Tree, Falcon, Tree A Short Story by Jeremy Hu Tree There was a tranquil lake at the base of a lush valley

, surrounded by a meadow of sunflowers. A narrow strip of land ran towards the centre of the lake, where a great oak tree stood. It was a serene settlement with an inclining vista towards infinity. Where the horizon was an indelible line between the green of grass and the blue of sky. Where everywhere is beautiful and everything is amazing. Situated next to the tree and the lake was a little village, as it was there that grew the greenest pasture for livestock to feed on as well as the richest of soil to grow the freshest of crops. Its strong branches spread out above everyone's roofs, letting in enough light from the sun, while sheltering them from the harshness of rain. According to legend, the tree was borne out of the resting ground of an earthly god that was a purveyor of justice across the lands, and it was believed that his body still lies in slumber under the placid lake. The villagers regarded the tree and the lake with a mystical reverence, and they showed their gratitude to the god every day with a modest offering: they speak to the tree. It can be brief or it can be long, as long as it is with a sincere heart. It may not be much, but it was given in good faith for all the blessings of abundance. Everyone had what they needed, and everyone was happy. There lived within the great tree a falcon. The majestic bird and its glorious white feathers with distinct black tips has been there even before the villagers came there to settle. Its residents had grown to consider it as a protector totem of their home, and a guardian of children that may stray too far off the village premises, and a watchful eye for any strangers that came approaching. One fine day a stranger emerged on the horizon. And he was a fiery one. Fire The stranger appeared at the peak of the valley and slowly made his way down to the village. He was covered in flames of red and blue from head to toe, hissing at the fresh air around him as though toxic and licking the ground beneath him with a burning animosity. The flames extended everywhere throughout his body except for his chest for which there was a gaping chasm. It was a hole that could see no bottom, nor any glimmer of light anywhere inside. The village folk spotted his trail blazing across the grass from a distance; a wretched path on the perfect green fields. But the village folk, generous in spirit and kind at heart, still went forward to meet the stranger. A young woman stepped forward and was first to engage him in conversation. “What is it that you seek around these parts, stranger?” asked the lady. “I seek to fill the hollow in this bosom of mine” came the reply. Bewildered but still cordial, the lady told the stranger, “We may not have much around these parts, but we have enough. I only hope that's enough to fill the hole that is in your heart.” And with that, she welcomed him into the village, to the intrigue of some, but to the fear of most. As village folk watched from a distance this unseen phenomenon of a man; a human fully enveloped in fire with a cavity in his chest so awesome and frightening, they knew he could only be trouble. He sauntered around the village, and soon enough he set his eyes upon a bundle of herbs. But as soon as he set his grasp upon it, the bundle of herbs burst forth with a shimmering light. He put his fingers upon a

bowl of milk, and that too was illuminated. It was a golden radiance unseen by anyone before, and all the villagers were duly awed by a glow so bright and beautiful. The stranger then turned towards a beautiful maiden, of a pure soul. She too shined at his magical touch. Wary folks forgot all about their fear of the stranger, and together with all those already intrigued, stepped forward to receive the light. Alas, no material object could satiate the void. Nor could any person pure of spirit or innocent of mind. For everything that the stranger laid his hands on, what was once filled with light, eventually erupted into flames. Everyone he touched burnt a fiery death. And still the blazing stranger went on seeking, oblivious to the death and destruction he's caused, until there was nothing left to feel his finger's touch. The entire village was up in flames; the earth ashen and barren asunder. There was no longer any trace of the green pastures or the rich soil that once graced the village. Beast The young woman stood by the grand oak tree and witnessed the entire calamity unfold as the village she loved came burning to the ground; too helpless to fight, too guilt-stricken to run any further. She was beset with such grave despair that tears, something she never had to muster in this place of contentment, welled up in her eyes. But as the stranger walked down the strip of land towards the tree where she stood through the raging fire, setting fire to even the pristine lake, the woman did not fall to her knees to beg for her life. She just stood her ground and cleared her throat, for she knew the words she was to speak would be her last. The stranger stopped short in front of the lady, and heard her mutter those final words. “I'm sorry stranger. You have taken everything that we have. But I don't think you will ever have enough to fill that hole in your heart.” She said this not with contempt, nor with anger, but with a solemn resignation to a conclusion to her story so that his would continue. The woman closed her eyes and accepted her fate, and as she burnt by the stranger's touch, a solitary tear rolled down her cheek and fell down to the scorched field. It fell deep into the arid land; a sole drop of water in a futile effort to extinguish a fire. But then something unexpected happened. A brilliant blue light emanated between the cracks. Underneath the barren ground, something was stirring. A great clay beast emerged from the burning lake. It was part steed, part chiru, with two grand black horns protruding out of its temples that twirled together over its forehead to form a single horn between its white eyes, aimed straight at the heavens. Its heavy hooves trod upon the blazed earth as it fixated its gaze at the stranger as he turned around, frozen in place by the sight of the beast, unable to escape its gaze. It stared deep into his eyes; judging him. Then without warning, the mighty beast lunged forward and pierced the stranger through the hole in his chest. Thick black tar bled out of it, spilling onto to the blazing waters; dousing the flames, but contaminating the water with its darkness. It continued to spill over to the burning soil, until the entire vicinity was

covered in black. Darkness soon seeped into the stranger's vision as well, as he slowly started to lose consciousness. Everything that he saw started to move away; the ashes of what remains of the village, the green grass of yonder, and the great oak tree, all slowly faded until the world turned black. But right before he passed out, he saw the same brilliant blue light emanating through the land, now crystallizing into a tiny glowing pearl in the beast's forehead, passing over from its horn and into his hollow chest. Darkness The stranger woke up swallowed in the deepest and darkest shade of black he had ever seen; it was a blanketing shadow that stretched throughout his entire horizon. The darkness that engulfed his eyes, his body, his entire being was so overwhelming that he nearly forgot he was still alive. Or was he? The stranger called out into the dark, to anyone or anything that might be out there. “Hello?” Nothing called back. “Is anybody out there?” He gave another shout that echoed into the vast nothingness, and still there was no answer. It sounded like he was in a gargantuan hall, but it could have taken the shape or form of anything; a pit, a cavern, a chamber, and it wouldn't have an inkling of significance in the sheer darkness of it all. The ground beneath his feet was cold and hard, but it was unlike the stinging cold of winter or the reassuring hardness of a rocky path; there was something lifeless about the land he was treading upon now. He started walking, shouting out every once in a while in the hope that if he got nearer to someone or something they would hear him. But no matter which way he turned or how far he walked in a certain direction, his voice rang out with the same looming echo in an infinite emptiness, like a ghost calling out to a distant world. And walked he did, but without any destination in sight or any sign that he's actually going anywhere, he could very well be walking right at the same spot where he started. For all he knew, he could have never existed. The stranger soon grew frustrated, unable to do anything to get out of this terrible space. Everything was just so futile. Until he got so fed up, he started screaming into the darkness around him. “Where am I?” And there was the same abysmal echo. “What is this place?” Something was different this time. It sounded slightly less distant. “Why am I here?” There was far less reverberation now. It sounded like the space around him was getting smaller. “Who did this to me?” And tighter and nearer the echo grew. “How can I get out of here?” Until it sounded like the stranger was trapped in a box. From a vastness so great and brooding, the space shrunk so tight around him until it was hard to even breathe. He couldn't even close his eyes for solace, to find some peace from the visceral terror that is rushing through his system; it was the same darkness any way. And as the powerlessness and despair sinks in his soul, for the first time he realized just how alone he was. Light The suffocating darkness closes in on him, closing in on him with slow and steady precision like walls caving in on a fading existence. Then just when this seemingly inevitable fate reached its ominous

peak, there appeared a brilliant sphere of light; a light as bright as a thousand suns that it pained him to even look at it. So agonizing was its light that he had to look away as the orb burned its image on his eyes, but the mighty source of light revolved around him with every direction he turned to, remaining fixated in the centre of his sight. He tried closing his eyes, but it was then that he realized he no longer had eyelids. Together with this light, a terrible loud screeching noise began ringing through the space where he was; it was akin to the sound of a thousand cries overlapping each other to make a single timbre so grating to the ears that it was driving him mad. So agonizing was the noise that he put up his hands to cover his ears, but it was then that he realized he no longer possessed his arms. Struggling to think straight in such severe visual and aural pain, all he could think of was to start running towards the light, figuring that it is the destination that will bring him the answers he was looking for, or at least an end to this misery. However, no matter how far he moved, the orb did not appear any nearer, nor did he seem any closer to it. It was then that he realized that he didn't have his legs. He tried to shout over the overwhelming noise for all this to stop. He plead, prayed and begged to all the gods that he had even remotely heard of from his travels, but he could not even hear himself speak; no voice emerged from him. So he faced the light and the sound until he felt his eyes and ears starting to bleed. But he no longer had those anymore either. He had now been reduced into a consciousness. A phantom that could only watch. Listen. Endure. What felt like minutes turned into hours, and into days, months, years; time became irrelevant. But no matter how long he lasted this experience, neither the light nor the sound diminished in its intensity and the pain from them was a constantly invigorated one, fresh and renewed all the time. Part of the agony was the sheer boredom of it all as well; he was restless for something, anything, to happen. And something indeed happened. After an eternity of suffering, a silhouette of a gigantic bird; a great white falcon with black tips, appeared before his eyes. It spread its massive wings and provided some relief to his misery. The stranger was overcome with such gratitude that he would embrace the gargantuan avian if only he had his arms. But the bird of prey was there for another reason. Falcon The stranger finally had some form of shelter from the searing light and the maddening noise was slightly dampened as the falcon slowly wrapped him within its wings. Until all he could see was a white curtain of feathers on the bird's bosom. But slowly the feathers started folding away, shriveling, revealing a darker shade of feathers below, and layers upon layers began unraveling themselves, each darker than the previous one, until finally he could only see the darkness that he was once enveloped in not too long ago, yet at the same time, an eternity ago. He stared into the unfathomable hole, slipping in deeper. He saw a blue pearl, glowing motionless. It split itself into two pearls of the same size, repeated this and continued to multiply. It grew to become a child, suspended in space. It grew large enough for its feet to touch an unseen ground, and was now a young boy. He stood perfectly still in the perfect darkness; there was an untouched purity in his perfect eyes.

Then the young boy raised his hands to his chest. His fingers began penetrating the flesh on his chest, tearing a hole in his skin as though it was a soft fabric. He proceeded to rip something out from his chest, and on his bloodied hands there grasped a glowing blue pearl. A bonfire sprung out from the earth in front of him, and he threw the pearl into the flames. The burning grew ever fiercer, which started spreading and eventually threw a mantle of fire over this once perfect young boy. It was then that the stranger recognized a more familiar face. The boy had now turned into a man, a man with a hole in his chest and fire on his body. The stranger remained engrossed in the unfolding of the series of events that revolved around this curious man. All the years of traveling from one place to the next, becoming both a beacon of light and a harbinger of darkness at the same time to entire worlds. Making them shine with the brightest light and then leaving them charred and broken. The more he watched, the more he came to realize exactly what was to happen next. For he was the sole teller of this tale. And after this was a tale more painful than the desolation of the darkness or the agony from the light. It was the tale of memory. He could not look away; he could not hide from his past. He kept watching as he destroyed everything in his endless pursuit for the contentment of his heart. So he screamed. “I WILL KILL YOU!” He screamed at the bird without a voice, in a futile attempt to drown out thinking about the images that he was looking at. But there was only silence that emerged from the chaos in his mind. “I WILL DESTROY YOU!” With every inkling of energy he had, threats of this sort, along with a imaginative assortment of all manners of filth, poured out of him with a foolish desire that they would somehow be mentally transmitted to the bird. “I WILL GET OUT OF THIS PLACE AND I WILL BREAK YOU!” He blamed the bird as the cause of all this pain. He kept at it for a long time. Still the series of events played on in this dark theater, recounting every tragic moment of the stranger's appalling life. And he had no choice but to watch every cataclysm, calamity and catastrophe unfold again. Eventually the anger turned into remorse. “Please. No more. No more of this. I'm sorry. I truly am. Please. Just make it stop. Just make it all go away. Please. Have mercy. Have sympathy. Have empathy. Have grace. I'll do anything. I'll be a better person. I know I can be.” But still the show did not cease. It went on playing out his life in its natural sequence. Finally he saw the burning man stumble across an all too familiar village; one with a great oak tree and a serene lake. For a final time, he saw himself the destroyer of yet another world; a world comprised of people who showed only empathy to a perfect stranger. Then the beast, the blue pearl, the tar lake, and it was darkness once again. The stranger's mind, once full of all these unspoken thoughts and words, now fell as silent as he actually was in this dark theatre. There was only a resonant, comforting hum in the space around him. Remorse has now turned into acceptance. No more fighting, no more struggle. Then the bird spoke.

“I will grant you one of two things. One will help you carry on, and one will help you understand. If you choose to carry on, you will never be able to understand where you went wrong. And if you choose to understand, you will never be able to carry on with your life. Choose wisely.” He suddenly felt something returning within him. A voice. He could now speak. But he no longer needed to say all that couldn't be said for all this time. A strange calm took over. He didn't even want to seek anything to fill the emptiness in him anymore. Only one thing mattered now. “I want to understand.” Earth With that said, the falcon fell silent for awhile. Then he took off in flight, immersing the stranger once again to the vicious radiance of the shining orb. But it felt different this time; something has changed. The grating noise has now mellowed down into a serene syllable; a sound that he was once acquainted with but had long since forgotten on his fiery journey. Even the light grew softer in intensity as well, as the stranger slowly realized that he was now staring at the sun. Clouds returned, painting the skyscape, and as he felt the wind brush against his face, the comfort of his senses returning to him set him slightly at ease. He took a good look around to gain his bearings and found that he was back where he was last left. Except for one thing. He seemed to be standing on higher ground, with a bird's eye view over the beautiful land around the valley. And it was indeed a bird's eye view that he had when he turned to look over his shoulders and saw feathers on them. It was no stray feather that fell on him; he peered further down and found a wing where his arm used to be. With a strange ruffling in his torso, it was revealed to him that he has now taken the form of a small falcon, covered in black feathers. The white falcon returned and settled next to the stranger, to which he now noticed that they were perched on top of a tree. A great oak tree. Finding himself in the form of an avian would have absolutely left him stupefied any other time, but given everything that he had just been through, he was just glad to return to this world that he once knew. Looking at life through brand new eyes, he decides to put his trust in the white falcon, and see how this all plays out. As they looked downwards, the stranger could see his human body, still impaled by the horn of the beast that came from the black lake. It seemed that barely a moment had passed. The land stood burning no more, and neither was his still body. Seeing his own naked form for the first time, still marked by the hollow on his chest, the stranger was reminded of his dark past and all his misgivings. Even though he had suffered enough, there was a still a part of himself that still couldn't come to terms with the treacherous life he had led before. But it was time to let whatever came from the earth to return to it. Thus the beast slowly submerged back into the lake, taking his body along to lay it to rest under the great tree, until they were both out of sight, leaving but a ripple on the surface. Untouched by the fire, nor affected by the lake of tar, the tree stood solitary and steadfast; resilient against whatever man or nature throw in its way. The stranger, now a black falcon, was overcome with such a great melancholy he could not seem to comprehend this act at first. He felt unworthy of being granted a burial under such a gracious entity that does not judge, does not reward, nor condemn, but simply does. And as he remained in his sadness, a glowing blue light rose from his chest and emerged through his eyes, as a tear drop.

Lake The lonesome teardrop rolled down his feathery cheek, and halved itself as it rolled on to subsequent feathers, and continued to split into more tear drops down his chest. Now an array of blue tears, they dropped onto the leaves on the oak tree, and continued splitting as it rolled further down into a network of tears down to the lowest reaches of the branches until every leaf had a tear welled up at its tip. And they all fell as rain to the ground. The black lake was bombarded by the black falcon's tear drops until it was eventually flooded. The pure water from the tears got mixed in the lake of tar and turned into a pool of pitch black water. It was a filthy, turgid lake that reeked of an unpleasant pungent odour and looked anything but habitable. After some time, some thirsty animals were unfortunate enough to stray their way to this lake and took a drink of the water, not knowing any better. They all collapsed to the ground and never got back up again. The black falcon tried to warn them; chase them away from this site with the feeble fluttering of his wings and an obscure screech from his beak, but they paid him no heed for he was after all just another bird to them. He was a helpless spectator to this terrible sight; being the sole cause once again for the death of many from the tar that bled out from his own body. These animals that were simply trying to survive never did him any wrong, and did not deserve this cruel fate. And all he could do was nothing. Remorse soaked into his bones once again and another tear drop rolled down his feathery face onto the oak tree. And once again it spliced itself into a multitude of beads of water before raining down once again onto the lake. The lake retained a filthy surface, albeit slightly clearer. But it was still a poisonous chemical soup that could only result in a fatal outcome to those who dared to drink from it. And again the falcon could only watch powerless as the number of victims grew. “Why can't you warn them of the dangerous waters? Why don't you let me help them? Why do you only watch them die? Do you not care?” The black falcon grew agitated with the white falcon's idle disposition. But there was no reply. Only the continued observant stare of two birds of prey upon this tragic spectacle. “I told you that I wanted to understand. But seeing all this is not helping me understand anything!” But the black falcon could only voice out the injustice of this scenario to no avail. And another tear welled up in his eyes. The cycle repeated itself many times, and each time he cried, the lake cleared up a little. Time passed, seasons changed, as the leaves on the tree fell off and were replaced by new ones. The two birds endured the cold of winter snow and the heat of summer air but still they remained perched steadfast in their position watching more animals die in the slow process of cleansing. Until finally the water was cleared of black tar and there lies only a pristine clean lake. Zephyr One fine day, a caravan of folks came traveling past the tree and decided to stop over for a sip of water by the pristine lake. It was the freshest water they have ever tasted. The land around the lake was fertile once again, and the ground that they set foot upon was all covered with the richest grass they have ever

seen. It had returned to become the great land of abundance it was once before. Everything there just seemed to be the perfect conditions to build a home. So the folks had a discussion, and it seems that they were a group of travelers seeking greener pastures. Without even much discussion, everyone seemed to agree on settling down in this beautiful land. They unpacked their caravan, and starting constructing simple houses, barns, farms; just enough to support a simple way of life. To them, it was enough. And a new world was born from the ashes that lie beneath. The blue light in the black falcon's chest pales into a gentle white as he watched a new beginning take afoot in this land. The curse has been lifted, the danger dispelled. Relieved, the bird felt a peculiar warmth emanating from his chest. It was a strange and foreign feeling, yet he somehow knew what it was. It was the very thing he had been searching for all his life, to fill in that hole in his chest. He closed his eyes, and after contemplating on these three words, spoke them with clarity in his heart: “I understand now.” The black falcon turned to seek the white falcon's acknowledgment, but could not find it anywhere on the tree. He looked left, he looked right. He seeked the bird high and low. But it had gone. And it never came back. The black falcon still had so many questions to ask it, and for awhile he almost felt abandoned by the only being that could reveal to him the answers he seeked so dearly. But a strong wind from the west blew past him; strong enough that he needed to shield himself with his newfound avian body. For a second he could have sworn he heard a faint, hopeful whisper in the spirited zephyr. As he opened his eyes and spread his wings to fly with the intent to search for his mentor figure, he realized that all the feathers on his body and his wings have turned white. Tree There was a tranquil lake at the base of a lush valley, surrounded by a meadow of sunflowers. A narrow strip of land ran towards the centre of the lake, where a great oak tree stood. It was a serene settlement with an inclining vista towards infinity. Where the horizon was an indelible line between the green of grass and the blue of sky. Where everywhere is beautiful and everything is amazing. Situated next to the tree and the lake was a little village, as it was there that grew the greenest pasture for livestock to feed on as well as the richest of soil to grow the freshest of crops. Its strong branches spread out above everyone's roofs, letting in enough light from the sun, while sheltering them from the harshness of rain. According to legend, the tree was borne out of the resting ground of an earthly god that was a purveyor of justice across the lands, and it was believed that his body still lies in slumber under the placid lake. The villagers regarded the tree and the lake with a mystical reverence, and they showed their gratitude to the god every day with a modest offering: they speak to the tree. It can be brief or it can be long, as long as it is with a sincere heart. It may not be much, but it was given in good faith for all the blessings of abundance. Everyone had what they needed, and everyone was happy. There lived within the great tree a falcon. The majestic bird and its glorious white feathers with distinct black tips has been there even before the villagers came there to settle. Its residents had grown to consider it as a protector totem of their home, and a guardian of children that may stray too far off the village premises, and a watchful eye for any strangers that came approaching. One fine day a stranger emerged on the horizon. And he was a fiery one.