Chapter 4: Forest of Stone (Elements of Vaalbara)

Ash quickly began to wrap the long vine around his waist and motioned for London to climb onto his back. Everybody turned their attention to the great limestone rock formations towering over them like a dark warrior of the underworld. The rocky spires naked under the overtly bright blue crystal sky gave off a daunting presence of being alive.

‘I’m not waiting to find out what that sound was, so we have two options. Going up and over by the side or going through. I suggest we go up and over,’ said Ash.

‘I’m with you Ash,’ said Kurumi.

‘Ash, we can’t all climb like you,’ added Bradley.

‘May I also remind you that these rocks are sharp and almost impossible to climb, even for the most skilled climber,’ said Jumo. ‘Besides, these rocks must be at least 200 metres high. I suggest we go by foot as far as we possibly can.’

‘Although neither of us wants to, let’s go through,’ said Aruna.

They all looked at each other trying to persuade one another to enter first through sheer eyeballing.

‘Ok, let’s go through then,’ continued Ash. He returned the vine to the place he had taken it from. ‘At least we are all wearing trainers today then.’

The sky began to turn into a defeated red glow. As they entered the tsingy the sky quickly gave way to thick bushes and trees. They were in a small open clearing as if purposefully concealing themselves from the world around them. The vibrating sound was getting deeper and nearer.

‘It’s like a forest of stone,’ muttered Jumo.

‘Let’s move quicker,’ said ash. He led the line followed by London, Jumo, Kurumi, Aruna and finally Bradley. Though Bradley was the most scared, he was without a doubt the strongest, so it was decided he would be at the back. The passage was shoulder-length narrow and cut open like a splintered piece of wood from a chair. On another occasion they perhaps would have complained about the tight space, but under the circumstances they all just propped along as best they could. The air was noticeably warm within the tsingy and the farther they tiptoed along, the thicker the air became. The soil was moist and little tremors could be felt from time to time as if a whole community of insects were living underneath the ground itself. The different natural songs of the stone forest were now slithering along the jagged walls. For now at least they could no longer hear the loud sound that had prompted them to head into the forest of stone.

London seemed to enjoy the journey most for being the smallest meant she could hop in and out of any hole much to the unease of a watchful Ash. With an absent father it was never easy for their mother so Ash always took it upon himself to take great care of London since she was a baby.

Aruna stopped suddenly followed predictably by a little scream. Nobody uttered a word, but they all turned their attention to several dark objects scurrying along the ground. Hand-sized cockroaches and great big red rats occupied the ground. London attempted to reach out to gather a cockroach in the palm of her hand, but Ash quickly reacted and gave her a stern look. Jumo lost interest and carried on walking ahead always on the ready to bring out his notebook and pen. The group slowly moved forward nervous and alert. Every sound became even more louder and every footstep taken with a deep breath. There was now an irritating clicking sound forever present as they crept along the slit space, sporadic in its depth coming closer and then pushing farther away, and an animal call like a gush of wind being released through a small pipe echoed and reverberated against the castle-like grey walls.

‘Look up there!’ said Kurumi excitedly. Above their heads on the tip of a rock was a white furry sifaka lemur with a dense black face and piercing orange eyes. Its long thickly padded arms held onto a spike. From behind it out popped several more of these intriguing lemurs, but of all different colours. There was a gold one with red feet and yellow hands, a pure-red one, and a greyish pink lemur with bright blue sapphire eyes. The lemurs glared at the group unfazed and in the blink of an eye the pure-red lemur had suddenly appeared on the other side of the passage.

‘Wow, did you just see that thing jump!’ shouted Aruna. London could not contain her excitement; she imitated every movement of the lemurs.

‘Those have got to be a new breed of lemurs,’ exclaimed Jumo excitedly. Bradley chuckled for Jumo looked like a child who had just stepped into a sweet shop for the very first time.

‘Ah-mazing,’ said Aruna.

‘I’ve never heard of lemurs with… how to say… with, different colours,’ said Kurumi. Bradley looked on with a vague expression.

‘Jumo, if those are lemurs, then what in science’s name is that thing up ahead?’ asked Ash. What sat in front of them on the crumbled ground could only be described as a giant panda-sized lemur with green cat eyes and a very long face.

‘Wow,’ cried Jumo. ‘It has cat whiskers, but where is its feet?’ By now Bradley was no longer smirking at Jumo. They all stood rooted to the spot with jaws dropped deep and wide and for good reason to. This creature’s body was well rounded and thick. The scarlet fur on its body was wavy in places and flat in others. It had no visible feet, no tale, and how it managed to get there in the first place was a thought that quickly entered the group’s mind.

‘It looks like a fat panda,’ said Bradley.

‘Tree spirit, what exactly is that?’ asked Ash. The tree spirit was enjoying the whole moment enormously. Its colours ebbed and flowed, pink into green, green into blue, blue into rainbow, rainbow into violet. Its colours a lot brighter than a while ago. Sticking to its duty of concealing London’s energy it followed her as she tried continuously to climb the wall.

The tree spirit took what seemed to be a long enormous breath, for its whole tree body grew as it straightened its long tree spine. Of course it was impossible for the group to know what the tree spirit was actually doing for it had no mouth or eyes. It was quite simply a small floating tree. Now its colour turned to a bright and distinct jade green.

‘That, my dear ones is a lemuranda,’ said the tree spirit.

‘A what?’ asked Bradley.

‘Really?’ said Aruna.

‘What do you mean really,’ said Jumo. ‘It’s not as if you’ve heard of a lemuranda previously or have seen it on television and now finally you’re seeing one up close. What do you mean really?’

‘Oh shut up Jumo,’ said Bradley. ‘You can be a real twat-arse sometimes.’ His words came as quick medicine for Aruna.

‘Right,’ said Ash in a slow pushed out voice. ‘But did you not say that things have no name here.’

‘Oh, yes I did say many things have no name, but not all. Besides it is quite fun giving things names. Even trees learn to adapt to the changing times,’ said the tree spirit. Jumo was writing everything down in his notebook in excellent analytical form. Despite listening to the conversation he not once took his eyes off the lemuranda. Its presence now overshadowed the multicoloured lemurs above.

‘I think it’s stuck. Right, Kurumi, ahead you go,’ said Bradley.

‘What? No way,’ said Aruna. ‘You stay here Kurumi.’ Instead Kurumi took this opportunity to show she was not the weakest link of the group and walked forward. At seeing this Ash held her wrist gently. It was a brief moment of affection where both their hearts skipped a beat. ‘I’ll go,’ said Ash.

He took slow snail-like steps towards the lemuranda. Its big round tennis ball eyes looking directly into Ash’s. The poor oversized lemur appeared to be, if eyes could speak, asking for help with a hint of embarrassment. Nothing apart from its gigantic frame held any edge of malice within its pores. It was quite simply a friendly lemuranda that did not struggle even in its predicament. London grew curious, but the same could not be said for Aruna who was unconsciously gripping tightly to Bradley’s arm. Every step Ash took forward they all cringed. It was fair to say that Bradley enjoyed the moment despite the situation. Jumo tentatively followed on behind Ash. Kurumi made it her job to be with London every time Ash ventured anywhere since the start of the journey on Vaalbara. Apart from Ash, Kurumi was the only one that London truly seemed comfortable with. Kurumi had a gentle way of playing with London and often would imitate her every movement or expression, which of course London came to love.

‘Yes, yes, yes,’ London suddenly blurted out. It was her way of telling Ash everything is fine. The lemuranda was inhaling with deep breaths and exhaling with a whistling spur. Ash reached out his right hand. Slowly, ever so slowly his hand lowered towards the lemuranda. As his hand was about to touch it, Aruna squeaked. Ash and Jumo looked back. London and Kurumi paid no attention. Bradley also squeaked in a high-pitched voice out of contrast to his strong build. He quickly realised what he had just done. ‘I mean, ahhh,’ he said in an overly deep voice.

Ash felt something glide down his left arm, and so in turning around quickly found that the lemuranda was stroking him. Kurumi began to smile. Jumo’s jaw if remotely possible was on the ground. Ash pulled his senses together and smiled.

‘Hey Jumo, come here and help me set it free,’ Ash said in an excited voice. London broke free from Kurumi’s grip and within seconds had her body wrapped around the lemuranda.

‘No, wait-,’ cried Ash. The lemuranda gave off a sound similar to a giggle, but Ash and Jumo were not sure if the sound came from London or the lemuranda. Ash reached out to pull London back, but Kurumi stopped him. ‘It’s okay,’ she said with eyes fixed on the lemuranda. Jumo beckoned Bradley and Aruna to come over. They obeyed, but with some reservation. None of them spoke. London eventually let go, and then one by one everyone touched the lemuranda’s soft wooly fur. Any fear that had been showed had by now dispersed. The lemurs above them were now engaged in a weird dance. Their heads popping over the edge and back again in syncronised movements with great speed.

Small stones crumbled from the wall as the lemuranda gave a sudden heavy shiver. It looked cold. In fact the air did seem colder at that moment. The lemuranda rolled backwards and shot up into the air onto the tip of one of the boney rocks. It then disappeared without a sound.

Momentarily and rather foolishly they had forgotten about the unknown sound, which sent them rushing into the tsingy forest in the first place. Now this was the one thing that dominated their thoughts, as they moved forward swiftly.

B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp