author’s note: Well, here we are, a full day ahead of schedule. I suppose I could do another read through, and may actually do so, but it wouldn’t likely be for content, but instead just for grammar.
I’m actually very HAPPY with the content.
As I’ve said before, writing this chapter was just plain old fun for me, and when I’m having fun writing, or when I’m feeling the emotions, or when I get really engrossed, that’s when I know I’m doing well, so I am, to say the least, hopeful with regards to how this chapter is received.
But, as always, your comments and criticisms are always welcome, and I would gratefully accept any grammatical nitpicks you may find.
A couple of quick notes on how this chapter came to be, and why it is the way it is. The concept actually comes from a song I wrote on my guitar, and hopefully I’ll find some time to sit down and record it and post it for you guys (if I could only figure out how!). Now, I’m okay at writing tunes, and I’m terrible at writing lyrics, so the song never was actually completed, and remains nothing more than a guitar chord progression, but the music, and the lyrics I would have written had I known how, would have told a story.
That story was of a young boy who goes down to an old dead tree, and asks the tree if it would mind terribly much if he chopped her down and used her wood to build a coffin for himself and his true love (I know, totally morbid, but if and when you hear the actual music, I think you can understand the kind of mindset that feeds the music). Like I said, I never got around to writing the song, but I think that that little mini storyline kind of fueled what eventually evolves into this chapter right here.
The other thing I wanted to talk about was the style of this chapter, just a little. Like the two chapters before it, it’s sort of episodic in nature, and it won’t be until the next chapter that we really begin the longer journey that is Journey’s End. The reason for this was at this point when I was telling the story to my girls, I was doing it in a kind of egg timer story telling mindset.
For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, egg timer story telling is when you sit around with some friends, one sets an egg timer for a specific amount, starts a story, and when it’s done, they have to pass it on to the next friend. Each person gets the same amount of time, and they have to pick up where the last person left off, but they get to take the story wherever they want.
Now, I wasn’t sharing this story telling with anyone, but I was in that mode where I was kind of telling my way into situations, and then trying to tell my why out of them, just to keep the story going for the girls, and this is why there is such a massive disparity in setting, and content from one chapter to the next in the first three chapters.
Anyway, that’s about enough out of me. If you’re new to Journey’s End, don’t start reading here. Instead, check out the Table of Contents, and start from the beginning!
For the rest of you; enjoy!
Chapter 3: The Old Dead Tree
As she walked through the door, Lindsey was greeted by an intense bright light that stabbed at her eyes and forced them involuntarily shut. She grimaced as strange, undulating shapes drifted across the glowing red backdrop that was the back of her eyelids, the sting brought on by the immersion of her vision in the all encompassing luminescence taking an unusually long time to dull down to an imperceptible throb.
She silently cursed herself for diving headfirst into the light without first giving her eyes a chance to adjust, and brought her hand up to shade them.
Tentatively, she cracked her eyelids open.
At first, the scene surrounding her was little more than a patchwork of fuzzy blurs. There was a blue blob, and two green blobs, and a smaller, thinner whitish-beige sort of blob. As her vision attempted to adjust itself to the light, the blobs shimmied and shook, but remained for the most part in place until she was finally able to focus properly on her surroundings.
Once she was able to take the entire scene in without causing permanent damage to her eyesight, Lindsey gasped.
Her parents had taken she and Sara out camping before. They had taken the girls out into the country and to other places seemingly unmarred by the footprint of mankind, but none of them compared to the panorama that spread out before her.
From the clear, azure sky above, to the rolling sea of knee high grass below, the only hint of anything resembling humanity was the well beaten dirt path that stretched out before her. Even that dusty lane seemed natural, meant to be, etched by the hand of nature as it cut a long pale ribbon through the softly waving plain of deep green.
Even the air she breathed seemed strangely clean, slipping effortlessly into her lungs and back out again, leaving behind only the faintest hint of earth, and things that grew happily in the sun’s nurturing glow in its wake.
She could not help but to feel the greatest contentment seep through her pajamas and into her skin as her eyes picked out the blossoms of wildflowers on the grassy plains, bobbing up and down as though adrift on a placid lake.
Overhead, a strange bird that Lindsey couldn’t name, large and plumed in all the colors of the rainbow (and perhaps a few colors not in the rainbow, colors without names), sped across the sky, its call long and musical, and Lindsey, despite her situation, smiled.
She continued to watch it as it soared away, her eyes fixed upon it long after it had flown out of her range. The very sky seemed to entrance her, to fix her in its splendor. Indeed, it felt almost as though if she just squinted hard enough she could see the stars hiding behind the blue, the way you can see the faintest outlines of fish swimming deep below the water’s surface.
So this is Journey’s End? she mused. It was easily one of the most beautiful places she had ever been.
Without even thinking about it, Lindsey turned around to see where she had come from; to see what the Someone Else Room looked like from the outside, but the sight that met her forced a frown over the smile that had resided on her face only moments before.
There was no giant door, in fact, there was no giant anything. Instead she stood before a dirty, copper colored dome like a pimple no bigger than a camping tent. Confused, Lindsey walked the whole way around it, but couldn’t figure it out. There was no way in, and no way out, and it would have been absolutely impossible for something so small to hold all the pipes and machines, and most definitely that gigantic pig machine that spat out the book she still held in her arm.
Eventually, she gave up trying to puzzle out what was supposed to be the Someone Else Room, and with a sigh, she leaned up against its cool metallic surface.
Placing the book on the ground, Lindsey unrolled the parchment-like map and studied it. In the light of day it still managed to maintain a dark, musty, coffee-like color, the lines and drawings about its surface appearing more as though they were burned into the crackling paper as opposed to drawn on it.
At its top, in large, stylized letters read, “Journey’s End: East.” She had to study it for a few moments to pick out where she was; the whole while her eyes glancing over intriguing, almost romantic names such as “Raider’s Row,” and, “The Roaring Sea.” The Roaring Sea itself took up nearly a quarter of the map in the center, and it seemed bound on all sides by tiny little etched trees that were apparently, “The Golden Woods.”
Still her eyes traced further South to “Port Town” and with a spark of recognition the words “Everywhere Town,” leapt out at her. That’s where the old man in the Someone Else Room told her to go. But where was she?
South of Everywhere Town was what looked like a hill with a small drawing of a tree in it. Next to this were the words, “The Old Dead Tree,” and then finally, just a little South of that, she saw a blackened in half circle that was labeled as, “The Someone Else Room.”
That’s where she was.
Now aware of where she was in relation to the rest of Journey’s End, she let her eyes skim over the rest of the map once more. Her heart fell as she realized first that the area encompassed by the map could potentially be enormous, and second that this was only Journey’s End: East, which meant there was at least a Journey’s End: West, and maybe a North and South thrown in as well.
And Sara could be anywhere in this strange new land.
A familiar despair began to fill Lindsey again, but she quickly pushed it away, coming to the realization that the only guaranteed way for Sara to never be found would be for Lindsey to quit. With that, she rolled up the map, picked up her book, tucked them both underneath her arm, and started walking north along the path.
She would go to this Everywhere Town, she decided. If nothing else, maybe she could get some information as to the whereabouts of her sister. With any luck, she wouldn’t have to travel all over Journey’s End to find her.
Lindsey wasn’t sure how long she had been walking. She had guessed that when she first entered Journey’s End it must have been morning because since then the sun had risen higher into the sky, and the day had gotten warmer.
Not that it was unpleasant. Not in the least. The gentle breeze that seemed to flirt with her hair and caress her skin was more than enough to keep Lindsey from getting uncomfortably hot, even if she had been walking for some time.
But she did notice that time was a difficult thing to keep track of.
Lindsey had begun to wish she had worn her watch; ruing the fact that it laid right next to her alarm clock on her nightstand in her room. That was a silly place for a watch to be, she glumly considered; it was a bit redundant having a wrist watch right next to an alarm clock.
Granted, Lindsey wasn’t sure how useful a watch would be in this place; she wasn’t even sure she was on Earth anymore and thought a watch would be a useless thing to have if it counted twenty-four hours in a day, when really there were twenty-five.
But at least she would be able to get an idea of how long she had been walking.
Such were the idle thoughts that filled her head after the shock of being in a new place had subsided. Of course Sara constantly resided in the back of her mind, but as beautiful as Journey’s End turned out to be, it had also gotten quite dull.
At least, that’s what she was thinking when she noticed that all of a sudden the grass was up to her waist as opposed to her knees.
That’s odd, she thought, and she stopped. As it turned out, the grass wasn’t getting any taller; the ground was. The path before her remained relatively level, maybe it went up a little, but the ground on both sides of her was climbing at a much steeper slope. Looking ahead, Lindsey felt a modest thrill when she realized that she must have finally come to the hill where the map said the Old Dead Tree was.
After what must have been hours of walking, seeing some actual progress encouraged Lindsey just as all the walking was beginning to wear upon her.
She picked up her pace, and as she pressed further on, the walls on either side of her continued to rise; now the grass was up to her shoulders, and finally the roots were over her head. On both sides of her, dark rock and soil in rough hewn patterns guided her along her way whilst overhead the long blades of grass leaned over the sides and seemed to almost peer down at her.
Then the path itself began to climb, and up she went. At some point, Lindsey figured, she must have reached a part of the hill that was perpetually facing away from the sun’s path for, when she looked up, the brilliant blue sky was as bright as ever, but hardly any light seemed to filter down through the encroaching blades of grass.
It was dark; not night time dark, but dark all the same, and Lindsey was beginning to feel as though she was more in a tunnel as opposed to traversing an open air path through a hill.
Or was it over a hill? It was strange, but Lindsey had never quite seen a pathway like this before, and she wasn’t exactly sure if technically she was going over or through the hill.
It was while she was debating the finer points of this argument with herself when it happened. As sudden as flicking a light switch, the walls on either side of her flared out and away, and Lindsey found herself standing in a wide circular area. The ground was still sunk below the surface of the hill, and the sky was still visible above, still framed in the overhanging blades of grass.
But the path ceased to be just a path anymore, and in her mind’s eye, Lindsey imagined that if looked at from above, the path with the circle planted in the middle of it might look something like one of those jungle pythons she had seen on tv after it had swallowed some creature whole.
Yet, from where she stood, that’s not what it felt like at all. It felt as though she were in some ancient coliseum, and she was an unfortunate gladiator still in her pajamas while the blades of grass looked down upon her like so many cheering spectators.
The most remarkable thing in that circle, however, stood low and squat in the dead center; an old, black, dead looking tree.
If I’m a gladiator, that must be my opponent, she thought darkly as she cautiously skirted around it, inspecting it only as closely as she dared to get to the thing. It looked unnatural, and somehow dangerous. Its twisted black branches snaked through the air like lightning, ending in talon like points, while the trunk looked as though it had been sculpted by a madman that had only the vaguest notion of what trees should actually look like.
Indeed, from certain perspectives, the tree looked hardly like a tree at all, covered all over with knots that looked more like giant black boils on the brink of bursting, and large gaping holes that, in the darkness of that place, could almost be mistaken for mouths crying out in agony.
Even the roots that dipped under the well packed dirt only to rise up again, and then back down more closely resembled octopus tentacles than anything that should rightly be found on a plant of any kind.
But the worst part about that tree, the part that made Lindsey shudder, was an intense feeling as though it would move at any second; that it was only biding its time.
And yet, despite the foreboding, the tree itself was not necessarily all that big. The highest branch didn’t even reach as high as the top of the walls that enclosed them. While the walls were over Lindsey’s head by now, they weren’t that far over her head, and she guessed that if she got a running start she could reach up there and touch it, and yet the old dead tree couldn’t even manage that high.
This, Lindsey guessed, was likely why it was dead. Sunlight didn’t reach down here, after all, and if the tree couldn’t push even one leaf into the sun’s glow, it had no hope.
Questions swirled around in Lindsey’s head as she continued to inspect the tree; how did it get here in the first place? And, if there was no sunlight, how did it grow to be as big as it was? Did someone plant it here? If so, why?
After a while, though, Lindsey grew tired of contemplating the curiosity before her. Likely, she would never get the answers to her questions, or, if she did, she wouldn’t get them here. Besides, she wasn’t in Journey’s End to go answering obscure questions regarding strange trees; she was here to find her sister, and Sara was obviously not there.
Shaking her head, Lindsey sighed, and found the pathway leading further up the hill and made her way towards it. As she did so, she made a mental note to ask about the tree once she reached Everywhere Town.
After, of course, she got as much information about her sister as she possibly could.
She had nearly reached the exit of the coliseum when all of a sudden a loud, skeletal, crashing noise filled her ears.
All of a sudden the path before her was blocked by hundreds of black boughs and branches, knotted and kinked and clicking against one another disturbingly like the claws of some beast awaiting its prey to fall into its trap.
Lindsey jumped back, almost tripping over one of the gnarled roots underfoot, and screamed.
“Where do you think you’re going, little girl?” an ancient voice spoke, and Lindsey spun around to see who or what it came from, and she found herself looking straight into a large, hideous face etched into the tree’s twisted trunk.
Two holes stared at her like emptied eye sockets as a knotted nose poked out over a mangled mouth filled with jagged ebony teeth that smiled at her.
Lindsey jumped back and screamed again, realizing only at the last second that she had moved closer towards the branches blocking her exit. This made her scream a third time as she jumped to the side and this time she did trip over one of the undulating roots, and she was sent spilling to the ground, her book and map almost leaping from her arms and landing several feet away.
She didn’t care; a tree just talked to her. It didn’t just talk, but blocked her path, and trees weren’t supposed to do either.
At first she tried scrambling to her feet, but her legs were so shaky they wouldn’t support her weight, and she had to settle for sitting up, and using her arms to scoot her way to the edge of the circle.
Her lungs worked double time, sucking in huge gulps of air, seemingly engaged in a wrestling match with her furiously pounding heart as she stared wide eyed at the tree before her.
It turned on the spot to face her, the branches barring the exit retracting, and as it did so Lindsey could hear her own mouth open and words come out though what she was saying and why she was saying it was far beyond the abilities of her mind still buzzing from shock and fear to comprehend.
This made the tree laugh, and as it did, the branches shook and bounced and looked curiously like the kind of hair style that older ladies tend to wear; thick, and apparently oblivious to the law of gravity. “Of course I’m not alive,” the tree explained, “Look at me. I think the lack of leaves might be a dead giveaway.”
There was a matronly, almost crone-like quality to the tree’s voice, and as odd as it may seem, Lindsey suspected that, while trees aren’t supposed to have genders, this one was female.
Of course, a gendered tree was far more plausible than a talking tree.
“B-But you talk,” Lindsey stammered.
“Yes, I do. How very astute of you. Yes, I talk, and how, exactly, would I be talking if I were alive? Hmmm?”
“You’re not supposed to be talking alive or dead.”
“Well, I talk. I’m an old, dead, talking tree. Whether I’m supposed to be as such is irrelevant, isn’t it?”
Still too shocked to form anything beyond the most simplest of thoughts, Lindsey shrugged and muttered, “I guess so.”
“Good,” the tree smiled. “Now we’re getting somewhere, or, we are somewhere anyhow. No real use in getting anywhere; nasty business that. But being somewhere, that’s the stuff.”
“Now, now; none of that. Come, what’s your name?”
“Well, Lindsey, you may call me Lignus, and I would be honored if you would stay a spell and have a nice little chat with me.”
Lindsey’s frown deepened. “A chat?”
“Yes, a chat. You see, I get so terribly lonely up on this hill all by myself,” Lignus said, a pout miraculously forming on its ancient bark. “Why, it’s been months, at least, since the last time someone’s had a nice little chat with old Lignus, and if I don’t talk to the occasional passerby when he or she comes along, I’m afraid I might go mad.”
“I can’t,” Lindsey replied. “My… My sister. I’m here to save my sister, I don’t have time.”
“Ugh!” the old tree huffed. “Just like all the rest, always in such a hurry. I swear, the way you humans act, you’d think the world was coming to the end. Well, let me tell you, Lindsey, old Lignus has been here for longer than you can imagine, and the world hasn’t ended yet, and it’s not likely to end tomorrow. So what do you say? Hmmm? Just a little chat?”
By now, Lindsey had slowly gotten control back over herself, and the buzzing alarms going off in her brain had started to die down some. She was able to think again, and at that very moment, Lindsey thought that she was going to be stuck in there for as long as Lignus desired, whether Lindsey wanted to “chat” or not. As a result, she might as well get it done and over with.
“How long?” she asked.
“How long what?”
“How long is a little chat?”
The holes that served as Lignus’ eyes shifted upwards towards her branches and her strange mouth curved in a way that made it looked as though the tree was lost in thought. “Mmm… We’ll keep it short… Yes… We’ll keep it short; no more than a week at the most.”
“A week?” Lindsey gasped in exasperation.
“I’m a tree, what do you want? A week’s a blink of an eye if it’s anything. I could go on for a month if you’ve the mind,” she said, a hint of warning in her grandmotherly voice.
“I can’t stay here for a week!” Lindsey cried. “I don’t have any food or water; I need those at least.”
“Piffle!” Lignus snorted. “Look at me. I haven’t had either in centuries and I’m fine.”
“You’re a tree and you’re dead! I’m a living person, I can’t go without food or water.”
Lignus sighed. “Well, we can’t very well do much about that second thing, being a person. Once a thing, always a thing, I always say. But the first bit, the living bit, that will sort itself out sooner or later anyway, yes? Why not make it sooner?”
“But I don’t want to die,” Lindsey retorted. She simply couldn’t believe she was having this conversation.
“Oh, you should try it; it’s not so bad as all that, really. Quite nice actually, being dead. Very restful; very peaceful.”
“Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure that when I die I won’t get to sit around talking to people and keeping them from finding their sisters.” And then, pulling herself to her feet, Lindsey managed to find a shred of courage tucked away deep inside of her, and fixed Lignus with a tempestuous glare. “So let me go.”
Lignus’ glared back at Lindsey, and her branches began to move, clicking against each other as they shifted threateningly towards Lindsey, pointing at her with black, bony fingers as the tree growled, “You’ll go when I say you can go, little girl. We’re going to have a little chat, and that’s final. Is that understood?”
The entire coliseum seemed to darken as Lignus’ empty stare bored into Lindsey, and she could feel that scrap of courage flee away from her. Brave or not, Lindsey understood that Lignus was not letting her go as easily as she would have hoped for. Crossing her arms over her chest, Lindsey sighed and in a small voice muttered, “Yes.”
And then the darkness ebbed. The tree smiled and in an exuberant, almost bubbly tone said, “Good! Oh, there’s just so much to talk about, you know, after all, I’ve been here for centuries, but I told you that already, didn’t I? Well, what’s there to say? I suppose I could start from the beginning, yes, that’s always such a nice place to start from. Well for me the beginning began when this pass was first made. You see, the Everywhere Towners have to go by here to reach the valley south of the Someone Else room, but this hill is so wide that it could take an extra week to go around it, and so high that it’s too difficult to go over it, so they just cut a path right through it. Don’t ask me why they didn’t build a tunnel, seems to be like it would have been a lot less work to me, but then don’t ask me to explain the way you humans think, I could never understand it. But anyway, so they built this pass, and when they were done, they built this little area here, and one of the builders, and this human gets the award for daft thinking, if you ask me, one of the builders decides he’ll commemorate the occasion by planting a tree. Only problem, of course, is that he planted the tree where the sun doesn’t shine and…”
And on, and on.
It didn’t take long for Lignus’ soliloquy to erode into little more than an unintelligible drone to Lindsey, and, bemused, Lindsey marveled at how quickly she had went from terror upon being barred by a talking tree, to awe at the existence of said talking tree, to, within the space of moments, boredom because of the talking tree.
She sat back down.
She propped her head on the heel of her hand.
She sighed and began fiddling with the hem of the shorts she used as pajamas while Lignus continued to talk away, and Lindsey had little doubt that the old dead tree could keep going for a week, probably longer. Lignus claimed she was hundreds of years old, and Lindsey didn’t question her for an instant on that front, and it seemed to be that Lignus was intent on recalling every conversation she had ever had with anyone unfortunate enough to have stumbled upon her.
After a while, Lindsey began eyeing the exit to the strange coliseum, and wondered if she couldn’t make a run for it, but at just her slightest glance, she noticed Lignus’ branches start inching their way towards the exit.
She sighed again.
Lindsey became preoccupied with coming up with a way to get out of this place, constructing plan after plan, only to watch each attempt fail in her head. The hard reality was that she had a book, a map, and neither was likely to prove particularly useful in forging a way out.
Still, she continued to think on the problem until another problem reared its ugly head. That problem announced itself by a very loud grumbling from her belly.
Just perfect, she thought, it hadn’t been but a few hours at the most and she was already getting hungry. She could only imagine how much worse it would get over the coming days if Lignus truly intended to keep her there for a full week.
The fact that, besides Lignus’ mind numbing chatter, her empty stomach was the only thing in that place that Lindsey had to hold her attention only made things worse. She found herself imagining all of her favorite foods; pizza and cheeseburgers (very simple, thank you very much; cheese, meat, and that’s all), salads that were little more than three leaves of lettuce with about three pounds of toppings piled on and french fries, roast chicken, mashed potatoes, double fudge chocolate ice cream, and with each new food she found her hunger only intensifying.
She had to find a way to take her mind off of food.
A few feet away, Lindsey’s book and map still lay there. The book had fallen open, revealing its blank pages, and Lindsey figured that that wouldn’t entertain her for very long at all. If she had something to write with, she could fill those pages, but then if she could make her wishes come true, making a writing utensil magically appear would probably be at the very bottom of the list at this point.
So she reached over and grabbed the map instead and studied it. That managed to stave off thoughts of her father’s lasagna and her mother’s homemade spaghetti with meatballs for about five minutes, but the problem was that while the names of the places marked on the map were exciting enough, she had never been to any of them, and, after five minutes, names become just names and nothing more.
Curling the map up, Lindsey heaved yet another sigh and spared a glance in Lignus direction to see if the tree was showing any signs of stopping, and was thoroughly disappointed. At this point, Lignus was describing a bird that had landed on her branches four hundred years ago, and Lindsey could only take thirty seconds of this before she had to tune her out again.
While the enclosure they were in didn’t seem to have anything of interest when Lindsey first entered, she decided to give it another look for lack of anything better to do. The rough hewn walls were, for the most part, drab and unexciting, and the grass that Lindsey once thought of as spectators at a coliseum now was just plain old grass again. If anything, the blades seemed to look down at her mockingly, reveling in her torment.
But no, it was just grass.
Except, it wasn’t all just grass. On the far side of the enclosure, Lindsey saw something that she didn’t notice before. Of course, she wouldn’t have noticed it there before because it was natural, and the only thing that would have made her take notice would have been the very kind of onset of extreme boredom she was experiencing at that very moment.
It was a dandelion.
She approached it, and as she contemplated its thick stock and cottony seed head, she mused that it was at least a little odd that something so common would be in a place that seemed to be the very opposite of common. Amid the too blue sky, and the rainbow colored birds, and the talking tree, the dandelion just didn’t seem to quite fit. But there it was, poking up out of the grass, its serrated leaves stretched out like bat wings, its fleshy stem swaying in the breeze, and at that moment Lindsey decided she would get it.
What she would do with it once she got it, she wasn’t sure, but it was just high enough that she guessed she might be able to reach it, and if she couldn’t reach it on the first try, well, given the circumstances, the more tries it took, the better.
First, she tried just jumping up in place, but her fingers fell far short of the taunting weed. Then she scooted back a few paces and tried a running jump. Lindsey’s first attempt ended rather poorly, with her hand grazing only the lowest of the overhanging blades of grass just before she collided with the rocky wall.
She landed on her bottom as the wind was knocked out of her, and it was at this point that Lignus chose to pay attention to her “guest”.
“Whatever are you doing?” the tree’s old dame voice called after her indignantly.
“I’m trying to get that dandelion,” Lindsey huffed.
This question put Lindsey on the spot. The real reason she was going after the dandelion was to alleviate the boredom that Lignus’ seemingly endless recital created, but she figured that such an admission might not be taken too well by the talking tree. While Lindsey found it difficult to feel too mindful of Lignus’ feelings (the tree did trap her in this place so that it could talk her to death), she was afraid that insulting the tree too much would only make the situation worse.
Her mind spun, thinking fast in an attempt to find a good reason to go after the dandelion that didn’t equate to calling Lignus boring when Lindsey’s stomach chose that moment to let out another loud growl. “I’m so hungry,” she said more to herself than anything else, but apparently Lignus overheard.
“What was that?” the tree asked.
“I’m hungry,” Lindsey repeated, an idea coming to mind. It was a bad idea, and likely wouldn’t work, but it was better than nothing.
“And the dandelion up there is going to fix that, is it?”
“Well,” Lindsey replied slowly. She had remembered her mother making tea from dandelions once. It wasn’t very good, she remembered, but it was edible if things came to that. “I could eat it, there’s nothing else around for me to eat is there?”
Lignus fixed Lindsey with a very narrow gaze. “You’re a very odd little girl, did you know? So be it. You may continue. Now where was I? Oh yes. Now, about two hundred and thirty years ago one boy came to visit and…”
And with Lignus back onto her pointless drone, Lindsey rolled her eyes, and hoisted herself back onto her feet.
She kept backing up further and further, running faster before leaping towards the dandelion, but no matter how far or how fast she ran, the results hardly varied. Once she felt the thick fleshy stalk of the plant just barely graze against the pad of her middle finger, or at least she thought she did, but that wouldn’t be nearly enough.
Meanwhile, every attempt also ended with her slamming up against the wall, and on more than one occasion scraping her shoulder.
Through the course of her many attempts, Lindsey had grown quite familiar with said wall; its rough surface, mostly hard packed dirt with just enough rock thrown into the mix to make a direct collision rather unpleasant. But she also noticed that there was a slight concave to the wall as well.
Taking a moment’s breather, Lindsey stared at the wall, and confirmed that it did indeed curve slightly away from her as it stretched upward. She thought for a moment, and then thought some more until she figured she would try something a little different.
She backed up, got a good running start, her feet pounding against the dirt floor, and just as she neared the wall and the dandelion that had become nothing short of an obsession for her, she leapt.
Only, this time, she didn’t jump straight up, but instead kicked out for the wall. As the ball of her foot connected, she felt a sting bolt through her foot and up her leg, but she pushed anyway, up, and closer to the dandelion than she had managed to before. In fact, had she been just a little more focused, she would have been able to grab the stalk nice and low at the base where she would have to grab at it.
But she had been so concerned with the kick off the wall that she was a little late in getting her hand out, and all she was able to get a hold of were a few of the leaves which came off in her hand.
Despite the failure, Lindsey smiled; she would get it on the next try.
Once more she backed up, took a deep breath, and ran hard at the wall, leaping at the right moment, kicking out at the right moment, and when her outstretched hand felt the stem hit her palm, she closed her fingers around the plant and pulled, gravity helping her on her way down.
She felt the full weight of the plant release its grip on the soil and a shower of loose dirt rained down upon her as she fell to the ground. But, awkward landing or not, covered in dirt or not, Lindsey had succeeded.
Triumphant, Lindsey shifted into a sitting position and admired her prize. It really wasn’t much to look at, but the sense of accomplishment that she felt was all the prize that she really needed. If only her mother had the foresight to put the flower beds just out of reach and then plant a talking tree in their backyard, there would be no problems getting Lindsey to go out back to weed them.
“Well?” Lignus’ voice intoned as though waiting for something, interrupting Lindsey’s quiet moment of triumph.
Begrudgingly, she looked up, about to reply, when something she saw made her freeze.
From where Lindsey pulled down the dandelion, she could see, almost as solid and tangible, was a single thin shaft of sunlight. It poked through the surrounding curtain of grass, and into the darkness of the coliseum, coming to rest directly upon a small section of the tangle of branches that hovered over Lignus. And there, where the sunlight hit, was a small grouping of fresh green leaves.
“Don’t just sit there with your mouth hanging open like an idiot,” Lignus pressed. “I thought the point was to eat the nasty little weed, not gawk at it.”
Jolted from the sight that caught her attention, Lindsey muttered something unintelligible as she looked down at the plant in her hand. She remembered watching cartoons, and how whenever one of the characters was hungry enough, whatever it looked at turned into food right before their eyes. This was not the case with the dandelion; it couldn’t even transform, in her opinion, into a passable salad.
Still, the last thing that Lindsey wanted was for Lignus to notice the same thing she noticed, and, hoping the weed didn’t taste too bad, Lindsey bit down on it.
Her mouth was flooded with a parched bitterness. The dandelion wasn’t terrible, exactly, but Lindsey’s mouth reflexively moved to spit the stuff out as though her body was rejecting the entire concept that this was anything remotely related to food, and, by the way, how dare she pass it off as such?
But she forced herself to keep it in, to keep chewing, and to grudgingly swallow. The plan that was forming even as she ate the little weed relied upon her finishing it.
When she had eaten it, stem, seed head, leaves and all, Lindsey made to cast the dirt caked root aside when Lignus cleared her throat. Or, considering that Lignus really didn’t have a throat that Lindsey was aware of, the old dead tree made a sound that was quite a bit like the clearing of one’s throat.
Lindsey looked at the tree expectantly.
“What about the root?”
“The root, little girl. I imagine it is full of all sorts of nutrients that would be very good for a growing young lady such as yourself.”
Concealing a dirty look by bowing her head, Lindsey sighed, brushed off as much earth as she could from the root, and started to eat it. The way the gritty soil grated against her teeth made her shudder, and it took every bit of self control not to let her revulsion show on her face, but with a pained smile, Lindsey managed to even eat the root, much to Lignus’ satisfaction.
“That’s a good girl,” Lignus’ encouraged. “Now, onto the song bird that perched on my branches oh so long ago.”
Once Lignus got good and going, Lindsey wasted precious little time. The sky above was still bright, but Lindsey wasn’t sure how much daylight there was left, and if she didn’t hurry, she would have to wait until the morning to get out of here.
Immediately she went to work, running at the wall, jumping, kicking off from the wall, and grabbing fistfuls of grass and yanking them down hard. Over and over again she was showered with dirt, and she hadn’t gone long before Lignus interrupted her again.
“Now what are you doing?”
“I’m still hungry,” Lindsey replied in a matter of fact voice. She even added, “Go on. I’m still listening,” so as not to rouse too much suspicion.
In fact it was quite easy for Lindsey to make herself appear interested for, every few tufts of grass or so, she would take a small break, apparently to look on at Lignus and nod in understanding. What she was really doing, though, was checking to see if she was correct, and she was.
The more grass she took down from atop the walls, the more sun was let through. The more sun that she managed to let through, the more bright green leaves began sprouting up all over the skeletal black branches.
This only prodded Lindsey to work harder and faster, encouraged by the progress she was making. She knew the sun was only on one side of the hill, and that she would only have to bring down about half of the grass, but, just for good measure, she was thorough enough to take down everything around the entire area.
When she was finished, Lindsey admired her work.
While Lignus continued to look quite old, and quite dead (with the exception of the continuously chattering face, of course) from the top of the trunk on down, her branches were now coated in dense green leaves that looked brilliant, and alive.
Lignus was, Lindsey considered, a rather handsome old tree with her foliage intact, actually.
But while Lindsey had managed to bring back all the leaves to Lignus’ limbs, the tree still talked on as much as before. That is, it continued talking until it, too, noticed something quite different.
“What? What did you do?” Lignus roared furiously.
“YOU WEREN’T HUNGRY AT ALL!” the tree cried, shaking its limbs back and forth in a rage. “I KNEW there was something OFF about you, you conniving little BRAT!”
The tree fixed Lindsey with its hollow eyes, its blackened bark fixed in a mask of anger. It let out a deathly shriek and several of its branches were sent darting towards her, the new leaves that adorned them rustled so from the effort they almost sounded like they were whistling.
Lindsey screamed as she dove out of the way, banging her bare knee against the ground, and swallowing down the pain as she rolled and kept moving.
Over and over again, the tree stabbed at her with its branches, Lindsey just barely managing to dodge out of the way as she ran circles around the enraged tree.
She tried changing direction, moving towards Lignus’ trunk, and moving out again, reacting off of instinct alone, focusing on nothing more than preventing herself from being impaled by the attacking branches.
Lindsey’s body was on high alert, every square inch of her buzzing, as she pushed herself back and forth. She tried to formulate some sort of plan, to use her reason, but the harder she tried to focus on a way out, the more she felt like a housefly caught in a spider’s web; the more she struggled to get free, the more she found herself trapped.
Finally, with an eye towards the exits, she at least willed her body to try and make its way through either of them, but every time she got even close, she would find herself confronted with a wall of branches that fell before her with a deafening crash.
This led to panic as no way out seemed possible for her. This panic was only fueled by the increasing burn in her legs and chest as she began to realize that she was pushing her body far beyond its physical limitations.
And then, just as she knew her body was about to give out whether she wanted it to or not, her foot caught on something and she was sent skidding across the ground. Automatically, out of a curiosity she did not even comprehend, her head snapped around to see what had caused her to fall, and saw the big gray book she got out of the Someone Else Room.
Lindsey wasn’t given much time to dwell on the existence of the book, when another whistling rustle filled her ears and she looked up just in time to roll out of the way of another branch that was hurtling towards her.
When the world stopped rotating all about her, she found she had rolled in the direction of the book. It was lying open, and, somehow, through the chaos that swirled about her, Lindsey noticed that where the pages were all blank before, she could see writing at the top of one of its yellowed leaves.
She crawled towards it, reached out for it, and jerked her hand back as another branch stabbed at her. A terrified yelp escaped her throat as she jumped back on her haunches, but as soon as the branch recoiled for another strike, Lindsey pounced at the book.
For some reason it was important that she read the letters that had materialized on the page. Lindsey didn’t know why, she didn’t know how this could be important, particularly with a terribly angry tree trying to kill her, but somehow those words superceded even the preservation of her own life.
Once she reached it, she knew she only had a matter of seconds to read and figure out the importance of what was written, but what she read there only confused her more.
Lignus: Just as Death follows Life, Life must follow Death
Her brow furrowed as the words echoed in her head uselessly, and then, out of some strange thought that perhaps speaking the words out loud would change them, Lindsey whispered, “Lignus.”
A torrent of water leapt from the book’s pages, hitting Lindsey in the face hard. The tome shook in her hands from the force and she coughed and spluttered as the nonstop jet continued to assault her, but with what felt like the last reserve of strength she had left in her arms, Lindsey turned the book away from her, and onto Lignus.
“Wha…! No! Stop!” the tree cried, but it only managed a few words before they were smothered in the powerful flow of water. Lignus’ voice gurgled unintelligible protests as her branches thrashed back and forth wildly in the air, and Lindsey watched as the blackness that engulfed the tree seemed to drain completely out of it.
Within minutes, the branches stopped thrashing, the trunk stopped twisting, and Lignus’ voice ceased trying to push its way through the torrent of water being sprayed her way.
Lignus had returned to being just a plain old living tree.
The water cut off almost immediately, a few stray drops clinging to the binding, and in the ringing silence that followed, Lindsey collapsed to the ground.
She lay there for a long while, her chest heaving, trying to catch up, her eyes staring blankly up at the cutout sky above her. There was simply no way that what just happened actually happened. Not the talking tree, and not the leaves that sprouted up instantly, and definitely not her blank book all of a sudden turning into a fire hose.
No way at all.
But there it was; it shouldn’t have happened, couldn’t have happened, but it did. Lindsey could still feel the droplets of water slowly inching down her skin, and the wet strands of hair sticking to her cheeks and forehead. And in the shadows, the residual water that still clung to her made her shiver.
Sitting up, she looked at the book before her, dryer than she could have hoped to be, and there she found another piece of evidence proving that what she just went through was not fiction; those words written in a strange hand.
Lignus: Just as Death follows Life, Life must follow Death
The old man in the Someone Else Room had been at least part right, Lindsey figured; the book needed filling, but was it she who was doing it? Was it the book? Or was it someone, or something else? Someone unseen and unknown?
In any case, the book managed to pick the perfect time to have a “spell” magically written in it, and Lindsey found it even more curious that it chose the exact right spell whatever it was. With no small amount of frustration, Lindsey realized that now that the book had served some sort of use, that some of its initial mysteries had begun to be addressed, all she found were even more questions.
With a sigh Lindsey closed the book, tucked it under her arm, grabbed her map, and hoisted herself back onto her feet. She was a mess, she knew, but she couldn’t worry about that much at this point. There was no telling how much daylight was left, nor how much longer her stomach would growl at her before it organized other parts of her in mass revolt, so she gave Lignus one last look, and left the strange area.
Up and up she went. The path continued to climb at a steady slope, even as the walls on either side of her shot up high into the sky. At the hill’s apex, Lindsey could only make out the thinnest vein of blue sky overhead, and she found herself in agreement with Lignus on at least one point.
Why not just build a tunnel?
She felt as though she were in some great chasm or canyon, buried miles below the earth in channel cut away by a once mighty river that died centuries ago. It was only the odd straightness of the path that hinted at the fact that people built it, and not nature.
And then, after a time, the walls began to slowly shrink, and the break above that let the sky through began to widen. She could tell that the day was indeed beginning to wane, the blue above dimming gradually, with the faintest tinges of gold and gray creeping through in unobtrusive streaks.
Though the sky was little more than a narrow shaft amid the darkness of the rocky walls, Lindsey still found herself transfixed by it, watching as the golden glow over took everything else, and then succumbed to that particular shade of violet that seemed to belong only to twilight.
She watched as the stars poked through and realized that the walls had again retreated to nearly within arm’s reach, and at this point she chose to look down.
Not far from the base of the hill, Lindsey could see stretching out before her more of the same rolling countryside, but sprawled out atop it, like a big fat lazy mammal, was the darkened blob that she assumed was Everywhere Town.
In the poor light of the setting sun, she couldn’t make out many details. Most of the houses seemed low and squat, with only a few dark buildings just barely sticking out head and shoulders above the rest. Plumes of smoke churned upward into the air from anonymous chimneys, and as the last vestiges of daylight slipped below the horizon, Lindsey watched as little pinpricks of orange light appeared throughout, sprinkling the little town in a warm, inviting glow.
Her focus on the town had been such that she didn’t even realize that she had left the hill behind her; the grass back down to her knees, the ground back at her feet all around her just as it should be.
Back down on ground level, Lindsey’s impression of the town didn’t change much. By the glow of flickering street lamps that grew ever nearer, she could see that the town was comprised of mostly simple houses clustered around unpaved roads. The wood was unpainted, and dark, and weather beaten, and more roofs than not seemed to be thatched as opposed to tiled.
It looked like the kind of town you would see in some old story book, where the hero grows up poor and humble only to find that his life holds a destiny of danger and excitement that wrenches him from the comforts of daily chores and a caring mother in patchwork clothes.
And as she grew even nearer, now near enough to see wooden sign posts planted at the corners of the streets (if they could be called streets), a smell hit her that sent her stomach not just growling, but barking and hopping in anticipation. It was the smell of things being slow roasted over a crackling fire, and with it came the sound of laughter and music, and Lindsey had become so fixated on the intoxicating smell and alluring sounds that she almost walked into the spear that was thrust suddenly at her throat.
“HALT!” an overly anxious voice snarled at her from behind the spear. “Who goes there?”