Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tears and the Dragon Tree

“Like I said last night, you do an awful lot of that,” Jack said. He sat next to Beth, back against the log, his right arm over her shoulder.

He didn’t know what else to do, didn’t know what else to say, so he sat, and held her, waiting for her eyes to clear.

“Just how long have you been holding that all up inside?” he asked her.

“Three days. And three years.”

“People usually line those up the other way.”

Beth sighed.

“Whenever you’re ready,” Jack said.

“What?” she asked.

“No. You’re not weaseling out of this. You are going to sit here and tell me. So that I don’t have to go looking for another note the next time you go ‘poof!’”

“I’m not going back there,” Beth said, equal measures resolve and fear in her voice.

“Okay. Not if I can help it, anyway. So…”

“You know how people say ‘I’d do it differently if I had it to do over again’?”

“Everybody’s thought that at one time or another, I’m sure,” Jack said.

“But not everybody gets a chance.”

“Nobody —” Jack stopped himself. “Wait. Let me guess…”

“When I was nine,” Beth said, “and I ran to the Other Side, the old Lakota medicine man found me. And when he picked me up, he told me that every time you cross over, you have to pay to get back to this side.

“The price was paid to come back the first time by my mother. She died, and they gave me back. They said it was an even trade, life for a life.”

Jack squeezed Beth’s hand. He didn’t know what else to say to something like that.

She squeezed it back.

“The second time, they took my hope.”

She said it so simply, Jack felt something inside him shrink. He shook at the sheer enormity of that concept.

“When I was nine, after I came back, I started having dreams. The last one I had woke up the whole camp. After that, I got the dreamcatcher, and it helped. They didn’t come as often.”

“You mean, dreams… where you would see things that… could happen?”

“I saw things as they did happen, just… before they did. Some were harmless — a cup getting knocked over, a flower stepped on.”

“And the bad one?”

“Jack, I don’t want to tell you.”

“Tell me.”

“Don’t make me do it to you, too, Jack. Don’t let me take that from you.”

“What was it that you saw that has you so scared, Beth? What can possibly be that bad?”

She closed her eyes, huddled even closer, smaller against his shoulder. Jack wondered for a moment if she’d changed herself into glass, just then. He felt a dread, a certainty that she was glass, and if he held on too tightly, she would shatter.

When she spoke, it was as if from great effort, and every word was laced with the years of sorrow since the dream.

“When I was nine, the last dream I had was of a house on a long road outside of a town. And there was a boy who lived next door, and we would explore in the woods. I had a special spot, a secret spot that I found, and I liked that boy so I took him and we followed a red ribbon that I’d tied and woven through the trees as a trail, so I wouldn’t get lost.

“The ribbon went to a big, black, spindly tree in a clearing. It was a lonely tree, standing by itself all alone even though there were all the other trees in the woods around it. I thought I was like that tree, and I thought the boy would think it was like him, too. We were both like that tree.

“He did like it, and we played there every day. And one day I climbed it, because he was a Shadow Man and I had to escape, so up I went.

“But then I went up too high and got scared. And the boy told me not to be scared. He would climb up to rescue me, because he was the Prince and the Dragon Tree had taken his Princess.

“And he climbed up to me, and he held my hand and he told me that everything was all right. He was here to save me.

“And then the Dragon Tree shook, and called us both fools. It bent its fingers with a cracking sound, and the boy, my Prince, fell.

“It was a terrible sound, when he hit the ground. I saw the look on his face, and it was bad. So bad, nothing there but pain. He tried to smile up at me, and then he was gone.

“And the Dragon Tree laughed, and bent, and set me gently down on the ground next to him.”

“The boy was my age. With brown hair and brown eyes. And I loved him very much.”

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