When I was out by myself in the mountains, I liked to think he was somewhere in the trees. I hiked up the canyons, over the ridge and under the pines and aspens to a place where an old cabin had been. It was only a stone chimney and foundation, all broken down. I tore out long grass for a bed, then stepped through the doorway, a gap in the stones with no walls on either side.
I could hear dogs barking, far away, when I closed my eyes. I heard the stream nearby, the wind in the leaves above. And I heard my name. Francine, Francine.
He stood in the doorway. Wearing his dark blue Cub Scout shirt, the patches on his pocket and his jeans with holes in the knees. Colville Young. He pretended to knock on the door, then stepped inside and stretched out next to me on the bed of grass. We were ten years old, eleven. He was shorter, and his arms were too long for his body, and his hair was almost white, even lighter than mine.
High above, the aspens' leaves slapped, the blue sky bright between them. I listened to Colville's breathing, trying to match mine to it. My shoulder felt his shoulder, even though we didn't touch. I turned my neck, his ear so close to my mouth. When I moved my fingers, down along my side, they touched his, and we both pulled away.
Eyes closed, we listened to the stream, its liquid sounds the voices of Undines, the nature spirits who served water. I imagined all the Elementals looking down at the two of us, on our bed of green grass. They were the servants of God and man in the planes of matter, which is where we were living, where they protected us. The Undines in the water, and the spirits that served the fire element, called Salamanders. Elementals of the earth were Gnomes. Those of the air, Sylphs.
The thoughts we had, out in nature, were actually the Elementals making their wishes seem like ours. We built tiny homes for them, filled with quartz crystal, in the little caves of the splintery cliffs. The Elementals were part of the reason our parents let us play alone out there. Our parents, they had so much to do, so many preparations to make. It was fortunate for everyone that we had spiritual protection.
What you are reading is the beginning of a letter. It is a letter to you, though I don't know when you'll be able to read it. It's also a letter to myself, to remind me of those things I might try to forget, like how it felt in those days when I was a girl, out in the mountains with Colville.
Colville and I followed deer paths, and we had our own paths, too. We walked side by side and then he went out in front with a stick, in case of rattlesnakes. As we came over the ridge, a dry wind slipped around us, and we started down the other side. The sky was wide and everywhere, full of things we could not see.
Sagebrush and cactus grew up the rock walls toward us. Far below, cars and trucks slid by on highway 89, back and forth to Yellowstone Park. The dark river ran along next to the highway.
When we forked over into another canyon I caught a glimpse of Mount Emigrant, far away, where the pattern of the dark trees and the white snow made a kind of seahorse. I always looked for that. When I saw it, I knew I was close to home.
Around us, gray metal doors cut into hillsides. White ventilation pipes hooked out of the ground. Down the slope I could see people loading all the supplies we'd need into half-buried boxcars and, further away, some adults atop a greenhouse, fighting with heavy plastic sheets that were blowing up and down. The rickety houses and trailers we passed were all painted shades of purple and blue.
Colville was talking about the Messenger's teachings on robots, and about space colonization, about the Mechanized Man, Atlantis and the Soviet Union. I couldn't keep up with his talk, and I didn't try. I watched the sky. I knew that Forcefields were drifting by, like floating minefields in the sea, that they could shift our moods and our energy so quickly. It made me feel vulnerable and also like I had to stay focused, to keep my energies in the right place, my attitude and intentions good all the time. That's what I was trying to do, what Colville was trying, what the Elementals were helping us with.
Excerpted from The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock. Copyright © 2013 by Peter Rock. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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