Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 27

From the kitchen table, Zera saw Drew and Bear on the back porch, taking off their black rain parkas. It had stopped raining.

“Find anything?” Lily asked as Drew opened the door, her voice rising above the rock and roll music playing on the radio.

Drew’s eyes darted from Lily to Zera and back again. “I was sure it was some kind of elaborate trap,” he said, “that somehow Void had figured out our plan and sent the girl to trick us. We’ve looked for an hour. There’s nothing out there, no trace of anyone or anything. And we would have known; those cameras I set up would have shown something.”

“Camera five showed something all right,” said Bear, standing behind Drew. He nodded at the large color monitor on the counter top. The screen was split into eighths, each section showing views of the road, the house, or property. “A girl appearing out of nowhere in a hollowed-out dead tree, just after it was struck by lightning. But Drew’s right. There’s nothing out there, nothing showing how she could have gotten there.”

He reached in his jeans pocket, pulled out some acorns, and plunked them on the table. “There were a lot of these around the base of the tree. An almost-dead tree. Doesn’t make sense.”

Lily picked one up and shrugged. “Maybe the winds blew them in? You guys need to sit down and hear this. Zera’s been telling some pretty fantastic stories.”                                 .

Zera stared at the men. Drew with his serious, square jaw and piercing blue eyes looked intimidating, as did Bear with his mighty heft. But from the moment they ran to her, to help lift her from the tree, she knew they were friends, not foes. Still, when they brought her in and she saw her uncle, his wrists bound, his panicked eyes searching hers, asking over and over if she was okay, she was furious. She started yelling at them all, but her uncle calmed her. He said it was okay; that he had done something terrible that these people were trying to fix. He said Zera could trust them, that they wouldn’t be harmed. Zera believed him and felt no fear.

Despite what Drew said, the two men sensed the same absence of threat from her. Drew’s fighting it. He won’t let himself trust me. She couldn’t explain it, how she could feel their thoughts. Lily and Bear’s positive energy toward her, Drew’s skepticism. The realization that she was tapping into something she didn’t understand didn’t frighten her, it only brought more confusion.

Is this ability a gift . . . from accepting power from the Green Man and Woman? There’s been so much that’s happened these last twenty-four hours, how can I even guess? At the tree, the men had only asked if she was okay before they rushed inside with her, left her with Lily, and went out again. Lily had briefly searched her. Then she got her a towel to dry off.

“Fantastic stories, you say?” Drew ran his fingers through his blond hair. “Maybe I ought to rig up a lie detector.”

Zera smiled at Drew, who tried not to return the smile and failed.

A physical energy, an excitement, stirred around Zera. As with the snakes, she heard the words clearly in her mind: Pick one of us up.

Zera glanced at the others. Their expressions said they hadn’t heard.

PICK ONE OF US UP. The tone demanded. Zera’s heart pounded faster in realization. The words came from the acorns!

She plucked one up and held it in her palm. The cap of the acorn popped off and rolled off her palm onto the table.

Drew took her wrist, saying, “What’s this?”

Zera closed her hand around the acorn. It cracked lengthwise and she felt a squirming. The acorn was sprouting. A thin white root slinked downward, out the bottom of Zera’s closed fist, as a stem pushed several inches from the top. Drew dropped his hand. Before their eyes, the stem produced five buds that grew and unfurled into leaves. She felt the life force slow. She opened her fist.

Drew said, “I felt it. I felt the energy.”

Bear picked up an acorn. “This can’t be.” He crushed it with his fingers. He examined the contents.

Drew leaned in. “Is it robotic? Something man-made?”

“Looks like an acorn,” said Bear.

Zera handed Bear the seedling and he examined it, tore a leaf, smelled it, tasted it. “It’s real, man.”

Without a word, Zera picked up from the table the tiny fragments of the other acorn, put them in her hand and closed it. She produced another seedling.

The Green Guerillas’ mouths dropped open.

“That’s one hell of a trick,” said Drew.

“I think we need to hear those stories,” said Bear.

The two men pulled up chairs and sat down.

Zera took a deep breath and started at the beginning, from the time when she first thought she heard the voice in her bedroom. She told them about the snakes and the spirit quest with Grandma Wren, Nonny, and Hattie. She told about the dream, and of that day’s journey across the Western United States. Drew’s mouth opened at times, as if to say something, but then it would close, as if he’d decided against it. Bear listened raptly, a huge smile spreading across his strong features. Several times he laughed out loud, a velvety belly-laugh. Once was while Zera told about the Green family history and what Nonny had said about fairies.

“George Washington Carver said it was so,” Bear said, his eyebrows raised. “He mentioned the Greens. And he knew about the fairies, too.” While Zera was recounting the dream, Lily’s brown eyes shone teary-eyed at the part about Theodore, until Drew noticed. Then her expression hardened. She muttered, “Serves him right.”

Zera couldn’t get over the fact that this was the Lily, Theodore’s high school sweetheart; the one Hattie had talked about. She acted tough, like the guys, but Zera knew it was just an act. Zera could feel she was a friend. Zera found it amazing that her uncle ever dated someone so cool.

“It’s inexplicable,” Drew said after Zera finished. “If I hadn’t seen you with my own eyes, standing in the middle of that tree . . . if I hadn’t seen what the camera caught . . . I’m a man of science, but there’s a physical realm out there that science has not even touched. Still . . .” He rubbed his crew cut.

I can sense exactly what he’s feeling, Zera thought with a start. He doesn’t believe it but he’s not going to let me know how he feels. And he’s keeping an eye on me.

“It’s fantastic,” Lily agreed, “but I believe her. I’ve felt the presence she speaks of many times.”

“Her story is true,” said Bear. “I know it to the core of my being. My great-grandfather knew George Washington Carver, worked with him in the 1920s. Carver wrote of the Greens in his diary. My great-grandfather inherited that diary, and I read about them, and about Carver’s close relationship with them.”

“Your great-grandfather knew George Washington Carver?” Zera said.

“Sure did.” Bear grinned proudly. “I was named after him.”

Zera drew in her breath. It was one of the names said by the Green Man and Woman. She knew a little about Carver from her plant books. He was genius in the field of botany, known as the Wizard of Tuskegee and the Black Leonardo. She recalled reading that people like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford offered him a huge salary to work for them, but he turned them down. He said he wanted to keep his discoveries free for all people. He said that God provided the plants to help people, and God didn’t charge a fee, so why should he.

“Carver told my great-grandfather that flowers spoke to him, as did hundreds of other living things in the woods,” said Bear. “He was always talking with God and the plants. You can read it in his autobiography. My grandfather wrote that Carver said the Greens reminded him of the fairies. Said they had the connection. He called them ‘Helpers of Nature.’”

A pounding came from the door leading into the living room.

Lily sighed. “I’d almost forgotten.”

“Wow, she was quiet for a long time,” Drew said. “Did you tape her mouth again?”

“Yes.” Lily said, lowering her voice. “She wouldn’t stop screaming again after Zera was found. Tiffany was positive that Mr. Langston Void was right outside the door waiting to rescue her. ‘Langston, Langston, I’m in HERE,’ she kept yelling. I had to.”

To the closed door Lily trilled, “Be with you in a moment, Tiff.”

“So, Theodore doesn’t know anything about all this?” Bear asked Zera.

“No,” Lily answered for her. “He saw Zera for a minute but I didn’t want him in here with us. Then, as soon as she finished the story, you guys came back.”

Zera added, “He seems different now, really sad.”

“He was so upset when he saw you outside,” Lily said, “until he saw you were all right. He’s still in there, pacing.”

Zera frowned and looked down at the kitchen table. Her uncle had bent to look at her face. He’d appeared terrified, but when he saw she was okay, he started apologizing. He went away mumbling, “It’s all my fault.” Zera could feel his despair. She thought of Nonny, and was filled with worry. What is happening in Ute Springs? I’ve been gone all day. Hattie and Ben, everyone’s probably frantic, worrying about me.

She said to Lily, “If what I saw in the dream is what’s happening to him, he’s going through a lot.”

“Too bad we don’t have time to tell him what you’ve been through,” Lily said, slightly sarcastically. “I’d be interested in his reaction.”

“I know everyone’s got some good inside them,” Drew said, “but it’s almost hard to believe with him. Those creations . . .” He winced.

“What creations?” Zera sat up straighter. Her eyes searched Bear’s.

Bear nodded toward Lily, as if saying, “She’s the boss.”

“Go ahead, Bear, she should know,” Lily said.

Bear cleared his throat. “This isn’t easy. I guess I’ll just say it. Zera, Void Chemical Corporation, with your uncle’s help, has developed human/plant combinations. Eyes that grow like clusters of grapes on vines, trees that produce human hearts, and a lot more.” He hung his head. “It’s sick, man, really sick. That’s why your uncle and Tiffany are here. We . . .” He looked down, shame-faced. “We took them last night. We had to make them come with us. To help stop all this.”

The room seemed to spin as Zera’s mind tried to reconcile the thought of these people admitting they were kidnappers with the monstrous images Bear described. Heart trees? Eyes? “Oh, God,” she whispered, “So that’s what it’s all about, what the Green Woman spoke of.”

“I’m sorry, Zera,” Drew said. “Void Corporation is worldwide, and they’re into a lot of bad stuff, but they couldn’t have done this without Theodore. It’s seems your uncle’s gone to the dark side, the side of greed and arrogance.” He shook his head, looked down at his military-style watch. “It’s almost six. We’ve got to get going. What should we do with Zera?” he asked Lily. “Leave her here with Tiffany?”

“Man, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody,” Bear said.

“I have to go with you,” Zera said to Lily.

Lily, her forehead wrinkled, looked at Bear, then Drew. “I know it sounds crazy . . . but I think she should.”

“I agree,” said Bear, without hesitation.

“Are you two out of your minds?” Drew slammed his hand down on the table. “I’m against it. We could lose everything. This is going to up the risk considerably! We could lose our freedom. We could go to prison.”

Lily stood. “As you’ve said yourself many times, Drew, there are worse things to lose than your freedom. I feel strongly about this, that it’s the right thing to do. Still, I won’t let her go if you say no. We’re a team.”

They stood looking at each other. Zera sensed the turmoil in Drew, the fear of making a mistake, then the letting go of that fear. She felt something else — This is a person who loves taking chances. “What the hell,” he said, his mouth set. “We’re probably headed for jail anyway.”

Zera watched the Green Guerillas from the doorway. Lily removed the tape from Tiffany’s mouth and said, “We’re leaving.”

Theodore stood up from the sofa, but when Tiffany stood, Lily told her, “No. You’re staying.”

“What do you mean?”

“Theodore’s going. You’re staying. We’re going to feed you again, take you to the bathroom, but then we’re leaving you here for a while.”

“But,” Tiffany’s face contorted with anger, “you can’t leave me here!”

“I’m afraid so.”

“How long will you be gone?” Tiffany whined. “What’ll I do?”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something.” Lily gestured at a small stack of environmentally-themed magazines and books on a crate. “Maybe you can read something. If everything goes smoothly, we’ll come back for you tonight. So I advise you to hope for a good outcome on our part.”

“Oh!” Tiffany scowled. “I can’t believe you would do this to another woman. What kind of a monster are you?”

“Tiffany,” Lily began, “ — or maybe should I say Agnes? As in Agnes Roach from Washington High School?”

Tiffany’s face flushed. “What?”

“We’ve researched everything. We know about your identity change after high school. It’s none of my concern personally; I just want you to know that I know. Now I’ve explained the situation and you need to deal with it. It’s that simple. By the way, we’re both human and have two x chromosomes, but that is where the similarity seems to end.”

“What about her?” asked Tiffany, nodding toward Zera.

“She’s coming with us too.”

“Oh, I get it; even she’s in on it. One big, happy family.” Tiffany flashed a look of contempt at Zera, and Zera looked away, embarrassed for Tiffany, or Agnes. Agnes Roach. Zera stared at her shoes. Before the last few days, it would have been easy to laugh. Now, compassion blossomed in her. That explained why Tiffany acted so crazy about names, and about acceptance. More than that, Zera felt something strange coming from Tiffany. She could feel her fear, and that she, too, had a lot of sadness. Sadness?

“Well,” Tiffany continued, with a defiant toss of her hair, “I don’t know what kind of demented game this is, but you’re not going to get away with it.” She glared at each of them. “None of you. That I do know.”

She plopped back down on the sofa with an “I am going to win” smile. It’s all fake, thought Zera. She’s the unhappiest one here.

Without a word to Tiffany, Theodore left the room. Zera noticed that as he brushed by Lily, they had a reaction to each other, undetected by the others. Lily drew away, avoiding eye contact, and Theodore looked flustered. I felt it, thought Zera. A charge filled the space between them.

She didn’t have time to ponder it. Bear put a hand on Theodore’s shoulder and directed him out the back door, then into the van. Zera followed. A few minutes later, after tending to Tiffany’s needs and securing the house, Lily and Drew joined them.

As they headed down the bumpy gravel road, Bear sat cross-legged in the back of the van with Zera and Theodore. Shaking his mane of dreadlocked hair, he said, “Theo, in spite of everything, I feel for you, man. A woman like that. Un-believable.”

From the driver’s seat, Drew needled, “You know the saying, ‘Behind every good man . . .’”

“I care about her,” said Theodore. “She’s a good person.”

Zera thought about Agnes Roach. She imagined a different Tiffany, young and vulnerable. She admired her uncle for sticking up for her.

Theodore gazed out the dirty van window. He’d asked Zera if she was okay when he saw her again, and she felt his concern, but then his eyes went vacant, as if he were somewhere else.

Lily, from the front passenger seat, turned to Bear and said, “You need to get a blindfold on him.”

An hour later Zera watched out the dirty window as the van crawled down a quiet street in a decayed section of Los Angeles. To her surprise, she had fallen asleep and had awakened to find her uncle, his blindfold now off, with Bear sitting beside him.

Bear asked Zera, “Did you have a nice nap?”

Zera nodded.

Before falling asleep, she had been worrying about all of them. Not only about herself and her uncle, but about Tiffany, and her grandmother — how Nonny was taking her disappearance back home. She knew the Green Guerillas were going to be in trouble with the police, big trouble, no matter what happened next. She strongly sensed that they knew they would be caught and would have to answer for the crimes they had committed, were committing, and those they were surely about to commit.

The van turned down a trash-strewn alley and about midway along stopped behind a small brown house.

Once inside, Zera, Theodore, and the Green Guerrillas shared a dinner of organic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with almond milk, eaten in nervous silence. Zera looked around the dining room, noting that there were no pictures on the walls, no rug on the wood floor, just the bare necessities — an old table, a few chairs, a beat-up plaid couch. It’s just a place to meet, refuel, and then carry out whatever it is they do.

Watching Theodore eat, Zera sensed something about her uncle she couldn’t quite pinpoint. He was obviously miserable, every pore of his being screamed that, but he also seemed changed; exactly how, she wasn’t sure. The only things he’d said to her were “Are you all right?” and “I’m sorry.” He hadn’t asked a single question about how she got there. He looked older, and yet he was dressed casually, in jeans and a white T-shirt, a combination she’d rarely seen him in. She thought about the boy in the dream, about how Theodore had once been happy. She wondered if any trace of that boy still existed.

After dinner, Lily stood up and announced to Bear and Drew, “I’m going to change. We’ve got fifteen minutes.”

Drew nudged Theodore. “You’re changing too. Let’s go.”

Theodore shrugged, stood up.

“Wait,” said Bear. “Something’s been bothering me. Give me one minute.” Bear went to the adjoining kitchen, pulled out an old, wrinkled potato from a bin near the refrigerator and cut it into fourths. He gave the pieces to Theodore. “Here, man, rub these pieces on your hands. I’ll bury them.” Bear winked at Drew. “Sorry, I guess it’s the doctoring instinct. Just can’t stand seeing him suffer. Plus, it’s a full moon tonight. Perfect timing.” Expressionless, Theodore did as he was told. Bear went out the back door with the potatoes and a big metal spoon he had taken from a drawer.

Drew just shook his head and muttered, “Hocus frickin’ pocus.”

Drew led Theodore out of the dining room, down a hall, and into another room. Through the closed door, Zera heard him bark orders. “Clean up. Put on the suit. Be quick about it.”

Everyone met in the living room. Zera did a double take when Lily walked in. She now wore a prim gray skirt and jacket with a white shirt and black shoes. Her hair was covered with a shoulder-length brown wig in a conservative hairstyle. Small pearl earrings replaced the dangling leaf ones, and she held a briefcase. She wore red lipstick. She looked like a completely different person. Her outfit matched Theodore’s; they looked like high-level office managers.

Theodore stared into Lily’s eyes.

“So, do you recognize me this time?” Lily asked.

“You, you were the nurse at the lab?”

“Yep, that was me — in a fat suit. We were figuring out a way to break into the lab on our own — before you came along and made it easier for us.”

“Then you should know something about my reaction . . . to those experiments.”

Lily turned away.

Zera felt the growing apprehension they all shared. Strangely enough, she felt no fear and no butterflies.

Lights from a vehicle entering the driveway flashed into the darkening room.

“It’s show time,” said Bear.

Theodore’s startled expression at the sight of the Void Corporation limousine did not go unnoticed. He hesitated in approaching it.

Bear gave him a nudge. “Man up and move it, Theo.”

Lily opened the limo’s door and in the light they saw the driver, slightly built, graying, dark eyes. When he got out of the car and came around, Zera noticed he was not much bigger than she was.

The driver greeted them all, and then locked eyes with Theodore. “Hello, Mr. Green.”

“You’re . . . you’re Langston’s driver,” Theodore said.

“I’m Jerry. But all you know me by is ‘Driver.’”

Remembering how he struggled, and failed, to remember his name just a day earlier, Theodore couldn’t look him in the eyes.

“Is Void taken care of?” Lily asked Jerry.

Jerry nodded. Noticing Zera, it was his turn to be startled. “What’s she doing here?”

“I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow morning, over breakfast, when this is over.”

Jerry nodded again, accepting Lily’s statement without another word. Drew just shook his head.

Lily was the last to get in. Theodore and Bear sat on one side; Lily, Drew, and Zera faced them. Through the dark-tinted windows Zera watched the house recede from view.

Lily switched on a light. She looked over at Theodore, and her eyes narrowed. “This is the plan, Ted. Listen up. We’re going to VCC headquarters, and then taking the helicopter to the Research and Development Facility.” She gave him a moment to take that in. She continued, slowly, as if she were talking to someone who might have problems following instructions. “You and I, once we get to company headquarters, are going to go through the front doors, to the guard station. You will tell the guards at the front desk how I, Jenny Muldoon, was your assistant at Biotech, and you just hired me today. You’ll tell them we’re going upstairs to your office to get some paperwork. You’ll have to sign in, etc., but don’t worry; those guards are not going to dare question anything you do. You’re the new president.”

“We’ll hang out in your office for a few minutes while the tapes are being set up. Zera, you’ll go with Bear and Drew. When we’re finished, we’ll meet you at the helicopter.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea for Zera to come?” Theodore said. “Isn’t this going to be dangerous? Do you really want to risk harming a child?”

“I’m not a child, Uncle Theodore,” Zera said. “It’s okay. I’m supposed to go.”

“What?” Theodore rubbed the back of one hand. “I don’t even know what you’re doing here, how you got here . . . that tree.” His voice took on a faraway quality, and he looked out the window again. The scenery had changed as they neared downtown. Strip malls, lights, heavy traffic.

“Don’t worry,” Zera said. “There’s no time to explain now, but,” she lowered her voice, “I saw your dream.”

Theodore jolted. He met Zera’s gaze and for the first time that afternoon he was fully there, he didn’t seem to be straddling two worlds, the world of living-in-the-now overshadowed by the world of his private nightmares.

“I saw it,” said Zera. “The meadow with the tree, the plants. I saw you when you were young.”

Theodore’s eyes widened behind his glasses, and she felt his disbelief, worry, a tiny bit of gratitude that someone may have witnessed his suffering and may actually know the terror he’d been through. “But . . . but, that’s impossible, Zera.”

“It’s not,” Zera’s voice remained low. “I was there too.” She looked around at the others, who were absorbed in their conversation. “I know I’m supposed to be here. Nonny told me some amazing things about our family, the Green family. We’re supposed to be protectors of the Green World, Uncle Theodore.”

“What?” There was something deeper than disbelief coming from her uncle. Zera could feel the word “protector” turn over in his mind. A glimmer of something akin to remembrance.

Drew was listening in. “Some protector,” he spat the words. “God help us all.”

Lily tapped Theodore on the knee as he stared at Zera. “All I have to say to you is, don’t mess this up. Don’t try anything. Because if you do, your little Tiffany may be out in that farmhouse for a long time.”

“Now,” said Lily, “We’re going to go over it again. What’s my name?”

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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