Castles in the Sky

I think I was twelve when I first noticed them. They always came before a storm. Magnificent white castles hanging just above the clouds at my parents’ farm, being carried away by the gentle breeze. Every once in a white they would appear and sail across the sky. Blue banners adorned with golden lions hanging from their towers with unearthly splendor, rattled and flapped as the castles pushed forth, ever onward into foreign lands. Birds landed for rest on the tallest pillar, then leaped off to glide back to wherever it is birds go. I often wondered if anyone else could see them; but, it seems to be a vision only I would ever enjoy. I always found it comforting that something could be so clearly seen, and yet only by me, and yet so far out of reach. I remember one time pointing to a castle, and upon mentioning it to my mom she laughed because “Children have such good imaginations.” I assured her that it was not imaginary. She took me to a doctor.

They gave me pills and told me that they would make the castles go away. Why should they go away, I thought. I loved watching them float on the wind more than anything. It was calming. At school during a difficult test, I could look out the window and know that something amazing was happening just outside, just above. So I would pretend to take the pills; and the castles became my little secret. I wanted so terribly to one day visit them. To fly up and land alongside the birds. To see the people who lived in the castles and experience their world.

One day while sitting in the living room reading some school book about the history of Quebec, my mother entered and sat down beside me. She asked, “Do you want to play a game?”

I jumped up. Of course I wanted to play a game. Virtually anything would be better than school work. So we decided we would play hide-and-seek. I closed my eyes. As I counted to ten, I heard my mom’s footsteps trailing off into the kitchen. I knew this would be easy. Grownups don’t know how to sneak, I thought, all they do is stomp around. I opened my eyes. Two big, brown blobs slowly came into focus. My mother’s eyes, only a couple inches away, gazed deeply into mine. “What are you doing?” she inquired.

“Don’t you know how to play this game?” I said, laughing.

She took a step back, “What game?”

Still laughing at her antics, I replied “We’re playing hide-and-seek.”

Her face dropped, “Who is playing?”

I stopped laughing. “Me and you.”

That’s when I understood why I needed to take the pills. As the years went on, the castles drifted from reality to memory. Sometimes in my dreams I could see a feint glint of blue and gold shining in the sky; but it always remained formless and dim.

I inherited my parents’ farm. The country life grew too difficult for them and they moved to Calgary, leaving everything they had back at home to me and my wife on the condition that we work hard to keep it. Many long, hot days were spent in the canola fields, and often weekends were spent driving to and from the city. This was one of those weekends. The sky was darkening as it was getting late in the evening. The sun began to hide behind the mountains in the distance. Then out of the sky there came a tremendous crack. The clouds tore open and poured out their guts onto the ground below. Soon the rain was too dense to see through my windshield, and I pulled off to the side of the road to wait out the storm. Thunder crashed and clapped, turning the valley into a violent bowl of utter chaos.

Hours later the rain mellowed down to a few lonesome drops, and the clouds whisked off into the distance. I turned the ignition and continued the drive home. There was an unusual silence in the air. Up ahead I saw a young lady blocking the road. Her car was pulled off to the side, and she stood gazing up into the milky way. When I approached, she took no notice of me until finally I honked. She glanced at me, then continued to stare into the night sky. I rolled my window down and poked my head out.

“Hey!” I shouted, “What are you doing?”

She laughed quietly to herself, probably realizing how silly it was to stand in the middle of a road at night. As she stepped off to the side of the road I waved and politely smiled, while I began to drive by.

“Did you see it?” she called out as I pulled past.

I braked, and yelled out the window “See what?”

“The castle, up in the sky,” she answered. Then she danced and sang to herself, while I sat in the dark with my truck’s engine grumbling, waiting for me to push the gas.