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The Tree House
Once upon a time, in a dark forest under the illuminating moon, where the stars glistened like diamonds and the winds brushed the tall grass with a sense of tranquility, where the gurgling of the brook resounded against the trees and their shadows cast a welcoming shade, in a land that echoed laughter and radiated a magic of sorts, there was a tree.
This tree did not appear to be abnormal. It was designed this way, so that no human could detect it's importance. For this tree was the heart of the forest, the source of the magic that flowed like blood through the vegetation. All of the peace and serenity that emanated from the forest was brought to life by this tree.
The existence of this tree was unknown to mankind. They went about their lives oblivious and never once ventured deep enough into that dark forest to discover the heart of its tranquility.
However, time brought with it two youthful and adventurous souls. One, a boy with auburn hair and eyes that sparkled with curiosity and intelligence. The other, a shy young girl whose eyes mirrored her brothers, but perhaps with a bit more caution. The boy was older by a few years, but he never let that interfere with their adventures.
It was an ordinary summer afternoon, but the air had a lethargic feel like that of a drowsy cat. The sun shone quite fiercely and the wind was nothing more than an occasional whisper.
To the typical brother and sister, a day like this would mean going swimming at the pool, but the boy would never let a creative opportunity pass them by. “Let's go exploring, Jane! How 'bout it?”
“But, Jack! It's so hot out!” Jane frowned.
Jack became slight irritated, “You never let that stop you before. What's a matter? You scared of the big bad woods?”
“Am not! I'm braver than you!”
A brilliant smile lite the boy's face, “C'mon, then.”
The pair wandered off into the forest, which was not far from their home, but not before grabbing their makeshift weaponry. Jack trots briskly in the lead with a homemade sword on his hip and Jane follows with less enthusiasm, dragging a mid-length stick behind her.
Raising his stick, Jack exclaimed, “Bandits beware! For I am Jack, The Great, and this is my blade; Excalibur!”
“I thought you said we were going exploring,” Jane rolled her eyes, “not fighting off bandits.”
“You never know what lies in the forest, Jane. This is only a precaution and hey! You have a weapon too!” Jack pointed to his sister's branch.
Sticking out her tongue and placing both hands on her hips, Jane stated quite matter-of-factly, “This is a wand. Not an instrument of death.”
Jack knew further objection was pointless; his sister would never relent. So, they continued their trek into the depths of the forest.
Now, everyone else that had laid eyes on this forest had thought it to be nothing more than a thicket of trees. But, of course, everyone else did not have the imagination of our two adventurers. Even the most obscure design was etched into their minds with acute detail and was transformed into something a thousand times more wondrous.
Announcing their arrival was a crackle of leaves beneath their feet, like a trumpeter announcing the approach of royalty. The absence of wildlife signaled a knowledge of their presence. The bounding of hooves against the compact dirt was scarce as they traversed foreign trails. Amidst this silence, an echo of a bird's call alerts the land of their guests.
Once discovered, the children are welcomed with open arms. The wind bows and brushes the land with a tender caress. Its arms encircle the pair, embracing them with all the love and compassion it can muster. The sun smiles down upon them and plants a dry kiss upon their cheeks. The sound of water percolating through the stones in the river's bed accompanies the swirling mist that dances about their ankles. The siblings went about their welcoming parade with a blissful mind and exuberantly proceeded into the forest.
“Oh, Jane! Can you feel it?” Jack asked, twisting with glee.
Jane was momentarily perplexed, “Yes, of course! It's a wonder no one else can.”
With all the ecstasy and merriment floating about them, time had past the children by without a trace. They now found themselves deeper into the forest than they had ever gone before. Unknowingly, the mystical atmosphere had gradually increased to the point where a low hum could be heard emanating from the darkness that now permeated throughout the vast expanse of the forest.
Jane stopped and bite her lip, “Um, Jack...”
The boy skidded to a halt and turned to her with concern etched across his face. “What's wrong?”
Swirling the dirt beneath her toes, she whispered, “I think we should go home now.”
He stared at her, unwilling to believe she would not want to continue, “Why? This is so much fun!”
“It's getting dark out and... I'm scared.”
The corner of Jack's illuminating smile curved downward in defeat, “I guess you're right... it is pretty dark.”
As the children started to reorient themselves, they realized that the path they had taken was no longer visible. The trees seemed to have sifted and concealed the trail with their roots and branches. With a renewed sense of alarm, the pair began to panic.
“What do we do now, Jack?” Jane asked as she edged closer to his side.
Taking her hand for comfort, the boy mumbled, “Um... I'll figure something out. It'll be okay.”
As Jack pondered the possibilities, a strange feeling of an animate being cleansed the air. Its presence did not ignite a new level of fear in the children, but instead extinguished it. A serene calmness was derived from this inexplicable anomaly. It numbed the children's terror and proceeded to consume their thoughts. It was perceived as an individual being, as a voice to the magic of this forest. It felt as if the heart of the forest had revealed itself to them.
Jane's eyes widened, “What is that?”
“I don't know,” The boy's smile once again broke through as he exclaimed, “but we should find out what it is!”
So, the children followed this strange sensation. It lead them through the thickets and the twisted landscape. It lead them over hills and through the brook. It lead them deeper into the forest and into its heart.
At last, they came upon the source of the voice. In a meadow filled with elegant flowers and tall grass, stood a lone tree. The tree was not out of the ordinary, but the children were not deceived by its disguise. A sense of importance and a wisdom beyond the capabilities of mankind tainted the air and a faint taste of mystery made its way onto their tongues. The mystical essence of the forest was so strong here that the hum of magic sent a soft vibration into its frame. And without a doubt, the children knew it was the heart of the forest.
Taking a hesitant step towards the tree, Jane blinked as if to clear her mind of the trance. Then the girl bent and plucked a wild flower from the bed at her feet. She spun it between her fingers before letting the wind take it from her hand. It flew in an effortless fashion until it caught in the tree's branches. “It's so... beautiful,” Turning toward her brother, she asked, “Have you ever seen anything like it, Jack?”
The children stared in awe. They were mesmerized by the tree's perplexing trance. It lulled them into a state of mind filled with pleasant thoughts and a silent harmony. Nothing ever before had moved them with such force.
Suddenly, an intriguing thought entered Jack's mind and began to shape itself into an extravagant plan, “Jane, you know what we should do? We should keep this forever.”
“What do you mean, Jack? That doesn't make any sense.”
He smiled at her quizzical expression, “We should build something here. Like a tree house! So that way, we'll always have something to ourselves in this forest.”
Breathless, she asked, “Like a secret?”
“Yes. Our secret. But not now, we have to go home.”
As the children came to this conclusion, a path began to form between the trees adjacent to them. Turning, the adventurers recognized it to be the exit. Without hesitation, for they feared it would vanish, they exited the meadow and made their way back home.
Several days past before the children were allowed to go back into the forest. When the day came for them to return, the vivid scenery and extraordinary enchantment of the forest came alive before their eyes as if it they had never parted. The children had no trouble finding the meadow and set to work right away.
The tree house looked nothing like a tree house. It was on not up off the ground, nor was it perfectly cornered or squared off. Fallen branches were leaned against the trunk of the tree and tied together to form walls. The small openings in the branches were filled with moss and stray leaves supplied a soft blanket inside. A few of their belongings were placed beside the makeshift walls and an entrance was formed with a tarp.
The children visited their secret hideout in the forest often. Each time they entered the meadow, that mystical animate welcomed them. It transformed their imaginative creations into a world beyond the limits of mortality.
Every day, inside that tree house, one of the children's dreams came true. Every day, they created a new adventure and explored a new land. They were so happy in their tree house. Their laughter echoed throughout the forest and they danced to an everlasting song.
Until one day, that all changed. Jack grew out of this childhood imagination and was introduced to a new world beyond the forest. His attention was directed towards his friends and sports and he left his brilliant imagination in the tree house, along with his sister. Jane did not want to let go of the magic. She did not want to grow up and live in this foreign world. She wanted to dream in the tree house forever.
Sometimes, if she begged long enough, Jack would accompany her back to the tree house. They would sing and dance to the song of the forest, but it was never the same. It was as if he was pretending that the magic never existed.
He felt it, hadn't he? He was there! He saw! ...Hadn't he?
Despite Jane's efforts to bring back the brother she once knew, the wind still hugged her and the sun still kissed her. And Jane would squirm in their warm embrace and laugh at her brother's maturity.
Then, one day, Jack turned sixteen and everything fell apart.
I am young. My twelve years have not aged me much, but this pain has. I feel the years my brother has lost pressed upon my shoulders; the weight of the world holding me down. It seems to blur my vision and mute all sound. This raging silence deafens me. It consumes my enthusiasm, clouds my thoughts, and extinguishes every ounce of laughter that I once possessed.
I see the others, watching me with their sympathetic eyes. They know not to speak to me, but their expressions ask anyways.
How am I doing? Words cannot describe what is indescribable. I show them instead, I let them see my pain. I wear my hair back, revealing my tear-streaked face. They fall, glistening in the sunlight like tiny diamonds.
“Such a shame...”
“I'm so sorry.”
All of their sympathies, all of their pathetic attempts to comfort, everything; worthless. So why do they continue to burden me with reminders of what once was? They didn't even know him. No one knew him like I did.
The graveyard is a sea of black. People all around are covered in it. Even the trees are dull. My pail skin stands out from the crowd like a beacon, but I don't mind. It draws their attention to me, so then they can see my sorrow.
The casket was closed, as if a lid had finally capped the imagination that lead him to his death. Swords and bandits are one thing, but speeding is another.
Lonely is a description in itself. It stands apart; bleak and isolated. Every time I remember the bliss that my brother brought, the smile in his eyes, this pain engulfs me. The pain of knowing a love so strong, so deep that it's part of your soul, that it defines your very essence and having it striped away, taken with out permission or warning... this pain that stalks my every movement, that pollutes the air I breathe... that stains my heart a permanent black.
My parents escort me to their car with an umbrella above my head, for the sky cries for him too. As they drive, I watch the raindrops race across the window, but I am too apathetic to cheer.
We pull up into our drive way, but I cannot move. I stare helplessly out into the rain, into the trees beyond our house. Their mysterious darkness draws me close and I find myself entering its depths.
Out here, in the forest, it's not much different. I am still alone in this abyss, but there are no faces to sharpen the pain. I like the forest better, as I've always had. Its melancholy numbs my senses and clouds my thoughts. It is easier this way.
I come to the meadow and for once the heart of the forest is silent. It ceases to beat, as did Jack's heart. My fingers trace the cracks in my brother's sword, the wood already years faded. Detached, I return it to its place against the wall. Then something catches my eye. A single wild flower sprouting between the dead leaves at my feet. I take it in my hand and twirl it with my fingers.
Everything seems a dream to me now, hazy, but something crawls through that mist. Something faint, yet clear. It warms its way into my heart and I can't help but to succumb. It's a memory. As pure as snow.
“You know what we should do, Jane? We should keep this forever.”
“What do you mean, Jack? That doesn't make any sense.”
“We should build something here. Like a tree house! So that way, we'll always have something to ourselves in this forest.”
“Like a secret?”
“Yes. Our secret.”
Through the tears, I smile. I promise you, brother, I'll keep our secret... forever.