It has been a certain interval, dear reader, since I first had the opportunity to speak to you of the magical land of rainbows above the world and the shadowed city that succeeded it. Of how it came to pass that a certain girl, born in shadows and dwelling in shadows, became the rainbow; how she challenged the notorious Nihilism Bear; and, in the end, defeated him. Later, and after the receipt of certain despatches and messages, I was able to speak to you further: of how she sought out Mr. Dismal, whom she falsely suspected of responsibility for her various plights, and, in The Case of Mr. Dismal, made an end to him. But we still did not know the why of it all—whose will it had been that had set itself against the rainbow; that had brought Mr. Dismal to that land; that had dulled the kingdom of every brightness into Shadow City’s noir.
Lately, some of my friends have been struggling. They’re trying to do something good, something amazing, something cool, but they’re working for and with people who’d really much rather it came out a product. There is a corrupt religion of money over worth that has seeded itself in the modern business world; and people I care about, dear reader, are being ground down by the faithful of that religion; by the Mythos cultists of this modern era who would never have believed, who couldn’t have believed, that a place like Shadow City ever had color in it at all.
And I thought, maybe, for them, as a Christmas present; and for you, as a Christmas present—
Even though it wouldn’t help them any, and even though it wouldn’t mean that my dear readers would hear regular tales from me again—
that I would look into the matter a bit. That I would find out a bit more about the thing that turns rainbows into shadows, and ask what kind of answer rainbows make.
Without further ado, and with the hopes that all who read this will trust their hearts and live in brightness, the conclusion and the beginning of a story that started long ago.
Rainbow Noir: The Mountains and the Sky
The girl rides the horse through the sky. It’s the most wonderful and marvelous thing. It’s the most wonderful and marvelous thing, and underneath them there are endless miles of cold air.
Beneath that are the mountains, which we shall name Gray Death.
Her name—the girl’s name, that is—is Wisp. She’s saved the universe once or twice. She’s the kind who you just have to point and shoot, basically, and the universe gets saved. That’s what she is, and why she is, and why there have to be girls like her.
As for the horse—
As for the horse’s name—
There’s an ice crystal bigger than the world. There’s an endless distance, and space. There’s a great and brooding thought that presides over it all,
Like God had forgotten color, hope, and light—
And we could call that “I Am,” or “the All,” or “The Lord that Dwells in Starlight.”
But the horse itself, it doesn’t really have a name.
It’s the most marvelous horse there ever was. A horse like that doesn’t really need its own name. Who could you confuse it with?
It’s just, you know, the horse.
People laugh, talking about magical sky horses and rainbows, sure, they laugh, but if you saw it there, its feet pounding against the nothingness, endless miles of cold air below and below that, Death—
You wouldn’t laugh.
You’d just think, in that moment, that it was the most marvelous and warm and most incredible thing you ever saw.
One day, one day, once upon a time, the girl fell off that horse. She screamed. She’s very brave, but even a brave person can scream when you’re falling and the sky is rushing up around you and there’s only Death below. She screamed, and the world around her burned with its blues and its purples and its brightness, and her life flashed before her eyes in a series of twenty-minute shorts that in the end didn’t add up to very much—
And that time, he saved her.
That time, as she spun and fell and rainbows curled and twisted through the vastness of the void around her, the horse came down and lunged and caught her with his teeth and snapped her away from the touch of great Gray Death, and pulled her up and she twisted and she flung her hands around his neck and she sank her face into his mane and laughed.
She really did! Even with the awkward angles of it all.
She could, and did, climb up onto his neck and back, because there really isn’t very much gravity when you’re falling, and at that particular moment in time they weren’t really quite done with the falling part of their precipitous descent and back to the flying that the two of them were about to do.
The second time, though, the second time, he didn’t save her when she fell.
With her eyes, she asked!
But the second time, when she found herself falling, and the sky was everywhere around her in its blues and purples fading into the shadows of darkness, and grayness was reaching up from the ground as if to seize her up and drown her and shatter her like a teardrop on the stone, the horse, it just stood back.
The ice is bigger than the world, and twice as far as anything.
Her name was Wisp, back then as now, but nobody called her that. Everyone called her things like “the rainbow,” “the rainbow girl,” or “hope.”
She was the one charged with the preservation of love and hope and beauty and power and magic. She was the one responsible for providing all the things that people need to have within their lives, in a world that is sometimes very dark. And the mechanism of this charge was color.
She would find places that were dark and colorless, in the world, in people’s lives, in people’s hearts.
She would walk among the gray shadows and get the feel of them.
Then she would bring the rainbow.
There are a billion places in the worlds that are that needed her special touch. A billion, or even more; so it’s not too surprising that grayness still endures. It took her time to find each spot of darkness. It took her time to find it, and know it, and see its antidote, and make an end to it. It took her time, and there were so many different shadows that needed her to give to them that time.
It probably makes a billion look small, really, the number of those shadows, if you actually could count each of them, and give each one its name. It’s probably laughable to imagine that it’s just a billion, like saying, “well, millipedes have at least one leg”—
But a billion, at least.
So that’s why it took her a while to see what had happened down on Earth.
That’s why she missed the whole of World War I. She was in a flower garden, where the insects had corroded beauty. She was in the Crab Nebula, where monsters were threatening a noble Prince. She was in Kansas, helping a lost child, and in the oceans, healing a dolphin’s heart.
She was polishing one of the stars in the endless sky when the trenches cut the world.
She was in the kingdom of the cats.
She was fixing a broken mountain.
She was painting a butterfly when the Nazis came to power. She was painting a butterfly with vibrant colors, because the butterfly had gone gray.
And she might have missed it;
She might have missed it all;
Save that butterflies can only wear so much paint before their wings will cease to fly. There are only so many stars that lose their glitter. There are only so many monsters, though they spawn eccentrically and at random intervals throughout the cosmos and its worlds; so many broken mountains; so many cats that have never ever been fed.
Before the end of the war—before it had even really gotten started—she saw it. She saw what we were doing. She saw what we had done.
She saw it, and said:
“Here is a darkness. Here are gray shadows. I will walk among them and I will find their antidote, and I will bring the rainbow.”
And tears were falling from her face, great rivers of tears, and breaking on the ground.
“And not just here,” she said.
The war to end all wars, well, hadn’t. But she decided, there and then.
“I will heal this thing,” she said. “I will bring an end to wars.”
Underneath the girl and the horse are endless miles of ice-cold air.
Right now, as you’re reading this story, the horse and the girl are falling. They are a comet. They are a meteor. They are a dying, broken, tumbling leaf, a teardrop, a rainbow chunk of ice and fire, and they are falling towards Gray Death below.
“It’s impossible,” said the horse. “Even for someone like you. Even for someone like me. It’s impossible, rainbow girl, that we could bring an end to war.”
“It’s my quest,” she said.
“It’s wrong,” said Terrence. He was her sprite. “It’s wrong. It’ll destroy us. They’ll find us, if we try to end their wars. They’ll hunt us down. They’ll take Rainbow Land away, make it theirs, make it a part of their earthly kingdom, where only shadows rule.”
“But it’s my quest,” the girl said. “I have to heal this thing. I have to guard the beauty that the people of the Earth deny. I have to make them stop killing each other,
and so cruelly!”
But, oh! The sky was fading.
It was twilight in the rainbow kingdom, the sun was falling to the west, and the horse looked up.
“It will have to wait for morning,” the marvelous horse said. “Dear. You can’t do it today. You can’t do it now. You can’t stop people from fighting wars, forever, if you haven’t gotten any sleep.”
“That’s so,” conceded the girl.
So she went to bed.
She went to bed, to let Earth wait just one last troubled night.
And while she slept there were doings in the darkness, and gatherings, and quiet acts of diplomacy and treason; and when she woke, her people did not sing to her, as they had always done, when Rainbow Land was bright.
Rather than sing, instead, they gathered around her, and their voices, they were low.
“We shall show you,” said Terrence.
She looked at him.
“We shall show you,” said Terrence, “why it is that you cannot save the world.”
And they took her down into the depths of the palace, and through the hidden passages to the caves where her servants labored, cutting forth light and hope from the lifeless stone, and to the Great Machine that had made her.
And she said, “It’s made of ice.”
She touched it with her hand.
She said, as if in a trance, “There is a place, so very far from here! And a flake of ice, and oh, it is so very bigger than the world! And God—”
But the horse was brusque.
It bumped her in the back with its nose and made her turn away, and said, “This is where we made you, to save us, to be a girl from nothing and make brightness in our land. We cut you out of ice and dolor and we brought you here, from nothing, to nothing, and filled your heart with fanciful lies. Like, ‘you are charged to save us, wielding light.’ Like, ‘you were made to fill our land with beauty.’”
And she remembered—oh, she remembered, and of a sudden!—how she’d come into existence and out of nothingness as if formed off some great crystal made of ice, and curled about herself in some strange womb, and dreamt of foreign colors as shaved fragments sprinkled by.
She remembered how she’d dreamed, oh! such dreams! of something brighter than the endless hungry void. How she’d conceived a sudden brilliant conception, in that womb of ice, of what the murky and dismal land some call “the world” could be.
And how it had seemed to her that a lady made of light had spoken, had said, “Wisp, will you go forth from this place to my land, my dismal land, that dwells under the hand of shadows, and make it bright?”
The sprites looked down.
In the shadow of the Great Machine, the echo of the work of ice that lives beyond the world, they could not speak; save for Terrence, who cleared his throat, and said:
“You were our doll, lady Wisp. You were our toy. And we are grateful to you, for that you were bright and brilliant and rainbows. But you must not think you are a person. You must not think you are a living girl with breath and heart and hope and rainbows, who can stand against our purpose and our decision, and bring chaos to the land.”
The breath left her.
It was as if he had punched her in the stomach, and all she could breathe in was chunks of ice.
“We had to make you,” he said. “But not the rainbow girl. The rainbow girl was fantasy. You are just a flake of snow.”
She was falling.
She was falling.
The sky was rushing up around her, and she could not breathe, and there was gray and black and white jittering before her eyes, and she could not find the ground.
She clenched around the emptiness in her heart, fell gasping, Gray Death opening below, and cast a glance, a single glance, up at the horse.
He was marvelous, that horse.
He was a wonder.
He caught her, once, when she was falling from the sky, when she was plummeting and she thought that she would die. He caught her, and lifted her up, and brought her back to warmth and hope.
Once, but not again.
As she falls into herself, as she goes black and white, not even gray, within her heart and body, the horse, he does not save her. The horse, he looks away.
And it all spirals away from her, leaving her empty of the rainbow, leaving her cold—
Except that’s wrong.
That isn’t now.
She isn’t falling into herself, now. She isn’t on the floor of a cave under the rainbow kingdom, desperate with pain, broken by impossibilities.
That isn’t now.
That was a very long time ago.
Now, right now, she is in a very real sky, and hope and truth have found her once again, and she is falling.
She is falling because her horse has broken its leg.
Her marvelous flying horse has broken its leg against a stream of ice, and so of course it cannot fly.
As has been told before, the girl who fell became the rainbow once again. She’d been needed. It wasn’t OK, any more, to leave her in her cold sense of soullessness.
A soulless girl couldn’t have saved the world from the death that had been coming.
As has been told before, once she’d been made whole again, she’d refused to transform back.
That just because people told her she wasn’t a person, just because they’d shown her the womb of ice from which she’d come, and said, “Look, this is how we made you, this is why we made you, can’t you see that’s not how a person’s born?”—
That such a thing can’t end the meanings that lived inside her heart.
She’d spent years and years amongst the grayness there, and had found an end to shadows.
And now she is falling.
She’d gone to the man she’d thought had been behind it all—
A murky, dismal man; a man who had always sought to purge the colors from the world—
And she’d thought that she could save him. That the goddess she’d become, that the endless seven-colored power she had birthed in herself, that the girl named Wisp and sometimes Rainbow would be able to save him from his misery and show him the wonder that was color, light, and hope.
She’d tried, anyway.
And maybe she’d succeeded, in a way.
But it hadn’t done him any good, or her, as has been told; because, in the end, he wasn’t the villain of the piece.
He wasn’t the villain.
He was a villain, but not the villain, just another murky, dismal little man gone lost in shadows. In the end, all the light could buy for him was a single moment of forgiveness.
The villain, if there was a villain, was a thing of ice and distance.
It was something cold and far and cruel.
It whispered this of others: that
“They are not real.”
It was God, perhaps, or a horse, perhaps, or a snowflake larger than the world; and it hung beyond all world and sound, and brooded, saying:
“What there is, there is of me: there is the light I cast, there is the world of my imagining, there are the dreams I dream and the shadows I have made; and nothing else is real.”
And if it thinks that it is the only reality, the only beauty, the only justice, the only right, then it has, perhaps, an excuse of sorts, for it is not merely cold, and it is not merely ice, this king of shadows and winter that dwells beyond the world.
It is beautiful.
It is beautiful, and it is endless, and it is marvelous, and it sheds forth every beauty; and the rainbow is refracted through that ice; and the world is made from the waters when it melts, and the dirt that it sheds, and the light and shadows it casts forth.
It is self-contained.
It is self-complete.
And yet, in some contingency of motion, it has sent forth its avatar, its child, its element to us within the world, and with a spirit of great mercy. It has sent a piece of itself, an image of itself, a mirror of its icy vastness, to be the most marvelous thing, to live in the dreary world of its creation, to redeem it through the presence of the horse.
It has sacrificed for us, the most terrible and deadly sacrifice; it has chosen to become involved.
It is the pinnacle, is it not, the horse?
Is it not the most marvelous thing in all the world?
And did it not already risk itself—risk its perfection-in-itself, daring unimaginably—to descend beneath the darkness of the world and find a part of itself that dreamt of rainbows, and make a girl of it, and shelter her, and raise her against the darkness like a spear, and teach her the power of the rainbow?
So if it thinks it is the only truth; if it thinks it is the only right; if it thinks there is no justice, that is not the justice of the horse; if it thinks there is no beauty, that is not the beauty of the ice; if it thinks that in the end there are nothing but its shadows and its dreams, then it has an excuse of sorts, for in a very real way it is the author of us all, or at the very least its agent and its representative, the mirror-horse of God—
Most marvelous thing in all the worlds that are, and the brightest, and the best.
And so she came, at the end of her journey, the rainbow girl, to the field of grass and flowers at the center of the city, to the last remaining place of color and brightness (before the rainbow had returned), where the horse still lived, and danced, and woke up in the morning to laugh and play and sing; and to turn its eyes on her as she walked up, it seemed, and say, “Oh, Wisp, you have become my rainbow once again.”
And she knew.
His voice was guileless, as it had always been, as if he knew nothing in the world save love for others and self-praise.
His voice was guileless, but still she knew.
In the center of the crumbled world, in that little piece of paradise, he frolicked, and he looked at her with eyes that made her melt, possessed her with a girlhood that overcame the goddess in her, loved her still, with brightness still they shone, and still she knew.
She touched his mouth.
She swung herself up on his back.
She said, “Oh, my love, you have not forgotten me.”
But she knew what he had done.
They rose into the sky, didn’t they? They flew; or ran, at least, on the rainbow once again. They galloped out over blue skies and high above Gray Death.
She knew he meant to throw her.
“It was your lie,” she told him. “Wasn’t it?”
Right into his ear; which flicked, of course, as if to cast a fly away.
And on they rode in silence, far above the world.
It made her breathless with joy and pain.
“It was your idea,” she said, “to show me the Machine that gave me birth; and to tell me, ‘you are just a doll we made from snow, oh Wisp. You are just a toy. Just a toy, and not a person after all.’”
“It was,” said the horse.
The horse’s shoulders rolled. It said: “You are.”
Its voice was distant ice and starlight and it was pale against the sky.
“What else could you be,” mused the horse, “than a reflection of Myself? What else is there to be, than light against the ice? So I realized, when you brought trouble to my heart. That you are the rainbow, or a girl, or a thing I made, or a thing I loved, but in the end, still, you are just a toy, and of my crafting, like all the shining world.”
She wept for him.
“And so,” said the horse, “I tore you down; and buried you in darkness; and then, for reasons elusive even to myself, I must have set you free.”
She wept for him.
She clung to him and wept for him, knowing that he meant to throw her, because he was the most marvelous horse in the world, and yet—
“You do not know,” she said.
And her voice was seven-toned, like the rainbow; and the tears that flowed from her were as a stream of ice; and he meant to throw her, he really did, but it went wrong, he went wrongfooted, and if you were to find a thing to blame for it, you might say, he slipped or struck his leg upon her tears.
And his perfection was distorted.
And his gait was broken.
And suddenly, because a horse can’t exactly fly if it has a broken leg, he fell.
It struck him as ironic that he would not have to throw her; that he was freed, in the end, of the need to cast her from his back to fall screaming to Gray Death. He would fall, and that would be an end to things. He would die, and the world would end, and nevermore a rainbow to trouble him or make turmoil of his heart.
Right now, dear reader.
Right now, they fall—
Right now, as you’re reading this story, the horse and the girl are falling, spiraling down through endless sky, with Gray Death looming up below.
And because he is a horse of courage, after all, even maimed and broken, he opens one pure and perfect eye.
She is not falling.
It is terribly unfair.
She is not falling.
She is, instead, laying down with a hand outstretched—oh, moving downwards fast enough, and technically perhaps that counts as ‘she is falling,’ but she is descending as a skydiver descends, or a stooping bird, not as a mortal plummeting to her death—
Laying on the rainbow, outstretched beside him in the sky.
Unfairly, she is reaching for him, supported by the rainbow, calling out over and over again for him to live—
He squinches closed both eyes.
The world moves far away, then farther, then farther again, until even Wisp seems to him twice as distant as the sky.
Ice closes about him, and rainbows.
“I’ve broken my leg, you foolish girl,” he says, and casts aside her power, and lets the wind and shadows carry him downwards to his grave.
Down to the world below.
And there is a moment where the ice shatters, as he strikes against Gray Death.
There is a moment where the shadows seem to boil and drain away, plunging down through the jagged edges of the mountains to drown some other land.
There is a pure and crystal darkness, and finally, a light.
The rainbow hits the mountains, dances about them for a moment amidst a rain of ice, strives as rainbows strive to lift the broken and the dead.
And then, it flies away.
unknown authorship; part of the “Rainbow Collection” of documents assembled during Congress’ 1954 investigation into various Un-American Activities on the part of Un-American Activities Bear.