Castle In The Air

Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

I was the only person who ever saw the castle in the air.

It appeared one morning, a visitor from nowhere suspended high up in the cobalt blue of a December morning. Hovering thousands of feet over emptiness, that castle could have been a hallucination, some projection of my childish id. But since I knew nothing of psychology, I simply accepted what I saw which hung in my firmament for months.

As a boy, I never remained some chrysalis-bound pupa. My parents made certain I went out and skinned my knees, or dirtied my nails in the cold mud. I scarred my head on a brick, even broke my foot running over stones in the creek. When I’d see them at meals, they knew I was alive and that was good enough. While I had plenty of friends, I was often alone. I never had my time with them scheduled; we would school and disperse like a pod of pond minnows.

Winter was my favorite season because I was an inveterate sky watcher. Without the summer dome of humid light that plagued my star gazing, I could take out the telescope and puncture the clear dark in search of Saturn and Jupiter. I was better skilled at making sightings without gloves, so I learned how to work through numb fingers.

Each day that I saw the castle I was sure would be the last. Something so unique and singular could not pass for long. But there it was, every day. It ranked with the most improbable things I had seen, a nautilus of the deep. Friends would see me standing around looking straight up, forced to ask what the hell it was that I was staring at. I never answered directly, I just said I had a kink in my neck I was working out.

Every Sunday, the Concorde would pass over our house en route to Paris. It was an afternoon flight always on time, steady as a metronome. My dad told me that the pilot was required to wait until the jet passed the twelve-mile limit before breaking the sound barrier. This was done to protect human ears. I wondered to myself what a Man-of-War or cresting dolphins felt in those Chuck Yeager moments.

It had not occurred to me that the castle might fall directly in the Concorde’s path, but that is precisely what happened. I clutched my binoculars with damp hands, certain castle and jet were set to die. So it was that I watched the Concorde pass through the castle, molesting neither pennant, passenger, or barbican.

One week later, I watched the Challenger disaster in my class at school. For the first time, a non-astronaut, a teacher, slipped Earth’s surly bonds. When the shuttle exploded, many of the girls in my class spontaneously sobbed. My teacher had to turn her head away. After a few minutes one boy, normally very quiet, started to laugh. He was immediately sent to see the principal.

At home that evening, my parents tuned in to listen to the president. He eulogized the dead in a flight of rhetoric that seemed to soothe my folks. I don’t recall whether they cried, only that someone sighed and we had a short conversation about what I had witnessed. That night in bed, I didn’t see the Challenger, instead, I replayed the path of the Concorde.

The next morning, when I went outside, the castle was gone.

3 Comments

  1. JT Velikovsky

    Marvellous!!

    Love the lyrical language.
    Also the allusions: Chuck Yaeger (`Right Stuff’ guy), and wow, “chrysalis-bound pupa” is a double-metaphor (coming of age/illusions dissolved; also, great way to represent/hint/foreshadow a possible `youth vs maturity’ Theme/motif…)

    Love the language/lines:
    “the cobalt blue of a December morning”
    “puncture the clear dark”
    “like a pod of pond minnows.”

    And – consonance!
    “slipped Earth’s surly bonds” / “class spontaneously sobbed.”

    (Is that: consonance? I always forget the names of poetic literary devices.
    Dictionary says:
    “consonance – the recurrence of similar-sounding consonants in close proximity, especially in prosody.”)

    Great evocative imagery,
    e.g.:
    “accepted what I saw which hung in my firmament for months.”
    (what a way to say it!! Dang.)

    Loved the humour, in this moment:
    “I never answered directly, I just said I had a kink in my neck I was working out.”
    (at least, I interpreted it that way; it made me smile wryly)

    Also – thanks for a new word “barbican”.
    After watching GoT I gotta brush up more on my castle-part names.
    (Side note – I’ve always dug the word `rampart’)

    Anyway – what a wonderful intersection of imaginative-dreamlike-fantasy and brutal reality (eg I had forgotten about the Challenger shuttle explosion. And even the Concorde for that matter).
    It’s like a hyper-compressed mini-Bildungsroman (Coming-of-Age, a shocking forced maturation, etc…)

    …Well; that was one interpretation.

    Maybe, that castle in the air was indeed real, and, (as in the opening line) the narrator was the only one who ever saw/noticed it…
    – I love that mystery/ambiguity – !

    Either way, (ditto what Glenn said), this story’s hauntingly-beautiful.
    Seems an instant-classic? So many levels, so: it rewards re-reading:
    New buds burst forth to bloom in profusion, each cycle.

    What’s not to like?

  2. Glenn Leung

    These are my favorite type of flash stories. I like the sense of wonder and mystery created by the writer’s vision of the castle, and we are left wondering whether or not it’s something real. I also like how it is clear that every detail counts, though it is not yet apparent how they count. The writer’s life and fascinations are laid out as an invitation to further dive into their psyche and decide for ourselves what the vision means. The Challenger’s explosion then serves as a sort of finality to a dream, and the castle is gone. Beautiful story and one that has re-readability. I want to read it again and again until I squeeze every last revelation out of it.

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