Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 23
Despite Nonny’s worry over Uncle Theodore, Zera heard her snoring, sound asleep just minutes after they went to bed.
Following the call to The Grand Hotel in Los Angeles, Zera was even more awake. Lying in bed, the words rang in her mind. Mr. Green has checked out. Zera stared up at the ceiling in her dark bedroom, the glow-in-the-dark constellation seeming so child-like now. She considered waking up Nonny, but decided against it.
She tossed and turned, waiting for the long, terrible night to be over so she could finally . . .
Standing on a small hill, Zera viewed the meadow below, a blanket of tall, moving grass splashed with vibrant wildflowers. Butterflies floated from flower to flower, suckling nectar. Bees gathered pollen. Birdsong and sweet scents drifted through the air. Peace filled her.
She saw him. A boy with dark, wild-looking hair, about her age, running, whooping with joy as he cut a zig-zaggy line through the vegetation. Zera laughed out loud as he stopped and twirled, skinny arms outstretched, dancing round and round. Her laugh turned into a giggle as he dramatically flopped down, disappearing into the tall, swaying grass not twenty feet away.
She walked toward him.
He didn’t look up. She wondered why he hadn’t heard her. She thought of calling to him, but before she could, the meadow around him shrank. Low grass and patches of dirt replaced the tall grass and flowers. He lay in a patch of dirt. His eyes were closed and his expression blissful. He hadn’t noticed the dramatic change that had taken place around him. That’s weird about the meadow; but what’s weirder is I know that kid from somewhere.
A small spot in the ground in front of the boy silently erupted. The earth vibrated. The boy opened his eyes. He sat upright and looked around, his expression startled, but not afraid.
He and Zera, who now stood behind him, watched, mouths open in astonishment, as a tree silently and quickly grew from delicate twig to mighty tower. I know that tree, too. It’s the one from Tava. The Green Man and Woman tree. What’s it doing here? They stared at the tree, now grown into a noble giant. A dozen or so birds flew to its branches. They sang in sweet, soothing tunes. The boy smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and lay down again as if what happened was not that remarkable after all. He gazed up into the glowing leafy branches. Zera, too, felt as if there were nothing to be worried about. She wished she were lying under the tree, enjoying the enchantment of the green shadow- and light-filled canopy. She would ask if she could join him.
“Hello,” she said.
He didn’t turn toward her, didn’t move. She tried again, stepping forward. “Hello, hi!” Again, no response.
The day was sunny and calm, and as Zera wondered why the boy couldn’t hear her the tree’s branches began to sway in the windless air. Zera felt the change. Something ominous. The sun was suddenly too bright. The breeze turned into a harsh, chilling wind. The birds screeched and flew away. Zera shivered. The boy, who had raised himself up on his elbows, looked frightened too. The branches moved on their own with increasing animation. Worry turned to dread. No, Zera thought, no. She looked from the tree to the boy. He now was changing as the tree had changed. It had changed from a twig to a full-grown tree in seconds; she watched the boy transform, in seconds, to an adult.
Zera stepped backward in surprise and caught her breath — the boy was Uncle Theodore.
The massive branches above her uncle swayed, and began to whip around furiously. She heard the cries from the leafy branches, watched as he stared up at them, his eyes wide in horror.
“Why?” came the wails, the wails of thousands. “Why did you do this to us?” Theodore covered his ears with his now-warty hands, his eyes glued to the tree’s canopy.
“My God, it’s the stomatas!” he cried, trying to stand. His legs seemed unable to support him. He’s going to fall, thought Zera, forgetting her fears and stepping forward again. They, those voices, are going to make him fall. She reached out and grabbed for his arm but her hand went right through him. What’s happening to me? she thought. Her uncle tottered but didn’t fall. He steadied himself, stood upright, put his hands over his ears again, and before Zera could act, he ran. The meadow grew up again around him again as he fled. Jeers and shouts rang out as he took off: “You don’t care about us. You only care about yourself.” “You’re sick.” “Leave this place!”
It came to her, the meaning of stomata. She’d learned in biology they were tiny openings on the undersides of leaves, pores that regulated moisture. They closed when it was dry, opened up in wetness. Mouth-shaped organs. That’s where those voices came from.
Zera stood, immobile, stunned. Not only at what had happened, but because she now felt what the leaves, what the plants, felt; their sadness and hurt, their anger at her uncle’s . . . betrayal. Yes, she thought, that’s what they feel. At the same time, Theodore’s fear and horror coursed through her as she watched him run away.
“Uncle Theodore!” she screamed, forgetting he couldn’t hear her. She raced down the hillside after him. She tore through the grass, following the path he made, yelling at the tall, frightened man with the wild hair and furiously pumping arms fifty feet in front of her.
And then, he was gone.
Zera stopped, spun around, searched for him in all directions. The wind had ceased. So had the screeching birds, the angry voices of the plants. The path her uncle had blazed through the grass had disappeared. All was calm again. It was as if he had never been there. She looked behind her. The tree was gone, too. Where has he gone? He needs my help.
A multitude of wildflowers: black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, Indian paintbrush, oxeye daisies, bee balm, yarrow, wild roses, and others, sent out happy tidings to Zera. She could hear them as she walked among them, the grass beneath her releasing its fragrance. Sunshine. Chlorophyll. The plants murmured in distinct voices, and Zera knew them as individuals; she could tell exactly whose voice belonged to whom.
“You wouldn’t hurt us,” said a scarlet bee balm in a high female voice.
“You understand,” whispered a daisy.
“You know we can help each other,” said a masculine Indian paintbrush.
“Yes, help each other. To live together,” sang a clump of white yarrow in unison.
“We love you,” a purple coneflower declared.
She looked at them and realized, she did understand, more and more. But what about her uncle?
Nothing but love radiated from the flowers, yet Zera’s body felt heavy with worry as she walked along. She found a worn, winding path through the meadow and followed it, still hoping to find him. She wanted more than anything, after seeing him as a boy, to help him.
The path took her to the edge of the meadow where she found a brook.
“We’re all one, Zera,” it gurgled. “The saying is all wrong, you know. Water is thicker than blood. Water is the real blood, of all life.” It laughed a merry laugh of clear liquid life dancing over round rocks.
For a moment Zera forgot about her uncle. What a happy brook, she thought, so pleasant, and wise! She gazed at its glittering energy, the sun reflecting off it in a thousand lights. I can see the brook’s spirit! She saw her own wavy reflection within it — dark auburn hair, her now-smiling heart-shaped face. Their spirits, she knew with absolute certainty, were one.
“Come in,” the brook said.
With no hesitation, Zera sat down on its mossy bank, took off her red sneakers, and crammed her socks into them. She slid her feet into the water. Cold. Delightful. She grinned at the twinkling water and her submerged feet. She wiggled her toes a few moments before standing and picking up her shoes. She splashed along the edge of the brook, her uncle completely forgotten.
The brook curved around a bend, and she realized she was thirsty. She squatted, cupped her hands, and scooped a measure of sparkling water. As she lifted it to her lips, she hesitated; she remembered something her parents told her long ago, that no natural water sources were pollution-free. Not anymore. Water from a stream could make you very ill.
“It’s okay,” said the brook. “I’m not contaminated. Please, drink from me.”
She heard my thoughts.
The water was icy on her lips and in her mouth. She closed her eyes and splashed some on her face. When she opened them a moment later, she felt the presence of something behind her.
Above the bank rose another tree. She turned and felt a shock. It was hideously burned, blasted by lightning. Yet, its life force remained so strong a multitude of shoots had sprung up from its roots. These new, tender branches were in full leaf, flourishing, trying to bring life to the tree. How could it still be alive?
Again, she did not see a face but heard words. In a tired, masculine voice, the tree told her, “If the injured parts are removed, perhaps I may live fully again. Oh, but it is draining my energy.”
Sadness filled her. Zera wished for a handsaw, something to help the tree. Maybe I could bring it water, she thought, but the ground around her did not feel dry. Everything but the dead parts of the tree looked fresh and healthy. She could not think of anything she could do to help the tree.
An assembly of small, singsong voices broke into her thoughts. “See us.”
Around the tree, star-shaped sky-blue flowers bloomed in a sea of airy foliage. Zera brightened. “I know you. You’re called love-in-a-mist, nigella. You’re pretty.”
They murmured like a breeze, “Yes, you know us.”
She climbed up the bank and sat under the tree. She peered into the faces of the flowers, into their tiny, light-green, star-shaped interiors. She saw the faces of the Green Man, the Green Woman.
“Hello,” she said, as if it were the most natural thing to do.
“Lie next to us, rest, and we will talk to you,” they said.
She gladly complied. In whispers they told her of the wonders to be found in the Green World. She learned how countless gifts — foods, clothes, medicines, and everything else imaginable — were created from their existence. They told her that plants wanted it to be that way, that they willingly and easily gave themselves to those who loved them. To those who respected their lives.
“To many humans — because we are not human, because we do not have a human heart or the human five senses — we are seen as nothing,” chorused the male and female voices. “Most humans do not see us as we are. We see without eyes. Better than humans see with them. We are alive. We do everything you do. We breathe, we digest, we reproduce. We carry nutrients through our bodies through veins much like yours. And we move. Much more slowly than you, but yes, we move.”
They told her they did not have mouths yet could speak to those who would listen, but they could not be heard with human ears. They could be heard only through the human heart.
“Anyone can hear us, if they love us enough,” the flowers said. “You love us. You will help us. You are special, Zera. Your family has always been there for us.”
They whispered of a world ready to be explored by anyone who would simply watch, and love. They whispered the names of scientists, artists, poets, and philosophers. The names floated gently in Zera’s mind, like the soft floating umbrellas of dandelion seeds: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Henry David Thoreau, George Washington Carver, Luther Burbank, Emily Dickinson, Rachel Carson, Georgia O’Keeffe. They spoke of others with the name of Green.
Zera wanted, more than anything, to be one of those who knew, who loved, and who helped make things better.
“We are one,” the female faces spoke. “Together, we can turn Earth back into a beautiful garden.”
“Remember, Zera, our treasures cannot be revealed to those who are not in sympathy with us,” said the male faces. “You will help us by doing three things: Watch. Love. And accept your power.”
* * * * *
Muffled words echoed outside her head, “Wake up, Zera. Wake up.”
With great effort, Zera lifted her eyelids. The day’s first sunlight streamed through the blowsy curtains. It shone on the edge of her bed and on the cabbage rose wallpaper around her. She was in bed. The dream images flickered in her mind, still vivid. Poor Uncle Theodore. She remembered all of it. Through the open window a gentle breeze caressed her face and bare arms.
“Get up, Zera.”
Her eyes closed again, tightly. I can’t get up. I’m tired. Please, let me sleep. Let me rest. What a dream, what a nightmare! Pikes Peak, or Tava, as Grandma Wren called it, came back to her with all the events of last night. It was all real. Today was the day she would have to do something; she would have to face her destiny as Grandma Wren had said. Her feet felt cold under the covers, when they should have been warm. She touched her hair and it felt hot, as if she’d been in the sun. She shivered from the strangeness of it.
“Zera. Get up. Come over here,” said the soft but persistent voice.
Zera’s eyes sprang open. That’s not Nonny. I’m awake, now — aren’t I? Her head a jumble of words and images, Zera sat up. No one was in the attic bedroom.
The voice again said, “Zera,” and her gaze followed it to the table near the chairs. There, glowing from the sun’s rays, was her antique glass terrarium. The birthday present from Nonny that housed her most prized plant, Sunny the Venus flytrap. The voice came from behind the thick glass, from the plant.
Zera got out of bed and inched toward the terrarium. The lingering doubt that it couldn’t possibly be Sunny vanished. The plant waved her tiny traps about, opening and closing them, while the faint words, “Zera, yes, here,” echoed in the air.
She recoiled, but her eyes were glued to the terrarium. “Sunny?” I must be dreaming still. I have to be. Zera rubbed her eyes, looked around the room. On a chair next to the bed were the clothes she wore to Tava last night.
“Open the top,” Sunny said, her largest trap forming a primitive mouth that spoke to her.
Oh, man, this is real. Zera got down on her knees and swung open the lid. Moisture escaped the terrarium and a boggy, peat moss smell drifted up.
“Ah, that’s better,” said the flytrap. “It gets hot in the mornings. And now you can hear me better.”
Zera, eyes wide, peered down into the terrarium. The beautiful plant, light green with watermelon-pink traps, stretched amid the moss, was talking.
“Hello to you, too,” Sunny said. “Isn’t it wonderful? We’re communicating in sound-words. The first step. I’m so pleased.”
“I’m not asleep?”
The flytrap emitted a tinkling laugh. “No, you’re not!”
Everything that had occurred the night before, from Tava to the dream/nightmare returned. Theodore was in trouble. They were all in trouble. Confusion gripped Zera; everything she had ever known about the physical world was being turned upside down. There was so much she didn’t know, what was happening, what was expected of her, what they were up against. Yet, with all her heart, she knew what to do even as she resisted it. The words echoed in her mind: Watch, and love. Accept your power.
Gazing at the Venus flytrap, Zera’s anxiety lessened. It is wonderful, if you think about it, being able to communicate. It’s as if I could suddenly hold a conversation with Alice. The graceful figure before her swayed slightly, exhibiting a joyful enthusiasm. Zera remembered how tiny Sunny had been at her birthday, only about five inches tall with fifteen traps. Since then, she had doubled in size. The traps themselves were actually modified leaves, two oval, flat, fringed lobes hinged together like clam shells atop slender stalks. Zera had taken good care of Sunny, carefully monitoring her water, sunlight, and food. The attention showed. She’d grown radiant and strong.
As these thoughts of admiration went out to her plant friend, Sunny said, “Thank you.”
Zera’s mouth dropped open. “But I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t have to, I received it nonetheless. You’ll get the hang of it. We can hear you without sound-words, just as you can hear us. As you did in your dream. But, you know, it really wasn’t a dream at all.”
Zera stared at the plant, thought of her cold feet (icy cold, from the brook) and her warm hair when she woke up. Her forehead wrinkled, and the laugh came again. “Don’t worry, you’ll get it. What I mean is sound-words get in the way, mostly. The important thing is awareness. Let me try this time. See what you can hear, without your ears.”
A few moments passed. Zera frowned. “I’m not getting anything,”
“Clear your mind. Relax. It’s easy. It’s the easiest thing imaginable.”
Zera closed her eyes and slowly, consciously, relaxed. First her face, then neck, then shoulders. She remembered how her mom practiced yoga with Hattie. Zera had taken a few mother-daughter classes. The yogi-instructor would tell them, at the end of the session, as they lay quietly on their backs, palms toward the ceiling, to “quiet your mind, listen to your breathing.” Zera relaxed her body now, her hands, her wrists, her arms. She breathed consciously. As soon as she had taken half a dozen deep, calming breaths, she stopped. Her eyes flew open. She blurted, “It’s something about California?”
“Quiet,” admonished Sunny, her traps tilted up toward Zera. “When you interrupt, it interferes. Keep listening.”
“Okay,” Zera said. She closed her eyes again, determined to relax fully, to get it right. It took a full minute before she exclaimed, “I got it all! You sent that I must go to Theodore, to the laboratory, in ‘the place called California.’ ”
“Yes!” Sunny raised her leaves high, triumphant.
Zera smiled, even though the prospect of going to California, to a laboratory, frightened her. She thought she’d try communicating something now without sound to Sunny. What will I do there? she asked.
Do what you just did now. Listen. It will come to you, when it’s time.
I should get Nonny. Zera started to rise from her kneeling position.
No, Zera, you are going alone.
At the mention of going alone, Zera tensed. She couldn’t receive or send any more messages.
“Calm yourself, Zera,” Sunny said aloud. “You can do this.”
“I’m trying to, but it’s all so confusing. How do you know all this? How do you know about Theodore?”
“Our thoughts and feelings, like yours, travel through the atmosphere, like waves of heat, light, or sound. We also have something that’s very like your Internet; we can communicate through the mycelium, a fungal network of tiny, threadlike cells that extend throughout the Earth’s soil for billions of miles! Very quickly we find out about things that happen far away. But now, that travel is difficult. Many barriers stand in our way — not just physical, but chemical. So many poisons cause our transmissions to slow, many times to fail.”
Through their connection, Zera could feel Sunny’s sadness. It was exactly the way she’d felt in the dream with the other plants.
“We’re also good at traveling, moving physically, and there is one way we love to travel the most,” Sunny said. “Riding the sky.”
“Riding the sky?”
“Yes, Zera. Seeds are great travelers, you know, but there are some who are the best travelers of all. You even breathe them in, exhale them. They ride into and out of your body as well as on the winds. Pollen grains and spores. And that is how you shall travel to your uncle.”
“What?” Zera’s eyes widened. “I don’t understand. How could I?”
“You must accept that anything is possible. You must do three things: watch, love, and most importantly, accept your power. You are a Green — your people have been connected to us for centuries. To embrace this is to follow your destiny.
“Listen to me carefully. You will travel on a spore to California. And you will also remain here. For this to happen, you must accept the green power. When you reach Theodore, he will see you in your size again. There is nothing to fear. No harm will come to you. See the sphagnum peat moss below me, see the spore case?”
Zera’s head swam. “You are going too fast. Stay here? Go? Accept the power?”
“There is so little time, Zera. You must act. Now! Yes. You can access the powers of Nature, indeed, of the Cosmos, available to you if you accept this cause. If you help us. If you help yourself!”
Zera thought of the dead roses on the trellis. The wildfires all over Colorado. Other natural disasters. Her dead parents. Nature could hurt. Nature could kill.
“I don’t want these powers.”
“Zera, you have to trust. Trust me!”
An uneasiness filled Zera. As she looked at Sunny, she thought of what the Green Man and Green Woman said, and she realized something. I don’t trust them, but I trust Sunny. She remembered the terror on her uncle’s adult face, the joy on his face as a boy. He believed then; she could see it. Watch and love. Accept your power. I have to do this. I have to help Uncle Theodore.
“I’ll do it.”
“I am so thankful! It is an oath, Zera. You know that? You cannot go back.”
Her heart thudded again, but she said it, “Yes, I know.” She looked down. “I am not going in a nightgown, though.” She hurriedly got dressed.
“Come down here,” said Sunny. “Look inside.”
Zera got down on her knees, gripping the sides of the table. She peered through the side of the terrarium, at the moss Sunny grew in. “How can I see a spore? They’re microscopic.” She blinked and removed her hands from the table. Her palms had left wet marks. Oh great, sweaty palms. I’m freaking out. She thought about her uncle, about Nonny. I can’t be afraid. I have to do this. Theodore is in trouble. We’re all in trouble. I have to try. She breathed deeply, willed herself to relax. She thought of Nonny, Hattie, and Grandma Wren. She thought of her mother and father. Fear threatened to overwhelm her. No! she scolded herself. Breathe. Let it go. Think how Hattie and mom would love this, how they’d think it was the coolest adventure ever! She focused on the moss beneath the flytrap. Breathe deeply. Relax. Over and over, like a mantra, she began to repeat the words in her mind — Watch and love, accept your power. Watch and love, accept.
Yes! thought Sunny. Look.
The glass changed, became a magnifier. Everything became clear. She saw the spore case, urn-shaped and bright orange, almost neon orange. It was nestled at the bottom of lime-green and brown moss strands that now towered above it like a gigantic, caterpillar-hairy jungle. The urn’s surface was slightly pitted, like an orange.
Yes, you’re doing it! Sunny said. The words gave Zera courage. I can do this.
Of course you can, you are a Green. Now relaxed, Zera could hear her friend perfectly. That is the spore case, Zera, and inside are millions of spores. You are sitting atop one of them. You are unconscious of it at the moment, but you are there, with them. Can you see it?
Zera moved her face closer to the terrarium. Her nose barely touched the glass, and she felt the coolness of it. Under her nose the glass became foggy, but at eye level it was clear. Zera marveled at the urn’s perfect shape. It’s so tiny, so vividly orange. A seamless rim ran around the top, a lid. She could see how the urn bulged, how full it was. It was so thin and fine, yet she could tell it was hard, almost impenetrable. So strong, so light. So pretty. I am inside that case, she thought.
Zera surrendered and found herself inside the spore case. She saw everything clearly; the chamber was orange and vast, like the interior of an immense room. In the next instant she became conscious of sitting cross-legged atop a single spore.
She looked down at her body, her hands. I am seeing myself, she thought, but am I really here? She wore her cut-off jeans, sneakers, a T-shirt. I AM here. How is this happening? Something strong within her told her not to ask, just to be. She was here and outside the terrarium. She didn’t know how, but she knew this to be true. Somehow she understood, at the deepest, most primal level of existence, how something could be, and could not be, at the very same moment. How form, size, mass, energy — all she had ever known of the physical world — both existed as she thought it did, and didn’t. And it was all right. She did not feel frightened anymore; on the contrary, she felt more at peace than she could ever remember.
She looked at the spore. It was triangular, smooth and round-edged. She saw that, where she sat, a deep scar-like shape crossed the spore’s surface in the form of three skinny letter-Cs, each meeting with the others, touching on two ends, with the three curves forming another triangular pattern in the center. Surrounding her as far as she could see were other spores, like hers, yet different, each a perfect individual, like snowflakes. She remembered how her mother had told her there were no duplicates in the universe — how each blade of grass, each seed, each tree, each human, was a one-of-a-kind miracle. Zera saw that now.
Explosively the lid-like top of the urn shed itself. Zera, attached to her spore and along with the millions upon millions of others, shot up into the air.
A thrill like none she had ever experienced swept through her.
A breeze blew through the room and carried them all away through the open bedroom window. She did not see herself lying unconscious on the floor.
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.
<<–Chapter 22 | Chapter 24–>>