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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Ghosts of Heaven

Marcus Sedgwick

Roaring Brook Press



She is the one who goes on,

when others remain behind.

The one who walks into darkness,

when others cling to the light.

She is the one who will step alone into the cave,

with fire in her hand,

and with fire in her head.

She walks with the people,

climbs up beside the waterfall.

Up, as the water thunders down.

Up, through the cool green leaves,

the summer's light lilting

through the leaves and the air.

They have come so far,

and ache with the pain

of their feet and their backs,

but they cannot stop,

because the beasts do not stop.

From where they climb,

they cannot see the beasts with their eyes,

but they know they are there.

In their mind, they see the deer:

their hooves, their hair, their hearts.

The antlers on the harts,

among the hinds who have the young.

They take the long path into the valley,

moving slowly, day by day,

while the people climb the waterfall

to meet them

with arrows and spears.


Just once, she slips,

her cold foot wet on green moss rock,

and close to the spray,

the water wets her neck.

Her face close to the drop,

her gaze falls on the frond of a fern.

A young plant, pushing its way out from rocks,

the tip curled tight.

Curled in,

in close-coiled secrecy

round and round, tighter and tighter,

smaller and smaller,

forever, it seems.

She stares, forever, it seems,

then a hand holds hers,

and pulls her to her feet.

The waterfall thunders;

and they are deaf.

Muted by its power,

they climb in silence

to the year's final camp,

in the trees, under the cliff,

under the high caves,

the high hanging dark

where magic will be made.

Where magic must be made.


Her thoughts are deep in the caves,

though her body is with the people,

at the leaf-fall camp.

Through the trees; the great lake.

The lake that spills itself down the waterfall.

The great lake: that will be crossed

to meet the beasts at dawn.

They are silent, for the most part.

They speak with their hands

as much as with their tongues.

A gesture; do this.

Do that, go there; the pointing hand.

Come. Sit. Faces talk as much as mouths.

Besides. They know what to do.

All of them. The old and the young,

each works hard.

Man and woman, boy and girl.

Only the very young do nothing;

and there are no very old.

She, who has been bleeding for two summers,

will soon give more young to the people.

It has not happened yet,

though she has been with some of the men,

and some of the boys have tried,

it has not happened yet.

She knows it will,

just as the deer they hunt have come to mate,

out there on the plains beyond the lake,

so the people too make new.

The one who will go to the caves walks,

and speaks

to the one who will lead the hunt.

The one who will lead the hunt approaches her.

He looks at her and tells her food,

and food it is she goes to find,

while others make fire, and others

fetch wood and others sharpen spears,

and others put huts together from the skeletons of old ones

and others find the boats they left before.

A few of the people set out from camp, foraging.

She leaves them to go their way,

while she goes hers. Leaf-fall is here,

yet the evening is warm.

She leaves her furs behind

and walks naked with the moist green air on her skin.

Through the trees of the wood, which stretches along the whole lake shore,

beneath the cliffs, beneath the caves,

beneath the high, hanging caves.

She has a basket, folded from reeds,

and she fills it with what she can find.

There are nuts, which will be good on the fire.

Berries. She finds a root she knows,

and then she lifts

the spiraling fronds of ferns, and finds snails.

Large snails. Good eating.

She places them in her basket,

one by one.

One hovers in the air on her fingertips,

as she traces its shell with her eyes,

round and round, tighter and tighter,

smaller and smaller.


Or so it seems.

The snail tries to slip up her fingers, to escape her grasp,

and she puts it in the basket.

Time to eat.

At the camp, the fire is fierce,

And they have returned.

Some have left their furs,

others stay in theirs.

She feels the cold as the sun dips from the trees,

and slips her fur over her back.

They eat.

There is dried meat.

Fish from the great lake.

There are berries and the nuts she found,

which toast on the rocks by the fire.

When the eating is done,

the telling begins, and the one who does the telling

tells of the hunt that will come.

And then he tells

the old tells of the beasts,

and the tell of the fight between the Sun and the Moon.

He tells the tell of the journey to the caves,

and the one who will make the journey stares into the flames,

and he sees darkness.

But she doesn't listen to the stories.

She holds the shell of one of her snails,

its body in her belly, its back in her hands.

And by firelight she stares at it.

There is something about the shell,

the shape of the shell.

Like the shape of the uncurling,

unfurling ferns.

It is speaking to her,

she's sure, but she doesn't know what it says,

because it speaks in a language she doesn't know.

She picks up a stick,

a small dry stick, and puts its end in the dust at her feet.

She moves the end of the stick, and a mark is made in the dust.

A short, curved line.

Her eyes are fixed on the shell;

on its colors, on its curving line,

the slight white line in the center of the curving body, wrapping in,

wrapping in.

Tighter and tighter, round and round, smaller and smaller.

Or, looked at another way;

out and out, larger and larger.

A shape like that could go on forever,

or so it seems,

and still it speaks to her,

and still she doesn't know what it says.

But she knows she has seen it,

when her eyes were shut.

She shifts her foot and the line in the dust is gone.

Text copyright © 2014 by Marcus Sedgwick