Cheaper 1: The fox and the elf
Desperation devotes itself to consuming all of the lies in the world and spitting them out like a frog does its tongue – snaring a single soul and bringing them to enlightenment only to swallow that blessed truth and smother it once again in obtuse and destructive lies and the risen soul with it. Haím was gripped by a desperation never before carried by an elf; the truth he found, Ho! The sky tasted and the Earth smelled, well, different. For good or for bad, the elf did not know. All he knew was that action was needed, swift and drastic action.
In that moment Haím, Son of Áim, fled from his home of Eildrém. He left his family, his wealth, his friends and his entire life all in the name of his crippling desperation. How he hoped his kin would see. How he wished their eyes would open and fill with the understanding that theirs was not the plan for him; they say the Allmatter has a grand scheme for all beings and hiding behind walls, mining for glitter is not the “grand scheme” for Haím. They hid in their smooth palaces sitting on their wealth like the dragons of old and cloaked in “knowledge” yet the young elf would hide no more. No more would his life be squandered in a chilled classroom while burning to a crisp within the fires of his heart, yearning for the truth beyond the city walls. Haím left, never to return.
The woods surrounding Eildrèm were deep and dense, rimmed with mountains whose peaks pierced the sky like rows of shark’s teeth rooted into the sacred, rocky flesh of Vita’Gaía. Eildrém – erected at the end of the second age of the fourth epoch; 4,900 cycles ago – lay in the dead center of the valley. Somewhere beneath the gentle green canopy west of the Crystal City, Haím slept. Seven days prior, the elf fled his home and since then he had not seen a single whisper of intelligent life. That was about to change. A single pair of eyes had been trailing him for several days now.
Dawn was barely breaking when the docile animal decided it was safe to investigate. The creature entered Haím’s campsite silently and with deep curiosity. The tent was set up on the north side beneath a powerful Root Oak. An embered fire pit rested a dozen hands to the east of the tent. The fox crept to the firepit and sniffed the empty kettle lying next to it. She cocked her head and at the twitch of a pointed ear, scurried from the campsite. Moments later she returned holding several mushrooms along with various other herbs and sprouts. The fox rested the ingredients on a slab of stone surrounding the firepit and kneeled on the spongy soil.
From her satchel she withdrew a pouch of fresh water from the river Vita, proceeding to empty it into the kettle. The giant fox then began playing with the embers and soon a fire was dancing before her wide eyes, in time with the golden sun which grew to meet the soft puffing clouds happily collecting the cold morning dew. Trees stretched and rocked whispering their good mornings and beginning the days harvesting of precious photons as the birds hopped along their sturdy limbs singing praise to the bliss of the Almight – thanking the androgen for the gift of life. Meanwhile the fox sat below, tending to the fire and preparing the ancient morning ritual for herself and her new friend-to-be, still sleeping soundly in his tent.
The fox took in a deep, fresh breath; her black-tipped ears processing every sound while her bark brown eyes felt every motion and her wet pink nose snatched up every scent. She closed her eyes absorbing the sweet land. What a good day to be alive! She smiled, revealing her set of thin, sharp teeth rooted like the mountains but to the flesh of her rosy gums – a façade disguising her powerful jaws. She tap, tap, tapped her claws on the stump where she sat, humming an ancient melody before breaking into song:
The sun is high
The day is nigh
For goodness’ sake
Don’t ask me why
Now gaze around
To learn the sound
Then whilst talking
To the lonely ground
And only then
Will be revealed
The only way
To love and heal
Oh almighty oh!
I thank you dearly so
Oh almighty OH!
Swing me to and fro
The sun is high
The day is nigh
I have an answer
T’your question why:
Because the wind is high
It blows my mind
Because the sky is blue
It makes me cry
Haím awoke – startled by the singing outside of his tent. Beautiful though it was, the elf remembered being alone before falling asleep. Quietly he snatched his glinting knife and exited the tent to find a giant fox sitting on a stump, cooking.
The fox turned her slender head to face him and spoke without hesitation, “You are and elf?!” her eyes wide as the sky, “I have heard much of your kind over my lifetime but rarely do any in the animal skin serve witness to the presence of your kind, although there was a time.” The fox then frowned, “In our stories though, elf, your kind have seven appendages – tell me – where are your wings?” Haím could not help but laugh, “wings? I have neither heard of an elf with wings nor seen one for that matter. Where do you get your silly stories?” The fox smiled at the befuddled elf, shrouded in a pale teal tunic bound by leather and sporting grass-green trousers ending in bare, hairless feet.
“What do you call yourself, elf?” asked the fox, returning to her stew. Astounded at the simple fox’s vocality, Haím replied, “My name is Haím, son of Áim. I am from Eildrém or at least I used to be. If you don’t mind my asking, fox, how did you learn to speak? My kin have claimed intelligence amongst the world had been lost for almost two thousand cycles.” The fox laughed heartily and sniffed the rising steam from the kettle, “Ah, well Haím, son of Áim of the Crystal City, you should tell your kin that intelligence is never lost and must always be sought.” Haím nodded as the fox continued, “’sides, maybe if you lot explored our beautiful world more often my speech would not be so astounding – plent of avid talkers about… I’d stay away from squirrels though, shrill.” She smiled and continued once more, “My name, brother elf, is Frei, daughter of Alpine the Rouge, princess of the Burrow.” Frei sniffed the stew longingly, “Mmm, but a moment longer and it shall be perfect.”
Haím, fully awake now, inquired to Frei, “Why did you come into my camp and, say, what’s that you are making; it smells… earthy.” Frei looked up from her concoction and replied, “I enter your camp brother because you are dangerously close to the Burrow, my home. In fact you are lucky I found you versus our scouts. The animals may be intelligent but lately there has been a shift in the harmonies,” she looked up at the canopy of branches, then back at Haím, “I am making the morning tea, Oculsi. I hope you would join me.”
Realizing his knife was still out; Haím nodded and sat on the stump across from Frei, jabbing the knife in the soil. “Tell me,” said Frei, tending to the elixir, “what are you doing out here? From what see Eildrèm is quite a ways from here. Are you lost or something?” Haím frowned, “No, I am not lost… if you must know I left that wretched place behind. Something dark is brewing there and I refuse to be a party to it.” “Hmm,” Frei motioned for him to continue.
“The elder’s – digging deep for so long – I’m afraid have released an ancient malice. Or at least they soon will.” The warm elf sighed painfully while his companion remained silent; the crackling fire whispering in the background. “The people of Eildrém are just as blind as the ones who rule them! If your stories are true and we had wings once, we lost them long, long ago. My own father, a councilmember – a man of bound by the walls of Law – disowned me. So I fled. I left the Crystal City seven suns ago, now.”
Frei gently pulled the kettle and settled it on the slab of rock beside the fire, then turning to Haím, “Well, brother elf, I never expected your cause to be of such importance and now I feel the Almight within us – we did not meet by chance. I have decided in myself to take you to my father. Maybe he can help you or point you in the right direction at the very least. Until that moment, Haím, no more talk of malice and blindness, aye?” She seemed grave and serious.
Haím released a final sigh and looked up to the treetops; several colored birds stared back at him. How he wished to fly away. He almost felt a phantom weight of wings in that moment. The elf mustered a smile and agreed, asking Frei for some tea.
Bearing a toothy fox grin Frei pulled a pair of beautiful porcelain tea cups from her sac. Each cup embroidered with a single ruby in the place of the sun; the tea cups depicted a magnificent sky with the strong red sun strung over the Burrow – a clearing amidst towering root oaks. Frei sniffed the rolling steam once more before pouring the bluish liquid into the two cups; returning the remainder to the earth from whence it came. She handed Haím a cup and began a toast, “To life and the Almight!” Haím echoed and they began sipping on this ritual remedy.
Although the taste of the tea was slightly bitter, Haím’s elfin body joyously received it. He embraced every drip and finished with a final gulp. “Ho! What an invigorating intoxication!” The elf sang, leaping to his feet and pacing about the camp. Frei sat peacefully embracing the yolk of her remedy and smiled at her new friend, her new brother. Love pierced their three dimensional veils simultaneously and fervently, there was no escaping the grips of truth in this now. Haím’s mind sweltered into knowingness while Frei felt she had returned to her true home. The elf no longer saw with his eyes but with his Eye. There was no duality and he remembered what he carried with him as a child, what they could not take from him. He recognized his mistake – no intelligent life? Bullocks. Intelligence surrounded him; root oaks, white maples and even the simple grass revealed their hands of life to him outside of time. Blessed be, he thought to himself. And so it is, Frei responded through a silent smile. Haím cocked his now light head, he did not remember speaking. What is this? How – Frei stood and interrupted his interrogations. “Settle down, my brother”, she whispered, “Your questions will be answered within you. You know the truth.” Haím felt he did and accepted that, leaving the fearful ego of self at his feet where it belongs.
As the initial giddiness departed, Haím turned to his companion; ready to embrace all she had to share. “Sister, this – whatever this is – is truth, is it not? It is the brand of where we came from before this world.” Frei smiled gently, “Yes, and no. This is the world we inhabit now and the brand of the realm our spirits hail from. The meanings will only be what your heart can gather, a glimpse.” A warming green haze crept upon the fringes of Haím’s vision at the word heart. Frei continued, “The threshold on the other hand is simple: unity – a bond unseen to our primitive eyes; the spider’s web to the flies it ensnares.” Haím shuddered at this imagery. “Yes,” Frei smirked, “a frightening thought isn’t it? Yet, that is life here, within Vit’Gaía. That makes it beautiful don’t you think?” For a moment Haím considered the beauty in this, the beauty in death and birth and the beauty in the webs which snare. His friend was right; Frei pointed to each tree, explaining their hearts and accounting for each brown tree and leaf of greenest green – he knew she was right. It is all beauty.
After moments of infinite space caressed his brain, the two children of this earth began picking up the camp. Before long only the warm cackling firelight reminded the woods that the two legged creatures had settled there. “It is time,” Frei uttered, “we must see my father.” Haím nodded, placing his rucksack behind him. They were about to pass into the dense wood but the elf could not hold his head from turning back towards his old home, Eildrém. What he saw iced his heart. There was darkness brewing no doubt. Greasy smoke hung in the air and almost swept him from inner peace. The dark power seeped through the cracks of his freshly opened mind. “What’s wrong, Haím?” Frei asked urgently, feeling her brother unsettling. Haím turned to her, “Take my hand, please. I fear – I fear we have journey ahead of great magnitude…” “Do not fear,” Frei said taking his hand into hers, “only see.” Haím’s hand felt her purely and he let the fear pass through him back to where it came from. With each breath – in and out – the poisons of uncertainty were cured and replaced by humble submission. “Fear cannot live in love…” Haím muttered. Frei nodded. They dashed into the undulating wood and moving swiftly through the Forrest.
Chapter2: The Raindrop
On a day like any other and in the times of like cause, a young man closed the wooden door to his parent’s home. The winter sky, grey and cloudy, watched from above. Between flexed knuckles a brown paper bag swung while dark brown hair bobbed down the steps; his blue backpack rustling with each step. A rare smooth face for a teenager turned to spot traffic and he was swiftly satisfied, continuing calmly atop the dark asphalt. Across the street lived his oldest friend, Christopher. Every morning for the last three and a half years, this ceremony was his. Chris and Stephen carpooled to school and this particular morning found Stephen reminiscing to those first days of high school – acne, piles of homework, shyness around sophomore girls – the memory gave him chills and he looked forward to the end of senior year only months away. He could almost taste the diploma when he reached the big red door to Chris’ house.
Stephen’s parents were separated and quite strained in the financial department. Stephen always suspected Chris’ mom knew this because every time he stepped foot into the Greene household it was food-dodging just to get downstairs. The ‘rents finalized the divorce a year prior to this cold January day (like any other) – a blip in Stephen’s mind but indeed, a hole in his heart.
The outside air was cold and sharp around his nose. Stephen often found himself feeling and eerie regret around this time of year, the return from winter/Christmas break. It was a relentless feeling of morose retrospection to the then thin veil of Christmas’ past. During Christmas break every year, Stephen’s family would stay home while Chris’ family went out of town. Every year Stephen performed the morning’s sulking proceeded by a relieving activation away from home. For his parents Stephen held distant respect and even then he was not fond of them. In their eyes he saw molded clones. Just-like-the-rest-of-em, he thought. It reminded him of Star Wars – when the droids exit the carriers on an attack against the Gungans – almost as if they all came out from the factory one day.
Something about children of divorce gave them an edge on reading situations. Stephen proved this with efficient readings of friends’ parents, other adults and even the environment. It seemed to him that they all had one thing in common: Fear. Money, work and politics with a hint of fear-porn was the daily dosage they had all subconsciously contracted to. It was all a giant bullshit sandwich. A little like school but with more shit than bull.
Stephen entered the warm indoor air of la casa del verde, greeting it with equity. Like any other day Mrs. Greene was there to greet him. She was always in the kitchen doing something, today she was just wrapping up the last lunch for the kids Chris was one in a family of seven; the eldest, James and Andrew, were married and working already. The youngest (there were three two were female one was male) were still in elementary school while Chris and his brother Gregory were traversing high school. Greg was probably not even up yet but Chris and Stephen always left for school early.
“Hello Mr. Stephen,” Mrs. Greene smiled handing him a soft steamy cinnamon bun. Stephen grinned, “Oh hello Mrs. Greene, Good morning,” he grabbed the sticky golden grub and after a quick look around, “Hope you enjoyed the holiday. Do you know where Chris is?” Mrs. Greene’s dark hair fluttered as she nodded and pointed down the hallway, of course. Christopher was one of those all A students who habitually procrastinated schoolwork; Stephen, however, would not even bother with homework yet took tests like hippies took LSD – easy. Stephen walked through the “hall of memories”, as he called it – where rows of smiling faces rested on his shoulders – and into the computer/play room. Chris was sitting in the leather chair, eyes glued to the bright and buzzing computer screen.
Stephen picked up the Ibanez sitting in the corner, lifting the strap over his head and greeted his buddy, “what’s up, bro.” Chris grunted and did not disengage the monitor continuing with his work. Stephen was picking at the strings and had just gotten the sucker in tune when Chris shot up from the seat, sending it flying. Stephen raised his brow at his friend who was grinning ear to ear, “Done,” he said and slapped Stephen’s shaggy head of hair, “Le’go!” Stephen placed the tuned guitar into its lonely corner and retrieved the cinnamon bun he had placed onto the coffee table. They headed out the door, Chris was on the verge of skipping when they said goodbye to Mrs. Greene, who was just getting the kids up.
Chris’ silver Impala sat idly on top of the driveway. Stephen remembered the day Chris got the car. It was on his sixteenth birthday; that day they spent a good thirty minutes looking for the best hiding places. They settled on a nice one beneath the back seat. Once they were in the car, Stephen split the cinnamon bun in half while Chris stretched into the back seat, bringing back with him a metal cylinder which he handed to Stephen after snatching up his half of the treat. Stephen placed his half on the dashboard as the rumble and buzz of the car starting stuttered the drizzling icing. The radio blared, W-X-P-Z THE VALLEY’S BEST VARI– the announcer was stopped short by a skinny pointer finger on the TAPE button.
Stephen unscrewed the cylinder and a light waft of cannabis cleansed their nostrils. Mmm, Stephen thought while pinching out the powdery green and orange haired plant and popping it into the glass pipe. One in the chamber. Just then Stephen’s phone started singing, I can’t do this all on my own. I’m no superman. Chris smiled, “I love scrubs.” Stephen nodded and answered his cellular. “Hello?” Stephen looked out the window and then looked sharply at Chris, it’s Jake, he mouthed handing over the fresh bowl. Chris nodded, stuck the pipe into the console and began reversing out of the driveway.
“Where do you wanna meet?” Stephen asked. “Okie dokie, artichokie”, he finished and hung up the phone. “What did he say?” Chris inquired. “Nothing really, just wants to meet up at the View,” Stephen grabbed his cinnamon bun and fervently consumed it. “Figures,” Chris nodded, hands at ten and two. Stephen manifested a box of American Spirit fags using his hand and a red coat’s pocket. “Want one?” he asked opening the yellow flap. Chris got one look at the exposed butts and tasted the sting. They smoked their cigarettes and the car practically drove itself to their little View.
It was theirs, you know. They spent a piece of everyday in that cranny of beauty. They discovered the yellow blooms – promiscuous to the sun – surrounded by emerald shoots beneath a sparkling ocean-blue sky, radiant with color. It was a cool August afternoon in the blur of Sophomore year. This beacon was always there for them and to give them more credit, they knew the owners and the neighbors. They would sometimes pass by on their way to the grocery store or after work and the kids always said hey, the proper niceties. It was their castle. Hell, they even picked up the trash once or twice.
They pulled in, the trash box still where it had been for the past year. Christmas break was over, Stephen thought. Jake was already there when the two young men arrived, his red Jeep Cherokee matched Stephen’s red winter coat. He was standing outside of the car and staring directly into the sunrise. “How’s it going, brehs?” he rang before they even had time to park. They exited the car shortly afterwards. “It’s going well, Jacob. Thank you for asking,” Chris said, shutting the driver’s door. “Ready to smoke,” laughed Stephen whose door was already shut.
The View was gloomy in January with the fog and they felt even more secluded for a moment. The sun was making it everywhere though. The precious soil drank of its warmth and all was well for a moment. The green trees hovered in the distance also joining in the morning sun ritual. That’s all it ever is to them.
They partook of the pipe. It was silent but for the occasional frog and distant crickets and it suited them. “Stephen,” Jake asked, “Did you do the AP Bio work?” Stephen shrugged and Chris lit the pipe. “You know me, man,” he said and Jake did know. It kept him at C to B average. Stephen sure as hell didn’t care, he said that he didn’t need paper approval to know he was sharp. In a way he was right, after all we aren’t here in this world to push papers. Chris passed the bowl to Jake followed by a plume of white smoke. Jake relieved him of the small pipe. Chris watched the Sky Blue grade into Sun yellow, the colors were swimming around beneath the glass. Jake took a long and steady “good-morning” hit. He held out the Guardian Angel – as the pipe was known – for Stephen to grab up and press into his chapped winter lips. Stephen exhaled and they sat in the silence for a moment. Time faded into the now. Their throats were inactive but their higher selves were chattering amongst one another.
The View was a mere minute from school grounds so they had all of the time in the world. The city they dwelt held the souls of various scientists, engineers and doctors, reputable folk. There was an airport for the city and one for the Arsenal, this kept the arteries of their sacred environment pumping. A train ran – not too far from the school – through the whole county and the Tennessee River was always up its sleeve. Planes were always growling to and from their destinations; they always went right over the High School, too. They were always low enough to tremble the walls and if one was outside they could feel the air molecules tumble against their skin.
Just then, amidst talks of the Source, the Red Cherokee became enthralled with banished jet engine air. The young men looked up and could see the airplane in the distance. It was a military cargo plane, you could always tell the difference with that aggressive olive color. It passed after some minutes and they continued their discussion. “Hey,” Stephen nudged his buddy, Chris, “What time is it?” Chris answered promptly after a flash from his cell phone, “seven thirty,” Jake uttered, “plenty of time.” Stephen almost looked surprised but then laughed, “Time ticks by so slowly in a smoke sesh,” then through a stiff mouth he said, “It seems to pass by so quickly, otherwise…” Stephen looked down at the dead khaki grass. Jake shrugged. “I think it’s because we go by the Gregorian calendar,” muttered Chris. “Yeah?” Stephen was intrigued, he had read about that before, “Versus the lunar calendar, verdad?” Chris nodded, “Si, supposedly the Lunar calendar is the proper one.” “Yeah, if you think about it though it makes sense. The moon effects the tide of the ocean, ocean’s made of water – we are made of water,” Stephen thought out loud. “What the hell are you talking about?” Jake laughed. Chris responded sharply, “What does ‘month’ mean? Moon-th, as in our androgynous companion the moon. One month is one moon phase. Get it?” Jake nodded awkwardly and Stephen threw his hands in the air, “Never mind. I don’t even know why I thought of that,” Stephen sulked. “Cannabis, yo,” Jake laughed, grabbed the pipe from Chris and lit it.
Opposite to the flight path of the military cargo plane was another military plan. It was not a cargo plane but was escorted by two helicopters. The Department of Defense was in town as well – staying at the Westin. They must have been in charge of an important flight like that, right? Well, happening upon the posse of aircraft came a molecular “brick wall”. Invisible to the naked eye, a microburst raged. The systems failed on all of the aircraft, the crew acted as instructed and stayed put. An attempt to land was in affect for the airplane; the helicopters however descended swiftly upon the earth and they were not high enough for a parachute. One crashed into the suburbs, sending a couple house tenors on a run for their money. The houses were located near a creek next to the base’s Gate. That creek always smelled strange to them, who knows what the arsenal dumped in there; although, it couldn’t be worse than dumping helicopters onto houses.
The landscape of the town was quite hilly. Rolls and rolls upon rolls of domed mounds of dirt and rock, bare Autumn through Winter and greenest of greens Spring through Summer. The city was always very busy so not many even noticed the incoming wreckage. Certainly no one in their cars noticed. With such a hilly terrain the plane was incapable of landing and crashed, sliding along – parallel to – the creek and smashed into a school.
Frightened young men saw the event from a field near the school and ran to their cars. Had it been fifteen minutes later the high school seniors would have been casualties in the wreckage; “What the hell! What do we do?!” Jake cried in a panic. “Hang on, Jake. Just wait a second…” Chris muttered, “What can we do?” Stephen looked pale, the gears in his polarized brain were a-turning, “Look guys…” Stephen was fidgeting with his fingers, “I don’t know about y’all but I’m taking this as a sign.” His friends looked at him questioningly, Jake with a cocked head and Chris with eyebrows raised.
“Well, I’m not happy here, are you?” Stephen said almost in a whisper; Jake and Chris understood and looked down at their feet thinking deeply and intently. Were they happy? Was anyone these days? These were some of the questions they asked themselves. Finally, Jake nodded silently. Stephen cursed blindly and grabbed his friend by the hand. He could see the veins poking out like roots on the forest floor. “I’m in,” Jake uttered, “But I want to know what exactly will be happening. Where are we gonna go?
How much money we got, et-fucking-cetera.” Chris nodded, “I’m in too and I’m with Jake, in fact we should probably stop by the credit union asap.” “Federal Credit Union here we come,” muttered Jake, pausing for a moment and then continuing, “what about my car?” Chris quickly echoed, “Yeah, mine too.” “Well,” Stephen began, “we should take one – Jake, I think the Jeep would be best and as for the impala,”
Stephen placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder, “we should probably drive it to the school and ditch it, donchya think?” Chris frowned, he was out of gas anyways and it would help keep anyone who would happen to search for them off of their trail, “fine… I’ll meet you over there,” Chris opened his drivers’ side door. Stephen got into the car with Jake and they all fled to the steamy fresh crime scene.
They turned into the parking lot of the school, smoke and flames danced into the morning light. They parked beside each other and assessed their belongings: No school shit; entheogens, check; Backpack, check; knife, check, etc. Chris clamored into the red Cherokee and deserted his car, leaving into the nothing with Jake and Stephen. ”To the bank!” chimed Jake.
They arrived to the Federal Credit Union to find that they each had quite a bit of money saved up, even more between the three of them. Stephen successfully withdrew 1800 dollars from his account, Chris withdrew 800 dollars and Jake, 1000 dollars. “I’ve been thinking,” Chris suggested, “how about we go to Washington State?” Jake shrugged, “I’m down for whatevs, especially driving to Washington.” “We are gonna have to make some stops on the way,” Stephen interrupted, “I think it would be best to camp on the way versus hotel/motel; yeah?” The three friends agreed and abandoned a town – their old home – Now in the peril of sirens and new reports. They also agreed to wait on purchasing camping equipment; it was imperative that their paths were lost in the wreckage. At noon they would see where they were and then decide what to do. The red Jeep Cherokee pulled into the racing interstate headed West.
Stephen, Chris and Jake settled silently within themselves. The radio sang smoothly in 440 Hz causing their feet to tap and hips to bob in the comfortable leather seats. Besides the sound of the radio were the buzzing hums of the rubber tires melting to the sticky asphalt. Stephen sat in the passenger seat watching the trees silently run by like an old motion picture. His mind wandered to the moments preceding the “event”. The pleasant massage of THC and other cannabinoids on his anxious and – even in his youth – heavily programmed temples, sweet silky relief of life into the breezes that kissed his skin and sitting in the hibernating winter grass.
There it was. He did feel it, the raindrop from nowhere, right below his oblong thumb. How did it get there? He is sure the grass was dry and cool, it was dead for godsake. He peripherally observed his company. Stephen had not told them of this phantom raindrop but it was there, right before the damn cargo plane crashed into the friggen school. Disbelief taunted his heart, dream? No. Nightmare? Also, no… but there was that raindrop. He sighed profusely and pulled out his yellow pack of American Spirit cigarettes. “Cig?” He offered to his friends – his family. “I’m good,” Jake waved off, his eyes never left the streaming road. Chris said nothing but poked his hand between the seat and the car door. Stephen gladly placed the stick between his friend’s eking fingers. The red lighter sparked a dancing flame and lit his smoke. The amber glow pleased his humble sense of sight bringing his mind to the past, to his house which was not a home – as the song from his youth desperately jogged at the listeners
Vague flashes of whipped butts, sweat beading down Stephen’s brow as his mother’s heavy breathing slowly stilled and tears gushed from their ducts. By then he did not let out a sound. He was passed that. The present Stephen flexed his jaw and exhaled that stinging smoke. The past would not let him go. Even earlier memories of muffled yelling – money was a poison – and a young boy, no more than six cowered behind the couch. Stop! The boy would passionately whisper to the wall. That was all behind him now. What were his parents doing now? Probably pulling up to the cursed courthouse where justice is never served. Merry Christmas; Happy New Year.
Chapter 3: the burrow
The venture to Frei’s home was rigorous and dense with gnarled trees whose roots protruded – like hurdles – from the cool placental skin upon the earth. After what felt like a full sun of trees, critters and other wildlife, they reached a small trail. The trail was wide enough for Frei and Haím to walk side by side before it opened up into an expansive clearing; Haím took a vivid note of the vast array of crops and livestock feeding from the precious soil. After silently extending gratitude to the livestock for the pleasant grass between his toes, he nodded to the other foxes that stalled their agriculture and lifted their snouts from their rows of crop radiating east and west from the central mound of the clearing.
Those are the gardeners Frei explained, waving to them while they continued in their right. “We grow most of our medicines and plant foods here. What we don’t have is easily foraged from the wood. Maybe you will enjoy some tonight?” “I cannot wait,” Haím laughed.
The two friends reached the mound at the center of the clearing. An opening was barred at the top which felt a corridor carved within it by symmetric and precise means. This corridor led them into an atrium trimmed with torches poking out from the stern walls. The circular atrium dispersed into four passages: one to their right (housing), one to their left (leisure/dining/kitchen), another dead ahead leading to the Alpha chambers while the fourth lay behind the elf and the fox and led outside.
Haím, astounded by the ingenuity of these bipedal foxes, fell behind Frei and became entranced with the writings on the wall. There was an expansive mural bound at the atrium telling a colorful story of seven eggs, each giving birth to four dragons. The four dragons stretched across the eggs breathing life in their wake. Frei had already entered the North passage (dead ahead of the entrance) when Haím caught up having disrupted his trance in the Mural. “Do you like our artwork?” Frei asked Haím. Haím nodded erratically, “Yes, it is wonderful and intrinsic… it’s-” “Kamoolatyal,” interrupted Frei, smiling. “What does that mean?” Haím asked. “It is an ancient cannish saying; it means genesis, creation.” “I see,” Haím uttered, dwelling on the images in his mind where the planes were infinite and he did see. Something within him knew the story of Kamoolatyal, as if he had been there.
Side by side they entered the Alpha chamber. It was decorated with more fragmented murals and many ancient relics placed about. Haím could feel the age seeping from the precious relics and pulsing throughout the rest of the Burrow. The energies were powerful and sheltering, for once Haím felt a structured peace. The walls were stamped with a beautiful memoriam to homosapien canis, the wolves, foxes, jackals and coyotes emerging from the isles of Goul. Next the Jackal and Coyote races were depicted sitting to the right and left of a sinister figure with long nimble phalangic protrusions creeping from two swathed arms. Parallel to the image of the figure and the two canine races were the wolf and fox peeking from between the trees of their Mother Wood.
At the back of the chamber was a wall separating the relics and memorial from a small study. Upon entering the study there are two book shelves behind the wall and in the far end of the study was an oblong wooden table. Seated at the table were three foxes of varied shades – a burgundy fox across from two light-orange ones. Upon seeing his daughter the burgundy fox hopped up with his daughter’s toothy fox grin., “Frei! Ron Charem.” Alpine embraced his daughter compassionately, then motioning to Haím, “Ae’ru pavem?’ Frei smiled, “Ron pavem set Haím, elfin pe’ot Eildrèm,” Frei replied swiftly, nudging Haím who stumbled into a bow and introduced himself. “It is a pleasure, Alpine the Rouge. Frei has told me much about you. My Name is Haím, son of Áim, Steward of Eildrém.” The aging fox looked him up and down acutely, “Elfen, eg? Frei nodded. Her father broke into a laugh and smiled, hugging his guest. “Many cycles have come and gone since these halls have engaged with the presence of an elf,” the fox held Haím at arm’s length, “Welcome Haím; I am Alpine.” Another fox grin spread on Alpine’s face, “Consider yourself family; please sit, eat and relax. You must be tired.”
Gratefully Haím accepted the offer and sat at the table before them. Frei sat to his left and Alpine sat at Frei’s left. Sitting on the table before them was a plate of plump grapes which Haím helped himself to. Soon two foxes entered the Chamber bringing wine to the group which had begun chatting actively among one another.
The two other foxes at the table were Frei’s cousin Bree and her uncle Ölbre, Alpine’s brother. Bree and his father had just arrived from beyond the West Mountains. They came from a small trades town at the outskirts of the dwarven city, Druin-Az. Alpine went on to explain that his brother and nephew were visiting to celebrate Soma, an ancient celebration to respect and nurture the solar eclipse happening tomorrow.
While her father playfully pestered the elf, Frei watched happily; filling her belly with wine and chiming in when necessary. Her cavernous brown eyes were fixed on the elf yet her mind dwelled on his cause. She knew in her heart that a storm was coming but she also knew to keep private what is private – she would wait until later to approach her father. It was almost high-sun anyhow; they would be having tea soon. Satisfied with her own mind she fully enjoyed the present stream.
Haím and Alpine got along swimmingly, even Bree listened as the elf divulged upon Eildrém. Haím explained the Crystal City’s fascination with gems and mining – painting verbal images of beautiful stone towers, decorated with fixed gems; smooth black alleyways whose magnetic properties allowed for levitated carts and carriages leading to large collegiates of magic and crystal frequency. Alpine and his family were perplexed and amazed by the thought of this magical city.
By the time of afternoon tea, Alpine and his kin had gotten to know Haím quite well. In fact they were very pleased with the new company. Bree and Ölbre by this time grew tired and excused themselves for a walk in the sun prior to retreating to their quarters. It was at this time Frei patiently approached her father regarding more serious matters.
“Pavem,” Frei called to her father. Alpine looked at her and finished his tea in a final gulp. Haím widened his eyes to the soft clunk of the wooden tea cup on the Rose Oak table. “I know what you have come here to seek for your friend, Frei” Alpine motioned them both to finish their teas, which they did promptly. Alpine looked down at the table and his ear twitched twice before he spoke.
“There is a strange story to this reality we live within,” He looked at his daughter, how long ago do you remember, ron Charem?” “I remember most clearly the day I entered the Burrow for the first time after my rising.” “Ah yes, fourty-two basic cycles. Well, sevenfold and fourty-two B.C. prior to that was the dawning of a terrible conflict. You see, the skin of this earth has held resonance with many skins and not all are peaceful. These vile creatures descended upon our habitats and forbade their pillaging by stealing our families and manipulating the memory banks within their cells – turning us all into experiments… we had no choice but to rise. There were factions of all races holding together against a dark and hapless God looking to feel as Source, only we recognized the source spark stoked within our hearts and confronted Luts’Faer, defeated the bastard and began anew behind these mountains. Of course I only speak for our forms. The dwarves held their positions beneath the mountains. The exhausted elfen returned to their appropriate posts about the lands of Vita’Gaia.” Alpine paused, tapping his fore-claw on the table, “Yet now it appears that this peace is ending,” he looked at the souls before him sternly, “that is all I may divulge for now.” He was finished.
Frei stood and hugged her father. When she was finished Alpine invited Haím to the practice. Alpine told them that he needed time to dwell on the opportunity at hand so they left the Underburrow into the clearing. The air smelled wonderful in their bones; outside the residents were setting up canopies and harvesting bits of crop; this caused commotion to and from the surrounding woods and bustling about within the Burrow. Haím, fully realizing the ebb and flow of this group of souls, felt humbled and supported – prepared for the road ahead.
Frei and Haím spent the remainder of their day walking the outer rim of the burrow, like a spinning wheel from above. Frei divulged him stories of the woods, stories of travelers and lore. It was all a sweet to Haím’s ear, he learned more in his time here than ever with his people in Eildrém. And tomorrow, he thought, will be the eclipse. He didn’t know what to expect and yet the idea of the eclipse excited him to his bones.