Castle, Cave, or Cloud

Digital drawing. A castle at center with three main spires flying pennants, battlements, and flanking symmetrical towers. The castle stands in front of a cave opening through which light pours. Moss grows along the cave walls. In front of the castle is a bank of clouds.

She remembered darkness.  And she remembered her name.  That was all.

Spark zoomed into a heap of advancing clouds, grinning and gasping at the sensations of cold and wet, reaching out to touch what could not quite be grasped.  She emerged on the other side, and spotted a colossal formation of rock and stone with three spires so high they topped the clouds.  A mountain!

Maybe there, she thought. 

She zoomed toward the mountain and alighted on its side.  She startled a goat who in turn startled her with his bleating.  Even as she begged his pardon, she caught a glimpse of a deep green below.   Of creatures flying and climbing and burrowing.  She nodded at the puzzled goat, and dove down to ground level, landing on the earth. 

Maybe here, she thought.

And she began to stroll through the bustling forest.


Spark had been traveling all her life.  She’d never once landed in one place.  But now she had.  Now, she could be still.  And she’d found this one place, this one twirling world. 

Exploring was exciting.  But Spark was not quite exploring.  She was searching for something.  A place.  One place.  To settle.

A home of her own.

She had never had a home.  She had thought her search was over when she landed, but the world that had seemed small and cozy from afar was actually vast and varied.  Sky, mountain, forest.  And there was more still to see and consider.

Spark wanted to find the best home.  But having never had one, she did not know how to choose.  So she went about to ask those who lived in the world where she had landed.

The morning breeze blew past, and Spark followed it and asked it.  The morning breeze told her that it loved to live everywhere.  It never quite settled in any one place.  But that did not satisfy Spark.  The breeze, it seemed, had no true home.  It wandered, as she had once wandered. 

Spark landed again right beside a tree with a broad and tall trunk, and roots that jutted out of the ground.  Its canopy was gloriously broad.  And its leaves fluttered in greeting to the morning breeze.

She asked the tree what was the best home.  The tree, she found, was the opposite of the morning breeze.  It told her that the best home was right where it stood.  All trees were like that.  They liked staying in one place so much that they sent their many roots down into the earth to anchor themselves.

Spark wanted to stay in one place, but not all the time.  She also still wanted to wander and explore sometimes.

Knowing now that she sought a balance between being adrift and being anchored, Spark left the forest, and went searching for any kind of creature who lived in a home that possessed such a balance.

She came across some mice, who told her that they looked for places that were warm and cozy, and small enough that larger creatures would not be able to invade and attack—and where there was enough to eat.  She came across birds who built their nests high up in trees or mountains.  But who also left their homes when the weather turned cold.  She came across some who preferred the dark.  Some who preferred the waters.  Some who carried their homes with them. 

Many asked Spark what she liked.  And she found that she still didn’t know. 

She wanted a home from which she could set out to explore, and to where she could return and rest.  And hide and take shelter.  But many homes could be described thus. 

“I suppose I must try some places,” she told herself at last.

Spark was near a quiet lake.  So she dove into the lake and tried living there.  The fish in the lake were friendly.  The water was clean and comfortable.  The lake was not too small and not too vast.  But Spark found it was too quiet.  In the air she could hear the crunching of leaves, the chirping of birds, the patter of small creatures, and the thudding of large ones.

So she left the lake, shaking off its waters.  And she wandered until she came across the mouth of a cave.  As she moved deeper into the cave, she found it was dark.  But Spark had her own light to bring.  At first, she worried that the cave too was too quiet.  But the deeper still she ventured, the more she heard of creatures who lived in that cave.  These creatures were shy, but like the fish in the lake, they too were friendly to Spark.

She lived for a while in the cave, but found that there was not much to do.  She was always wanting to leave the cave to watch and wander in the woods around it.  So she left the cave, shaking off its darkness.

Spark tried to make her home in many other places.  A burrow in the earth.  A nest in a tree.  A lotus on a pond.  She found much to enjoy in every place she lived.  But at last, she always wanted to leave and try some place else. 

Nothing satisfied.  Nothing was quite right.


One day, she followed a road that led to a city inhabited by people.  She saw many different kinds of homes.  And these homes were not found, but crafted and carved with purpose and care.  Spark had built herself a nest before, dug herself a burrow.  But she not considered building her own home with such variety.

The one that captivated her the most was the one at the end of the road.  It was like a tiny mountain, made of stony spires.  But this was no rough mountain.  It was crafted and carved with purpose and care.  With majesty in mind.  It was a castle.

She walked to the end of the road and was halted. 

Spark was not deterred.  Many creatures –most—were protective of their homes.  She walked along the wall of stone that surrounded what would be her next home.  She found a good place to climb, and she climbed the wall.  She could have jumped or floated or flown.  But Spark wanted to try living as the other residents lived.

She crossed a bridge that she saw could be drawn up if needed.  The bridge lay over a deep moat that did not look inviting at all.  For it was not meant to be.  Spark soon learned that its purpose was to deter enemies.

Spark lived in the castle. 

As all the residents of the castle seemed to need some purpose for abiding there, Spark expanded so that she was of a size with the many guards of the castle.  And she became a guard.  She did not object to having work to do.  But guarding the castle was strange work.  Most of the time, she only marched to and fro, and occasionally halted those who were unfamiliar to her.  But one time, she was called upon to fight and kill an intruder.  So she picked up the intruder and flew him out of the castle and out of the town all the way to the edge of the forest. 

She had to cast aside her heavy armor.  And even when she had shed every bit of it, she felt heavier somehow.  She warned the intruder not to return to the castle, for the other guards would surely kill him.  But even as she spoke, the shivering, wide-eyed intruder, turned and fled.

And with that, Spark decided she had had enough of living in castles.


Ocean, mountain, cave, castle, cloud.

She had tried to make her home so many places.  Not all, but so many.

Spark soon wondered if she had alighted on the wrong sphere.

She gazed up at the sun during the day.  And she gazed up at the moon at night. 

The sun seemed too boisterous.  But the moon, the moon she would visit.  To find out if she should build her home there. 

Spark waited until the night of a full moon.  She needed its light.  She could not see as well in the dark as she once could.  She gazed up and prepared herself.

But when she tried to fly up, she found she could not.  She hopped up and was able to land in the canopy of a conifer in one leap.  She tried again, leaping from the tree.  She rose into the air…but then she started to fall.

She could not stop herself.  And she landed on the ground.

Spark was puzzled, but not yet troubled.  She felt heavy, burdened, but was not sure why.  If she could find out, then she could change herself, throw off her burden.  And then she would fly.

So in the light of the full moon, she examined herself. 

Whirlpools swirled within her.  Darkness flickered through her light.  Specks of dust made of stone and metal floated through vapors with substance but no form.  They floated alongside spores, glittering bits of scales, broken thorns, tiny feathers. 

Spark understood then what was making her too heavy to fly.

Each place she had lived had left a mark on her.  And each mark had its own weight.  Thus, she was not as light as she was when she first set out.  She was not certain if she could remove those marks.  But even if she could, she wanted to keep them.  But she also wanted to fly.

Spark was close to a town, so she found a path leading to it, and trudged toward an inn, a place where she has not tried living, because she has learned that it was not a place where people live, but just a place where they stayed. 

But then again, she too has thus far only stayed in various different places.


She decided she would think upon this new problem.  As she had before, she first asked another. 

A man sat at a table beside a window in a cold corner, far from the fire.  The man warmed his hands above the flame of the single candle that sat on his table.

Spark did not feel the cold, not much of it.  She imagined that she soon might, the longer she remained on the ground.

She brought a warm drink to the man, and asked if she might join him.

She thought he might refuse. 

But he welcomed her to his table.  He told her that he was a traveling bard.  But he did not much feel in the mood to tell stories since he had suffered a recent heartbreak.

“Do you feel in the mood listen?” Spark asked.

He did, and so she told him of herself.  Of how she sought a home of her own.  And how she had lived in many different places, in the water with fish, in the trees with birds.  

In castles.  In caves.  In clouds.

“I had sought to visit the moon,” she said, “and try to live there a while.  But I’m now too heavy.  And I’m not certain what I will do.”

She noted that the bard had a curious glint in his eye.  It was not from the candle flame.  Or from the moonlight glowing through the window. 

The creatures of the twirling world seemed to be shy about displaying their lights.  This was the first she seen any doing so.

“It is not just a matter of preference,” he said.  “Not every creature can live in every place.  I would drown if I tried to live in the ocean.  And a fish would suffocate if he tried to live on the land.”

Spark shook her head.  “I had not considered that.”

“Whether you can fly again or not,” the bard said, “I would feel so lucky if I were you.  There are many in this world who have no home.  And who have no choices as you do.”

“I had not considered that either.” 

The bard leaned forward, warming his face in the steam from his mug.  “No ordinary person can speak so many languages and tolerate living in so many different places.  So you must not be ordinary.” 

Spark leaned back and blinked.  “What am I then?”

The bard grinned.  “Extraordinary.”

Again, his eye glinted. “You might be a higher being, like one of the gods of old or…a fallen star.” 

Then he shuddered, and declared that the night had grown too cold.  He thanked her for the cider.  And he took his leave with a few final words.

He placed a hand over his heart.  “Though my skin is cold, my heart is warm.  It is thanks to your charming tale.” 

He bowed to her, and wished her well in finding her true home.

Alone at the far table before the flickering light of a candle and the calm light of the moon, Spark began to feel a twinge of fear.  She hadn’t yet found her home, but was already beginning to fear losing it.

Of all the places where she had tried staying, she liked the castle, the cave, and the cloud best.  But she was already denied the clouds, because she could no longer reach them. 

What if she would soon be unable to live in a cave or a castle?

A drumming at the window caught her notice.  Rainfall.  So troubled had she grown, that she had not perceived that the sky had grown dark as the rainclouds obscured the moon. 

Spark went outside, stepping out from under the leaky awning before the inn’s front door.  She understood that it was cold, though she could not yet feel the cold.

She gazed up at the dark clouds sparkling with lightning.  And a thought, both bitter and sweet, came to her.  For she had decided at last.

“Though I cannot reach you, you are where I would live, if I could.” 

If only she had known that when she first plunged into the clouds.

In that moment, the rain seemed to wash away some of her burdens, and Spark found that she could rise from the earth just a bit.  Not far enough up to reach the clouds.  But enough to inspire a smile.

She stayed in the rain a few moments longer, until she began to feel the cold. 

Someday perhaps she would reach the clouds again.  But for now, she had a place where she could stay.  She set her feet down on the earth and strode back into the inn, where she would keep a room and make her home for the night.

Copyright © 2021  Nila L. Patel

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