“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Welcome back to Chapter Eight of “The Sweetest Of Woods”- A Time Of Illumination.
Each Tuesday at 9:30 AM PST, I post up a new chapter in the first book of the series I’m writing.
If you are just tuning in, you may read
Chapter One here
Chapter Two here
Chapter Three here
Chapter Four here
Chapter Five here
Chapter Six here
Chapter Seven here
Chapter 8- A Time Of Illumination
“I have arrived in the land of blue shag carpet?” Kendra thought as she slowly took in the view from in between her arms that had been protectively folded around her head for the trip.
The air was thick and heavy with moisture indicating that she must have found her way to a tropical destination. It smelled of Dove soap, potpourri and a familiar fabric softener.
“Ken? How… Where did you come from?!” came the voice of her brother.
“Ash!” Oh my gosh!” She gasp sitting up to find herself not in Shag Land but curled up upon her Aunt and Uncle’s blue bath mat. “I was thinking about everything that has been going on. Then I started thinking about you. Asher, you were inside my marble!”
He let go of the death grip he had on the bathroom sink and glanced back at the door to double check that it was still locked. There was no way she could have snuck past him without being noticed. She was visibly shaken and confused.
“I saw you standing right there and then I was spinning through the air… until I was here,” she says examining her hands and feet to make sure that all the vital pieces had traveled with her as well.
“Where’s the marble?” he asked.
She held up her fist that was held so tightly closed that it caused her fingernails to dig deeply into the palm of her hand. Slowly she opened her hand in front of them. They both leaned forward to get a closer look at the magic marble.
It shined with a remarkable brilliance as the other two did.
“I don’t see anything Ken, do you?” Asher questioned his sister.
“Not right now but I swear, I promise you that I’m telling you what really happened,” she defended her previous statements.
“I believe you. I have no idea what’s going on but nothing shocks me anymore,” he admitted to his sister. “I met one of your friends in the garden while you were making brownies.”
“My friends?” she looked a little confused.
“That fairy that you used to draw with the green pants,” Asher attempted to describe the visitor. “He took me by surprise so I didn’t ask anything that I wish now I had. I wasn’t thinking clearly, the back porch steps were telling me they wanted to move with us and that you were The Muse. He did seem pretty happy that I was so shocked to see him flying by.”
“He always said that you wouldn’t be able to see him until you were ready to believe in magic again. I guess today was a big day for everyone…” Kendra said trying to lighten the mood a touch.
“He said that you would know what to do. “
Kendra thought for a moment and then recited a portion of a poem she once had written.
“When the sky grows wings to carry you away,
To the sea quickly, there is danger to stay.
When The Muse is found the darkness will fight,
Desperate to feed off the pure light, eager to retain the power of the second sight.
The ties will hold fast to the connection, trust illumination
One misstep and our world is done.”
“Well, that sounds happy,” Asher quipped.
Outside the bathroom door they could hear Emily calling for Kendra. Their brownies were done.
“Put those marbles some place safe and don’t do anything with them until we’ve had some time to think about this. Who knows where they could take you next,” Asher cautioned Kendra grabbing her into a hug. “That bug of yours called me ‘Blessed Protector’ so that pretty much means I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Unless you have a poem that says otherwise.”
They both chuckled a bit of a forced plastic laugh that was meant to come out reassuring but it did exactly the opposite.
Emily was thrilled to hear that her honorary cousins were going to be having a sleepover.
She insisted that they all sleep in her new princess bed and watch ‘The Princess Diaries’ with her. Her royal bedchamber contained a castle, complete with bed, slide, tent, fort and the royal desk for coloring all in one awesome dream bed package. It was purple, pink, white and sparkly… just like Emily.
All three of the kids piled on the top of the bed to turn on the flick.
The older two were sure that Emily would crash out but as the end credits rolled she turned to Kendra and asked for a story.
“Only one and then I need to get some sleep,” Kendra said winking at Asher.
“I’ll even listen with my eyes closed. That way I go there in my mind,” Emily agreed quickly, snuggling down into her comforter with her eyes shut.
Asher slid down the slide and pretended to go inside the fort part of the castle underneath where the young princess had instructed he sleep since he was the biggest of everyone in the kingdom at the moment but quietly took a seat by the window.
“Did you know that when your hair gets knotted by the wind or in bed while you sleep,” Kendra began gently smoothing the wispy edges of the hair back from the little girl’s face. “It’s a fairy learning to braid.”
“You’re pulling my leg,” Emily said peeking one eye open to see if her cousin was teasing her.
“It’s true. Pixies have smaller little hands so it’s completely natural that they would have a much tougher time than a fairy. You can’t expect Mother Nature to do it all without a little help right? How else do you think beach curls came about. There had to be some tubular little surfing fairy that gave that gift to the world.”
Emily cast a look of total disbelief towards Kendra.
“I’m just saying. It’s up to you if you want to believe it but that’s the reason why I brush out my hair every night. That way they have an easier time practicing. Eyes closed…” Kendra warned.
Emily squeezed her eyes closed listening closely.
“Since the beginning of being there have always been a light verses dark, a balance that marked a universal flow when they work together. If nothing ever changed, if beings were not capable of individual thought… this would be an exceptionally dull story.”
The little girl nodded adamantly as Kendra continued.
“Eventually peace and coexistence fell away and each side pulled and pushed to gain more ground than the other. These same mistakes will be repeated time and time again but the wars raged on. As people began to take up more and more room, many of the creatures of the light retreated back to other worlds that had been created that did not pose such a threat to their future. Then there were creatures that were better suited to quietly living amongst people going mostly unseen. These people fought their own diverse battles between light and dark. Curiously most of these people failed to see the magic in their own world, rendering them incapable of being more than pawns in the larger battle that swirled around them. These people simply going about their insignificant days with the belief that they are in control; when the reality was they were slowly being manipulated for information.
The creatures of the light divided into smaller groups that allowed them to live very happy in peace with the protection of one another all the while waiting for the tide to turn. What is right will always find the light of day. The truth is the hardest thing to hear and the one thing darkness has no power of.
There was chatter that there was to be an allegiance formed between some of the creatures of the light and people. Many scoffed at such a thing and doubted highly that people were of any good other than for dark purposes of destruction they perform daily upon the world around them.
There was a very special boy with sandy brown hair and hazel eyes that was chosen to write the story of the light. Unfortunately his grandmother cut through the kitchen just after the prophecy had been fulfilled and mistook the small winged king for a beetle. She crushed him with her slipper in one fluid motion. The boy was left with no instructions but a spark of creativity that was the envy of many. Most of the fairies felt that with the loss of their leader that they would be safer to seek shelter within a new group of Light Keepers and they quickly moved on.
Aron was a young Light Keeper when the King was killed but he recalled the stories that he would hear him tell of a Blessed Protector that would battle to deliver The Muse to the sea and save their people. After the incident in the kitchen Aron would sit close to the boy and try to coax his mind into creating power for the Light. Alas, this child may carry the spark but could not possibly grow into their warrior.
The small band of chosen fairies stayed behind the exodus to the sea. They would not leave their post. They believed that they had to protect the secret and the boy. They watched him grow into a man. He got married. The darkness came looking but found nothing and moved on. Then the man had children.
They were the hope that Aron and the Light Keepers had been waiting for.
They hung on the words of the little girl, The Muse…”
Her words slowly hit home and she looked down at Emily sweetly slumbering next to her. Asher’s back was towards her as he looked out the window and into the night.
“I wonder if he knew he was special, you know, before he died,” Asher said as if he we talking to the window pane.
“Of course he did. He was ours and that made him special,” Kendra said just above a whisper.
She pulled herself out from under the covers carefully so not to roust the princess and the pea. She too chose to leave the castle by slide and landed on the floor in the center of the room.
“Ken, do you know the rest of the story?” Asher presses.
“Not really. I feel like we’re going to be okay. We’re moving to the sea. That’s where everyone seems to go to get away from the darkness, right? Just a few more days and all of this will be behind us,” She answered.
A wave of exhaustion washed over Asher and he yawned so large he felt somewhat like a snake unhinging his jaws to take in larger prey. He covered it with a well-placed stretch and excused himself to use the restroom.
Kendra felt drawn to the window as though just outside the thin pane lie something mystical that has always been ever so slightly out of reach. There were so many questions. Every time she would try to answer one of them it would breed three more. She unlatched the windows that swung out above a small patio that overlooked all the colorful fairy houses in the garden. Each deep breath of blooming gardenia in the lush oasis below brought he closer to the memories she held of a giant smiling man placing marbles into his picture perfect fence to be rewarded by the ear to ear grin of the light of his life, his little girl.
“What are you thinking?!” Asher said accusingly as he reached out for the windows to latch them tight. “There is who knows what running around… er, flying around for that matter and if I’m supposed to be saving both our skins I need to you to at least try not to give something an open invitation to eat you or worse!”
“I just feel like we’re missing something. Like its really close but I’m just not sure what to do,” Kendra said making her way toward the pile of pillows in the fort section of the castle. “I can’t believe I can be sleepy with everything that’s going on around here but I can hardly keep my eyes open a minute longer.”
Asher followed, tucking the large patchwork Princess themed quilt around his sister.
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep a look out,” He was sure we was saying the words out loud for his own benefit as his sister had already drifted off the moment her body stopped moving for more than thirty seconds. He thought for a moment and then decided to flip off the television set leaving the room dimly lit by a small purple night light that looked like a silver sparkle filled snow globe bubbling away keeping all the monsters at bay.
The thought of monsters made him want to dive under the covers next to his sister and his arm throbbed where the bat had repeatedly sank it’s sharp teeth intentionally and viciously into his flesh. Did the darkness control the bats or where they the darkness? How was he supposed to be some blessed protector when he didn’t even know what he was protecting themselves from, let alone the fact that it was appearing that he was not going to live long enough to exit the eighth grade properly. He wasn’t even sure what the town was called that they were moving to in a few days. Everything seemed so topsy turvy . He felt like he was in a snow globe and every few months some bigger creature walks past the shelf and shakes up their globe for fun.
When they had gone to Disney World together he remembered getting on the Alice in Wonderland Tea Cup themed ride with his father. In no time flat the boys had the tea cup spinning as fast as it could go. As the ride started so did his father’s motion sickness. The big man put one hand over his mouth and the other up in the air. The attendant apparently recognized that as the international sign of you are going to have to clean two corn dogs, a Slurpee that is larger than a toddler, a pretzel and a pickle off this ride if I don’t exit immediately. The ride came to a stop and his father bolted towards the nearest trash can.
Sitting alone in the dark watching for any sign of any more crazy to crop up and try to take his sister, Asher slowly put one hand over his mouth and the other up in the air.
He was done. He wanted off this heinous ride now.
“Sleep now Blessed One. We will keep watch while you rest. All is well,” sounded a familiar voice but this time it sounded as though it were singing a lullaby to a small child.
Asher looked towards the window where the voice seemed to come from. In the corner of the room was Aron, the voice from under the stairs. He stood next to a small beautiful female fairy that looked to only have one wing extending like an iridescent ripple along a form hugging dress of periwinkle crushed velvet. As Asher’s eyes again fell upon Aron, he glowed slightly brighter in the darkness. He flew to another corner of the room illuminating another tiny older gentleman with a waist coat and wings that appeared to rival only the hood ornament on a Rolls Royce. Again Aron flew to the next corner illuminating a young fairy with a comforting smile and last he took his place in the remaining corner. All four of them seemed to create enough light in the room to chase all the shadows away. Above him he could see a grid forming like small threads of golden light weaving around one another to create a loosely strung together net above the entire room.
The net slowly seemed to get closer to him, making him feel happy and peaceful.
The last thing he remembered was curling up totally relaxed to sleep deeply.
Ben had put off gathering the last bits of his personal items from the office he wouldn’t be seeing for a year. The University assured him that everything would be as it stood today when he returned but to be fair to anyone that needed to use the space, he felt best taking his things to his home office for the time being.
He decided that the Ansel Adams black and white framed print needed to stay as well as the comfy leather sofa that sat under it. The sofa had many miles on it and had gotten him through since his first apartment. A little polish now and then continues to keep his very first furniture investment looking closer to new.
The desk that had been teeming days ago with papers, books, pens and empty take out coffee cups was now condensed into a top drawer full of ballpoint pens of many color as well as dry erase markers for the board that always seemed to be running dry during the worst moments. He reached down and lifted up the organizing tray he’d put in the drawer to keep things tidy, exposing the five crisp flat one dollar bills. He smiled to know that someday someone would be in need of a cold soda, a cup of coffee or a bag of M&M’s. He loved finding a random five dollar bill in the pocket of his winter coat or an extra twenty dollars in his overnight bag. It didn’t hurt to be prepared and found money, even if it is your own is still a little bit of a rush. In the file drawer he left an old well-worn copy of Merriam Webster’s Dictionary and an equally as abused thesaurus. Another staple must have item for every desk in his opinion.
There was a courtesy knock on the open door.
A sheriff was coming through the doorway taking off his hat.
“How can I help you sir?” Ben asked.
“The sign on your door says Professor Ben but isn’t your name really Barnabus?” the officer questioned while taking a seat in one of the open chairs across from the desk.
“I assure you that in no way am I trying to pull the wool over anyone sir. One of my students made me the sign as a gift for tutoring him, “the teacher explained. “Under it says my official title Barnabus Elazar Nussbaum. With a name like that can you blame me for shortening it a bit? By the time I was in second grade everyone has been calling me Ben.”
Derek had gone into work the day after Bridget announced that she was moving and began to look deeper into this Professor Ben person. The more he looked, the more he really liked the guy and thought that they could be good friends. He seemed like an all-around nice guy from the weekend per month he donates to work at the local library to the creative writing courses he teaches in the park for free on Wednesdays and extras on holidays. He judged the Pine Wood Derby and donated the ice cream for the floats afterward. Last year he got a group of his students together to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and help rebuild homes that had been destroyed by a recent hurricane over their spring break. He speaks four languages, owns a black Labrador that he got from a rescue group, pays his bills on time and he has more books in his apartment than most city blocks put together. Everyone has something nice to say about him from the kindness his seems to exude to the warm rich gentlemanly qualities that make him ever so endearing. He does not seem to date but he once was in a serious relationship with a woman that ended just before the alter. He prefers Charmin Ultra Strong toilet paper and likes to sing Fleetwood Mac in the shower.
Maybe Derek had gone a little far when he looked into this guy but no one was this perfect. For heaven’s sakes Derek just wanted to make sure that his family was taken care of. He had come down to meet the guy in person.
“I’m sorry,” Derek said extending his hand. “I’m Bridget’s brother in law.”
“I didn’t know she had a sister,” Ben commented.
“She doesn’t exactly but Bridget and my wife have been closer than sisters for over twenty five years. When I married Rose I knew I was getting a little sister as a part of the package. Bridget and those kids mean the world to us and it is absolutely breaking my wife’s heart to see those three go so far away,” Derek continued. “I’ve checked you out and either you are one of the greatest guys or so perfect you’re about to go postal on everyone. I’m going to believe that you really are the good guy that everyone tells me that you are. Do I have any reason to believe that you won’t treat my sister with the respect and appreciation that she deserves?”
“No sir?” Ben offered feebly.
Derek gave him the classic I caught you speeding and you are busted looks which prompted Ben to change his final answer.
“No sir. I understand and yes I intend to treat her and her children as though they were a part of my own family…Of course with nothing but respect.”
“Very good. I’m glad that you see how special she is and how much we love her… and they will never find the body if you hurt them.”
Derek handed him a slip of paper with an address written on it.
“Dinner tomorrow night around 6 at our house. Bridget is staying with us until the move so we thought we’d do a last minute send off. After all it’s only right to eat some cake and enjoy the company before you guys shove off the next day,” Derek offered.
“I’d love to,” Ben replied.
“Well,” Derek said standing up to leave. “I’ve got to go see some guy on campus about those bats. Bridge told you that we were able to catch a couple the other night and they were being brought here to the university to do the follow up tests. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ll take a weirdo over something flying in the night, at least I know what to expect. See you tomorrow!”
Ben watched the large officer walk down the hallway and exit out the double doors at the end. He breathed a sigh of relief. In the span of a few short moments he was forced to talk about a name worthy of a child abuse charge, was threatened with murder and was invited to dinner. The involuntary trembling in his knees made him chuckle and think that moments like that are why he chose a “safe” profession and not one of danger.
As Derek neared the building the doors flew open and a obviously flustered biologist in a long white coat came rushing out towards him.
“I just called your office,” the scientist says to the officer. “They said you were on your way here. I don’t know what happened but all three of the bats that were brought in have disappeared. I’ve had a team out looking all morning.”
“No one just loses three huge bats!” Derek almost lost it.”We’re going to have to wait until they attack at random again to try to get to the truth about what’s going on.”
“Well, not exactly,” The man in the lab coat offered. “I did get some samples…”
Chapter 9… Come on back next Tuesday!