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Authors: Hazel Black

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BOOK: Beneath the Elder Tree
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   ‘Do you think gravity can affect a spirit?’

   ‘It shouldn’t.’

   ‘It doesn’t. Just walk up the wall. It’s the same as walking on a pavement.’

   It was a mental barrier, just like passing through doors and walls. I had to conquer the illusion that I was still alive. Emily was right, how could I be dragged down by gravity if I weighed nothing at all? I wasn’t even in the same universe as gravity.

   I got up off the ground, straightened myself out, placed one boot on the wall and took an upward step. I was standing horizontally. The world seemed to tilt in my favour and walking straight up the wall was suddenly normal.

   ‘There you go,’ Emily cheered. ‘Now come on up here.’

   I stalked upward, a little gingerly, until I reached the apex of the roof, where my guide sat grinning at me.

   ‘Sit down beside me.’ She patted the metal roof excitedly. ‘I want you to look on your little hometown for the last time.’

   I plonked myself down next to her and looked out over Hampton as the sun finally sank below the grey peaks to the far north. The houses started to emit white light and it swirled and rose from the windows and the streets and the cars. It was like thousands of searchlights converging into a swirling fog that rose high into the night.

   ‘It’s incredible,’ I breathed. ‘I never believed I’d witness something so majestic.’

   ‘If you think that’s good, wait until you see this.’

   Emily gripped my shoulder and turned me around towards the distant city. I almost fell from the roof when I laid eyes on it. It was as spectacular as a nuclear explosion. As exquisite as a fireworks display. As terrible as the mightiest volcano. All of these things and more. The entire city was consumed by light that seemed to have a life of its own. It grew from the streets and buildings like neon ivy climbing into the dark heavens.

   ‘How is this happening?’

   ‘The white lights represent the aura of living humans. The bits of green and blue that you see are the animals that call the city home. The purple is the aura that the plants and trees give off.’

   ‘No one would ever believe this…’

   The scene became even more spectacular as we passed fully into night world. It was like a rainbow exploding in slow motion and twisting against the deep black sky of night world. I’d never tire of such a spectacle.

   I officially loved night world.

- CHAPTER FOUR -

The Rules

I don’t know how long we sat there watching the city - maybe hours. I was utterly spellbound by the view. I was overcome by the beauty of night world. I was entranced. Eventually I was brought to my senses as a streak of red cut across the sky high above us then went into a twirl before descending fast into the city. It had been beautiful and terrible at the same time, and I knew this was something new and alien, a thing I knew nothing of. It shot directly into the white light of the city and there was a deep rumbling like thunder.

   ‘It’s called a shepherd,’ Emily answered before I had a chance to ask. ‘It exists here and only here. It did not come from the living world and will never reach the world beyond.’

   ‘What is it?’

   ‘I was hoping I wouldn’t have to explain this to you so soon. Perhaps this is as good a time as any. I spoke to you about the rules of this place and they are never to be broken. If you disobey them you will be hunted down by the shepherd, and it is much stronger than you or I. Its entire purpose is to police night world and it can destroy anything in this place. There are many of them in night world but they are spread out across the planet. This region has only one to patrol it, and he usually remains close to the city.’

   ‘What does it look like up close?’

   ‘I don’t know and I don’t want to know. It’s never bothered me because I never bothered it. You’ll be wise to do the same.’

   We saw the bright bolt of light gliding back into the sky and disappearing into the distance. Unlike Emily, I did want to know what it looked like up close. The shepherd intrigued me, despite it being quite scary.

   I then noticed something very curious going on inside the city. There were little multi-coloured bursts here and there. They went off every once in a while and were superb to watch.

   ‘What are those explosions?’

   ‘Deaths.’

   ‘That’s what happens when people die?’

   ‘Yes. The aura is linked to the living body, and when a person dies, the aura crumbles and all the energy stored in a person is blasted outward and is eventually sucked into the aura of other living things.’

   ‘Like recycling.’

   ‘Yes.’

   ‘And what happens to the soul?’

   ‘It slips through a layer we can’t see and enters the world beyond.’

   ‘Sounds nice.’ I managed to smile, even though we were talking about people dying. ‘I like the way you describe it.’

   ‘Now do you see how pointless it is to feel sorrow when someone dies?’

   ‘I do.’

   ‘Look over there,’ she said, pointing to a bright area to the west of the city centre. ‘Keep your eyes on that place for a while and you’ll see something equally fascinating.’

   I watched for a few moments before I saw it. A cloud of blue formed, then condensed into a sphere of white that got brighter as it shrunk. Seconds later there was a brilliant flash and a faint ripple of orange fizzed into the night air.

   ‘What is that place?’

   ‘The maternity hospital.’

   ‘That was someone coming into the world?’

   ‘It was. As their spirit was pushed through into the world of the living it sucked in energy to create an aura for itself. That aura will last until the moment they die.’

   ‘Incredible,’ I breathed. ‘There is something that’s confusing me, though.’

   ‘What’s that?’

   ‘It’s obvious there should be no sorrow in this world, so why do some spirits go insane?’

   ‘Some get caught up in the evil that living people partake in and they can be sentenced to remain here for all time, never to reach the world beyond and never to return properly to the realm of the living. They roam here as empty and lonely beings with no purpose, love or compassion. They are slowly driven mad by the emptiness, and their insanity can bring about more insipid strengths that they use for wrong doing.’

   ‘Those are the spirits who can change their appearance, right?’

   ‘You catch on fast,’ she said with a cautious smile. ‘Banished spirits can easily alter the way they look. Spirit guides have to live here a long time to forge such a power.’

   ‘That’s what happened when I felt weak on the way out of town. One of those banished spirits was in that abandoned house we stopped at, right?’

   ‘Yes,’ she admitted. ‘I’ve passed that place many times but never actually seen what it is. I’ve noticed a strange shadow moving behind the window from time to time. It was watching us while we were standing at the garden wall earlier.’

   ‘Have you ever encountered such a spirit?’

   ‘Unfortunately, yes. There are quite a few of them lurking about. Remember, Lucy, they are wicked and never to be trusted no matter how appealing they may seem at first.’

   ‘How would I know if I seen one?’

   ‘Oh, you’ll know straight away. Let’s not talk about them. You need to concentrate on finding out who your chosen is.’

   ‘The person I’ll be guiding?’

   ‘Exactly.’

   ‘How will I know them?’

   ‘It should be simple enough. You’ll see a light like no other and that will be the aura of your chosen.That’s why we’re up here. We have a good view of the city and the surrounding towns and we should be able to spot it tonight.’

   We waited up there all night. We didn’t tire. We didn’t even blink. We saw everything from our lofty perch. Everything except the light of my chosen. The only time our gaze was not on the mountain of light was when the shepherd appeared again. It was gliding high into the black heavens, circling the city. At one point it paused above us. Emily was visibly frightened as it hovered over us. She didn’t sit still until the red flame took off again and powered off into the distance.

   Eventually we saw the sky beyond the city brighten. The orchestra of light began to evaporate. The night was almost over and the dullness of mirror world was forming once more.

   ‘We should climb off this roof before we grow too weak,’ Emily suggested. ‘I don’t want to be stranded up here for an entire day.’

   ‘Sounds like a plan.’

   Before we took to the ladder on the side of the building, I caught a glimpse of a silver vortex coming from one of the satellite towns on the border of the city. It was totally unlike anything else I’d seen in night world.

   ‘There,’ I said, pointing at the twirling shape. ‘Could that be it?’

   ‘That’s it,’ Emily replied with a nod. ‘That’s your chosen. We saw it too late, though. It’ll fade in the next few minutes and we won’t be able to locate it again in mirror world.’

   ‘I don’t want to miss out on this.’

   ‘Don’t worry, we’ll catch up with your chosen when we enter night world again. Let’s get back on the ground. We have things to do.’

   ‘We always have things to do.’

  

*   *   *

The sun rose as we walked from the abattoir and our surroundings actually became dimmer as the sky lightened above us. The landscape lost the dazzling aura that it’d had in night world and became grey once more. I found the whole experience depressing and I wasn’t sure I could deal with such a drastic transformation each morning.

   Emily said we should relocate to the city because there she could teach me more about the differences between the worlds and we also needed to be close to my chosen once night world returned. And so we left the shadowy building and crossed the wide fields of emptiness to make our way to the freeway - the most direct route to the city.

   Emily led the way until we came to a bank of black trees that were rustling eerily in the morning bluster. I cautiously followed her into the deep shadows between the boughs and soon I gazed upon a ghastly sight. We were on the edge of an eight lane roadway that led to the city and it was undoubtedly the most morbid thing I ever laid eyes on. 

   The exhilaration we’d both felt in night world was dead. This was a miserable world that should have given me a headache with its monotonous colour and its ill defined forms. I was starting to hate mirror world entirely.

   There were endless lines of cars in both directions. It seemed that the vehicles were pulling the life right out of the air like emotional vacuum-cleaners. I couldn’t go any further and sat on the edge of the road holding my face in my hands. I couldn’t fight off the intense depression that was slowly overcoming me. I wanted to cry.

   ‘Don’t worry,’ Emily said as she sat next to me on the curb. Her eyes were no longer vibrant and filled with a fusion of colours. They were now shapeless and dull. ‘Some times this can happen.’

   ‘It didn’t feel like this yesterday.’

   ‘I know it didn’t. But look where we are. It’s a freeway during morning rush hour.’

   I lifted my head and gazed out at the lanes of freeway that were crammed with cars and trucks, all bumper to bumper like they were waiting to be lowered into the jaws of some diabolical monster. The vehicles were filled with miserable people who were all either annoyed or tired or worried or sad. I couldn’t help being infected by their negative thoughts and feelings.

   ‘Let’s get moving,’ Emily suggested and she weakly tugged at my arm. ‘It seems to be worse when we stay in one spot.’

   We got up and wandered through the traffic, that was practically at a full stop. I looked at the people trapped in their cars and felt a well of pity for them. There was an ocean of unhappiness out there and these people were willingly floating on the surface of it. Emily had told me the night before that there was no such place as hell. She was wrong. To my mind this was hell.

   ‘Sometimes it troubles me to look upon them,’ she commented as she walked between the cars. ‘Most don’t live life, they endure it.’

   ‘Why do they put themselves through it?’

   ‘Money,’ she sighed. ‘It has corrupted what the living world was meant to be. It was designed to be a place where new spirits could grow and learn and bond, but also to experience some small measure of hardship so that they could mature before reaching the world beyond. Sadly, for many of the living spirits all they have is hardship with only the odd sprinkling of joy. This is the reason why mirror world is so difficult for us. It is being corroded by the pessimism and cynicism of mankind. Most of the negativity has been caused by the pursuit of money and the imbalance it has caused in society.’

   ‘It can’t go on like this forever, can it?’

   ‘No,’ Emily answered without hesitation. ‘The worlds are changing and not for the better. The living world grows more miserable, the mirror world gets heavier for spirits guides to live in, and there are lots of the dark spirits I warned you about roaming our domain. Even night world is being changed. The shepherd is becoming ruthless, where once it was a noble being that only sought to keep us all from harm - hence its name.’

   ‘What will happen?’

   ‘I’m not sure, Lucy. My spirit guide hypothesised that the barriers will ultimately collapse and all the worlds will fall into one another. I believed him. I have sensed weaknesses in the barriers from time to time and it could occur sooner than we think.’

   ‘I want to be long gone when it does. To think greed could do so much damage.’

   ‘The damage becomes more severe each day.’

   ‘I was never really concerned about money,’ I boasted. ‘I’m quite proud of that now.’

   ‘That’s because I was influencing your mind. I tried to make one little bit of difference to the living world.’

   ‘You’re pretty sneaky, aren’t you?’

   ‘Oh, you have no idea.’

   We meandered between the vehicles and examined the tense expressions on the drivers’ faces. I couldn’t bring myself to look at them after a while. I’d never realised how bad most people’s lives actually were. It was the first time I’d become aware of how fragile the living world really was.

   ‘Take the long way round if you ever have to come back,’ Emily said. ‘It wouldn’t be wise to put yourself through this if you’re alone.’

   ‘Don’t worry,’ I replied. ‘I’ll never walk on a freeway again.’

   ‘It can also get pretty gloomy in the city,’ she warned me. ‘Don’t be expecting it to be a picnic.’

   ‘Great.’

   I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. A peculiar shape had moved between the cars to my right and I felt a heightening fear in me.

    ‘Lucy, why have you stopped?’

    ‘We’re not alone.’

    ‘No picnics in the mirror world,’ a rasping voice called out. Something akin to laughter followed the words. ‘No joy or laughter here, child.’

   ‘Get away from here!’ Emily shouted. ‘Mia, clear off!’

   The figure rose ominously from behind one of the vehicles so I could get a clear view of it. The first thing I saw were the white eyes, glossy and vacant, like golf balls. They were set deep in a skeletal face draped with dull skin. Beneath was a naked body that was nothing more than bones - although clearly female. There was a wisp of white hair to the side of its head that hung like a damp cob web. Then the thing grinned at me and I felt my soul freeze over.

   ‘Get away from me,’ I hissed as I took a backward step. ‘Don’t come near me.’

   ‘Scared?’ it asked. ‘I am not pretty anymore, am I? I used to be pretty, just like you are now.’

   ‘Get away, Mia,’ Emily demanded. ‘We don’t mean you any harm.’

   ‘I mean no harm either,’ Mia said weakly. Now that she was closer, I felt sympathy more than revulsion. She looked so drained of life and energy. ‘I am so alone,’ Mia continued, a sadness straining her words. ‘Nobody to talk to. Nobody to listen to. Nobody to comfort me. Won’t you talk with me, children?’

BOOK: Beneath the Elder Tree
2.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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