Chapter 1: Three Little Fish
Once upon a time, there was a little girl. Sometimes she had silver-white hair, like the bottom edge of a cloud when the morning sun first strikes it. Sometimes she had dark hair, like the colour of a cherry that’s been left on a cherry tree late into the summer months. The colour of the little girl’s hair would change with her moods. During difficult seasons, it would slowly transform over several days, and when she was angry it would change as quickly as it takes lightening to strike –from silver-white to cherry in only an instant. The little girl also had eyes that she kept open as wide as could be, to see all that surrounded her wherever she may be. She was an inquisitive little girl and her name was Andrea.
Andrea lived in a small garden on top of a mountain. It was a beautiful, bountiful garden that had always been left to grow of its own accord. Wild roses, plumerias, passionflowers, poppies, dahlias and pink lady slippers were scattered willy-nilly among the foliage that covered the garden grounds. Trails led Andrea to all the places she needed to go in her garden. Each path was lined with sea shells that marked the way, so she could find herself around at night. In case you didn’t know, sea shells glow by the light of the moon. Way, way up on the mountain, the garden was far, far above where any clouds could reach. This meant the moon was free to shine brightly every evening, regardless of what was happening with the weather far below. Andrea loved to watch the cycles of the moon from her garden. She would spend her time polishing each of the sea shells just before a full moon, so she could see them shine as brightly as their freshly-buffed surfaces would allow. Andrea loved to see things when they looked the best they could possibly be.
The trails through the garden led to all sorts of wonderful, miraculous places. There was a watering hole where Andrea could drink from a magical silver bowl that always kept the water cool, clean and fresh. There was a bottomless pond where Andrea could watch three very special fish play amongst the lilies that grew there. There was also a waterfall off in the corner of the garden where Andrea could stand for hours if she felt like it, washing herself with the milk from the thistles that grew on the outer edges of the grounds. A hammock in the southern end of the garden provided a place to rest and it was surrounded by great palm trees that gently swayed in the high mountain wind, their enormous palm fronds providing a breeze that washed over her entire body as she slept.
Food was everywhere in the garden, so Andrea never had to worry for hunger. There were nuts, figs and olives, wild carrots, strawberries and avocados. Apples of all kinds lay within reach from just about anywhere you stood. It was a wonderful paradise –except for a few small details. Andrea was alone, restless, and like I said before, she was very, very inquisitive.
The three fish in the bottomless pond did provide Andrea with some comfort from her loneliness. Andrea had named them Eustace, Sir Bartholomew and Justine. Eustace was a very talkative fish and would engage Andrea in conversations any time he could. Sir Bartholomew was introspective and rarely spoke, but when he did, it would be words of wisdom she knew she must listen to carefully. More often than not, Andrea carried a pencil and paper to the pond, just in case Sir Bartholomew had something to say. When he did speak, she’d write whatever it was down and ponder it for days. Justine, on the other hand, talked incessantly. She was a bit of a mean fish and was constantly griping about the water being too cold, or too hot or too deep (the pond was bottomless after all). Andrea would listen to Justine and just smile. She couldn’t blame the little fish for her temperament. It was just her nature to be crabby.
After many long years of living in the beautiful garden, Andrea decided it was time to see something else. She was generally happy among her friends and foliage, but there were some rather important things that were missing from her world up on the mountain and she was determined to find them. She wasn’t quite sure what they were, but she knew she’d recognize them once they were found. Many long hours and days were spent pondering where to go look for these missing things until she finally made a decision.
Way off in the distance was another mountain, much like the mountain Andrea lived on. She could only see it from her hammock on the southern side of the garden on particularly cold days when the air was tight and huddled together for warmth. On warm days, when the air was lazy and lounging about, the far-off mountain would disappear. Regardless of the temperature, Andrea could not stop staring in the strange mountain’s direction. She was transfixed by its peaks and valleys. She wanted to see the strange trees that grew on its foothills and, most of all; she wanted to see the view from its summit. She was also quite sure she had seen people traversing the top of the mountain during a cold spell the winter before. That had her intrigued. She thought it would be quite something to talk to someone other than the three fish that lived in her garden pond.
Andrea had asked the three fish many times about the far-away mountain to the south, but they had said very little. Justine said it was probably not worth going to, as the journey would be long and arduous. Eustace had heard the mountain was dirty and there were people there that would be mean to Andrea. He’d heard this from another fish that had stopped at the pond on a journey north to the ocean (several rivers intersected beneath the surface of the bottomless pond). Sir Bartholomew, regardless of how many times he was asked, had said nothing –nothing that made any sense anyway. He had gurgled and mumbled and had blown a few bubbles, but Andrea could get no coherent advice, as she always had on every other significant subject she had to come to him with. This saddened her, as Sir Bartholomew’s advice was much needed for this most important decision.
On the week of Andrea’s chosen departure, she had stopped by the pond for one last attempt to glean some wisdom from the wise little fish. After poking her tiny nose in the pond to get his attention, Sir Bartholomew swam over. He nibbled the tip of Andrea’s submerged nose as he often would. It was a ticklish, comforting ritual they both enjoyed on many an occasion. She only shared this ritual with Sir Bartholomew, as the other fish had a habit of biting too hard and clinging on. After the nose kisses, Andrea raised her head and tried one last time for some much-needed counsel.
“I’ll be leaving on the next half-moon Sir Bartholomew. I’d very much like to hear what you think of me going to the next mountain to the south? Your wisdom is very much appreciated, but, so far, you have given me nothing on this most pressing of matters.”
Sir Bartholomew treaded the surface of the water, his larger eye focused on Andrea for more than a few minutes. The little girl had brought her paper and pencil, just in case the wise fish had something important to say. After what seemed like eternity, Sir Bartholomew rolled over, showing his smaller eye and the effervescent red stripe that ran the length of the right side of his body, all the way from his head to the tip of his tail. “Your decision to travel to the next mountain is inevitable. That is why I have had no opinion on the matter,” Sir Bartholomew replied, his face breaking the surface of the water to face Andrea at the edge of the pond. “You are far too inquisitive a girl to spend your whole life where it is safe. No more questions challenge you here as you need to be challenged.”
“But what will happen to me if I go to the other mountain Sir Bartholomew?” Andrea asked.
“You will find what you went to see, and it will be all you wanted it to be.” Sir Bartholomew responded.
Andrea looked relieved. “Well, that’s excellent news Sir Bartholomew! Why didn’t you just tell me that earlier?”
Sir Bartholomew looked at Andrea with fishy affection. “I was waiting for a day closer to your departure, so you would remember what I have to say,” he replied. “It is important that you know your journey does not end with you finding what you seek. Once you have discovered your heart’s desire, it will eventually transform into something unexpected.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“My sweet little Andrea. Everything is a good thing. Overcoming bad things is necessary for achieving greatness in life.” Sir Bartholomew paused, noting the apprehension in Andrea’s face. “Go now. Discover the magic of the next mountain over. It will be very rewarding for you. But, remember; it is not your mountain. This is your mountain. When the magic spell the coveted mountain offers wears off, remember that.”
“Magic spell?” Andrea inquired, with obvious enthusiasm.
“Yes. Each mountain in this world has its own magic spell that brings a feeling of enchantment to anyone that visits them. Even this mountain has its own magic spell. You just can’t feel it, because you have always lived here. The spell only affects people when they first arrive. You will get a chance to feel this mountain’s magic, once you have spent some time away from it and have returned. The magic of this mountain will envelop you for a short while when your path leads you back to it.”
“Well, I know for certain I will miss this mountain when I am gone, and I will miss you, Sir Bartholomew. I will miss Eustace and I will even miss Justine, regardless of how temperamental she can be. But, I must go and see the other mountain. It has been in my dreams since I first saw it when I was a little child. I want to see it up close, for myself. I want to see the strange trees, the foreign fruits and, most of all, I want to see the view from the summit. And, to be honest, Sir Bartholomew, I’m a little lonely. I’d like to meet the people that live on the other mountain.” Andrea looked off, dreamily, southward.
“Yes. Go to the other mountain Andrea. I know you must.” Sir Bartholomew smiled a smile that only another fish would notice. “That is the magic of the far-away mountain already reaching out to you. Don’t worry. We will all be here for you when you return. We will keep you in our thoughts and dreams throughout your voyage.”
“Thank you, Sir Bartholomew. You’ll be in mine as well.”
“Remember Andrea, when the spell of the far-off mountain wears thin –after you are no longer new to that mountain, it will be time to leave it. To stay beyond that time can be dangerous.” Sir Bartholomew’s squinting eyes emphasized the seriousness of his caveat.
“How so Sir Bartholomew?”
“It is the magic of the mountain that protects its visitors from realities unseen. What is unseen is better left unseen. If you feel the magic dissipating, make haste. Return to your mountain where you will be safe.”
“How will I know the magic is dissipating?” Andrea asked, a little confused by the wording of the warning.
“You will know,” Sir Bartholomew replied. “You will feel it with your instincts. The mountain around you will lose some of its lustre and colour. The friends you made will seem a little more and more distant. The food and drink will not excite your palate as it once did. When these things begin to occur, it is time to make plans to return.” With that last bit of advice, Sir Bartholomew sank out of sight, his tail disappearing into the bottomless depths of the pond. Andrea sat and scribbled his instructions as best as she could remember them onto a scrap of birch-bark paper she used to keep notes of importance. His advice was confusing, and she hardly wanted to believe it, as it made her a little scared of the mountain in the distance. But, she knew Sir Bartholomew was a wise fish and he would only speak words that contained real wisdom, as that was his nature.
As the sun shined down on Andrea, she began to collect her things for her travels. It was a long way to the mountain to the south and much needed to be done before she could leave. Her hammock needed to be rolled up, the magical silver dish needed to be washed and put away in the trunk of the old Oak tree where she kept it, and a blueberry bush needed to be dug up and replanted beside the pond, so the fish could pick off berries when they were hungry while she was gone. There was so much to do and so little time to do it. Andrea could already feel the magic of the far-off mountain pulling her towards it. It was a strong magic she could definitely never resist.