I was sleeping the day the Carnival arrived.
I felt their approach from a long way off, vague stirrings and tremors that disturbed my rest. The still, leafy bowers at the edge of myself began to tremble with fear and delight and … anticipation.
Something was coming.
Something bright and quick.
The long, slow dream I had been in began to crumble, and from far beneath the earth where I slept, I began to stretch and turn and grumble. Long time it had been since I had been disturbed. Such a long time … my sluggish thoughts turned from that memory and tried to go back to sleep.
What was that sound? It tinkled through the branches and boughs of my trees; it reverberated down through trunk and root and came to me beneath the pine needles and mouldering leaves and sweet, soft earth.
Music. Bells. Voices singing. A long way off yet, but drawing near.
Reluctantly I followed the sound and let myself be drawn upwards into wakefulness. I felt the tremors of the forest and my heart quickened. Where once had been great deep stillness, there were hushed whispers and bolts of excitement passing from branch to branch. The very air was charged with it. And the closer they came, the greater our excitement. Anticipation grew, and fear too, not knowing what form these sounds would take.
Soon we heard their footsteps, and the rumbling of their carts. From the farthest reaches messages came back of brightly colored banners, and huge beasts drawing wagons painted and decorated with scarves and bells and flowers. Even the people were covered with color. Their garments, red and gold and deep purples, fluttered in the breezes, and they laughed and danced alongside the wagons. Their feet seemed to hardly touch the ground.
Some deep, forgotten longing awoke in my breast. I felt my whole self… rising and quickening, coming awake in a way I had forgotten was possible. The closer they came to the heart of me, the more I awoke. By the time their wagons rolled into the center of my clearing, I was thrilled and thrumming through every vein. Every leaf, every blade of grass, every twig of bush was trembling with joy and excitement and ... recognition.
I know you, I thought in my heart. I know you. I remember you. And OH, how I've missed you!
I drank them in, all their colors and sounds and movement. I watched greedily with hungry eyes as they set up their tents and wagons and set about preparing meals and places to sleep. They would stay! They would stay! My cup of joy overflowed.
I cradled them in my arms as they settled in, with their campfires and their soft yellow lanterns hanging from the branches of my trees driving back the deep dark of night. I rocked with them as they played their instruments and sang with many voices their sad and soft songs of stars and moonlight and green forest. I felt as if they were singing to me, love songs, love of forest and earth. I drank it all in, down to my core, down to the marrow of my bones. And I never slept, that whole first night. I watched over them, making sure no storm passed over, no dangers troubled them.
The next day they set up marvels I'd never hoped to see. An enormous boat set hanging between two large pillars. Back and forth it swung, while the people inside clung tightly to rim and rope, and screeched and laughed. Another, in which people sat in little chairs dangling from a largish wagon wheel that went round and round, and the faster it went, the farther out the people swung. Along one side of the clearing, wooden planks were set all in a row to make a kind of stage, and on this performances were held, apparently all for their own amusement. But they had a secret silent audience who appreciated their antics more than they could ever know. I wished with all my heart that I could applaud the jugglers, that I could shout encouragement for the nimble acrobats.
A large tent was erected on the other side of the clearing, and there the brightly colored banners flew. A woman with dark hair and dark eyes sat at a table and turned cards with pictures on them. She sparkled and tinkled when she moved. Every finger held a ring, some more than one, and bells and jewels dangled from her hair and ears. When she laughed, deep and throaty, and threw her diaphanous scarf across her shoulder to partly cover her face, her eyes peered out over the edge of the scarf and her audience became quiet and entranced. She moved her hands like a feather blowing in a soft wind, and the people sighed. She began to speak and sway, and they swayed with her. And then she would crook one finger and draw one of the people to her and sit down with them at the table for a private consultation.
And the music! The laughter and the music were my greatest delight. In truth, though I loved them all - the dark-eyed fortune teller, the jugglers, the acrobats and the horses with their red and orange streamers tied in their manes and tails, the bright yellow wheels of the wagons - I loved the music and the laughter best.
After a time I learned to distinguish one person from another, by their voices. I could pull deep within myself, way deep down under the earth, and listen very carefully to the sounds above me, and know who was laughing, who it was that sang that bawdy song, who called out to a child not to climb too high in my trees. As if I would ever let any of them fall.
Did they sense me there? Did they know of my presence, my ever-watchfulness?
Perhaps the dark-eyed woman did. Several times I felt her smelling the air, feeling into the trees and sky, with a puzzled air. Oh, how I longed to connect with her, to feel our minds and hearts intertwining, and to know she truly heard me and knew my presence. But she always ended by shaking her head, causing a great tinkling cascade, and then she turned away, back to her cards, or to practice her arts.
For many weeks they stayed, and filled me with joy.
But there came a day when they decided to move on.
I sensed a difference in the air that morning. A restlessness. An itchy sort of feeling that had begun the night before and had blossomed into a full-blown rash. The fortune-teller had already packed up her cards and bits of bone and the glass ball was safely in it's velvet lined box. Her table was folded and in the wagon already. She was pacing and circling the clearing, as if trying to get everyone moving. Faster and faster she paced, restless and irritated.
Why? I cried, when I realized they were leaving. I felt a great anger surging in me, up from my heart, a great longing and love and heartbreak, all in a bubble that surged upward from me and burst into the air around them. The ground shook, and the whole forest shuddered and groaned. Birds took flight from the treetops and squirrels fled into their holes.
The woman stopped her pacing and looked around her. Her eyes were wide and frightened. I felt her anger rising, refusing to be afraid of what her eyes could not see. For a tiny moment, we connected, and ... I felt her. What's more, I think she felt me.
I felt her fear first. A tight band of terror that there was some dark magic in this forest that was greater than her own power. A fear so quickly compressed and buried that I had no time to really feel it or understand it. It confused me and frightened me. Dark magic?
Then I felt her impatience. Her boredom with the slow pace of me. I felt her anxious need to move, to find new vistas, new sights. In the weeks that they had spent with me, she had grown lethargic, sluggish. There was nothing here that drew her eye, that captured her attention. She needed new sounds, new audiences, new admirers. Then I felt her need, a raw physical, sexual need. It echoed down through me to my core and I found my own need, still living there, though encased in stone. The stone began to crack, and I feared it would break and let loose my fear, my need, my rage. I left her then, I pulled swiftly back into myself, and drew my consciousness far away, down, down, down beneath the earth.
From the silence there deep in stone, I heard them leave. There was no singing. I heard the wagons rumbling, the clop-clop-clop of the horse's hooves moving farther and farther away, until finally the tinkling of their bells could no longer be heard. In the dead wake of their leaving, silence fell once again in the forest.
I was dimly aware of leaves... drooping. I felt the rains when they began to fall, heavy, driving the pine needles into the forest floor like thousands of tiny knives. I felt each drop, in my misery, punctuating my grief and loneliness.
Let darkness overtake me, I cried. Let me turn completely to stone. The light has gone from me, the music shall no more be heard. They do not love the deep, green, slowness that I am. What I have to offer is ... nothing.
I felt such a surging desire to FOLLOW them, to lift myself up from my earthy tethers and walk like them, lightfooted across the earth. I thought I remembered some very dim past when I was not so root-bound. Was there a time when I was able to move on the earth as they did? Oh, please, I begged, let me remember how, let me follow and breathe in their music and laughter once again. Don't let me remain trapped here, alone, forever without song or light or laughter!
No magic solution answered my pleading.
I fell into a vortex of hatred. I hated all that moved on the earth. I hated life and light and sound. But I hated myself most of all. I longed with all my heart to be other than myself.
Oh, to be like them! To be one of them! To be anything other than myself!!! To be fascinating and entertaining, to be able to draw others to me, to feel their delight and joy in me. I would dazzle and hypnotize and the forest would be filled with laughter and light.
I let the forest grow dim and dark and strange, while I spent countless hours beneath the earth, remembering the people, and imagining myself to be one of them. In my mind-dreams, I became a happy juggler, carelessly tossing brightly colored balls in the air. I was a lithe acrobat, nimbly leaping from shoulder to shoulder, leaping and tumbling and flying through the air. Most often I became the dark-eyed fortune teller, with her bells and scarves and dancing fingers.
Finally the torment drove me mad. I willed myself to sleep. I drove the longing from my heart. I let darkness fill the forest. The clearing is now overgrown with brambles and thorns, and the birds no longer sing in my branches. I sleep ... for long years now I have slept, and refused to awaken.
But sometimes, in my dreams, I think I hear the tinkle of tiny bells.