A long time ago, in a land far away, there lived a poor orphan boy who had nothing but his hunger and a small creature who lived in his ear. The creature would give the boy advice on where to go, what to eat, and how to live. Sometimes the advice got the boy into trouble, but the creature always got him back out of trouble. And every night, the creature would chirp a lullaby into the boy’s ear until he fell asleep. For this reason, the boy called his friend “Cricket.” The two had been together for as long as the boy could remember.
One bright and warm day as they walked along the road, the pair heard a great noise in a distant town. “That sounds like a celebration,” said Cricket. “Go there. Parties always have lots of food.” The boy agreed.
The town was celebrating the return of its king. The boy grabbed fruits, breads and sweets from open tables. When he came to the town square, a glorious parade was passing by. The king was dressed in magnificent finery, but it was a girl at the king’s side who caught the boy’s eye. “Who is that girl?” he asked a man beside him.
“That’s the princess, the most adored maiden in all the kingdom,” said the man.
Indeed, the girl was beautiful. Golden hair flowed from the top of her head down to her waist. A heart-shaped face framed a tiny nose, full lips, and large round eyes that sparkled like two stars. Wherever she walked a hush would fall over the crowd, in awe of her beauty and grace.
“Oh, that girl is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen!” said the boy to Cricket, but Cricket already knew what the boy was thinking. “Take care boy, or you will lose your heart, and once lost, a heart is very difficult to get back.”
“I think it is too late,” sighed the boy. “For I shall die if I cannot gaze into that lovely face every day for the rest of my life.”
“You are a fool,” said Cricket. “Nevertheless, I can tell what you say is true. You should go to the king and ask for the princess’ hand in marriage.”
“Oh! That’s a marvelous idea!” said the boy.
“Head for the castle,” said Cricket. “The party will continue there. Ask for the girl’s hand during the happy feasting, and the king might agree.”
Indeed, it was easy for the boy to pass through the great halls of the castle, right to the very court of the king himself. He arrived just as the king sat down on his throne, with the princess at his side.
“What do I do?” asked the boy.
“Throw yourself down on your knees before the king and call out, ‘Your majesty! May I ask a favor?’ If he agrees, then say, ‘please give me the hand of the fair princess in marriage, for I love her more than anything else in this world,’ and then hope the king will say yes.”
So, the boy did as Cricket said. He threw himself down on his knees before the king and called out in a loud voice, “Your majesty! May I ask a favor?”
The crowd quieted, amazed at the temerity of this poor peasant boy, and nervous how the king would respond.
“What is your request?” said the king, a clever man with sharp eyes and a stout face. He looked down at this impudent boy in the hopes of some amusement.
The boy lifted his head and looked the king square in the face. He spoke as Cricket advised him. “Please give me the hand of the fair princess in marriage, for I love her more than anything else in the world!”
This time the entire assembly fell into a stupefied silence, horrified that the boy could be so presumptuous. All eyes went to the king.
The king’s own eyes narrowed. His lower lip pushed upwards, and his broad chin dimpled as he considered the outrageous request from this worthless urchin from the street.
Then he burst out laughing. The throng did the same, and the room was filled with the sound of laughter.
“Poor peasant boy,” said the king. “To marry my daughter, you must prove yourself worthy. Come back here with a halo on top of your head, and then will I give my consent.” The king chuckled and pointed at the door. “Now go! Fulfill this quest I have given you but take care. If you fail, I shall cut off your head!”
Then he burst out laughing again. Guards took the boy by the arms and led him back outside. And so, the boy was on his own, walking down the road as he had always done.
“That was not good advice,” the boy said to Cricket.
“Perhaps not,” said the creature. “If you fail, we shall avoid that place. But I have an idea. There is a glen in an old forest. No one has gone there for ages, but I have heard that a saint was martyred there. Perhaps this glen can help you find the halo you seek.”
And so, the boy, with the guidance of Cricket, found the old forest and the glen. In the middle of the glen sat a stone with some words inscribed on it.
“I cannot read the words, Cricket. What do I do?”
“Do you see anything else?” asked Cricket.
“I see blood on the stone.”
“Touch the blood,” said Cricket. “Then you will be able to read the words.”
The boy touched the blood and found the Cricket’s advice was true.
“Now read the words aloud,” said Cricket.
“I cannot just read the words,” said the boy. “The words are lyrics set to music.”
“Then sing the words according to the music,” said Cricket.
And so, the boy began to sing.
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth
Pleni sunt cæli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.
The boy sang the chorus again and again. He could not stop, for a spirit had taken hold of him. Then the greens and browns of the land, and the blues of the sky changed to white, and the trees transformed into magnificent angels, tall as trees themselves. The angels had shining wings and sang in voices that made the air shimmer. They, like the boy, were singing the song.
Then, one by one, the angels fell silent and drew away from the boy, until the boy was singing all by himself once more. The boy’s voice did not make the air shimmer, but his pitch was pure and true. Some of the angels looked like they were about to burst out laughing. Some had faces contorted into scowls. A few were weeping. But all were staring at the boy.
“That’s enough singing, boy,” said Cricket. “Stop singing and see if they will speak to you. And get on your knees! Even the king himself is nothing next to these beings!”
The boy stopped singing and fell to his knees, and the angel who had been at the head of the choir, who seemed to be the leader, flew down and alighted in front of boy.
“My child,” said the lead angel. “How did you arrive at this place?”
The boy trembled because he knew he was kneeling before an angel of singular power. The tallest angel of them all had robes that shone like the moon and wings that could make the wind blow at their slightest stirring. Nevertheless, the boy screwed up his courage, and told his tale about the forest, the glen, the stone, the blood, and how he began to sing. The angels looked at one another and spoke in hushed murmurs. Then the lead angel held up his hand.
“All is well, child. None have approached this stone and sung its song in a long time. Indeed, your people have forgotten their creator and the heavenly host. And so, I may give you a wish. Is there anything you would like to have?”
“Now is your chance,” said Cricket. “Ask for the halo. But try to be polite about it.”
The boy began to speak. “Thank you, oh wondrous angel. There is one thing I would like to have—if it is not too much—and that is a halo. May I please have one of my own?”
The angels fell back to murmuring, and the boy raised his eyes and looked around. But again, the lead angel held up his hand.
“All is well,” he said. “You shall have a halo of your own.” He reached up into the whiteness of the heavens, higher than the boy could see. He brought down a shining band of light just like the halos that the angels themselves wore. And the lead angel affixed it to the top of the boy’s head.
“Thank you,” said the boy, filled with wonder that the halo lit his own surroundings. “Now I must leave and present myself before the king and show him that I have done as he requested.”
“Farewell, then, my child,” said the lead angel. “And remember, if you wish to return, you need only come to the glen and sing the song again. Farewell.”
The boy began to walk, and with each step, the angels looked more and more like trees, and the heavenly whiteness turned back into the land and sky.
The afternoon sun warmed the boy’s face as he walked back to the town, guided by Cricket. The clouds and the whole heavens looked close to the ground, like they were trying to embrace the earth below. Vast fields, heavy with grain and fruit, gave assurance of the abundance of the lands and the boy sang the stone’s lyrics as he walked.
When he arrived at the town, the people were astonished to see the boy wearing the halo as the king commanded. By the time the castle came into view, a vast throng had assembled behind him.
But as he approached the gates, a powerful longing seized the boy. “Oh Cricket! My heart aches to the point that it will burst! For I long to be singing with the angels again. I never could have imagined their glories before, and now everything is different.”
“You are a fool,” said Cricket. “First you will die if you don’t have the princess—now your heart will burst if you are not singing with those angels. Will you not make up your mind? But if that is what you want, you need only do as the lead angel instructed. Return to the glen and sing the song. Then you will be back with the angels.”
And so, the haloed boy pushed his way through the townspeople, who fell back as he approached. He returned to the glen in the forest and began to sing—and just as before, the greens and blues of the land and the sky transformed into magnificent whiteness, and the trees transformed into angels. The boy sang with them as before, happy as he had ever been. And, as before, the angels fell silent to listen to the boy. The lead angel flew down and alighted before him.
“You have returned, my child. Why? Did you not present yourself to the king?”
“No, I did not,” said the boy. “I no longer desire the things of the earth. I only wish to be with the choirs here, and to sing their glorious praises forevermore!”
The angels fell into a murmuring, and their movements were animated. The lead angel held up his hand. “All is well,” he said. “You shall be one of us this very day. You shall have wings like us, a voice like us and a body like us. You shall have our powers, and you shall be free of the woes, the blights and the vermin of the earth—like that creature that dwells in your head.”
The boy put a hand over his ear. “Vermin? You mean Cricket? But he is my friend. I cannot leave him. Not this way.”
The lead angel knelt down beside the boy and put a hand on his shoulder. “We have no other way,” he said.
The boy’s heart was breaking, for a terrible decision loomed before him. Nevertheless, he delayed his answer only long enough to draw breath.
“No,” he said. And his head shook. “I cannot join your glorious choir.”
The boy reached up, removed the halo from his head and held it up to the lead angel. “I am sorry, but I must go. Thank you for all you have done for me.”
And as the boy looked into the lead angel’s face and the faces of all the angels, he saw great sadness and great joy—like the parents of a bride and groom—sad to see their offspring leave, but happy at the future ahead of them.
The lead angel accepted the halo and placed it back into the impenetrable whiteness of the heavens. “Bless you, my child. Your gifts, your faithfulness have served you well, and I foresee that your life will bring great blessings to the entire world.”
And so, the boy took his leave. As he walked, the angels and the whiteness transformed into the rich colors of the old forest, which was rapidly descending into night. The boy was very tired. He lay down at the base of an old oak and made ready to sleep.
“You are a fool, boy,” said Cricket. “You have lost the princess, the angels, and your halo. You have lost everything.”
“I have lost nothing,” said the boy. “I still have the song, which has been my key to all I truly desire. And I still have you, my friend, without whom I could not imagine living—even for a moment.”
The boy felt a stirring in his ear, like the soft throbs of an old woman weeping. “Thank you,” said Cricket. “I am truly the luckiest creature alive to have a friend like you.”
And the creature chirped a lullaby for the boy.
Mike Neis lives in Orange County, CA and works as a technical writer for a commercial laboratory. His work has appeared in Amethyst Review, Rind Literary Magazine, Half Hour to Kill, and elsewhere. Besides writing, his outside activities include church music, walking for health, and teaching English as a second language.
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