Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 18

Zera walked ahead of the others to the white stone building housing the Pikes Peak Cog Railway Depot. A sign in front listed the departure times. Zera took a deep breath and studied it while the others caught up. “The last one leaves at 5 P.M.,” she told them.

“What time is it now?” asked Hattie. Hattie laughed when she found out not one of them had taken a v-phone with them. She glanced westward at the sun. “It’s going to be close.”

Zera opened the door to a bustling scene. Groups of teenagers moved around, chatting and joking, clutching their backpacks, sipping on drinks. Tourists milled about, taking turns peering out the giant picture windows at the foothills scenery and the shiny cog railway cars.

Zera overheard snatches of conversation she could identify by nationality but couldn’t understand: French from a tall blonde woman, addressing her two young children; German from a middle-aged man speaking with his wife; and a group of young enthusiastic tourists conversing in Japanese while toying with their holographic cameras. A clock on the wall read 4:48 P.M.

Hattie said, “Real close. And it looks like they might be sold out.”

The group paused when they caught the southern drawl conversation of a family of seven near the window — a middle-aged couple, three boys, a grandmother, and a woman Zera guessed to be an aunt. The man was trying to persuade “Mama” to join them on the trip. “Mama, we’ve already bought the tickets. For cryin’ out loud, it’s safe!” He jerked at the collar on his shirt.

Mama, heavy-set and wearing a colorful windbreaker, didn’t budge. “Y’all go along without me. The airplane ride was bad enough. I ain’t doin’ it again, goin’ up in the sky up the side of that mountain.”

The aunt, a skinny, young version of “Mama,” heaved a sigh. “I can’t leave you here by yourself. If you stay, I guess I’ll have no choice but to stay too.”

“We’ll be right back,” Hattie said to Nonny and Grandma Wren. She grabbed Zera’s arm and they headed for the ticket booth.

“Hey, Denise,” Hattie said. “Do you have any more seats on the five o’clock?”

“Hattie — what are you doing here?”

Zera recognized the woman with the mop of curly red hair as an old friend of her mom’s. Denise’s gaze met Zera’s and she blinked hard. “Oh my goodness! I heard you were back!” Denise tilted her mop of curls to see outside of her booth. “You brought Guinevere with you, and Grandma Wren, too?” She leaned out of the window, waved a thin, freckle-covered hand, “Hi, ladies!”

The grandmothers waved back.

Denise said, “We’re booked solid, Hattie. Tourist season’s back with a vengeance. I don’t know if we could get you in, unless, of course,” she nodded over in the direction of the Texans, “they don’t persuade Mama to go. That’s been going on for fifteen minutes.”

Hattie and Zera looked over at the group. Mama stood in the same spot, arms folded over her chest.

“She’s not going anywhere,” Hattie said. “She was traumatized on the flight here and now she’s making her stand. I know how it is.”

“You? A fear of heights?” Denise’s grin was huge.

“Hey, don’t laugh! It’s kind of unbelievable, I know. You always hear how Native Americans don’t have that fear, how they love to work on skyscrapers and walk around on the edge of cliffs and all that jazz.” Hattie’s lips pulled down into a mock grimace. “Well, apparently I didn’t inherit that particular gene. Heights scare the pee out of me.”

Zera couldn’t help but snicker. Hattie always found a way to make things comical.

A whistle blew, followed by a deep, melodic voice that Zera instantly recognized. “All aboard!”

All eyes went to a dark, attractive man standing by the door that led outside to the railway cars.

Denise nodded toward Cosmic Dan. “Hattie, Zera, you guys just go on up, you know your money’s no good here anyway. I’m sure Dan will find a spot for you.” She turned to Zera. “It’s so good to see you, honey.”

“You too. Thanks, Denise.”

As they walked over to Grandma Wren and Nonny, Dan greeted the now-excited-to-be-boarding passengers. He was dressed casually, in jeans and a tan polo shirt with the insignia of the railway emblazoned over one breast. A tan cap was pulled over his hair. He trimmed his hair. A lot. His afro was very short compared to the first time she saw him.

“Yes, ma’am, we’ll be spending about forty minutes at the top of the Peak . . . No ma’am, there’s no mountain lions up that high . . . Trip takes about three hours total . . . Yes, sir, it is a glorious day to go up . . . Oh, you’re from Texas, that’s great, we get a lot of visitors from Texas, and we’re thankful for every one.”

When all had boarded, they approached Dan.

“Hey, Dan,” said Hattie.

“Hi, Hattie, ladies.” Dan grinned. “Here to join us?”

“Well, we’re going to try, if you have room. I noticed there were a couple of folks who decided not to go,” she tilted her head in the direction of Mama and the now put-upon-looking aunt, sitting on a bench.

“Looks like we’ll have just enough seats, then. I keep two empty, just in case. And you don’t need tickets.”

Hattie lowered her voice, “Dan?”

“Yes?”

“I don’t have a lot of time to explain right now. I’m sure the passengers would like to get on with their tour. Um, we’ll need to spend a little more time on the mountain than the allotted forty minutes . . . ,” her voice lowered and Dan leaned closer to her, his expression becoming as serious as Hattie’s. “Dan, Grandma Wren needs to talk to the spirits.”

Cosmic Dan’s face registered only slight surprise. He glanced at Grandma Wren, Zera and her grandmother. Hattie’s comment was weird, but Zera imagined he heard a lot stranger things than that in Ute Springs. His reply validated that. “Not a problem, Hat.”

They climbed aboard and found two empty seats at the front marked “reserved,” and the other two surrendered by the Texans.

“See, I told you it was fine,” Dan said, adjusting his cap. “We always have seats reserved for ‘VIPs.’” He winked at Zera.

As they took their seats, “Mama” and her daughter climbed the outside steps to the car.

“Oh, no, they’re going after all,” said Hattie.

Grandma Wren nudged her daughter with her buckskin bag, a bag that had drawn quite a few interested looks from the passengers. “Zera and I will go alone.”

Mama and her daughter stood at the front, looking for seats.

“I think we should go together. All of us.” Nonny’s grip on her cane tightened.

“It will be fine, Guinevere,” insisted Grandma Wren.

“But Nellie,” Nonny raised her voice.

“Please,” Zera said to her grandmother. “If Grandma Wren says it’s okay. It’s okay. I can handle it.”

Dan bent over Nonny. “Tell you what. I’ll make another trip up here, after this one, and I’ll bring you and Hattie up.”

“But wouldn’t that be against company policy, or something?” Hattie said.

“It’s no problem. Owner owes me a favor anyway.” Dan clapped his hands together. “But now I’ve got to get the show on the road.”

Nonny wasn’t happy about it, but she left with Hattie. Anxiety washed over Zera as she watched her grandmother carefully take the steps down off the train. Now she was going to be by herself, alone on a mountain, with Grandma Wren, a ninety-year-old woman. She’d computed the schedule; Dan would leave them alone up there for almost two hours.

After everyone was settled in, the train began to move. Dan stood in the aisle and began his talk on the history of the century-old depot and railway.

“In the next hour and fifteen minutes we’ll be going up. Way up. We’re already over a mile high in elevation, at Ute Springs, and by the time we get to the top of Pikes Peak we’ll be another mile up.” Dan held the cordless microphone loosely as he spoke. “This train, made in Switzerland, is a cog railway, meaning that the railway’s heavy serrated rail in the center of the track furnishes traction for the cog wheel. This type of engineering was necessary because the grade we’re going up is seldom less than 12½ percent.”

On the words “engineering” and “grade” there were rumbles of interest from a few passengers. Zera, still preoccupied with the fact that Nonny and Hattie wouldn’t be coming, tried to listen but was having a hard time concentrating.

“But don’t you worry. This train is safe, safe as can be,” Dan continued. “And if something were to happen we do have an additional safety measure. If this train should somehow detach from the track and plunge down the side of Pikes Peak,” he made a dramatic plummeting motion with his hand, his appearance now serious, “we have some large springs at the bottom that will cushion the fall.” He paused for effect, “Ute Springs.”

Laughter, some nervous like Zera’s, echoed through the car.

The first few miles of track followed a stream through a steep canyon filled with fir, pine trees and gigantic boulders. Grandma Wren was so small, Zera had no problem seeing out of the window next to her. As they passed a deep ravine, Grandma Wren commented on the wild vegetation growing amid high rock walls. She rattled off a lot of names, some in the Ute tongue, and Zera was again startled to discover she somehow knew them all.

Dan pointed out historical and geological places of interest as the train moved up over 8,000 feet. Now groves of quaking aspen carpeted the valleys between the mountains. The passengers were surprised to see deep wagon wheel ruts from a trail almost parallel to the tracks, a trail made over a century ago by the area’s first tourists. Zera’s anxiety ebbed as she settled back in her wood seat, lulled by the beauty outside the windows, while the train click-click-clicked up the incline.

The cog went around the mountain, then slowly began the ascent up the Peak. Cosmic Dan told the passengers that the line had to be cut open every spring through snow drifts that were sometimes twenty-five feet deep. Between 9,000 and 11,000 feet, he pointed out different species of trees: Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, aspen, and lodgepole and limber pine.

At 11,500 feet, the trees, which had steadily grown more squat and shrub-like, disappeared. Chunks of rocks and fields of monster-size gravel were strewn as far as Zera could see. Dan cracked a joke about how Texans boasted that everything was bigger in their state, but this is what was called “gravel” in Colorado. They were above timberline.

Climbing further, along the spine of the summit ridge, an irregular staircase of granite shards outlined a grassy saddle of Alpine tundra. Dwarf herbs and grasses, a carpet of green, hugging ground that wasn’t covered with snow. Tiny, flowering alpine plants grew abundantly in the rocks and in crevices between boulders.

Grandma Wren whispered, “A wondrous creation.”

Zera pointed out three lapis lazuli-hued reservoirs in the distance. “They’re so bright blue; like something you’d see in a pop-up storybook.”

Dan started describing one of the few mammalian inhabitants, the yellow-bellied marmot.

“I see ‘em!” squealed a boy of about six, his finger jabbing toward the window at a group of housecat-sized creatures with russet-colored fur, ambling across an alpine meadow.

“Marmots are related to groundhogs and their nickname is whistle-pigs,” explained Dan. “As you can see, they’re social creatures. They travel in groups of six or more. One of them will always be on top of a rock, looking out for danger. If any is sensed, the marmot makes a high-pitched squeal of alarm. They’re about twenty pounds in weight and they hibernate for eight or nine months of the year. When they’re hibernating their body temperatures go down between 43 and 57 degrees. They’ve just come out of their rocky burrows for the short summer and are feeding now.”

Dan also described the Rocky Mountain big-horned sheep, and Zera spotted a small herd, in their tawny-white coats, gamboling nimbly among the snow and boulders. Several paused to look at the train, their great curved horns glowing in the lowering sun.

*     *     *     *     *

Reaching the summit, the train righted itself at a small plateau of granite that stretched out for the size of a city block. It stopped outside a modern station house built next to the stone 1890s version, a building now used as a gift shop and café.

Zera and Grandma Wren disembarked with the other passengers and stretched their legs. The air was frigid and thin. Tourists chattered as they made their way toward the sturdy iron railings of the overlook areas, pulling out holographic cameras and v-phones; and zipping up their jackets.

Then, total silence. Everyone stood in awe of the astonishing view. Looking down, a giddy delight somersaulted through Zera’s stomach. The world stretched out before them in a dizzying 360-degree panorama. The sky is clear and we really can see forever. On two sides were many mountains, dark blue-green and purple. Ute Springs lay directly below them, as did Garden of the Gods, a natural wonder of dramatic red sandstone formations, hundreds of feet high, nestled in the valley right outside Ute Springs. She could even see the edge of Piker, over sixty miles to the north. The Great Plains stretched eastward all the way to Kansas. The Sangre de Cristo mountain range, to the south, headed into New Mexico, over a hundred miles away. To the west she could see thirty to forty miles where she knew Cripple Creek and Victor, the historic silver- and gold-mining towns, were tucked into the slope of Pikes Peak, then, mile after mile of mountains forming the Collegiate Peaks and the Continental Divide.

Zera had released her hair from its ponytail so it could provide some warmth for her neck and ears in the wintry air. The mom and dad from the Texan family seemed particularly uncomfortable, hugging themselves and rubbing their arms. The boys ran to a huge snowbank and began packing snowballs into pink hands. “Mama” seemed to have overcome all her fears and was standing at the fence, grinning from ear-to-ear at the astonishing view.

Zera and Grandma Wren stayed at the overlook for ten minutes or so. Grandma Wren had told her on the train that they would wait until everyone had started down the mountain before embarking on their vision quest.

Cosmic Dan walked up. “Enjoying the view, ladies?”

“It’s beautiful,” Zera said. Grandma Wren nodded.

“I just came over to tell you I’m going to take the others down, but I’ll bring the train back up with Nonny and Hattie in a little over two hours. We’ll meet in the café. I told the staff to leave it open for you.”

“Thank you, Dan,” Grandma Wren said.

“My pleasure.”

Dan walked away and Grandma Wren said, “Let’s go.” Refusing Zera’s help, she picked up the large beaded buckskin bag and hoisted it over her shoulder.

Zera followed Grandma Wren as she hiked across the parking lot to the back of the old stone station house/café, a place for Pikes Peak visitors to buy coffee, doughnuts, and tourist knickknacks. As they neared the building, Zera smelled the rich, yeasty smell of doughnuts in the crisp air. At any other time she would have wanted to stop for one.

“There it is,” Grandma Wren said, pointing to a steep, timeworn trail in the gravel leading down from the building. “We’re going to that group of rocks.”

Zera looked to where she pointed, about a hundred yards down the slope. She was glad Nonny wasn’t here; it would have been almost impossible for her to get down that trail.

Grandma Wren began descending slowly. The loose fist-sized gravel made for slippery going but Grandma Wren, sure-footed in hiking boots and calm, made her way down slowly. Zera followed, not doing as well. My flat-bottomed sneakers aren’t the best on this surface. As soon as the thought registered in her mind she slipped, landing on her left leg and hand, sliding down the loose gravel five feet, nearly bumping into Grandma Wren.

“Goodness! Are you all right, Zera?” Grandma Wren had moved off the path.

Zera got to her feet, more embarrassed than hurt. “Yeah.” Her hand was scraped up, bleeding, but just a little. Still, it felt hot and stinging.

Grandma Wren continued on, and Zera shook her hand, wiped the dust from her pants. She waited until Grandma Wren got a good ten feet from her before she started out again.

At the bottom, the ground leveled for a short distance. They made their way across a grassy area to a group of boulders that looked like gigantic balls of whitish-gray clay stacked, then squished together, one on top of the other. The boulders made a large semi-circle that hid them from the view of the lookout point at the top of the peak, almost directly above. A dozen feet away was the edge of a cliff. It dropped off to the next semi-flat spot, many hundreds of feet below.

“This is the place,” Grandma Wren said, pointing. “See, there is Ute Springs, home of the Creator’s breath, and there are the bones of Mother Earth.”

“Creator’s breath? Mother Earth?” Zera stared quizzically.

“Creator’s Breath is what we call the mineral springs, used by our people since the beginning of their time as healing waters. The bones of Mother Earth were given a different name by the settlers . . .”

“The Garden of the Gods,” Zera finished. “They do look like bones from here.”

Grandma Wren opened her bag and took out a wool blanket. She unfolded the two-by-three-foot rectangle and laid it upon the ground in front of the boulders. The large central motif of the blanket was a white star, woven on a black background. Two borders framed the star, an outside border of white, followed by one of alternating red and black triangles.

“Sit down, please,” Grandma Wren said.

Zera began to oblige, but just then an eerie sound, a cry otherworldly and alarming, pierced the air. She sprang up. “What’s that?”

“It’s the marmots. There.”

The noise stopped as Zera’s eyes followed Grandma Wren’s outstretched finger. Peering through a gap in the boulders, she saw a pile of rocks in a nook about twenty feet away. On top of a footstool-sized rock stood a very large marmot. He and seven others had apparently been enjoying a late afternoon outing before being so rudely interrupted. The others, like their look-out, stared at the old woman and girl, who stared right back at them. For a moment no one moved.

“We surprised them,” whispered Zera.

“They are not too frightened. It is odd that they’re up this far. There’s no food for them here.”

Grandma Wren eyed the creatures. They stared at one another, in wordless communication, and Zera could read Grandma Wren’s body language as clearly as the marmots could: “Go, now.” They began to lumber downhill. Zera sat down.

The wind blew and the cold air felt harsh on Zera’s hands and cheeks. She put her hands into the pockets of her jacket, finding a pair of gloves in one and a purple crocheted wool hat in the other. She put on the gloves, wincing a little when she put on the left one. She noticed when she crossed her legs that her left leg was sore, too.

From above came the whistle blow of the train and Cosmic Dan’s voice calling, “All aboard, all aboard!”

From what Zera could hear, most of the tourists had, by that time, sought shelter and warmth in the café. She heard them coming out, exclaiming about the cold, their voices traveling clearly through the thin air. After a few minutes of activity, Zera heard the sound of the engine whirring and the cog mechanism click-click-click-clicking like a large clock as the train began its descent down the mountain.

The sky grew dim. Zera heard the workers from the café begin to depart right after the train did — calling out their goodbyes and starting their cars. Within a few short minutes Zera knew they would be completely alone on the mountaintop. She wished she had brought something to drink as now her mouth was dry.

Grandma Wren squatted at the edge of the cliff, her back to Zera, her head bowed in contemplation.

The wind gusted, and it seemed to be the only sound left on the mountain. Even the marmots had gone home to their rocky burrows. Zera watched the bright blue sky turn pink and lavender tie-dye. She gazed at the splendor of the sunset while shivering lightly.

Grandma Wren got up, took off her hat and sweater, then her boots and baggy sweat pants. Zera caught her breath. Grandma Wren stood, facing the multi-hued sunset in brilliant red, long underwear. With her white, streaming hair and dark lined face, she looked thin, ancient, and powerful. Even with her thinness, she did not shiver. Zera choked back an urge to giggle. She couldn’t help it; nerves combined with everything being so serious and somber created an anxiety in her that threatened to bubble out in crazy laughter. If the kids in Piker could see me now, sitting on top of a mountain, watching skinny ninety-year-old Grandma Wren in her red underwear! Zera cleared her throat. Stop it, she scolded herself. Don’t you dare laugh.

As if reading her thoughts, Grandma Wren looked back and said, “This is the only clothing I could find that represents the favored color, the color one should wear when addressing the Creator.”

Grandma Wren’s seriousness killed Zera’s urge to laugh. Her cheeks grew hot in embarrassment and she looked down at her red sneakers.

Grandma Wren pulled a thick, long bundle from her bag, along with a lighter. Crouching and cupping her hand over the cloth-wrapped stick, she lit it. The dried sage flamed for a moment, then died out and began to smoke. She came to Zera and slowly waved the white smoke around her, then herself, chanting as she did so.

“Hey-a-a-hey! Hey-a-a-hey! Hey-a-a-hey! Hey-a-a-hey! Hey-a-a-hey! Hey-a-a-hey!”

She placed the still-smoldering bundle on the gravel and turned around again. She knelt directly across from Zera on the blanket, facing the open vista. She sat motionless for at least a minute, and Zera viewed her tiny outline with admiration and respect.

Grandma Wren raised her hands to the sky. “Creator,” she said in her gravelly voice, “I ask permission to receive the vision foretold. We sit at the four points of the earth: north, south, east, west. We are open: mind, body, and spirit.

“Creator, behold us and hear our feeble voice. You lived before all, older than old, older than prayer. All belongs to you — the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the wings of the air, and all green things that live. Day in and day out, forever, you are the life of all.”

She paused. Zera stared at the back of the tiny, red-clothed woman, her white hair blowing against a kaleidoscope coloring the sky. I will remember this moment if I live to be a hundred years old.

Grandma Wren continued, “I send my small and weak voice, Creator, Grandfather, forgetting nothing that you have made; the stars of the universe and the grasses of the earth.

“You have shown us the goodness and the beauty and the strangeness of the greening earth, the only Mother — and there we see the spirit shapes of things.

“You have sent this young woman, Zera, a sign of the snake. Symbol of eternity, of life, rebirth. We ask you in our ignorance and humility what we should do. We have come to receive vision.”

They sat for some time, breathing in the sweet, smoldering sage, watching the sky.

Grandma Wren began to quietly chant again. “Hey-a-a-hey. Hey-a-a-hey. Hey-a-a-hey.”

Zera closed her eyes, listening to Grandma Wren’s voice. Then, silence. She opened her eyes. Grandma Wren was gone.

“Grandma Wren?” Zera looked around. Where did she go? She was on this blanket. Right here! A panic swept through her.

“Grandma Wren?” she called louder. She waited. Nothing.

Only the darkening sunset. The sage bundle lay in the gravel, no longer smoldering.

Zera scrambled to her feet, her heart pounding like a tribal drum. Where was she? She ran to the edge of the cliff, looked all around. There was nowhere else for her to go. “Grandma Wren!” she yelled out to the darkening sky.

The air temperature changed. The wind now blew warm. The sky began to change, growing brighter, lighter, bluer, as the sunset disappeared. With it, Zera’s fear evaporated. An excitement and expectation in every molecule within her grew as thoughts of Grandma Wren melted away. It was day again. Clouds rolled in, just beneath the cliff. Soft, round clouds, first hundreds, then thousands, stretching out below her like an ocean. Zera’s mouth was open, watching.

Through the clouds crept a thread of green, and Zera’s heartbeat again quickened. The thread became a tangle of vines, growing larger, stronger. Leaves emerged from the rope-like vines, and the vines took form as they twisted, writhed, turned. They were forming into the shape of a man. Zera could not take her eyes away, she could not think. She could only stare, transfixed. Within seconds, a giant stood before her on the clouds, the Green Man.

Zera’s heart thudded. She wanted to run but found she could not move. The Green Man, fifty feet tall, was all leaves. Giant rolled leaves made up his enormous fingers, his fingernails, his colossal legs, his massive chest, his long, twining hair. Only his verdant face, peering through the leaves, was smooth, the texture of human skin. He walked across the clouds, and as he did the clouds thundered and the rock beneath Zera shook.

Zera’s forehead and palms beaded sweat. A gasp escaped her, yet she could not take her eyes away, not even for a second. The green titan looked at her with a fierceness that undercut the kind undertone in his deep voice.

“Everything is sacred and divine,” he said.

“You are in the land I live in always. Though I may appear to sleep in the winter, I am very much alive, growing, changing. The same is with all that live!

“We are all one. Star-stuff!” He smiled at Zera, a smile that was both friendly and menacing, and his arms and hands outstretched to embrace the cosmos.

“We are all related. We possess each other in our natures and in our bodies.

“We are all part of the tree of life. We are kept in place by our spinal column.”

The figure began to change. The Green Man’s legs grew together, turned darker, brown, bark-rough. Soon, they had fused into one thick trunk.

“We are anchored by the roots of our feet and legs,”

Roots curved downward from the base of the trunk, stretching along and down through the clouds.

“. . . we stretch toward and welcome the heavens in the branches of our arms.” He raised his massive arms. They turned into two thick branches that brought forth more branches, smaller and smaller, up and up and out. Buds popped out along each stem in profusion and became full, fat and pointed, before gracefully unfolding into leaves.

The tree stood thick, full, covered. The Green Man’s face appeared high now, in the center of the branches, defined amid the leafy crown. His eyes glowed.

“In our heads are the flowering and fruiting of our thoughts and emotions.”

The tree exploded into bloom with thousands of alabaster flowers. Their perfume filled the air, filled Zera’s lungs. Just as quickly, the white flower petals fell and the fruits, first tiny and green, grew large. The green faded and the full fruits blushed into luscious globes of gold. The Green Man’s face became longer, softer, fair, the lips as full and ripe as the fruit that adorned it.

The Green Man had become a Green Woman.

She whispered. Her voice was melodic, honeyed. “Yes, I am all. Male and female. One cannot exist without the other. Man and woman are borne of the earth. We are all one. We are all plants. All flesh is grass. It is our life-giver.”

Tears sprang to Zera’s eyes. She recognized the voice. It’s the voice from my dreams.

The fruits began to fall from the woman-tree, noiselessly onto the clouds. On their way down they turned fetid; worm holes and bruises appeared on their surfaces as they reached the white clouds and landed. They grew moldy and shrunken. A thick decay smell clotted in Zera’s nose. The rotten fruit disappeared. At the same time, the leaves of the tree turned gold, blazing briefly and brilliantly in the blue sky, before falling from the tree in a shower. The leaves, like the fruit, turned brown then shrank, crinkled, vanished through the clouds.

“We are all that lives and all that has lived before,” said the Green Woman, whose face now formed in the bare branches.

Zera thought of her mother and father and was not afraid.

“I am the thought of all plants.” The skeleton-branched tree turned green, the limbs becoming round and fleshy, as it metamorphosed into human form. A towering woman of green stood before her, clothed in leaves. She was voluptuous, mighty.

She began to move, walking atop the clouds, looking down where the fruit once lay, and shaking her majestic leaf-crowned head. The clouds thundered under her footfalls as they had with the Green Man’s.

Her voice grew cold, as did her gaze, and fear crept into Zera’s heart.

“Man’s greed has far surpassed his wisdom. The plants call to me in despair. They know not what they should be. They know not what they are.”

Her face twisted into a horrible mask of anger. “The timeless wisdom of nature, of life, has been defiled, again and again. Man has been given the whole world; yet it is not enough. The answers are there, simple to see, yet his eyes remain willfully closed.”

Her voice grew louder, until it boomed. “If the work that man has started does not stop, the world shall grieve as it has never grieved before! That is the message. That is our warning . . .” her voice and countenance softened once again as she paused, “. . . and our plea. Zera of the Greens — you must do whatever it takes to help set these wrongs right.”

Her blazing eyes met Zera’s. Zera forgot to breathe. The Green Woman’s lips did not move, yet Zera heard unspoken words whispered to her, as vividly and as surely as she had heard the snakes. The gentle voice she had heard in her room, both at Piker and here, was now tinged with anger and hysteria. “You will help us, Zera of the Greens. If you do not take action, the natural world will have no choice but to fight against all humanity. And humanity will lose.”

Zera’s heart raced as an icy wind returned. The Green Woman faded and disappeared. The sea of clouds parted and sped away. The azure sky darkened and a nearly full moon cast the rocks around her in an eerie, white glow.

Thunder rumbled down the mountain. Zera could see the lightning, blinding white zig-zags that brought rocks and trees far below into high relief.

The fury of the weather gripped Zera as the Green Woman’s words rang in her ears. You will help us, Zera of the Greens.

How can I do that? she thought. I’m alone in this world. The thought clutched her in icy fingers of panic. How can they ask this of me? I’m just visiting my nonny . . . I’m too young. Tears came again into her eyes and she couldn’t stop herself from screaming out into the cold night. “What do you expect me to do? I don’t even know what this is about!”

No answer, no response came. She was alone.

The moment the words left her she knew with total clarity — The Toad.

“View from Pikes Peak” by Original uploader was Chitrapa at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

To purchase your own copy of Zera and the Green Man, visit the official website now. Paperback and Kindle versions are now available.

Zera and the Green Man is a novel by Sandra Knauf, a local author and sustainability advocate living in Colorado Springs.

GreenwomanPublishing

Published via US Represented by consent of the publisher:
Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC
P. O. Box 6587, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80934-6587, U.S.A.

First published in the United States of America
Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013
All rights reserved

ISBN: 978-0-9897056-0-8 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-1-5 (ebook)

Cover drawing by Paul Spielman.
Cover photography by CanStockPhoto 11569383
Cover and interior design by Zora Knauf.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living-dead, is entirely coincidental.

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