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Chapter the First: Cabbage in the Sky
Edgar was a boy.
He was not a cabbage.
Now, this is not to say that a cabbage is something one would never want to be. Edgar spent not a few balmy summer afternoons dreaming of nothing more than spreading his roots in a warm pasture of mud, rocketing his leaves to the glorious light of the sky, and basking in the power of chloroform.
Still, as real as that may have been to your imagination just now, it must be maintained that Edgar was not at all actually a cabbage, because Edgar was a boy.
Aside from dreams of being a cabbage, or perhaps well in line with them, Edgar was mostly like any other boy you ever met. Except for the fact that his best friend was a delicately crimson-speckled newt named Ringo, who may or may not have truly existed in space-time, but who all the same always makes a splendid entrance at parties. Yes, besides this, or maybe because of this, more than anything else, whoever you are, Edgar was more or less just like you.
Unless you’re a girl, of course. In which case he was just like you, except for the unavoidable fact that you are exceptionally different. There are girls in this story too, and they don’t only need saving, though, sometimes they do.
That’s why, together, like raspberry jam and chocolate covered walnuts, Ringo, the newt, and Edgar, the boy, (who, seriously now, you must understand, contrary to the title of this book, is not a cabbage,) spent their days gandering about out in the wooded field behind the backyard, where they couldn’t bother anyone else, and where no one else much bothered them. Here, everything was solved by a good fight, a good run, or the thought of hot pizza. Here, there was no beast a sword could not slay, no mountain a ranger could not climb, no vice the virtuous could not overcome.
This was as it should be. Everything in its place, like a truly excellent coleslaw. But, if you would like an excellent slaw, you must be willing to kill a cabbage. Eggs, too, if you’re doing it right. Except that eggs can’t die, silly piglet.
In any case, I’ll remind you this one last time that Edgar was not a cabbage, nor a slaw, nor an ogrea, nor any number of other things he’d at one time or another imagined being. No, Edgar was a boy. And that, he thought, was that.
Until, as it happens, he died. And, then, you see, it wasn’t this, nor that. But the funny thing about it all is that he sure as heaven still was.
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One beautiful morning, Edgar was thinking hard. (Truth be told, it was not so very beautiful a morning, and he wasn’t so much thinking hard as thinking about things that others said were hard.) Outside his window it was downright dreary and miserable. The overcast sky descended like gloomy soup, a sparse mist that was more or less a glacial, hanging rain.
This “terrible” weather was precisely such and such the thing. He found the entire spectacle outside his high bedroom window quite marvelous. But, it was most assuredly not beautiful.
He knew that for a true fact because his mother told him so. His mother was always right about these things. You just had to think about it. That’s what she said, at least.
“You can’t go out in that. Just think about it.”
This, then, is what Edgar was doing. He was staring out the window at the lovely fall day and thinking about it. That is why it was not his fault when Ringo decided it would present a good time for all if he learned how to ride on (as it turned out) the underside of a basketball.
Edgar’s room was hardwood, just like the floor at the school gym. To his surprise, his mother did not find this a good reason for the game. To even greater wonderment, all his wildest dreams were thusly fulfilled as motherly wit outfitted him in a rain slicker so that the “atrocious day” would not “destroy” him, and shoved them both toward the back door. Edgar was somewhat more thankful for all the prudence than Ringo, who found himself stuffed awkwardly into Edgar’s breast pocket, a mysteriously both dry and sticky place.
The newt was not as yet fully emotionally recovered from the experiment with basketball riding, which, truth be told, had not been entirely his own idea. But now, as Edgar tromped down the back steps, he found himself in what his generally risk-averse newt-self once heard mention of as a “tight spot.”
It was not only that they were going out in this storm, which was not the kind that tropical, amphibious pets tend to go in for. That, too. But Ringo, on his best days, was only a newt, after all. So even were Edgar’s slicker pocket warm and cozy, which dry and sticky most definitely are not, such a place is never where a conscientious newt would want to be.
Not one to take anything sitting down, for, you see, newts cannot sit, Ringo eventually made his way around to poke his too-dusty newt nose out the top of the pocket. The chill wind whipped, though the moisture was worth the deep breath. What more could he do? Edgar and Ringo’s was something of a one way conversational relationship. That’s the way of newts and boys, you see, and I’m really quite surprised that you don’t know that. No matter how cute and smart newts might be, they do not talk.
So Ringo sniffed and peaked and waited as Edgar plodded further in and farther on. It was “horrid,” and that was the best part about it. It was like going to sea. For some, the call of the song and the salt on the air are a siren to the heart. For others, like newts in jacket pockets, it’s more about being sea sick than anything else. So, it was both a surprise and a pleasure when Edgar suddenly came to an abrupt and immediate stop.
Edgar may as well have been asleep at the helm, for, as he walked, his mind wandered further still, not only on matters of nice days and not nice days, but on far superior matters such as what he would illustrate next in his journal, or whether it was worth it to tell his sister about the catch of berries he discovered, or if popsicles could perhaps be used to deliver medicine. But, all matters so very far from where he actually was, the reason he suddenly stopped was that he unexpectedly realized that, for the first time in his countless escapades behind his house, he did not know where he was…at all.
Ringo popped his head all the way out. The wood was eerie and deep. Like Something. You know what I mean? Like it’s own thing. Like A Thing.
“Where are we?” Edgar said to Ringo, shivering as his eyes darted about. Gray clouds overhead threatened more than just wet, and now they were not so lovely as he had earlier thought. Is that what “atrocious” meant?
There wasn’t time to stare and think for it was getting “more atrocious” by the moment. The trees were not staying still, but growing, swelling, reaching, pressing in on them. They were behind them now too. It was like a window closing, like a door slamming, like a night alone, screaming hopeless in the dark.
There was no escape. All directions fled. All seeing merged.
Fear. Fear is the mind killer.
It kills by the lie.
Edgar screamed. He cried out. He called.
And then it happened.
Edgar unearthed a primal cry, and through the throbbing thicket he tore. Cuts on his face and hands did not slow him. Inside the pocket, Ringo was flounced about like somebody’s pet hamster on holiday. It was all he could do to cling to the lining, hunker down, and wait. To his relief, he did not have to wait overlong. Edgar soon again stopped and stood so stark still that Ringo was once more able to poke his nose out, this time with his eyes soon to follow.
They were in a clearing, round as a dream. The whole of its floor was covered in a magnificent spread, a blanket mixed of smooth jaggedness, like a perfectly iced cake, orange, gold and brown, dead autumn glory, dancing in the wind, painting the ground.
The deadwood that surrounded the grotto stood sentinel, a harsh and wiry barrier on every side. But here, in the eye, even the storm above split in the air to shine the pure light of the sun through the drizzling glitter, illuminating the tree at the center.
It was only a tree. But there are also those moments when “only” things can still change your life forever, and this was one of those.
It was, without question, the most spectacular tree Edgar had ever seen. It towered far over the surrounding forest, a cathedral steeple in a medieval town, storming to the sky and beyond, filled with grand knots and cascades of branches.
Edgar felt a beggar before a prince, a seasick newt in a sticky, dry place, or a child in a children’s story that maybe isn't so much childish as it is child-like after all.
Which is why, before he even knew what he was doing, and with no mother around to tell him not to, Edgar strode over the rustling carpet to lay hold of the hard wood of the lowest arms. From his pocket-point vantage, Ringo, saw that its bark glimmered, transparent, so that the life of the tree, flowing within, shone as it ran beneath the calloused exterior. The grips were firm in Edgar's hands, and Ringo's silent protestations and cries of opposition went, as you might imagine, unheard. So, soon the newt ducked back under cover, endeavoring to learn the secret of contentment by holding on for dear life.
Before long, Edgar was past the lower branches, broad and woven together. But, as he scaled the heights, there were always plenty more solid holds to find, a tremendous interlocking ladder. It felt made just for him.
Up and up they went, further and further away, until evening set on, and dusk turned to night.
Then, the leaves of the tree shimmered pale, green-white, with hints of pale blue deep below the veins of the trunk and arms. All about, the life whispered, radiance and being flowed. But not once did Edgar see so much as an ant or bird in its branches.
Still, up they climbed. Edgar never grew tired, nor did he wonder at it. His arms just kept pulling him, his soul just kept pressing on, after it, seeking something, as if pulled on a wire, until, at last, his eyes blinked in the taste of dawn's new light on the horizon out beyond.
The network of branches was more sparse here. Edgar could see far out, though this did not help tell him where he was in the least. There were only more trees in every direction, running off like a sea of green and orange all below.
It was then that Edgar at last remembered Ringo.
Truly, they were very good friends. But a boy is a boy and a newt is a newt after all. Somewhat anxious with hasty premonition, Edgar reached down into his pocket and withdrew the sleeping newt. His red spots and black skin did not glisten in the dawning sun as it should. He would need water, and soon. But he still breathed, then began to blink open his cute, little newt eyes.
Suddenly, weary and afraid, Edgar's imagination began to spin. But he also wanted a better look at the sunrise. He stepped along the thick branch of his perch, holding another overhead branch for balance.
He could never quite recall what happened next. He always knew that the sunrise was beautiful, beyond his wildest fascinations, purple and red and only a rainbow could do more. But, he also always wondered about the realness of it, since he couldn't remember, no matter how he tried, and, the way it all turned out was so much better than it would have been otherwise.
He turned to look at the tree again as he fell, wondering why he was falling, wondering what lay further up atop as it fled away from him, wondering why he didn’t hit another branch, not all the way down.
In a strange way, it was as if he’d always been falling. It was like it was his life to fall. It was fast approaching being the only thing he knew. But he also knew that his very subtle spin had now brought him around so that he was watching down rather than watching up. Far below, a golden-red circle in a sea of brown sped towards him. He laughed out loud. “Atrocious” was at least fun right at the end! He stretched out his arms like wings and flew the rest of the way, undisturbed even when the ground lunged at him in a sudden and violent final motion, amber and yellow evaporating around him like a cloud of exploding marshmallow.
His entire body was absorbed and, in a blink, passed through the ground without either feeling the impact nor missing a beat in the pace. For now he was still falling. He could feel it. But he could not see a thing. So, how or where he was falling was another matter altogether. But the sun and the tree and the rest of it were surely gone.
It was a long time that Edgar fell and wondered where he was. He wasn’t certain he’d get back home for dinner time. It would take a day or two at least now. But there was nothing to do for it now but keep falling and try to blink away that phantom twinkle in his eye.
But it did not go away.
It was tremendously faint, so faint that at first Edgar continued trying to blink it away. Soon, it was not only brighter, but bigger by half, as if in all of Edgar’s falling it was still very, very far off no matter how long he fell toward it, until at last it became a small star. Then, larger, like a burning, silver penny. Then, as if it had never been any other size, it was as big as a baseball, fiery and bright. Soon after, it was a striking and exploding sphere the size of Edgar’s head. Before he could overwonder too long about that, it was as large as his own self.
For all of this, at the same time, (if time even existed in this dark place), it felt no closer to him. He could not touch it nor feel warmth from its light. It shed no gleam on anything but himself. It was a light which the darkness could not overcome in a darkness that was nothing but itself, in the nothing which otherwise held Edgar very much in its clutches.
He reached out toward the pulsar, which was now so much larger than himself that it was competing with the nothing for largest thing through which Edgar was falling. It was as if he were in the crux of some great horizon point in an epic reality far too profound to understand.
“Where are we?” Ringo asked.
“In the darkness,” Edgar replied, glad to see that the newt was now poking his eyes out of the pocket again. That meant he must be feeling better.
“How did we get here?”
“I’ve been wondering about that myself,” Edgar answered. “I was just thinking how it seems like we’re falling through more light than darkness now, and that was when…wait a minute! Ringo? You’re talking!”
Ringo looked back Edgar and blinked a few times. It was very cute.
“Well,” he said, after a moment of not seeming completely certain with himself. “Yes. I am.”
Edgar was flabbergasted, the wind about them both as they fell a gentle breeze flushed with light, “Why didn’t you ever tell me you can talk?” He lifted the newt from his pocket and up so as to look him direct in his adorable, little black eyes.
Ringo found himself atrociously puzzled at the question, and the look on his face must have shown it, for after that the best he could manage was to worry about his appearance and whether or not Edgar would think he had already said something foolish or off putting with his very first words.
Thus, when his friend did not answer, it was Edgar’s turn to be confused. “Um, well,” he mumbled after a moment, “Good on you then, Ringo," and he turned his attention back to falling.
Then, a moment later, “Yes, but how did we get here?”
He always has been something of an obstinate newt.
“I fell out of a tree,” Edgar admitted.
“And now we’re here?”
“Oh,” Ringo nodded. Then, worried that he might sound stupid if he didn’t say something more, he said, “That makes sense.”
“It does?” asked Edgar, feeling a bit relieved. Perhaps Ringo knew something he didn’t know.
“Well, no,” Ringo said, squashing those hopes with typical newt guilelessness. “Not really. But it’s definitely a better answer than ‘I don’t know.’”
Edgar nodded and smiled as he agreed.
“Has it always been this bright?” Ringo asked.
Edgar became more aware of the intense brightness which now encompassed them both, no sign at all of the dark nothing now to be seen.
“You are a very perceptive newt,” Edgar said. “I would have liked to have known that before now.”
“Why thank you,” Ringo nodded. But then he did not speak again as the power of the incredible light began to overwhelm his senses. Still, they fell. Still, the wind, like warm, kind words tenderly caressed their fall. Still, brighter and truer the light sang about them.
“See you soon,” Edgar remembered hearing Ringo say, but his mind had already slipped away, lifted as he fell, pulled as he pushed, covered as he was exposed into the presence which was now all around, like a harbor of blue water or a patch of white snow, and then walking through a garden of cabbages just coming ripe for the harvest. And as each one was picked, it sprouted six of its own leafy green wings and flew into the sky, flapping away into the horizon, smaller and smaller until they were mere specks, the next moment swallowed by the clouds, like a promise, like daisies in a field, like a good slaw fresh out of the icebox on a hot day, and it all, everything and all of it, it all faded away into a wondering and happy rest, which, as you will see, will be good in the end, for rest, as you know, like peace and quiet, is of a value that even heaven believes is worth fighting for.