“That was poetry?” Noel said as she chuckled. “You should take up dancing instead. You didn’t make any sense at all!”
“I already told you, it wasn’t my poem, someone in my tribe came up with it,” I said.
“Well, tell that person to do something else then,” she said.
“He’s one of the greatest poets in my tribe, and also one of my favorites!”
“Then you have bad taste.”
I threw up my hands, figuratively. I couldn’t blame her too much, I doubt the translation magic was built to translate poetry. Besides, I didn’t think much of poetry before I became roommates with a literature major. Dr. Seuss was about as far as I was willing to go with poetry before then.
“And what kind of poetry do you like? If you’re saying I have bad taste, you must know what good taste is then,” I said.
She nodded with a sagely smile. “My favorite one was passed down by the ancestors. I don’t remember it all that well though.”
“Oh, but you remember it well enough to say it was better than mine?” I said.
“Well, I do remember a couple of lines.” Noel walked up to the giant tree. I followed.
I was waiting for her to say something, share the poetry she was so fond of, but nothing came. We were right up next to the giant tree now. Its bark had ridges as thick as my torso and knots as large as my body. Honestly, it felt like this thing was big enough to have its own gravity. There was certainly some sort of attractive force, probably psychological, that made me want to walk right up to it and touch it. But there was magic in this world. Perhaps this pull wasn’t as psychological as I thought?
“Are you going to tell me the poem or not?” I said.
“Nah, I don’t think I remember it after all,” said Noel.
I shook my head. Man, kids were annoying. Although I guess I was a kid in this world too now. Sort of. Wait, was I going to age as slow as an elf now that I was in an elf’s body? It would really suck if I stayed on a human scale of time on the inside. There’s no way that was going to happen, right? Right?
Having worked myself into a panic all on my own, I didn’t even realize that Noel had walked right up next to me. I looked up and she punched me, lightly, in the chest. “Alright, you don’t need to sulk just because I won’t tell you the poem.”
That wasn’t why I was sulking.
“It goes something like…” she began. “You taught me to drink from your eyes, the ripe red wine of love. Wrought in the heavens from pure moonlight, the whole world dances for you. Repentance torn to tatters, I can see nothing but you. With my feet in the waves, I drink from the sea. I am drunk off your gaze, I am drunk off your love. I am drunk off of this gentle feeling of intense ecstasy. This gentle feeling of intense ecstasy, I blame on your gaze. This gentle feeling of intense ecstasy, I am drunk off your gaze.”
I put my hands up halfway. “Not bad,” I said. The fact that it was still so good after having gone through the filter of the translation magic meant it was a pretty good poem. “But—”
I stopped. Apparently, I was the last thing to do so. The wind, the shadows of the leaves, the birds in the air; everything had frozen in place. Noel’s eyes widened. At least she wasn’t frozen too.
The shadows of the leaves vanished, consumed by a pervasive darkness. The darkness of night. The sun was gone, replaced, in exactly the same place, by a bright, glaring full moon. I say glaring because it felt like it was staring down at me like a scientist observing a patch of fungus growing on a petri dish.
Noel grabbed my shoulder and pointed over it. I turned slowly, hesitant to put my back to the moon. My eyes widened just like Noel’s when I saw the massive silver door in the tree trunk. It ran up the whole length of the tree, shooting up into the sky, far past the clouds.
The door was made of a silver mist, although somehow the mist looked like it would be solid. Like a mass of gel or goop. If I put my hand inside, I felt like I would be stuck in it like quicksand. The silver mist drew intricate patterns as it swirled around, loops and rings and buttons and bars. But since it kept on swirling, never settling, the shapes kept changing, the patterns kept being drawn and redrawn. The only thing that stayed etched in place were the words of the poem that Noel had just recited out loud.
The words appeared to me in English. I wasn’t sure if Noel was seeing anything at all since her tribe didn’t have a written language. Perhaps she was seeing the poem written in the symbols we’d found around the cave of The Terrible.
The doors opened, the mist faded. An intense light beckoned us inside. An even brighter light seemed to push us from behind, but when I turned, the moon was gone. The sun did not come back, which meant it was still night. But the stars weren’t out either, or rather, there was only one star in the sky.
The red star was brighter than ever. It twinkled erratically. Its red light burned into my eyes, blinking open and shut. For some reason, a reason I couldn’t understand at all, I felt like the red star was smiling. No, laughing. Laughing maniacally. Laughing, laughing, laughing. If it had a body, it would be rolling from laughter, crushing hundreds of beings with its massive body as it rolled, rolled, rolled around, unable to contain its laughter.
I blinked. The moon was back. The red star hung in its rightful place among the stars. The moon flashed silver, burning brighter and brighter, and the red star flashed red, matching the moon’s intensity, but never quite matching it. The silver and red lights turned into mist and pushed into me like a gust of wind.
I held onto Noel as I let out a massive scream. My feet left the ground, my eyes were full of light, and I fell as if free-falling off a cliff, heart rocking up to my throat. Noel’s screams passed by my ear, as the rushing wind drowned out all other sounds.
My eyes began to clear, but were then met by a gradually retreating door, beyond which lay a peaceful afternoon sun shining on an idyllic clearing in the forest. But the darkness on the sides of the door became bigger and bigger until I could see nothing again. The wind was still rushing past my ears, and it took me a while to realize I was still screaming. My feet flailed into nothingness. My eyes saw nothingness. All I could hear was noise and all I could think was: man, do I pick the absolute freaking worst ways to die.