’tis by the heaving of the Chest

’tis by the heaving of the Chest”, goes the old rhyme, but it’s none that simple. In any case: the Chest is the last sign. If you wait for the Chest, well, you may as well wait for the next breath.

No, we watch at the Lip. The Windmills are the first, if you know how to read them right. We pour over their dithered printouts every night. There, a pattern? A reliable trend? A bird’s wing can pollute the reading. Read the Village instead: one by one, we succumb to belief. Fewer of us young ones at the table each time, until only the nodding old men are bending over the parchments. We no longer need convincing: we build our machines.

By the time the creaking Tower squatting on the Sternum admits the ground is moving, we are ready. Mothers cry, but we can’t wait.

“’tis by the heaving of the Chest
that the beginning can be guessed”

No more guesswork. A flock of white wings, sons and daughters barely of age, await the breath.

“Fly away on Giant’s breath
Find life and love and a true quest”

It begins with the distant whine of the Windmills, fully awakened now. Multitudes of birds erupt from their trees in shock, having forgotten how it goes. The village explodes then: shutters clatter, roof tiles fly. All that is not tied down is now up.

Then it comes: the great Wind, the Giant’s Breath, grips and carries our fine wings. We fly, the sea beneath us, free as the wind.

And beneath us, for the first time, we see the sleeping Giant we used to call home.

14 thoughts on “’tis by the heaving of the Chest”

  1. Fantastic! I really, really, like it.

    Lovely world. Everything feels kind of muted colours and wispy bits. Like Ico / Shadow.
    Loved the story. Really dig the signs concept, and the “waking up” of everything.

    I want to try and give some CC, but I’m finding it difficult. I’ve got lots of questions I want answered, but they’re all world-y, and I think that’s part of the short form.
    Liked the generational thing going on – the kids fly, the adults tie stuff down.
    I liked a lot the Lip, the Sternum, etc. Builds a story-telling, long term, legend-building kind of feeling for me.

    Bits that didn’t quite work for me:
    “… if you know how to read them right.” – sounds to casual compared to the rest of the more formal / tight language.
    “Multitudes of birds” – the M word doesn’t do it for me here. If I figure out why, I’ll let you know. :-/

  2. Thank you for the nice things! This micfic thing is making me very very happy, please take note.

    I hope I got the balance between telling and not telling right, if you know what I mean. Maybe this is a good one for Rudy’s comment: describing back to me what the story is about (I’ll wait for that one!)

    “…if you know how to read them right” – I was trying to get across that they are hard to figure out. I’ll try and think of another way but am not too unhappy with it.

    Multitudes – i know! I had flocks! but then there were 2 flocks… I struggled to find the right word and it shows. Suggestions? :)

  3. Clouds of birds?

    Loved it, that’s really all I can say. Things like the repetition of the opening line of the rhyme work for me. The rhyme itself, gives it that folklore-y feel I like. Good job.

    1. This was a really difficult topic for me for some reason as I really really could not think of anything that worked. The only thing I had in my head was that very silly sounding line “’tis by the heaving of the chest”, which I had no idea what to do with. Some sort of Victorian seduction school, I kept thinking. “‘Tis by the heaving of the chest, that you can tell she is impressed”. Gah.

      Anyway, now this. :)

  4. I loved this, it’s witty and real, but it bothered me a bit – I think because I actually only loved it when I’d read it a second or third time. The concept isn’t quite clear in the first few paragraphs, which feel a bit incomprehensible until you “get it” – I’m not sure if that’s what you intended? The voice seems spot-on, the rite-of-passage, folkloric feel is lovely.

    I am intensely amused that WordPress thinks CPR and hope chests are related posts :>.

    1. Ah, yes, the intention is absolutely to have the story only fully revealed at the end. Sorry if this is annoying – I really like that in a story, slowly grasping what the author intended as you try and make sense of the story, and in the end have enough to maybe piece it all together.

      Is it this approach that doesn’t work for you or the execution?

  5. I also loved the way this was written. It felt very steam-punky and dreamy, possible slightly post-apocalypty – when the event happened eons previously and no-one remembers how or what or why but there are hints as to what happened or happens and how to deal with it. I had a similar experience to docinatrix, but rather enjoyed it. It reminded me of work by John Crowley, which is incredibly beautiful to read but often doesn’t make full sense to me during and sometimes after reading. I also liked the reimagining of objects which are very familiar – like China Mieville does. My visualisation was very similar to a Machinarium-style world. Yours did make more and more sense each time I re-read it, although, like comovedy, I have lots of questions :-)

    It is difficult to criticise because of the dreaminess and strangeness of the piece. I was confused by the village and Village references – are they the same thing? Is reading the village, reading the people in it and their tension as the time grows close? Also, the reference to sea in the second last line, feels a bit out of genre. It broke my lovely dreamy story daze slightly. I would have preferred no reference to what is outside the Giant, so would probably leave out ‘the sea beneath us’.

    1. Thank you! It is meant to leave you with question but the vibe you are describing is exactly what I wanted.

      Your questions:

      – Village and village – yes, the same, I did not notice I only capitalised one. On balance, I think I should capitalise both. Yes.

      – Reading the village – basically, yes. In a more obvious context, reading who is coming to the meetings and who is already convinced enough to start building their flying machine. :)

      – Noted about the sea – it also made me notice I used “beneath” twice in short order. Bad writer! No biscuit!

  6. I like this one a lot, the general mysticism and romance of it is lovely – reminds me strongly of Clive Barker’s Arabat (in a very good way). And I feel this is a very difficult style to get right (or to write). I understood the basic ideas clearly on first reading.

    It is amazing how much content you got into the 250 words. Young vs Old ; climate change, interpret the evidence, birds and wildlife and finally the climax.That said I think it is too much and you need more words or less content.

    I love the rhyme and think it adds a nice sense of realness – connect with our (very different) lives.

    Some specific criticism:
    Capitalisation: For me if you are going to bend grammar with Stenum, Chest and Lip then it gets nasty when you also capitalise Tower, Village and Wind.

    Story: For me there was a lot of confusion about how often this breathing thing happens – at the beginning I took it to be a legendary event, and even whether it will happen again seems questionable (something like an earthquake). Towards the end it is portrayed as a regular part of these peoples lives that they have seen before as children, and the old folk must have witnessed several times (like winter). This jarred me some and therefore me the (interesting and sweet) bit about mother’s knowing their offspring will leave the nest and fly off was a bit breaking.

    1. Thank you, glad you liked the story. I was pleased with getting a whole little myth into 250 words – but would have liked more…

      Capitalisation: i saw all the capitalised nouns as place names. They are an isolated little tribe, and the Giant’s body parts are obviously how they refer to places in their landscape. The Village, Tower, etc is pushing it more, but I still think of them as place names – when you have only one of everything, it can be the One, if you see what I mean.

      I am happy with your intial confusion about the breath – I did want to add something about it happens every decade but had no room, but the alternative of thinking of it as an event of legend and then realising it is more frequent, but still very rare (every 10 – 20 years makes it very special) works for me and I have no problem with slightly confused readers…

      Thanks for the comments!

  7. This is about a group of winged creatures who are living on a sleeping giant on which they’ve built up a whole village. The population waits for the giant to “get fidgety” in its sleep, at which point the village is either badly damaged or destroyed, and everyone flies away on the giant’s increased breath. These migrations do seem like a regular enough occurrence for there to be a rhyme about it, and irregular enough for there to be enough time to settle down as a village.

    I enjoyed this! The piece has a very strong viewpoint (first person plural as well; nice) where which the narrator doesn’t attempt to have, “Well, as you know, Bob, we live on the chest of a sleeping giant,” style monologues with us.

    I also enjoyed the language. Things like:
    > but it’s none that simple

    > know how to read them right.

    The only real question / confusion this left me with (and it’s a minor one), was what the giant was doing to cause the appropriate upheaval. I assumed it was waking up, but the last sentence seems to imply otherwise (the giant is still called a “sleeping” giant).

    Have you read much by Gene Wolfe? This kind of strong viewpoint, with its constrained release of information to the reader — even the active hiding of information — is something he does very well; so if you enjoyed writing this, you might enjoy reading his work.

    Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading this a lot!

    1. Thank you! I’ve been waiting for your comment partly because I really wanted the Rudy Summary (TM) :)

      Interestingly, your reading of the story does not entirely reconcile with my intentions. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing – in 250 words, all I can do is sketch a very fragile framework and it is interesting how people fill in the gaps. I think your interpretation is valid and the essence of the story is very similar.

      For info, my intentions for this story differ from your interpretation as follows:
      – the people are not winged – they build flying machines
      – the Giant sleeps, but every decade or so (not clarified in the story) he lets out a breath. The breath is the cue for all the youngsters to get on their flying machines and leave. It’s a rite of passage and a quest, and my personal feel is that they come back many years later, having had their adventures and ready to settle down. But again, that is outside of the scope of the story.
      – so the old guys stay behind. There is always a lot of cleanup after the breath, but it is not too dramatic.

      Thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed it. As I said, I am happy with alternative interpretations as long as I get the vibe across!

      1. I think it’s great that people read it differently to how you intended. It makes the whole thing feel more alive, I think. Well, as long as the alternate readings aren’t completely screwy!

  8. I agree with the Ico feel – I enjoyed the feeling of ‘wind’ in the piece. And the freedom that the wind brings.

    There is something in Air Gear called the Wind Road and the Storm Riders look to ride it. The emotion you captured in your piece reminds me of the emotion the Riders feel about the Road – love it.

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