Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 19

This all has something to do with Uncle Theodore — but how? Zera sat in the freezing darkness, her heart racing. She tugged her jacket around her, staring first up at the moonlit sky, then down at the storm raging below her on the mountain. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. As her lungs filled with cold, crisp air, she thought of her parents. I know I’m not really alone, somehow they’re with me. I’ve got to hold on to that. And to figure out what all this means.

Grandma Wren’s voice startled her. “Now we know.”

“Where were you?” Zera said to the small figure on the blanket. Grandma Wren was plainly visible as the pale boulders and gravel around them reflected the moon’s glow.

The old woman unfolded her limbs and stood. “I was here, all along,”

Zera shook her head. In light of what she had just seen, how could she say what was real anymore?

Grandma Wren moved to the edge of the cliff, peered down. “It’s a bad storm. I hope the train makes it back okay.”

Her words were calm. How can she be calm? After what just happened? Zera got to her feet, nearly stumbling. The burning feeling had returned to her palm, and her leg was stiff with soreness. She gathered up the blanket and shook off the dirt. Grandma Wren held out her hands for it, but instead of putting it into the bag, she folded it in half and wrapped it around her small shoulders. She took a flashlight from her bag and handed it to Zera. “Take this. I find myself very tired now.”

Zera insisted on carrying Grandma Wren’s bag, and this time she let her.

“Here’s the path, to the right a little,” Zera said, lighting the area. Once their eyes adjusted, moonlight helped illuminate the path as well. Grandma Wren led them, inching up the incline while Zera kept the light on the ground ahead. The dark climb, more difficult than the descent, seemed to take a long time.

The second time she slipped Zera said, “Damn it!” Grandma Wren ignored the outburst.

At the top, they paused to catch their breath. It feels good to be standing upright, Zera thought, stretching. They got to the top just in time. The clouds had rolled in again, covering the moon, and the night grew blacker, the wind bitter. Thankfully, the outside lights of the café were on. Zera moved closer to Grandma Wren as they crept along the rear of the stone building, then around the side. As they neared the front door, snow began spitting from the skies.

Grandma Wren’s voice was raspy. “I do hope they remembered to leave the door unlocked.”

Me too. Being stranded outside now would be awful.

Grandma Wren was the first to reach the door. She went in, flipped the light switch and turned to Zera. “Ah, warmth!”

The stone exterior had given no hint of the coziness inside. A gas fire in the large stone fireplace glowed, casting its reflection on the golden pine planks of the floor and dining tables. Thick cotton curtains of green and white checkerboard hung from the windows. Along the top of the walls a stenciled border of pine trees circled the room like a miniature painted forest.

“Nice and toasty,” said Grandma Wren, taking off the snow-dusted blanket.

“I smell coffee.” Zera made her way toward the long, chrome, ’50s-style dining counter. “A whole pot. That should warm us up.” She lifted the clear glass dome off a plate stacked with doughnuts. “They left us a plate of goodies, too.” Her stomach growled loud enough for Grandma Wren to hear.

Shaky with hunger, Zera knew Grandma Wren must be starving too. We haven’t eaten since noon. She found she was not eager to talk over what they had just seen, not yet. She got cups from the cabinet and found plates and napkins.

The door opened. Hattie and Nonny, in snow-covered jackets, entered the room.

“Sorry we’re late!” Hattie pulled down her hood, shook out her long hair. “We were waylaid at the station with electrical problems. There’s a big storm down the mountain. Dan’s outside now, making an adjustment to the engine before we can go back down. He said it’d take about twenty minutes. So, how did it go?”

“You’re late?” said Zera. “What do you mean? We just got here.”

“Zera,” said Nonny, “it’s been four and a half hours.”

Zera looked at Grandma Wren, who showed no surprise.

They sat at one of the round pine tables watching Grandma Wren eat an extraordinary amount of food for someone her age: the tuna and cheese sandwich Hattie had brought for her, potato salad from the refrigerator, a candy-sprinkled doughnut, and two cartons of milk. When Hattie commented on her appetite, Grandma Wren said she’d been fasting since she had the dream, in preparation for the vision quest. Disapproval darkened Hattie’s features but she did not comment.

Zera had just finished her sandwich when Hattie, across from her, said, “So do you want to talk about it before we get on the train? What happened?”

Zera took a deep breath. “I saw the Green Man and the Green Woman. They were giants. Like . . . gods.” She searched the expectant faces sitting around her. Something was holding her back from telling everything as she saw it. And how could she possibly explain something she didn’t understand? “The Green Woman, she was beautiful.” Zera looked at Grandma Wren next to her and suddenly felt panicked. She blurted, “They said that ‘wisdom has been defiled,’ that ‘man’s work must be stopped.’ That plants don’t know what they are any more, that the world is in trouble. I don’t even know what it all means!”

Hattie shifted in her chair. “Whoa. You saw this too?” she asked Grandma Wren. “A Green Man, and a Green Woman?”

“I saw the Creator,” Grandma Wren said. “Sinawaf.”

“What?” Hattie’s eyes went wide.

“One God, Hattie, many faces,” Nonny said.

“We saw what we needed to see,” said Grandma Wren. “We must do as we are asked. I remember how our people, when suffering from depression, as they call it now, when they felt empty they would go out alone, into the woods. With arms extended they would press their backs to a pine tree in order to draw from its power and revive their spirit. Now we take pills, made with synthetics. Our connection with nature has been ignored for too long. Without its health, we will never have real health again.”

Zera locked eyes with Grandma Wren. The next thing she had to say was even more confusing. “I know one thing. That this all has something to do with Uncle Theodore.”

Nonny stared at Zera. “Is that what you saw during the vision? Is that what the Green Man, or Woman, said?”

“No, but afterwards, I felt it. That this all has something to do with him. It’s hard to explain.”

Nonny nodded and a deep sigh followed. “I had the same feeling, that Ted was somehow connected to all this. The biotech industry, genetic engineering; I knew it had to have something to do with his work. Oh, when all that business started, I knew it was going to be bad, tinkering with the essence of life! Theodore must be involved in something horrible.”

“How horrible?” Hattie asked what Zera had been wondering since the revelation had came to her.

“Horrible enough for gods to come out of the sky and speak,” said Grandma Wren.

They sat in silence, pondering that. Hattie stood up and picked up the dirty dishes to take to the kitchen area, gesturing to Zera to stay seated when she tried to get up to help. “I had this thought that all this was somehow about global warming,” said Hattie. “Although that’s here, too. All this plant trouble began when chemical companies started splicing genes of different phyla together,” Hattie said.

A chill ran through Zera. This was all too much. She thought of the white roses on the porch, how they had opened, how beautiful they were, and how they had all died the next day. A feeling of dread, that things could be worse, much worse, filled her. The natural world will fight against all humanity. And humanity will lose.

“What is a phyla?” Grandma Wren asked.

“It’s the plural for phylum. Phylum is a scientific word for divisions of living things. For example, in the Animal Kingdom, all organisms with backbones, the vertebrates, are in one phylum, most of what we call insects are in another. Plants are in a separate Kingdom.” Hattie walked across the room and deposited the dishes in the sink, then grabbed a towel to wipe the table.

“Divisions?” Grandma Wren said. “That is strange. Our people always knew we were all connected, not divided into groups. The wind and mountains are as much our relatives as the animals and plants.”

“It’s about levels of being related genetically,” Zera said.

The puzzled expression did not leave Grandma Wren’s face.

“Remember, Grandma,” said Hattie, “how I told you they’d crossed a bacteria with the corn plant, creating insect-killing corn? Or when I ranted about the Beefy Fries? Mother Nature has always had certain boundaries that could not be crossed, like the impossibility, in most cases, of inter-breeding species. Working with nature, man has been able to develop plants and animals through selective breeding, and we’ve been able to clone plants naturally, but there have always been limits. Now they’ve crossed a potato with a cow, for God’s sake! And that’s not the worst of it.” She scowled.

“What could be worse?” Grandma Wren asked, her eyebrows raised.

Zera answered. “Genetically-engineered crops can’t be contained in their fields. Pollen can travel on the wind for miles; butterflies and thousands of other insects carry it too — animals carry it, we even carry it on our shoes, clothes, vehicles, in our hair. When pollen escapes and reproduces with wild plants, or non-genetically engineered plants, their offspring are then genetically modified. Nonny told me about this a long time ago.”

“And what did Theodore think about that?” asked Hattie. “about the contamination?”

“He said they were working on solutions to limit the problems.”

“To limit them?” Hattie spat out the words.

Nonny interrupted, “The danger is, once our wild plants are contaminated, many, many millions of years of evolution is disrupted. We cannot even guess at the potential for disaster. You can’t just look at the plants either. You have to look at every single organism that is even remotely connected to them — every human, every animal, every insect, every bacteria — each eco-system. Everything’s affected.”

Hattie had a disturbed, far-away look in her eyes. “The bugs that sip the nectar and eat the leaves, the birds that eat the bugs, the people who eat the meat which was fed on the biotech grain that the bees and birds have also fed on.”

Zera finished Hattie’s thought, “Everything’s linked.”

“Yes,” said Hattie. “We have no idea what we’re messing with. They didn’t even have the word ‘gene’ until the 1920s! Some have compared genetic engineering to the splitting of the atom.”

Zera couldn’t believe what she had heard. The splitting of the atom? “The atomic bomb?”

Hattie’s face twisted. “Yes, Zera, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. Nonny, I know Ted’s your son and you love him, but there’s something demented about it. It’s like Frankenstein, creating, bringing to life, something that was not meant to be.”

Nonny looked out toward the black windows of the cafe. “I can’t help but think it’s my fault somehow.”

A sadness enveloped Zera as Nonny took a paper napkin from the table dispenser and dabbed her eyes. Then annoyance at her uncle reared its ugly head. Thanks a lot, Toad. It looks like you’ve really done it this time.

“I wasn’t there for him after his father died,” Nonny said. “I went off on my own to deal with my grief. I traveled, selfishly lost myself in other cultures. I ran away, left him, a frightened eight-year-old, with Sally, who was just seventeen. And I didn’t come back for months. When I did return, it was only briefly, then I’d take off again, absorbed in my own little world, my ‘spiritual seeking,’ when I had something more important at home the whole time. I was a terrible mother.”

I didn’t know that, thought Zera. I knew she traveled, but I didn’t know she left them for that long. I didn’t know she left Theodore when he was little . . . She looked at Nonny with new eyes; it was plain to see her grandmother was tormented, yet, now she felt sorry for her uncle. She knew how she felt when her parents died. So lost and alone, terrified.

Hattie walked over and gently touched Nonny’s shoulder. “We’ve all made mistakes.” She sighed. “I’m so sorry about the tirade. I’m just rattled, by everything. I can’t stop thinking about a quote I read once from the late Japanese master gardener, Masanobu Fukuoka. He said, ‘If we throw nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork.’”

Zera saw Hattie shudder, and one reverberated through her own body.

“In the end, we can love and teach our children, but they have to find their own path,” Grandma Wren said, her voice steady and sure as she measured the words. “As for your feelings, Guinevere, there is still time to heal your relationship with your son.”

“I apologized to them both years ago,” said Nonny, “Sally and I were okay. I knew Ted hadn’t forgiven me, but I thought I had forgiven myself. Maybe we never do.” She turned to Zera. “Right now it looks like we have a bigger problem. Do you know what he was working on?”

“No, I just know that on the way here he and Tiffany were happier than I’d ever seen them.” She thought for a moment. “Tiffany was excited the morning we left. They were going to meet someone important. She didn’t say who, though.”

“When they arrived, Tiffany was positively jittery, she was so anxious to leave,” Nonny frowned as she looked out the windows again into the black sky, still sputtering snow. “Ted acted suspiciously. Something was up then, and we need to find out what.”

“How do we do that?” asked Zera.

“I’m not sure. We’ll sleep on it, I guess. I hate to say this, just when we’ve been reunited,” a look of dread played across Nonny’s features, “but the first thing we’re going to have to do is track down Ted. I’ll call him, try to find out what’s going on. And we have to figure out how you play into this. I worried all evening, leaving you up here tonight with Grandma Wren. I shouldn’t have done that. I know one thing, I will not put you in harm’s way again.”

“Guinevere,” Grandma Wren said, “Zera has been chosen.”

Nonny’s expression of dread turned into one of horror. “She is a child, Nellie. That’s not possible.”

Another chill rippled through Zera. She hadn’t told them that the Green Woman had spoken directly to her, telling her that she must help. But Grandma Wren knew. Chosen? For what? And why me, when there are billions of others on this planet? The look on Nonny’s face made her decide she would not say anything more.

Grandma Wren said softly to Zera, “Trust that you will know what to do when it is time.”

Nonny heard. “She will not be chosen! I will not stand for this!” She glared at Grandma Wren.

The door blew open, thudding against the wall. Everyone jumped. Hattie yelped.

Cosmic Dan, wearing a hooded parka and covered in snow, stomped into the room. “Hi, ladies.” Seeing their startled expressions, he joked, “Gee, I didn’t know I was that ugly.”

Nervous laughter escaped from Zera and Hattie. Grandma Wren and Nonny showed no signs of humor.

(Credit: 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.


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.


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

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