Nemesis, NoBloPoMo, Stories...

Nemesis… Chapter 9 (Day 13)

Racing toward the grove and its shimmering tower, urgency driving me long after I should have given up, I notice that the light around me seems to be dimming along with my own vitality.  I cannot take the time to question why, or even glance behind me, but I sense that the very meadow I have traversed is fading with that light.  Legs aching from the run, the lack of breath causing a sharp pain in my side, I finally reach the underbrush that marks the boundary between the meadow and the grove of trees.  I slow my steps, picking my way more carefully in the fading light.  When I reach the outer ring of trees, I stumble to a stop, leaning hard against a slender, unfamiliar and unfriendly feeling tree…

I lean over, partly to fight the feeling of faintness brought on by a lack of oxygen, partly in preparation for the vomiting I am sure will follow such a run.  While I wait for my body to sort itself out, I glance behind me, expecting to see the meadow and the distant forest upside down.  But there is nothing but a wall of mist behind me now…

Stunned, I pull myself upright and turn around, hoping it was just a trick of light and exhaustion combined.  But it is not.  For just beyond the underbrush I just crossed is…  Nothing!

Absolutely nothing…

Real terror grips me, an icy cold cloak settling around my shoulders, reaching in with tapered fingers to touch every part of my soul.  The trembling I felt following the extreme exertion of the run increases, until I am shaking so hard that my teeth are chattering.  Some distant part of me I hardly recognize whispers softly that I need to get a grip, warning me that giving in to terror would be the worst thing I could do…

“Wh-wh-what the hell-ll-ll happ-pp-ppened-d-d?” I ask myself, struggling for each word, even though my breath is slowly coming back.  “Wh-wh-what is-s-s th-th-that?”

I wrap my arms tightly around myself, trying to contain my fear, and stem my shaking and my stuttering.  But no answers come to me in that non-place…

Turning away from the wall of mist behind me, I focus once more on the trees and tower before me.  They appear to be solid and real now that I am here.  I run my hand along the trunk of the tree that is supporting me; the bark is smooth, and damp, shimmering slightly, but it does not feel like wood.  That intrigues me enough to stem my panic, drawing me back into the moment and my present circumstances.

I place both hands upon the tree, reaching out with my heart and mind in an attempt to communicate, as I would with any tree I was meeting for the first time.  Instead of finding a warm pulse at the heart of the tree, I discover something cold, oily and dark; the feeling is so repulsive, I instinctively yank my hands back.  Startled, I just stare at the tree for a moment, unsure how to interpret what I just encountered.  But I could swear that tree was almost laughing at me… Gleefully…  Maliciously…

“Well, then!,” I respond.  “Excuuuse me for trying to be friendly!”  The sarcasm in my voice strengthens me; I will be damned if I will let some arrogant sapling get the best of me!

Turning my attention to the rest of the grove surrounding me, I realize that they are all projecting that nasty little attitude, except, perhaps, for one tree slightly removed from the others.  It is growing on the inside edge of the circle of trees, just ahead and to the left of me.  I approach it cautiously, not sure what to expect in this decidedly unwelcoming environment…

When I reach the tree, I circle around it slowly, keeping my distance at first.  I cannot help but notice that it grows alone out here on the edge of the grove, without even any underbrush to comfort it.  I wonder what circumstances drove it to separate from the others, since usually groves are tight-knit family-like units, depending on each other for survival and company.  But this tree is clearly as much an outsider here as I am, judging from the growth patterns of the grove.  And she has been here a while,  if her size is any indication.  The sapling that rejected me was only a few years old, but this one is at least three times the girth of that younger one.  Not yet fully grown into maturity, I’d guess, but probably the equivalent of a human teen.

I reach out gently with my senses, not wanting to encounter that same abhorrent attitude of her younger brethren, but all I sense from her is a deep, deep sadness.  A single tear wells up in response to such melancholy, and I cannot help but reach more fully for her, as compassion calls me forth.  Gently I touch her smooth, non-bark, filling my thoughts with light and love.  She does not reject me as her brother did, but neither does she welcome me in.  I step closer to her, placing both hands on her smooth trunk.  Astonished, I realize that she is crying…

***     *****     ***

“Shhh…,” I whisper softly to the tree-like being before me. “I’m here and willing to listen, if you would like to talk to me.”  I wait patiently to see if she responds…

While I wait, I visualize warm sunlight filtering down into this grove, bringing light, and warmth and hope. I imagine that light singling out this very tree, celebrating her being.  I sense a gentle rain coming to call, delighting her with conversation, lightening her mood, and helping her to feel whole and healthy once more.  I place songbirds within the image I am creating for her, softly chirping in her upper branches, and a nest full of eggs so she can witness, first-hand, the miracle of birth.  A curious squirrel scampers up her trunk, tickling her, and I can hear the faintest of giggles emanating from her; but this laughter speaks of joy rather than pain…  And then…

Like a miracle marked by some sliding glass door, I feel her open to me.  And finally, she and I are one…

“Talk to me, dear heart,” I urge the tree, for I feel her sadness weighing heavily on me.  “What has happened to make you so sad, and so isolated from the others here?”

In the slow way of tree-speak, a story finally comes to me…

I see her happy in this grove, young and spirited, full of life and curiosity.  I see the passage of years go by as the outer rings of trees are born, each generation arising from the former.  I see flowers and sunshine, and animals unlike any I have seen before, but whether it is because they do not exist in my world, or simply got mixed up in translation, I cannot know.   I see the tower growing, too, from a simple stone cottage, to a manor, to a castle tall and proud.  A single tower rises from the center and it is aglow with light and learning.  I cannot see the inhabitants of the building, but I sense, through her, that they are friendly and happy and wise.  An idyllic place this is…

Or was…

For something changed here; more accurately something came here.  And then things began to change.

I see cold weather settling in; not the pleasant, restful cold of winter, but something darker and unpleasant.  I see the sun dimming, and the wildlife disappearing.  I see the building shake and tremble, and I can feel the terror of those within it.  I can feel the slowly awakening fear of the tree herself as the truth of what is happening settles in…

In time the building shudders, and starts to fall apart; stones tumble where cracks form in the walls.  And then the storms come in, strong gales testing her, ripping her golden leaves from her in thoughtless, careless fury.  Icy rain and sleet arrives, so driven by that wind that they strike her like thousands of needles ripping through her bark.  She cries out in shock and pain, but every remaining living thing here is struggling to survive themselves, so there is no comfort to be found.  She cannot estimate time for me, because she has no understanding of such a concept, but she understands the storms came and went, giving her slight respite to recover between them.  Many, many trees were downed by the wind and rain and sleet, and the building itself fell victim to the elements that raged out here…

Eventually the storm seemed to settle at last.  And though the light itself had returned, there was no warmth within it.  Her bark, so tormented by the icy storms, had hardened into this unfamiliar form.  And her grove-mates had hardened also, becoming what they are today – mean-spirited, angry, and vicious!  She alone continued to love and hope, but they were brutal to her, teasing her mercilessly, driving her away.  Until she stood alone here, on the edge of an angry grove, beside a ruined house of knowledge.  And so she remained…

Until He came…

***     *****     ***

I can feel her withdrawing from me, so I gently call her back…

“Who is He?,” I ask, surprised to feel her shudder at the mention of Him.  “Please, dear lady, tell me the rest of the story!  I cannot help you if I do not understand what you are facing here…”

A wave of despair touches me, so intense that I actually weep.  This poor tree has not felt anything remotely like hope in a very long time, and she is most resistant to having it rekindled now…  Suddenly I remember that moment when I was walking here, when I saw a part of the tower detach itself and spiral down.  I had thought it was coming down to greet me, but now…?  “Please,” I whisper, desperation in my tone, though whether it is hers or mine, I cannot really tell.

Slowly, piecemeal, and without the easy flowing mode of her earlier tale, the story begins to grow once more…

I see the ruined building, all but the center portion reduced to useless piles of stone and rubbish.  I sense the aftermath of the storm that so devastated this place, echoes of the howling winds still ringing in my ears.  And then I see a shadow slinking along the outside wall of the only portion of the building that remained.  The single door that entered it was now ajar, and the shadow was moving away from it.  He moved with stealth, as if unsure what to expect outside, as if waiting to be attacked at any moment.  Eventually he made it to, then through, the trees, standing at the very edge of the meadow I had crossed.  And there he stopped.

He paced along the border, through the underbrush, as if looking for something.  He travelled all the way around this little island of trees.  And then he circled around once more.  Turning, he tried going in the opposite direction; once, twice, thrice he circled the grove, counter-clockwise in my mind.  And then he turned to face the building once again.  He lifted his head and screamed, a wicked howl of fury and revenge, then plunged back through the trees.

Recklessly he tore through the underbrush, snapping small branches from the trees that reached for him, toppling young saplings in his wrath.  It was terrifying, even to me, and I was seeing it all second hand!  And when he turned our way, I saw his eyes, glowing red with hatred for all living beings.  The sight of this shadow-being was frightening enough that I took a step back from my tree, almost breaking contact.  But a wiser part of me held on, understanding that I needed to know what this tree could tell me.

Finally, he made his way back to the clearing, where the remnants of the building still stood.  He howled again, turning my blood to ice water in my veins.  He lifted his arms before him, set loose his rage upon the building, and I stood, mesmerized, watching as he tore it down with the power of his anger.  And then I saw the bits of stone and wood, debris from all that stood before, rise up before him like a cyclone, spinning faster and faster as it climbed.  High into the sunless sky he drove those broken pieces of the past, until at last, when all the dust had settled, I saw the tower that I see now.  Somehow, he had created it, rebuilding it from what had existed before, only now it lacked the solidity of the previous building, being borne of shadow as well as substance.

Hatred flowed from that dark place.  And rage.  And helpless hopelessness.  And this tree, like every other, began to forget what it felt like to be a tree; instead she became some facsimile, a depthless, heartless version of what a tree should be.  And so she had remained.  Until I arrived, and reminded her that once she had been something else, something more than a hard shell with only emptiness within…

And so her story ended…

***     *****     ***

I sit back to think about all she had showed me, but I don’t even know how to begin processing it.  My first instinct when reviewing his behavior, is that he acts like someone trapped, for what else could cause such an overwhelming expression of rage.  The second thought to occur to me is that he is a force I would not want to meet up close and personal!  But that is all the time for thinking that I have, as a shadow falls over me..

Looking up, I find myself staring into the face of nightmares…

He is huge, made more so by the fact that I am sitting on the ground.  He appears to be made entirely of shadow, charcoal greys shifting and blending with matte black patches.  He has no features that I can make out, since his form seems to be impermanent and fluid, except his eyes; those are almond-shaped, and vivid red, glowing as though heated from within.  And there is not an ounce of compassion or mercy to be found within them…

***     *****     ***

(to be continued)

I

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