‘Nothing extraordinary my crusty foot. What just happened?’ screamed Bradley in a very shaky voice. It was still daytime but evidently they were now at place neither of them had ever been before. Nobody answered Bradley’s question for none of his friends had an answer that would either make sense or dissipate all their fears. Further visual inspection of their surroundings showed that they appeared to be enclosed in a circle of very large and thick trees, the leaves of which were light green and absolutely gigantic. They could neither see past the trees nor above for they towered over them blocking out the sky, but yet they could still see very clearly, as if the light were shining through a room with open curtains.
The ground was covered in broken branches and dry earth. A scurrying sound like winter leaves and twigs being trod upon at a quick pace could be heard from beyond their location gradually getting louder and louder in all directions. Something was coming. The group formed a tight circle. Only Ash stood forward with London tucked in behind him. He stared in all different directions trying to pinpoint where the sound was coming from. One by one the surrounding trees began to vibrate, resonating with some more powerful energy beyond its branches. They huddled even closer together still. Aruna, Jumo and Bradley were really frightened and held each other ferociously tight. Usually shy about being in close proximity with each other, not even a hairpin would have been able to fit between the group of friends at that moment. Ash commanded Jumo to stay in front of London. Kurumi picked up a thick branch close to her side and held it in front of her with both hands firmly gripped at its base, her right hand above the left. Bradley nervously stepped forward also.
‘Come on then, come out wherever you are,’ shouted Bradley.
‘Or whatever you are,’ said Jumo under his shaky breath. Unfortunately, Aruna heard him and his words only served to make her even more petrified than she already was. The only one amongst the six of them lacking any sort of fear or anxiety was little London. She was smiling as though everything that had happened thus far was totally normal.
Inaudible whispers began to zip all around them, followed by a loud bellowing sound that rattled the tree in front of Ash. The atmosphere became denser and gravity itself was heavier. Aruna, Jumo, Kurumi and Bradley became weak at the knees for they could not withstand the changing atmosphere. Their resolves had been shattered. They each dropped to the ground except Ash. Only he stood bravely, his heart drumming against his rib cage, but even still, he’s knees also began to weaken. It felt like he was struggling to push up and stand as one normally could. He looked back at London and to his amazement she was giggling and jumping around. Whatever force was taking place had no affect upon her whatsoever.
A bright glow emitted from behind the tree ahead and then out popped a fly-shaped thing of a creature. Well, it appeared that way at a first glance. In a blink of an eye this thing was floating above their heads. It was dark-green and now more clearly shaped to them like a small tree surrounded by an ethereal blue, white and orange glow. On its back sat crescent shaped wings with the markings of a leaf on both sides. Its size was no bigger than London’s head. The hazy glow around it ebbed and flowed as if it were breathing, inhaling and exhaling. Ash remained on full guard, although his friends had slightly relaxed after not having seen some great unearthly creature come out from behind the tree. Ash however, did not wish to relax in the slightest for fear of something rather unexpected and dangerous happening. To him it was most unwise to think that something seemingly so beautiful and small could not bring harm upon them.
London stepped forward looking up at the small flying tree and smiled.
‘Hello,’ she said. Ash looked on in shock for London seldom spoke to strangers. She had only whispered and shared few words with both himself and their mother for as long he could remember, but now she had spoke not once, but twice, and she appeared to be different. She was confident and direct.
‘What you doing London?’ screamed Ash. Bradley finally gathered his bearings and pulled London back to within the group circle.
‘It is alright Ash, there is no need to fear me,’ the flying tree said. ‘Welcome to Vaalbara. Earth’s shadow planet and your spiritual realm.’
‘Unbelievable, it spoke,’ said Jumo looking at it with great interest and fear at the same time. It did not have a mouth, but yet they could hear it speak as clear as day. Strangely to them, it had the most soothing and relaxing male voice you could ever possibly imagine, like a very well spoken grandfather.
‘It?’ asked the small flying tree, breaking into a rousing, but gentle laughter. Its voice seemed very familiar to the group but from where they could not recall.
‘Then what are you?’ asked Aruna.
‘I am the tree spirit.’
‘A tree spirit,’ exclaimed Kurumi.
‘That’s impossible,’ said Jumo.
‘This is mental,’ said Bradley.
‘Wait, how do you know my name?’ asked Ash bewildered.
‘I know all your names. Ash Green-Hill, the lovely London Graham, your sister if I am not mistaken. And let us see, then there is Bradley Chapman, Kurumi Okamoto, Jumo Mensah, and last, but by no means any less important, Aruna Begum.’ The group was lost for words. Ash wanted to say something, but the words got stuck in his throat and refused to go down or come back up for that matter.
‘Well, come on then. Spit it out. What is going on here?’ asked Jumo.
‘Ah, young Jumo, the one who is always direct and seeks answers to a thousand questions swimming in his head. You have all been chosen or rather you have chosen yourselves because of your unique bond of friendship and connection with nature.’
‘Chosen for what?’ asked Bradley who had become quite annoyed.
‘My dear children, earth as you know stands on the brink of elimination. You all know this because you feel and see it every day. A global war of the continents is nearing, children have been going missing, and a destructive solar flare is coming. Even under the potential catastrophic solar flare nations still stake a claim to land from places exposed by the melting glaciers and newly found oil deposits and other natural resources. You all know what I speak of. A precious battle is upon you all, and should you succeed, you will restore a balance to earth and all that you love and hold dear.’
‘What battle? What the monkies are you talking about?’ asked Bradley.
‘The six of you each posses the eternal qualities or elements if you like: harmony – Kurumi, friendship – Bradley, valor – Ash, knowledge – Jumo, imagination – London, and enthusiasm – Aruna. The tree spirit looked at them individually as he said each element. These eternal qualities have the ingredients to change the world for good. For every child who dies due to war or poverty, or any other brutality, a star disappears and the enemy grows stronger. The children’s souls are trapped here in Vaalbara. Soon the enemy will reach full strength and at that moment the grand hypnosis will begin. Earth will be not be destroyed by the solar flare but instead controlled through the sun star’s photon rays caused by the solar flare. Humanity will lose the option of choice, to imagine, to feel, to love, to question and to create. It will be a world devoid of free will and choice, a world where humans truly become puppets of a common enemy.’
‘The children’s souls also cannot pass through this realm peacefully until the battle has finished and balanced has been restored here. If they do not come to pass then their souls will be stored in emptiness and there they will remain until life on earth ends. The people still living on earth face an even darker fate. You all will soon be hypnotised and put at the mercy of our enemy. However, should you succeed, you will win back freedom that each of you will soon lose.’
‘What do you mean by hypnotised by the enemy?’ asked Jumo.
‘Our enemy is a spirit like me, my opposite, but yet my whole. She is the water spirit. Some unknown force had separated us from our complete connected whole. The rays of the sun star shine down on all that has inherited the earth. It is through using those photons of light that the enemy will strike to put earth into a deep and everlasting hypnosis. Nothing and nobody can escape it if she succeeds. Initially it will feel like you are within a perfect dream world, but how long that will last and what will happen to humanity thereafter I do not know. I imagine some may remain fully awaken to the fact they are being hypnotised and controlled. A fate far worse than death. Unfortunately I have learned of the water spirit’s motives too late for she is already very close to implementing her plan. In truth I do fear a darker force of which I have no knowledge has control her. It is this force that wants to control life on earth. Or to look at this from another perspective, it is this enemy that wishes to preserve humanity by stopping the coming war through hypnosis of humankind.’
‘Why don’t you stop this spirit yourself then?’ asked Bradley desperately.
‘It is not in my power to stop her. Her power is too great. As the water spirit’s power strengthens my energy weakens two-fold. I had risked much of my energy bringing you here through safe and undetected passages to fight, and even took on a new form in your world and learned this physical language of your earth. Which I add has taken quite some time.’
‘Why do we have to fight?’ asked Aruna.
‘I’m not fighting anybody,’ added Jumo.
‘You are all coming of age now, except of course for dear London. The water spirit requires children the age of ten or younger to easily posses and to consume their energies. Children of these ages still contain the most free and pure explorations of imagination. We digress; London contains a special energy due to her awakening condition. Autism as it is known on earth. She is in the gravest of dangers. We continue. Though between eleven and fourteen your bodies are not yet strong enough for combat. However at fifteen and sixteen you are ready to fight and have also not yet given up on your imagination in the exploration of the unknown. From seventeen years of age onwards you begin to see the reality of life and you lose your innocence for you are no longer sheltered by what you have structured as school life. Although this may be different for you Master Green-Hill, and it will forever be different for your sister. In continuation, you are expected to do more from your family and society and when you enter into college-age a multitude of choices are laid out before you. I have tried to attract many others, but the group size was either too small or they did not lend themselves to nature.’
‘Group size? Lend ourselves to nature?’ asked Bradley.
‘Yes, like I said. You posses the six eternal qualities of the spirit, and you each gave yourselves to nature by embracing the tree. The tree heard your innermost thoughts and desires and brought you here, to Vaalbara. Brute force alone cannot quench the thirst of evil. Whether you have openly admitted it or not, each of you crave to be on an adventure and to fight all injustices and any evil that stops free expression and free will.’
‘Vaalbara… but where are we?’ asked Kurumi, finally bringing herself to speak again.
‘Vaalbara is nowhere, but you now have an idea of how you got here. Vaalbara represents earth’s first supercontinent, a time before humans came to be if you will.’
‘The trees,’ replied Kurumi.
‘This is your fault Ash!’ shouted Bradley angrily.
‘Wow,’ interrupted Jumo in utter amazement. ‘The trees are portals, wormholes to other planets and galaxies. Scientists have hoped that someday they would appear in space to aid interstellar space-time travel, but to think they were here on earth all this time.’ He paused and looked even more shocked than he already was. ‘Wait, we are no longer on earth I gather from what you have said.’ Jumo spoke so fast he had no time to draw neither breath nor thought.
‘What the hell are you guys talking about?’ asked Bradley.
‘Yeah!’ exclaimed Aruna.
‘Yes, you could say that. Though every tree can receive, store and transmit information like water, not every tree is a doorway to Vaalbara. There are a limited amount of trees located on earth. Six in every country or island that has trees to be precise. They will all bring you here or to other places.’
‘Where is here?’ asked Bradley.
‘Here is Vaalbara, earth’s shadow planet as I mentioned before. We continue. Trees have amazing energy, which you can use for rejuvenating yourself. Ash and Kurumi I believe would know of this for they both often meditate. When one truly lets their mind be free and embraces one of the six trees, they will be transported to another place for they have become one with nature. Things that come to life here do not leave, and things that pass through here do not return. Things are either simply here or just passing through.’
‘But why trees,’ asked Ash.
‘Why trees?’ exclaims Bradley in disbelief, ‘what does it matter whether it’s a tree, a donkey or a bloody wardrobe!’
‘We continue. Trees represent spiritual beings that transcend and elevate life’s emotional turmoil and everybody’s hopes even in the face of death. A tree provides a resting place for animals, ecosystems to thrive and shade for humans.’
‘You really need to stop saying we continue, it sounds bloody weird!’ said Bradley angrily. ‘Besides, it’s I not we!’
‘I understand. I will stop saying this if it makes you feel any better. However, know that I more often choose to say we instead of I because I am part of nature and nature is part of me. We are not separate from each other. My actions and thoughts have an influence on nature, as does nature have on me. The water spirit and myself were once one complete spirit and we need to be once again if we are to save earth.’
‘We died didn’t we. This must be our call for judgment,’ said Aruna.
‘If things neither leave nor return here and for those which are passing through, it still does not serve to clarify as to what happens after death, what happens after they pass through? Are we dead? Do you care to answer that?’ added Jumo.
‘My dear young one. Neither of you are dead. You are simply passing through, and I should hope to return you if we succeed. You have plenty time to find out the answers to the questions you seek to resolve, but I fear you cannot truly comprehend nor understand the realm of death until it is upon you. If you could know what happens after death, would you really want to? Do not be concerned with what will happen, instead be concerned with what is happening. Live within the now my dear children. It is the not knowing that makes the concept and yearning to know of death intriguing. To know would be to enable a spiritless world to form regardless of science and spirituality in presence. We would lose the urge to question, to explore, to know, to feel. Death is life’s greatest journey. Think of this place as a stop-off, somewhere to rest and contemplate.’
‘You said you risked much of your energy bringing us here,’ said Kurumi.
‘You are indeed an observant one dear child. The water spirit has set obstacles that only earth hands can challenge and overcome. I am merely a spirit, formless. To take on the human form in your three-dimensional world as I did previously took use of great energy. I just hope the water spirit has not recognised your coming here. She now has spies everywhere and wishes to destroy me. She has covered the lands in darkness and seeks to change the hearts and minds of all that dwell here. To do that, she needs the spirit that resides within small children, for they are the easiest ones to influence and change. There are also six figures protecting the water spirit. These figures are your eternal opposites and can only be defeated by human hands. They each embody dark qualities, which are influencing the atmosphere and spirits that dwell here. These dark qualities are envy, fear, jealousy, hate, ignorance, and selfishness. Only you can defeat them and help me get close enough to become whole again with the water spirit in order to end this deathly danger.’
‘You’ve known about this for such a long time, yet you’ve done nothing about it until now,’ shouted Bradley.
‘My dear child, time moves differently here on Vaalbara than it does on earth, as do us spirits. Such time for us is very short in passing.’
‘Can’t we just go back home?’ asked Bradley in desperation.
‘If you could, would you really want to now that you have seen a little into your past and present future?’ replied the tree spirit.
‘So, this is like a parallel spiritual world to that of earth?’ asked Jumo.
‘Yes, every planet that has life has a parallel spiritual world in order to help create a balance and store the flow of energy.’
‘That’s impossible. Such a place does not exist, otherwise science would have found it.’
‘Maybe earth’s science are using the wrong tools. This is a place which can only be found through nature and from traveling within.’
‘So there are more planets with life then?’ asked Jumo.
‘Perhaps, but we are moving away from the topic of danger. One day you will find out more I imagine, but no more questions for now. You must think about what you intend to do. You can go home immediately, but you all must be equally willing to do so. Or save earth from destruction. Think now and make your choice.’ The tree spirit lacked any facial features, though every time it spoke the centre of its body changed colour slowly and then returned to its dark green shade once its speech came to an end.
Silence settled in as they each thought about what to do. London played with her hands and tiptoed around in a circle. On another occasion her actions would be greeted with laughter, but during this moment her presence was invisible to the group. They were each stuck in deep thought and for a long time nobody spoke.
‘If we die here, do we die back home?’ asked Kurumi. The group was shocked by this question and her sudden directness. She had asked the question that nobody dared to ask, but had thought in the depths of their minds.
‘This is uncertain because no human has ever traveled here via the tree gateway. Are you willing to take that risk?’ asked the tree spirit.
‘Yes,’ replied Kurumi.
‘What the… Ash sort her out now,’ said Bradley.
‘Me too,’ said Ash.
‘As will I. I do not much care for earth. What’s worth saving nobody knows, but to be the first ones to explore this place. I could never return home without knowing,’ said Jumo.
‘You bloody twat-arses are bonkers,’ screamed Bradley. He clenched his fists and stamped the floor. ‘But anywhere Ash goes I will follow. Besides I am not going home by myself. I wouldn’t even know how to!’ He was very irritated with himself for agreeing to join the quest.
‘Neither will I, even if this is a dream,’ added Aruna.
‘Tree spirit,’ but before Ash could finish.
‘We will protect London with all that we are,’ added the tree spirit. ‘Should you all choose to continue, let it be known that you will see many things that you already know of, some you believe to not be in existence and others that have not yet existed in your world. It is a most dangerous path riddled with difficulties that we or one should say, I, am unable to assist you with, though I will always be by your side.’
‘What about food, electricity, water, washing and shelter?’ asked Bradley. ‘You must all learn to live with nature now. Besides you have enough food in your backpacks and surrounding you for our estimated six-land journey. You will not go hungry or thirsty. This is the world of the spiritual not the physical and the flowing energy will feed you. As for electricity you shall not be in need of it, nor any of your man-made possessions.’
One by one they stepped forward and said they were ready, except of course for London who continued to explore her surroundings oblivious to what was being said.
‘Then the quest has begun and your friendship forever bound by your loyalty to each other right here and now. You will need these.’ From behind gigantic leaves six doll-like uniforms glided in the air towards each of them. ‘If you will, please reach out and touch your item of clothing. I had these made time ago from a group of alternate-beings that once passed through these lands. They are made of a special material that will keep you both warm and cool in the changing climates. It adjusts to the temperature around you as well as being rather durable to the adventure you are all about to embark on.’
‘Brilliant,’ said Bradley, who was the first one to touch his floating uniform. Within a flash his clothes and footwear had been replaced to a dark green and forest brown attire with gold trimmings. There were strange markings and emblems of animals, plants, trees and other unknown mythical creatures collaged together, interwoven and spread in and out of each other. These markings were very tiny in detail, but upon closer inspection each uniform was varied slightly in its tone of colour to match the skin complexion of each group member. Aruna had reddish doughnut-brown skin, black eyes and thick long black hair. Kurumi’s hair was short black, her eyes a magical mix of green, yellow, blue and grey, and her skin creamy beige. Ash being mixed in heritage had tanned olive-brown skin, dark green and brown eyes that held a mysterious depth, and short black hair. Jumo had very smooth and firm dark brown crystalised skin. His hair was short and his eyes brown. Bradley was of strong build, he had scruffy black hair, brown eyes and snowy skin.
‘This doesn’t feel like any material I know,’ said Aruna as she rubbed the garment. ‘My mother and I make clothes and we have used every fabric imaginable. What is this? It feels silky and cottony, woolly, everything together. The shine is amazing, no wax coating I have ever seen before.’
‘The secrets to those costumes rest within the pages of many of your old literary books and then none of them at all. However, we must get moving for time is not on our side,’ replied the tree spirit.
‘How do we travel?’ asked Jumo.
‘We travel by foot, put your backpacks on and let us get going.’
‘Why not travel by tree?’
‘Because my dear child, this is the closest tree to our destination. There are no trees of this sort farther ahead from here. There was one, but that has now been destroyed along with many other wonderful things that once covered these lands. Let us go this way.’ The tree sprit pointed its branches in the direction behind them.
‘What’s that way?’ Bradley asked pointing in the opposite direction.
‘That path leads to other places and adventures not related to this quest. I must insist on pressing forward,’ replied the tree spirit.
‘I’m scared,’ whispered Kurumi to Aruna.
‘Without fear we cannot achieve anything. Fear lies deep within the soul of living beings and creatures, that which makes them truly humane. You need to dig deep and use the fear that resides in you to achieve your goals and protect that which you hold dear to your precious hearts. Friends, loved ones, your fellow brothers and sisters. The battle that lies ahead of you will not be won without knowing fear.’ The tree spirit whisked its way behind them and after a sudden vibrating motion the gigantic leaves that had surrounded them parted to reveal a wooden path lit by a source of unseen light.
B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp