“If I would’ve known what was coming down the pike, I suppose I wouldn’t have wasted all those days worrying about what was out of my control. Then again, if I had known what was coming, I might have wasted those days more worried than ever. It’s this dichotomy that keeps life rich and interesting. At least for me, anyway. For the rest of humanity, I don’t know what motivates them to keep breathing, keep existing…”
“That’s enough for today,” I thought to myself as I placed my overly worn journal down on the wooden floor. I breathed a heavy sigh as the boredom of days gone by weighed heavily on my heart.
“Today has to be the day,” I told myself half-assuredly. I was trying to unsuccessfully convince myself to go beyond the woods. I think I’m on day 100 of convincing, but who is keeping track, really? To go beyond, to know for certain what lies outside the comforts of my makeshift home for 10 years of my life, well, frankly that frightened my entire being. I shook with the thought, or was it the coldness of the wind? Sometimes I’m not really sure.
I took a sip of coffee from the mug Mom gave me on my 13th birthday: “World’s Best Baby Girl”. I stared at it pensively, trying to recall her face, her smile. But the memories are starting to fade into the dust of the past. I closed my eyes trying to retrieve them, but as dust so often does, it swept itself away into the background of the corners of my mind. Perhaps in those depths, I can one day retrieve what is lost. I furrowed my brow and pressed my lips together as I stared out the window of my home. A home I’ve known since I was a little girl. A home made high up in the branches of a tree; a small, but sturdy one at that. My home was one with nature.
As I neared my 18th birthday, the only company I kept was a black cat named Cressida. She rubbed her smiling face on my legs as she seemed to sense my hesitation; she pressed even harder as though to reassure me.
“You are better than any human companion, you know that?” I lifted my brows to emphasize my point.
She meowed back gleefully. I wondered to myself if I can bring her on my journey. I’m not sure how deep the woods lay, and I can’t imagine being without my faithful companion for so long. But I also can’t risk losing her. The unknowns were without number, and she would be safer at the treehouse. I suppose I could supply her with an abundance of food and a reassuring word and hope for the best.
She rubbed on me again. “Ohh, Cressida! You want me to go, but your actions make me want to stay.” She purred and firmly plopped herself on my lap, closing her eyes, falling into a deep sleep. This is a sign that I need to contemplate my journey longer, from all angles, I convinced myself as I slowly closed my eyes.
I awoke to a rumbling stomach and a bare pantry. I looked at Cressida, who was also staring at an empty bowl. I suppose fate decided today is the day; at the very least we needed leave and find food.
I packed a small bag, and figured Cressida could walk beside. She was more dog than cat— in fact, I assumed she was a dog in a past life. I knew on our journey she would walk beside me without issue, and I could call her to me and she would come. However, to make sure I was as prepared as could be, I had a spot just for her in my sack in case she would need a break. I filled a canteen with water and took the last peanut butter chewy bar.
I climbed down the swirling wooden staircase securing a red bandana across my forehead as I hopped on the ground. Cressida mere steps behind. The bandana would indicate to others that I am a "Rogue" or part of the Old Human Order that wanted peace and human connection.
I looked around. Everything had changed in the nearby forest since The Beforetime.
Before masks. Before separation, isolation, before people began wearing head-to-toe hazmat suits. In The Beforetime there wasn’t an illness that not only swept an entire nation, but the entire world. No country, no people, no one was left untouched, unaffected. If that didn’t make people believe in God, or a higher power that had more control over life's events than we could ever dream of, I didn’t know what would.
My family couldn’t handle all the division and warring, so we left to the woods to live like we believed humans should be— wild, loved, and free. But in a tragic turn of events, shortly after creating our home in the woods, Mom and Dad passed away. I was an eight year old left to fend for myself in a world devastated by ruin. To say it molded me into the self-sufficient wild woman warrior I am today, would be an understatement.
Ugh. I grunted as one of the laces on my combat boots had gotten caught in a patch of thistle. Cressida looked at me with a soft meow and a sympathetic stare. Her bright, golden eyes that always seemed to change colors but oft landed on gold, suddenly switched to bright blue as a loud thwack pierced the silence. A pair of worn brown boots had landed on the ground from the tree above.
A fellow Rogue with a red bandana wrapped around his head like Rocky Balboa, took a defensive stance as he jumped back from me. He wielded a machete in his right hand which was held in the air. I took a posture of surrender. “I come in peace. I’m looking for food. I don’t come to hurt. Peace.” I pointed to my red bandana and then tapped my heart. "Rogue." I wasn't sure if he spoke English.
He looked at me quizzically as he swept some hair from his eyes.
He seemed familiar, and yet I couldn't place his face. I hadn't seen anyone since The Beforetime, so knowing him was unlikely...and yet I couldn't shake the feeling about this wild boy with electric, ocean green eyes. They were reminiscent of the California bioluminescent beaches— or the oceans that glow at night— that I used to visit with my family. His skin was tan, a stark contrast that made his eyes shine even brighter.
He sheathed his sword as he came closer, stopped in front of me, extending his right hand as though he were going to touch the center of my chest, I did the same. It was the acceptable welcome gesture as The Great Illness began to spread. We could no longer hug, or hold each other as a greeting, so we extended our palms to sense the heart energy and to transmit our heart energy to them.
But instead of keeping his distance, he pressed his hand against mine, which was also outstretched, ready to read and receive heart energy. As soon as our palms touched, a flash of lighting went through my body and a burst of stars in my sight.
“Don’t mind him, that’s Clyde, my familiar.” His soft voice spoke up, so casually.
I was so lost...disoriented. Had he not also seen the stars flash before his eyes?
Almost as though by magic, a tiny black and white puppy slid down from the tree. This must be Clyde, his familiar, or pet that acts as protection. I thought to myself.
This electric boy whom I still didn’t know his name continued, “... I see you have one too.” He nodded to Cressida who was in my bag which I had securely behind me. I dropped my hand.
I wondered if he had felt and seen what I had just felt and seen. It was all so...supernatural.
“I'm Gene.” He suddenly scooped me in his arms into a big Beforetime hug. My body melted against his. I hadn’t been hugged in decades since my Mom passed. She was the last one to hug me.
“Jean.” I told him as we were still in an embrace. “That’s funny. My name is also Jean. Of course, it's spelled differently.” He chuckled.
Suddenly, we heard a group of men in the distance. It sounded like they were looking for someone.
Gene grabbed my arm. “We’ve got to go...I ran away into the village to get some food," he nodded to his bag filled with apples as he continued, "and The Eyes are out looking for me. We should probably take these off.” And with that declaration and confession, he yanked off both of our bandanas. "Bright red probably wasn't the wisest choice for a resistance that doesn't want to get caught..." He at least had a sense of humor even in the darkest times. The Eyes were the new cops, and he must've stolen food from the town. In order to obtain goods in the New World, you had to be micro-chipped. Rogues resisted the chipping. Our ultimate goal was freedom at any cost.
We began running in the direction of my treehouse. “Let’s go back to my treehouse then, we are already headed in the right direction!” He securely grabbed my hand as we ran faster through the woods. Cressida had jumped in my sack and Clyde was running swiftly beside us.
Once we cleared the hill separating the territories, we both doubled over, panting. “We’ll be safe here.” I said as we began walking up the narrow, winding staircase to the entrance of my home.
“Whoa!” Gene responded wide-eyed as he saw my strings upon strings of starry lights. It was dusk now and they really began to contrast against the cool coral sky.
We sat down against a fort of pillows I had propped up against the trunk of the tree. Cressida and Clyde laid beside us, making the treehouse the coziest its been since my family passed. We both stared up at the sunset, which was shifting before our very eyes.
I could feel him turning to look at me. I shifted to meet his gaze.
The stars in his eyes appeared again.
I must’ve jumped back because he suddenly asked worried and puzzled with a surprising amount of care and compassion especially from a complete stranger, “Everything ok?”
At the same exact moment, we both put our hands out as though to read each other’s energy, our palms touching once more.
“A holy palmers kiss,” he whispered.
“Shakespeare...” I smiled.
Suddenly we were transported back. We were no longer in a treehouse, but in The Beforetime, in a home with a roaring fireplace, cups of hot cocoa...I studied Gene whose face seemed to somehow look much younger, a boy of only seven or eight.
And just as quickly as I acclimated to our cozy new environment, we were yanked back into the present moment.
“What just happened?” I gasped.
“Time travel eye connection." He said far too nonchalantly for such a strange, supernatural event that I hadn't ever experienced before. He continued with a smile that filled me with a hope I hadn't had in years, "When you connect with certain soulmates, you get to see past lives.” He grin widened, “Don’t you remember, we were kids that played together in The Beforetime? Don’t you remember me, Jean Belle?”
I inhaled with a shock and then with eyes full of excitement and tears as the memories began flooding in. “My God. Yes! Of course! Now it’s all coming back to me!”
For once, I had a true connection, one that could take me far, far away from a world I had spent my entire life resisting. I yearned for freedom. With Clyde and our otherworldly connection, I finally felt free.
We embraced tightly, slowly letting go after what must've been hours. As I opened my eyes, the sky revealed stars shining brightly against the stark black night sky. Dusk had long faded.
With our eyes meeting once more, we traversed time and space to somewhere in The Beforetime, somewhere beyond The End.
...Somewhere among the stars.