by Makai Kim
“Back to her bosom, Nature beckons us all; and one day, each of us must heed her call.”
We wait, sitting under redwood trees. Waiting for what? You don’t know, but I do!
“Drink!” I say, offering you a cup carved from wood and filled with a strange, dark-green liquid.
You refuse the cup, understandably.
“Ah! I see you’re scared of what you don’t know,” I taunt. “Look. I will take a sip, and you will follow. See? I’m fine.”
I offer you the cup again.
Hesitantly, you take the cup from my hands. I lean forward eagerly as you bring it to your lips. Then you tilt it back and let the liquid flow into your mouth. You swallow then cough and look down at the dark-green, almost black, liquid swirling in the cup. You hand the cup back to me.
“It leaves a different taste in your mouth, does it not?”
You nod and cough again. “Yeah, and it’s sticky,” you add.
“You know, sometimes I like to put a mint leaf inside it, to make it a little bit more enjoyable.”
“What’s in it?”
I grin. “Stuff.”
You shake your head in obvious frustration and disdain. “Why did you bring me here?”
“Well, it was not really I who brought you here, you see.”
“No, I don’t see.”
“Then wait, and you will.”
“I’ve been waiting!”
“Woah there! Sit down. Sit down. You’ll find out soon enough.”
We wait until the sky turns black, until the sun sleeps and the moon awakes. The birds’ songs are replaced by the crickets’ repetitive chirping. The fireflies emerge from their hiding places and dance in the open air. I smile in awe at this. Meanwhile, you glance at me as if you are looking upon a child, amazed by flying lights.
The cool wind brushes your face and seems to whisper something softly in your ear. You look at the air, as if you could see the wind, nature’s breath, standing before you. Yet it hides from you; and instead, it plays its childish game, touching your face and whispering something unintelligible in your ear, taunting you to chase it vainly.
A stream lies before us, lapping at the rocks near our feet. It leaps over the stones scattered along its path. The stream is not too noisy, but rather carries with it a sense of serenity.
As we wait, your eyelids begin to flutter shut, but I splash a handful of cold water at your face. “Don’t sleep yet!”
“I can’t wait much longer,” you protest. “And what was wrong with that drink you gave me? I can still taste its bitter residue in my mouth.”
I laugh. “Maybe I’ll tell you sometime.”
From above, the gray moon and the white stars watch over us, embellishing us in natural silver spotlights. Somehow, the illumination makes my skin appear even more stony than in the sunlight, for when you first saw me, you noticed that my skin did not appear skin-like at all. Rather, it looked like brown rock, as if I were made of stone rather than flesh. You figured that this was because I painted my skin to look such. And perhaps you are right.
I am wearing tattered rough clothing and no shoes. I appear to belong in the wilderness, away from the modernities of civilization, and to remain close to nature, living in accordance with her majestic, but terrible, ways.
A frog skips along the edge of the stream. Then it jumps over it onto a mossy rock in one single bound. It looks directly at you then croaks, as if in mockery. Catch me if you can! you can almost hear it say.
Again, your eyes begin to close, but you are awakened by a fleeting whisper. You nearly jump from your leafy seat. The whisper echoes and fades, sailing away gently in the cool breeze.
You look over to where I was sitting but do not see me. Now, you jump to your feet. Scanning the area around you, you find yourself standing alone under the silver moonlight. The fireflies still dance like luminescent fairies, and the crickets still chirp the same tune and the same rhythm.
Surrounded by trees and darkness, you lean back against a redwood and think of what to do next. Wait. You can do little else but wait.
You look down at your shoes. They look as if they are covered in a green moss. Then you observe your hands, which appear to be made of bark. You shut your eyes tightly. When you open them, you see that your shoes are no longer blanketed in moss and that your hands are indeed made of skin, not of wood.
The drink. You recall the liquid that I gave you.
Then you notice that the stream suddenly stops moving, as if it is frozen in time. As you continue to stare at it, you see that it begins to flow again but in the opposite direction. You kneel beside the stream. In it, you see your reflection , distorted by the movement of the water. As you stare into the stream, you see your face change before you, but not into a different face entirely. No, it is certainly still your face, but younger.
As you gaze into your own eyes, you feel a series of emotions rush over you. You feel joy, sadness, love, hate, excitement, grief, and other emotions that you have felt throughout your lifetime. While you have been experiencing such a vast range of emotions in such a short period of time, you watch your face become younger and younger, until finally, you are looking at a child’s face, into infant eyes.
Then the water ceases to flow. Your emotions are steady now. You are looking at a reflection of your present self. Then the stream begins to flow again, moving in the same direction that it had been before it stopped the first time.
You stand up and look around at the towering redwoods, like ancient giants with memories tucked away, memories of times gone. It is almost as if they are looking down upon you, wishing to tell you their stories but are alas bound by silence. At first, the lofty giants seem wonderful and awe-inspiring. Then the next moment, you see a change in them, now ominous monsters shadowing over you. A darkness creeps up around the redwoods, climbing the heights with the massive trees. The darkness is so thick, that it almost seems to have a substance to it.
Suddenly, you hear the ruffling of leaves. You turn but don’t see anything peculiar. Then you hear it again, closer this time. You squint your eyes and see a deer, a buck with kingly antlers, standing in a patch of moonlight piercing through an opening in the branches above. The creature notices your gaze and stares directly into your eyes.
Then you hear another ruffling of leaves. This time, both you and the deer turn. When you look back at where the deer was standing, you find that it has gone. You now stand alone amidst the brooding trees, the running stream, the chirping crickets, and the luminous fireflies. The breeze kisses your cheek and whispers softly in your ear, as if to assure you that you are not really alone after all.
Your head begins to ache, intensely, as if you have just been hit on the back of the head with a wooden board. You shut your eyes and hold your head. When the headache subsides, you open your eyes and see that the world around you seems to be spiraling and spinning. You look at the palms of your hands. Your skin appears to be swirling like a whirlpool. Then you look ahead at the patch of silver moonlight. Your vision is as though you are looking through a pool of water into which a pebble has just been dropped, causing the water to ripple.
You step back, although this action does nothing to help you escape the daze. You then lose your balance and fall backward, hitting your head on a redwood tree. You slump down into a sitting position with your legs stretched out in front of you. Your shoes are nearly touching the stream.
Slowly, the darkness creeps closer toward you. The trees seem to be falling inward. Then the ripples in your vision are replaced with black obscurity. The chirping of the crickets and the whistling of the wind fill your senses. Then even those fade away to utter silence.
You awake and find yourself lying on your back on a hard wooden bed. The world around you is no longer filled with rippling spirals. Too far to reach you now, the crickets’ constant chirping cannot be heard. Yet, the redwoods still stand menacingly above you, although they do not appear to be falling.
It is not long before you realize that you are being carried. The back-and-forth motion of being rocked is almost soothing, but you quickly snap out of this trance. In front of you is the back of a man carrying one end of your bed. Bending your neck back, you can see the underside of the chin of the man carrying the other end. You seem to be lying on a skinny makeshift wooden cot, just large enough to fit you on it.
You try to move your hands but find that they do not respond, yet you are not bound by anything material.
“The wait is nearly over,” I tell you.
You look to your right. There I am, walking beside you.
“Where am I going?” you ask.
“Again, you must wait. It is better for you to see than for me to tell you.”
As you are being carried, you lift your head upright and look ahead. There is a procession of people in front of you, men and women. All of them are wearing black suits and black dresses and looking down in ritualistic solemnity. You look behind you and see that the procession extends that way as well. Only you and I are not wearing a black suit or a black dress.
You stare up at the starry dome. One of the stars blinks, flashing brighter for a quick moment, seemingly at you. As you gaze upward, an owl flies over us. It lands on the branch of one of the redwoods ahead of us. You can see its glowing yellow eyes watching the procession passing below it.
Then you again look ahead of you. We are nearing a gigantic redwood tree with a large tunnel formed, either naturally or artificially, at its base. This tunnel, you perceive, is large enough that two horses walking side-by-side could easily pass through it. Our path leads us through here. Passing through it, we are temporarily concealed from the night sky and the light of the moon and the stars.
“Who are you?” you finally ask when we reach the other side of this tunnel.
“Now that I can tell you,” I answer. “I am your friend, your guide, your escort, your companion, if you will. I am here to make your journey easier and to ensure that you are ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“For this.” I outstretch my hand as a gesture to a clearing in the forest.
At the far end of this clearing is a massive throne with a menacing, commanding figure sitting upon it. Whether this figure is a mere statue or a real person you cannot tell, for it sits motionless.
You are being set down now. The procession of people, including the two who were carrying you, are positioning themselves in a circle in the clearing, starting at one side of the throne and ending at the other. We are at the center of this circle. Around us, all of the men and the women who were in the procession are wearing sad faces. Some of them, you notice, are not displaying faces of their own but are rather wearing wooden masks that have uncanny faces painted onto them.
You then turn your attention back to the massive throne, which is constructed of twisted roots and branches, and to the figure seated on it. This figure wears a tattered brown robe over its body. The sleeves cover his entire arms, and the robe drapes down to his feet but does not cover them. Its face is concealed behind a redwood veil. Also, seemingly protruding from its head is a pair of deer antlers. Its hands, which are gloved in a dark-brown material, perhaps wood and hide, are gripping the armrests of the throne. On its feet, the figure wears shoes of the same color and the same material as the gloves. Then you notice that chains are reaching out of the earth and grabbing the figure’s wrists and ankles like merciless iron claws.
“This is the Celebration of Departure,” I explain, kneeling beside you. “That liquid which I gave you is the liquid of which all must one day drink—the inevitable. The stream—yes, I watched you by the stream when you thought you were alone—showed you memories, some pleasant, others shameful, some which had stayed with you, and others which you had forgotten. Now look. It begins.”
Then the figure on the throne seems to come alive as it leans forward, clanking the chains. He stretches forward a little bit, until the chains prevent him from going any further. Although you cannot see its eyes, you can nevertheless feel them piercing your own. The mysterious figure, though tall, has the height of a human. Even then, this man seems menacing behind its mask and clothing.
The men and the women standing around us begin to weep and wail, as if in great sorrow. Their display is dramatic. Some of them hide their faces in their hands. From their eyes, tears descend like a downpour of rain. They then toss a shower of white lilies toward you, although most of the lilies don’t come near you. Rather, the wailing men and women form a circle of flowers around your body.
Meanwhile, I am kneeling before the great figure on the throne, beseeching him on your behalf. Then I return to your side, looking over you. You look up at me and give me a look that seems to be asking me what’s going to happen next.
In answer to this unsaid question, I kneel beside you and draw a dagger out of its sheath, which I found at the foot of the throne of twisted roots. As I hold it over your chest, you try to lift your arms but cannot. Your limbs are still paralyzed. You shout for help, but your shouting cannot be heard over the dramatic mourning of the people encircling us. Then your screams are silenced and replaced by a single, sudden gasp as I thrust the knife into the center of your chest. You continue to breath, though painfully.
“She beckons us,” I say to you. “She beckons us all.”
I stand, wrenching and pulling the knife out of your chest as I do so. Your chest is heaving up and down while you take each aching breath. Staring at your chest, you see that blood begins to leak out of it, streaming down your stomach and over your chest then seeping into the dirt surrounding you. Finally, the pain subsides, along with your breath, until it is past. You stare upward as your vision fades, and you let the encroaching darkness fall over you.
When you awake, you find yourself lying on your back, on a dirt carpet. You sit up then immediately look at your chest. No blood. In fact, you appear to be completely healed. Furthermore, you are wearing different clothing now, clothing which is softer and lighter.
Then you observe that you are sitting before another figure, this one a woman, a very beautiful woman with flowing brown hair. Her face is stern yet at the same time retains the soft, unwrinkled skin of a youth. Instead of antlers, her head is adorned with a crown of leaves. Her wreath buds with lively flowers of various colors. Her dress is brown like oak wood. It is a sleeveless dress, the bottom of which flows down to just above her ankles. Finally, you see that her hands and her feet are bare. She smiles down at you sweetly and caringly, as a mother does at her children.
You then notice me, standing beside her throne. Although her throne is smaller and less menacing than that of the masked figure, it is more animated, for vines are wrapped around it, budding with green life. No twisted roots or branches constitute it. Rather, it appears to be carved out of a stump in the tree.
Around you is a dome. Looking up, you realize that you are in the base of a tree trunk, larger and taller than that of the redwood with the tunnel. Suspending from the dark hollow is a flame, held captive in a stone bowl. This lantern is being held by four strings, perhaps made of some sort of silk, ascending upward and outward and hanging onto the sides of the trunk’s hollow.
Looking into your eyes, I say: “Back to her bosom, Nature beckons us all; and one day, each of us must heed her call.”