We struggled through a batch of tall spiky grass, wading through and through until we came to a wooded area. Gabriel seemed to know where he was going as he stopped beside a rough uneven block of stone stood in the middle of the grass.
"We turn right here. Into the woods."
I turned to look at the trees in front of me. They didn't look too bad, not as threatening or as spooky as some woods can be, but I still felt uncomfortable, ill at ease. But I breathed deeply and followed Gabriel into the trees.
As soon as we passed through, it was like crossing a barrier. It was cooler, calmer, and a lot quieter. I could still hear birds, hell I could still hear the busy road that we'd come along, but there was a stillness here that was soothing. I could do this.
There were various trails crisscrossing amongst the trees. We took one, then another, then another. I was soon lost, but Gabriel kept confidently walking along.
We passed over dead branches that cracked, brambles that snagged, and pretty yellow, blue, and white flowers that I tried so hard not to step on.
We ducked under extended branches, shimmied over others.
After scrambling for what seemed an age, sometimes nearly on all fours, the trees opened out into a small clearing. Not quite what I had imagined. A lot of beer cans, some snack packets, even some used condoms, charming!
"Is this it then?"
"Nice isn't it!"
I looked around again "No."
"Good job it's not the place then. It's this way."
He didn't stop, but murmured over his shoulder, "This way."
So I followed, as I always do.
It only took a few moments before he stopped, turned to me and said "This is it."
He moved aside and let me pass him. I caught my breath. It was so beautiful. It was a much smaller clearing than the last, but whereas the previous had trees in a rough circle, this clearing just had a large gnarled tree at its centre. A big old tree with a mass of white flowers covering it. So many flowers, it was like the tree could hardly stand for the weight. The tiny white flowers cascaded to the ground as if the tree was some kind of giant parasol. I had tears in my eyes, it was so beautiful.
"What do you think?" I heard Gabriel whisper behind me. I turned to face him, a fiery glint in his eyes that I couldn't quite place. I turned and faced the tree again.
"How could anything this beautiful be here?"
"Why not?" I could sense him shrug matter-of-factly, but nothing about this scene was matter-of-factly to me.
I moved towards the tree, putting my hand out tentatively.
"Can I touch it?"
"Of course you can. Can't you feel that it wants your touch?"
He was right, it did. I gently let the tips of my fingers travel over the lichen covered bark.
"Do you like it?"
I placed my hand fully on the tree. It was as if I could feel it breathe, feel it pulsing away, just as all life does. I know that it was probably just my own pulse, but it felt real enough in that moment, real enough to think that it was indeed the tree.
"So this is the place."
"Gabriel? This is the place right?"
He sighed long and hard. "There is no magic. There is no ritual."
"Fucker" I whispered more to the tree than to Gabriel.
"You're not angry, disappointed?"
"There is no magic as you said."
"So why did you come along?"
I turned to face him, my back leaning against the soft surface of the tree.
"Because you asked me."
Silence again, but I waited.
"I wanted to talk to you."
He looked uncomfortably at his feet. "Stuff."
I sighed, but in a weirdly contented way.
"Let's sit, and then you can tell me about stuff."
He grinned sheepishly, sat on the ground underneath that spread tree, with its cascading white flowers. He patted the ground next to him, so I sat, as I knew I would.
#fiction #fact #story #johnhopper