The Unkown Land

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Chapter 7

“What do you think you’re doing?” The hot dog vendor was shouting, trying to keep his wares from spilling all over the pathway.

Tracy righted herself and grabbed the teetering cart, helping to set it up straight again.

“I’m so sorry, I was just…”

“Just running, is all. Just not looking where you are going. Just making a big mess, that’s all. Look at this.”

People started flocking to the disturbance.

“I’m really, really, sorry. But I didn’t see you there. And I couldn’t help it. At least nothing broke, right?”

A familiar voice spoke next to her.

“What’s the problem?”

It was Miss Jonker, and she quickly took charge of the excited vendor, calming him down once it was clear that nothing had actually been broken or spilled. She took Tracy aside eventually and asked: “Are you OK? Anything bruised or bleeding?”

“No, nothing, it was just silly, I was thinking of something else and just ran into him, that’s all.”

“Well, try to be more careful. I’d hate to lose my star pupil to a silly accident. In any case, we need to start heading back to the buses, so if you see anyone hanging around just round them up, will you?”

Grateful for something to do Tracy nodded and headed towards the exit.

She really was back, and it did seem as if no time had passed here at all. Then she realized that some time must have passed, if they were now heading home. When she went into the funhouse they had had another three or so hours to spend in the park. So Leman was right, and if you could visualize strongly enough you could get back to where you started from. Just not when, exactly.

Luckily it was Friday, and she could head home and not have to cope with giggling girls and roomfuls of students and books and noise. Instead she’d have her mom, her room, her own space. She could hardly wait. She had a lot to think about.

Her mother was at home, preparing a salad and pasta for supper.

“Oh mom, I’m so glad to see you!”

“Tracy, I’m glad to see you too honey, but we saw each other not that long ago. You’ve never minded a week passing by, and we spoke last night on the phone. Has something happened?”

Tracy wanted to pour it all out, but then she realized how it would sound. A schoolmate had tried to kill her. While he was choking her, she fell into another world. There she is the chosen one, who has to save the world. And then she was shown how to come back. Oh, and, by the way, she needs to find a sword with a white hilt, a branch of jasmine and a quartz crystal. Why? To use to do magic in that parallel world. She realized that even if her mother loved her totally, unconditionally, she’d have to think Tracy mad.

“No, I think I just overdid it on the school trip. I almost demolished a hot dog cart when I stumbled and fell into it.”

“You fell? Why? Are you feeling OK?”

Her mom put a hand on her forehead. “You don’t feel warm. Do you need to see a doctor? I think you do, I think I’d better call and check if they can see us right now. Dizzy spells don’t just happen suddenly for no reason.”

“No, no, mom, listen, it was an accident. I was running to get to a ride and I just turned the corner too fast, that’s all. So I crashed into the cart but it was OK, nothing got broken. And Miss Jonker was there and she sorted it all out, so I’m fine, really I am.”

“Are you sure? Look at me. Mmm, your eyes look OK, and I don’t see any bruises or scrapes worse than what you get in that crazy class, so I guess it was just a big day. Just don’t scare me with such things.”

“OK, sorry about that. Love you, mom.”

“Love you too. Now let’s get some supper on the table.”

The weekend started in the usual way – an early morning jog with her running group, then brunch with her mom, followed by a study session in her room. All the time as she was going about these chores, Leman’s voice echoed in her mind, we’ll be waiting, we’ll be waiting.

Sunday she decided to examine the possibility of getting hold of some jasmine, just in case it really was true, and she wasn’t hallucinating. And examine the possibilities of swords, although she was much less certain about that. She persuaded her mom to take them on a picnic to the local botanic gardens, where they wandered happily, examining many of the meandering paths before settling on a patch of grass and eating their sandwiches.

“Is there any jasmine in this garden, mom?”

“I think so, but of course it’s too late in the year for it to be blooming. I love the smell of jasmine, but it’s too powerful to have inside the house. It becomes cloying. But why do you ask?”

“Oh, we were doing some stuff in botany and I wondered if we had jasmine growing around here? Mr. Bower said something about it not being native to out country.”

Tracy looked at her mom, who had put a finger to her lips as she thought. This habit of almost shushing herself and anyone else while thinking was something her mom did usually, and Tracy found herself doing the same thing occasionally. She waited for whatever her mom would have to say.

“I believe the plant is related to the olive tree in some way. I remember we used to pick jasmine flowers for mother’s day posies when my father worked in Thailand for a while. The jasmine flower there is the flower for mothers, did you know?”

Tracy shook her head.

“Yes, and there it grows everywhere and the nights when it blooms are wonderful – the scent is everywhere. But as I said, if you bring it inside it becomes heavy and almost sickly. Sort of like eating yourself sick on fine Belgian chocolate. They also have a jasmine bush that you can pick the flowers of, and turn them into a tea. Chinese restaurants sometimes serve it. Let’s have a look and see if we can find it – it’s a shrub, you know, with glossy green leaves.”

They gathered together the remainder of their picnic and set off, and soon found the clump of jasmine. Tracy blessed her mom’s gardening ability and knowledge.

“Mmm – jasmine auriculatum. That’s the one with the small white flower, if I remember. I’m not sure if this is the one they pick for tea, but the shrub looks nice, doesn’t it?”

Tracy nodded. For her purpose, the shrub was perfect. The branches looked to be thick and fairly straight, almost perfect for a wand. Obviously she couldn’t pick a branch now, while her mom was there, but she could come back later and cut a piece.

The following morning she suddenly thought of Neil again – she would have to make sure that the two of them are never alone anywhere at school. It should be easy to avoid him, what with being in different grades, but she still dreaded running into him somewhere. How to handle it? Would she be able to keep from screaming and running? She’d just have to wait and see.

School was pretty much as usual – boring classes, exciting classes, classes with teachers who delighted in failure and those who loved success – and it was on the way home that it happened.

Neil stepped into her path as she was jogging along to the dormitory.

“Please stop and listen to me a moment.” He smiled at her, but too late. She took off like a deer in the forest, using all the power of her thigh muscles to accelerate past him, and she kept running full out until she reached the porch.

He hadn’t followed her, thank heavens.

For the next couple of days she noticed him at the edges of groups, and would draw people closer about her, but inevitably the moment came when he managed to corner her in the hall. The first bell had rung, and she was quickly sipping some water when she realized he was next to her, close but not touching. She straightened and jumped backwards.

“Listen, we must talk. I’m not going to harm you.”

“If you come closer I’ll scream the place down. Stay away from me.” Tracy backed away.

“Just talk to me, please. It’s important.” He reached a hand to touch her and she did scream, loud enough for a teacher to pop his head out of his classroom.

“What was that? Tracy, was that you?”

“Oh, Mr. Phillips, yes, thank you..”

“We saw a mouse, sir, and Tracy screamed. It’s gone under the lockers, over there.” Neil gestured, and just then the tardy bell rang.

“Well, get along to class, both of you. I’ll get the janitor to look for it, or to put some traps down. And Tracy, no need to scream about mice. They’re harmless.”

“Yes sir. Thank you.” She ran down the hall and slipped into Miss Jonker’s classroom.

The next day she found a note in her locker, asking her to meet Neil in the nearby mall for a slurpee. ‘We have to talk, please!’ he’d written. She screwed it up and threw it away. Nothing he could say would change the fact that he’d tried to kill her. If only his parents would move again, and he’d move. How long could she continue to avoid him? It helped that they were in different grades, but with him in twelfth and her in eleventh, they were in the senior section, and the hallways and grounds were open to all. The best she could do was to try and keep as close to others as possible, and with her record of being alone she was getting some strange looks from the people she chose to trail with.

And, besides all these things in her life, the imminent performance of the movement piece loomed ahead. The rehearsals with Julian’s troupe had been getting better and better, with musicians and athletes seeming to draw from each other to reach perfection.

That night’s rehearsal had Miss Jonker in tears at the end.

“I think we are ready, and now it’s simply a question of the performance. I think I’m going to cancel the rehearsal for Thursday, and we’ll just do a thorough warm-up on Saturday afternoon. I want to thank all of you for your hard work, and I really want to thank Julian and the musicians for their input. We’re going to have an awesome show!”

The group was grateful, but Tracy felt a pang that three days would pass before seeing Julian again. Even though he seemed not to notice any of them except as performers, Tracy felt drawn to him, to his stillness and power.

Yet, she had enough to keep her mind busy, so she focused on staying limber during the three days, stretching and bending at every opportunity, while trying to keep schoolwork up to date, and trying to avoid Neil.

The notes from him continued, but she kept throwing them away and sticking to the crowd, to the extent that one of her classmates eventually asked her if she had finally decided to come out of her shell and join the huddled masses, and she had to stifle the retort that rose to her lips. Living in the dormitory helped, since there were always people around, and she only had to make sure not be driven off by the inane giggling and gossip as usual.

This did mean she had to rein in some sarcasm and actually try to take part in conversations, but the alternative, being strangled in some dark corner, made it all bearable. The ensuing conversations did very little to convince her to make this a permanent part of her life. There was only so much one could say about boys, fashion, shoes and boys again.

Finally the weekend arrived, and instead of heading home, she stayed in the dormitory with the other performers. Although they were a smaller group, they were, out of sheer nerves, drawn together, and so the afternoon arrived without incident and without Neil breaking in on them.

The warm-up and run through did have one or two hitches, especially when the twins turned left instead of right and collapsed the pyramid prematurely, but Miss Jonker reassured them, saying that a bad dress rehearsal meant a great performance and she’d be more worried if there had been no problems.

At seven the audience started filing in, and Julian led his musicians in some light airs, meant to soothe and settle the audience. By quarter past Tracy had spotted her mom in the audience, and had also seen Neil with his two parents or guardians almost at the back. However, she refused to let that throw her. There was a big crowd, he was way back, away from the stage, and no way could he get to her here.

The house lights dimmed, they took their places, and the curtain rose to the arpeggio introduction from the musicians. A single spot picked out Marla lying on Andre’s back, her legs hooked over his shoulders, head hanging back. Julian’s flute sounded a single note and then Marla was sitting smoothly upright as Tracy and Amber cartwheeled across the stage. As she rose so did Andre, and they ended up with her sitting on his shoulders with extended arms.

Suddenly the stage was filled with bodies that tumbled, merged, spun, separated, merged again, tumbled and jumped and bounced off walls, while the music supported them.

The final burst that took them offstage and the haunting note that hung in the air held the audience suspended, at least until the stage lights came up and the troupe came back to take a bow.

The applause was deafening, and Miss Jonker received two huge bouquets, while the girls each got a smaller one. For Tracy there was, besides the small bouquet, a single sprig of jasmine, which she smiled over – instead of her giving this to her mom, her mom was giving her the flower they had talked about. It was a hothouse version, on spindly stems, but it was so typically something her mom would do, a little in-joke between them. She wondered which florist stocked these.

Eventually they were allowed off-stage, and in the dressing room they stripped off sweaty leotards and wiped down greasy faces. Tracy placed the jasmine in a little glass of water, and had to admit that her mom had been right, the scent soon became overpowering.

In no time, it seemed, they were outside, receiving more congratulations from friends and family, and Tracy hugged her mom tightly.

“I swear I thought you had springs instead of feet. How do you do those moves? And it seemed as if all of you could almost fly, you spent so little time touching the ground. You were so great! I just wish…”

“I know, mom, I know. I also wish he was still here. But thanks for this.” She held up the jasmine sprig. “But you’re right, even just fifteen minutes in the dressing room and we couldn’t even smell the sweaty tights and shoes, just this. Talk about overpowering!”

“Jasmine? I didn’t send this to you, sweetheart. Where would someone even get any that was blooming right now?” Her mom turned the sprigs over and over, looking for a card or something.

“I have to confess, I sent it.” The voice spoke from behind Tracy, out of the crowd milling around. “After all, it is the flower of revolutions and Tracy does mean ‘brave’, so I thought it appropriate to have some to give to her. This variety comes from South Africa, where it is just starting to bloom. I love the scent, and so regularly have some sent to me. I’m sorry, I’m Neil, Neil Juvay. One of Tracy’s schoolmates. albeit a new one. I transferred here about three or four weeks ago.” Neil stood to one side, smiling broadly at her mother and at her.

“Well, that’s nice. Isn’t that nice, Tracy? You said you had it sent here?”

While Tracy stood frozen, Neil picked up on the implied question.

“Yes, my family owns considerable estates all round the world, so I can afford to have whims indulged. And to answer your next question, I’m attending public school so that I do not lose touch with people and values that really matter, such as family and loyalty and hard work. But I’ve intruded enough. Bye Tracy, goodbye ma’am.”

He turned and walked away quickly, before either of them could say anything more.

“He seems nice. How well do you know him?” her mom was gazing after Neil, and the tone spoke volumes to Tracy. Under the innocent question was a whole host of others – when did you get a boyfriend, why haven’t you told me, wow, how rich is he really, are you serious about him?

“I don’t know him at all and I don’t know why he would send me flowers. He’s in twelfth grade, and we’ve hardly spoken at all.” Tracy tossed the jasmine sprig aside. “I think he’s stuck-up and presumptuous! Let’s go home.”

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