to whistle. Is there nothing murderous about coming upon a full orange forest, brilliant with the colors of its leaves, and leaving it as a high thicket of bare skeletal branches shivering in the autumn breeze? Whistling hopefully, October does his best to mind leaving them unhurt, letting them know with his tune that, come dawn, he'll open his bag for their re-blume.

Loving the forest and living in it one night every four seasons, loving it for the warmth of a townswoman, he begins his flight away, whispering same as he came, assiduously keeping to his character lest the leaves fly from his bag regardless of his bidding.

But before leaving over the horizon, he sets you down on the ground just outside of town. He wakens you by ceasing his tune for a moment, and brushing your cheek with one boney finger, careful not to scratch. You open your eyes and see his white face, his pits for eyes, horrified. And before you can react he takes your hand, lightly, brings it to his barren white boney lips and kisses it, startling you. Releasing your hand, he bows, walks back to his carriage and begins whistling again, rising in the air with his horses in tow, looking downward.

A special night, a change of seasons, love gone in the air, whistling October shan't ride again for another four of them.

© David Tavernier September 20th 2004

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