branch

Tasked with writing a story about this image, here is what came to mind. It is rough and will hopefully be finished tomorrow.

It was in my twelfth day lost that I found the mound that bestowed these visions on me. I came to a place where the trees died and the green seeped away. The ground began to rise to the peaks above me. One particular foothill could be seen directly before my path, ash white and round, yet it sat below the green cliffs of the valley. The contrast was so stark, I felt drawn to search out the mystery of this decay. With my own hope long abandoned, I stepped onto the dust.

And three worlds split before me. In some indescribable way, my mind could see each of these visions independently and completely while all stood stacked upon each other. The same hill was in each of my sights; it was the same land, but in each it was wildly different.

In what I came to call the first world, it was a lush land nestled in a slender rising valley between the mountain feet. And now this land of life and joy held a village of crafted houses and a thriving people. They looked a foreign people to me, teeming with an earthy wisdom and joy beyond my ken. Children played games I had never seen, but caused a smile to swell on my face. Animals were fearless of this people and wildly abundant in my sight. I could not count the creatures I saw. This valley was life painted pristine and innocent. I wept at finding the answer to the question I had never asked.

In the second world, the same valley was a scar of fire and madness. I heard the screams of the children I saw playing in my other sight. I saw flashing swords and spears, and torches falling upon the modest houses. Painted men and women seemed to be laying waste to this pristine valley. I saw one defiant mother bring down one of the painted men. She lunged at his spear and disarmed him. I saw another painted man kick and trample an old man who was not fast enough to flee his attacker. All around me was dying, engulfed in flame and agony. I wept to find the loss of my paradise.

And the third world was the ash and decay I had stood in to begin. It was where I believed myself to be. But my visions were so pure that I questioned in which world my feet stood. Perhaps all three of them. Or perhaps I was not there at all. Perhaps in my lost wanderings I had finally reached death in all of its chaos.

With these visions overwhelming me—with a peace beyond knowing, a fear beyond terror, and a consuming silence—I could not but proceed to climb this madness. In all these worlds the hill stood white against the backdrop of the mountains. In the first it was an orderly and perfect cutoff from the white to the green life below; it was as a spherical cap to the slope. In my second vision, it was as a pale eye, looking down upon the destruction of its land and its people; sickened in the firelight, accursed. And in the third it was no longer a marked distinction from the gray stone and dust that rose up to meet this crest; it was a faded crown.

I continued to make my way up. My spirit tearing with the chaos around me. Three worlds ripping at my mind, all full and distinct. Surely, this was my death. And this was the vision of the summation of my life, fractured and retold in some indiscernible allegory.

In my climb, I came to stand before a majestic tree centered at the height of the village, thriving and royal, burning and shadow, a smoldered core. In the first image it was decorated with colors and lights. In its life it was a widespread canopy of white branches with leaves of deepest green. Many people were in the midst of recreation under its outstretched arms. Children playing games, friends resting upon mighty roots, lovers walking under the intertwining shade. This tree was the center and heart of the village. I could see signs of it being a meeting place as well as a holy place. But it was revered with a living love, rather than a solemn worship.

In my second sight, I saw a large host of the ravagers gathered before the tree already aflame at its edges. The throng stood before one man who screamed to them and gestured violently. Not understanding their language, I could still see this man at the center was the leader of this painted host. His diatribe inflamed and spurred his followers. Raised torches met his words, shouts of violence and anger concurrent with his own. And then with a motion and a loud yell, the man silenced the crowd. He turned to a young invader nearby and stretched out his hand in silence. He was granted an axe. With deft skill the man climbed the mighty trunk of the tree, axe in belt. He stepped out onto a mighty branch. A few of the host began to clamor in a rageborn joy, but the man angrily motioned for silence again. His eyes were intense with passion as he looked down upon a leg sized shoot, hands clenching the axe. There appeared a struggle in his mind. And then his blow struck. The silence held as the man battled with hewing the branch off, flames dancing on the leaves around him. The sound of his grunts of hatred echoed through his followers. Finally, the length of the branch fell to the ground, and the painted ones erupted in the midst of their passion. More began to climb the tree to ravage it in irreverence. One grabbed the fallen branch and held it aloft to strong praise. The leader admired his army for a time, and then finished breaking off an already shattered piece of branch, about an arms length long. Then he dropped to the ground, disappearing into the flowing masses below.

I pushed through the crowd, upwards, upwards, heartsick and choking. I do not know if I could physically touch these people. I suppose I would have noticed the crushing of the crowd in its rolling movement. But their irreverent and bloody manner struck me physically, regardless. If they could not hit me, they still beat me. I looked to the hill as my escape. Finally I passed to the upwards slope of the great tree's clearing, and I took a last look back at the terrible scene. The tree was beginning to fire in earnest now. Disgusting merriment lit the night along with the flames. Yet in the flowing bodies, I saw a shadow steal out and upwards as well. The shadowy figure walked with dread purpose one arm holding a rough club of near arms length.

(still to be continued)

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