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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

…continued from “A Friend in the Grass”

And talk, they did.  They spoke of the land, called Phóghrian which means “kissed by the sun.”  They talked of King Ghrian, a royal descendant of the very Creator and namesake of their world.  He was kind, just, and beloved by all his subjects whom he treated more as children and friends than subordinates.  It was a very old world, Alita said.  A world much older than that which Kathryn was from and one that would be there long after hers expired.  Kathryn was so happy to be wandering the enchanted land that she barely noticed the toll the walk was taking on her.  Perhaps there, even the ground was kind-hearted and soft as to provide gentle passage to all travelers.

When they reached the forest edge, Alita took in a deep breath conveying sheer glee to Kathryn.  Before she could ask, Alita turned to say, “this is one of my most favorite places in all of Phóghrian.  I’m so excited to share it with you!”  Kathryn smiled as her heart filled with warmth.  Something in Alita’s tone assured her that she was sincerely welcomed and enjoyed as a traveling companion.  It seemed so odd given that they’d known each other less than 24 hours, but she felt secure in this new friendship.  “I’m happy too,” she genuinely replied.

They were barely twenty yards into the wood when it became obvious why it was called the Forest of Lights.  The trees were tall, thick, and deeply green.  They created miles and miles of canopied paradise, offering shade to all the creatures within it.  Despite the thick covering, the emerald-colored leaves were positioned in such a way that millions of tiny sunrays streamed through to kiss the ground below.  In being so far above her, the forest ceiling mimicked the gleam of stars in the midnight sky though formed by sun and trees.  It was breathtaking.

As they traveled, Alita shared some of her story.  She’d come from a long line of warriors.  Her family lived on the other side of the large Kingdom, but she was called to serve in the King’s palace.  She missed her parents and siblings terribly, but reunited with them in the very meeting place where she’d met Kathryn.  She loved being near the King.  She praised his character and kindness with honest exuberance.  The closer she was to him, she explained, the more complete she felt.

“Alita,” Kathryn asked, “do you hear that?”  Kathryn hated to interrupt such lovely stories, but she couldn’t contain her curiosity any longer.  Ever since they’d entered the forest, she’d heard whisperings all around.  However, every time she looked, she saw no one.  At this point, she knew to expect mystery and magic, but she couldn’t stand not knowing what she was hearing.

“Oh! You hear the trees, don’t you? My goodness, I’d gotten so caught up—I do that a lot—that I completely forgot to tell you. The trees are alive as you and I, and they’re chattering is because of you.”
“They can tell I’m not from here, huh?”
“Well, yes, that’s true,” she replied with a chuckle, “but that’s not why they’re talking. They’re excited. They’ve been excited to meet you ever since they heard you’d arrived.”
“I don’t believe that.” She lost control of her cynicism for the moment.
“Believe it, my friend, because it’s true. Come, let’s ask them.”
“No, we don’t have to—” she protested, but it was too late. Alita was determinedly marching towards a particularly tall redwood-like tree near the rough path.
“Excuse me, could we ask you something please?” Alita shouted towards the top.
“Absolutely!” replied a kindly, masculine voice.

Within seconds, the base of the tree began to shift with a mighty cracking sound, not unlike that of lightning striking a branch overhead.  She stared with gaping eyes as the figure of a seven-foot man emerged from the trunk, leaving his cut-out shape behind as he adjusted his neck and arms before them.  His skin was warm brown and oddly soft-looking, despite being composed of aged bark.  His long sage-toned hair of moss joined his long beard, alluding to great wisdom.  Vines covered his body like a tunic with decorative leaves and coils scattered about.  Stiffened by the unbelievable sight and a good measure of fear, Kathryn stood as a statue as he opened his mouth (how peculiar that he had a mouth!) to address them.  “What can I help you with?” he asked.

“Well,” replied Alita with unshakeable confidence, “Kathryn was wondering what exactly you have been talking about.”
“Kathryn? That’s a nice name,” he acknowledged as he crouched to look the newcomer in the eye. “Well, Kathryn, we’re talking about you. We’d heard that the King was calling for someone from your world. Since then, we’ve been looking forward to seeing the one whom he would call so specifically. It’s quite an honor, you know.”
“I imagine,” she stammered respectfully, finally drumming up the courage to speak.
“We’re all so glad you’ve come. Clearly, the King has something very special in store for you. We can’t wait to find out what it is.”
“We were also saying how lovely you are,” chimed in a feminine voice nearby, as a tall lady with long hair in a mossy gown emerged.
“Oh, um, thank you?” Kathryn replied, full of disbelief.
“It’s true! You’re like a tiny, golden-haired flower,” she reassured with a sincere, beaming smile as the fellow near them nodded in agreement.
Kathryn blushed as she thanked them with more confidence.
“You see! I told you!” Alita proudly stated, “You’re a lot more special than you realize.”
Kathryn was about to reply with defensive sarcasm when Alita intercepted to say, “Well, we have to be going.  We’ve still got another three hours to go, at the least.”

The tree people wished them well as they pressed on through the forest, grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Kathryn’s journey to the King.  With each step onward, she grew quieter as she wondered what the King could possibly want from her.  A throbbing nervousness settled in her heart as a result.  Like an internal anvil, this feeling plummeted to her stomach as they reached the end of the great forest and they stopped to take in the view of the grand Golden Mountains, drenched in evening sunlight.

“In about an hour, you’re going to meet him,” spoke her wildcat companion with delight. “Are you ready?”
Kathryn heaved a weighty sigh and replied with extreme honesty, “not even a little.”
Alita heartily laughed at her friend’s response as they proceeded into the narrow valley before them.

to be continued…

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continued from The Flight of the Asteruffs

As she lay unconscious in the grass, she floated into a dreamland where she was soaring to the heavens alongside the Asteruffs.  It was blissful and free of worry as she flew further into the night with her fluffy friends who, one by one, were transforming into vibrant diamonds.  She was getting carried away by their song when suddenly, she snapped into complete consciousness and became fearful, remembering where she was and what sent her to sleep in the first place.

She shot up and looked around in a panic, wondering where the tigress was.  To her bewilderment, she found the beast sleeping right next to her own grassy imprint.  Her heart in her stomach, she decided to make a break for it.  Despite being a gym-class failure, she hoped that she could run fast enough, find the door, and leave the strange world with its lighted plants and talking predators.  She crept away, ready to bolt once she had a solid head start.  What was the right way to run away from a tiger anyway?

“You know, I could’ve easily killed you hours ago if that were my plan,” stated the tigress.
Kathryn stiffened in terror, then paused to acknowledge the truth in that statement.
“So, what is your plan then?” she asked curiously.
“That is a great question, which I promise to answer soon. However, it’s about three o’clock in the morning. Would it be at all possible for you to go back to sleep? We have a long walk ahead of us tomorrow and it would do us both good to be well-rested.”

Though her mind was wild with confusion, curiosity, and lingering fright, she had to admit her intense fatigue.  Quite frankly, she was always tired and felt like she hadn’t been well-rested in what seemed to be years.

“So, just to be clear, you’re not going to kill and eat me?” she asked with a nervous chuckle.
“Not unless you’re secretly a funny-looking, land-roaming fish. I’m a pescatarian. Now please, go back to sleep.”
Kathryn smiled at the tigress’ humor. For reasons she couldn’t list, she trusted her. She curled up next to the large cat, who now seemed to be just that, and felt herself euphorically fall into a deep, perfect sleep to the lullaby of her new friend’s powerful purring.

All too soon, she woke to the morning sun blazing brightly in the sky above.  She rose from the dew-covered meadow, breathing in the new day in the strange land.  Sensing the movement beside her, the tigress also woke and stretched just like a tabby on window sill to prepare for the day.

“Good morning, Kathryn,” smiled the tigress as she washed her face in housecat-like fashion.
“Morning, uh… what is your name?”
“Oh, how silly of me! My name is Alita. I’ll be your guide while you’re here.”
“Pleased to meet you, Alita. If you’re my guide, then that means we going somewhere?”
“Yes, of course. You can’t stay in this place the whole time.”
“Why not?” she asked sadly. “I feel like I could stay here for all eternity.”
“I know it’s beautiful here, but it’s only a meeting place. Besides, the King is expecting you.”
“There’s a King somewhere?” Maybe she really had fallen into one of her favorite novels.
“Indeed there is, and a wonderful one at that. His castle is nestled between the Golden Mountains to the east, just beyond the Forest of Lights. He’s the one that sent for you.”
“He sent for me? Why me?” she asked, acutely aware of her faults.
“I’ll let you ask him that. Now, let’s get moving. It’s about a five-hour walk and we can talk more on the way.”

To be continued…

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continued from The Song in the Meadow

“OH! You’re here! We so hoped you’d make it in time!” the elated creature exclaimed.
The surprise of being directly addressed knocked her on her rear as she stammered a reply, “Oh…I, I’m sorry. Wait—in time for what? You knew I was coming?”
“Everyone knows that,” it confirmed.
“Oh, you’ll just love it,” another beamed as many started to acknowledge her excitedly. “Tonight is the night when we move on. “
“All of you?” she implored as she gazed at the vast population before her.
“Every last one of us,” chimed a surprising baritone.
“Where are you going?”
“Up there!” said a buzzing soprano voice.
Kathryn looked up reflexively, but saw nothing but the many diamond-like stars nestled in their deep blue backdrop.
“Up there? There’s nothing up there but the sky and stars.”
“Exactly!” They were all aflutter at this point.
Confused by what she was hearing and seeing, she asked, “would you mind, I mean…could I ask…what are you?”
“Why, we’re Asteruffs. We’re star seeds,” replied the original greeter.
“You mean to tell me that you’re all going to become stars tonight? Does that mean all of the stars above us were once Asteruffs?”
“Oh yes. It’s been that way since this world was created.”

She was filled with skepticism—something she had far too much of—but wanted to believe the little creatures. After all, why would they lie? It’s just that, in her world, stars were huge burning masses of gas, not tiny funny-looking seedlings. As her feelings threatened to ruin the beauty of the otherwise magical moment, a strong and wise voice resounded from behind her to address her doubt.

“I know, Kathryn. These unassuming Asteruffs look far more like the weeds of your world than wondrous pieces of the galaxies, but its different here. The Creator loves humble beginnings that lead to glorious endings. I know it’s hard to be believe, but in just a few minutes, you will bear witness to one such event.”

She was about to turn around to see the source of the voice (it seemed she might have to get used to mysterious voices,) when curiously on-cue, the wind roared from the West and headed towards the Asteruffs. Immediately, they were all set alight in response and Kathryn stood and was mesmerized by the field of sparkling luminaries before her. Swiftly, the wind arrived and uprooted the brightly-lit seedlings and whisked them into a whirlwind.

She laughed, lifted her arms, and began to twirl as the thousands of twinkling creatures danced around her and sang even more joyously than before. Time seemed to slow as she stood in the field, dancing with the Asteruffs as they made their ascent. She lingered in that moment as long as possible, overjoyed to be a part of their most magical moment, but all too soon she was waving “good-bye” as they flew higher and further away. By the next night, they’d be at home with the rest of the stars in that enchanted land. She sighed wistfully as she wished she could be as fortunate as them.

“Breathtaking, wasn’t it?” observed the voice from behind again.

Her throat thickened as she was reminded of the mysterious presence behind her. There was something intimidating about the voice, as if it came from a mighty speaker. Though distinctly feminine, it somehow didn’t seem human. She braced herself and turned slowly. Her jaw dropped and her eyes met the deep yellow eyes of someone she never expected. There, as sure as she stood, sat a majestic, amber tigress staring back, waiting for a response. She could only utter a squeak as the shock of such a formidable presence caused her to faint and fall into the lush grass below.

To be continued…

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…continued from “The Door in the Trees”

The fatigued groans of the old door gave way to the gentle songs of a cricket orchestra amid the wave-like ambiance of tall grasses in the perfect breeze.  The same breeze that turned the Autumn-hued meadow into a dancing sea surrounded her with sweet smells of wildflowers and crisp twilight air.  Her heart heaved a relieved though nervous sigh as she shut the door behind her to move further in.

She looked to the skies just in time to see the sun’s final curtsy as it graciously acknowledged the moon in their typical shift change.  The moon was unlike anything she’d ever seen.  It was gigantic to the point that it looked like it was sitting on top of the large mountain range in the distance, relying on their strength to keep it afloat.   Though brilliantly white, it was softened by a golden glow draped over it like a silk curtain.  As it rose, it replaced the pinks and oranges of dusk with clear, amber-hued tranquility over all the earth…or wherever she was.

She longed to close her eyes to breathe in the sounds, smells, and feelings more deeply, but she resisted, for fear of missing any of the sights in case it turned out to be nothing more than a delightful dream.  Instead, she drank in the awesome artistry of the Creator’s display around her.  Just when she thought it couldn’t be any more breathtaking, she began to hear the singing.  Nearly a whisper chorus at first, her heart thumped rapidly as the ethereal sound grew into a joyous overture in a language she’d never heard.

Looking around for the owners of such beautiful voices, she expected to see something magical.  It seemed like the type of place where one could have such expectations.  Her eagerness fell to bewilderment when she saw nothing but the illuminated valley basking in the lunar spotlight.  In an effort to satisfy her curiosity, she decided to take a few brave steps even further to embark on a small quest.

Following the continuously rising song, she climbed over a subtle hill and was stopped by the sight below it.  A large patch of formerly golden dandelions now turned to fluff was aglow in the moonlight.  For whatever reason, she knew she needed to see them more closely.  Besides, the song was definitely coming from that direction, so she’d have to walk by them anyway.  She walked cautiously toward them only to have her throat seize her breath as she reached the edge.  They were singing.  Somehow, in this enchanted land, the little things were alive and filling the skies with their stunning, mighty song.

She knelt down in the plush grass beside them, as they expressed no fear or surprise by her presence, and studied what she saw.  Unbelievably, she discovered a whole civilization of absurd-looking creatures with wild, silken hair and thin, stem-like bodies with no limbs.  They did, indeed, resemble dandelion seedlings, but were clearly nothing of the sort.  They looked more like crazy cartoon characters that had all styled their hair (if one could call it that) via electrocution.  She audibly chuckled as she marveled at their adorably silly appearance, when one bold creature suddenly stopped singing and greeted her heartily.

To be continued…

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…continued from “The Squire in the Road”

Knowing he was far ahead of her, she wasted no time in pushing through the thick brush at the entrance of the woods.  Fighting against her own mental resistance and that of strong armed, seldom-disturbed pines and maples, she made her way to a narrow path in the center.  She picked up the pace as to not lose sight of her guide, who continued to turn from several feet ahead to double-handedly wave her onward.

In what was turning into a long jaunt through a deceptively deep and dark wood, she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d hit her head and stumbled into a Lewis Carroll story.  Instead of a white rabbit with a waistcoat, she was following a mysterious nine-year-old who looked like he escaped from a Renaissance festival.  Did Alice ever question why she was compelled to follow a time-obsessed rodent in the first place, she wondered?  Did Alice wonder how she would explain her psychotic break to family and friends?

“Come quickly,” the boy urged.  She was quite far behind him now, but not far enough to miss his first words to her.  There was insistence in his demand, but no impatience.  It was like he knew she was questioning everything and wanted to keep her from retreating.  He then stopped and waited with encouraging eyes locked on hers.  Looking past him, she saw a wall of sorts.  Suddenly feeling trapped in what she realized was a tunnel, she glanced back towards the entrance and saw nothing but a long, unlit tube formed by abundant trees.  It looked oddly like the insides of a giant snake formed by nature with branches for bones.  She was about to make a break for it when she unconsciously arrived at the end.

“Kathryn,” he said in a relieved tone, “I’m so glad you made it.”
Panting from the hurried walk, she exhaustedly replied, “and what, exactly, have I made it to?”
“Your entrance of course!” he answered with a burst of joy.
My entrance?”
“Of course!  You didn’t think I was leading you to a dead end, did you?”
“Um, I didn’t really think about it.  I don’t make a habit of following strange kids in medieval clothing.”
“Fair enough, but enough talk.  It’s time to go in.”
“In?  In where?” she asked, digging for more detail.
“In your door, silly.  I thought we covered this,” he joked mischievously.

She was about to ask, “what door?” when she noticed the curious structure of the final trees in the tunnel.  Two large, elderly oaks leaned to meet each other, forming a rustic archway.  Beneath the archway, a wide wooden door stared back at her.  The ancient material spoke of wisdom somehow.  The cryptic carvings ornately and silently told of enchantment.   Her heart filled with equal parts fear, intrigue, and excitement as she placed her hand on a particular Celtic design.  This was her door.  She could feel it.

She moved her hand gingerly to the large iron handle and began to push.   She remembered her young guide and turned to thank him.  She smiled as her eyes were met by nothing but the dark innards of the tunnel.  “Figures,” she mused as she leaned into the door.  Her heart quickened with anticipation, almost unbearably, with each exasperated groan of the ancient hinges as they labored to reveal what was behind them.  With all of her might, she gave one last push that gave way to a breathtaking sight.  Enraptured by the beauty before her, she bravely took her first step from familiar reality to the then-unknown world of unbelievable mystery, magic, and adventure that would change her life forever.

 

To be continued…

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That morning, the sun brought little joy as it beamed through the dusty, vertical blinds in her bedroom.  It mostly acted as a blinding reminder of yet another day to muddle through.  She peeled herself from the one place she desired to be, lazily pulled up the quilt to give the illusion of a tidy bed, and began her typical morning routine.

After dawdling (or subconsciously procrastinating) with soggy cereal, she scowled at the clock which scolded her for her lateness once again.  As she rushed out the door, she was smacked in the face by horrid heat and dense humidity.  It was the kind of weather that makes one miss being overtaken by woolen scarves and puffy layers along with the other Midwestern marshmallow people trying to keep their nose hairs from freezing.  Instead, she cursed at the broken air conditioner in her car and braced herself for another ride to work drenched in sweat and disdain.

It wasn’t always this way, she thought wistfully as she sailed down the side roads.  She used to be a dreamer.  Her dreams were so grand and lovely that she lived blissfully on the fine line between vision and madness.  Fueled by relentless passion that gave her the hope needed to face any obstacle, she believed that she was made for something wonderful.  She believed she could do anything—be anything—with the help of God.

So, what happened, she wondered?  How did her paradigm shift so severely?  How did a seemingly promising young woman become so jaded?  Cynics might have said that she grew up, as we all must.  Die-hard optimists may have claimed that she just wasn’t positive enough.  Some Christians—the unfortunate kind that are proficient in pointing fingers—might have ruled that she obviously had unresolved sin or didn’t pray hard enough.  All these theories found a way into her thoughts, but what was the truth?  This question haunted her mind unyieldingly like an eerily translucent poltergeist occupies a condemned turn-of-the-century mansion.

It was this dizzying thought that she was lost in when, all of a sudden, she came to a screeching halt.  She snapped out of absent-minded autopilot just in time to stop herself from hitting a young, oddly dressed boy standing in the crosswalk.  Shaking violently and struggling with her heart that now beat wildly within her stomach, she pulled her car safely into a nearby parking spot and closed her eyes.  As reactive tears fell, she took a deep breath and looked up towards the park to her right.  To her great surprise, the boy, donning a tunic and boots akin to a young squire’s of Arthurian tales, stood near her window, eagerly beckoning her with to follow him into a wooded area nearby.  Perhaps it was guilt over the near-tragedy, or a spark of childlike curiosity, but something moved her to leave the confinement of her vehicle and follow the young lad into the trees.

To be continued…

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