Authors: Jake Halpern
Â© 2013 Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski
All rights reserved.
ebook ISBN: 978-0-7867-5562-2
CAUTION: “SHADOW TREE” is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America and of all countries covered by the International Copyright Union (including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth), the Berne Convention, the Pan-American Copyright Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention as well as all countries with which the United States has reciprocal copyright relations. All rights, including excerpting, professional/amateur stage rights, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, video or sound recording, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproduction, such as CD-ROM, CD-I, information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved.
Inquiries concerning rights should be addressed to:
William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, LLC
1325 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York 10019
Attn: Kathleen Nishimoto
Distributed by Argo Navis Author Services
To Elizabeth Stanton & Paul Zuydhoek, for all of your love and support. â J.H.
To Liza & Dan, for filling my life with such joy. â P.K.
Chapter 1: World's End
Alfonso Perplexon opened his eyes and winced as crisscrossing beams of sunlight flashed across his face. His back and legs felt cold. It soon dawned on him that he was lying in the snow, on his back, looking directly up at a canopy of trees overhead. The trees were massive, sturdy, and ancient-looking. They were Great Obitteroos. There was no doubt about it. Alfonso exhaled deeply and, as he did, he let days, weeks, and months of tension seep out of his body. He had been picturing this moment for so long. At long last, he was home in Minnesota. Just then, Alfonso felt someone â or something â squeeze his fingers. He turned his head and saw a girl lying next to him in the snow; she had blonde hair, fine cheekbones, and two eyes that twinkled almost incandescently.
“Resuza?” asked Alfonso, half in disbelief.
“He speaks!” said Resuza giddily. She seemed unusually happy that Alfonso had spoken â so happy that she leaned over and energetically kissed his cheek. “I was beginning to wonder if you'd ever talk again,” she said. “Your father said it would take time, and I've tried to be so patient, really I have.”
“I am... I mean we are...” stammered Alfonso.
“Back home,” said Resuza, as she sat up in the snow. “
home. I never thought we'd get here â you really do live on the other side of the world, you know? No wonder you call this place World's End.”
Resuza sprang to her feet in one fluid movement, and Alfonso was reminded of her grace. Other memories of Resuza flickered through his brain â Resuza hiding in the darkened alleyways of Brash-yin-Binder, Resuza swimming by moonlight in his uncle's pool in Somnos, and Resuza holding his hand at the Hub in the dank gloom of the Fault Roads. She always moved so swiftly and with such poise and, even in the darkest of situations, she would flash that quick, electrifying smile of hers. He had last seen her at the gate leading into the labyrinth, just outside of Jasber.
That was how long ago exactly?
He had no way of knowing. More disturbingly, he had no memory at all of how he had gotten home. The last thing he could recall was being inside the burning armory in Jasber, running for his life, with a bag of green ash tucked under his arm, and then falling to the ground.
“I was in some sort of coma, wasn't I?” asked Alfonso finally.
“No kidding,” said Resuza as she stepped on his toes, reached down, grabbed his hands, and pulled him to his feet. And like that, he was standing so close to Resuza that their noses were practically touching. “It was scary,” said Resuza quietly. “Everyone was awfully worried. But then you sat up and began walking around. ”
Alfonso nodded. He was about to ask another question, but a sudden uneasiness passed over him. Alfonso glanced around and saw that the floor of the forest was alive with movement. There were hundreds and perhaps thousands of small creatures â rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, opossums, mice, shrews, and even a few foxes â racing underfoot. Resuza screamed. The animals parted around them and then flowed past as if they were two rocks in the middle of a mighty river. When the wave of small animals had passed there was a brief moment of stillness; then, in the distance came the sound of branches snapping. A second wave of animals appeared to be headed their way.
“Come on,” said Resuza. “We have to hurry.”
Alfonso and Resuza ran quickly through the forest of the Great Obitteroos, weaving their way between the massive tree trunks. All the while, they could hear the sound of a stampede behind them. At some point, everything began to shake â several trees toppled, a giant boulder began to roll, and the earth dropped downward creating a sinkhole just to the left of where Alfonso and Resuza were running. Alfonso stopped for a moment and took a good, long look down into the sink hole. The shape of the hole looked weirdly familiar. It had six perfectly even sides, like a hexagon.
Where had he seen such a hole before?
“Come on!” yelled Resuza.
They sprinted onward, hand in hand. Eventually, they emerged from the forest and into a great open field that sloped down gently toward the icy expanse of Lake Witekkon. In the middle of the field was an old deer stand â a rickety tree-house on four stilts â which their neighbor, Old Man Edlund, sometimes used as a hunting perch. A hundred yards or so beyond this was Pappy's greenhouse and the small ramshackle cottage that was Alfonso's home. They ran for the cottage, but about halfway there, Alfonso stole a glance backwards and saw a blurry herd of animals closing in. They would never make it to the cottage, but they might make it to the deer stand.
Alfonso squeezed Resuza's hand and tugged her toward the deer stand. They arrived at the deer stand and scrambled up the rickety ladder just as the first wave of animals thundered past. There were deer, wolves, moose, and black bears. Alfonso and Resuza held onto one another in fright. The tree stand shook mightily and, on more than one occasion, Alfonso felt certain an animal would slam into one of the stand's rickety supports and topple the entire structure. Amazingly, this didn't happen. When the last animal sprinted past, there was a brief spell of calm, and Resuza spoke.
“It's like a forest fire,” she said, “Only without the fire.”
“When I was a girl, growing up in the Urals, I went hunting with my father once and we saw a massive forest fire,” she explained. “Before the flames arrived, all the animals poured out of the forest just like that...”
Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of someone shouting.
Alfonso and Resuza both turned and saw the figure of Judy Perplexon standing in the doorway of the cottage, motioning frantically for them to come inside.
“Come on,” said Alfonso. “We better go.”
They scurried down the ladder, ran across the field and bolted into the cottage. As soon as they entered the cottage, Judy closed the door and locked it securely. The first thing that Alfonso noticed was his father Leif, who was sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. He looked very distraught. “I'm such a fool,” he was mumbling to himself, as he raked his hands through his hair. “A blasted fool.”
” yelled Alfonso. Something about the way his father looked frightened him to the bone.
“I thought we'd be safe here,” said Leif without even looking up. “I should have known â it was all written out so clearly.”
“Safe from what?” asked Alfonso. “What is it?”
Before anyone could answer, however, the entire cottage started to shake. Judy began to scream. Leif remained at the kitchen table, muttering to himself. Alfonso looked around frantically and saw, to both his astonishment and relief, that Resuza looked perfectly calm. He walked over to her. His mother's favorite vase fell to the floor and exploded into a thousand pieces. Resuza grabbed him.
“Listen carefully,” she said. She was speaking loudly. The cottage was collapsing from the inside. Everything not nailed down fell and burst like shattered windows.
“You'll need me, before it's all over. And Bilblox as well.”
The ceiling began to cave in, starting with a shower of dust and fist-sized chunks of stone.
“But most of all, you'll need-”
She stopped and looked up.
“Who will I need most?” Alfonso asked. “Who? WHO?!”
Resuza screamed as a massive wooden timber dislodged from the ceiling and headed towards them.
“Wake up Alfonso!” she yelled. “Do it
Alfonso was overcome by a feeling of weightlessness, as if he were rising upwards from a great depth. He felt disoriented and sick. Most of all, he was terrified of what he was about to see.
Chapter 2: Sunlight
The girl plodded up the side of a mountain. Her legs trembled with each step. A large backpack hung from her back, filled to overflowing with supplies for a long journey. She had been hiking for the better part of a week â eating dried fish and sleeping in snow caves â and she was exhausted. She did not look like a hero, even though that is exactly what everyone in her hometown of Jasber thought her to be.
Marta could have transformed herself physically into an adult. Despite the fact that she was just nine years old, Marta was a Seer of Jasber, which meant she had been allowed to rub some of the green ash into her eyes. Upon doing this, Marta entered a year-long coma. When she returned to consciousness, she emerged as an ageling, which meant she now had the ability to transform so that one minute she could be a toddler and the next she could be an old lady or an able-bodied young woman in her mid-twenties. Although Marta had gotten quite good at shifting, it was mentally trying to do so. That was too risky. She would need all her wits about her in the coming days.
The mountain that Marta was climbing was jagged and quite high and the peak disappeared into the clouds. Marta looked up at the sky and hoped for a small glint of sunlight. The sun rarely made an appearance at the Sea of Clouds or any of the mountains that surrounded it. The sea was aptly named, given that it was perpetually shrouded in fog and mist.
Marta's goal was to see the sun. This was slightly problematic because Marta had never actually seen the sun before and so she was afraid she'd miss it. Of course, she had seen pictures and drawings of the sun, but she had spent virtually her entire life in Jasber â a city that existed underground, beneath a lake â and so she never had an opportunity to see the sky let alone the sun. Her only hope of doing so was to press onward, ascending one of the nearby peeks, which pierced the clouds and presumably was exposed to the rays of the sun.
After climbing for several hours, Marta stopped to catch her breath. She placed her pack on the ground very gently, as if the contents were extraordinarily fragile. She reached into her coat pocket and took out a piece of dried fish which she nibbled on sparingly. A minute later, she reached into her other pocket and pulled out a tightly rolled piece of canvas that she proceeded to study closely. On the canvas was a painting of a woman, sleepwalking along a narrow ledge on the side of a magnificent stone building, the walls of which were painted iridescent silver. In the background were mountains and a darkened night sky.
The painting had been a gift. It was given to Marta by the Abbot of the monastery where she had lived after being selected as seer. The name of the painting was “Roya's Dream” and it had been painted by a Jasberinian seer named Roya. Roya was an extraordinary young woman â both a poet, a beauty, and an athlete â and the city rejoiced when she was chosen to become its seer. When it came time for Roya to assume her duties as seer, the abbot of the monastery gave her a pinch of green ash to rub into her eyes, as the ancient tradition required. The abbot, however, was quite old and almost blind as well â it was said the he could not recognize his own reflection in the mirror â and he inadvertently gave Roya too much ash. Roya went into a deep coma from which she never recovered; indeed, she spent the rest of her days sitting idly in a chair, staring off into space. From time to time, she would talk in her sleep and beg to be brought to the window at once. She was most passionate about this request and the monks would always carry her over to nearest window as quickly as they could. Once, just once, she asked for a canvass and brush and on this occasion she produced the painting that Marta was studying.
“What a fine image,” remarked a monk, when Roya had completed it.
“It's all I ever dream of,” replied Roya quietly.
The monk was startled to hear Roya speak. It had been years since she had last uttered a word.
“It's a... very... lovely...” stammered the monk. “What is it?”
“It's a doorway,” hissed Roya, desperately.
“No my dear,” replied the monk, trying very hard to keep his calm, “You've painted a window.”
“No you fool!” screamed Roya, “This is a doorway!”
“Yes fine,” said the monk, whose voice was now trembling. “As you say â it is a doorway.”
“Please,” begged Roya, “You must take me here or I shall never wake up. It is my
This was all that Marta knew about the painting for, unfortunately, this was all the Abbot had been able to tell her. “The truth is,” explained the Abbot sadly, “We know very little about what happens to people when they rub too much ash into their eyes. They need sunlight â that much is certain. The rays of the sun seem to draw the toxins from their blood. That is how they kept Roya alive. Once a year, they took her up to the surface. But we never managed to get her any direct sunlight. It is simply too overcast in the Sea of Clouds. To get proper sunlight you must go all the way to the foothills of the Urals.” Marta asked the Abbot what the word
meant. “It's an ancient word meaning an exit. It seems that Roya had it in her head that this place â from her painting â was her way out of her coma. Gibberish, most likely. The girl had plainly gone mad.”
Marta studied the painting for some time. She wasn't exactly certain why she had bothered to take it with her; as it was, she had brought too much. It was the Abbot who had insisted that she bring it along. He didn't like the idea of her leaving Jasber. “The whole city of Jasber has nearly just burned to the ground and our vault has been robbed,” lamented the Abbot. “This is no time for our seer to be traipsing off into the wilderness.”
Truth be told, Marta wasn't even certain that she wanted to be a seer any longer. She missed her family â her parents and her two brothers, Lukos and Danyel. She pictured her younger brother, Danyel, whose hair always stood on-end like the fine quills of a porcupine. He used to catch baby toads, place them in his mouth, and then pretend to vomit them up at the dinner table. The toads would hop away in every which direction. It was disgusting, but less so through memory's haze.
Fortunately, her entire family had all survived the fire that destroyed their townhouse and which had ravaged much of Jasber. This was all thanks to Alfonso, who had levitated into the air, and rescued them one-by-one. But what would her mom and dad do now â with no home? Where would they live? What would they eat? Marta could have stayed and tried to help them, but she didn't. She had left them all to fend for themselves. The thought of this made her feel very low, but she had made up her mind, and no one â not even the Abbot of Jasber â could dissuade her.
After some time, Marta rolled up the painting and placed it back into her coat as well. She then turned her attention to her backpack. She opened the top flap of the pack and there, nestled safely inside amidst a profusion of downy blankets, was her most important cargo: a newborn baby.
“Don't worry baby Alfonso,” said Marta softly, “We'll find you some sunlight soon enough.” She smiled. “Now that we're above ground, you're looking better already.”
The baby's eyelids fluttered and he yawned tiredly. Alfonso was waking up.