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Floating World

By Suzie Komza All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Fantasy


Floating World follows the shadowy, day-to-day life of Tekla, a recently graduated painter who decides to spend an indefinite amount of time in her family’s abandoned castle in Poland, which is itself surrounded by an old growth forest inspired by the much loved Bialowieza Forest. Tekla finds nothing unsettling about the ancestral spirits stuck in between the cracks of the castle. In fact, she goes so far as to befriend some of them. She does, however, consider the sudden appearance of Vuk, a blue-skinned spectre, rather off-putting, as he has no apparent tie to the castle, and cannot remember who he is. Amidst all the shadows and cobwebs, she finds an old herbal handbook with a recipe for a tonic that propels her into trances that end on too real a note. Will she be able to pull herself out of this eerie post-graduate limbo, or will she sink deeper into the castle’s world?

Chapter 1

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, by W. B. Yeats

A blue-tinted mist hung over the earth as I stepped out through the heavy doors in order to tear myself away from the red brick castle. It smelled like a chapel, and nothing with a breath had inhabited it for time out of memory.

My first night had been calm and characterised by a virginal darkness that only graced the countryside.

My first day had been unremarkable, one mindless routine succeeding another.

Then Great-great-great-great Grandmother Tekla Papavarska woke up, a pallid projection from the other side. There had been stories, but none a sensible person would buy into – because once you allow one superstitious seed to grow in your mind, another is dropped into the disturbed soil, and before you know it, you are revering a forest of illusions, like a Celtic mystic.

Ada, Emilia and Karina dangled in the air when I came back indoors, the full spectrum of femininity represented. Intelligence, Kindness and Beauty. Ada provided me with all the information I needed as a conscious landowner, because when I had arrived some months ago, my practical faculties had been in the shade of my artistic sensibilities. Ada had gone away to study just as I had done – she to Kraków, and I to Gdańsk. Both decisions were unusual, as she had grown up in an unrelentingly patriarchal society, whereas I had been a seventeen year old Canadian looking to tear myself away from home. The other young ladies, after returning from the pensionnat, had managed the farm and assisted their father, who was the town doctor, in various medical tasks, not to mention the school they had opened for local children.

I hadn’t so much as touched the hero’s sarcophagus when he first appeared to me: firm mouth and bright green eyes, proudly wearing his Virtuti Militari. The General was my personal friend. He was everything Thomas Jefferson had led me to believe, and more, for his love of the arts had burgeoned after his death, as his tactical skills were no longer for hire; as a result, he kept them out of sight until one of the others taunted him or me, as I had become somewhat of a pet of his, despite the fact that those are usually covered in fur, like Fig, my black Abyssinian cat.

I was from the first aware of what I symbolised to the Familia. I was their last link to the world of the living, because my sisters were both too preoccupied with their careers to offer the seaside castle any consideration – Romola was working in an animation studio, and Cara was in Siberia, digging up Neanderthal remains.

Ada shadowed me to the kitchen, where I was bent on having a fourth mug of peppermint tea, as my nerves were shot.

“Antonia, Konrad, and Eugenia are returned,” she stated in her spectral way, voice distant and eyes misted over, as if I were seeing her through frosted glass.

“This is pointless,” I sighed, my heart sinking as I glared at the boiling water on the stove.

“What is pointless?”

“My attempt to sit in a corner with a cup of tea and talk myself down,” I muttered. I turned off the gas and crept back outside, passing the gilded mirror in the hall. Today, I couldn’t catch my reflection.

The castle was a strange place; sometimes I imagined it reflected my mental state. Sometimes, it smelled like a marsh and nothing more.

As I stood on the threshold of the world, meaning to say the end of the bridge, I heard a rustling in the hedges nearby: glancing that way, I saw a white cat flitting across the field and into the shrubbery, then disappearing into the mist.

You’re one step away from seeing white mice – the natural follow-up to seeing and believing in ghosts, Reason spoke and shook up my inner voice.

It brought my attention to an eerie tree that seemed to have grown horns. It was the first thing I had noticed when the taxi dropped me off at the gates. Even so, it had been a mere point of interest until then. As if a hook had pierced my stomach, I felt myself being wrenched forward. I dived into the foggy nook, my mind a blank. Every object was misted over, floating in a quiet world of strayed shapes.

I felt a ripple as I stepped into the corner of the woods on the edge of the widespread forest. A round wooden table had been placed next to a fire pit – apparently locals did pay visits to the woodland – and strewn across its surface were several objects I could not for the life of me put together: a wooden whistle carved into the shape of an Alkonost, a book titled, Opisanie Roślin – a guide to medicinal plants – a few white feathers, a pearly pipe, a dagger with a bone handle, and a well preserved skull. Smoke rose softly from the dying embers of the bonfire, and the air was residually electric.

Every place has its focal point. Was this the navel of Lamana Castle magnetising me towards it?

I hadn’t grown out of my childhood notions – I was of an internal world, and external distractions had a notional hold over me. I considered this for a moment, sizing up my surroundings with all of my senses. As I stepped aside, my hip knocked into the side of the table and the skull rolled off with a soft thump on the lawn.

I took it up into my hands and turned it around. I traced the clefts and the cracks, and peered inside of the hollow eye sockets. A wilted red poppy was wedged into the right eye, and I released the skull of its growth, tucking the plant into my jacket pocket for drying purposes.

Whatever had transpired between the microcosm and me, I put it aside and retraced my steps to the castle. I walked across the bridge and then locked the heavy doors behind me, knowing full well that it wouldn’t keep the determined out. Nevertheless, I considered putting up a sign that read, Intruders will be shot on sight.

The memory of last evening had blended with the night’s dreams, so I had forgotten all about the skull. I had glided over treetops, leaving my body for a shady purpose. I would glide with my white feathers across the country and harvest spirits, setting them down here and there, or plucking them out of distressing situations. The spirit world hadn’t mechanised, after all. Every morning that I awoke feeling exhausted by my nocturnal flights, I could not make sense of it. I went to bed at a reasonable hour to avoid this – and yet when day took over from night, I was incurably weary.

I had wedged the poppy into a novel I was reading as a marker. The tip of the petal that stuck out between the pages looked like a wound in the book.

After eating my oatmeal and drinking a hearty mug of coffee, I went about my daily routines, uninterrupted by the household spirits as they shunned daylight like the plague. Perhaps they were still around, but the sharp light of day watered them down.

The castle was only ten minutes away from the Baltic coast. One had to walk across a narrow stretch of woodland, and soon the wide vista opened for wandering feet to sink into. It was ideally placed. In general, it was a happy castle – or as happy as a forgotten castle can be.

The only element missing in this picture was Pomona.

Allow me to clarify. Pomona hangs on my bedroom wall overlooking my four-poster bed, the personification of fruitfulness. Flowers enshrine her; she wears a pale red robe and her yellow hair is pulled back behind her neck and ears. She holds a sapling in one hand, and cradles a cluster of apples in the bunched up robe at her waist. She smiles down at me with coral lips, her tapestried blue gaze following me around every corner of the room.

That morning, the postman delivered a letter from her. I hadn’t heard from her in over a month, but my disappointed expectations lifted when I read the first line: Dear, sweet Tekla. Her words were like droplets of spring rain. She had written a poem in a hurry during a life-drawing class break. She assured me it was silly and terrible.

I chose you to sit,

So I could draw you for a bit.

Stay, don’t complain.

My lines won’t cause you any pain.

“Make me look good,”

Said the face as grainy as wood.

My pen’s here to follow your wrinkles,

The paint to capture your eyes’ twinkles.

My line maps out your face:

I’ll color in orange as the base

Your nose will have dots.

Don’t stress, they won’t puncture like shots.

You are my favourite thing to draw; your nose and dimple

And to draw you is not that simple.

The last leaf was an illustration of a bushel of pears and strawberries, with a moustachioed man’s face peeking out from between the fruit.

A knee-jerk reply formulated in my mind. I wish you were here. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t hoped you would be.

The letter passed into the safe behind Pomona’s tapestry, and then I went downstairs, an inducement taken into account by the thud of the front door opening and closing. I lived in a haunted house, after all. Seldom did a guest arrive by the front door.

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