The birds that once soared the skies did so less often. Even when the days were beautiful and the honeycombed morning sunlight broke through the cold silver clouds, a looming eeriness was still seeping into people’s consciousness across the globe. On every news channel for the past two months people were urged to continue with their usual daily routines, and that is exactly what Ash and his friends were doing. He arrived at the front gates of Springfield Park with his little sister, London, and his best friend Bradley. A pathway carved its way round the corner with trees arched over from each side, as if they were living creatures in deep conversation. As the three of them walked along the path they noticed a group of people holding placards, which read the solar flare will spare nobody. Both Ash and Bradley glanced at each other and pretended not to notice the group as they continued walking.
‘Where we meeting the others?’ asked Bradley.
‘At the park café,’ replied Ash. Bradley looked at Ash with an expression that asked where’s that? ‘Just follow me,’ Ash continued. Excited by the new environment, Ash’s sister broke free from his grip. With a big smile and skip in her step she ran towards a flowerbed that was in full bloom. London absolutely adored bright colours and things that swayed gently in the breeze like grass and petals. She danced among the flowers in all her innocence, as if savouring the moment for eternity. A large pond with a bird stand and a wooded island decorated with small trees and plants sat on their right. They followed London until they reached a white Georgian building. London jumped from one flowerbed to the other on the opposite side in order to keep pace with them both. Kurumi, Jumo, and Aruna waiting on the other side of the building.
‘Hi everyone, sorry we’re late,’ said Ash whilst he gestured for London to come over and part herself away from the flowers.
‘I see you have brought a young lady friend,’ exclaimed Jumo in his usual slow and thoughtful voice.
‘She’s my little sister,’ replied Ash, ‘same mum different dad just in case you enquire any further.’ It was visible that London’s skin complexion was darker than Ash, and usually Jumo did enquire about unexpected and new things. ‘I’m looking after her today. She’s autistic so she might just smile instead of responding to you. I hope you all don’t mind.’
‘Not at all,’ said Aruna, ‘So we finally get to meet your special sister!’
‘She’s cute,’ added Kurumi. It was all Kurumi could manage to say under a coy smile. Ash looked at her and smiled back. Kurumi immediately turned away to look at London. Bradley sniggered and gave Ash a slight nudge.
‘I thought your other friend was coming as well Aruna?’ asked Bradley.
‘She couldn’t make it unfortunately,’ replied Aruna, ‘her parents are a bit worried about everything that is happening in the news.’
‘Ok, well, shall we go find the tree mentioned in the ebrochure,’ said Ash.
‘Yes, let’s,’ said Jumo. The rest of the group smiled and nodded in unison. London climbed onto Aruna’s back. As they walked Aruna asked for London’s name, but London only smiled and laughed. She played with Aruna’s nose and ears. Bradley motioned Jumo to walk with him so that Ash and Kurumi were sandwiched alone in the middle of the group.
The group of friends came to the top of a hill overlooking the River Lee canal path and Walthamstow marshes. The park was finely decorated with apple trees, medlar and olive, beach, black walnut, mature, sweet chestnut, willow, silver birch, lime, mulberry and copper beach. There were couples, families, friends, lone ones and mad ones that had all scattered themselves across the vast greenery. In the distance a large basin of colourful narrow boats rested at the Marina. Tennis courts at the bottom of Spring Hill, and a rugby and cricket field sat in an open space made up the rest of the park imagery. It truly was a hidden gem of green space among the ever-growing urban landscape.
Whilst he scanned the scenery Ash spotted a tree of prominent stature. Its branches stretched over the foot of the path like the Egyptian Goddess Isis’ golden kite. The tree stood as it always had done, its golden glow commanding a great aura of appreciation from life around it.
‘That’s the one,’ said Ash to his friends.
‘Nothing extraordinary about it,’ replied Bradley as they walked across the sunbaked yellow grass. From its very base, a distinct root grew on the outside, which broke through from the earth up its own body and wrapped itself around to the highest branch and outwards like a camouflaged snake. They came to rest underneath it and took off their matching backpacks. Aruna had these made for the order of group picnics they so passionately came to enjoy. Jumo immediately sat with his back against the tree, as he liked to think himself the leader of the group in his own mind at least. He took out a compass, notebook and pen, as was his ritual to always carry with him the complements of the two. The compass he previously mentioned was a precious gift given to him by his late grandfather. Bradley gave off an incredible sigh as if he had just finished a long and exhaustive journey. The brown dots on London’s one-piece sunflower outfit matched the tree’s branches. She giggled at the adults who played football across the field.
‘Do you really think there will be a war between the continents?’ blurted out Aruna.
‘I don’t know, but it’s really tense,’ replied Ash, ‘my mum says it hasn’t been like this for a long while.’
‘Well, WWII ended over a hundred years ago, so I doubt anything will happen,’ added Bradley.
‘If there is, it will be more technological and less man power,’ interjected Jumo, ‘cyber attacks, drone wars, weather manipulation and a lot more.’
‘Weather what?’ asked Bradley.
‘Speaking of weather,’ interrupted Aruna, ‘the news said the solar flare will disrupt electronics and communications next weekend. That sounds proper scary.’
‘Something tells me that nobody really knows what will happen with the solar flare and how strong it will be,’ responded Ash, ‘I read online that its heat could potentially kill people.’
‘Solar flare?’ asked Bradley.
‘Gosh, don’t you watch the news?’ asked Aruna.
‘Nah, it’s overrated isn’t it,’ Bradley laughs, ‘besides, I’m not into all those conspiracy theory nonsense.’
‘Let’s not talk about this please,’ said Kurumi in a soft voice.
‘You’re right.’ replied Ash. His gaze fixed on London.
As the group of friends settled into alternative conversation an old man approached. He wore a forest green shirt and a brown suit. His hair was black and grey, but his aged face was still smooth and well cared for, as if protected from the elements of life itself. There was something rather naturally radiant about his presence and immediately the group stopped their chitchat to look at the elderly gentleman. Even London stopped to look, despite the fact she usually showed a general lack of interest in new people.
At the same time the elderly gentleman approached, a magpie came to rest on a branch above, followed by another. The two birds steadily walked the length of the branch speaking to each other – in bird tongue of course – as birds do. The chirping of other birds had seemed to grow louder with each step he took. Ash was the only one who noticed the delicate change that grabbed hold over the atmosphere, but he thought his imagination was getting the better of him again.
‘Oh dear, this tree has been taken,’ the old man said.
‘Sorry, we won’t be here long,’ spoke Kurumi.
‘It is no problem at all, you take your time dear young ones.’
‘Well, why don’t you join us?’ asked Aruna shifting over to make space.
‘Oh, that is very thoughtful of you, but perhaps I will join you later. In fact I am certain of it.’ Jumo gave the old man a searching look, to which the old man smiled back. ‘This is a fine tree you have selected. Or did the tree pick you all? You were drawn to each other no doubt.’
They each stared at the old man with great attention. Ash could feel the old man’s presence strengthen the more he spoke. It was like he was some sort of wizard that through simply talking was subtly influencing the people and atmosphere around him.
‘It states in the London Park Weekendly ebrochure that this tree was once part of an ancient woodland and is in fact two different trees merged into one,’ said Jumo.
‘Ah, yes the London Park Weekendly ebrochure. It is a good initiative to encourage people to get out and about during these dark and uneasy times. I have seen you five before at Victoria, Hyde, and Regent’s park.’ Jumo scanned the ebrochure on his a-tab (arm tablet). He scrolled through the pages with flicking gestures, and whichever way he twisted or moved his arm the projection adjusted to his eye movement. The a-tab was wrapped around his arm and made of light material so it felt like sports clothing. It camouflaged itself to its wearers skin and only became clearly visible when activated. The ebrochure detailed all the parks throughout the city, as well as which parks to visit during each of the four seasons. The group had stuck to the guide with careful detail and enjoyed each of their picnics ever since spring came into bloom.
‘However, today there is a sixth amongst you and a rather special little one. It is most interesting.’ He looked at London. She gazed back at him with a tremendous smile. She had become quite calm in his presence in comparison to how she usually was.
‘This is my sister, she’s autistic and doesn’t speak much,’ said Ash. The fact was London hardly spoke at all. Her autism and lack of speech, along with many other reasons for a more holistic education was what propelled Ash’s mother to take both London and Ash out of school to be home educated for the past two years.
‘Yes, I know my dear child.’ Before Ash or any of the group could say anything more, the elderly gentleman continued. ‘It seems that with each passing year the tree changes slightly. Nobody notices it of course.’
‘It does not state that in the ebrochure,’ exclaimed Jumo.
‘Indeed it does not, for nobody takes notice of its changes.’
‘How old do you think it is?’ asked Kurumi.
‘Nobody knows for sure, but like many other rare treasures like yourselves, it has inspired many generations and a mystical story or two. None of which are known to be true of course.’
‘Ah-maazing,’ said Aruna in a cheerful voice.
‘Would you like one,’ asked Ash as he held out a sweet in his hand.
‘Why, thank you my dear child. I should very much like to join you all sometime, but let me carry forth for now, for I have an adventure to prepare for. Be sure to say goodbye to the tree before you leave. Cheerio as you say on these lands.’ The old man took his leave and walked away up the path.
‘An adventure?’ said Ash to the group smirking.
‘Oh come on, when you’re at that age even going to the local shop is an adventure,’ said Bradley.
‘But I imagine he is meeting a lovely lady, or should I say courting,’ said Jumo, as he pointed towards the man who now greeted an elderly lady in the far distance, but then continued walking alone.
‘In true Gabriel style, but I think you’re wrong this time, Jumo,’ added Aruna. The rest of the group threw her a look with raised eyebrows.
‘Gabriel style… anyway…’ said Bradley.
‘OK, time for lunch is it not,’ said Jumo. Bradley rubbed his hands together and licked his lips in anticipation.
‘OK, are you all ready?’
‘Five, four, three, two, one.’
From their backpacks they each pulled out plastic containers stuffed to the brims with food. Jamaican vegetable patties from Ash, Japanese maki-zushi made by Kurumi, Bengali shemai prepared by Aruna, African yam with spicy tomato and jollof rice from Jumo, and traditional English apple pie from Bradley completed the set. London’s eyes lit up. She reached forward to take a piece of maki-zushi, but Ash caught her in time.
‘Wow, it looks so delicious,’ said Kurumi. There was a delightful fusion of smells and a wonderful splash of colours set against the jade blades of grass shaded from the sun underneath the tree.
Whenever the group met for picnics they each brought a dish representing their respective cultural backgrounds. Ash being Jamaican on his mother’s side and English on his father’s, Kurumi, Japanese, Aruna, Bengali, Jumo mixed with Kenyan on his mum’s side and Ghanian on his dad’s, and lastly Bradley being English. What was most interesting about the group picnics was that they would set a topic or theme for each meeting and exchange their favourite books, music CDs and DVDs. Previous meetings included the exchange of drawings, which was quite hilarious, making something by use of paper – Kurumi won hands down with her origami crane – and discussions on a flora of topics from ancient civilisations to sports and entertainment. This time round the main theme to accompany lunch was to be poetry or prose. Each member of the group had to do a spoken word poem or short prose based on anything that entertained their imagination.
‘Let’s eat then,’ said Bradley. At that and although it was still quite clear, the sky opened up and raged heavy rain upon the living. The British weather is usually famous for being unpredictable, but in recent years the weather across the globe had become even more sporadic. Scientists were often on the news talking about the need to make drastic changes or face dyer consequences. With the recent sun’s dangerous activity, many believed the earth could be engulfed by a large solar flare at any moment.
They hurriedly put the lids on the containers and popped the food back into their backpacks. London did not particularly like things changing suddenly, so she parked herself right up against the tree. As the group followed, she began to jerk her body and laugh rather loudly as if some invisible pair of hands was tickling her all over.
Within no time at all they were each huddled under the tree with depressive expressions upon their faces, except for Ash and Kurumi who were smiling at each other strangely.
‘What’s up with you two?’ asked Bradley.
‘It’s this tree, there is something mysterious about it,’ said Ash, ‘it’s energy is enormous.’
‘I feel it too,’ said Kurumi enthusiastically.
‘Geez, what a time to go bonkers,’ replied Bradley. Kurumi and Ash ignored him and continued to gaze at the tree with wonder. Kurumi’s eyes glowed with excitement as she scrunched her lips together as if kissing the air. She arched her back and looked into the sky. A radiant smile grew on her face that resonated with the tree’s majestic beauty.
‘I was saving this for another day, but since we are stuck under one now, why not?’ said Ash.
‘Why not, what?’
‘Let’s all hug the tree.’
‘Ash, you’re my best mate, but I always knew you were a bit potty,’ said Bradley, ‘you’re taking things to a whole knew level of strange mate.’
‘Well, you agreed to try out new things for the benefit of the group. Besides, nobody is looking and we are stuck under the tree for now until the rain passes.’
‘There’s nothing extraordinary about trees,’ said Bradley. As the last words slipped out of Bradley’s mouth lightening illuminated the hazy sky ripping through the rain drops.
‘Oh, you could not be more wrong there,’ said Ash. Kurumi then motioned for Aruna and London to join her. One by one they began to hug the tree. Only Bradley and Jumo were left. Aruna gave Bradley a wink that robbed him of all stubbornness and in response he dragged Jumo with him closer to the tree.
‘Now, just close your eyes and imagine that this tree is going to give you energy, just like water pouring into a glass slowly from a tap,’ said Ash.
‘Hold hands,’ said Aruna. Bradley of course did not mind this gesture at all as he stood between Kurumi and Aruna.
‘Breathe deeply and slowly,’ added Kurumi with much excitement in her voice. Aruna was pretty much up for anything new so had her eyes closed long before they were told to close them. The five of them and little London stood for a while, each hugging the tree and connected to each other by interwoven fingers. Their breathing patterns fell into unison and finally Bradley closed his eyes allowing himself to flow with the moment.
It was then that it happened. Every one of them felt energy oozing through their bodies, but yet even though Bradley tried to speak and open his eyes, he could not. The feeling intensified. It was warm and relaxing like nothing ever felt before. The tree was slowly sucking them inside within itself, but none of them could feel or see it happening. Time had now slowed down.
‘Now,’ whispered London. They all opened their eyes because it was the first time London had spoken that afternoon. With their eyes opened they could see that the tree and park had disappeared. They remained holding each other’s hands in utter shock and fear. London however just stood there giggling. She seemed more alive and happier than ever before. The group stood in darkness with nothing surrounding them, but yet they could still see each other. It was quite scary because the ground was no longer below them and although they could not feel solidity beneath their feet they were not falling either. There was a slight jolt and then their bodies took flight rushing upwards as if a geyser had flung them into the air. Kurumi and Aruna screamed their hearts out. Bradley and Jumo were simply too scared to make any sound at that moment. There was a painless pulling and pushing vibration running through their bodies like being pressed against with soft pillows. It felt somewhat different to each of them, but uniquely the same.
Without wind or breeze they were being transported into a deeper darkness at an even faster speed. As they continued flying towards the unknown, whispering voices of children could be heard echoing all around. Some of the voices were softly crying, others gently laughing and some speaking in weird languages. They each gripped each other even more tightly as they continued to speed up. From the complete darkness came a bright light, but not blinding to the eyes. Their surroundings did not become totally visible, instead the view had become flickers of light and dark, as they traveled through some sort of zebra crossing patterned vacuum and out into a multicoloured field of light. The view all around them was breathtaking. There were cosmic eruptions of vivid crystals in every direction like dazzling fireworks on a clear summer festival night.
Water began snaking its way around an invisible tube making it clear that they were within some sort of moving object, perhaps a vessel of some kind. Just as their minds and bodies were adjusting to this enforced experience of the paranormal, everything completely slowed down within a temporary cosmic vacuum of nothingness, and boom, they had hit a ground full of dry leaves that cushioned their landing. It was only when they each dared to stand up that the ground became firm and solid beneath their feet.
B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp