Corpse of the Forest
The board room style space was brightly lit by sunshine bouncing off the thick lacquered corpse of a giant redwood. I considered the bright light was causing the headache symptoms. The tree was felled, cut flat, and used as a tabletop for the monstrously long room.
As I looked further, the only other woman in the room was my mother. I could hear questions were being directed at me. Voices saying my name and then finally there was Leo.
“Al, they are asking you about the shooting.” His hand was on my arm, and I could see him, really see him, as if it was the first time I looked at his gorgeous face and honey-brown colored eyes carefully.
“You’re here.” My eyes began to water.
Stacks of papers, water glasses, and small food plates littered the tabletop. Fresh coffee cups and trays of pastries adorned the center of the table like decorations.
Nausea was rolling in my stomach. My neck was hot and prickly. The smell of thick overpowering smoke filled my mind. My fingers slid across the table. The grooves in the wood played for me like the old black records my father keeps in his study. Rings of time recorded in the corpse kept here in this room as a testament to the household’s wealth and gluttony.
“It’s a forest fire!” I pushed everything out of my way and pulled my tired body up on the table.
“Alerie!” My mother screamed. Her voice trailing off into the distance. Replaced by the stretching of an owl taking flight behind my head.
I fell to the ground and could feel the forest floor, the dirt and the pine needles, the light ferns, and the thick moss cold and wet below my hands.
“The fire is coming toward me!” I could feel the words scream out of my mouth, but I couldn’t see anyone around me.
“It’s fine, my Lovely. The fire won’t touch you. We are safe here. We are all safe here.” It was a man’s voice, old and rough, unknown to me, but I believed him completely.
“It’s so loud,” I cried out. “they’re screaming.” I felt something touch my leg, and I looked back.
“No. Don’t touch her.” The words disappeared into the crackle and whir of the approaching fire.
“Tell me where you are?” The rough voice commanded.
“My home, my home is gone. I am nowhere.” A fiery red pinecone dropped at my side. I screamed as it touched the hem of my gray dress, turning a tiny patch of fabric red. I swatted at the fire stamped out the ember.
New sounds were coming from above me. Looking up, I found the dense canopy of leaves was ablaze. The pinecones at my feet exploded, sending hot sticky shrapnel into the dark night air. The smoke was thick and oily and burned my eyes. I ran as fast as I could away from the blaze and toward the water at the edge of the woods.
I woke startled. A cold cloth sat on my forehead, and the familiar heat from Leo’s chest was rising under my shoulders. I was totally spent, floppy, and weak, as if all my bones were removed while I slept. I could still smell the smoke and expected to be covered in soot.
“This tree is from a forest near my childhood home. Half of it was lost in a fire over five-hundred years ago. I brought this tree here with several others like it when my dear friend built this house.” It was the rough voice from the fire.
“Leo,” I whispered.
“It’s okay. Everything is fine. I caught you.”
“What?” I unfolded my arms and rubbed my face and eyes.
“You ran off the edge of the table, did a swan dive toward the fireplace Al.”
“I was running for the lake edge, but there isn’t a lake here, is there?” Reality was coming back to me slowly but surely.
Leo’s usual enamored expression was masked in pity. I could hear low chatter in the room. Looking around and found my mother standing by the Clan elder. Her hand over her mouth and tears on her cheeks, she nodded in agreement as he spoke.
“Get me out of here. Please, I need to get back to my apartment.” Leo stood holding me in his arms and gingerly placed me in a standing position. The room spun around us. I held onto Leo until I could steady my gaze and feel my legs again.
“Let’s try getting you out of this room,” Leo suggested. I nodded in agreement and looked around for a quick exit. Leo’s father, Reg, was standing in the doorway with the car keys and my bag of things in his hand.
“Alerie, my dear. May I speak with you? I’m the Keith Clan elder. Please call me John” The clan leader excused himself from my mother and walked toward the doorway.
“You people disgust me.” I hissed.
“Alerie, what are you doing?” My mother yelled. John held out his hand to steady me, but I refused to touch him.
“You lacquered the corpse of a tree and put it here on display to hold your coffee mugs? There is an entire world locked inside that fucking thing. They’re in torment.”
“It’s alright.” John put his hands up to quiet the murmurs from everyone inside the crowded room. “This tree is from the Grove. That memory could only be from your paternal grandmother Isa. I can assure you the tree is quite dead. I assume the fire and all she experienced is imprinted on your DNA. Touching the bark must have unlocked the memory. You have the gift of sight just as she did.”
“Unless this sight going to help me pass my O’chem final, I don’t want it,” I explained.
“What is it you really want, Alerie? It can’t just be to pass a few tests.” John looked into my eyes as if my answer would be granted to me no matter what it was.
“I wanted to be a general surgeon, but I can’t stand the possibility of hurting anyone, killing anyone by my hands. I can’t stomach the thought. I’m between goals at the moment.”
“My good friend has been away for many years. He lives between this world and the Grove. I keep his seat on the council and his home running while he is away. I know now he is your father. I sent word to him last night about your situation.”
“My situation is fine. I can handle this White and the Yolk without any of your help.” As I said the words, I knew they might be false. I might need a great deal of help.
The Keith Clan leader laughed. “Oh, I’m convinced you can, but we will all be there to help you anyway.”
“Why does it sound like you are getting the better end of the deal?”
“Balance. For everything you subtract, you must also add,” John explained. “You have been chosen. There are only two options for you presently. Live or die.”
“I’ve chosen to enter this White and do whatever necessary to get back out. I can’t bear to think of my mother and my very human father having to bury me. No one should bury their child.” I could hear my mother quietly gasp. “But I will have my life back, on my terms, when this waste of my time is over.”
“Malou is sending a witch to your apartment to help you. One of her descendants attends a nursing college near Milton.”
“Please thank her for me, but my vampire friend is setting me up with a witch tonight.” John’s face lost all its color.
“Excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude by butting in, but it never hurts to have a second witch, especially if one is a natural healer. As are all of Malou’s line.” A tall, young-looking man with dark hair and tanned biceps extended his hand to me. I shook it.
“Thanks for the advice.”
“And who might you be,” Leo asked with a great deal of snark in his voice.
“I’m Dagen. I may actually be your bloodline betrothed. If you are really the first daughter of Rafferty MacTernan.”
“Wow, an interesting bit of information. But I am the first daughter of my father Max Ganas, human, and my Clan only marries humans.”
“You know why right.” Dagen smiled.
I shook my head, no.
“It’s so you don’t have to serve in the White. If you are a half-blood or less, you will never be chosen. You can still serve as a soldier or armor but never the bait.”
“Bait?” I was confused, but bait made sense.
“The only thing a demon wants to kill more than a wolf is an angel, but those Powers don’t go down without one hell of a fight.” Dagen looked deep into my eyes like he was trying to see through me.
At that moment, I realized there was a great deal I didn’t know about my situation, and even more, I didn’t even know to ask.
Dagen rested his hand on my shoulder. “We all want you to live and fight for us regardless of who your father is. We can’t pick who gets chosen, but we can choose how to fulfill our onus. Don’t deny anyone the privilege lightly.” Dagen stepped aside, making a barrier between the Clan leader and the open doorway.
I found my mother across the room and waived at her quickly. She looked shaken but still as strong as ever. She acknowledged me with a head tilt and a somber nod to Leo. Reg pulled at my hand and led Leo and me out to the waiting car. My bag was in the backseat, along with my phone and a large container of fresh chicken strips. The attached note said only Eat with a smiley face. I assumed the snacks were from Jordan.
The drive home would take several hours. I told Leo and Reg about my night and the shooting and my time in the Clan house. Reg mentioned how he met Rafferty MacTernan years ago and surmised if he was my father. I was likely conceived at a Clan blending celebration.
Having heard of this more pagan Clan practice, I couldn’t believe my prudish mother would bring my sweet father to a clan orgy. Considering the alternative explanations for my genetic makeup, I hoped she did.
Traveling home gave me such a sense of relief. I would be in control of my own life again. Sitting in the back seat with Leo as my warm pillow, I couldn’t help thinking about Henry. That simple, beautiful life seemed so impossibly far away now. I was ridiculous for even considering a normal life might be a possibility for me.