They awoke to the blazing heat of the orange sun cooking the surface of the semiarid desert ahead. The flaky moon was glued to the surface of the azure sky. Jumo was the first to awake and had something green cradled in his arms.
‘What’s that?’ asked Aruna.
‘Celery, but to be more specific, breakfast,’ replied Jumo.
‘I’m not eating that!’ said Aruna.
‘Oh, really? But they form part of a healthy diet,’ said Jumo. At that everybody took a piece from Jumo and ate without speaking, as they were all quite health conscious. Upon finishing Ash whispered to Jumo.
‘Well done! I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s not celery,’ said Ash.
‘Then why did you eat it?’ Jumo whispered back.
‘Because the tree spirit didn’t object, so I guessed it was safe to eat,’ said Ash.
The group gathered their belongings and made for the desert. The cloudless sky and humidity allowed the sun to blaze through, roasting up a almost unbearable heat. They each used their backpacks as a shade from the sun. The desert stretched for miles in all directions and the optimism they had before walking on this organic radiator had now long faded. It was a rather queer feeling trespassing the desert for a forest was visible in the distance, but yet every step they took did not bring them any closer to it nor the oasis they lay in its centre. They crossed over sandpits and dunes, and had to huddle together closely as a brief sandstorm swept by. At times the surface was gravely and shallow. London often slipped, the silky sand giving way each time she tried to skip. After a while they came across a loose rocky fragmented space with a single thick cactus springing upwards. It had deep cup-shaped red petals that reached out to the group. At the base of the cactus grew an opuntia, a paddle cactus with prickly red pears.
‘Oh a wonderful snack, though it should not be here,’ said Jumo with great joy. ‘Look here everybody. We can eat these prickly red pears. You can eat the pads too, but it is best to boil those. Here, here, do not be shy, come and eat.’ The group huddled around and watched Jumo carefully pluck a purple fruit with spines sticking out. He poured a little water over it and rubbed the pear on his sleeve. ‘Ash, your pocket knife please.’ With the small blade he sliced off the skin delicately and then sliced the pair into two and took a bite.
‘Ah, sweet,’ he said. He handed the other piece to Ash who smiled and chewed at the same time, obviously impressed. Jumo repeated this process until everybody ate a prickly pear each. He warned them not to bite into the seeds at the centre for they were very tough even though they were edible. London loved hers and wanted more. Jumo obliged by giving her another one.
‘We should leave the rest,’ said Ash.
‘Quite right indeed,’ said Jumo.
‘How did you know we could eat those things,’ asked Bradley.
‘It is amazing what you can learn from reading on the Internet and through scouts,’ replied Jumo.
The group continued to press forward. The sun was relentless and did not give way not even for a moment. They passed by a family of yellow and white kangaroo rats, a pair of fennec foxes, big ants, a scorpion and several snakes. After being attacked by a rackaamataar seeing a snake at a distance was no longer as scary as one would imagine. Kurumi stopped to look at each passing plant; brittlebush, agaves, turpentine bush, ocotillo and yuccas. They each kept their eyes on alert, each being assigned to look into different directions whilst walking in a straight line. The oasis at least gradually drew nearer.
Something caught London’s eye, a small dark-brown body skipped across the sandy surface at an incredible speed. London followed and bent down to pick it up, but the reptile grabbed its tail in its mouth and curled up into a ball. Its thick skin covered with square-like scales right across its back and up to its neck. Its belly was yellow with a wavy black pattern.
‘That’s an armadillo lizard that is,’ said Bradley.
‘How do you know,’ said Jumo.
‘Mi mate Jimmy’s got one,’ said Bradley.
‘I must insist that you do not touch it,’ said the tree spirit. Nobody except Bradley showed any desire to do so. Ash kept London at a distance and Jumo busied himself with his notes. Bradley on the other hand completely ignored the tree spirit’s request.
‘It’s alright, these things don’t hurt,’ said Bradley. He picked it up looking very pleased with himself. Aruna stared in amazement. The tree spirit changed its colours rapidly. Noticing this Bradley put it down.
‘Run my dear children,’ said the tree spirit. They looked around but could not see anything in sight. They were confused, but not for long. A cracking sound and a tremor like a small earthquake followed.
‘Look!’ screamed Kurumi. The armadillo lizard was still curled in a ring, but it was quickly getting bigger. Everybody started to back away slowly until the lizard reached the same size as them, at which point they turned and ran. A great shadow floated above their heads and landed on the ground ahead. It was no longer a lizard, but a dragon-like creature with wings. The creature hovered in the air in a circled shape. A sort of energy field surrounded it making dust rise and fall. Its scales were rough and tough looking, painted in green, brown and red shades, and although the size of it was not like how one would imagine it to be, nevertheless it was as big as a double-decker bus.
‘It’s an ouroboros,’ said Jumo. ‘This is crazy, that creature is a myth.’
‘What?’ asked Ash. ‘Whatever, how do we stop it?’
‘I have no idea, it is a symbolic creature that represents re-creation, cycles, the mind and so on,’ said Jumo.
‘Why not try saying that you are sorry,’ said the tree spirit.
‘Are you mental?’ asked Bradley. The group was preoccupied with discussing what to do that nobody noticed London walking towards the creature with her arms stretched out and smiling. As she drew nearer her movements became more excited. At this the ouroboros seemed to tighten its grip on its own tail, which was flat and spearheaded. A swooshing sound ripped through the air. The group turned to see London being struck in the back by the ouroboros’ tail. The blow took her feet off the ground and with a second strike she was thrown up in the air and came crashing down. It all happened at killer speed. Her body lay on the floor twisted like an abandoned rag doll. Ash ran towards London screaming, the ouroboros flew out to meet him head on, twisted and swooshed, but Ash jumped and rolled past it. Bradley jumped on its back gripping tightly to one of its scales. The ouroboros let out a deafening roar and made way for the skies with Bradley clinging on for dear life. Aruna stood staring at Bradley being summersaulted and flipped around in mid-air. Kurumi ran after Ash. Bradley kept on bellowing out the same words; come on then, do something special, do something. Fear drove him crazy. The tree spirit dived towards London, its colour glowed a cherry red.
‘Help her,’ pleaded Ash to the tree spirit.
‘I can not heal wounds, nor can I interfere with life,’ replied the tree spirit.
Bradley lost his grip, but somehow managed to grab on to the tail just in time making the creature turn its attention away from London. The ouroboros flipped its tail round with its mouth wide-open ready to devour Bradley. He let go and dropped landing on the belly of the dragon-lizard now in the centre of its ring formation. At this point he glimpsed a vast shadow reaching across the desert in the far distance from where they had come. The shadow appeared to be contracting, as it was alive. Bradley felt a surge of liquid shocks go through his body. The shock made him slip off the ouroboros and drop to the ground. Luckily for him he was not so high up in the air at the point. Immediately, the creature dived for him, but Bradley rolled onto his side and the ouroboros vanished into the hot earth.
Seeing that the ouroboros had disappeared, everybody huddled around Ash and London. London’s head rested in Ash’s lap.
‘London, stay awake! I’m going to buy you some ice cream,’ said Ash. The sand around her became soiled from a wound on her back. A thin stream of blood from her mouth stained her cheek. ‘Stay awake, mum is going to make you some more pancakes too.’ London’s face broke into a painful smile.
‘Ice cream,’ coughed London. Her eyes closed. She stopped breathing. There was no time to think for the ouroboros came reaching from out of the earth. Its head dived down towards the huddled group at a speed, which rivalled that of a peregrine falcon. Aruna stood up. Everybody else was frozen to the spot. She stretched both her arms out leaving her open to an attack. The ouroboros’ eyes turned black as it approached her. Before it went to pierce into Aruna, she spoke in a soft voice.
The ouroboros slowed down in flight, but its tail still pierced into Aruna’s chest. ‘Be merciful. Give back what you have taken. Be merciful,’ she said in a painful voice with blood slowly streaming out from her mouth. Although she was in great pain she showed no trace of fear. The ouroboros pulled back and with it, its tail slipped out of Aurna’s chest. She gasped and dropped to her knees. As she reached to feel her chest the wound healed and closed up immediately. A solitary tear slid down her cheek. Bradley turned to face the ouroboros. Each of them said sorry. The creature slowed down and stopped, which allowed the tree spirit began to communicate with it. One of its wings flickered and glowed in many different colours. Still floating in the air, it moved slowly towards Ash. Ash looked up at it without saying a word. Instead, he looked deeply into the ouroboros’s eyes with a serious and fearless gaze. The creature backed away from the group and formed a ring again in mid-air.
‘Step through the ring with London,’ said the tree spirit. Ash was not quite sure what to say or what was the purpose. He was too consumed with despair and anger. Nevertheless, he stood up and held London in both arms. ‘She still has time my dear child,’ continued the tree spirit. The group stood aside and watched Ash walk ahead. A trail of blood formed as he stepped forward. ‘Hurry,’ said the tree spirit.
In two clean strides Ash ran and jumped through the ring. A burst of liquid rattled through his body, which made him temporarily lose his footing. The ouroboros changed back into an armadillo lizard and dashed away into the sand. London still did not move. Ash looked up into the sky and screamed.
‘My world is without barriers, without boundaries. It’s where everything gets in and is hard to digest. I sometimes scream out in frustration for none of you can hear my words, none of you can understand me; none of you can relate to me or involve me. I yearn to be involved in your conversation, your laughter, even your sadness.’
‘Ash, come on mate,’ said Bradley. Ash continued to look down at London. He did not hear Bradley speak at all.
‘Can’t you see my world has no context. Meaning has often run away from me, but I couldn’t see it to begin with. I know that a smile is ok it may be safe. The sound of music is the only thing I can understand, the only thing I can relate to. Why don’t you dance with me? And pull me out of my world into yours.’
A brief silence followed
‘That was my prose for our group activity,’ he continued, ‘I’ll find it London, I promise.’
‘Find what mate, please stop it Ash,’ said Bradley.
‘A way for autism,’ replied Ash. Although it was apparent to Ash’s friends that London was different from other children, nobody questioned her condition feeling it being a sensitive issue. Even though they heard him tell the tree spirit that she was autistic back in Springfield park – how that seemed like a lifetime ago now – they left it up to Ash to talk further whenever he felt compelled to do so. Now they could understand what condition autism was that little bit more. It was enough for them to know that London was special and most likely the reason why Ash was receptive to the needs of others.
‘You’ve stopped bleeding London. You can sleep better now sis.’ Ash stroked London’s face twice and pressed his forehead to hers. He took a long and slow deep breath and kissed each of her eyes. At seeing this Kurumi’s body moved on its own will. She wrapped her arms around Ash with her hands hooked on his shoulder.
‘I’ll help you find it too,’ said Kurumi.
Everybody stood motionless. Their voices became lost in gentle breeze. To each of them it seemed they spent an eternity in the desert at that moment completely rooted to the spot.
‘Ice…cre…’ said a small weak voice. Ash looked down at London to find her eyes half open, ‘ice-cream.’
‘Yes, yes of course. Any ice cream you want,’ cried Ash with excitement. He pulled her close to his chest. London was alive. Everybody cried with mixed emotions of laughter and relief.
‘The ouroboros is a symbol of life and death. It can take life and give it, for it is life itself and the cycle of it,’ said the tree spirit. ‘And you, dear Bradley the brave one, you would be the wiser to not disturb that which does not wish to be disturbed. Often a simple apologetic expression is enough to prevent a world of trouble.’
Bradley turned his back away from the group to avoid eye contact with Ash. ‘I’m really sorry everybody.’
‘Already, each of you are growing. Not only do you embody the key elements that which I mentioned earlier – harmony, friendship, valor, knowledge, imagination, and enthusiasm – but you are also awakening and strengthening those elements within each other through your actions, thought and speech. It is from each other and nature that you learn from, not idle spirits and sages.’
B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp