Soma awoke lying on his back, his vision refocused. He had no idea how he was moved but he awoke inside a different building. This one, perfectly square, had a high ceiling and hanging lights and two rows of large wooden benches. It looked like a chapel; in fact there was even an altar, a pulpit and a glorious pipe organ climbing up the walls.
Soma looked up; there were ten rows of ten hanging lights, bare bulbs illuminating absolutely everything within the chapel. Hanging from each light bulb was a thread. Strung evenly across each thread were ten cranes. One thousand cranes, ten each hanging from ten rows of ten light bulbs, in a perfect square above the chapel. The doors and windows were all shut. Soma’s breath was completely taken away by the fantastic scene hanging above him. The air was perfectly still.
When his breathing returned, there was only its gentle breeze blowing through the chapel. The crane’s slow and tiny movements delicately echoed Soma’s being, which ever so slightly spun the cranes up and down and around the tiny threads that they hung neatly on. Soma pursed his lips and whistled and the paper cranes danced to his song. He stood up. The cranes hung half way up to the ceiling, much higher then Soma’s head. Soma thought he would rush over to a window or to the front doors and throw them open and let the wind whirl in and sing to these miracle cranes that somehow, by their creation, had brought him to this mysterious place. Soma rushed toward the far wall to look outside to see where he was. When he got to the window, he was absolutely amazed by what he saw.
He was in outer space. Outer Space! The Chapel was in orbit around the Earth. He looked out and saw the entire world. It was at his fingertips, big and bright as day, right outside of this window. Soma forgot about the cranes. He could not believe what had happened. “Where have I gone?”, “What have I been through?”, “It’s 3:42, on what day?”, and “How the hell did this chapel end up in outer space?” So many questions raced through Soma’s mind, with no hope for any answers.
Soma decided he should look for someone. He thought his chances of finding someone in a chapel, even one in outer space, were pretty good. There always seems to be someone in any chapel, silently praying to his or her god, secretly wondering if their prayers are even being heard by someone or something in the first place. Thinking more about it, he thought this chapel might be part of a very large cathedral or a castle. If this very large cathedral or castle did have people in it, Soma’s realized his best chance of meeting them was to call them and for them to find him. So, he looked for the bell tower. He walked back around the altar and found a rickety spiral staircase.
By the time Soma walked up to the top of the long staircase and was outside he was dizzy. As he emerged, he was stunned by the solar wind whipping through his hair. A blasting inferno heat wave swooshed past his face, warming it as the space-castle flew in its cold orbit around the Earth. Looking up into the height of the tower, he saw the enormous copper bell. He wondered if anyone has ever heard this bell ring out before. “Well, all will here it ring now”, Soma thought to himself. He moved over to the middle of the room, stood against the wall and began pulling down on the rope. BONG! BONG! BONG!
Once at a time, the bell rang and rang out across the solar system, spread throughout the galaxies and awoke the universe. Soma, high up in the bell tower, could see each sonic boom rippling through space. He yanked that rope desperately. It was like an addiction; he needed to hear that bell ring, he needed it to be louder, faster, he needed more people to hear it. Soma felt it was his duty to sound this cosmic crescendo, but he did not know why. Each time the mallet struck the inside of the bell, Soma felt like his head was being pummeled by a large fist. He rang and he rang that bell until his head was numb. His brain shook inside his own head. His face felt bruised. Soon he slumped down onto the floor beaten, too exhausted to continue. The bell continued to ring as it swung back and forth. The ringing had reached a climax and now the intensity and volume slowly decreased.
“Everyone and everything that exists will have heard my call,” Soma thought, “but would anyone or anything answer?”
Soma then felt utterly alone. His faith that someone was with him inside this chapel drained away, spiraling downward like a jet plane left with no fuel. His confusion began to frighten him. “Outer space?”, “fish”, “cranes”, “bells” what does all this mean?
As his mind spun out of control and his brain nearly smashed into the wall like the gravity of his momentum should have had it, a lighted and beautifully flowered Angel slowly swooped down and merged with the orbiting bell tower, landing softly with her winged shoes. The bell still rang, swinging back and forth.
“Do you have the map?” she asked loud enough to be heard over the bell.
“The map?” Soma questioned.
“Yes! the map!” the Angel demanded.
“What map?” Soma was incredibly confused and frightened by this luminous being. He thought, finally able to free his mind from its concentration on the sounds of the bell. He felt in his pockets.
“The map is for you, Soma” said the Angel.
“What am I supposed to do with it?” Soma asked as he retracted his arm.
“Find the key. You will, if you search for it in the only way that you know how.” The Angel began to ascend slowly backwards towards where she came from. Saying finally, “The cranes Soma! Free the cranes!” and then the colorful lights reflecting her and her flowery dress smeared as she whipped away out of view as the castle swooshed past her in its orbit around the globe.
He looked down at the map. He guessed it was a map of the space-castle and as he studied it he began to feel right about that. It was simple enough to understand. He found the chapel, pews, alter, staircase, exits on three sides leading to hallways and more rooms, and the pipe organ, with its keyboard to the right of the pulpit.
He thought furiously about the trouble he had gotten himself into. Why had the Angel left him? Would he be stuck here for eternity, which would surely come soon for him, since he had no means to survive?
The bell still rung in his ears even as the mallet barely made contact with the brass and all the noise subsided. As the noise of the bell died away, another noise began to rise. It was coming from below, down the stairs. It was like a constant hum, a million thrills of the tongue. Like a flock of birds, cranes even. It couldn’t be. Soma jumped to his feet and spun down the uncertainly stable spiral staircase. The noise grew louder and seemingly more urgent as he neared the bottom of the steps. Finally Soma reached the ground level and looked up to the ceiling in utter disbelief.
The one thousand paper cranes had become real, living, flying, squawking birds, all struggling for their freedom. They were still tied together, ten each on a line of thread attached to the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. The Angel had told Soma to free these cranes with a key. The cranes seemed to be suffering, each one flying in its own direction pulling and choking the other cranes flying unsynchronized, all of them caged in this small building, tied to the ceiling, paper cranes newly freed as real birds still imprisoned by their former state of being. “I must find that key” Soma thought. He pulled out the map and stared at it.
He tried pulling open the exits but found that they were all locked. He walked through the pews and looked underneath them for the key or some kind of clue, a trap door, an arrow to point him the right direction. What had the Angel said about finding the key? Soma racked his brain and remembered, but he was still confused. Look in the ways that I know how?
He walked over to the organ and sat down at the keyboard. The organ probably had over two hundred stop knobs, wooden knobs covered in ivory. “What a beautiful instrument” Soma thought. He pulled out one of the stops and a loud low sound emitted and echoed throughout the chapel. The sound mixed with the squawking of the disturbed cranes still flocking haphazardly high up in the ceiling. Soma was distressed by their predicament and wanted desperately to help set them free.
Soma remembered how the paper cranes had danced to his whistle. Then it occurred to him; the loud ringing of the bell tower must have been what had awakened the cranes from their papery sleep in the first place. Perhaps a blast of sound from another devotional instrument could set them free for good.
Soma began pulling out all the stops of the organ. The opened valves allowed air pressure from the reservoir into the wind chest and the sounds of the organ started to rise inside the chapel. The birds grew frantic and swooped and swooned through the vibrating air as the sound built upon itself and grew louder. As Soma pulled out more and more stops, the volume rose so high that the walls began to shake and some of the light fixtures fell from the ceiling, freeing the cranes from their bondage. As Soma pulled more and more stops out and the sounds grew louder and louder, he realized he still had to find the key he was supposed to be looking for. At that moment, a key dropped out of the stop his hand had just pulled out. Amazed he picked it up and looked at it. It was golden with a broken eggshell etched onto the wider part at the top. He pulled out the last remaining stops and the organ was sounding so loudly that the vibrations in the air made it difficult to walk and impossible to think.
With the key in hand, Soma stood up and made his way towards the front door, struggling through the impressive force of the hysterical music he had unleashed. He used the rows of pews to pull himself forward, like climbing a mountain horizontally. As he neared the summit he dove for the doorknob as the pipe organ blasted him from the walls and nearly rattled his whole body to pieces. He inserted the key into the keyhole and turned the knob. The door swung open and the vacuum of space rushed in. The cranes washed out like water flowing from the mouth of a river into the ocean. As they exited the cranes mysteriously flapped their wings and pulled themselves off into a cosmic flight toward places Soma could only imagine.
As Soma dangled, hanging onto the door knob over the brink of the final frontier, he longed to grab hold of one of the crane’s skinny legs as they rushed past. He wished he could fly with them to wherever they were going, but that could never happen. He let go of the door knob and felt himself falling back into a deep nothingness, endlessly falling and repeatedly slamming his body and mind through layers and layers of atmosphere and clouds and finally landing softly on his back in a hammock in the backyard of a small home in
There, Soma slept for what seemed like hours. Eventually as the sun was setting a woman wearing a beautiful simple dress tapped his shoulder and he awoke with a start. There was a flower stuck behind the woman’s ear and he noticed how familiar and lovely she looked as she smiled at him.
“What has happened to me?” Soma asked sheepishly.
“You’ve been to outer space and back and now you are truly free” the woman replied.
“But how?” Soma wondered aloud.
“Prison is in your mind. The key you found unlocks the shackles you have on your soul.” The woman nodded her head in assurance, then turned and left him.
Soma reached into his pocket and fingered the key. He pulled it out and with it came an origami crane attached to the key by a seamless loop of golden thread. He inspected the crane closely and noticed it was numbered “1001”. He slipped the paper bird and the golden key back into his pocket and walked happily off into the sunset, in search of a bathroom.