The Tree Guardian

Under the Sand

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Tanya played alone in the sand, digging here and there, just as she had done every afternoon after school for as long as she could remember. When she heard and felt her plastic shovel hit something solid, she was confused. Sand was never solid. She had just been digging here in this very spot yesterday. She dug a little to the left, then a bit farther, then got up and walked several feet further, but something just under the sand was in her way everywhere. She tried again on the right-hand side, but to no avail. Finally, she started digging away the sand where she had started and made a pile to the side. As she cleared off a portion of the intruding surface, she started to notice lines running every which way. She paused, conjuring up what she had been taught in math class. "Triangles!" she blurted out. As she cleared off more sand, she saw that instead of lines everywhere, as she had first thought, the triangles made a complete surface that was just under the sand. She noticed one in particular right in front of her that had a bit of one of its corners sticking up. She carefully pried it up, shaking the sand off into her pile. The triangle seemed very light for something that sounded and felt so solid under the toy shovel. She set it next to her sand pile and turned to look at what had been underneath it. She blinked. She rubbed her eyes, then looked again. There, where the triangle had been, was a hole. Not just any hole, but one without sides below the surface. She crept up to the edge and looked in.

There was a vast space underneath the triangles. A spiral slide, like the ones on the playground at school, twisted its way down to a strange surface. She could see in rather well, as there seemed to be light coming from somewhere aside from the hole where she looked down, but she couldn't understand what the ground was made of. Tanya decided to try the slide to find out more. She got on, and started to slide. After several seconds, she was still sliding, but she couldn't see over the edge. A bit later, when she began to fear that she was on an endless slide and would never find her way home again, she glimpsed part of a strangely-shaped pillar. She saw more glimpses of it as she continued to descend, and soon she spotted others like it. Finally, as she was starting to worry again that the slide was endless, it straightened out and she landed on her feet.

She had only a small patch of open ground to stand in. Everywhere around her there were towering green things. Nothing moved, except bits of the green things when she felt a breeze go by. She looked around cautiously, and noticed a small path leading towards some light. She was afraid at first, but when she reached out to touch them, she found that she could move the green things out of her way easily. She picked her way along the path slowly, looking at everything in bewilderment. She had never seen things like these before. She felt as though she were being watched, and pulled up short as she came to a clearing.

"Hello," a voice said.

It was a rustling, windy sort of voice, unlike any she had heard before. "H-hello," she replied, "wh-who are you? Where are you? I can't see you."

The largest of the strangely-shaped pillars was right in front of her, and now that she was standing and able to study it, she saw that it wasn't really a pillar, more like a post that got smaller as it went up, with lots of funny little posts coming off of it at strange angles, then bending and twisting every which way. Then she noticed bits of green paper-like things about the size of her fingers clinging to the littlest posts in clumps.

"I am here in front of you. You have been looking at me, and it seems that you have never seen anything like me before."

Tanya gulped. "A-are you this funny looking post-thing in front of me?" She heard a breathy laughter.

"Yes, I suppose I do look somewhat like a post. Do not fear. You will not be harmed while you are here. None of us here can move the way you do, and I must say that you were very kind in how carefully you followed our path, you did not harm a single one of us."

Tanya looked around. "What? You mean... those green things back there can talk too?"

The laughter was gentle. "Yes, almost everything you can find here is alive, and working very hard, I might add. We help keep you healthy, along with the other inhabitants of the city in which you live. Very few of us can talk out loud as you and I do; most can only muster a whisper."

"How long have you been here? Why haven't I found you before?"

A breath of wind like a sigh passed by Tanya. "That is a long story, one that I and only two others are old enough to recount from our own experiences in it. It would tire you to hear the whole thing, and I think you would be missed at home long before the tale was done. If you come back to visit us again when you have more time before dinner, I will tell you more."

"Please... sir? What's your name? What are you? How are you talking? Can you see me? What is this place? How do I get home?"

There was silence for a moment, and Tanya feared she had insulted the creature.

"Well, now, I suppose there have not been any introductions yet, have there? My name is Fallowhaven. I am the oldest of the Kauri; I am a tree. You can hear the rustling of my leaves, and it sounds like a voice. I can see you in a way, but that involves some advanced mathematics that-"

"Ooh, I like math!" Tanya exclaimed. "I figured out that the roof up there is made of triangles!"

"Yes, very good." Fallowhaven sounded slightly irritated, but went on. "This mathematics is also about triangles, and I am certain that you will be able to understand it easily when the time comes. The difficulty for me is that when I talk, I use my leaves, which I also use to look at you. So you become very blurry while I am speaking. Now, this place-"

"Please, sir- Fallowhaven, what are leaves?"

"Hmm. At this time, it would be better to show you than to try to explain. I will drop one, see if you can catch it!"

At this, one of the green paper-like things came loose from one of the twisty posts above Tanya's head. It fell slowly compared to a rock, but rather quicker than a piece of paper about the same size. Tanya reached out and caught it with both hands. She turned it over and over and looked at it very carefully, but she couldn't figure out what it was made of.

"My only request is that you leave that leaf here. It will become nutrients for us soon, and we will be able to help you longer. And now you should know that this place does not have its own name, but in ages past it would have been called a nursery, or perhaps a garden. Now I have a question for you. Are you ready to go home? If so, then I have something I need you to do for me. Oh, and to finish the introductions, I must ask: what is your name?"

"I'm Tanya! I go to school and I'm in the first grade."

"Well met, Tanya. I must thank you for braving the slide and coming down to visit us. As for how you get home, we will open a passageway for you to the outside world, and then we will close it again. Please understand that this is for our safety. And I must also ask you not to tell anyone that you have been here, nor anything about our conversation. Can you do that for me?"

"Sure!" said Tanya. Keeping secrets at home was easy to do since no one was ever around. "So I can come back?"

"I do not know when it will be safe again. But feel free to play in the sand every day as you always have. I will send the triangles up to impede your shovel's progress when the time is right."

Tanya was elated. Her own secret world! "I'll come back every day, I promise!"

"Do not forget the leaf, it will betray our secret!"

Tanya blushed at her forgetfulness. She set the leaf on the ground and looked around. "How do I get home?"

"Follow the path back towards the slide. The slide has been moved, so keep walking past that point and you will see an exit to the outside world. You will come out at the bottom of the hill. I am sorry that we do not have stairs, but I think it would be too long of a climb."

As Tanya left, she realized that she still didn't know where the light came from. But she would be back, she told herself. She would have lots of time to hear all the stories Fallowhaven could tell.

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