The Paths of the Elementals
The Path Chosen
The eldest dropped at school. The toddler safely at daycare. Beth headed for her rendezvous. She'd put it off as long as she could.
Her car nosed it's way down the narrow path. She'd left paved roads and street signs behind miles ago.
The car began to stutter. The track was almost non-existent now. The less defined it was, the less the vehicle cooperated.
"Well, I guess it's by foot already", she thought.
She entered a light woods and found what looked like a rabbit run. She followed it deeper, the trees around her not menacing, but welcoming.
As she continued, she could feel the opening of her heart. Hear the joy as she was recognized. Beth felt them as they felt her. Long before they were in view of each other.
Her steps began to quicken as she got closer to her goal. She hadn't realized how much she missed this place.
When she exited the woods, they were waiting. Asking where she had been. Why she had stayed away so long. Would she stay now. All in a jumble of words and pictures in her head. The only true sound was the singing of birds, the buzz of insects.
Beth sent reassurances of her love for them. They were family, yes. She had missed them, yes. She had taken a different path, she would not be staying.
She could feel the sadness and disappointment like clouds covering the sun. With sighs they began move away. Soon there was only one.
"Father," she reached for his hand, "it's good to see you."
"Lyabet, you look tired!" he took her hand and led her to sit on a fallen tree trunk. "You need to rest. This life? This path you've chosen? Doesn't treat you well."
"We've spoken of this before, Father. The outer world is different. Timewise and in other ways. I'm fine, and you know I won't be staying"
"I will never understand! You choose a man who can't hear or see you as you truly are. You choose to live in silence. In muted light."
"I choose a man who cherishes me." Beth had heard and said these words before. She had not come to argue the point again.
"I have children, Father. You have grandchildren." She hoped to see interest at least. Maybe happiness.
What she saw and felt was arrogance.
"Blind, deaf children! Little animals to wear you down. You don't need that. Them. Stay here! Where you belong." And then pleading, "Listen, feel. I know you can feel us. This place. It calls you. We call you. We hear you. They never will."
Beth stood, her anger and grief carefully controlled. She closed her mind. She allowed the feelings surrounding her to fade. She chose to be blind and deaf.
And walked away.
It was dark when she pulled into the driveway. Would they still be awake, it must be very late.
The door opened before she could reach it. Her oldest ran out and threw his arms around her. He was followed by his father, carrying the toddler. Relief showing in his eyes.
"I was afraid. Afraid you'd stay this time. You've given up so much, you've..."
"Shhhh. The little I left behind is nothing compared to what I have now," she soothed her husband, her oldest, still clinging, "Mommy, where were you?"
"I just had to make a little detour, it's alright now"
And the toddler in his fathers arms said, "Me toad dem you comin. I heerd you."
Beth rounded the last corner before home and was confronted by half a dozen squad cars. Squad cars parked in front of her house.
An officer stopped her, asked who she was. She answered the questions, panic rising in her with each answer
"What's going on? What's wrong? Are my kids OK? Where's my husband? What is happening?" her voice louder, shriller with each question.
Finally a detective walked her to the door. Chuck was waiting inside, the panic in his eyes, mirroring her own.
"Barry is missing," was all he could get out.
She felt like she was choking. "Barry? My baby?" she thought, "he's only two. Where could he go? Where is Darren?"
The detective began to explain. "Your sons were in your backyard. The older boy," he flipped through a notebook, "Darren, he's five, right?"
Beth nodded automatically.
"Yes, Darren said a woman came into the yard and talked to them. Then she took Barry's hand and walked by the tree out there. And were gone."
She felt, what? Faint? A strange feeling, something she'd never experienced. The droning of the police. Question after question. The same ones, over and over and over.
"Catch her! She's passing out."
"Give her time. We can get more info later. Not much to do now but put out an alert."
"We'll be in touch. Call if you think of anything"
"Beth? Honey, are you OK?"
"What? OK? No, no, I am not OK. Where is my baby?" she looked at her husband. Saw the fear, for Barry. For her. "Please, Chuck, please. What happened to Barry? Where is he? Where is Darren?"
Chuck took a breath, let it out slowly. " The boys were playing out back. Darren came in crying, because the pretty lady took Barry, but wouldn't take him"
"What? Darren wanted to go?"
"Talk to him, Beth, the cops didn't think he knew what was going on. Maybe you can get more from him."
Beth climbed the stairs and found Darren in his room. She wrapped her arms around him, afraid to let go. Afraid he'd disappear too.
"Mommy? Are you mad at me? Cause I let Barry go by himself" his brown eyes, so like his father's, were filled with guilt. "I wanted to go, but the lady said I couldn't. It was a special place. Only Barry could go into the tree."
Tears filled his eyes, "I'm not as special as Barry. I can't hear you like he does,"
Beth's heart broke for him. She wanted to reassure him, let him know how special he was. But, one word stuck in her head.
Into. Into the tree. Not by the tree. Into the tree.
"Darren. What did this pretty lady look like? It's important. Tell me what she looked like." Beth began to regain herself as Darren described the mystery woman. She began to feel anger.
Beth went downstairs. Chuck was slumped on the sofa. He looked beaten. This wasn't going to help.
"Chuck, I know where he is. I'm going to go get him."
He looked at her blankly for a moment, then understanding replaced the confusion. "You know where he is. Are you saying he was taken by one of your, um people, um elementals?"
"Yes." The look in her eyes concerned him. As well as the way her hair had begun to shift of it's own accord.
He was not looking at Beth, his wife. He was looking at Lyabet, an element of the air. A force of nature.
"I'm going to go get him."
"Beth," he wasn't sure she would hear him right now, but he spoke anyway, "just come back. Come back with our son."
Lyabet was of air and wind. The tree was of the earth. She had travelled that way before. But it had been a long time.
She reached into the heart of the old oak, becoming one. She followed the trunk down. Into the roots, into the earth.
It was slower going than she liked. But as she travelled she began to pick up traces of her son. From root to root to rock she followed the spark of his passage. Finally to another trunk, in a farther place, she returned to the air.
In front her was the circle of seven old trees. As she approached them, a woman stepped from between two huge trunks.
"'Bet you came to see me! It's been so long! I've missed you." the woman threw her arms out for an embrace. An embrace that Lyabet ducked.
She gave one simple command.
"Give him back, Mother."
Mommy had given him hugs and told him he was special. She'd tucked him in tight and kissed him good night.
Then she left to find Barry and bring him home. Because Barry really was special. Barry could hear Mommy when she was away. Barry could make the air move like Mommy did. Barry was magic like Mommy.
Darren couldn't do those things. He was just Darren, not special. So, Mommy put him to bed and went to find Barry.
Darren crawled out of bed and went to Barry's room. Mommy had given Barry some pinwheels so he could practice making the air move them. Darren stared at them, waved his arms like he'd seen his brother do. Nothing happened, they didn't even wiggle. He wasn't special at all.
He'd make them move anyway. He swung his arm, knocking all the pinwheels to the floor. Then he kicked them, making some of them come apart.
"Darren? Are you in bed?" He heard Daddy coming to the stairs. He shoved the broken toys under Barry's bed and scurried back to his room.
He was under the covers when Daddy checked on him, "Hey, buddy, you ok?," Daddy ruffled his his hair. "It's not your fault Darren."
"I know Daddy. Is Mommy home yet?"
"No, buddy, she'll be back when she finds your brother"
"What if she can't find him, Daddy?"
Daddy gave him a hug and kissed the top of his head, "she'll find him," Daddy tucked the covers back around him. As he was leaving, Darren heard him whisper, "She has to."
Darren's tears fell quietly on his pillow. Because Daddy thought Barry was more special, too.
The Path Before
Tam stood quietly, watching the two boys play. The older boy playing with plastic trucks and cars. The younger boy playing with whatever he found. Pebbles, sticks, blades of grass. Their father peeking out the back door regularly.
She remembered watching other children play. She and their father laughing at their antics.
Their father, a beautiful man, skin the color of rich earth. His eyes darkest brown. She had hair of brown with hints of autumn red, eyes the color of spring leaves. Her skin lighter, with the blush of a ripe peach. Together they had seven beautiful children.
She was happy, she had love. She gave and received love. Love from the beautiful man. Love from the seven beautiful children. She would be happy forever.
Except, they didn't have forever. Time went by more quickly than she had imagined it could. The beautiful man became old, though never less beautiful. When his life ended, she was shocked even though she had known it would happen.
Her seven beautiful children had grown to adulthood almost overnight. They had children of their own. Her beautiful grandchildren. Her beautiful children became old.
When the first of them died of old age in her arms, her heart felt shredded. She suddenly understood the consequence of the path she had chosen.
Tam planted the first of seven trees
She stood in the circle of the now old trees, holding hand of the little boy she had brought with her. Her youngest, newest grandchild. A grandchild of her blood. A child that had forever.
Tears rolled down her cheeks. She never should have hugged that other boy. The other grandchild. The one whose heartbeat still vibrated in her arms. The beats counting down to the end of his days. She wanted so much for him to hear her. To find that her blood was there.
She wanted so much to have them both, forever.
“Really, ‘Bet. Would it have been too much to say hello first?” Tam dropped her arms, she wasn’t at all surprised by her daughter’s anger. She had far overstepped herself this time.
“How do you say hello to someone that has stolen your child, Mother.? Hi, hugs and kisses, can I have my boy back? Pretty please? Speaking of, where is Barry? I need to get him home, now. Lyabet had not seen her mother for literally ages. She had changed very little, though if Lyabet didn’t know better, she’d have thought Tam had been crying.
“’Bet, I did not steal your son. I simply wanted to visit with my grandson.”
“You have two grandsons. The one you are visiting with, and the one you left behind. The one that thinks he’s not good enough to go with the, ahem, nice lady.”
Tam was silent. Then she said, “You’re right. I have two grandsons. But, I couldn’t bring the other through the earth. And? Perhaps had you told me yourself of these grandchildren, instead of having to hear it from Graleon,” Tam shook herself in disbelief, “we could have set a much more pleasant visit.”
Lyabet remembered the last time she seen her father, Graleon. He’d told her how much he missed and loved her. In the same breath he’d called her babies animals. Her jaw tightened at the memory.
“You know how your father feels about humans, ‘Bet. You should have come to me. I understand. I had human babies. Once.” Tam turned away, Lyabet was sure now she’d seen tear traces before. Just as she was sure the tears were falling silently now.
“Mother,” she reached out, almost shyly, laid her hand on the other woman’s shoulder, “ I know about them, I know about the trees. And, I know how this path may end.” Lyabet gently turned her mother to face her. “I know you understand, it’s just been so long since I’ve seen you. Father raised me, you didn’t seem interested…”
“I was interested! You were a child of my blood, the baby I wouldn’t have to plant a tree to remember. But, you were more the child of your father. Air, not Earth. I couldn’t teach you of the air. He could, he did. He did, and was so smug.” Tam waved a hand to dismiss the thoughts of Graleon. “’Bet, I have always loved you, always wanted to have you with me. It just didn’t happen the way I wished.”
Lyabet took a deep breath, some of the anger receding as she began to see her mother in a new way. “Maybe it’s time we got to know each other. Perhaps we have some catching up to do.” Tam looked at her daughter with raised brows, waiting. “Go get Barry, we need to go back now, time is different here.”
“Yes, Mother. We. Three. Now”
Chuck wasn’t sure what woke him. A change in air temperature, a thump in the backyard, but he jumped from the sofa where he’d dozed off. “Beth? Beth is that you? “
A woman with leaf green eyes and brown hair that glinted with autumn highlights stepped into the room. “Yes! Yes Chuck, we are home!”
He jumped back, reaching for anything that might pass as a weapon, “Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my house!”
Next was the patter of little feet, and a sweet voice calling, “Dadda! Dadda, I here! You miss me?”
Graleon watched from outside the circle of trees. Lyabet was confronting her mother about the "theft" of her youngest child. He was surprised to learn of the boy's ability. He hadn't considered the possibility that these half humans might be more than pets.
He remembered first meeting Tam. He'd been attracted by her beauty, the red highlights in her hair. Her face was lit from within, a rosy complexion. He almost mistook her for an element of Fire, until he saw her eyes. They were the color of spring. Leaf green, a give away to her true nature. When he looked into them he saw life. She was of the Earth, solid and nurturing.
She'd make the perfect mother for his heir.
They had to leave immediately. Every moment spent amid the seven trees meant about ten minutes passing in the human world. It seemed small, but became hours quickly.
"I'm going on ahead with Barry, Mother. We'll get home faster." Lyabet was in a hurry now. "I'll look for you by the oak"
Tam laughed at her daughter, "I'll be waiting when you get there, 'Bet. Just because you slog through earth doesn't mean I do. I could teach you a few tricks there!"
"Another day I think. Right now I'll travel the way I know. And Barry needs to start learning the ways." Lyabet began to thin herself, and encouraged her young son to do the same. She felt the air begin to flow through her as her physical body lightened. Barry followed his mother's example and they began to rise.
"Just stay in my space, Baby, I'll carry you home." She read the breezes like a roadmap. This one lead here, that one there. When a strong gust going her way came close, she melded herself to it.
She loved the air, the feel within her being. The freedom from weight and gravity. Her senses expanded as became one with the breeze. She could see for miles. Hear the voices of others of her kind. Feel the wind in her soul.
She flowed from gust to cloud to summer breeze. Soon, she became aware of another presence in the air. Following her path, sharing her space.
Too late she recognized the presence with her. She realized they were already home.
Chuck sat in uncomfortable silence observing his companion. Graleon was dressed in light gray slacks and a sky blue polo shirt. His hair was the lightest shade of blonde almost white. Along with his icy blue eyes, he looked cold as a winter dawn.
Graleon only gave Chuck a cursory look. He didn't care about Chuck's faded blue jeans or black T-shirt. He did care that Chuck was uncomfortable, he wanted to put him at ease. He wanted to make clear that he was not here as an enemy, but to be a friend.
Finally, Graleon broke the silence, "I come to speak to you because of your relationship with my daughter. I only want her to be happy. I'm concerned that she cannot be happy while denying who she is."
Chuck raised an eyebrow, "I have never heard her deny who she is, or what she is. It is you that have denied her children. You who have tried to talk her into leaving us, tried to talk her into coming back to you and living in the world she left behind."
Graleon sighed, "I have changed my feelings. I don’t pretend to understand why she made the choices she did. Yet, I have taken time to observe her interactions with the children and how you care for her, I would like to play a part in her life again. In your lives.”
Chuck listened to the words, trying to read the intent. He wasn't sure he trusted this man. He heard little from Beth, and nothing good from their new house guest, her mother, Tam.
Chuck looked steadily at Graleon, “I’ll give Beth your message. If she wants to renew her relationship with you, she’ll let you know. If she doesn’t, that is her choice.”
Graleon nodded, “That is all I ask.” He rose from his seat , nodded once again, then walked away.
There was an uneasiness in Chuck that he couldn’t define. He took a deep breath, the meeting had unnerved him more than he wanted to admit. He replayed the short talk in his mind. The words were benign, but they weren’t reflected in those icy eyes. Things were about to change, Chuck could feel it.