Authors: Jamie Rowboat
Tags: #Fiction Young Adults
"I very much doubt it, normal is a thing of the past for me," said Marie, propping herself up on her elbows. Gemma laughed and sat down next door to her.
"Are you warm enough?" asked Gemma, gently.
"We eagles don't feel the cold, didn't you know," said Marie, quietly.
"Oh, so you flew did you? That's very interesting. Hmm, in your first meditation, that's quite something, quite something," mused Gemma.
"Hello, I'm the one who's supposed to be drifty and strange here. Besides, you haven't heard the half of it. I haven't told you what I saw," said Marie.
"What did you say?" exclaimed Gemma, snapping out of her own thoughts.
"Ah, I thought that might get your attention."
"I'm sorry, my mind's just buzzing, it's so exciting, but you have my full attention now."
"I saw Charlie, I travelled across continents and seas and I finally landed in this tree beside a cottage in a woodland clearing. I looked through this window and saw Charlie, asleep in bed, he looked fine. Then it was strange, I was sitting in this beautiful flowering Magnolia, when this old man came out of the door. For some reason, I could only see his silhouette, but as he beckoned for me to come closer, I felt scared and I flew away. It was frustrating, he didn't seem sinister and I wanted to stay and see more."
"Don't worry, it's very hard to hold that trance space very long, but tell me more about what you did see."
"The cottage was set in a clearing in a forest full of amazing, silver-limbed trees. From what I could see through the window, which wasn't much, the place seemed friendly and warm. Charlie certainly looked very peaceful, but what can it mean? Was it some type of dream?".
"No, Marie, it was no dream, Charlie is with my brother Shamir. Somehow, his soul has been temporarily separated from his physical self," replied Gemma.
"That's terrible, how can that be possible?"
"There is a lot that we don't know about people in comas, many who have survived them come back with very interesting stories. If you look at it from another perspective, at least we know what's going on and the scenario is packed full of overwhelming coincidence, is it not?"
"I know, it's just a lot to take on," said Marie, timidly.
"If Charlie is in the valley, then he is there for a reason and, believe me, he can come back safely and uninjured. But now, please, can you tell me more about your experience? Any information could be very useful."
Marie closed her eyes and slowly began to recall the whole extraordinary experience in minute detail. Something had changed irrevocably within Marie, she had been given a jewel of truth to cherish that could not be touched by the outside world. She felt strong and the knowledge that Charlie was okay excited her enormously. Marie didn't understand how Charlie could be in two places at once, but she knew it was him and not just a vision.
"Are you okay?" Marie asked, tentatively.
"Yes, I'm fine. The extraordinary synchronicity of this story is just a lot to handle at once, that's all."
"It's frankly mind-boggling, but what do you think it's all about?"
"I really don't know, but I can tell you that no outsider has survived the journey there before in this way. It must be a very important time if Charlie has made that transition successfully and you are the key to his successful return," said Gemma, with a smile.
"But why would that be the case? I'm not very experienced in the world of cosmic transportation," said Marie, flashing her wild almond eyes at Gemma.
"Because, not to put too fine a point on it, he loves you. He loves you in a way that will inspire his actions. His feelings for you will be a strong bridge to the outside world."
"But, what about his family? He's very close to them. What if I don't want the responsibility of being a bridge?"
"Marie, Marie," said Gemma, taking her gently by the hands. "You're not being asked to do anything. There is no responsibility being put on your shoulders, and yes, of course he loves his family, but answer me this, how do you really feel about him?"
"I love him so much it frightens me," she said, bowing her head slightly. "When I'm around him, he makes me feel like no one else can. I feel that life has cheated me in some way and that I've met him when we are both too young."
"Oh, Marie, you shouldn't think like that," said Gemma, hugging her. "Love can start at any age and go on for lifetimes. But come on now, you look cold again and I know I'm freezing."
"Can we leave here now?" asked Marie.
"That's just what I was leading to, I'll just gather our stuff together and say goodbye to this grand tree, then we'll be off," Gemma replied.
"That sounds good to me, but I'd like to say goodbye as well. Will you show me how it's done?"
So, they both approached the huge old tree in the same way they had done before. As Marie touched it with her palms and cheek, she felt the cold lift from her, as a surge of warmth came up through the tree.
"Thank you, I promise I will come back sometime," she said, quietly.
As they began their walk home it began to rain, so by the time they reached the cottage they were soaking wet. They decided to load up the ute and head home, as there was no more dry wood at the cottage and they were both longing to get warm. By the time they reached the nursery, it was about two in the afternoon, so after a hot shower and a quick bowl of canned tomato soup, Gemma staggered off to her bed for a nap. Marie knew she would have to face her Mum sometime, but she was far too tired to consider it for now, so she flicked on the TV. It didn't take long for her to fall asleep in front of an old black and white Norman Wisdom movie on the BBC.
Charlie slept well for most of the night, but just before dawn he snapped out of a terrifying dream. No matter how he tried, he couldn't shake the thoughts that beleaguered him. Shamir was still fast asleep, Charlie could hear him snoring like a Trojan across the other side of the room. Instead of lying there, he decided to go for a walk, but it was still dark when he left the cabin and a thick mist lay across the whole clearing. Even Gulliver had shown no interest in going with him. He raised his head slightly on hearing Charlie moving about, but made no attempt to get up from his warm bed when Charlie headed for the door.
For a while, he stumbled along, getting his bearings and allowing his eyes to adjust to the lack of light. He decided to follow a path that led into the forest from behind the cottage garden, he'd noticed it when working the day before and he'd thought it looked intriguing. He knew that dawn wasn't far away, so he wandered along the mossy path, trying to make shapes out of his exhaled breath. The foliage was dense on both sides and huge ferns dangled their saturated fronds from their vantage points high on the sides of the path, which descended quite quickly into the heart of the forest. Charlie enjoyed the adventure of the exploration, although he was relieved to see the first hints of light in the sky that would soon make walking easier, as the path was eerily dark. The forest smelt beautiful to him, with the coolness of the night still lingering in every breath and it reminded him of the dawn fishing trips he'd made with his dad. They would sit quietly on the bank of a local trout stream with nothing to keep them company, except for the smells and sounds of nature waking up. For a while, he wandered along, daydreaming quite happily, then, for no apparent reason, he started to think about Marie. His palms began to sweat and he soon became quite distressed, as the clarity of the image intensified in his mind. After a while he could see her quite clearly, lying sleeping under a woollen blanket, with Gemma sitting just beside her. The vision felt so real, he wanted to look away to find some relief. He wished with all his heart that he could reach across the void between them.
"Marie, it's me Charlie," but she couldn't hear him. "MARIE, IT'S ME, CHARLIE," he screamed in vain. But before he knew it, the vision began to disappear. He clasped for it with his hands, but as his brain cleared and the picture completely vanished, he realised that he had no idea where he was. It was no longer completely dark, but this made little difference, his mind was reeling with thoughts of kissing Marie and he was almost delirious. Finally, after months of having a cramped stomach through yearning, he knew she wanted to be his girlfriend and the joy of it had been overwhelming. But now, that had been taken away from him and the grief of it was too much to handle on top of everything else.
"Oh Christ," he said, slumping down onto the wet path and looking around. "Now I'm bloody lost, you idiot," he berated himself.
In the time he'd been plagued by the vision of Marie, the soft pre-dawn light had arrived, but it was hardly visible through the thick understorey of ferns and wide-leafed palms. The dark-barked trees in this part of the forest were very different from their karri cousins. Their skin was rough and craggy unlike the shining armour of the karris and somehow the air amongst them seemed clammy.
Charlie sat down at the side of the path to gather his thoughts. He looked down the path in both directions, but the view was unfamiliar to him. He really had no idea how long he had been stumbling around for and how far he had gone off track.
"If I could just still my mind, I could ask one of these trees the way home," he chuckled nervously. "Oh shut up, Charlie, you're going mad."
"No, that sounds like a good idea to me," said a voice.
"Who said that?" he said, jumping to his feet.
"You were just sitting on my exposed roots," said the voice.
"What? But I can't speak to trees," replied Charlie, looking around.
"Well, apparently you do and quite naturally," replied the tree.
"I'm sorry," said Charlie, turning around to face the tree. "It's just I'm new to this type of thing and I can't help feeling that I am just going bonkers."
"An understandable reaction, but I would point out that you are not entirely new to it, we were all amazed at your first attempt to talk to those seedlings yesterday."
"You heard about that?"
"Of course. The news of it was all over the valley last night. My young friend, your arrival here carries great importance and the fact that you can understand us so easily is clearly a message. You see, Charlie, nature has a language that is understood by every species. They all have their own dialects, but trees translate this myriad of information into a simplified language that everyone can understand. Humans can hear our language, but only if they clear their mind of fear by learning how to meditate. This valley is an easier place to learn the language, as there are no influences to interrupt its flow."
"Oh," said Charlie.
"You have stumbled into the area of the forest that is the elfin place of initiation. The young elves come here to learn the art of the natural language. The trees of this area do not have the fine appearance of our karri cousins, but we are powerful in the ways of magic. So it is most appropriate that you are here now, as you learn the ways of this place. We are the teachers of nature's language and I might say that you surprise me with the ease with which you are picking it up. You are a lot quicker than some of my young elfin students who find it hard to concentrate for more than a few moments."
"Don't the elves speak the language naturally?" asked Charlie.
"Mm, I can see why you would think so, but they have a dialect of their own. But like your language, the elfin one has drifted away from its origins. To hear what nature is saying, you must be in a state of listening and elves have to learn that as much as humans."
"So, when the young elves come here, how do they learn?"
"We talk to them much as I am with you. We recite the history of the valley and then see how much they can remember. It's simple, but effective," replied the tree.
"Mm, why don't you do the same with me as I'm here, then you can give me some directions back to Shamir's place. It'll be light by then anyway and easier for me to see, presuming you don't go on all day like Mr. Erickson," said Charlie, grimacing. "And before you ask, he's a teacher back home."
"Oh, well I shall be careful to give you the short version," shimmered the tree. "In the very beginning, there were virtually no trees here, just the river that falls over the great escarpment, down through the endless, lush grasslands and finally onto the sea in the East. A massive landslide formed a horseshoe-shaped depression that was two hundred metres lower than the grasslands. The U-shaped valley it created was surrounded on three sides by a great wall of rock and the river gushed over its edge in a vibrant waterfall. Even before they could create the magic to make it invisible, the valley was impossible to see until you were right on top of it. From every direction, the grasslands appeared to extend on beyond the horizon."
"I see," said Charlie nodding.
"It was the perfect location: it had unlimited water, it was North-facing and it was incredibly isolated. The group that arrived here consisted of the wizard Kasmir, Shamir, Gemma, and the seven elves led by Kanook. They built the cottage where you are now staying and, from there, began the work of creating the valley garden. They planted the majority of the saplings they had brought with them and used the rest as cuttings that they then propagated."
"So, were you here from the start?"
"Yes, I was, but I started my life here in the little greenhouse that they made from hand-blown glass. It's changed location once or twice, it's now in Shamir's cottage garden, I believe."
"Yes, that's right, I liked it there for some reason, I don't quite know why," said Charlie.
"Ah well, that is a very special place of magic my young friend. The whole valley is latent with the presence of natural magic, but if I had to pick a spot where it is strongest, Shamir's garden would be the place."
"Why's that?" asked Charlie, incredulously.
"Because he's there, of course. Don't be fooled by the age and gentleness of the wizard. Without Shamir's incredible strength of purpose and his extraordinary gift for natural magic, this sanctuary would never have come into being. Shamir took over the responsibility of the place at nineteen. His beloved Kasmir, who had been his mentor, died not that long after we arrived. He was devastated by his death and it meant that his sister, Gemma, was his only human support."
"You know I worked at Gemma's nursery, don't you?" asked Charlie.
"Yes, I had heard," sighed the tree.
"It's very funny, cosmically speaking," said Charlie grinning. The tree's leaves shook slightly, which Charlie took to be her laughter.
"The two of them were inseparable after Kasmir's death and, in the years that followed, Gemma flourished as a botanist here. Remember that the valley is about three and a half thousand hectares in size, so it was an enormous undertaking to develop and protect it. The old boy has plenty of magic in that bony body of his, I can tell you. His sister is gifted in the same way. I have watched her perform acts of healing that even the elves admired. However, you are leading me off the track. Now, what was it that I was saying?
"You were telling me about planting the first trees, but it really doesn't matter much, it's all new to me," said Charlie.
"Thank you, Charlie, yes, the planting. Well, each sapling was planted with a little scoop of elfin soil and nurtured in the loving way that elves have been practicing for aeons. The growth was phenomenal and, within a hundred years, the grand forest that you see now was already well-established."
"But how old is Shamir if he travelled here with the original party?"
"In human time, the valley was established in the sixteenth century. Which makes Shamir about four hundred-years-old, give or take a year or two. You see, Gemma and Shamir have been blessed with unusually long lives in order to complete a very special task. You and Marie are the start of a new chapter in that story and the proof of the existence of the valley is a new chapter in Earth's story."
"Ahh, no, leeches," interrupted Charlie, leeping off the ground, with three healthy black worms clinging to his feet. "Shit, shit, I hate them," he screeched, dancing around, as neat trickles of blood oozed from the wounds the little bloodsuckers had caused.
"Yes, the young elves seem to hate them as well, they don't live anywhere else you see," sighed the tree.
"I can see how they make you unpopular, they make me feel all creepy," said Charlie, dabbing away the blood with the sleeve of his shirt.
"You know, I think we might take that little interruption as a sign to stop the lesson. You've done remarkably well, but I think we shouldn't take it any further, don't you?"
"Yes, I'm cold and hungry to be honest. Shamir will be wondering where I am anyway," replied Charlie, shivering.
"I've already sent him word, but it's good you should think about him. He is a wise man, but having you here is stressful for him. Let's hope you can remember our language when you return to your land," said the tree.
"I hope so, it would make sense of the adventure, wouldn't it?" said Charlie, standing up and checking for any other unwanted hitchhikers.
"Yes, it would. Thank you for listening so attentively, maybe you could be tempted to visit me again," whispered the tree.
"Of course, I'll just remember to wear boots next time," answered Charlie, starting tentatively on a path heading East. "This is the right one, isn't it?" he said, pausing for a moment.
"Yes Charlie, it is. Goodbye and may you be supported in your adventure," it replied.
"Thank you, I hope so. I have been up until now. Goodbye, beautiful tree," he said, bowing in a way he'd seen Shamir do before.
"Very good, you are learning our ways," whispered the tree, watching Charlie march off in the direction of home.
"He did well, didn't he," said Ayou, appearing from one of the trees upper branches.
"Yes, better than you, if memory serves me correctly," answered the tree.
"I'll report back to my father," said Ayou, giggling as she ran off.