‘All I ask for now is that you keep an open mind,’ Wilfred warned, ‘but a day may come when I ask more. It’s time to let you in on a few secrets. The greatest gathering of gnostics ever held will take place very soon. In a few weeks I head North for the first session. The Pica is going to read the signs gathered from every corner of the earth and she will then predict the future of the planet as closely as it can be told. After that we vote.’
‘What about?’ I said, beginning to feel uneasy.
‘The humans. Is the planet a better place with or without them?’
‘And what if the vote goes against them.’
‘We have options.’
He slid over my question. The council’s aim, he said, was to save the planet from the humans who were destroying it. I would be on the agenda for the next meeting – how to get the plants involved.
Now all this was a lot to take in. I said that I would have to think about it all very carefully and maybe talk to some of the other plants.
Wilfred’s whiskers shot upright, ‘What do you mean talk to the other plants, you don’t mean that there are more like you.’
It just slipped out. It was no good back-tracking. Wilfred was too sharp for that, so I played it down as much as I could.
‘Not exactly like me; but plants are more connected than animals, not so separate. I’ve been teaching some of them to think. Some can’t do it at all, but others are beginning to understand.’
Wilfred shut up then. I looked at his energy field and it was boiling.
‘So you can pass it on,’ he said. ‘It’s here then, the turning point is here. This puts a new twist on things. I must consult.’
He can be very dramatic. Sometimes I think he’s a secret soap-watcher on the quiet. Anyway he ran off.
‘Don’t go anywhere,’ he called back to me.
Brooke Farm’s theme tune was playing and I had missed the ending.
The next night Wilfred came back and told me that I could be the Teacher they were all waiting for but I had to get serious, I had to give up my loyalty to Charlie.
It was no good my teaching the whole garden to think if all they wanted to do then was watch TV (if a tree could blush I would have flamed like a maple in September). Only the night before, half the garden was enthralled by Sally Durell’s wedding. I have a horror that Wilfred will catch us at it some time.
‘You could be one of the greats,’ Wilfred interrupted my guilty thoughts, ‘there is no doubt, you will be remembered and revered as first among flora.’
‘I think you’ve got the wrong tree. There’s nothing special about me.’
‘Self-evidently wrong. Stand tall; say hello to your destiny. I see it all. Maybe they can manage without animals for a while, though they won’t like it, but if the plants turn it’s goodbye humans.’
‘If they’re clever enough to make TVs, I think they can manage without us,’ I said.
‘You don’t get it do you?’ said Wilfred, amazed at my stupidity. ‘Without you lot we’d all die – you, the plants, are the most important things on this planet,’ and then he did a strange thing; almost involuntarily he bowed to me.
The solemn moment dissolved as he rolled on his back, mouth lolling. He stayed there for a silly length of time.
He didn’t move.
‘Wilfred, wouldn’t Adolf like to see that soft belly fur, and those pink pads waving in the air.’
That did it. He spun over.
‘Just making a point. That’s how we’d all be: every animal, humans included, would go belly up without you lot. You make the air breathable.’
‘Yes. At dawn you’re breathing out pure oxygen. The birds get high on it and they sing at a vibration which helps the plants to grow.’
‘The dawn chorus.’
‘That’s right, a big old lovefest between the birds and the plants.’
I liked that, the greenery and the birds together, literally breathing life into every new day.
He looked at me shrewdly.
‘So you see how well we work together, flora and fauna. It could all be so perfect if it weren’t for…’
I started folding my leaves into myself. There was truth in what he said but I didn’t want to see it. Wilfred saw me shutting down.
‘Alright, enough for one day; I know what you’re thinking – and as humans go,’ he took a deep breath, ‘he’s a decent kid,’ he said this quickly, as if the words stung his tongue and he needed to spit them out.
I was listening again.
‘But there’s a lot at stake here,’ he went on. ‘The Pica showed you the rain forests. You, yes you, could save them. Or will you choose the boy?’
And off he went. I felt torn. For the first time I regretted my gnosis. The head of the Pica floated into my mind with these words: ‘There’s no going back from knowing, but there’s peace at the end of the flight.’
What I needed was to go green for a while, maybe for a whole day. The sun was setting and the sky was tiered like a purple stadium; the darkening tiers melted into soft furrows, melted again into smoke pillars and drifted away. Peace.
And something else; another feeling, but as I tried to hold it, it lost its substance like the clouds.
I felt more settled then and rested deeply, only stirring when Charlie came stealthily up the ladder. Ever since Charlie’s night jaunt Eva had continued locking the chute at night – for her own peace of mind she said, so Charlie came the long way round and he came equipped for activity.
He was carrying star charts and a compass. I nudged into his thoughts. He was preparing for something; something nice and exciting – a meteor shower, one of the best in years. That was good. I could use a distraction. I let the rest of the garden know. Everything stirred and we opened ourselves to the Western sky where Charlie was training his telescope. And what a show it was.
The sky at that time was properly dark. The street lights died at midnight. If there were lights to be seen they were the small soft lights of candles, so the stars could be seen for what they truly were and starlight had a meaning again. I had not seen true starlight until the first lights out curfews. I hadn’t rested for a week then. I just gazed up, so that the branches which grew towards the sun started to spread more evenly towards the stars. In a true starlit sky there are dizzying ranks beyond ranks beyond ranks of stars; intense whites, haloes of red and blue, and they twinkle like in the rhyme.
Against that curtain the meteor shower came down. The stars had started raining. Charlie threw his telescope aside and climbed as high into my branches as he could get. I did my best to lift him towards the stars and we watched together. Then just as we thought it was over one of the last falling lights carried on falling. It fell through space, it fell through sky, it fell through Cornwall. It was fire, a white ball with a tail of fire. My branch bent under Charlie’s weight straining upward. I thought: he’s doing that, he’s bringing the meteor down, he wants to catch a falling star. And he held out his arms.
I was holding him, he wasn’t holding on to me. The whole garden was lit
with the fire. The shrews and moles and cats looked up with white blind-
seeming eyes. Charlie, for heaven’s sake, I thought, and the blazing rock
seemed to pass right between his hands before it burrowed a full foot down
into the garden. Eerie space steam rose from the hole. We all gasped and
waited for the little alien to come crawling out – I was sure that it would look
like a cat, but there was nothing. The steam got less and we waited for it to
cool. Charlie didn’t want to dowse it with water in case he washed off any
magical space dust. Eventually he got impatient and fetched the fireplace
tongs. Then he lay it on a piece of foil and brought it up into the tree to cool.
The sky was lightening in the East, so Charlie slipped back indoors and I was
left alone with the space rock.
I had a spooky feeling running just under my bark, as though I was being
watched. I looked around the garden just greying in the dawn. Three sets of
black eyes were trained on Charlie’s bedroom window. Two magpies were
posted in the apple trees at each edge of the garden; one sat higher in a fir.
My thoughts went out to them questioning, but their thoughts were running in
a stream far above mine. I felt tired then but I did not rest easy.
Later, I was not the only one watching as Charlie turned the rock carefully in
his hands. It was a small, dull-looking thing. He pushed my branches to one
side so that the morning sun fell on it, and then the patterns showed: red
veins branched across it; at the end of one branch were dark swirls, at the
end of the other, a shine. The shine was not visible in the shade, only in the
sunlight did this spot shine like a mirror.
‘Wow,’ said Charlie quietly to himself. The rock felt warm and heavy in his
cupped hands, then I felt all his being lift; the very brain in his head was rising.
Everything about him strained upwards, then gradually he settled back into
‘This is it, Ash. Phase two is here. Adapt and survive. That’s what the
garden has to do, and there’s no time to waste, no time at all.’ He swung one-
armed down the rope.
Just then Eva came out cradling some bugs she’d rescued from a
cabbage. She was about to free them when she stumbled and almost fell into
the mini crater.
‘What the…’ she said looking down, up and all around. ‘Have we been
‘Meteor,’ said Charlie, ‘Seen my library card. Got to go,’ and he skidded
through the house.
A few nights later the excitement was over apart from the hole in the
garden, and a few moles still shocked by the sudden air in their tunnels. Eva
wanted to take the rock to the museum but Charlie worried that he wouldn’t
get it back, so he kept it in the treehouse and did tests on it. He found that it
did funny things to magnets. Sometimes he just stared at it like his mind could
follow it back out to where it came from.
Wilfred came to see me. I hadn’t seen him for a while. He’d been in the
hills two counties away, he said, at a meeting. He inspected the hole and
shook his head.
‘Strange days, one more omen.’
‘Of what?’ I asked.
Wilfred peered into the hole and shuddered. He raised himself onto his hind
legs and sniffed the wind: ‘It’s coming soon, I see it.’
‘Can’t anybody give a straight answer round here?’
‘We must wait for the council. Mother Pica will dwell on the signs we
have gathered; when she is ready she will speak.’
He asked me lots of questions about the rock.
‘Branches – choices most likely. The shine – the future I would guess if we
make the right choice.’
‘Or maybe it’s just another rock,’ I said.
‘Or maybe it’s just another rock. Don’t balance on the fence too long my
friend. You may get blown off.’