I wake, not knowing where I am. I can feel the cool earth beneath me, the dead foliage slippery as I struggle to sit up. The cool mist that drapes the forest floor kisses me as I rise. I’m assuming it’s a forest, for I cannot tell where I am from the quiet that renders any hints of space useless. I don’t remember how I got here, only that I was in middle of a conversation with Mr Rouge about tandem worlds. I think it was a discussion in the lecture theatre full of 100 other students. Now, I see no one around. Not even Mr Rouge.
I stand on my two feet and begin navigating through the floor. Big dark branches loom over me as sulking shadows. I climb over giant roots that have breeched the earth. Where am I headed? I do not know. There is just a pull to keep going ahead. I walk till I can no longer tell minutes from an hour. I still cannot make anything out. I stop, leaning against yet another giant root and think, have I had a seizure mid-sentence? Was I at this very moment sprawled on the aisle, my hair a giant halo around me as my limbs stick out like a silly spineless human? Oh God, I better not have lost controls of my bowels. I seem to recall I was in need of peeing. As soon as I remember that, I am reminded I still need to go. Here goes, as I reach for my belt buckle, I hear a faint noise. Neigh, music. Music! I peer over the root eager to find the source. Where could music be coming from in the middle of what looked to be the Amazon or it’s likeness, not that I’d ever been there. Perhaps I had my headsets still on, and my falling body must have pressed play.
Between needing to go toilet and needing to find the amenities, I scramble over the said root and hasten, if that were possible towards the source of the music. It grows louder, and louder, and I keenly stir myself through the floor to reach it, ending up facing a mammoth tree, whose branches I cannot even make out. The music, no longer faint but pulsing, seems to be from the tree. What absurdity is this? I peer at the ancient bark. I lean against it with my ear pressed and the music booms, taking me aback. ‘What the?!’
‘Password please.’ A voice, eerie and echoey ripples around me. The hairs on my body raise, causing me to shiver. A password? Geez I must have really hit my head hard on the stairs I think.
‘What password?’ I blurt, not expecting to really have a conversation with the bark of a huge tree.
‘The one that will allow you to seek shelter within.’ The voice trills. I can almost here the laughter laced in it.
I laugh. And I pinch myself, willing me to wake up, but I do not. ‘I don’t know any passwords to an old tree!’
A long moment of silence stretches, and I can almost feel the air around me stretch too, as if I’m being pulled out. ‘Think Phoenix. Think.’
Now that is just creepy! How does a talking tree with music coming out of its trunk know my name? Then I stop myself. It’s my dream of course. Why wouldn’t I know my own name? So I think. Or try and think for this password. Perhaps it will allow me to wake up. Maybe I’ve already been taken on an ambulance and the music I think is music is nothing but siren blaring, parting traffic like the sea.
I jump to my feet. Shocked with myself. ‘Open seasame!’ I blurt, squinting at the barely visible bark and expecting a rolling laughter for my poor effort. I wait and nothing happens. ‘Great!’ I grumble and turn, but I freeze mid turning.
Behind me, I hear the heavy enamored squeak of a door whose hinges have all but rusted from years and years of being out-of-service. No sooner had I turned back to face the tree, a bright yellow light, that blinds me momentarily floods out, illuminating the forest floor around me. It’s a heavy jungle, one that has not seen man destroy it.
‘You may enter!’ The voice is booming now, snapping me into action and I hurry along, stepping into the trunk, half expecting it to be a hallow tree, but what I find inside leaves my jaws on the beautiful parquet floor that glistens up at me.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have entered that which I cannot even begin to describe, so I’ll leave you only with this. The largest, the most ornate, and the most decadents halls have nothing in comparison to this. All around me, light glows as if giant candles hold flames as big as a a hut yet, I see nothing that sustain them. People, at least I think they are people mill around me, drinks in hand, chatting, dancing, eating. I look up and I can no longer see the forest in which I stood not a minute ago. Now, I find myself in a giant hall, that’s not really a hall but a giant courtyard, or a square to some mythical city.
‘Where am I?’ I whisper to myself.
A tall man stops before me, eyeing me curiously from head to toe. Perhaps my attire was other-Worldly. Here, it seemed cloaks were the thing. ‘That depends on who is asking the question.’
Mouth agape I looked up and tried to figure out how tall he could be. 7 feet perhaps. I extended my arm out to him out of habit and said, ‘I’m Phoenix Gail. I’m a student of philosophy.’
He eyed me once more, a smile creeping up. He reached his hand to mine, not to shake it, but to turn my palm up toward him. ‘Hmm,’ he traced a very cold finger over my wrist and held it just above my pulsing vein. He mumbled words I could not make out, and I was in half a mind to yank my hand out when I stop. My jaw once again claiming the floor. There, on my wrist, by the trick of light or whatever it was, a bird of flame with its incredible plume flapped its wings and took off, up my palm as if it were the sky and vanished into thin air.
Wide eyed, I looked up at the man, shaking my head. For once, I couldn’t find my words.
‘Well, Phoenix Gail, student of philosophy, it seems we have been expecting you.’ He smiled and stepped aside, flourishing my arms out in a gesture that told me the floor was all mine. And indeed, when I looked beyond him, all eyes were watching the Phoenix that had flown from my hand blaze bright in the sky. When I looked back down, those very eyes were now trained on me.
‘Come, you must be tired and hungry.’
And like an obedient child I followed, weary of the eyes that stared, and the hands that reached out to touch me.
‘Now our time has come.’
‘She is so small.’
I swallowed. Time to wake up Phee! But wake I did not.