Papá always promised me that one day, when I was old enough, I would come to understand my role in the heavens. Until then, he curbed my curiosity wisely, distracting me with fairytales of the worlds that existed far below our celestial kingdom.
Being a bit of a lively, unruly thing - with tasseled, red curls, chubby cheeks, and an exuberant desire for adventure - papá’s words were like lullabies. Though I was born of the clouds and susceptible to being swept away by the wind, papa’s stories of the eccentric creatures below us were ballasts, anchoring my insouciant heart to the sky.
One day, when I was around the age of seven, papá told me the beginning of the most fascinating tale I’d ever heard.
“There is a place far below the blanket of clouds called ‘Earth’, Calliope. There, the humans live, and they’ve spent their entire existence contemplating our heavens.”
I stared up at papá in wonder - wide-eyed and waiting for more.
“If one listens closely”, he continued, "it is possible to hear the stories they tell each other of the sun, the moon, and the stars.”
Enthralled, my little heart began to flutter. “And why do they tell these stories to each other, papá?”
Papá pulled me closer with his robust, silk-covered arms. “Because they are curious souls, just like you, and they seek answers to that which they do not understand.”
“But how did they get there? How did mankind come to exist on this place called Earth?”
“That is something you’ll soon come to understand, my dear Calliope. You’ll see, I promise you.”
The days passed, and I became infatuated with the idea of the curious people who lived far beneath us. In the early hours of the morning, when papá was still asleep, I would tiptoe to the very edge of the great balcony outside of my window, peer down into the blanket of marmalade clouds, and attempt to hear the echos of their stories.
“Do you hear them?” I whispered to the gargoyles.
But the large, marbled statues that guarded our kingdom remained silent, their lion-like silhouettes staring eternally into the vastness of our empire. I could only gaze back at them, isolated and lonesome, wishing they’d hear me. Oh, how I wished they could break free of their casts and materialize into my companions.
I often asked Papá why I was so alone, and his answer was always the same: I had a special gift, one that needed to be kept secret. Because of this, my body, heart, and mind each needed to be protected at all times.
“Papá, might I be able to sit on the patio and paint the clouds today? The way they are drifting in the great northern winds is absolutely divine.”
“Not today, my dear Calliope. I’m afraid there is no one to catch you if those esurient winds should try to steal you away.”
“Well, perhaps later on, then? Perhaps I can sit outside and paint the sunset?”
“I’m afraid not, my angel. There is no one to dry your tears lest you find the nightfall upsetting, for I know you’ve become attached to his grand majesty, the sun.”
Not to be discouraged, I foraged my imagination.“Papá, what about the gargoyles? If I can wake them, perhaps they can be the ones who protect me. If I can do this, you’ll see I am ready to learn more about my gift. I would love for you to trust me, papá.”
Papá glanced in my direction. There was a glimmer of light in his eyes. “Very well, my dear Calliope. Tomorrow the winds are said to be calm. If you can decipher how to awaken the gargoyles on your own, without anyone’s assistance, and if you can train them to protect you, it will prove to me you are ready to know what your gift is.”
I smiled. An elaborate plan was already beginning to bloom deep inside of me.
I awoke the next morning to the warmth of the sun on my temples. In the world that I came from, the sun was the lord of the sky, and he’d recently taken a considerable liking to me. I suspected it was because of my secret gift.
“Good morning, my sweet seraph,” greeted the sun. His voice was cogent, yet kind.
I stretched my arms into the sparkling molecules of dust that danced in the air. “Good morning, my Lord, I have a question for you. Would you be able to catch me should I fall from the balcony?”
“I’m afraid not, my darling. I can do many things, it is true, but until you are older and fully grown, only with the magnificent rays of my light may I touch you.”
I sighed. “Very well, my Lord. I believe I know whom I can teach to catch me.”
“I am delighted to hear you are beginning to experiment with your legerdemain, dear Calliope. Whatever plan you have in store, I am certain your father will be proud. As will be I.”
“Will you at least help me by shining your brightest? My plans are dependent upon a glorious day.”
“I will make it the most glorious, divine day you have ever seen, my child. Anything for you.”
The sun was true to his word. Stepping out onto the great balcony revealed the most idyllic skyscape I could have possibly hoped for, with perfect light bouncing off of pastel-colored clouds.
Birds were not capable of flying as high as our kingdom, but if I peered through the spaces between the cotton-like patchwork of clouds, I could nearly make out their silhouettes. They were the closest thing to the humans I could see. And, if I was perfectly still, I could listen to them. The sounds they made were unlike anything I’d ever known.
“Are you all right, my dear Calliope?” The sun asked from above.
I snapped out of my musings. “Why, yes. Thank you, my Lord.”
I pulled a bottle of bubbles out of my pocket, which I’d taken without papá’s consent, and walked to the edge of the balcony. There, the gargoyles awaited me. With a gentle touch, I rested my hand on the back of Zeriyeth, the largest of the feline-headed beasts, and pressed my cheek against his solid, stone neck. Sitting eternally in an upright position, he was taller on all fours than I could reach on the tips of my toes.
I stood there a moment, breathing in the crispness of the air, allowing the warm sun to nuzzle my face, and centering my attention on the sensation of Zeriyeth’s cool, stoic skin. Then, I looked firmly into his vehement, griffin-like eyes. It was now or never, I supposed.
“Would you enjoy learning how to fly today, Zeriyeth?” My voice was timid and shaky.
But Zeriyeth only continued to stare out into the vast, celestial backdrop.
I cleared my throat. “Zeriyeth, would you like to fly today?” I asked again. This time, I was firm.
Again, no answer. I took a deep breath, carefully untwisted the top from the bubble solution, and held the delicate wand up to my lips. I paused, waiting for the wind. Then, just as I felt an invigorating breeze begin to tease my long, strawberry curls, I blew a glimmering stream of crystalline globes into the air. I watched as they danced in the sunlight, drifting weightlessly into the emptiness of space. I glanced cautiously at Zeriyeth. Nothing. Again, I thought.
I met the wand to my lips. I waited for the wind. I blew. Yet another sparkling, iridescent caravan of buoyant, floating bubbles twirled in the invisible, undulating currents. Still, nothing. Zeriyeth’s eyes and stance remained frozen.
“Please, Zeriyeth,” I whispered, “come to life for me.” A tear started to form in my eye. How I longed for a playmate - for a companion that wasn’t my father or a faraway, intangible star. My sorrow began to climb up my throat, and I felt it threaten to vacuum the breath from my lungs.
Then, without warning, a great, powerful gust of wind arose from under the balcony and knocked me to the ground. I threw my arms around Zeriyeth’s midsection just in time. If I hadn’t, I would have gone tumbling right over the ledge. I stared into the clouds and caught my breath. As I clung to Zeriyeth, however, I realized something: his cool, marble skin had grown warm to the touch.
“Zeriyeth?” I steadied myself back to my feet. Holding the wand to my lips once again, I waited for the wind, then blew another cavalcade of dazzling, chatoyant spheres into the air. And that was when it finally happened.
Just as the bubbles began to dance in the breeze, splinters of stone began to break free of the statue. I watched as Zeriyeth leaped fiercely into the air.
“Zeriyeth! Zeroth! Not too far!” I exclaimed. However, my sense of delight vastly outweighed my fear. I watched as the two creatures bounded tempestuously after the bubbles. Their gigantesque claws trampolined off of the air currents and their muscular arms extended fully before them.
The griffin-like creatures lacked language, but they made up for it with intelligence and willingness to learn. It had only been a day since Zeriyeth had first jumped off the balcony. Now, he and Zeroth arrested the glimmering, versicolored globes with stunning precision.
“Your father will be impressed, that’s for certain,” said the sun.
“Thank you, my Lord.” I blew another cascade of bubbles into the breeze, then aligned my arm with it in the air. I was earnest to show off what I’d been practicing. With unwavering concentration, I succeeded in making it blossom into an open, swirling loop, which Zeroth did not hesitate to leap through. I felt the sun’s warmth grow stronger against my skin.
“That’s it, Calliope. You’re learning.”
I beamed - pleased with myself. Zeriyeth and Zeroth came bounding back to me and nearly knocked me over as they planted themselves on the balcony. I embraced them with wide open arms.
“I am certain they are able to catch me now," I said to the sun. "They’ve learned so quickly just by practicing with the bubbles.”
“There is no rush,” said the sun, “please, continue practicing, my dear.”
“I simply cannot wait to show papá.”
Later that night, I had the most curious dream, in which I was standing on top of the Earth.
With the most serene confidence, unlike anything I’d ever felt before, I blew a waterfall of bubbles into the star-filled air, then watched as they spiraled down upon the blue and emerald-green planet. Although the gargoyles stood by my side, they refrained from leaping after them. Before I could question why, I woke up in a sweat. My heartbeats fled into the stillness of my room.
I sat up in the darkness for a moment, catching my breath in the glimmers of moonlight. Then, without giving much thought to anything, I threw off my covers and tip-toed out of my window and onto the balcony. There, Zeroth and Zeriyeth awaited me. Their muscular silhouettes gleamed in the lunar effulgence.
There was something about the dream that had piqued my curiosity. I reached for the bubbles, which made Zeriyeth and Zeroth stir by my side. “Don’t jump,” I whispered to them. Then, under the quietude of the moonlight, I breathed a stream of the soapy, iridescent globes into the air. The wind was calm, and I watched as they drifted down toward the clouds. Down, down, down - keep going, I thought.
I glanced at Zeriyeth and Zeroth, who were both exercising every ounce of self-control not to leap into the air. “Stay,” I reminded them in a firm voice.
They growled and looked at me with inquisitive, lion-like eyes.
The bubbles continued to drift lower and lower, through the patchwork of clouds, past the owls that flew in the night, and above the rooftops of the people that lived far below. Though I wasn’t exactly certain what I was expecting to happen, I continued to watch them. After a few minutes of nothing, I turned to Zeriyeth and sighed.
“What do you believe my role is in the universe?” I asked him.
But Zeriyeth - one of my two friends in the entire heavenly kingdom - only stared at me and said nothing.
“Papá, I have taught the gargoyles to fly and catch bubbles. I am certain they’ll catch me should I fall. Are you impressed with me? May I know what my role in the universe is now?”
Papá glanced up at me from his graph of the stars. He remained silent for a moment, then finally spoke. “Yes, my angel, the clouds have whispered to me about your success with the beasts.”
“Their names are Zeriyeth and Zeroth, and they’re not beasts,” I said to him.
Papá smiled. “Of course, my love.”
I took in a deep breath. “So, may I know now?”
Papá stroked his beard. “Calliope, I heard you on the balcony last night. May I ask what you were doing?”
“I -” I stammered, “I had a dream, papá, so I went to see if what I dreamt was true.”
“And what did you dream?”
I thought for a minute. “I dreamt that Zeriyeth and Zeroth did not catch the bubbles. I dreamt they allowed them to fall toward the Earth.”
“And did they allow them to fall toward the Earth last night on the balcony, just as they did in your dream?”
I took a deep breath. “Yes, papá. What does it mean?”
Papá smiled. “It means you are nearly there, my love. You will be exceptionally powerful if you can figure out the meaning of the falling bubbles on your own.”
That night, the dream returned to me. Standing on top of the blue and green Earth, with Zeriyeth and Zeroth by my side, I watched as the bubbles fell past the cloud barrier and into the curious world of mankind.
“What could the falling bubbles possibly mean, Zeriyeth?” I asked my lion-faced friend.
As always, however, Zeriyeth just stared at me, answerless.
I held the wand to my lips, racking the deepest corners of my mind for answers. Just then, a sudden gust of wind, which was full of minuscule dust particles, arose from the edge of the balcony. The air was so sooty and arid, I coughed into the wand. It was enough to make two bubbles materialize and begin to fly away. Instantaneously, the gargoyles leaped out to catch them, crushing them with their paws. My heart skipped a beat.
“Why did you catch those ones?" I asked, "Were the bubbles not well?”
However, before I could think further, the humans appeared. There were tall humans, short humans, humans of all skin tones and hair colors, and humans with infants in their arms. The humans who had infants in their arms seemed particularly intrigued by me. They stepped closer to me and held out their infants so I could observe them.
"What do you want?" I asked.
But, just like the gargoyles, they said nothing in return.
I turned to look at Zeriyeth and Zeroth, who seemed as if they were ready to pounce. I smiled at them. "More bubbles?" I asked. I laughed, realizing I was only talking to myself. I held the wand to my lips and gave a big, profound blow. This time, I was sure that the air escaping my lungs was healthy and clean. And, to my surprise, I watched as the group of women held out their infants so they'd come into contact with the bubbles, each allowing a single, iridescent sphere to seep into their child's chest.
Then, that was it. I awoke to the light of the sun shining brightly on my face.
The next day, I couldn't help but think about the humans in my dreams. Even though I'd never seen or met a human, I felt connected to them somehow.
Lying on the balcony and staring up into the sky, I reached over to pet Zeroth and Zeriyeth, who were both asleep by my side. Not wanting to wake them, I lifted myself to my feet and tiptoed around their bodies. I slid to the edge of the balcony and swung my feet over, allowing them to dangle freely in the air.
I contemplated the clouds in the distance - the clouds from which I was born. All throughout the celestial kingdom, the clouds were known as the wombs of the sky. Everything in our world, except for the sun, was born from the clouds: the stars, the rain, the wind, and the auroras of the dawn.
I sighed, continuing to sit there. I wanted so badly to know what my role in the heavens was. I pulled the bottle of bubbles out of my pocket, waited for the wind, and decided to blow. With Zeriyeth and Zeroth still sound asleep, there weren’t any gargoyles to catch the bad apples. I hoped everything I was dispersing onto the Earth was ok. However, there was no way to really know. I watched as the glimmering spheres danced in the breeze, then descended, slowly, through the clouds and onto the rooftops.
Then, just as I coughed into the air and realized I might be coming down with something, I realized what the bubbles were: they were souls. I was Calliope of the heavens, gifter of life. With wide eyes, I shook Zeriyeth awake.
"Zeriyeth!" I cried out in a scratchy, congested voice, "Fetch!"
And, though my story is not often told, that is how I learned what my gift is. It is also the origin of your souls.
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