Salis (Chapter II)

Forgetting the flower, Salis brushed the leaves and twigs from the place where her foot had fallen. She found a single branch of what was apparently root. The portion of the root that rose enough from the earth to be uncovered was as wide as she was tall, but she did not know how much further in width it went below the surface.

The root brought her thinking to the tree, which she discovered easily, it being at least as strange as the large, hollow root. The great tree stood about twenty yards away, leafless but budding. It was the start of autumn when she left her house and she looked around to be certain it still was: all the other trees were in their various expected declines into Fall, but this one. She could not know but this tree was in fact always in a state of budding — always blooming, never bloomed. Why? I cannot be certain, but I suspect it had something to do with its roots — or else, the oddities of the roots had the same cause that made the branches frozen in perpetual early spring. Now that I think about it, the little flowers, too, were quite out of season. Whatever the reasons, she did not stop to think — merely noted them as odd — and went looking for more hollow roots on which to stomp her feet. Here and there Salis danced, stamping and hearing an occasional clump, until, upon descending a slope some distance away, she found a small cave.

Curiosity is one of the great qualities of innocence, but without proper fear it can easily get a little girl into a position from which she cannot quickly turn around. But as she squeezed herself through the tiny opening, there was no thought of retreat. Her curiosity became simply too intense as she discovered the cave was wooden, not rock. This was the open end of one of her stomping roots and she must see where it would lead!

Darkness might ordinarily scare the innocent, but soon after entering, the tunnel broadened to allow Salis to crawl. When this happened, she began to make out a dim light not far ahead and remembered seeing little hollow knots popping from risen sections of root that might allow both air and light into the curious underground hideaway. This served to solidify her already unreasonably high sense of security. Having seen the holes from the other side, she felt she knew the area well.

She crawled for what to a kid seemed an eternal duration, past off-shooting roots headed in other directions. The only thing that admitted to the passing of time was the coming and fading pains of bringing down her knees upon acorns that had found their way through holes or had been carried about by woodland creatures.

Eventually, the passage grew enough to permit her to stand. At this point, she thought she must be near the base of the trunk. Indeed, if it had been me, I would have wondered how I had not reached it sooner. At any rate, when walking around one of the many bends, and down a little gradient, the walls pinched to a point and ended at a roughhewn oaken door on old wooden hinges.

With the tunnel's native dampness and several holes above admitting light and heat, ancient orange and slate lichens had grown over the breach around the door and a moss had positioned itself on the hinges. The lichens almost hid the door's presence, except that in growing to cover the edges of the door, they had taken the shape of the door. Looking so different from the plain wooden walls, the whole thing had the appearance of something covered over artlessly, as if someone had tried too hard to conceal it and had succeeded in quite the opposite.

Taking a chip of wood, Salis began to trace the edges of the door. Up one side she cut, as far as she could reach, and flecks of lichen fell away. Down the other side, and around the hinges she continued. Finally, after several vertical jumps to swipe with her little wooden tool, she finished her task, trimming back the grey crust from the top edge of the door. Summoning no courage, fighting no fear or anxiety, she grabbed the latch and pulled with all the force of her weight. After four great heaves, the door came ajar and Salis slipped in... or out.

Read Chapter One


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