Many years ago I was a devotee of a 19th century Scottish writer by the name of George McDonald. I still enjoy his writing today. McDonald was a religious mystic, having come out of the Calvinist tradition, and also being a clergyman for a time, ended up espousing religious ideas that set him apart from the more strict Calvinist tradition of the time. The short story I’ve presented below, is a short response to a book by McDonald that was published in book form, after being serialized in a children’s magazine, in 1871, entitled At the Back of the North Wind. This book left a deep impression on me, but I felt one important element was left out of the story. Without giving too much away, the story surrounds a sickly young boy named Diamond, who has nightly flights with a character that is actually a personification of the element, the North Wind. North Wind carry’s Diamond on many adventures, until one day, Diamond must pass through North Wind’s body, to reach the back of the north wind, where there is warmth, and life. We surmise that North Wind is also Death, who gently takes this boy from his sickly existence in to a warm and healthy afterlife.
Overall, it is a beautiful, if dark, tale. The character of Diamond is described as having an affect, not unlike an angel, on all those he meets during his short life in this world. What I feel needed responding to, in this tale, was the effect of his absence, specifically, the emotional response of his father, who figured prominently in the story. It is the father’s perspective that I have tried to capture in this short story. I hope you enjoy it.
The ground under his feet was saturated, soaking through his canvas shoes as he walked through the darkness. These fields of peat soaked in the abundant moisture brought to them by the rains off the North Sea, like a sponge. He didn’t know how long he’d been walking, he just started walking without purpose as soon as the bagpipes had stopped an hour before at the pub. North. Ever northward.
The rain, almost solid in it’s consistency, pelted his face as he strained, step after step against the wind. Then, the ground stopped. He had come to it, the end of the world. The edge. Far to the southwest, the winter sun finally found a break in the clouds as it set after it’s short time low in the sky. An eerie red glow was cast weakly on the undersides of the black clouds, and causing the chasm at his feet to seem bottomless. He knew the North Sea was there, below him, he could just see the white tips of the windblown waves. Looking northward, from where the wind was coming, he saw nothing but blackness.
Soaked to the bone, cold rain on his face, blending with the salt tears from his eyes, as the last rays of the setting sun left him, he stretched out his arms, leaned forward over the abyss, and flew. He flew forever.
He flew forever, just above the sea spray. Between the blackness of the water, and the blackness of the clouds above, he was transported, he knew not how, to a field of ice. All at once, the sound of the wind stopped, and their was stillness, peace.
His body felt cold, he shuddered. He stood on an unremarkable flat expanse. He did not know this place. The lights of the aurora glowed overhead, illuminating the vast emptiness. As a child, he’d dreamed of finding the place from which the lights came from. Some said they came from somewhere beyond the north wind, from the back of it, natural philosophers said they were electrical pulses from outside the earth. His child-like mind wanted there to be a place he could go, something tangible, something real. He could feel the icy fingers of the north wind across his face as he looked up and remembered his son. His Diamond, who had talked warmly of the icy fingers of the north wind. He steeled his resolved, and walked into the wind, always facing it, ever northward.
He hadn’t dreamed of much of anything as an adult. His life was full of pain and loss and joy and happiness. His life in London as a cabby had been modest, and though his family happy and large, he’d always felt cheated after losing his oldest son. His happy and strange son, the one they had all called “God’s Baby” as they twirled their fingers around their temples. He missed his little Diamond, and wondered where he’d gone, and why he was taken.
After some time, he came to a wall of ice. He looked up and couldn’t see the top. It seemed as if it was endless. From over the top, came the lights, streaming southward behind him. Before him the ice was smooth and almost featureless. Then he reached out his hand, and touched it, feeling it’s deep cold. The deep and never ending cold of death.
“Come closer.” said a soft voice in his head.
“I cannot.” he replied internally.
“You can.” it repeated.
“I don’t know how.” he said as he felt frozen to the spot.
“Diamond is here. He’s waiting for you.” the voice said.
Anger welled up in his body. Was this the thing that had taken his little Diamond from him? Without a word, he turned around, and started walking southward again.
Then he stopped. Without turning around, he said “Why did you take him?”
Out of the blackness of the clouds above him, stark against the vast plain of white, came the form of a woman who’s hair blew around her and seemed to be a part of the clouds themselves.
Her voice, soft and gentle, said “I don’t know the answer to your question. But I can show you where he is.”
“How can he be anywhere?” He stammered out. “I was there the day we found him, face down in the hallway in front of his little attic bedroom, peaceful and as white as alabaster. It was I who closed his eyes and placed his body on the bed. He was light as a feather that day.”
It was true, little Diamond had passed away. He had been such a special child to so many, however, that the funeral was quite large. He had touched so many lives with his smile, his innocence, and his dreamy talk of walking with the north wind.
“I was there that day too.” said the woman.
“Am I dreaming?” the man said.
“I don’t know what dreaming is.” She replied.
“I fell…no…I jumped.”
“Then…where am I?”
“Turn around, and I’ll show you. But I can only show you a cloudy image of where you are, for it is not time for you to pass completely through me yet.” she said as she floated around him, her hair floating about her like a cloud.
“I don’t want to turn around.” He said, after considering for a while.
“You must have faith.” The woman said.
“Faith in what? Faith is nothing but the blind belief in a fantasy.” He said, with some bitterness.
“For some, maybe. But for many, faith is the act of balancing hope against doubt. Do you have hope?” She said.
“I did, once.”
“Turn around.” She said, quietly.
He turned around and saw a cave in the ice, a blue light filtering through it. The shape of the cave was that of the woman, the silhouette, but she was nowhere to be found. He walked into the cave, and could see that there was a soft warm light issuing from the farther end of the cave. The cold bit at his hands and his feet. Soon he couldn’t feel his legs, or his arms, but he pressed on. Just as he thought he would lose consciousness, he saw it, a green and pleasant land. He saw it as if through a mist, or a cloud. He heard the sound of a little river, it seemed to be singing a tune that his little Diamond had sang so many times before.
Then, from over a distant green hill, a boy came running. It was Diamond, his little Diamond. He tried to reach out, but he could not feel the rest of his body. He felt like a spirit watching, unseen. Little Diamond ran in circles and laughed, other children joined him and danced together on the grass. He smiled, and was happy. Hope returned in his heart as he watched, then all went dark.
“Wake up! Oh please! Wake up father!”
The taste of salt water on his lips told him all he needed to know. He could hear the sounds of surf mingled with the muffled sounds of people running and coming closer to him. Someone was already there, however, hovering over him and grasping him and lifting him off the rocky ground, but he couldn’t see anything, all was complete blackness.
“He’ll be fine miss, just let us get him back….it don’t look like he broke nothing.”
He moaned as they picked him up and carried him off. He had, however, finally found peace.