Strange faces, other minds* (Flash based on the prompt)

Santosh Bakaya

Santosh Bakaya

I ran to the window, yanked out of sleep by a thunderous sound outside.  It was as if a mammoth plane was landing. I gaped at what I saw.
It was a huge, weird- looking contraption, with an ornamental door. Quickly donning a mask, I washed my hands and flinging open the door of my house, reached it in few diffident steps. The moment I touched it, I heard a rumbling sound. Horror- struck, I found myself airborne, still clinging to the door.   What was happening? Was I in the middle of a dream?

The contraption passed through mountains, plains, meadows and a huge sea, soon juddering to a rumbling stop.

I peeped out of the window, and gasped, dazedly descending the stairs of the contraption. I looked around, seemingly under a hypnotic spell. Had I travelled in time? A wooden board stuck to a majestic oak tree said Avalon- the Isle of Fruit / Isle of Glass.  The name rang a bell, which continued to ring and then abruptly stopped.

Avalon! The legendary island of Celtic mythology, a mist-enshrouded island of magic and myth, a Utopian paradise, where King Arthur’s sword was forged and where people lived for hundreds of years. After the Battle of Camlaan, after clashing with Mordred, Arthur was taken to Avalon on a boat by nine fairy queens. They put him on a golden bed, where legend has it, that Morgana still watches over his body.

These words flashed in my mind as disembodied voices resounded in the surroundings.

“Behold, King Arthur is back.” 
“The paragon of chivalry! King Arthur is back.”
“But he never died.”

Farewell! there is an isle of rest for thee.

To the island- valley of Avilion;
where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever  wind blows loudly, but it lies
Deep meadow’d , happy , fair with orchard lawns
And bowery hollows crown’d with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.”

I looked around, as though bewitched. Tennyson’s words hammered away at my head. Was I in some mystical, surreal getaway where luxuriant crops were singing songs of blissful longevity?  An island similar to the fields of Elysium?

There was a profusion of apples around and I remembered reading that apples represent immortality. The blue eyes of the sea were warm with promise, and on a sun- sheathed boulder lay green husks of corn, as if waiting to be devoured.  There they lay tantalizingly, their tassels a perfect light gold.
Was this really the place where King Arthur had been laid to his final rest? Was I dead and would I be laid to my final rest here amongst the apple trees? But don’t some believe that King Arthur really never died?  Was I an incarnation of King Arthur? Such thoughts churned in my head, and I smiled at the absurdity of my thoughts.

But, then stopped in mid- smile, my pupils dilated, as I saw something in the distance and heard the splash of oars. The sea surrounded me, but a little distance away I could glimpse a small lake and the outline of a silhouette in a boat. The trees rustled an eerie tune and the silhouette kept singing and rowing. Mooring the boat to the bank, it started walking towards me, then a sibilant hiss, “Ah, I have waited for you so long ….”

A disembodied voiced floated up to me, and I looked around, fear writ large on my face.  I gasped as I saw the silhouette had taken the shape of a woman clasping a sword, looking as if she had just stepped out of a Dali painting.

“Oh Excelsior!” I mumbled, looking at the sword.
 Giving a toss to her luxuriant hair, she rejoined, “Silly, Excalibur! Remember, you were seriously wounded in the Battle of Camlann?”
“Huh?” I gaped, a drugged fish.
“You were brought here to heal.”
“Don’t tell me you are mistaking me for King Arthur! I am not Arthur, but Arun Kumar.”
“You don’t know it, but you are a reincarnation of King Arthur.” She smiled, giving another toss to her golden mane, pointing towards a cottage by the sea.
An epitome of fluid grace, she exuded a dazzling radiance, sweeping me off my feet in one fell swoop by her enticing smile. My eyes were riveted on the soft shine of the golden hair.
“I am Morgan Le Fay.”  She whispered in a soft, insinuating voice.
“I dutifully watched over you for ages, loving you secretly, y ‘know …..”
“Well, since you admit it, let me confess, it had always been my earnest desire to spend some days with you in a green cottage near an aquamarine blue, sun- lit sea. It’s the final realization of that dream tryst in Avalon, albeit delayed.” I said, a little sheepishly.
She smiled enigmatically.
“There is a fog right now, or is it mist? Never could differentiate between a fog and mist, remember, and you once made fun of me?” She frowned, but even the frown sat pretty on her ethereal face. What was happening to me? Was I hallucinating?
She handed me two pails, one brimming with apples and the other with cherries. Her fingertips brushed mine as she relieved me of the pail of apples, as we walked towards the cottage by the sea. There was a green canopy in the sprawling garden, under which were two colorful log -stools. The bright windows had little alcoves below them, with hanging baskets of flowers. In one of the baskets perched a very flamboyant looking, glossy, scarlet and black bird which I, a bird- watcher, could not identify.
Pit pit pit piddrrreedrr, said the bird.
 “Least vermilion Flycatcher”, she said, when she found me looking quizzically at the bird.
 “A beautiful bird, indeed.” I gushed.
 “Here, have an apple!” She said, picking a juicy one from her pail.
“Apple! Never!”
“Why do you shriek so? ”
“No not again!”
“Again! When did I ever give you an apple before! What a bundle of confusion you are! Confusion, thy name is …, what did you say your name was in this new life?”
“Arun Kumar.”
 “Ar…u...n, a thunderstorm is brewing.” She said, almost stammering my name and pointing towards the sky.
“What a far-fetched idea!  The sun is shining so brightly.”
“Look, the lake has also become grey”. She said.
“It is the reflection of the mountains.” I insisted.

“Don’t you remember Merlin had thrown the sword Excalibur, into the lake, later lodged it in a stone from which you retrieved it?”
“I recall the words, Take me up and Cast me away inscribed on it. It was magical and could slay anything, but, why do you insist that I am Arthur?”
“How else would you remember all this? With your death ended the golden age of chivalry.”
“Ah, the golden age!”

The cottage was surrounded by trees and I could feel some movement in the trees which seemed to be rustling an eerie tune. As though bewitched by the mesmerizing tune, I started walking towards the shrub in a somnambulistic trance. She quickly tightened her grip around the sword and it accidentally touched me. I fell to the ground in a swoon. Gasping, she dashed into the copse and came back with some shrubs. I could feel her vigorously rubbing them on my forehead.

“So long … so long…” the hypnotic words wafted in the breeze in a lyrical cadence.
“I wish Merlin would reappear and with his magical powers transform this skewed world and annihilate the virus plaguing us.” I heard myself mumble.
“Avalon has immense healing powers.”

Who spake? A dream.
These words were still echoing in my ears when I opened my eyes.
Just the other day, I had watched a couple of scenes from the movie Avalon High.  The protagonist Allie goes to Avalon High School and to her horror, realizes that her classmates are all reincarnations from Camelot. Had that movie wreaked havoc with my mind, or was it something else?

The mirror was right in front of my bed and I saw an absolutely new person looking at me. There was a sparkle in my eyes, and a new vigor seemed to be coursing in my veins.
No longer did I panic at the slightest sound, no longer did the neighbour sneezing in his house make me jump out of my socks, and no longer did the sight of an unmasked man reduce me into jelly.

I had been miraculously healed of my paranoia.
I smiled a relieved sigh, picking up the book on my night table and opening it on the pages where the bookmark had been placed.
It was The Passing of King Arthur [Idylls of the King, Tennyson].


*The title has been taken from The Passing of King Arthur [Tennyson] 

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