CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE PORTAL
It is 8:30 pm on August 2nd, and it feels like the longest day of my life.
I’m sitting in the mouth of the cave, which now ranks number two in my son’s list of favorite places in the Lighted Woods. I’m breathing the night air deeply, relaxing a little more with each exhale. The rhythmic sounds of my son’s knife-making are echoing behind me in the cave, pacing my breath.
Usually the two of us are buzzing right around the same frequency, but tonight we are each other’s opposite.
“Did you sleep in the Mother’s tank today?” I ask him.
The scratching stops. Silence. My back is turned but I can sense the sneaky little smile on his face.
“I don’t know why that’s a rule, mom. Besides, I didn’t sleep the whole time. Just when Bodhi did. And I’m pretty sure I heard Grace and the Mother snoring, too. Also, my dreams in the Mother’s tank weren’t scary at all. I dreamed me and Bodhi were making pizza.”
The scratching resumes with my breath.
I sit and meditate, centered in the mouth of the cave, my son tucked beneath it behind me, the Lighted Woods open and singing in the night air before me. Be still. Breathe. Despite the insanity of the past few days, it feels easy tonight. Something in me must have known that this is where I settle into myself and recharge…just me and my son, existing and breathing in the same space. One more deep breath, and I am out of my body, rising slowly in the air between the trees. I turn to face the cave as I rise and see my body, still and breathing, centered like an iris in the eye of a mountain. I’m conducting the breath of the forest like an orchestra; the earth, the trees, the river…everything in these woods creaks and stretches to expand with my breath.
I hover in the air, eyes blurring but fixed in the direction of the sleepy mountain, watching my thoughts and memories float past me with the wind. My tiny, six-year-old son catches his first fish in the river below me. The embers of our summer retreat campfires rise to meet me in the air, warming my bones. Dorian’s guitar sings in the distance. The Mother’s words swirl around me like a ribbon in the wind.
“I am very disappointed in you. That poor boy is sick because you’re all out here having a time, letting any old thing happen. Wolves scaring these babies. This is not who you are. You’ve let your shadows out, that’s what you’ve done. The light used to be everywhere, now it’s just little poison dots…”
I’m not far from the place where Veda and I brought the Mother so she could talk to the trees just this morning. She insisted on coming so deep into the woods that we had to carry her wheelchair over the fallen branches for nearly a mile. The Mother has always spoken of the forest as if it were a person, but that was the first time I actually heard her address the trees. I wanted to remain respectful, but Veda and I exchanged worried glances as she spoke. She sounded crazy. Still, we did exactly as she told us and even sat her at the base of the oldest tree in the woods so she could meditate with it.
A gust of wind brushes past my ear, correcting me with the Mother’s whisper.
I open my eyes slowly, half expecting to see her floating beside me.
She isn’t there, but I feel her. I smell her when I breathe deep. I AM these woods.
“I’m sorry, Mother”, I say out loud.
A clap of thunder startles me back into my body in the mouth of the cave, but when I open my eyes I see nothing in the sky but stars. I feel disoriented in the eerie quiet and begin retracing my steps to remember why I’m here when it hits me. The scratching sound is gone. I can’t hear my son. Another boom of thunder propels me to my feet, my ears ringing. This one comes from the back of the cave. I spin around to see scattered chunks of mountain collected in a pile on the ground, pebbles still rolling across the cave floor. I’m scanning them frantically, searching for him, nearly blinded by the beams of light shining through what is now a tiny opening in the very back of the cave.
His little head peeks out from behind the pile of rocks, eyes flashing with the reflection of the light. My heart is on fire with the sight of him as he walks in front of the pile, a makeshift rock pick in his right hand, his jaw nearly on the cave floor.
“LOOK WHAT I DID!”
Before I can say a word, he’s headed for the light, throwing more rocks behind him as he tries to burrow into the little hole he’s made. By the time I reach the back of the cave, all that’s on this side is one little foot, which disappears into the light the moment I reach for it. I immediately dive in after him, barely able to wriggle through the space. There’s nothing to see but white, and no sound escapes when I try to call his name. As soon as my body is through the rocks, I am weightless. For a single moment, I am nothing. No fear, no pain. Nothing.
I open my eyes and my son is seated on the floor in front of me in the cave. To my left I see his little pick laying on top of the rock pile. To my right, the forest breathes and sings its night song as if nothing had happened. We both sit, stunned for a moment, waiting for some evidence that what just happened was real. It comes before either of us can speak.
The voice booms from beyond the trees, angry, screaming. I can’t make out the words, but it is quickly getting louder when I hear others join it. A little girl is sobbing. Another man’s voice calls out. I pick up my son who is now staring out of the cave, frozen in fear, and hold him close to me. We press into the cave walls, hiding just inside the mouth behind a massive rock. My son’s face is pressed hard into my shoulder, and I’m straining to see what’s happening without moving from behind this rock. The voices sound like they’re just on the other side of it now. I can see my son’s body moving with the pounding of my heart.
“He ate the light!” the little girl’s voice cries between sobs.
“Belle, come on, let’s go!”
My son jumps from my arms when he hears Dorian’s voice.
He is standing at the mouth of the cave, screaming Bodhi’s name into the dark. His little body is shaking. Suddenly the three of them run right past the cave entrance; Dorian has Bodhi slung over one shoulder and is holding a sobbing Belle’s hand, half dragging her as he tries to run. Bodhi raises his head and looks right past us into the cave as his father passes us. He moves his mouth to speak, but the incoherent angry scream of a man is all that comes out.
I take a few steps out of the cave, yelling for Dorian as my son continues screaming Bodhi’s name. They don’t see us. They don’t hear anything we are saying.
My son and I sit in silence for several minutes before he goes to the back of the cave, returning with his bag. He reaches in, handing me a book with his head down.
“I’m sorry I took it without your permission. I saw it out of your bag and it said Magic and I couldn’t help it, Mom. I’m sorry.”
I take the book, confused. It’s the Mother’s journal of magic in the woods. I can’t believe I didn’t realize it was gone. I can’t believe I hadn’t even read it yet.
“I don’t understand”
His head is still down and tears are dropping beneath him onto the cave floor.
“I only read that one page, I swear. I wanted to see if it was true. I should have told you.”
He collapses into me, sobbing. A single leaf marks a page in the notebook, and I flip it open with one hand, hugging him with the other. The Mother’s shaky script titles the leaf-marked page:
The 24-Hour Portal.
My son squeezes me so hard the book falls from my hand.
“Mom we are in last night. Please can we go home?”