Farid Finds Home
Farid stretched as he woke.
"This year feels different," Farid thought, as he scratched an itch.
Farid wakes once a year at the northern Winter Solstice. He watches over us on the darkest day of the year. He watches to protect us. He watches so nothing goes wrong.
Farid stood for the first time in a year. Farid remembered the world.
"This place feels different," Farid thought.
Farid noticed changes every time he woke, but changes were greater now. Almost too great. Greater than he remembered across his last 8,192 awakenings.
"What have you gotten yourselves into now, children?" Farid mused into the darkness.
Farid jumped up and reached the ground. His senses began adjusting to the world. He itched as he woke, where his right wing folded to his side. His pesky itch had been there for the past 1,800 awakenings. It didn't bother Farid too much.
"How's the world doing now?" Farid asked himself.
People, health running low, but check.
Animals, diminished, but check.
Oceans, every one still tasting of diluted petrol, check.
Farid could tell something was missing though.
Everything was in the wrong place. The people of this land were scattered, dispersed, moved, far away from home, not likely to return. Farid sensed the conflicts, the fears, the sadness, the hopes and dreams of those who left for a better place.
Farid was more alone than he remembered.
"Where have my friends gone?" Farid asked his memories.
Answers flooded Farid as he thought about the world.
"Europe? I haven't traveled in so long," Farid realized.
Farid jumped into the air, spread his fiery wings to keep warm against winter winds, then headed to Europe to find his absent friends.
Farid is old. Farid is older than old. Farid is older than time itself. When Farid watched the Earth form, he made friends with every grain of sand on every beach in every ocean across the world. Farid remembers the names of each grain. Sometimes they still dream together.
Though, Farid thinks some of his sand friends are different now than they were 100 awakenings ago. He feels them becoming something new, something faster, something stronger, but he hasn't bothered to ask them about their changes yet. They seem so very busy now.
The trouble with being timeless is it takes a lot out of you. Farid needed a plan. So, long ago, Farid decided he needed a purpose. Farid declared himself guardian of the northern darkness. Farid decided he would sleep but for one day a year. On the darkest day of the year, Farid would wake to serve the world on its darkest day.
Flying northwest, Farid remembered the last time he left his home. Farid remembered hiding from the flying machines. Farid remembered the people sitting patiently inside them. Farid wondered how many more awakenings before his camouflage would stop working. "I should ask the sand about it since they seem so happy these days," Farid laughed.
As Farid approached Prague, he realized he wasn't alone.
Farid introduced himself to his in-flight neighbor. Farid felt his itch again.
"سلام" Farid greeted.
"Ho! cough Ho! cough How are you? How are you up here?" his in-flight neighbor replied.
"سلام" Farid replied.
Farid switched his thoughts to the stranger's language.
"I'm the guardian of the northern darkness and I'm looking for my friends," Farid answered.
Farid's in-flight neighbor had a curious way of flying. His in-flight neighbor's helpers—or were they pets?—seemed to keep him aloft. Most of the helpers greeted Farid as they flew by, but one did not look back at Farid.
"Farid! Of course I know who you are! We are the same, though I am just a servant from this world, not a servant from before this world like yourself," said the stranger in a red suit looking warm and well prepared for open air flight. The stranger's leading shy helper still did not look over.
Farid had encountered several world helpers across his many awakenings. Farid never had much time to get to know them.
"Thank you, kind stranger! Maybe we can help each other? Why do you fly in the cold Winter winds?" Farid asked.
"The world has changed, old Farid. In the past, people spent generations moving across the world in families, but now people move by the millions every year, and sometimes in only one direction," the kind stranger said.
"You think they won't return?" Farid asked sadly.
"The new world does not return to the old," the kind stranger said. "People find new homes and return to their new homes instead of living in broken pasts. Where do you call home, old Farid?"
"I sleep under the cradle of civilization," Farid replied.
A twinkle in the kind stranger's eye faded.
"I can help you find your friends if we work together," the kind stranger said.
"Anything for my friends," old Farid said.
Farid followed the kind stranger back to his home atop the world.
The kind stranger asked Farid for help stepping off his sleigh, but the shy helper at the front of reins still would still not look at Farid.
Farid followed the king of the north into his otherworld.
Farid remained cool and small enough to not damage the many decorated doorways of antiquity.
The kind stranger walked Farid down a hallway leading to an open room full of merriment and busy workers. New world servants who Farid didn't know engaged in funny discussions at impossibly long tables.
Farid did recognize some friends in the room. Friends he split off many awakenings ago. Tathagata sat under a culturally inaccurate tree where the branches weren't quite high enough. On the other side of the room, Durga tripped the light fantastic.
Farid felt at ease for the first time in two thousand awakenings. Farid felt less alone than any other time he could remember. Farid smiled. Part of the candy ceiling directly above him melted and fell on his head.
"Farid, what we do here is help the world. The entire world. No matter where people move, we are here for them," said the kind stranger showing off the room.
"All the time?" asked Farid. "How? I protect the world, but only during the day of dark."
"All the time," the kind stranger replied. "Like you, we serve the world in the darkness, but we prepare all year. We prepare all year for our one long night. We need more and more help these days though. Will you help us to give every person just a little more happiness to help them through the dark?"
"I will help any way I can," Farid said.
"Thank you, old Farid," the kind stranger said. "We can start now. I know your day grows long and your sleep is soon."
Farid followed the kind stranger outside. Farid felt his itch again.
Farid helped the kind stranger into his sleigh.
Farid then stretched his wings to prepare for flight.
The helpers—or are they pets?—at front of the sleigh galloped both forward and upward at the same time. "They must be lesser servants to be able to fly," Farid thought to himself.
"Nothing lesser about us," the shy helper at the front of the pack replied.
"Excuse me? How did you—" Farid stumbled over his own words. How could a a lesser servant steal his thoughts?
"Still not lesser," the shy helper replied again.
"Then what are you? How do you read my thoughts?" Farid asked the clearly not lesser servant.
"Is this better?" the shy helper asked as he turned towards Farid.
Farid's itch worsened.
"You—how did you—when did you," Farid replied, stumbling over his words
Farid remained next to the servants drawing the sleigh up higher and higher.
"How do you have my firelight on—in?—your nose, first servant?" Farid asked.
Then Farid remembered his itch. He looked over and, for the first time, noticed the itchy area from 1,800 awakenings ago.
Farid's right wing had a curiously Cervidae-tooth shaped bite taken out of it. Farid realized what happened.
"I understand," Farid said. "But, how did you do it? When did you find me?"
"We are sorry, old Farid," the first flying servant confessed. "About 1,800 years ago, when we were formed, we faced a problem. We were supposed to fly around this world to impart joy, but we couldn't! Deer can't fly. Caribou can't fly. Reindeer can't fly. Except, we had to fly. It was our purpose."
"In our infancy as servants, we remembered the story of old Farid, friend of the sand who sleeps in the sand," the first flying servant explained. "We realized you, oh great old Farid, holder of power, progenitor of Durga and Tathagata and a dozen others we need not name, you, oh great Farid, had power to spare. Except, we dare not disturb your sleep. You wake for one day while we are sleepless."
"Let me guess how you found me," Farid offered. "You conspired with Morpheus to draw me from the sand and extract my radiance?"
"More or less," the first flying servant confirmed.
"Are you protected? Are you forever? Are your friends?" Farid asked. "You realize my pure essence is enriched uranium, right? I consciously contain my essence in my whole form, but when released beyond me it has no containment."
"We are aware, old Farid," the first flying servant sighed. "We take turns bearing your mantle so we may recover ourselves before falling ill. We hope we have not caused you discomfort."
"Discomfort does not concern one who wakes once a year," Farid said.
The kind stranger in the sleigh grew impatient waiting for Farid and the red nosed reindeer to finish their chat.
"Did he agree?" the kind stranger shouted from the sleigh.
"I'll ask now," the red nosed reindeer shouted back to the sleigh.
"Ask what?" Farid said.
"The problem with your friends is our problem too," the red nosed reindeer said. "Over the past few years, more and more people have left your home to travel to Europe. We weren't prepared for the population to shift so quickly, but we can help everybody with you at our side."
"How can I help? Do you have to bite off an entire wing this time?" Farid said.
"Helping will be simple with you here!" the red nosed reindeer smiled. "Our knowledge of people is limited by how fast we can fly. We figure out who has been naughty and who has been nice by, well, watching them. With only our stolen bite from you, it takes us months to fly around. With your full support, we could discover everyone in one night!"
Farid was interested. His time as guardian of the northern darkness, while well spent, was not as useful these days. Old world dangers had been vanquished thousands of awakenings ago. Farid mostly spent his northern Winter solstice walking among people with them being none the wiser.
"What do you need from me?" Farid asked.
"With one red nose, we fly at this speed, but if we all had red noses, we could fly much faster than even sound!" the single red nosed reindeer said. "Since you are awake now, you can control the danger from your gifts. We ask you impart your gift to all of us reindeer."
Farid knew temporarily giving his gifts to others worked. Farid even, upon occasion, extracted entire parts of himself into new personalities to roam the world.
Farid was willing to try. He summoned his ancient strength to prepare. Farid stretched his two wings mid-flight. They grew four times bigger. From each giant wing dropped four reindeer-nose-sized red balls.
Farid levitated the eight red balls towards the eight non-glowing reindeer. Farid marked each new glowing red ball with his wish nobody falls ill.
With their new speedy noses, the reindeer pranced through the sky, with sleigh in tow, faster than ever. Farid kept pace with their dancing antics.
"What now?" Farid asked. "How do we care for all my displaced friends? They aren't at my home anymore."
"Follow us tonight, old Farid," the kind stranger offered from his sleigh. "We will visit all your friends so you may see them in their new lives."
The reindeer-ifrit powered sleigh zoomed from rooftop to rooftop, from parking lot to parking lot, from farm to farm, all throughout Europe on their naughty and nice search. It was still four nights before Christmas. They wrapped up their European naughty and nice list all in one night.
"Before you joined us, old Farid, we were falling behind," the kind stranger confessed. "Over these past few years we didn't even complete our naughty and nice search! We now have a way to visit everybody again."
The wind through the sleigh covered up what sounded like a cracking in the kind stranger's voice.
"With your help, we've finally reached all good girls and boys for the first time in a long time!" cheered the kind stranger. "Maybe we can do this every year, with your help of course, old Farid."
"I'd like that," Farid agreed.
"We could help even more people if watched them all year round," the kind stranger thought out loud.
"I'll ask my friends the grains of sand if they can help you," Farid offered. "They do seem so busy and happy every time I wake."
Farid could tell his time was running out for the day.
"Would you like to sleep under our keep in the north this year, old Farid?" the kind stranger offered. "You can have perfect privacy while you sleep, even from pesky biting reindeer, and when you awake next northern Winter solstice you may join us right away. Maybe you'll even share in the dreams of your friends who live with us now."
"The sand has been my home since people first joined together," Farid considered. "Moving is scary, but maybe it is time for old Farid to be less alone now."
The sun burned low.
Farid felt the world becoming normal again. His confusion upon waking was going away. He saw his friends weren't gone forever, they just moved a continent away. They are busy starting new lives. New lives where they do their best, and though it may not be easy, it will be an adventure.
Farid reminds himself to check in on everybody again next year.
Farid stood vigil over the world before he slept, one more time, but not one last time.
Farid smiled as he imagined his future wakings and how wonderfully the world will change with each one.
Farid dreamed of watching over everyone forever, until the oceans fall away and the sunken cities rise again.
"I'm not your enemy, don't fear me. I didn't mean to come by surprise, I was drawn by the fire."