The frost on the ground crunched beneath the wheels of Dolly’s wheelchair as Stuart eased her out first and they looked up at the shimmering lanterns that filled the night sky. Above the lights, it was a blacker night than any of them had ever seen. No one was able to concentrate on that for very long as they were struck by the glistening glass sculptures around them. All of them were figures, most of them seemed to be dancing. Some of them almost looked like ghosts or shrouds but all of them were carved in exquisite detail and the faces looked so smooth, they truly looked like they could be made of ice that might melt at any time. The hedges that held these figures were still plants but they were decorated with glass ornaments in the shape of fruits, a blush of color stained into them. When they got closer, they could see that some of the fruit had phantom fingers hidden near them. They were glass hands in the bushes that seemed like they could come alive at any moment and pluck the fruit.
Suddenly the lights around them shifted and each time they moved, the glass statues appeared to move too. Dolly gasped when the one she was nearest to looked like it might step down from its pedestal. The light shifted again and created the illusion that its dress had fluttered and it took a moment to recognize that the statue had stayed perfectly still.
“That’s incredible,” Lydia exclaimed. “You do all of this with just light?”
“The illusion really does trick the eye, doesn’t it?” Malek beamed at them. He looked to the nearest statue. “It’s taken me years to carve each of these magnificent creations. Again, many of them from stories and historical tales. But it’s something else entirely to see them come alive at this time of year.”
“You did this yourself?” Dolly asked, looking at the statue in front of her in awe. “This must have taken so long. Back home this would have taken a whole team of people to put this together.”
“Must have been dangerous,” Stuart added. “Glass isn’t easy to work with.”
“Normally no but we have our ways here,” Malek said with a smile as he weaved around the gardens with them. “The technology here allows me to work in perfect safety and we have such a lovely set up, I am able to work on them without too much trouble. My beloved has been nothing short of supportive of this and it helps to keep me motivated to create more.”
“Our gardens are among the most celebrated in the country and among the more famous in the world,” Kayode added as he came along slowly behind the group. “Malek is entirely too humble about his accomplishments. Before he came here, his talents were underappreciated for what he is capable of. There are other sculptors here, of course, but his glass work is truly among the most inspired. This garden is just a sample of his art.”
“You flatter me too much, my love,” Malek blushed beneath his mask. “I am lucky that I have come here to have such a wonderful community. To think that without the great society that we enjoy here, none of this would exist.”
“A travesty, indeed,” an unfamiliar female voice came from behind one of the hedges.
Malek smiled brightly as a stunning woman emerged from one of the branching trails in the garden. Lydia, Matt and Stuart recognized her as the opera singer that Malek had mentioned earlier. Her dress was even more beautiful up close, the royal purple of her gown embroidered with black roses, each embedded with a purple rhinestone in the centre. He mask was itself a work of art and it perfectly matched the silver highlights on her dark skin. Now that she stood before them, they could see that the curls of her hair were tightly woven braids that had been pinned to look like ringlets but each was crowned with a purple jewel to hold it in place. She smiled at all of them, clasping her hands together excitedly.
“You’ll forgive me for being so rude but I couldn’t stand to wait a minute longer,” she said. “I’ve been absolutely on pins and needles since I saw the carriage and got a little glimpse of our lovely visitors. You’re all so much more charming in person.”
“No apologies to be made, my darling Nkiruka,” Malek replied easily. “My dearest has far better sense of time than I do. I’m afraid that I am the cause of your wait but our guests are almost ready. They told me of your lovely performance this evening. I am crushed that I couldn’t attend.”
“Simply a warm up, my dear friend,” she replied, walking with them now. “The Festival has only just begun and there are many nights yet to enjoy. I have something truly special planned for the finale.”
“I don’t doubt, darling,” Malek said. “Yours is a rare talent and there is nothing that you do that isn’t absolutely spectacular. Kayode and I will be there for certain.”
“Before we move too far here, though,” Will said, distracted. “Is there a reason for the hands in the bush? Is this a fable or is it tradition?”
“They don’t know?” Nkiruka asked, surprised.
“The traditions of our world are a bit different but the stories are sometimes the same,” Malek explained, motioning for Will to catch up. “As it so happens, this tale is one that is different between this world and the one that I and our visitors come from.”
“Doesn’t happen to involve a serpent, does it?” Matt asked, quietly.
“It does indeed,” Malek replied. “However, the serpent is not quite what you might think. No, this tale is less about the serpent and its role in the matter as much as the role of mankind. You see, the hands are near but can never quite touch the fruit. It is meant to be that way. How it was intended to be. Alas, of course, our curiosity can always seem to get the better of us, be it for big or small things. We find the allure of those things that we aren’t supposed to touch to be the most enchanting. Sometimes, as with the discovery of the new energy sources that we enjoy here, curiosity is rewarded, especially when we are led by such brilliant minds. However, the hands remind us that this is not always the case.”
“This sounds more like the tale of Icarus,” Dolly remarked.
“Icarus? Is this a god from your world, Malek? What a curious name!” Nkiruka said.
“I’m not familiar with this name either, darling,” Kayode added. “Is this one of your stories, Miss Dolly?”
“I’m afraid not,” she replied. “It’s actually a very old story.”
“From Greek mythology,” Malek nodded. “Another casualty of the Great War, I’m afraid, much of old stories were lost. A good amount of the tales from Europe were no longer told after the war, some of them never having reached as far as Africa or South America before the tellers were either killed or the old artifacts were damaged beyond repair. Alas, you are correct, however. This is very much like the tale of Icarus in a way.”
“Oh do tell it! This sounds delightful and this is so exciting to hear some of the lost history,” Nkiruka urged. “Oh dear, do you think that we should do this here, though? Perhaps I am being too greedy. We should share it with the rest of the guests.”
“Nonsense, my good friend,” Malek shook his head. “This is a tale that I can tell you any time. I would be delighted to have you over for tea during one of these afternoons and with our dear friends’ help here, I might be able to find a volume of tales for you to enjoy. Many of them might be a bit different than they might have originally been here but I’m sure they would be a perfect fascination for a rainy day. We have many to look forward to, after all.”
“Yes, the rainy season is almost upon us,” she sighed.
“Then the tail of Icarus might be either the best to share or the worst, depending on who you are,” Dolly said.
“I suppose you are right,” Malek laughed. “I won’t keep you in suspense though, my dear friend. Miss Dolly, would you be so kind as to give us the brief tale of Icarus while we close in on our destination?”
Before she could answer, they came upon a small crowd that had gathered behind one of the hedges. Malek looked concerned and came towards them, silently excusing himself, and Kayode quickly followed him. The group slowly made their way towards where the crowd was and as they turned the corner, they saw a rift open in the middle of what was a small platform. The guests were staying far away from it as it slowly widened at the edges. Two small cats stood at the bottom of where the tear was, walking around it casually.
“Oh,” Will said, quietly.
“What’s going on, Will?” Dolly whispered.
“It seems like we’re not the only guests here tonight,” he grimaced.