…in which Willy has quarreled with Jake and decides to return to civilization–as soon as she can find her way out of the Smokies…

Professor Beechum pressed his hands together. Don’t do it my girl; you did it anyway, he murmured aloud. Did you forget what you learned when we staged the desert survival experiment? You broke the rules and refused to stay with the majority of your team when they decided to take the compass, gun, and bottle of vodka and find help. Still, you and the injured passenger were the only ones to survive the game by staying behind. Your greatest strength during that classroom exercise was your curiosity and stubbornness. It certainly wasn’t your willingness to cooperate with or try to persuade your teammates to stay at the crash site. And you knew the desert because you lived in Tucson for a few years with your parents.

But what do you really know about dense, old growth forests and treacherous mountain ranges? We hiked together exactly one time and you were winded before we’d covered the first mile. Most curious.


Sages say there are four known dimensions and four paths to enlightenment: Religion, Philosophy, Science, and Art.  There’s also a fifth path, a horizontal line that wanders from the cradle of civilization, traverses Europe, snakes across the Atlantic Ocean and meanders down the East Coast, then curves and runs horizontally across America and under the Pacific until it meets itself again. This line threads through the Great Smoky Mountains. Of course, Native Americans always knew this.

            Copious research has been conducted as to whether this nearly invisible path is composed of ley or dragon lines, or electro-magnetic fields of energy. At the point where two lines intersect, the ancients erected sacred sites. They tapped into power and energy pulsing deep in the earth, and erected stone circles, cairns, dolmans, and temples to harness and manipulate its untapped forces. Sophisticated tests have revealed there are indeed powerful electro-magnetic fields present at many of these locations. Cell phones become disrupted and some people become disoriented. It’s thought brain waves can be altered and lowered, and long closed gateways can be opened. Mavericks pioneering tomorrow’s medical breakthroughs speculate this energy can heal or destroy, prolong life, or allow one to experience the past and the future simultaneously. Nainie and I talked about another set of lines, which links earth to sky and other dimensions, while delivering a different kind of energy. 

            At first, I walked briskly, breathing in the heady, glorious scents of cedar, pine, and maple. I focused on and marveled at the majesty of trees, rather than the pack horse burden I was hefting up and down hills. I remembered that to the Celts, from whom I’m descended, the word “tree” meant learning, which had been kept from many people for many centuries. What knowledge might these trees reveal? After a few ungraceful pratfalls, I slowed my pace. Had I fallen under a drus or dryad’s spell?

            Many of nainie’s delightful tales included daring feats performed by Druids, a caste of male and female adepts. They bore similarities to the Hindu Brahmins in their intellectual ordering of early laws, and their treatment of language. Scholars found similarities between the Hindu Vedas and ancient Ireland and Wales. In fact, the word Veda (or Vid) in Sanskrit means knowledge (Dru-vid). Or was the word “Druid” derived from the Greek “drus” meaning oak or a male dryad? The oak was their most sacred tree, and a fungus that grew primarily on apple and oak trees, mistletoe, was cut with a special ceremonial sickle and used in Druid rites and festivals. Some thought Druids ate acorns and used ground acorn powder, dissolved in liquid and inbibed, to predict the future. Rowan and hazel trees were also important to them. Trees were a means of ensuring survival, providing food, fuel, and shelter.

Romans intimated the Druids kept knowledge of a recorded alphabet from their people, and used this secret alphabet (whose letters also represent types of trees) to record formulas, medical knowledge, songs, and astrological information. Whoever possessed a knowledge of words derived from this alphabet possessed power. Did the Druids, like many people before and since, grew ruthless and reckless in their lust for power? Nainie said royal and religious groups maligned the Druids, and their real history was much different. They were commanding—feared by many, and never revealed their secrets.

            I tried to imagine their influence. Druid Ovates, from whom nainie claimed we were descended, could literally ‘rhyme people to death.’ They wrote black verses about their enemies on pieces of bark. When these verses were read aloud, their enemy’s skin festered, burst open, and refused to heal. Eventually those who offended the Druids died from blood loss or infection.  These curses, she said, could only be invoked if a person had broken a law or intended harm first. It was rumored Druids had, over the passing centuries, turned from offering floral and food tributes to sacrificing their own race to dark, primordial forces. Nan reminded that the tellers of these distorted tales often harbored a past history full of the very crimes they accused the Druids of committing.

Plato thought the Druids were a bunch of wild, drunken nature worshipers. Socrates had no great affection for nature or for trees. He said there was nothing trees could teach us. I sighed aloud. I had to stop daydreaming. Hours had passed and I hadn’t found the logging road. My shoulders ached and my knees protested all the climbing. I decided to head in what I presumed was north. The sun was hiding again; the temperature was dropping. The insulated clothing and steady pace kept my body warm. My distracted mind didn’t realize the faint trails I was following were leading me deeper into the Smokies.

            The Druids would feel at home here. Though there are few records to prove much of anything about them, contemporaries of Caesar wrote Druids believed in a sort of immortality of the soul, and in reincarnation. I wondered how many Druid elders survived Romans that swore to annihilate all Druids because of their unexplainable powers? These Romans, horrified by the idea of Druids throwing people into wicker baskets and burning them over a bonfire, delighted in seeing their brave gladiators and captured slaves battle it out with wild animals or fight to the death amongst themselves while they cheered from choice seats.

            Clearly, the Druids were formidable foes. It was rumored they could shape shift and cast spells to protect or destroy others. When we’d been particularly naughty, nainie would look straight at us and whisper “sometimes red-headed people were sacrificed by Druid priests because their ashes could be used to work powerful magic.” She would add, she’d hate for such a fate to befall any of us.

            I wiped sweat from my forehead, readjusted my hat, and chuckled. My brother Wyatt, at age seven, was determined to remove the deep auburn highlights from his hair. He and his twin Theo painted his hair, eyebrows and forehead with blue ink. Weeks passed before its traces were eliminated. My parents thought it was a very stupid thing to do, and cautioned nainie against telling the boys more scary tales.

            When we next gathered under the willow tree, nainie told us about William Wallace, the brave Scotsman who defied the English, and painted himself bright blue before battle. He fought to have Scot rights and lands restored. When he was captured, he was brutally tortured by the English. For months after, Wallace was my brother’s hero. The story had a different effect on me—it made me fighting mad at the English, until nainie reminded me the human race was really one people, one family—with countless cousins. It was only the social customs and ideas people were taught that made us feel different.

            I continued my silent reverie, stumbling and cursing, venturing deeper into the Great Smoky Mountains, not always fully aware of the difficult terrain I maneuvered over, the dark eyes watching, or the growing density of the forest.

            I even imagined it’d be fabulous to hear someone else’s voice, even Jake’s. Ah, the magic of language! Egyptians thought early written words was ‘the speech of gods.’ Early Germanic tribes used a written runic system; the name derived from the German Raunen ‘to whisper.’ Runes were typically carved in stone, ornamental jewelry, wood, metal, battle garb, and swords. Runic symbols were said to have magical properties. The right combination of runes and magical preparation could bring the dead to life, or make a wish of longing come true.

            My fingers rummaged for a piece of hard candy, but instead found my Tarot deck: 78 cards—56 in the Minor Arcana, 22 in the Major Arcana. These gaily illustrated cards have been used to communicate between cultures, or between a person and the secrets locked within psyches, or to divine the future. It was a tool I found useful for problem solving, both personally and professionally.

            I entered a small clearing and paused to watch scattered geese form a precise V in in sky. My thoughts flew in directions that formed no letter, provided no insight except that bird entrails were once used for divination. Hebrew’s were prohibited from eating birds of prey . . . Ah, divine this, I thought. I’m so hungry I could eat an entire goose, feathers, talons, and all. There were some berries on bushes low to the ground in the middle of the clearing I hoped were edible. I ate several handfuls of the sweet fruit and rummaged in my vest pockets for my baggie of trail mix. I saved about a cups worth of fruit and decided the trail mix and berries, if they didn’t kill me, would be my dinner.

Early Hebrews thought their 22 letters, all consonants, came from a god, was magical, and could unlock the secret of life. A few historians alleged the Tarot and Hebrew alphabet was connected via a legend that presumed gypsies brought the original deck from India (minus the 22 Major Arcana cards) or Egypt. Others thought it originated in China in the 12th or 13th century.  Nainie thought the Tarot was created as a divination tool by sun worshiping Egyptians and was encoded with magical information, perhaps by Hermes Trismegistus, or unknown persons these Egyptians were descended from—such as the lost, misplaced Atlanteans.

***** ### *****

Professor Beechum put down the page he was reading and typed some words into Google. He shook his head and jotted a note in his book. Blackberries didn’t grow in late October in the higher elevations. Mulberries, elderberries, and blueberries were possible other edibles, with wild, hairy blueberries being the most likely to be found so late in the season. Was she hallucinating or not where she thought she was? How many miles had she wandered from the logging road?

            It didn’t surprise him she’d struck out on her own, or disagreed with her boyfriend. Her willingness to trust her instincts and apply reason and imagination in equal measures is what made her his most impressive student. The first year she served as his teaching assistant, he made the mistake of inviting her to dinner with an old colleague and friend, a visiting Neurobiology professor from Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He was older, married, and only teaching for one semester in the states. His student and his friend found each other equally fascinating and exasperating. Sparks flew and the inevitable happened.

            He was never sure about what happened between them. There’d been talk of her moving to Israel, but Willy made it clear she wouldn’t convert, or live there as his mistress. Had she discovered he was Mossad? She refused to talk about it and left the room when his name was mentioned. She would only say he turned out to be too much like her father. That made no sense. Willy’s dad, he recalled, was the CFO of a Fortune 500 company, as were her younger brothers. They were highly paid, pencil pushing financial consultants. His Israeli colleague was a Neurobiologist, world traveler and art lover, fluent in five languages, and an avid hiker. Few knew he was also a spy. The professor also never found out if he told her or she guessed he worked for Mossad.


The water in my canteen was half gone and I hadn’t found a stream or spring. What was that answer I used to give when someone asked if my cup was ½ full or ½ empty? Neither, it’s under development; it’s refillable! I’d taken several survival classes, and passed the Army’s Survival test, though the rest of my team didn’t. You had to stay positive, study the terrain, and be willing to consider performing outlandish actions. You had to keep thinking, so I resumed my reveries and hiking when I should have been considering backtracking.

Had the invention of the alphabet caused women to lose their dominant place in society and pushed them into 2,000+ years of 2nd class status? Did writing, a left-brain skill, herald the arrival of a new form of worship, with a male deity that demanded his written words be read and obeyed—and as a result the matriarchy was ignored and abandoned? When exactly did the Druids discover a written alphabet and systemize knowledge, record laws, and provide a means to classify, record, and analyze data? As I looked for signs regarding where I was, I wondered if a sense of direction was a right or left brained function? I doubted the Tarot cards nor the trees could or would point me towards the nearest town.

            As darkness started to envelop the mountains, I was forced to admit I was lost, without so much as a stale crouton to lead me out of these foreboding woods. Lost like a star in the daytime, lost in thought, lost like a wee mouse in a monster maze. But I wasn’t ready to panic. I was well equipped, educated, and resourceful. I just wasn’t getting out of here tonight.

            I indulged my woe is me mood, and mused about the many lost things in the world: poor little lambs, causes, flying Dutchman gold mines, lovers—all misplaced—vanished. My adventure was turning into a lost week. And what about lost knowledge? Were selective works from the Library of Alexandria encoded in early Tarot decks? Did adepts from earth’s four corners converge in what is now Morocco and create a complex set of symbols, borrowed in part from the Jewish Qabalah, to encode into handmade Tarot decks? They understood occult knowledge couldn’t be safely or accurately be orally transmitted. Only through symbols, keys, and meditation could esoteric knowledge be transferred. What I needed was to do was meditate and let a guiding symbol point me towards town. I may have climbed high enough to see the neon lights of a Tennessee town. I needed to climb a tree or scale some boulders.

I was stumbling frequently on hidden tree roots, bumping into saplings groping skyward, and feeling much less confident about my navigating skills. There were no road signs here. Did adepts add symbols to both sides of card decks? Were subtle symbols on the backs of cards keys to understanding symbols on the face side? Were there directional clues carved into these trees that I just wasn’t seeing?

            Wearily, I plopped down on a soft, mossy knoll with a rock slab ledge to consider my options. I took a sip of water, and poured some honey-roasted nuts, berries, and dried fruit into the palm of my hand. A dark shape lumbered from a copse of trees to my left. I held my breath. This form didn’t resemble a hero from nainie’s tales. It was heading towards me. The big black bear bellowed as it approached; its shambling gait reminded me of a giant, slobbering version of an English bulldog—from Hades. Its ears stuck straight up.

            Amid colliding thoughts of what a brief life it had been, and what a terrible death it was going to be, something else registered. As I sat there, frozen in place, I retrieved a memory of a Japanese story about a noble bear that had rescued a child after the mother abandoned it. Good bear thoughts; yes, push the good bear energy. I’d read a series of fascinating books by Jean Auel about a clan of bear worshiping humans. I slowed my breathing and cast my eyes downward. If the bear was going to eat me, it was because it was hungry, not because it was evil. I reasoned it had already sized me up and made its decision regarding my potential as an edible feast before it made its presence known.

            Perhaps I wasn’t seeing a bear at all; this was a totem or a ghostly messenger, sent by guides from the astral plane. In my daydreaming, I’d somehow managed to contact them. Or maybe this was a trained bear that had simply wandered off from a traveling circus. Yeah, right. What was that expression: and bears don’t shit in the woods.

            I exhaled a tiny puff of air, and slowly extended my hand and arm horizontally towards the bear. The nuts and dried fruit jiggled like popcorn in a hot skillet. The bear sniffed the food, most of which rolled from the palm of my hand to the moss carpeted ground. The bear snorted again and slowly circled round me. I remained as still as a Mount Rushmore president. Its head swung side to side; its nose roughly nudged my ear. I could smell the bear’s fish bait breath and beasty musk; its dark fur was more bristly than any man’s beard. I felt dampness on my cheek and wasn’t sure if it was my blood, or the bear’s saliva or nose snot. Did only dogs have wet noses? The rest of the food slid from my frozen hand onto the ground. I drew my legs up, wrapped arms round knees, and squeezed my eyes shut.

            To calm my racing heart, I tried to recall which of the ancient philosophers had tamed a wild bear. Yes, it was Pythagoras; he whispered in its ears. Actually, I suspected he’d sung the bear a lullaby, and luckily, the planets were in proper, harmonic alignment that particular day. Pythagoras was one of the first philosophers I’d studied; he created a mystical philosophy based on numbers, and connected these number to astrology, music, and magic. He believed the secret of man’s fate was locked in numbers. I suspect gamblers in Las Vegas and Atlantic City agreed with him. Is my ‘number’ up? I gulped and listened to the bear inhaling my dinner.

I mustn’t let it smell my unladylike fear sweat. Useless information about bears continued to rattle round my head while I searched for information that might actually help me. The goddess Artemis created a bear clan for girls. She taught them how to walk with a lumbering gait and make fun of boys as they passed. This theoretically helped them develop space and privacy and a sense of their own uniqueness. Merde, I could use some privacy right now. I opened one eye, and peeked at the bear. It was still munching the fruit and nuts. Then it just ambled away without glancing back.

            Only then did I touch my cheek. Despite the dark gloom, I knew the wetness on wasn’t blood. It was bear spit; it smelled like anchovies. I giggled uncontrollably for several minutes and wiped tears away. A lightness of spirit filled me. It was just a big old pooh-pooh bear, probably a male. I wished I could tell Jake what had just happened; perhaps I was beginning to understand why we were here. Telling would have to wait until tomorrow. I needed to find a place to safely spend the night. I needed to find a climbing tree.

            Bears—big deal; how good were they at climbing trees? I didn’t really want to find out. After 30 or 40 minutes of feeling my way around the darkening woods using a pen sized flashlight, moon glow, and a stick as probe, I found another small, semi cleared area surrounded by a dense grove of old trees and a hilly mound; it should provide ample cover. I considered digging a pit and building a fire, however, I didn’t know if one small fire would be enough to keep away predators or if I could keep it going all night. It might just attract critters. I had brought no real weapons, other than a Swiss Army Knife, my brain, and a few odds and ends. Nor was I sure I could find enough dry wood.

            Trees had served as a great refuge and source of comfort during my childhood. I was more agile than my brothers; I often hid from them amid the camouflage of oak leaves, spruce needles, and bright green and red apple trees. When they were sent to look for me, they’d shout, “Shimmy down, Willy be found.” What were they doing now? Both my brothers had gone into the family business, which was now a Fortune 500 company. Wyatt married a few years ago and he and his wife were expecting a child, according to my mother. Theo was next in line to manage the company when dads retired.         We barely spoke anymore—just a call to say happy birthday or why I wouldn’t be visiting over the holidays.

There was an ancient oak with a few broken low limb stubs to the right of the mound, and a large forked limb about ten feet above the ground. That might work. I leaned against the mound to analyze how I might best hoist myself and my gear up the tree. I could loop a length of rope over one of the thick limbs and tie the bulky backpack to an end of the rope and pull it up. I could also scavenge for a dozen or so long tree branches, hoist them up and create a platform of sorts that I’d need to secure with additional lengths of rope or twine.

My foot crunched on and broke some twigs beneath my feet, and the toe of my boot caught on some bent tree branches that seemed to be woven into the mossy mound. I pulled at several branches, then realized it was actually a crude doorway. I pulled back the faux door. Was this a faery mound like in nainie’s stories or a hunter’s hideaway? I waved my penlight inside and gasped.

There were several cots towards the back of the hollowed out dome. Up front there were crates neatly stacked and a rickety homemade table that held an oil lantern. I retrieved a match from a vest pocket and lit the lantern.  This was no faery fort. I felt like Goldilocks in the three bears hideaway. I spied a stack of plastic plates and silverware and two chipped ceramic mugs, which rested, alongside a small charcoal grill, atop a three foot long plank of wood supported by metal poles. The coals were still warm! I lifted the lid off a battered pot and sniffed. It would be ironic if the contents was porridge. I took a taste and erupted in laughter. That’s what it was. Using one of the plastic spoons, I dug into it. Thank you hunters! On top of another crate, there were quart size bottles labelled tonic water and orange soda. I opened one of the soda bottles and fizz rose over the top. I drank half the bottle without pausing, then belched and wiped my mouth.

I pulled a five dollar bill from my wallet and placed it on the counter. The hunters would return soon and lead me back to civilization. But right now, I needed sleep. I blew out the lantern, closed the makeshift door, and sank onto one of the cots. Sleep must have been instantaneous.

Sometime later the dreams began. I was a raw leather clad warrior—impervious to the elements. Clouds obscured the moon and the forest’s night sounds reverberated: I heard a screech owl, some sort of feral cat, and perhaps the bark of a wild dog. Small branches and damp leaves slapped against me as I ran through the forest. Was I in nainie’s Shebarra, a place where the old tales were still recited to children with their nightly ration of warm milk or cider? I had intended to visit the place where she grew up, but so far hadn’t. It was on my list.

            Nainie told me a story about a sugar loaf shaped hill north of Shebarra, rumored to be hollow and home to the Daione Sidhe, Irish fairies that fled the Emerald isle long ago because a race of giant men threatened them with iron weapons and tried to enslave them. Nainie claimed if you walked around the hill three times wilder shanks when the moon was full, you could gain entrance to their magical world. She said when the Irish and Welsh fled the isles some of the fay folk hitched a ride with them to America. The fay took up residence in America’s many vast wildernesses. Having learned their lesson in the isles, they stayed hidden from humans.

I dreamed of the Tuatha, the legendary race of wizards who revered Dannan, a goddess of uncertain origin. Did they lose or relinquish their powers and retreat underground, along with the Daione Sidhe? Nainie told a far different story. I wondered if the tiny beings floating in orbs in my dreams were wizards or faeries. There had no wings yet they could fly and were truly graceful beings. Nan said there were more Tuatha in American as there were in Ireland, Wales and England combined.

            That dream faded. Now I was in another woods, heavy with a clinging dampness, grey, ringed with mist. Two men, their backs and sides toward me, were talking and gesturing. One man grabs a long bladed knife from the other man’s sheath and stabs him in the chest. The man grabs his chest with one hand and the neck of the man who stabbed him with the other. He tears a corner of the assailant’s shirt pocket as he stumbles back, and sinks to the ground. The man with the knife pokes the other man and drags the body over to a fallen, rotting tree. He routes through the man’s clothing and removes several items.

My vision was obscured by the dense, swirling mist. I couldn’t see their faces or much detail. The moon shines brightly for an instant. The man use a yellow bandana to wipe blood from the knife and cuts the sheath from the fallen man’s belt. Then he wedges the body under the crumbling wood and kicks leaves to provide additional cover. Off to the right, behind tall, spindly pines, another set of eyes, red like an overexposed photo, watch the man walk away. I woke up abruptly, panting, grasping my own chest.

The dream was so vivid, I couldn’t get back to sleep. Was it a warning? A few minutes later, I heard an odd, high-pitched sound. My aching neck and sore muscles remind me I am lost in the Smoky Mountains, but safe inside this earthen mound. I heard rustling noises and more sounds that become voices. Then I see a yellowish light. Viewed through the twig and leaf door covering, the light reminded me of the gleaming eye of a huge cat. The hunters have returned and are dragging something heavy or bulky. Or had Jake come looking for me or sent a search party? Should I call out?

            I sit up and strain to view the bodies attached to the voices. I doubt that this is a search party. They would have been calling out my name.

            One of the voices shouts, “I should have buried the parts we didn’t carry back. They could find it; track us… That’s the last thing we need.”

            I bit my lip.

            A lower sounding voice said, “We fine; the varmints are filling their bellies. What they don’t eat or carry off, the first snow will cover. But you’re right—that kill was too close to the campground where they been butchering them fine trees. We far from there now—got enough venison for the winter after we smoke this one. Look here; we gonna eat this fine heart for breakfast. Here, hold my bow.”

            I gulped, feeling less like Goldilocks and more like the robber’s bride in one of the Grimm Bros grimmest tales. In the earliest version of the Goldilocks tale, the bears were described as civilized. They left their home so the porridge might cool off. That was reasonable, though faery tales and nursery rhymes marketed to children often contained coded political and esoteric messages. The message within the Goldilocks tale was the search to get it right. Goldilocks tries many things until she finds the bed that is just right. I’d have to make sure I got my introduction just right. Whose bed had I been sleeping on?

Based on their short conversation, I concluded they were local mountain men, sneaking around because they’d been poaching deer out of season perhaps. I assumed they had a deer—and weren’t cannibals. Or they could have a moonshine still somewhere nearby. That would be a nice surprise. What would Sun Tze do? Should I create a distraction, scurry out, and climb the oak tree I spotted earlier? There was plenty of coverage in the canopy of leaves and overhanging branches, unless you stood directly underneath.

            No, I had the element of surprise. I would introduce myself, thank them, and beg for help. After all, I’d survived Jake’s misogynistic attitude and a potential bear attack. I had a Phd in Philosophy and a Master’s in Applied Psychology. I could surely reason my way out of these woods. They sounded rational, in a relative kind of way.

            Silently, I whispered a charm nainie had taught me. It was as close as I would ever come to prayer. One of the men threw back the covering and set a lantern on the dirt floor. He saw me, made a sound like a startled child, and fell backwards. I waved a hello.

            The other man, a dark skinned guy a foot taller than the guy he helped to his feet, stared at me while waving a sizeable tree branch. “Say what?”  

“Surprise! You see, I got lost, and I accidently found your home. At first I thought it was a faery mound, like the ones…Wait, how rude of me.” I stood up and walked towards the men with my right arm extended. “I’m Wilhelmina Rhyderth—please call me Willy. I apologize for eating your porridge, but I was so hungry—kinda like Goldilocks. By the way, it was just right. Did you know the original Goldilocks was a fox, not a girl?” I threw them a tentative smile and tried to gage their reaction. Neither man seemed to want to shake my hand.

            The big man put down his tree branch and confronted me. “How’d you find this? Who’re you with?”

            Despite his rugged appearance, he smelt pleasantly of burning pine wood and mint. I was fairly sure I reeked with fear sweat. “I’m not with anyone. I got lost when I went off trail. I thought I was taking a short cut back to the logging road—where I left my car. I just need to be pointed in the right direction—in the morning that is. I’m just gonna go outside and climb a tree—and finish my nap. I apologize for intruding.” I wondered if I should mention to the men people would be looking for me?

            “So you went into these woods all by yourself? What the hell for? You one of them tree huggers?” The other man raised his eyebrows and smiled tentatively.

            “Not really. I’m a philosopher, a really tired one. I didn’t come here to do a Thoreau—you know—to ‘go into the woods to live deliberately.’ My getting lost wasn’t deliberate either—pure accident. What’s your name, if I may ask?”

            “She be right,” the big guy said. We’s all tired. It must be past dead of night. You can finish sleeping in that cot yonder. I’ll make do in the chair.” He pointed to a bunch of burlap bags arranged to form something that resembled a rustic bean bag chair. We’s all gonna talk come dawn. Now get ta sleep.”

            He made sense. Though I hadn’t a clue regarding who these men were, it was late, and I was exhausted. Before I drifted back to sleep, I checked an inner pocket of my vest to make sure the pepper spray was still there. In an outer pocket my hand wrapped around a Swiss Army knife.


            I felt my entire body warming, as if it was being heated by radiant moonlight. In dreams, we know a different concept of time, though we often lose the knowing upon awakening. We breath an average of 26,000 times daily, which is also the number of years it takes the sun to complete a full zodiac cycle. Our average life span is around 72 years, and contains the same amount of days as the number of our daily breaths. Coincidence or connectedness? I’d survived day two of whatever this was—adventure, immersion, or induction into the mystical magic of these mountains. I’d survived a bloodless, waterless baptism of sorts.

            A shimmery silver form detached from the moon. It had no discernable shape; it zoomed earthward. As it got closer, I could make out a face, with round, luminous animae eyes and a mouth that undulated, melting and reforming. It told me it was a soul that had left the peace of its home to guide me. It warned of danger, and bid me rest; my resources would be required to help bring another lost soul into the century beyond this one—into the elsewhere.

            I tried to form words to tell the orb I was the lost one—the one that needed help. But I lacked the ability to form words. The silvery form increased in brightness and size. Its next words seemed to reverberate inside my head—as if played by a strange, tinkling keyboard. Once there was a peculiar girl, untamable and unwavering, the shape intoned, who wished for fine, silken fairy hair and the ability to shapeshift to microscopic size and enter Annwn. Nightly, she left offerings of milk, with a pinch of ginger and nutmeg, under a certain willow tree  . . .