“I will do my best to explain all the events that led up to my arrival on the “Isle of Appleshire” a few years ago, as it is becoming a very lengthy story, but I can tell you that this rare and enchanted island is one of my most extraordinary discoveries. In the very first days of exploring and meeting many unusual inhabitants, I found myself involved in a dangerous and arduous adventure.”
“The Light of Black Lake”
Arrival - Day One: October 05
“I woke with the sound of the ocean’s heart beat pounding in my head and coughing seawater from my aching lungs onto a white sandy beach. Dazed and exhausted I had no idea where I was. My last memory was being on a small sailing vessel bound for a coastal port when the blue sky seemed to be swallowed up by a mass of dark clouds. Bolts of blinding light flashed through the raging wind and towering waves hammered at the deck, pounding me into darkness.”
As her battered body slowly rose from the hot dry sand, she searched the horizon for a glimpse of her boat but the ocean gave no hint of arrival.
There was a magnificent coastline of deserted beach and rocky coves stretching for miles, to the north and south and about fifty feet behind her was a dense wall of brush standing watch over a primeval forest that caused a shiver of apprehension to rush through her. To the south, she began to see tall shapes, rising from the morning mist, perched on high cliffs at the ocean’s edge. “Those look like buildings, maybe I can find some help,” she muttered to herself. She did not want to venture inland, so gathering what little strength she could find, she headed toward a hopeful rescue.
It wasn’t long before she began to realize that this beach was unlike any other. It yielded a large number of great shells and odd lush plants that she had never seen before. Being a collector of the curious, she could not resist the urge to gather a few exceptionally good examples.
Suddenly she noticed a dark shape wedged between the rocks and she couldn’t believe her eyes, yes, it was her wooden trunk from her boat. It felt as though she had found an old lost friend, “All right, some supplies,” she cheered.
It took all her strength to drag the heavy trunk away from the advancing tide to some heavy brush at the edge of the thick forest. She turned the padlock dial until its familiar click and quickly opened its heavy lid to reveal all of her most essential belongings and even a small amount of dry food. After a small snack of nuts and fruit, she continued to rummage through the chest to find any items that she might need until her rescue, beginning with her old leather pack. She filled the pack with bits of remaining food, extra clothing, an old pocket knife that had belonged to her dad, a box of matches, an empty metal flask, and her grandfather’s magnifying glass (for sentimental reasons). In the bottom of the trunk she found a cloth bundle that contained several pencils and her leather bound book titled: Daily Journal – Sydney Star and was instantly swept away to visions of home, her writing and of course her art. At that moment, she decided to look at her situation as an opportunity to get fresh ideas and drawings for a new book. “This is just an inconvenience, someone will find me. I’m not hurt, just a little shook up, I’ll be fine.” She found this method of personal communication very helpful, often using it to boost her confidence or help solve day to day problems. So after her little pep-talk, she made a few sketches of shells and the surrounding area.
She had no way of knowing how long she walked before she found a curved pier of large rocks. They looked warm and inviting, a perfect place for a short rest so she moved out onto the edge and found a flat sunny spot to stretch out. Lying at the edge of the pier gave her a clear reflection of herself in a small tidal pool. Her wind blown blond hair looked dry and bleached and her blue eyes revealed a definite lack of sleep. She had never viewed herself as beautiful but more, what you might term, utilitarian. Her father had the same sad eyes, round nose and ears.
She had had visions of being a dancer or pianist but never felt that she possessed the physical attributes of either. She was not what you would call a tall, graceful gal and she did not have long delicate fingers, instead she was rather short and athletic, with strong, muscular hands; traits perfectly suited to her adventurous, artistic lifestyle. Her reflective thoughts carried her off into a deep sleep, filled with eerie images of dark mountains.
A splash of water on her face quickly shattered her dreams. “What the…” she shouted, noticing a movement in the water. Just below the surface was a large-eyed fish. “Oh, it’s just a fish….a fish with a shell on its back. Wait a minute, that can’t be right.” Feeling as though her head was spinning she thought, “fish don’t wear shells on their backs but, yes, it was definitely a shell. No, it can’t be, contradicting herself, that’s crazy”. Hoping to validate her vision she put a finger into the water and the image vanished.
“Geesh, what an imagination I have!” As she spoke her thoughts aloud, the water stirred and again the fish appeared. Its mouth moving and bubbles rising gave the distinct impression that it was talking.
“Gobi, Gobi, stop trying to talk to her,” called a small commanding voice from behind. “She won’t understand you!”
With a start, Sidney turned to see a very little girl that looked perfect in every way except that she was no more than twelve inches tall and hair like seaweed.
“I must be hallucinating,” thought Sydney, “This can’t be happening.”
The girl moved closer, “Don’t be afraid. We won’t hurt you.”
Sidney chuckled, at what she thought to be an absurd notion, and asked, “Are you for real?”
“Oh yes, are you?” she replied but did not wait for a response, “I am Selena and this is my friend Gobi. Who are you? I have not seen one like you for a very long time.”
Sidney was stunned. So many questions were swimming through her mind that she didn’t know where to begin. It seemed like an eternity before she was able to find her voice. “I have never met anyone like you either. Am I dreaming? Are there more like you? Where am I?” Selena casually climbed onto the rock beside Sidney and answered, “I do not stand and talk with my eyes open when I dream and yes, there are many like me,” and without a moments hesitation she continued, “You are on the Isle of Appleshire and that, pointing out to the shimmering blue water, is the Sea of Imagination. I have heard many stories about the tall ones, like you, that used to be here.”
“What do you mean, used to be here?” questioned Sydney.
“Well, the stories say, they faded away because they lost their imagination.”
“Oh, that’s ridiculous, exclaimed Sydney, I have never heard of people disappearing because they loose their imagination.”
“Maybe where you come from it is not so, but here the Sea protects our island from all those who cannot imagine its existence. Many of our inhabitants have lived in peace for a very long time, using the structures abandoned by the tall ones, as sanctuaries or homes but lately we hear rumors and whisperings saying that many have been taken over by evil beings and creatures who seek power.”
“Are you saying that there are no others like me on this island?” asked Sydney.
“I do not know for sure but you are the first I have seen. I will tell my village about our meeting and they will put it into the story records.”
“I am really not interested in stories and rumors right now. My boat capsized and stranded me on this beach. I need to get to a phone and find a way home. Is there someone in your village that can help? “
“What is this phone thing you ask for? Is it a tool or a boat?” inquired Selena.
“No, no….its what you use to…what am I saying. Forget the phone…. I need a boat. Can your people give me a boat?
“My village of Windpoole is the home of the Windsea people and it is far away on the north side of the Isle. We are a peaceful people who live in harmony with the ocean. We have many types of watercraft that we use for travel and collecting food but none, I fear, are large enough to hold you!” said Selena.
“Well, maybe if I came to your village they could help me.”
“It is much too far for you to travel by land. Only a few of my people, like me and Gobi, have come here. We are… she stopped speaking and turned to the water.
A fury of bubbles was erupting from the large fish and Selena spoke to him, with a hint of frustration in her voice. “Alright, I understand.” Then turning back to Sydney, “Gobi is saying that it is late and we must go.”
With a slight tone of panic in her voice, Sidney begged, “Oh no, not yet, I have so many questions.”
“I must listen to Gobi. He is a Spirit Fish, my companion and friend. I am one of the few who are chosen to live and work with them, to gather food and shells that our village uses for tools. I am sorry but I must leave right away or I will be late for my mothers’ birthday party. See, I made this for her,” and she quickly retrieved a marvelous little water dipper that was dangling from her belt.
“Alright, that’s really very nice, replied Sydney, but please, where should I go for help? Are those buildings on the cliffs, down there,” pointing to the shadowy structures to the south. “Would that be a good place to start?”
“Oh no, those are the KRAGS, a place that is forbidden.” Pointing to the North, away from the water, she said,“Go that way; along the edge of the trees and you will find a path through Korwood Forest, to the village of Earthgate. There you will find the Beginners, they are the first of the isle, the elders who know the past, present and future of Appleshire. They will have knowledge of your story and the answers to your questions, but take heed…. Korwood Forest is home to many, not just the Beginners”, mounting the shell saddle on Gobi’s back, she continued, “but do not wander off the path as you will certainly get lost” and without another word they sped away.
Sydney stood in silent thought, “Did that really happen? Then she looked at the journal in her hand and saw the small sketch of a little girl.
Daylight was now fading, to late to find a path, so she decided it would be best to spend her first night on the beach and leave bright and early the next morning for the village.
Korwood Forest (Morning: Day Two)
A loud shrieking “caw” pierced Sidney’s quiet slumber. She awoke to see a huge black raven sitting a mere foot away staring at her with an odd, human-like twinkle in its’ eye. With closer observation, she noticed that there was definitely something out of the ordinary about this bird. It had large glowing red eyes and long manicured talons, sharpened to razor points and, if that wasn’t enough, there were luminous gold markings on its back. The minutes ticked by until suddenly it turned, spread its massive wings, and gave a loud “CAW”, as it flew away. Sensing the urgency to follow, she gathered her belongings and headed off in the ravens direction.
A short time later, she found it perched on a high bare branch above a very small arched opening in the forest hedge. “This must be the path to Earthgate, she thought, the one that Selena was talking about. Instinctively, she spoke aloud to her dark messenger, “O.K., I’m here. Let’s go!” and as though the bird could understand, it took flight again, winging its’ way into the darkness and Sidney followed.
The thick forest canopy, with its cool, moist air, was a refreshing change from the previous day. After what she estimated was at least an hour she paused, her ears buzzing with an infinite number of unearthly sounds; and caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. She was sure that someone or something was following her, watching from a distance, but everything was still. A few moments later a shadow was moving just ahead and to the left. “Who is there?” she shouted, but there was no response. Her heart raced, fear and doubt was filling her with images of dangerous animals and weird people, making her skin crawl. She told herself, “Settle down, you have not seen anything to create these feelings, you just have the jitters.”
She quickly turned, at the sound of a twig breaking, to catch a glimpse of, what she thought, was a small child. Moments later, there was a soft POP sound and a small figure was standing in front of her, scantly dressed in a piece of tattered lace, covering her chest, and a silky loincloth, tied with a bit of string, around her waist. Sydney was only given a spit second view before the figure began running in circles around her so fast, that only the echo of a tiny “Helloooo?” remained.
“What is going on here?” exclaimed Sydney as the small figure reappeared and then, trying to remain calm, asked, “Well now, how do you do that?”
It was like turning on a faucet. “My name is Twilla June, Who are you? What is your name? Where are you going? How long have you been here? Who sent you?”
“Slow down. I am Sydney, Sydney Star and I’m on my way to the village of Earthgate”, she waited but the little girl said nothing, so she tried again, “I am trying to get home, can you help?” but still no response. In fact, there was no indication that she was even interested in this line of questioning. There didn’t seem to be any logical explanation for her behavior but it was becoming obvious to Sidney that this child did not want, or even know how, to have a proper conversation, was very annoying and most likely a waste of time, after all, the day was progressing. “If I am going to find that village before dark, I need to get moving. I’ll just have to leave her here,” she mumbled to herself.
Twilla did not stay behind. She kept following Sydney, for a very long time, blurting out bits of senseless information along the way, until they came to a wide stream.
“At last, fresh water,” sighed Sydney.
She bent over to get a drink and sighed,"At last, fresh water" but Twilla jumped in front of her. Her arms extending outward, palm up in a halt position, firmly stating, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Startled and thinking that this was a very aggressive stance for a child, Sydney questioned, “Why? What’s wrong with you? I need water, move o…” Her words halted in the still air as a green mist began to rise from the ground, enveloping the child, swirling upward to the sky, with mounting speed. Sydney backed away in awe. She was so captivated by the graceful beauty of it that she could not seem to find her feet. “Running would be a good idea,” she thought, as she felt her body give a slight twitch but remained still.
The mist began to fade and her jaw dropped open as a new shape came into view. This thing was not old, it was ancient. Very tall and slender with long wispy arms and no apparent legs. The wrinkles of its skin were so deep and rough it looked like the bark of a tree and a faint odor of moss began to seep into Sydney’s nostrils as it spoke in a slow, commanding voice.
“The mist can change a tree to seed or a stone to delicate dust. They will not appear, as you to me; for the elementals do as they must. This is the law, living within the woods.”
Sydney was in complete shock. Her body swayed momentarily on rubbery legs before she fell onto her bottom with a thud, sputtering meaningless sounds of confusion. Shaking her head, trying to find her mind, she uttered, “O.K. lets try that again. What did you say?”
The old one continued, “I am the Wood Sprite of times long past. You are surprised to see that I am not as you assumed me to be. The mysteries of my forest can alter the future at last. If you take this journey, you will not remain the same. The spirits of this Isle are not to be deceived by unworthy travelers. Danger and treachery come to those who lack imagination but great rewards will come to those who succeed. It is now time for you to accept the path that is written or return to the place where you entered.”
“Hey there, declared Sydney, hang on a minute. I didn’t ask to be here. You might say that I just found myself on your beach without a paddle! I have no idea what you are talking about. What written path? What journey?
What Spirits? I’m not looking for danger or treachery either, for that matter and I happen to like who I am. Look, I just want to find a boat and get home. What kind of a place is this? Tiny people, riding on talking fish, children turning into old withered things that tell me I have to make a choice? Alright, choice made. I choose to go home.” Her voice rising in a resounding pitch, she turned from old Wood Sprite and demanded, “So get busy with your Spirits, if that’s what you do, and get me out of here!“ She was in over her head and she knew it.
She began to fill her flask and again the old one spoke, “I cannot direct the other Spirits of the woods and I know of no other way for you to leave this Isle without their aid. Oh, there may be another way, but I do not know of any. The ancients have predicted that when the dark takes the light there will be a stranger from a distant land who will come and show the way.”
Turning to the voice, Sydney noticed for the first time, a pair of dark green eyes. A deep, rich color that made her think she was lying under the shade of a large oak, on a bed of cool moist grass. A kind of calm was flowing through her, creating an odd sense of familiarity. “I know I am a stranger here but I am not the one you want. How can I show the way, when I know nothing about this place? I can’t even find a way out of these woods. Selena of Windpoole told me to find the Beginners. They would be able to help me.”
“Selena’s assumption may be correct,” replied the Wood Sprite, “but to get to Earthgate you must find your Spirit guide and accept the written path.”
This was definitely a frustrating situation for Sydney. “So let me get this straight, I have to accept this written path thing or go back home? But to get home, I have to go to the village and I can’t go to the village without a Spirit guide. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I will change, it is dangerous, treacherous and I would get rewarded, that is, if I live through it all. Is that about right?”
A blunt “yes”, was all she received from the old one.
“I don’t know why I should believe any of this,” stated Sydney. “I’ll tell you what, I am going to have a long deserved drink and a refreshing dip, and then find that village. Thanks for all your help, but no thanks.” She took a gulp of the cool water, expecting another warning, but the wood sprite had vanished.
to be continued.....
As the last of the dried sea salt dissolving from her aching body, Sydney felt a renewed sense of purpose. She maintained a strong commitment to her goal but regretfully wished that she had asked someone how long it would take to get to the village.
She stared at the road ahead; it looked much smaller and darker than before. She could see the arms of the huge knurly trees connecting in tangles high above and could hear them creak and moan as they reached out to each other. A shiver of doubt washed over her and she began questioning herself, “Are the trees larger than before? Where is that wood sprite thing? Why did she leave? I think I made her mad, and come to think of it, I haven’t seen that big black bird anywhere, I wonder where it flew off to. Why didn’t I ask more questions?”
The darkness was falling in on her and although it gave her a horrifying chill to think of spending even one night alone in these woods, she was failing to find an alternative choice. Selena’s last words echoed in her mind, “Do not wander off the path as you will certainly get lost.” She would have to be cautious, and definitely keep an eye on the road, but she had to find a safe place to sleep.
A short time later she located a cluster of shrubs surrounding a large tree. Making her way through the brush she saw a patch of tall green grass and spying a pile of leaves in the hollow of the tree, she whispered, “Yes, this is perfect.”
She was curling up in her make shift bed and praying for an uneventful night of sleep, when the blackness of the night engulfed her and the exhaustion of the day quickly wrapped her in a blanket of dreams. She was walking through mystical lands and places with a dark foreboding presence. Morphing shadows were often following her and every once in a while she could see large bird-like creatures and strange mechanical things flying overhead. She was floating past unknown objects, some lying in dark rooms covered with dust and some glowing in blue light under the water. There was a metal box with a key sitting next to a rock that sprouted wings and flew away when she tried to pick it up and then something fell from the sky.
“Ouch!” she cried, finding herself suddenly awake and rubbing her head. It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the morning light pouring into her little tree cove. A sunny meadow of painted flowers stretched out before her, like a colorful tablecloth.
Hey, what the heck? That hurt! Who’s doing that, she exclaimed as she searched for the source of pain.
“Oh gee, I’m sorry, came a voice from somewhere above her. I am not usually so clumsy but what can someone expect when they sleep inside a tree?”
She rubbed her head and found a small hard object that, on closer observation, appeared to be a walnut shell, “Who’s there?” asked Sydney, “What’s this?”
“I’ll be having that back, if you don’t mind. There’s a new arrival expected at silver grove that’ll be a needin’ that.”
Within a blink of an eye, a wee person, smaller than could possibly exist, was sitting on her thumb, pulling with all its might at the shell in her hand. “It’s really cute”, thought Sidney, “maybe it’s some kind of fairy?”
“Hey, can I please have my protector?”
“Oh, sorry”, replied Sydney, letting go of the little shell. She was humored by its bold attitude and nearly laughed out loud as the little thing toppled back when she released the shell. “Are you a fairy?” she asked.
“Is something wrong with you? Of course I’m not a fairy. You don’t see any wings, do ya?
Its rich brown skin glistened in the sun revealing a delicate face, a slightly turned up nose, rosy cheeks and amazing blue green eyes. It had tiny green leaves for ears and there were only four little fingers tightly holding on to its precious “protector”.
To be continued……