Guardian of the tree.

He woke  up groggily. It was dark outside but not pitch black like midnight. He figured it must be nearing dawn. Instinctively his hands moved to turn on the table lamp next to his bed,  only to be met with the feel of a cold metal. His mind cleared a bit.  Where was he?

Slowly it dawned upon him that the bed below him was not soft, in fact it was not even a bed. He was not home.
So where was he?

He didn’t know.

He groped around with his hands to explore in the feeble light of pre dawn. It looked like dawn would at least take  two hours. He was not planning on waiting till then to find out where he was. The last he remembered, he’d crashed on the bed as soon as he returned from his friend’s birthday party. He got a little drunk. Lot more than a little drunk. But that was okay. He had gone home. What happened after that?

He didnt know.

He moved and winced in pain  when his leg accidentally hit a stone. ‘Fuck!’ , he cursed.
How the hell did he end up here?

After almost thirty minutes of desperate searching , he got lucky.  Never did the cold sleekness of his flash light felt more welcoming. He switched it ON.  Not much of the surrounding area was visible. This wont work.  He would have to wait for the  sunrise.
And then he drifted off to sleep. When he woke up again it was morning.
It was eerily silent. Not a single bird, bug, nor an insect made any sound. Something was wrong. He looked around and found nothing but barren land, left to fallow,  in all the  directions but one, for as far as he could see. There was a dense forest to the north .

He was on some kind of a primitive rocky platform. The view from that point was beautiful and yet the position was strategic. No  one could enter the forest without being noticed. So he figured he should be going to the forest. If anyone used this as an observation point, they must live in the forest. He leaned at the edge carefully to find out what was there right below and almost toppled over. The sheer depth of the cliff and the steepness made him nauseous.  If he had not waited for the morning, one misstep and he would  surely be dead. Thanking his lucky stars he stumbled down the platform.
Again he tried to recall how he managed to get himself  in this strange place but couldn’t. Resignedly, he marched towards the forest. Much to his delight, he found that the forest was not as far as it seemed.  A small hillock hid it partially and hence it seemed closer than it was.
As he neared the forest he started feeling a strange premonition. It felt like something or someone didnt want him to enter the forest. He ignored it. He was not the superstitious kind. The silence that had followed him since he woke up, seemed more ominous within this forest. Almost like a pause before the storm. His senses were tingling. But he kept following the trail. Then a  noise erupted startling him and a lot of things happened together. A huge host of birds started flying towards him while he ducked and  hid. In this confusion, he ended up falling  on what seemed like a thick covering of shrubs  but was a trap. He had slipped into a deep delve  with no end visible  and there were not one to help. He screamed , tried to hold onto the shrubs along the way  for support but couldn’t reach .
He hit the floor with a loud scream and woke up breathing really hard. For a moment,  all he could do was let his heartbeat return to normal.

it was a dream

He was not dying nor was he trapped in a pit like that hero in 127 hours. He heaved a sigh of relief
It was that dream again. This was the 5th time he was dreaming the same thing in the past one year. But that didnt make it any  less terrifying. Does this mean he is going to die falling ? Is this his destiny? Not that he believed in all this mumbo jumbo, but one has to explore all the options. Only other option was to see a therapist.
A small voice whispered inside him ‘ or he could talk to that lady from the cafe who kept staring at him‘ She was a voodoo mistress. Only a fool would contact her. She inspired fear.
He called up a therapist and made an appointment.
On the way to the therapist, a cold shiver ran down his spine. Anxiously he looked around but nothing seemed out of ordinary. ‘Damn! I am  imagining things now‘. he thought. But the uneasiness still lingered. Suddenly he was glad that he was on the way to meet the psychotherapist.
His therapist told him that he was over reacting and sent him on his way. He figured his  friends might have added in his drinks. They were all fond of practical jokes. But a nagging doubt,  a sense of foreboding lingered. So he quickly called his best friend and decided to meet for a drink after work. His friend teased him about  ‘ one great debacle’ and cut the call with a promise to never let him forget this ever . He hoped he didnt do anything stupid, but he felt relieved too. Anything was better than believing that he would die falling.
Later that evening his friend regaled the entire bar about his ‘one great debacle’ while he blushed to his roots and decided to escape. It was when he entered the parking lot of his apartment building that he felt the cold shiver go down his spine again and he realized that in the evening revelry he had forgotten to ask his friend about the prank.  Suddenly it became imperative for him to know for sure. Something egged him on and he didnt like it. When he tried to call his friend he found that his cell phone had no network. He decided to call his friend from his land line and boarded the lift.
The lift opened in a floor before the floor he was headed to and rest of the people got down and then someone came in and lift started crawling upwards. He glanced at the stranger casually and smiled when the smile froze on his lips. It was the voodoo mistress.

She smiled at him and the lift door opened. It was his floor. For a moment he didnt know what to do. Should he ask her or not? Why was she here? She didnt live here. If she did he would know. Besides no one would want to live around her, how much ever wonderful the flat and the location was.
All of these flashed in his mind while the lift door was still open.

‘ Are you going to get down here?’ a sweet lyrical voice intruded his thoughts. It was the voodoo mistress addressing him.

Embarrassed to be caught “wool-gathering”,  as his grandma would call it, he mumbled a hasty sorry and almost ran from the lift. A muffled laughter echoed behind his back. He couldn’t blame her. A reluctant smile sneaked in and soon he was laughing too. He thought that such incidents were a thing of past. He was a shy kid and the flashes of which revisited whenever he was nervous. Apparently, he could still embarrass himself. For once he was glad that his roommate was not home. Else he wouldn’t have heard the end of it.

Somehow, meeting the Voodoo mistress and sharing this joke somehow had eased his jitters. He even laughed a couple of times thinking about his ‘absurdities’.
That night he dreamed again. It was the same dream. And when he fell, he kept going down for a long time. Somehow, he knew this was dream, even while he was dreaming and yet, it felt scary. In fact almost sinister. He tried to grab a bush but the the thorns tore at his palm and he screamed. But he kept slipping down. The drop kept getting narrower and wet as he kept slipping down. The opening seemed like a hazy film of sunlight but he kept dropping. Panic raced through him in waves  and claustrophobia compounded the effect. He tried very hard to wake up but couldn’t.

It must be that witch, he realized. She must’ve bewitched him so that he couldnt wake up from his dream. He was trapped.
What did he ever do to her?
It took him several seconds for him to realize that the vertical tunnel was actually broadening and it was no longer dark. And He was no longer tumbling down. he was almost floating down. His first thought was.. ‘Fuck what happened to gravity?’
Now, he had sufficient light to see that he was approaching a chamber. A well lit chamber.  Anything is possible in a dream. Suddenly it struck him, it was a dream. His dream. He should be able to change it, if Inception (the movie) is to be believed. He tried to create staircase by imagining. Willing it to existence. But nothing happened.
Resignedly, he prepared his body for the descent. When he reached the bottom he found himself facing a dead end. It was dead end on all sides.

He was trapped in a well lit chamber. But where was the light coming from? There were no bulbs, no wires. Hoping that someone would be around , he started shouting ‘ Hello.. hello??? IS ANYBODY HERE??? HELLO???”

There was no response. Not even an echo. He realized how misguided his assumption was. He was down a dark abyss, deep inside a dream, trapped by a voodoo mistress. Obviously no one would hear him. A gut wrenching fear coursed through his body and he fell on the floor shivering and crying in frustration.

It was hours before he calmed down. It must be night but it was still bright, the luminance of it didnt change. Definitely a tube or a bulb. A sliver of hope dawned in his heart. Someone has to change these bulbs. That means there must be a hidden door somewhere. And he was going to find it.

It occurred to him that from the direction of the shadow, he could find where the bulb is, but was puzzled to find that, no shadow was cast. How could it be?

Not letting that trouble him, for the moment, he started searching for the door earnestly. Thats when he noticed a  faint sound of water gushing down down. He put his left ear to the ground and covered his right hear to listen better. It was a waterfall. His assumption was correct. There must be a door and that door should lead him to the waterfall. Heartened by this he continued searching
There was no hidden door.
It was the nature’s trick very similar to the hillock, well hidden by the fact that the light cast no shadow. There was a passage through the chamber at his right.  He followed the sound of water through the passage. As he neared the end, the sound of water became louder until the passage opened into a lush forest and the cacophony of the fast flowing water was so loud that even he couldnt hear himself.  ‘ A forest deep inside earth? What magic is this?’

But before he could even finish this thought, his eyes were arrested by a majestic tree covering the waterfall Within the tree there were mercurial rush of colors that were hypnotic, but the tree itself , was golden. He knew then that this his destiny. This tree.

The tree wanted to claim him as its own. How he knew this he couldnt tell. But this knowledge came from deep within. And with that acceptance came a deep seated peace. He had found his place in this world.  He wanted to run to the tree and hug like a child. And when he was about to act on that impulse, he heard someone  say , ‘Down boy!

‘ Down boy!’ A command. And he sank on the floor like a slave.
An  old man approached him and checked him out like one checks out a new object one buys. And when he was satisfied, he turned and went to sit by an opulent chair and a table. There were many cookies and little chits strewn on the table and a silver pen. The moment he saw the pen he coveted it. Mine! his mind hissed possessively
The oldman looked at him and chuckled evilly. “Get me that box from that corner” pointed  the oldman tauntingly as he hastened to comply.
Rage and humiliation mingled confusion warred with his easy compliance. Why was he listening to that evil old man who had his pen?

And then he blacked out.
When he came to senses, he was safely tucked in and in his bed.
There was no disorientation this time. But  a sense of betrayal burned in his heart. It felt like someone toyed with him and then discarded. And a sense of urgency. He wanted to go back there and soon. But he didnt know how.

Ever since, he kept sleeping as much as he could but he didnt dream. He tried everything he could- cookies and milk, sleeping pills, work out. But that dream wouldn’t come. And all the while the urgency kept increasing.He knew he should visit to the voodoo mistress. Only she had an inkling about what was happening to him,  but he was afraid to. And angry. She had toyed with his mind and trapped him in that dream but snatched him back before he could claim his tree.

HIS. That tree haunted him. And every time he fantasized about ‘his’ tree the urgency to find it doubled Finally when his need exceeded his distrust he went to meet the voodoo mistress.

The moment she saw him in her driveway she gestured towards the car and said , “The map and the provisions are in the car. You can leave right away.”
He felt so grateful for her help that he hugged her tight and kissed. It was a right thing to do. She was touched. It had been centuries since anyone hugged her. Being an immortal , she was resigned to her fate. And she knew what was in store for him. He was as much a slave of destiny as her. Already the tree’s magic was affecting his mind. She knew he had not contacted any one since that night.

She wanted to grant him reprieve for a day. So she gave him a charm that controlled the tree’s glamor and allowed him to think. The bond was still there and as potent but now he could think. He could at least make provisions for him to disappear in a convincing way. He could also say good bye to all his loved ones before he walked out of their life forever. This was his cross to bear. But she could make it easier.
He understood the importance of her gift and was touched by her concern. So he enveloped her in a hug again before he said good bye and drove to his parent’s place. It was a weekend and he knew all of his family members would be there. It was a tradition and they all took family very seriously. So everyone came. Later that night, he would meet his friends. And then in the middle of the night he would disappear while his apartment would catch fire. He had planned it such that only his apartment would burn and the voodoo mistress had promised to take care of the complications.
It was a very difficult for him to walk out of everything he loved. But the bond that he had with the tree was far more stronger, was far more elemental. It was a soul bond that superseded blood. He mentally thanked the Voodoo mistress for the gift that she gave him. She was incredibly kind.

His journey was neither too adventurous nor too lengthy. Now that he had done his duty, accepted his responsibility and his bond, it felt like the very earth wanted him to reach his destination soon. There were no mishaps and he knew what to expect. He had trained for this for the past one year, in his dreams. He realized thats what the dream was all about. Making him ready for this day. And now he was ready.
Eagerly he reached the forest and ran to the location where the foliage was supposed to be. Instead of finding green lush foliage,however, he found a gaping hole with walls covered in grime. Had the witch tricked him again?

But he knew it was a lie as soon as he thought that. The witch didnt trick him.  He had touched her heart and her  heart was pure. He thought may be the location was wrong. But his instinct told him it wasn’t. He had noticed a rot on some of the trees while he was rushing through. He had seen but not registered the changes as he was distracted.

Something was wrong.

He knew though, that nothing could be done unless he completed his bond with the tree. But the tree was down below. What if he couldnt fix it and he couldnt come up too. It would be all for nothing.He had to trust the bond to protect him and have faith.
Finally taking a deep breath and a deeper “leap” of faith, he jumped. When he reached the bottom, he noticed that the luminance had dimmed to near darkness and the sound of gushing water was almost indiscernible. He was relieved to find his flash light abandoned in the chamber as in his dreams. He wondered if this was also as it was supposed to be?

Knowing that all his questions would be soon answered, he rushed down the passage.

When he reached the tree, he was outraged and scared. Very scared.
The water fall has moved down to a trickle and the tree.. and the tree was dying. The majestic golden had turned to a dusty brown. The branches drooped as if a single touch would make them fall. The tree was dying.

It had all been for nothing. His sacrifices, his leap of faith had all been for nothing. He would die with the tree.

Crushed, he crumbled on the ground. He felt the tree call on to him. It wanted to comfort him. He started to reach out when the old man stopped him with a command. ‘Down Boy!’

He sunk to the ground, helpless. His face distorted with fear, sadness and anger which was soon  bubbling with hate.  He wanted to kill this old man. How dare he force him to his knees when his tree called out to him especially when it was his fault that the tree is dying.
The old man actually looked at him in compassion as if he knew about the pain and the hate.

When he neared the kneeling man, the  young man pounced him. He was too strong willed to bow down to a frail man’s demands. But the old man dint struggle, dint fight. He simply gave the silver pen to young man. And the moment the pen touched the younger man, the tree blazed again. The waterfall filled up and it was again the tropical Utopia from the young man’s dream.
Ecstatic, the young man rushed to the tree and hugged like he wanted to. At the first touch he received all the answers to his questions. He knew that the tree was linked to his soul essence. It fed on it. Thats the reason why only extremely strong willed yet gentle men were chosen for this. For as the tree seeped out the goodness, you are left with just evilness. The old man couldn’t help being nasty and evil.

The power to control the next guardian was essential. If the next guardian touched the tree and completed the bond before the pen exchanged hands, all would be lost. He knew that he would have killed the old man if it wasn’t for the control. Knowing that the old man would die any second and also that he would be alone until the next guardian of the tree was chosen, he turned away from the lure of the tree to look for the old man. But he was no longer there. It was meant to be.

He spent some time exploring his new home and finally went and sat on that opulent chair where fortune less cookies awaited their fortunes to be filled by him. As long as they were believed in, his goodness quotient would never be less than evilness quotient. And if the world refused to believe in magic and fortunes….

He shuddered thinking about the consequences and started to write vague but happy tidings in his cookies.

P.S: The seed of this story came from Nimue. I wanted her to make her story a little more sinister and finally decided to do it myself. I donno how successful I am with that, but I am very happy. Its been more than two years since I wrote a fictional story. And am glad that I finally did it.

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9 thoughts on “Guardian of the tree.

  1. I have not read Lady Nimue’s but this is very good and well written. I’m sure her’s is well written too as she is a gifted writed but you are as well. I was quite taken up in reading and wanting to know where the story would lead. I like the ending about the ‘fortune less cookies’. I always wondered who put the fortunes in there and now I know. Thank You!

  2. Pooohiiiii… *bows to thee* am spell bounded !! linking this to main site now !! this is a MUST READ stuff !! phew.. what amazing storyline and details of the emotions,,,

  3. superb!

    i kept putting off reading this one cos it seemed so long…but once i started, it gripped me and i couldn’t stop until i reached the end. and that, coming from someone who can’t read more than 2 screenfulls before giving up, is really something.

    you have done a lot of things differently here. your writing style is different. you have focused on the flow rather than eing very descriptive. you kept your language simple. you ended it well.

    in the end, i jut loved this story.

  4. Lengthy but totally captivating…

    Got to point out some literary nuances i loved in there like grandma’s “wool-gathering”, the hero from 127 Hours, centuries old voodoo woman…. and many more.
    Thoroughly enjoyed the read.

    M, keep writing. Two years is too long a gap. 🙂

Humor me please? *winks*

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