It’s a few hours after dark, the car is speeding down the road, the windows are rolled down. All three of us are singing in harmony as the grungy cords of Sublime’s “Santeria” penetrate the air. I am happily munching on a bag of snacks in the passenger seat of the car.
Kai pipes up from the back seat, “Hey man pass those back here.” I take another handful and give him the bag. Hank’s speakers are blown, but the rattling of the bass dies down as the last notes of the song float away and it comes to an end.
Suddenly, Hank pulls into a vacant dead-end, stating that we don’t have enough gas to get home, and that we are going to have to find a way to get some. Slightly shocked by our bad luck, my initial instinct is to pull my phone out of my pocket and dial a friend. I dial another friend, neither of them answer.
I notice a small trail off to the side of the dead-end barrier, it looks inviting. “Let’s go check out that trail over there while we wait,” I say.
In seconds, all three of us are out of the car and strolling down the trail. Instantly, we are covered by trees and surrounded by very intricately shaped undergrowth. I had never seen any of these plants that were growing along the sides of this trail until now. The forest smelled of wet leaves and mud. It was like we had just entered a new world… a world that does not want to be disturbed.
The trail opens up into a vast, neatly cut and groomed green meadow. We stop in our tracks stand there at the mouth of the trail, gazing at the stars in the moonlight, awed by everything that was in this new world, in this moment. We remain quite silent, and continue walking onto a yellowish path close by. The path is slightly curved, it seems to resemble the Yellow Brick Road from The Wizard of Oz.
To the left of us stands a tall, spindly tree. Settled among the branches of this tree was something none of us had ever seen before; a giant 3-dimensional cube, majestically glistening in the moonlight.
“Holy s*** man, do you see that?” whispered Hank, “There’s a cube in that f***in’ tree!”
“Where are we?” asks Kai, as if one of us knows the answer.
All of us are completely bewildered and confused by this strange phenomenon. We converse about the cube out of pure astonishment, but decide to keep moving and not gawk for too long.
After a few more minutes of walking, we notice clouds rolling in from the outskirts of the meadow. The clouds are moving abnormally fast, and we watch as they begin to merge together and shape an enormous shield, portraying a coat of arms with a lion in the bottom left section, a sword in the top right section, and the other two sections filled in solid.
“This has gotta be some sort of message you guys,” says Kai, “We should get out of here”.
Hank disagrees, “Nah man let’s keep going, I’m interested in this place.”
We keep walking. Deeper and deeper we go, darker and darker the becomes the sky.
We walk down the trail for quite a while, the yellow path seems to go on forever, yet never leads us anywhere. The sky is pitch black now, and we decide to activate our smartphone flashlights. As we flick on our lights, one by one, we illuminate a heaping pile of sharp, black rocks. The rocks seem to be moving, ever so slightly, as if there are pointy fingers reaching for something, anything, outside the confines of the heap. We hear deep whispers that sound similar to the rushing of water.
As we get closer, I notice facial structures in the rocks, as if there are many beings all joined together in this heap. Intrigued by these rocks figures, we draw even closer to the pile.
An arm lunges out, grabs Hank, and attempts to pull him in. Hank yells out in surprise, Kai and I spring forward and grab Hank by the arms and pull him away from the grasp of this odd rock-being.
“F***in’ Rock Demons man, they’ll getcha” says Kai in a shaky voice, trying to play off these weird events with a half-hearted joke.
Emotionally distraught and frightened, the three of us decide on finding a place to rest. The clouds are thick and rain begins to fall, we get back on the path and continue to walk.
As if it had appeared out of thin air, we notice a tree, standing strong and tall. It was by far the biggest tree I have ever seen. The tree was all alone, yet majestic. We feel compelled to go over to the tree, to stray from the path once again. As if the tree is beckoning us, we start to walk towards it, with no communication amongst the three of us whatsoever.
We sit down under the long limbs of the tree. The foliage protects us from the wind and rain. We are grateful for this tree, and dub it “The Mother Tree.”
As we sit under the outstretched limbs, we look out over the rolling green knolls of the meadow. There are houses with lights dotting the hillside, we come to a consensus that the houses look like hobbit homes from the Shire. We gaze at the beauty of the lights, the rain, the grass… The aroma of pine needles surrounds us, accompanied by the smell of wet rain penetrating the dry earth. The nerves from being attacked by a pile of rocks have settled, and we sit peacefully propped against the tree, listening, breathing, waiting. Waiting for something. Anything.
“Hey do you see that animal?” blurts Kai, bursting the bubble of silence, “It’s coming closer.”
I strain my eyes in the direction of his pointing index finger. I see a big, dark, slinking figure on all fours. It’s moving towards us, as if the lure of the Mother Tree was working on the animal as well.
“We should get out of here” I say.
“Well we can’t really, because that thing is in the direction of the trail”, argues Kai.
“It doesn’t matter, we really should go”.
Kai agrees that we should take some sort of action to get out of this place, and turns to his right to address Hank.
“Let’s go, Hank” he says.
No response. Hank is lying on his back, as if he had just slumped down the side of the tree trunk and fell asleep.
Still no response.
“Hank!” I holler, chiming in, “Are you okay?”
Hank jolts upright, regains consciousness.
“Yeah I’m fine, why?”
“You weren’t talkin’ man” explains Kai, “What happened?”
“I don’t know, dude… Wait, what are we doing here? We should go home”.
Kai and I help Hank up, he seems quite confused and out of place, as if he had just woken up, lacking any recollection of our entire journey so far. Regardless, Hank dutifully puts on his backpack, and we start to walk. Up the gradient, and towards the trail.
We forget about the mysterious animal in all the commotion, so naturally, we almost jump out of our skins when we hear two deep, loud barks, piercing the quiet atmosphere, coming from directly in front of us. All of the sudden, the animal is upon us barking, jumping, and wagging its tail.
“It’s just a dog” I laugh, quite relieved about the fact that we didn’t just get mauled by some wild animal. We pet the dog and talk to it in gibberish, it’s wet fur rubbing against our pant legs, and it’s hot breath making small clouds in the air.
Having just been frightened by a wet dog, we gather ourselves, and move up the path towards the edge of the meadow.
“Alder!” A woman’s voice rings out from the forest, the dog makes a quick U-turn and bolts towards the voice. The woman emerges from the shadows of the trees, walking down the trail. We notice her and wave, then she notices us.
“Sorry about that,” she says, “He’s friendly.”
We exchange kind words with the lady, and continue walking up the path towards the car.