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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction

Lost in the Clouds
Des Daly

Alvaro Lorca was conceived in the silence of the Osier woods that run along the undulating valleys of the Sierra Albarracin. On that long summer evening, the sky above the woods had been like a fiery purple-hued cloak embossed with precious jewels and fire flies hovered low over the soft undergrowth. Alvaro was born the following spring. His father boasted with paternal pride that, as his new born son had been conceived in the woods, he was sure to follow his footsteps and become a master Osier cutter
But, as Alvaro grew up he showed no inclination to follow in the footsteps of his father. He was instead, a wistful and dreamy boy with soft brown eyes that sometimes seemed to be seeing things far far away. He had a kind, sensitive nature and had been inconsolable when his hand-reared lamb was taken away to be slaughtered to make ‘Zarajos’, the local delicacy made from lambs guts. Whilst other children triumphantly pulled the bloody lamb heads by a piece of string through the village, Alvaro had hidden away silently and wept himself to sleep.

The Osier woods grow in dense thickets beneath the shadow of the rugged mountains that form the eastern boundary of the high central plains. The woods are impassable to all but the cutters, who know each narrow tortuous path and crossroads as well as they know the many deep scars on their hands. It was said that a whole Roman Legion had once entered the depths of the woods and were never seen or heard of again.

Each year in late February, with the snow still lying on the mountain tops the Osier cutters would set out to harvest the thinnest and most flexible Osier rods to be transported back by lumbering oxen carts to village vapour rooms for preparation. First, the rods would be steamed to enable the bark to be stripped off and then the rods would be taken to primitive pits to be dyed a deep russet red.

It was a simple existence, with the rhythmic creaking of the ox cart’s wheels dictating the slow pace of life and where nothing seemed to have changed for hundreds of years. At an early age Alvaro accompanied the cutters into the woods and learned from his father how to select and cut the best rods, but he found that he liked to be in the vapour room best. He would spend many happy hours in there, secreted away in the acrid humidity, day dreaming amongst the shapes and images formed by the steam billowing off of the bubbling vats.

It was an endless source of enjoyment for Alvaro – perhaps a wild snorting stallion would emerge from the steam to rear high on its back legs only to be transformed and become a hunched old man carrying a large bundle of firewood on his back – then the simulacrum would rise higher and higher before evaporating under the dripping wet beams of the roof.

Once a leering satanic face had risen from the vats and come so close that it seemed to envelope and suffocate him and he screamed before passing out. When he came too he was surprised to see the worried faces of his mother and father looking down at him. He could not get up as his head hurt and felt too heavy to lift of the wet stone floor and he was shivering with cold. When Alvaro told them what he had seen, his mother made the sign of the cross before touching the small golden crucifix that she wore around her neck to her lips. As Alvaro drifted in and out of consciousness a priest was hurriedly summoned from the next village to carry out an exorcism.

As it was clear that Alvaro needed urgent medical attention, his father picked him up as easily as a bundle of Osier rods and carried him through the narrow streets of the village to the home of the Doctor. Alvaro found that the bright sunlight was hurting his eyes so he covered them with his closed fingers. It was a strange sensation not to see where he was going, yet he could hear the familiar sounds of the village, the voices of children playing and a dog barking in a back yard. As he took one hand away to see how far he was from the Doctor’s house he saw with a sudden fright the same satanic face peering out from behind some drying sheets blowing on a balcony – Alvaro closed his eyes tightly and did not open them again for three whole days until the fever had passed.

The sudden sickness left him weak and permanently changed his physical appearance. One side of his face was now paralysed and drooped leaving him with a lugubrious lopsided expression. Around the village he became a curiosity, a thing of ridicule to children and eventually an object of dark suspicion. Villagers were afraid to pass by him in case they too should be blighted with the same affliction.

At first Alvaro found it hard to accept that his new face would have such a profound affect on people. He vainly tried to carry on as before, but children would be called in by anxious parents if they saw Alvaro playing with them. Before long he was left to spend his days alone in the vapour room. Alvaro responded to this alienation by receding into an inner closed world as impenetrable as the Osier woods themselves.

He took to wrapping a long scarf around his face when he went out and became a fleeting shadowy figure around the village avoiding direct contact with all except his parents.

After the Holy festival of Easter, Alvaro and his father would set out on the long journey to the market in the Plaza where the Osier cutters would assemble to display their goods and barter with the buyers from the big basket weaving factories. When prices were good the cutters would fill the small workman’s taverns that lined the streets leading off the Plaza to spend their money on litres of cheap red wine and greasy plates of hot suckling pig. If prices were depressed, the lumbering ox carts would file out of the town like a sombre funeral cortege and the taverns would be empty.
Alvaro enjoyed the journey to the market. He would sit on top on the ox cart whistling encouragement to the Oxen if they slowed. But, the bustling market place meant more curious people; they would ask his father why Alvaro had his face covered, curious to know what the scarf was hiding.

Being the centre of attention would make Alvaro desperately anxious, so he would have to escape the gapers in Plaza to wander aimlessly through the backstreets. He liked to go to the cathedral, with its unfinished façade, to sit inside in the cool and incense laden air to daydream.

One such market day he had gone for his usual walk around the town and came upon the Museum of Abstract Art. He opened the door to the museum and stepped into another world. The walls were hung with large strange paintings with bright vibrant colours and swirling shapes. In side rooms, on polished wooden pedestals were smooth white sculptures. He went towards a sculpture that resembled two naked bodies entwined –he slowly placed a hand on the sculpture and withdrew it quickly, surprised by its coldness, expecting it to be somehow warm and alive. The sculptures in the museum seemed to remind him of so many familiar things, yet when he looked at them more closely were actually of nothing at all. They reminded Alvaro of the shapes that would appear in the vapour room, only they did not quickly evaporate in the air– they were solid and permanent and tangible – it was as though billowing steam had been frozen in a single moment in time. Alvaro felt a strong affinity with the sculptures - he softly ran his finger over the forms, around the holes and throughout spaces. It was though the sculptures were alive and enjoying Alvaro’s touch. Then he heard a women’s voice behind him,
‘Excuse me, please don’t touch the sculptures. Can’t you read?’ She asked, pointing to a large sign hanging above the door.
Alvaro turned around and saw a beautiful girl sitting behind a low desk, she had olive skin and jade green eyes and her black hair had been tied back into a tight bun.
Alvaro stepped back from the sculpture in surprise and mumbled an apology through his scarf.
The girl smiled and said. ‘I‘m sorry, but the sculptures must not be touched. Do you like them?’
Alvaro was silent. His eyes following the single strand of hair that she pulled from the corner of her mouth with a long delicate finger and tucked behind her ear.
‘Are you alright? She asked.’ Did I frighten you?’
Alvaro shook his head and quickly left the museum. As he walked back to the Plaza he could still see the girl, her smile, her soft caring voice and the sculptures and it felt like something hot inside him had been tipped over and scattered– he was light headed and felt a new sense of excitement.

Prices had been good and he eventually found his father in a crowded tavern lustily singing a bawdy song about an old nun who longs for the taste of a man on her lips before she dies. Alvaro knew then it would be a long night and returned to the empty cart in the Plaza, covered himself with an old blanket and tried to sleep. But he was too troubled to sleep. There was something about the girl and the sculptures in the museum that had unsettled him – he did not know which of the two he liked the best.

When Alvaro returned home he felt somehow different. He was less inclined to hideaway, less embarrassed to be seen without his scarf and in any case he had noticed black stubble newly growing on his face. As he sat in the vapour room it suddenly occurred to him that he had the means of capturing the steam shapes; he would use the thinnest of the Osier branches to weave and twist into shapes to form his own abstract sculptures. His first attempts were crude but with practice he became deft at forming round and long shapes and from the rods abstract figures would emerge.

The village woke up one morning to find a woven abstract sculpture that resembled a kneeling Virgin Mary on the steps of the church. In the school yard two months later a figure that appeared to be a small child holding a lamb appeared and under the Mulberry tree in the village square where the village elders would gather, a life size figure in repose was found.

The village was buzzing with the discoveries and the Mayor offered a reward if the mystery could be solved. On Palm Sunday the Priest gave a lengthy sermon on the ‘Viper within our community that mocks the church’. After Mass, Alvaro went to the house of the Mayor and told him that it was he who had made the sculptures and left them around the village. The Mayor looked surprised and relieved.
‘So it was you Alvaro ‘hang face’ who frightened the village half to death? He said sternly.
‘Yes, Senor Mayor it was me, not the Devil, not the Communists or the Gypsies. I alone am responsible for the Osier sculptures,’ replied Alvaro.
‘Can you explain to me - why?’ Asked the Mayor raising his pen as if to make notes.
‘No, it would take too long and is far too complicated to explain, but simply I did it because I wanted to be noticed by the village. Not for my deformities but for my skills. I was fed up being an outcast,' replied Alvaro sincerely.

The Mayor let the village know that the mystery was solved and now that the truth was out in the open Alvaro gained a new status. His ability was spoken of with a genuine sense of pride and he became known as Alvaro the artist. Eccentric? Yes – Crazy? Maybe – but he was their Alvaro and the village community opened its fold and welcomed him back in.

When Alvaro’s stubble grew into a thick black beard he removed his scarf forever and he looked as handsome as his father had once been. He would go into the woods with the cutters and use the rods that had been cut and rejected to weave and form into his own sculptures. He liked to work alone and would spend weeks in the woods busily working, his hands as skilled as a spider spinning the most intricate of webs.

One day he was asked in the village what he was making in the woods. Alvaro had replied that one day they would know, but it would be a long time yet.

Each year he would work from dawn to dusk during the harvest time to form figures that resembled marching Roman soldiers, complete with shields held high and drawn swords, spears and plumed helmets and he would carry them deep into the woods where he would stand them in orderly rows, eight abreast, as though they were marching in a long line through the woods.

On his sixty second birthday Alvaro invited the village to accompany him into the woods, where to their astonishment they found a column of five hundred Osier soldiers, with mounted cavalry at their flanks. The lost legion of Rome had been found again after two thousand years.

© Des Daly October 2007

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