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I finally made it to a ledge on the mountain side on which I could rest on. I dropped my duffel bag on the ledge and graciously sat down. Nice view, I thought. It was the early spring the leaves and blossoms on the trees had all finally come out. The sun had shown warmly on the mountain side though the air itself was still cold.
The sunlight felt good and I was starting to contemplate falling asleep on the ledge when my stomach decided to remind me when my last meal had been. I got up and looked down the mountain side. I gave a short whistle and thought That’s how far I’ve climbed? Wow. I guess this lifestyle does give me some strengths. I then shouldered on my duffle bag and began the rest of my climb up the mountain.
I soon came to a well-worn hiking trail and could hear the laughter of people coming from up the path. I walked towards the laughter where I soon found a group of college kids sitting around on the edge of a cliff. I continued walking up the path, at that point sure that there was a town nearby. I tried to appear to have as little interest in the group of kids as possible so in return they would pay me no heed. Just as I turned right to follow the path I caught a glance of one of the kids staring at me. I ignored him and continued walking.
The hiking path led me to a road and soon after a small town. Huh, it’s half past one, I observed as I looked at the town clock, I guess I was out in the mountains longer than I thought. I hope there’s at least a good place to eat. I did eventually find a dinner called Mountain Top Dinner. “Creative name,” I said to myself, “I just hope the food isn’t as bad.”
I walked in the door and went to a waitress at the counter.
“Can I use your restroom?” I asked, “I will be paying for a meal here but I was hoping to use the bathroom first.”
“Of course hon,” she said with a sweet smile on her face, “The ladies’ room is just over there and around the corner.”
“Thanks,” I said smiling back. She may have just been doing her job but it was nice to receive a form of human kindness after a long time of solitude.
The bathroom was, thankfully, one of those one person bathrooms where there are no stalls and the door locks behind you. After using the toilet and washing my hand I finally get a good look at my appearance. My face was covered in dirt and grime and there were sweat streaks going down my face. Gross, That’s what I look like? I’m surprised that woman didn’t turn me out. I then took off my shirt and stared cleaning whatever part of my body I could. When was the last time I took a shower? I thought as I bathed by using the sink and the hand soap, I think it was when I stopped at that camping site. What was that? Three, four days ago? I really should stick to the roads, I continued as I dried myself with the paper towels, but that highway was just too hard to walk on and besides I like the smell of trees. I had done sink bathing before so I was done pretty quickly I even managed to clean and comb my hair.
I sat down at the counter in the middle of the dinner and ordered a burger, fries, and a vanilla milkshake. I was just beginning to dig in when the group of kids I passed by on the trail walked in. I recognized their laughter and when I tried to steal a glance, I saw the same boy staring at me.
I whipped my head around and became very interested in my food. I heard a pair of footsteps from the group come up to the counter and order a grilled cheese and a Coca-Cola.
Then I heard, “Hey how’s it going?”
The person was too close to me to pretend I didn’t hear them, when I look up though it wasn’t the staring boy but a smiling, grade A shallow player. He was wearing Adidas sandals, designer faded jeans, a T-shirt that said Hollister, a white dress shirt that was completely open, and a pair of hipster sunglasses. He was also wearing a smile that seemed to be his favorite accessory.
“Hey”, I said as I took another chomp out of my fry.
“You new in town?” He continued, still wearing that grin.
“Didn’t you mother ever tell you that if you keep a face like that too long then it will get stuck that way?” I was really hoping at that point that he would be offended and realize that I wasn’t interested.
“Ooooho. Feisty aren’t we?”
Apparently he was a slow learner.
“Well I guess that means you are new to town,” He continued, “And then in that case my name is Calvin and how would you like to come to a party with me tonight and then later have our own little after party?”
I put my fry down and whipped my head so I could see him in all his smugness.
Without showing any emotion in my face and putting all of it in my voice, I said, “Think about it. I know it must be hard, but just think about it. Do I honestly look that easy?”
That got his attention. He looked like I just slapped him.
Before he could make a comeback I turned to my milkshake, picked it up and said, “Run along, little boy. I am not interested!”
He turned and walked away, but not before whispering b****.
I had just polished off my burger and was about half way through my very generous serving of french fries when I heard another hey.
It was a girl this time, just as shallow looking as the boy. She was wearing high heeled boots, overly tight skinny jeans, and a baggy V-neck t-shirt and a leather jacket.
I sighed and returned the hey.
“I like your………………….. necklace!” She said in a perky voice that didn’t really match her sadistic smile, “It’s very rustic!”
“Uh, thanks,” I said while clutching it. It wasn’t even a necklace to be truthful; it was a charm to ward off malicious and otherwise bothersome spirits.
“Do you go to the college here?”
“Then why would Calvin be talking to you?”
I rolled my eyes and said, “Maybe you should ask him.”
She didn’t obey that last suggestion.
Instead she flipped her hair, flashed me a shark like grin and said, “Well I just don’t get it. If you don’t go to the college and you most certainly do not look like you have any…….connection to the town. Then why would Calvin be interested in getting to know you?”
Wow I thought She is as subtle as a helicopter. Ugh, I’m tired of this.
I turned to her, gave her an equally shark like grin and said, “Oh, I get it. You’re jealous of Calvin giving that frankly disturbing offer to me instead of you. Well you can have him; I’m sure you two will be very happy together for the three minutes that you are.”
She turned off in a huff and said b**** under her breath.
After that I didn’t receive anymore visitors to my counter, but I could still feel that one boy’s constant stare. It wasn’t until I polished off my food and was sipping on a cup of coffee, that he actually came up to me.
“Hey,” he said.
By that point I was pretty fed up with the human contact from this group. I let out a sigh and said, “Oh for the love of god would you guys please leave me to eat in peace!”
He was unfazed by my rudeness and instead said, “Listen, I’m sorry how my friends acted. They can be real jerks sometimes. I’m John by the way. What’s your name?”
I put my cup down and finally got a good look at him. He was wearing hiking boots, worn blue jeans and a faded green t-shirt. He was pale with dark hair and sky blue eyes and a grin that was genuinely friendly, unlike his friends.
I couldn’t resist and smiled back. “It’s Jessica.” I said.
“So you’re not from around here are you?” He asked.
“Then why are you here? Do you know someone at the college?”
“To tell you the truth I didn’t even know there was a college here. I’m just passing through you could say.”
“What’s up there?”
I chuckled, “Well I guess I’ll find out when I get there. Do you always ask this many questions?”
He gave me another warm smile and said, “Only sometimes. I guess I am curious about you, and concerned. Do you have a place to stay?”
I smiled and said, “Thanks but I already got that offer from your friend. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”
He tapped the table and started to back away still smiling and saying, “Well then I guess maybe I’ll see you around.”
I finished my coffee and asked the kind waitress for the bill. I pulled out my small roll of money out of my duffle bag and removed the money for the check. Hmmm, this is not good. I’m running low on cash. That last job did not pay too well. It looks like I’ll be sleeping outside tonight. I hope I can get some work up in north. If the rumors are true then there will definitely be a job up there somewhere for me.
I paid the bill and while the waitress was ringing I asked, “Tell me, do you know if it will rain tonight?”
She answered, “It’s supposed to be clear skies tonight hon but the weather is always a bit tricky this time of the year, so you be careful out there.”
As strode out of the dinner I felt like she actually meant what she said. Man I thought two concerned people in one day. I must look like a wreck.
I spent some of the afternoon filling up on some needed supplies, mostly food and fresh water; reluctantly watching my roll of bills shrinking at an uncomfortable pace. I eventually found my way onto the college campus those people were from. It was a small library, only had two floors and a basement, but it was cozy. I made a b-line upstairs and straight for the mythology section. I slowly walked down the aisle carefully reading the spines of the books. There are too many analyses of mythology. I should have figured since this is a college. I need pure unadulterated myth and lore, not snooty professors talking about how their ancestors were misguided fools. I ended up getting a couple of books of lore stories and a book of analysis by an author I recognized.
I was reading a story out of a big illustrated book on Native American folk lore when I heard, “Nice to see you again, stranger.”
I looked up from my book to see John again, still wearing that friendly grin.
I smiled and said, “Nice to see you again too. I’m guessing this is your college.”
“What gave it away,” He grinned, “Could it be because it is the only college in this town?”
I laughed, I forgot that I could. It felt so good to have a conversation with someone again. John laughed too but his faces soon went dark when I saw him look down at the illustration in my book.
“Wha, what is that?” He asked. There was an odd amount of fear in his voice.
The illustration was of a woman coal black hair and eyes, pale skin, dressed in Cherokee attire. She also had butterfly wings and small dagger clutched in her hand. She was small, not much taller than the clove she stood by, but there was something fierce in her eyes.
“She’s a little person,” I answered, “They are the Native American’s version of fairies. They are essential spirits tied to a certain natural location.”
“Are they evil,” He asked.
“No,” I responded. That’s not a question that people normally ask about fairies that look a little like Tinkerbelle.
I continued, “But they can be vengeful, but only if you invade and deface their area. For the most part they are good luck.”
“What do they do when they are vengeful?”
“Um they make people sick or steal people, mostly children.”
“What can you do to get rid of them? Can you kill them?” His face wouldn’t lighten. It was beginning to scare me.
“Rarely. Um, John, you haven’t seen one have you?”
He broke his gaze and scoffed, “Of course not. These things don’t exist right?”
I locked eyes with him for a long time not knowing what to say.
“Well,” He said as backing away a lot less cheerful than the last time, “It was good seeing you again.”
“Hey John,” I called after him, “Be careful out there okay.”
“Yeah, sure I will.”
There is something he is not telling me
Once the sun began to set and the library was going to close soon, I decided to go campout at the ledge. I don’t have enough money for a motel room and have money for food. I start a fire on the ledge and gave an offering of some of my rations and some dried flowers. As I ate dinner I couldn’t help but dwell on John’s reaction to the picture. Could he have seen a spirit? It’s not impossible for others to see spirits and it’s not uncommon to see them in the mountains but if so then why haven’t I seen any?
As if on cue a hand full of forest sprites came into my campsite. Their form was constantly changing but it was always somewhere between human and tree. They silently danced their way to my fire. They danced around the flames in quiet joy; some even jumped into the flames to retrieve some of the now charred offerings.
I’m pretty sure this is the first offering these little guys have seen in decades. These people aren’t exactly respectful log their environment. I thought as I gazed around at the empty beer cans and wrappers left by students. I’m surprised to see any at all in this area especially ones comfortable enough to be around a human; or maybe that’s just because it is me.
I heard a twig snap and instinctively grabbed my knife a readied myself for attack. There was someone coming and it didn’t sound like drunken college kids.
The person who did end up stumbling out of the bushes was John. He looked at me wide eyed and harshly whispered, “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Camping,” I replied at normal volume.
“What are you doing with those?” he continued whispering while pointing at the sprites dancing around my fire, “Those.. those things are evil!”
He then tried to lunge at them but I cut him off and held him back before he could get to close.
“They are harmless!” I said, “They are only forest sprites. They mean that this forest has at least some health left in it. They are not your enemies.”
He stepped back but his expression did not change. He looked so angry and so desperate.
I tried to step towards him and said, “John what is….”
“I have to kill it,” he said cutting me off, “It took my brother. I have to kill it!”
“Kill what John?”
Suddenly, I felt a cold wind blow through and a cold voice said, “I would think someone who left an offering for the forest would have more respect than to call me a ‘what’”
We both whipped around to see a full grown woman, dressed in traditional Native American garb with pale skin, dark green hair, and coal black eyes. She was angry.
“How many have you taken?” I said.
“How demanding,” she said with a wicked smile, “You’re appearing less and less respectful by the minute, and for a spirit talker. Tut tut tut. Such a shame.”
“How many have you taken?” I asked again, “You are the residing fairy in this forest. Why there are not more like you I can only guess it is because of the town. They died off from all of the pollution and urbanization didn’t they? You’re angry, which means you have been taking children. So how many have you taken?”
“Three,” She responded with a smile, “Two boys and a little girl.”
“For how long?”
“Oh, only for two weeks,” She said casually, “I’m just getting started and it’s hard for me to go into town.”
She lost her calm demeanor and started shouting, “Because those bastards killed the last of my sisters! Those people waltzing into our forest, chopping down our trees, defiling our cliffs, plants, and animals with their graffiti, trash, beer and hunting! They killed off all of my sisters one by one! Now I am the very last!”
“So you decided to take the children?”
She recomposed herself once more and responded, “Yes. I am collecting compensation for their actions. Those children were easy to acquire. They were all prancing around my forest at one point or another. I even took the brother of that young man you have there right from under his nose.” I could feel John shaking with furry as I held him behind me but the fairy took no notice and continued to gloat, “Oh yes! It was so much fun; his brother was hopping along rocks and that young man looked away for only one second and I was able to grab his brother before he knew what happened. He saw me of course but then again humans are so out of touch now-a-days that I was hoping he’d see me just so people would think he had gone mad.”
John broke free from my hold and lunged at the fairy with a knife screaming, “You b****!” He only got a few feet closer to the fairy when she flicked her wrist and a gust of wind knocked him back all the way to the edge of the cliff.
“Stop!” I screamed, “Please just wait. He just wants his brother back. Please just listen to me; I have a solution to make sure no more harm will come to your forest.”
The fairy screamed, “Unless your solution revives my sisters and punishes these humans then I want no part in it!” She had lost her composer again.
“Killing this man and taking more children won’t bring your sisters back,” I said, “You know that if the forest gets better your sisters will be reborn. You are wise you must know that revenge does not bring happiness but only a short time of slight satisfaction. Please listen to what I have to say and then you can make your own decision.”
The fairy lowered her hand and calmed down along with her surroundings.
“I am listening,” she said.
I took a deep breath and began, “Allow me to plant a raspberry bush here. I will place a spell on it causing it to rapidly grow over night and surround your forest. It will act as a border between the human’s world and yours. The spell will only allow those who will respect your forest to enter otherwise, try as they might, the humans with ill will will never be able find their way through the thorns and branches. In exchange for my protection you will return the children you have stolen to their homes.”
“Why should there be any humans allowed into my forest? They are fickle creatures, they may not think of doing any harm when they enter but they will destroy what I love when they pass through,” She said, “And why do you think I need your protection? I will drive the humans from this land.”
“You know as well as I do that you do not have the power to do such things,” I said, “Only the god of the mountain or another human can repel humans. And this spell is not a mind reading spell; it will look into the human’s very heart. There are humans that have respect for nature and will do anything to protect it. Many have forgotten how to properly respect you but that does not mean they cannot remember or cannot change. I will make sure there is an offering fire for the forest every day and I swear to you that they will not harm this place again. Your sisters will return to you with help from the humans.”
She looked at me, her expression was angry but there was desperation in her eyes. She said, “I have your word that no humans will ever defile my forest again?”
“I will personally check in every year to make sure your accommodations are met,” I promised.
She smiled a small smile but it was genuine, “You are very wise for one so young. I accept your offer and will return the children to their houses.” She finally turned her attention to John and said, “I can see you love your brother deeply and I will return your brother to you personally at sunrise.” She then turned her attention back at me, “I expect my spell to be done by sunrise as well.”
She then vanished.
“Ugh,” I groaned, “I wish she gave me more time. I guess it’s an all-nighter for me.” I then turned to John, “And I guess you’ve got questions. Am I right?”
John just gave me a nod.
I got the ingredients from my duffel bag and began to weave the spell as John just stared at me with a blank expression.
“You know,” I began, “We can talk while I do this. There is actually very little chanting involved with magic. People think it’s all words but all the words do is bind the spell together. The power comes from the ingredients and how they are mixed.”
He stared for a bit longer and then finally asked, “Who are you?”
“I’m Jessica Alfonzo.”
That got a smile on his lips.
“You know what I mean. What is a spirit whisperer?”
“Sprit talker,” I corrected, “It’s kind of complicated but I’ll do my best to explain. I and others like me travel around the world and defeat monsters, cure ailments cause by spirits, prevent spirits from destroying humans and vice versa.”
“Sounds like Mushi Shi,” John said.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Never mind. How did you become this?” he asked.
“I didn’t become anything; I got into this because of my parents. My parents were both spirit talkers and so I kind of picked up on the family business. Not many people can see spirits so we all considered ourselves very fortunate. I would travel around with my parents and learn from them. When I was around fourteen my mother died from cancer and my dad decided to train me until I completed my training at seventeen, he then settled down and became a local spirit talker in Wyoming. I’ve been traveling on my own ever since.”
“Sounds like Supernatural,” John said.
“Okay,” I said, “I don’t know what that is, but I doubt my life is like that, and you watch way too much T.V.”
John started laughing and I couldn’t help but join in. It was good to see him light hearted again. He quickly turned somber again and asked, “Why would you help her after what she did? She took my brother.”
“She was scared and upset,” I answered, “She had lost all of her family and needed to lash out at someone. Kidnapping the children was her idea of justice. Not everything is black and white. Never be too hasty to see violent action before you understand the situation completely. Do you understand now?”
“I suppose,” He said.
I continued making the spell and John asked, “So does this mean you can tell me why you are going up north?”
“Fine,” I said, “I’m going up north because there is a rumor that a number of healthy young adults falling suddenly ill with a strong fever. I think it might be caused by a shadow monster. There are many different types of shadow monsters but once I am able to examine the people I should be able to figure out what kind of monster it is and hopefully put a stop to it.”
“What if it gets you?” He asked.
I smiled and said, “Well I guess that’s a risk I am going to have to take.”
We talked about normal things and paranormal things for the rest of the preparation of the spell. I loved talking to him, he was fun and kind and after having just met a fairy and some forest sprites, there was no topic off limits to him. People normally can’t handle this secret world that surrounds them or my place in it, but when I do find someone who doesn’t run away from it all I don’t feel so lonely anymore and I never want to leave their side. When I finally finished casting the spell over a raspberry seed, I planted the seed and wove the final layer of the spell.
When I finished I turned to John and said, “Now we just wait to make sure it grows completely by sunrise. Until then I have something to ask of you and to teach you.”
John looked at me with wide eyes as I sat down next to him.
“I need you to be the one who will perform the sacrificial fire for the forest every day.” I said, “You say you are a commuter so you won’t be leaving this area anytime soon. Right?”
John responded, “Yeah.”
“You need to come here every day before sunset, light the fire, burn some food, flowers, or incense, and remain here until the fire has completely gone out,” I explained, “You also need to teach this to everyone you can. Tell your brother; make him teach his friends, teach anyone who will listen. It will please what few spirits that are left here. It might also bring back some that have died. Make sure people clean up this area as well; ask only those who can get through the bush to assist you, you’ll need the help. The sacrificial fire along with the decrease in pollution might bring this mountain back to its original health. This is your home as well as the spirits that live here; you and everyone else need to protect it. So are you in?”
“Of course,” He said with a grin.
We talked after that until we fell asleep. When we woke, I could see the pale light of dawn beginning to creep over the mountains. I turned around to see how the raspberry bush had grown and the spell had worked. The bush had grown over six feet high and completely covered the pathway to get to the cliff. Though I could see the path through the thorns I knew no one else would be able to. Something shifted in the foreground and I suddenly notice a mass covered in leaves. It stirred again, and I suddenly realized it was John’s brother.
“John!” I said, shaking him awake, “John, wake up I think it’s your brother!”
John was groggy at first and didn’t know what was going on but once he saw the mass of leaves he leapt up and raced over to his brother.
“Nathan!” he cried shaking his little brother, “Nathan! Wake up! It’s me, John! Are you alright? Wake up!”
Nathan had the same dark hair and pale skin as his older brother. He had dirt smudge all over his face and his jacket, jeans, and sneakers, had a thick layer of leaves on them. Nathan groaned and finally opened his eyes to find his older brother standing over him.
“John,” He said, “Did I fall asleep? I had the strangest dream. I was in a hut and a lady came in and fed some kids and I some funny soup and let us run around in her yard outside the hut. How did we get up to the top of the cliffs? I thought we were by the lake?”
“What?” John said, “You mean you don’t know what happened to you. You were kidnapped! You’ve been gone for five days!”
Nathan moaned “Wha….”
It looked like something clicked in John’s head and he asked, “Wait…..she fed you?”
I suddenly heard a cool voice say, “Well what did you think I did with them?”
I whipped around to see the fairy standing on the cliffs.
“I didn’t want to hurt them. They were children and I just couldn’t bring myself to do such a thing,” She explained, “I am truly sorry John for what I have done. I ask for yours and for Nathan’s forgiveness.”
All John could muster was a meek “I forgive you.”
She surveyed the area and said, “I see you have held up your end of the bargain and I thank you most humbly. I do ask one more thing of you.”
“Of course,” I said.
“What is your name spirit talker?” She asked.
I responded, “Jessica Alfonso. What is yours?”
She chuckled and said, “It’s a bit hard to pronounce in the Cherokee dialect but in English it is Apple Blossom.”
“Well until next spring Apple Blossom.” I said as I pulled up my duffel bag.
She replied, “I look forward to it Jessica Alfonso.”
I turned to the boys and said, “Well, let’s take you two home.”
We then turned towards the path and walked away.
The sun was slowly climbing the sky as John and I said our goodbyes.
“I wish you could stay,” He said.
“I know. So do I,” I responded, “But I have a job to do and there are people relying on me. But don’t worry I’ll be back. I never stay away from a place for very long once I have made a friend.”
With that we hugged and I began my journey up north.
John and I stayed in touch through the year that I was gone, I had given him my phone number and he gave me reports on how the forest was doing. Most of his friends and classmates were unable to find their way to the cliffs along with most of the town. Many tried to hack away at the mysterious raspberry bush that sprung up overnight, but nothing could do any damage. Over a long amount of time more and more people were eventually able to make it through the bush, but still many were shut out. Those who did make it through said that less and less trash appeared around the cliffs and more and more places became overgrown with vegetation. Some people would come out of the woods with smiles on their faces, like they had a secret.
When I finally made it back to the mountain side I saw the place had dozen more spirits running all over the place. When I finally reached the top Apple Blossom was waiting for me with another fairy, she introduced the fairy as her sister Brook and explained that another one of her sisters had been reborn as well.
I heard a rustle of leaves a turned around to see John coming out of the raspberry bush with Nathan. I couldn’t help it. I ran up, hugged him and whispered into his ear, “Nice to see you again, stranger.”