Sunday, November 27, 2011


The cloud of starlings engulfed the airship. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands in the murmuration, darting through space, swooping and diving through the air, but they had not expected to meet such a large object in their path.

The three humans instinctively ducked and wrapped their arms around their heads. A cacophony filled their ears.

The wings were disturbing somehow as they brushed their hair and limbs. The eerie feeling of feathers whispered against them, sometimes augmented by the thump of small bodies as the birds misjudged the path.

The worst had to be the beaks. The tiny little beaks were pointy and hard. One seldom gave thought to the fate of the caterpillars and moths who met their grisly end between the starling's mandibles, but it must indeed be gruesome, Helen couldn't help thinking.

She attempted to make her way toward where she thought her father had been sitting. Her progress remained slow. It proved difficult to know for certain what direction she was heading.

"Papa!" she cried.

No sound came but the cacophony of the starlings. Helen continued with determination, one arm over her eyes to protect them, the other outstretched, feeling for something solid.

The horrible racket! Helen recalled watching the black pools of starlings pulsing overhead as she stared up from the moors as a child. They were rare inland, usually only seen in the warmest months. Helen had never imagined being in the centre of that maelstrom.

She took another step and thought she had just heard a promising sound through the unceasing din. Moving carefully she thrust her hand into the storm.

From everywhere, tiny beaks and feet scratched her skin and feathers ruffled against her clothes. There was something unsettling about it. Unintentionally Helen began to dredge up from her memory some lines about a starling.

Who had written the lines? A German composer, she seemed to recall. Was it Mozart perhaps?

Hier ruht ein lieber Narr,
Ein Vogel Staar…

As she staggered through the cloudy cacophony, Helen tried to remember how the rest of the poem went. Snatches of words bubbled up as she fought her way across the gondola, rhyming pairs but not their context. Todes bitter Schmerz, which she was quite certain rhymed with Herz but there was not much more welling up from the memory banks now.

Her distracting ruminations gave way when she caught a shouted and incoherent phrase that had to be her father's voice. "Papa!" she cried once more, struggling forward further.

All at once a hand gripped hers and pulled her toward him. Father and daughter embraced with relief.

"These devil birds will put us all in our graves!" He shouted even though their heads were very close together.

"They don't mean to do it, Papa. We're the interlopers here in the sky."

"Damnation! You didn't warn me there'd be such perilous effects."

Helen winced from a particularly sharp beak blow to her head. "Honestly, Papa, I had not anticipated this sort of quandary."

"You should have planned better," his voice rasped in her ear as he flailed one arm helpless against the horde.

"Papa, the odds of this kind of happening were miniscule—"

"So you did calculate the risks?"

Helen sighed and tried to ascertain whether it was just hope or if the sound of the murmuration were beginning to lessen. "At least now we have a new problem to solve based on actual experience."

"The problem could be solved by staying out of the sky!" her father barked.

She ignored him. "Listen! I think the worst of the flock has begun to pass."

The racket assaulting their ears continued, but it did seem to be growing somewhat less. Helen lifted her head from her father's chest and made a quick reconnoiter of the gondola. The swift black shapes continued to flit through, but it had become possible to see individual birds rather than just the black mass of bodies. A few unfortunates lay on the floor of the gondola. She hoped some of them were merely stunned from having run into the sides and the equipment.

Helen cocked her head anxiously, but the engine continued to hum on with blissful regularity. She sighed. That was a relief. But another though occurred that had her glancing quickly around the ship.


Sunday, November 20, 2011


The clear fresh air in the ascent invigorated Helen. She found a special thrill in lifting into the clouds. As the world fell away beneath them and the clouds drew closer, her heart swelled with an immense feeling of freedom.

"When do we eat?"

Her father's words jarred her from the pleasant reverie. "Papa, we've barely begun to ascend."

"My hunger is not dependent upon height."

Helen raised her eyebrow at him. "I merely meant that we have barely begun our journey, so if we eat now we will be eating food meant for later."

Her father huffed. "You have a conveniently ordered anatomy. I did not breakfast yet, so I want some food."

Tuppence croaked and flapped her wings. "Look, even your bird agrees with me."

Helen looked back and forth between the two of them. "I begin to suspect a conspiracy."

"A little nibble of something would not go amiss, signora," Romano called back from the controls.

Helen sighed. "Well, we have a variety of edibles in the hamper." She crossed over and flipped open the top of the wicker basket. "Cheese and bread all right with everyone?"

They enjoyed a simple meal as they passed over the moors toward the coast and the weather continued fair.

"We're lucky we don't have to sail over Whitby again," her father remarked as he threw a little bit of crust toward Tuppence who caught it in her beak and settled over on top of a crate to devour it.

"I'm sure it would be fine, Papa," Helen said.

"Are we stopping in Grimsby?" Her father pointed at her with a finger that had a little butter anointing its tip. "I have never gone to Grimsby but once and I found it full of Liverpudlians for some reason. I am not certain that is always the case."

"Papa, we need to get down to Dover tonight if at all possible."

"What about Hull?"

"Signorina," the pilot called from the front of the gondola. "What is that?"

Romano pointed toward the morning's skyline. Helen narrowed her eyes to look into the rising sun. A large cloud drifted in a rather strange manner ahead of them. Its movements puzzled her.

"I thought your bird said the day was clear," her father said with a clear note of triumph in his voice before he popped another bit of cheese into his mouth.

"It is clear," Helen muttered, her eyes fixed on the growing dark shape. There was something familiar about it.

Her father had finally turned his attention to the mystery before them. "Are we near one of the industrial centers? Are there mills here?"

"No, Papa."

The cloud grew darker and began to twist and revolve in the air. The shapes of it became almost mesmerizing, Helen thought, as they mutated against the pale blue of the early morning sky.

"Signorna, shall we descend?" The pilot's voice carried a note of alarm.

Helen considered for a moment. "No, let’s stay on course. Perhaps the cloud will go around us or we will simply pass through without harm. Surely it's—"

She cocked her head. An audible sound began to make its way toward them, melding with the hum of the airship's motor.

"I don't much like the look of this," her father said. He glared off into the distance as if he could will the cloud away.

The cloud suddenly spiraled into a funnel shape then swirled again to form an oblong. The feeling of familiarity grew in the back of Helen's mind but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. It was the growing sound that pricked her memory. The racket had begun to drown out the motor's murmur.

That was it! "It's a mumuration," Helen exalted.

"A what?" Her father and Signor Romano spoke in unison.

Helen laughed and opened her mouth to explain, but suddenly the cloud was upon them. The black shape exploded before them and they were engulfed by the dark masses of loudly chattering little beings.

"What the devil!" her father shouted as they were immersed in the murmuration.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


"Buon giorno, signorina," Romano said cheerfully as Helen and her father climbed aboard.

"How's your arm?" Helen asked, frowning at the sling on her pilot's arm.

"This? This is nothing." Romano waved away her concern. "The physician, he wanted me to take precautions. It is well wrapped. I have little pain."

"And your head?"

The Italian raised his cap to show her the bandage wrapped around his head. "Nearly healed completely, signorina. No real damage." He grinned as he dropped the cap down once more. "My head is quite hard, like most of my country men."

Helen laughed. "I am relieved to hear it."

"Shall I tie myself in?" Helen's father interrupted their exchange as he lounged in the chair Helen had indicated.

Helen raised an eyebrow at him. "It's not strictly necessary. If we hit some turbulent weather, you may be more inclined to make use of it."

"Shall we ascend?" the pilot asked, seating himself at the controls.

Helen Looked around the gondola and nodded. "Yes, we're ready."

With a little bit of a shudder, the engine powered up and the flaps lifted, until the ship began to rise. Helen waved to the young groom, whose face bore a look of fear yet as Belial snorted in his face. Nonetheless the young man dutifully raised his hand in a farewell gesture.

A flurry of black feathers ruffled into the gondola. Helen's father cried out and waved his arms at the interloper.

"It's only Tuppence," Helen soothed.

"I wasn't scared," Rochester said gruffly.

"Of course not, papa."

Helen inclined her head toward the raven. "Any news?"

The black bird croaked and ruffled her wings, then stepped a few paces along the length of the trunk on which she had perched.

"Well, I suppose it's just as well that we're getting an early start," Helen said, nodding.

Her father exhaled noisily. "You can't claim that damn bird has anything intelligent to say." The two adversaries glared at one another.

"Papa, I rely completely on Tuppence's weather reports." Helen looked off to the west. "If she says there are storms coming in from the west, I know well enough to trust her advice."

Her father craned his head around as they rose higher into the grey sky. "I don't see anything."

The raven croaked again, but it sounded suspiciously like laughter. Helen smiled. "Of course not, it's a good way off yet."

Her father stared at the bird, who took his look as a challenge and hopped toward him, flexing her wings. "I don't like the way that bird looks at me."

"Look, Papa! There's mother waving, do see." Helen leaned over the side of the gondola, waving vigorously at her mother and Mrs. Hitchock who both stood in the garden looking up.

Her father gave over glaring at Tuppence to glance down at his home. "They look so very small." His voice sounded somewhat less sure than normal.

Helen looked over at his ravaged face and saw a hint of sadness there. He had not left Thornfield for some time. Despite his constant grousing, she couldn't help wondering if it were a bit difficult for him. "Look, Mother's smiling up at you. She's going to miss you so much."

Her words had the desired effect. His face transformed into its usual grumpiness. "Women, always trying to keep you tied to the hearth. About time I had some adventure." His eyes however betrayed a gentleness that belied his harsh words.

"We shall have wonderful adventures, Papa. And quite possibly make history."

"History?" Her father cocked an eyebrow at her. "History! You didn't say anything about making history. I'm not sure I want to be written down in some dusty old books."

Helen laughed. "Whether you wish it or no, Papa, you may find yourself in its midst, if our alchemist comes through with his discoveries."

"That mountebank?" Her father shook his head. "Damned unlikely I think."

"We shall see, Papa." Helen waved one final farewell and then turned to her pilot. "Let's get on to that horizon, signor!"

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A Wee Holiday

Your humble narrator has become lost in the mists of Scotland but will return shortly...