Picture It and Write: The Lights Below

by joetwo

Hi there! This is my offering for this week’s picture it and write for Ermilia’s blog here. Once again the picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. Incidentally Ermilia have just this day released an anthology of previous picture it and write stories and poems from a wide range of authors, myself included. If you like this, buy that! Anyway, Enjoy!

The Lights Below

“I’m going to be sick!” I murmured to myself, wrapping my arms around one of the loose pieces of wicker that littered the bottom of the basket. I had chanced a look out and was greeted by dark, approaching clouds, clouds that by all the laws of gods and men should be well above me were getting closer. This was not right, I was not happy.

The Master however was ecstatic. “What a marvelous contraption!” he shouted while holding onto a single rope and leaning his whole torso over the edge of the basket, I couldn’t even look at him. “Look at all of this. It’s beautiful!” From my limited vantage point I was still able to ascertain that night had fallen and so he shouldn’t have been able to see anything. The Master though enlightened me further. “I can see lights! Houses, villages, I think that is a whole town over there. Come and look.”

It was hard. But obedience has been molded into my family and I pried myself from the bottom and lifted my head over the edge. True enough, beneath us in the dark were hundreds and hundreds of lights, spreading as far as the eye could seem, it was as if the stars themselves were below us.

That was a thought that really shouldn’t have raised its ugly head. I began to feel even worse. The Master, on the other hand was jumping around like a schoolboy. He raised his hand and pulled the lever on the flame mechanism that he had invented. There was a pressurized spray of kerosene that ignited in a open flame and burst into the yawning canvas above us. I understood, (partially) that this was needed to keep us aloft but the only thought I had was If that catches fire, we’re dead.

The Master was so unconcerned that he didn’t even look up. Instead he opened a box of his precious instruments and started examining then. I was almost starting to relax, even enjoy the view when The Master called to me. “Stephens! I have made a barometer reading but I need to calibrate it. Here!” He tossed a ceramic vessel at me, I barely caught it. “Drop this overboard and tell me when it hits!”

I looked at the dark abyss beneath me. I wouldn’t be able to see it hit and told my Master my concern. “My Mind Stephens! I sometimes wonder.” He came over with a lighted taper in his hand and light and lit a wick on the top of the vessel. He had a stop watch in his hand. “Now Stephens. You shout when you drop it and when you see the flare of it bursting. We can use that to gauge our elevation. Go ahead!”

I stared at the flame on the wick then over the edge to the lights on the ground. Here there were, houses, farms, so many flammable things. What was he asking me to do? I was about to raise my concern when he shouted “What is blazes man! Drop it.” With a yelp I dropped it over the side and there was a click from my masters hand. I watched in dread as the light of the flame. Dropped and dropped, growing fainter and fainter until finally there was a blossom of flame on the ground. “My God!” I shouted “I think it hit something Master!” But I only heard him mutter “Two hundred and thirty eight seconds. Good” 

We continued high above the ground for several more hours. The Master explained to me that our “Heated Vapour Bag” as he had dubbed it was proceeded along at the mercy of the winds much like the clouds and that he believed that these winds moved in different directions at different heights and that we could proceed in different directions at different heights. To that effect, he periodically altered our elevation by igniting the kerosene burner or by pulling a rope which “Opened a flap in the bag to release some of the heated vapours allowing a controlled descent”, an explanation that, you can imagine, filled me with utmost confidence. 

At each elevation adjustment, The Master bade me to drop yet another lighted vessel to further add to his measurements. I had stopped trying to argue with him as to the wisdom of this move and noted in the distance to my horror that a number of the fires appeared to have expanded somewhat. I hoped that no one had been hurt in the conflagrations.

I was almost used to the feelings of being aloft so high when The Master announced that it was time to return to the ground. He pulled the rope for descent and I indeed felt a slight drop in my weight as we began to slowly drop. “Stephens!” The Master addressed me “I have endeavored to harness the air currents to return us as close as I could to our estate but I fear that we may still be at least a score of miles from home. Did you remember to bring sufficient funds to purchase lodgings for the night?”

“Yes Master!” I answered. I was looking out as the black light-dotted expanse of ground grew larger in my vision. The Master looked over my shoulder. “From my measurements I believe that me are only a hundred feet or less from the ground.” He ignited the burner to arrest our fall. “There is a village in the distance. We shall stay at this height until the wind brings us close enough.”

So for the next couple of minutes we sailed along at our new stabilised height. The ghostly visage of trees passed silently beneath us, occasionally painted a fiery orange by the light of the burner. Coming over a dense copse we spotted the collected lights of the village the master had spotted earlier. I heard the tug of the descending rope again and The Master said “Oh look Stephens some locals have come to greet the intrepid aeronauts!”

Indeed I too could see the line of lights as a series of torches made their way into the field into which we were dropping. Some were proceeding at a great turn of speed indicating that some were running or possibly on horseback. I looked at them and again to the village.

“Master?” I asked “Do we have sufficient fuel to ascend into the air again?”

“Why no Stephens! I believe that we have almost exhausted our supply Why do you ask?”

I looked again at the village and the conflagration that had consumed at least two houses and the church. “I believe Master, that these locals may not be very welcoming at all!”