Castle in the sky. The first time I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece was when I was just a kid; and I instantly fell in love with it. In particular, there was something about a castle in the sky that captured my imagination. I even kept it as my desktop wallpaper at my boring corporate job. Something about the sight gave me hope I guess.
However, there was something about the movie that left me a tinge unsatisfied. I liked the plot, but felt that if it were up to me, I could have done a lot more with it. What if Laputan society wasn’t extinct? What if there were actually people who lived in an island in the sky as our story unfolded? What about the steam punk aspect of the zeppelins who made the voyage up to the island?
This continued to bug me until one day I decided that why don’t I try and piece together a story of my own based on this great concept. This story unashamedly borrows a lot from Miyazaki’s original, but it has it’s own twist and turns and details.
You know when you feel all alone in the world? You think that you’re the only person having these thoughts? But of course that can’t be true right? There are so many people in the world. Surely, some of them feel your pain? What do you do in such a situation?
You turn to the internet of course. So, here I am. I have decided to write this story. But, taking on this is no easy task, at least not for me. What if no one likes it? Or worse, what if no one is interested enough to read it? So, I am turning to you guys for some much needed feedback. I am going to publish the first few chapters here. Hopefully, it will pique a few of you kind, lovely, amazing readers’ interest and give me the added incentive to finish. Or not. Either way, I am hoping to gain some clarity.
Castle In The Sky — A Journey to Laputa
She gasped for air and kneeled over. But barely a second passed before she could hear his footsteps closing in.
“Give up little birdie.”
She swung around and looked at the man. He was clothed in an all-black robe. The hood over his head covered up his face, and in the darkness, she could only see a dark space between his shoulders. The sight sent chills down her spine.
“What do you want?!” she shouted at him.
And suddenly she saw a long dagger appear in his right hand.
He charged at her and she started running faster than she had ever run before.
They had reached the edge. As she looked down, a bottomless abyss stared back at her.
The man gave of a shrill laugh, having thoroughly enjoyed the chase, and raised his right hand which contained the dagger. In the fleeting light, she made out a mark on his right hand.
“A shadow walker! You’re supposed to serve the kingdom. You will pay for this traitor…my father…”
Another laugh and she could only stand there and whimper.
“Don’t worry your Highness, you will soon join him.”
Tears welled up in her eyes as the realization hit her again. It’s only been a few hours, she just realized, oh father, I miss you.
The man moved towards her and she instinctively withdrew backward until her feet reached the edge.
Is this really it?
She wasn’t sure if it was intentional but before she knew it her feet were off the ground. Only now did it hit her that she had jumped from the cliff.
Her screams gradually faded into the distance, until the clouds finally swallowed her up.
The man looked down and thumbed his blade. He really did want the satisfaction of feeling it tear through that child’s flesh.
Oh well, he thought, at least there’s no body to take care of now.
The town of Ipscroft prided itself on being a very quiet, normal (or boring depending on who you ask) place. It was true there was not much to do here. But what the village lacked in excitement, it made up for it in its sheer beauty, and the kindness of its people.
Life moved at a languid pace here. And perhaps that was the reason why everyone was content. Every day seemed to be a repeat of yesterday. People cheerfully starting their day, with the men heading to the mines in the south, and the women waving them goodbye and getting to work in the house or venture to the town center. Oh, it’s a nice feel good picture indeed.
The townsfolk all knew each other, and it was a tightknit community, as was typical of a small town like Ipscroft. And that could be a blessing or a curse depending on the person, or the situation. On this particular day, however, Theodore Hensley, or Theo, was not feeling the love.
“Theodore Hensley, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times, stay away from my shop!”
“Apologies Mr. Melton, I just need two more widgets, three more clockscrews, and two meters of pipe.”
“To do what? Put in that contraption of yours?”
“Yes sir, it’s almost done. I think I’m close. You just wait, I’m going to fly her in front of everyone. It’s going to be a sight you’ve never seen!”
Mr. Melton sighed and took of his glasses. He looked way older without his glasses. Or maybe it was because he only took them off when he got all sad and introspective.
“You sound just like your father Theo.”
Theo bristled. He knew what was coming. The same old lecture.
“I promise, it’s safe.”
Part of him knew there was no point in being angry at the old man. Mr. Melton wasn’t selling him parts because he knew it would upset his mother. His mother would not have him doing anything dangerous, least of all trying to take off into the sky.
But Theo had an ace up his sleeve.
“And I can help out in the mines.”
Bingo. He knew that had hit its mark. He watched Mr. Melton struggle for a couple of seconds as he weighed the trade-off of getting told off by Mrs. Hensley against getting Theo’s help. Theo may only have been 14 years old, but he was one of the best handymen around. He could fix anything from a mechanical clock to a Geigertron; and he had been going to the mines since he was 6, and knew his way around it as good as anyone.
“Hmmm, well, we do have a pipe that needs fixing. And I know you’re good with those jobs.”
Finally, he relented and handed over the tools.
“Now be careful Theo, don’t do anything reckless.”
“Thanks so much Mr. Melton. I promise I’ll be careful.”
And he rushed to the door before the old man could change his mind. “Oh, and I’ll go to the mines tonight to take a look at that pipe.”
Theo felt a rush of joy sweep across him. He couldn’t wait to upgrade his plane with the latest tools. He felt sure this time he would get the thing to actually fly.
Theo looked around and saw his old friend Gus. Gus and Theo went to the same school, although they saw each other less frequently now that it was summer break.
“Hey Gus, what’s up?”
“Didn’t you hear? Old lady Freya and her gang are in town?”
Theo stopped in his tracks.
“I had no idea,” he said, “When did they get in?”
“This morning. The usual spot. You want to check it out?”
Gus didn’t even need to ask. Every time the Boyer Gang were in town, they would go see them. The Boyer gang were the most famous gang of sky pirates in the country. They were led by the notorious Freya Boyer. She had been leading them for ages. Some said she was over a hundred years old though Theo felt that was probably an exaggeration.
Theo knew his best chance of heading to the skies, apart from building his own plane, was to join the gang. His mother, of course, would freak out if she ever thought he would even think about becoming a pirate.
They knew they were getting close as soon as they saw a crowd next to a huge Zeppelin. It was the gang’s ship. It looked like a huge blimp with four rotor fans placed symmetrically on each end. The fans would lift the zeppelin up into the sky. There were also sails on either side that directed the course of the ship once it was in air. At the bottom was a flat platform where the crew would be. Except right now, the ship was not the main object of fascination as far as the crowd was concerned. They were focused on something else. Theo followed the crowds gaze up into the sky.
And then he could see it. The sky scooters. They looked like bikes, but had rotor fans on either side that allowed them to fly. Theo could count six as they reached the crowd. All the gang members wore the signature bright red jump suits. Old lady Freya was at the head of the pack with a corset dress to go with her red suit. All of them lined up in a nice and straight line as they dipped and rose to the oohs and aahs of the crowd.
“Watch this vermin!”
And the line started swirling into a circle, so fast that you could hardly make out each of the sky scooters and it seemed a blur of magnificent red. The crowd gasped as the circle disintegrated and each scooter dove straight down towards them. It seemed they were going to crash but at the last minute each of them pulled up and landed smoothly. Well, all except one.
“Orson you idiot!”
Freya was not happy that her exhibition had gone a little off script. Orson had crashed his bike and lay head first on the ground, legs twisted upwards, still tangled in his scooter.
“I told you to call me Captain!”
The other members rushed to help poor Orson. Freya looked at the crowd and shouted, “Well, what are you looking at! Shows over!”
The crowd starting backing away automatically. You didn’t mess with Old Lady Freya when she was in a bad mood. Which was all the time.
“Oh,” said Freya, as if just remembering something, and speaking in a sweet voice that seemed very forced, “Please do donate anything you can if you liked what you saw. And suddenly the crowd found all the members around them with tin buckets in hand and toothy smiles.
It was bemusing to see a group of pirates, especially one’s feared like the Boyer gang, being reduced to mere street performers and asking for donations. But times were tough. And one does what one can to survive. A lot of people made fun of the pirates for what they had become, but Theo only had respect. He knew that the pirates never robbed any of the townsfolk, or any poor people. They only went after the rich elite who sailed the skies in their Zeppelins. Of course, it was much harder to steal from the rich. Which is why a few shows here and there were required to make ends meet. Maybe keep it mysterious.
“You two again!”
Freya had spotted Theo and Gus coming up to them. Ah yes, fans were good for business. But these two were just annoying.
“No more room,” said Freya before Theo could open his mouth. She knew what he would say. Every time they came to this town, these two would bug them about joining the gang. All efforts to dissuade them, from telling them to bugger off to downright threats, had failed.
“I’m building a new ship Captain!” Theo said, “It’s going to fly faster and higher than anything.”
“I’m sure,” said Freya, and the gang members laughed. It was comical how they could all be in sync all the time. They were brothers though so it made sense.
Orson. Carlson. Erikson. Ferguson. Sigurdsson.
“We don’t need your ship, we got scooters,” said Orson, before realizing that his model was a heap of junk at the moment.
“Yeah, off with you now, don’t waste our time,” said Erikson, or was it Carlson?
“Oooh can we inspect it?” said Gus, looking at Orson’s broken scooter.
Freya sighed. “Fine, if you promise to go away.”
“But ma…captain it’s my scootie…” Orson whimpered.
“What did I tell you about sharing your toys!” And Orson wisely said no more.
Theo and Gus were already doing their examination. For them, the machine was magical. Theo ran his hands across the leather seat to the still hot engine at the back. The fans were still intact.
“It doesn’t start right now but I’ll fix it later,” said Orson.
“Hmm one sec…” said Theo, taking out his screw drivier.
“I got this ok,” said Theo and started opening the side plate and re-working the wires. To outsiders, it would look like he knew what he was doing, but this was the first time Theo had been inside one of these scooters. But machines were machines. If you understood the principles of wires and gears and levers, you could figure out the mechanism.
“Wow, Gus look at the gear setup,” he said, pointing inside.
“Ah I see, no wonder, they can generate so much force from such a tiny steam engine.”
“Hey, don’t you go taking our trade secrets.” It was Carlson. He was the biggest one of the brothers and passed an ominous shadow over the boys.
“Try now,” said Theo, closing the engine plate.
Orson got on the bike, and with all the brothers, and Freya, watching, gave the scooter a couple of kicks. The engine sputtered at first, and then, with a loud bang, started up again.
“Wooo hoo, it’s alive!” shouted Orson. And the brothers gave the two boys affectionate, but painful, pats on the back.
“Alright, alright, don’t man handle the poor kids.”
Freya walked over to them, looking over form the scooter to Theo, and back again.
“Hmm, tell you what Theo, you might just have it in you to be a half decent pirate one day.”
And she walked off. The brothers looked at Theo in awe, the new found respect glowing in their eyes. That was as close to praise as it got with old lady Freya.
“That was awesome!” cried Gus.
They were cycling down the old brick road that cut across the town. Yes, it had been a good day indeed. Not only had they been able to get an inside glimpse at the famed sky scooters, but Theo had finally been able to impress Freya. Maybe now she would finally take him on one of their expeditions.
“Where you heading to?” said Gus, noticing Theo taking the south end road.
“I have to go to the mines,” said Theo, “promised Mr. Melton I’d take a look at one of his pipes.”
They bid each other farewell and Theo rode down south while Gus went back to his house up north. The mines were pretty much the only things to the south. And most people were coming back from them since it was getting late. Theo made a mental note to not stay too late since he knew his mother would get worried otherwise.
The mines were beautiful, depending on how you looked at them. Theo certainly thought so. The rocks shone with green and yellow lights at night and sometimes you could hear voices from the walls. They said it was the ghosts of all the miners who died during the early days when the infrastructure was poor, and mine accidents common. It was much safer now with the Geigertrons that bore into the mines with their rotating blades at the front that cut through all the rock like it was wax. To Theo, the Geigertron resembled a snake burrowing into the mines.
He would not get to play with the Geigertron tonight though. The chief miner had seen him coming and promptly directed him to the west end.
“Alright Theo, climb up to the second from the top pipe,” he barked, “you see the spoke wheel?”
“Roger chief,” said Theo, nimbly gliding up the pipes. His climbing skills were as important as his mechanical skills when it came to the mines. “Found it!”
“Alright, turn it 45 degrees clockwise!” The chief pressed down a couple of levers as he said this. Theo complied and could feel the hot air being released from that section. Then, a huge clang, followed by a gust of steam exploded from the far right of the pipe.
“Woo hoo, look at that baby let go,” the chief said, smiling and looking at his meters. “See sometimes Theo, when you got an upset stomach, you just gotta let one rip eh.” And he bellowed loudly. Theo did not find the analogy that amusing, perhaps because he was the one helping the pipe to rip away.
“Ok, looks like it’s back to within range, come down now Theo. I’m going to head home now. It’s been a long day. You get some rest too and give my regards to your mother.”
“Thanks chief, will do.”
Theo took his time coming down. In fact, the chief had already left before he realized he had not moved at all. But it was a beautiful sight from up here. Theo could see the silhouette of his town from far away as well as the mountains overlooking the town on the east. He often came up here to think about stuff, and to dream. He had found that it was always better to dream when he was high up like this. It somehow made his dreams seem a little more real.
He gazed at the sky, a burning fire in his eyes. One day, beyond those clouds, he would see what’s out there. Just like his father did. And he would return and tell everyone of his adventures. He would prove his father was not crazy for going out there. That there were things worth seeing.
If you can have wings, why would you prefer crawling through life? And yet, so many people are content with doing just that.
Not me, thought Theo, I’m going to…
What was that? Theo thought he saw a flash of blue light? Was it a shooting star? He looked closer and now he could definitely make out a blue spark falling down from the clouds. It grew brighter but denser as it fell, and he realized that it was going to land near him. He started following it, carefully moving across the pipes.
The light seemed to slow down as it got nearer and nearer. And then he saw it. It wasn’t just a light. It was a…
A girl. Floating from the sky. With a blue light and all. What in the world?
Theo moved swiftly across pipes until he reached solid ground. The girl was floating almost on top of him now. She looked like she was sleeping, her body resting in a horizontal position, moving slowly downwards. Theo instinctively opened his arms, and as if in response, the girl’s body moved across and gently lowered itself into his arms. He could see the blue light was coming from a necklace she was wearing. And then, suddenly, it went out, and Theo could feel the full weight of her in his arms. He almost fell from the surprise but managed to regain his footing and place her on the ground.
“Hey, are you ok?”
She seemed unconscious. Theo placed his hand on her wrist and could feel a pulse. At least she was alive.
Great, a girl just fell from the sky into my arms, he thought. This day just keeps getting better and better.
“Is it done?”
“Yes my lord.”
“Did you get rid of the body?”
“No need. She fell from the edge.”
“What? So you didn’t see her die?”
“Lord, there is no way she could have survived the fall.”
“You idiot! We cannot leave anything up to chance. The future of our civilization is at stake! Go find her body and bring me proof that she is dead.”
“As you wish my lord.”