We hadn’t visited my grandparents house in three years. They live by a huge lake surrounded by a thick lush forest. My parents used to drop my brother and I off there every summer. It was our home away from home.
My brother and I had returned just last night. My grandmother welcomed us with open arms. The smell of her lavender hair and warm hug brought back so many good memories. She had her summer lemon cookies wrapped up nicely on the kitchen table in the blue cellophane she always uses. It was late when we arrived. Midnight. We could tell she was tired, but she always waited up for us. We were just as exhausted from the drive. Both my brother and I headed up the stairs to our rooms. We listened as my grandmother made her way to her bedroom and settled in. No sooner I hit the sheets, I was snoring.
Tiny bird voices singing and a warm soft streak of sunlight that snuck through the blinds woke me up this morning. It was early. I could feel it. I reached for my phone. It was 5:30 am. I rarely get up this early, but I had too much on my mind. I decided to get up. If I take my walk now, before breakfast, I’ll be able to take it alone. I hopped up, grabbed my scrunched jeans that laid in a heap on the floor and reached for my t-shirt. Quietly, I tiptoed down the stairs and slipped out the back door.
I could feel them coming on, but I held it in. I started to reach the edge of the woods. I took a deep breath and continued on my journey. There they were. The circle of stones.
My grandmother had talked bout how beautiful it was, but I just didn’t have the strength to see it until now. The circle of stones was surrounded by serendipitous plants full of flowers. It was like its own secret special place and that’s what my grandfather would have wanted. I’m so glad she chose this serene place for his ashes. I sat there for a long time reminiscing in my head. I pulled one hand out of my pocket and wiped the tears off my face. I took a deep breath and took one last look. It was time to head back. I’m not sure if I’ll come back to the stones again. It’s too hard.
I made it back to the house. Everyone was awake and, in the kitchen, talking and laughing. My brother could see it in my face, but he shrugged it off. I pulled up a chair. My grandmother gracefully touched my back and said she had just the thing. She poured me a glass of her fresh market milk that we loved so much. I took a huge bite out of my first lemon cookie and smiled. This was still one of my favorite places in the entire world.
An Account by Kent Blackburn
I saw a circle of stones in the forest.
I stopped, putting out my arm to stop my companion as well. While I stared at the forest floor, she danced around my arm.
"Stop that," I told her sternly.
Cordelia stopped, the tips of her pointed shoes a near inch from the circle of stones. Her skirts swished with movement, as if they wanted her to continue forward.
"Do not step into the circle," I warned her.
Her dark eyes peered at me from beneath her veil. "And why would that be, Mr. Blackburn?"
I rolled my eyes and tapped my fingers on my cane. "Cordelia," I chastised lightly. She never did abide by my instructions, one of which was that there was no need to address me as 'Mr.', for I found formalities quite tiresome.
I stared deeply into the circle of stones, pondering the meaning of their appearance here, of all places. Bird calls echoed from deeper in the trees.
"The time, Miss Green?" I said abruptly, noting that the forest had gone quite silent.
Cordelia sighed and took her timepiece out of her skirt pocket. With one gloved hand she lifted her veil, and with the other rose the timepiece to her eyes. "Just a hair past eleven, sir," she said, tapping the face.
I stood motionless save for the tightening of my lips and the slightest crease of my brow. "Indeed, indeed. Strange, isn't it?" I adjusted my top hat and looked over at my companion then, the smallest of smiles on my face.
Cordelia raised a brow in return, then swept her eyes to the stone circle. "So it is what I believe it to be?" I did not miss the gleam in her eye.
I chuckled then, and lifted my cane. "Yes, Miss Green. A conjuring circle."
Coming around the bend of the trail, I realize the path we used to take to get there has almost dissapeared. I wonder if any kids go there these days? Gosh, it was almost as much a home for us as our actual houses back then. Picking my way through the trees and bushes, I ponder just how many hours we spent there. Hundreds, I'm sure. We went there frequently not only as innocent kids, but as teens to get up to no good. Even a couple times in recent years mostly for the nostalgia of it.
Yep, just the same as ever. The stones are mossier than they used to be, and there's more foliage in general, but boy it hasn't changed much. A time capsule from the past. Jeez, all the stories we used to come up with here, they were never ending. One day we might be mages, druids, or necromancers calling on the powers of the various magics or forces we employed in our fights against our enemies. Another time we were stone giants, here trying to free our kin from their imprisonment by the evil warlock Sighast the Enslaver. We managed to break his spell, free our bretheren, and give him a whooping like the birds and squirrels around here had never seen.
Or we'd just come and hang out. Countless hours of Pokemon cards or playing Game Boy. I still feel bad that we were young and careless, tossing our old batteries as far as we could just to hear them whipping through the leaves. At least we never accidentally hit a sparrow or something. Of course, there were the other, less intrusive activities too. Races around the circle, or plain old leapfrogging the stones. I still remember the time it started to rain, and I slipped as I went over one of them. I bashed my butt so hard on it I couldn't sit the whole rest of the day! You laughed so hard, but you actually had the grace at age 8 to pretend to fall as well, just so I'd feel better.
Then, of course, there were the immeasurable hours spent sullying this sacred place of our childhood with smoke, drink, and all manner of "mind expansion expeditions," as we used to call them. Those days we bothered the wildlife blasting everything from Cypress Hill to Pink Floyd, covering conversation topics from the meaning of existense to Kayla Howell's great boobs. Hah, real intellectuals. You know what though? I'd do a lot to be able to sit down and have another one of those stupid interactions again. Even more to be able to one day bring our own kids here, like we said we would. Instead, I'm bringing this picture of us to hang on a tree, cause that's as close as we'll ever get now. They spread your ashes in a beautiful place, but it'll never have the magic of this one. Its helping me heal already. Rest in peace.
Here We Go Again
Finding a circle of stones in woods isn't exactly new for me. Being a forest ranger, you see a lot of weird things. Usually the circles are made by teenagers trying to "summon the devil" and stuff.
But this. This is different.
These aren't small stones; these are ten-feet-tall, aligned in a perfect circle, and have ‘doorways’ on the north and south sides. There are 16 stones around the circle, each carved with an intricate pattern. Why? How should I know. I'm just an underpaid government employee.
I run my finger along the grooves, noticing that the cuts on all the rocks are completely smooth. No bumps or imperfections at all. No way drunk teenagers made this one.
But on the northern 'gateway', there is a hand-print indentation on the left stone. I'm a curious individual, and somewhat stupid, so I obviously put my hand on it, just to see if anything would happen.
With my (bad) luck, something did happen.
The air around was harshly sucked into the gateway, whooshing loudly past my ears. I stagger backwards to avoid being sucked into the small rift forming in the gateway. Through the rift, a glowing hand, almost made of light, desperately reaches out. I grab the hand (Have I mentioned I'm stupid?) and try to pull the being through. The rift widens and starts to shoot out purple-and-blue sparks as the creature finally escapes the rift. The portal closes behind it in a burst of air that throws me to the ground.
The being wasn't really made of light, that faded after the portal closed. In fact, they look like a human. I glance up at the being.
They look like me. Just. Like. Me.
My jaw dropped. This definitely isn’t a ‘normal’ stone circle.
"Damn, I'm too old for this shit," I mumbled to myself, still laying on the ground, with my back still hurting from my earlier fall.
I remember the being, "Hey, buddy," I try to break the silence, "Uh, how's it going?" Wow, not awkward at all.
The other me cocks his head, confused.
I scramble to stand, "I meant," I begin, "What's your name? And, uh, what's the portal for?"
The other me just smiles, the ends of his mouth turning up so high it looks almost painful. From those ends, the skin begins to tear, lengthen the smile to the eye-level. One of his hands reaches to grab his upper lip and pulls the skin over the top of his head like it was a hood. (Ew) From under the 'skin hood' emerges a dark and foreboding abomination, it's sparkling white teeth a sharp contrast from the dark void of its body. It steps out of the 'flesh molt', which falls unceremoniously with a squelch, and steps towards me with a grin much larger than the demented one it formerly had on ‘my’ face.
"Aw shit," I bemoaned, pulling my sword from the standard-forest-ranger scabbard and readying it for battle, "Here we go again."
The nights are spent around the circle of stones. Arranged in a chaotic time, the stones were arranged in an age that few remember.
The stones serve a purpose. Every night the dead and dried carcasses of old bloodied trees are sacrificed to the flames. The tribe warms themselves by the pyre, using the rising tongues of flame to cook their meals.
The circle of stones serves as a hub, the center—where the beating heart of the tribe lies—pulsing. The heat staves off cold nights, it provides protection from stalking creatures, it cooks and purifies their food, and its light fends out the encroaching dark.
The glow that this circle of stones exudes is mystical, especially to those who have not yet experienced its magic. The comforts provided change the lives of those near enough to feel its warmth.
Before the circle was built, the night was something to fear. It was a dangerous beast, taking lives seemingly at random. A few were cautious and strong. These people lived to see many nights, some even becoming comfortable in the darkness. There was no community when night fell. You protected yourself, maybe the people nearby.
We taste this former fear whenever the flames die. This occurs every couple of moons. Storms soak the circle, floods tear the stones away, the lookout falls asleep and forgets to feed the flames. When the light leaves the stones, someone must travel out into the dark alone. Keeping vigil in the mountains to harvest more from the fury of the next storm.
These nights without the magic are long. The empty circle a reminder of what they once had. A lasting symbol of hope for what they could have again. When the light returns there is joyous celebration. Followed quickly by a hyper-vigilance, a high-strung fear of future loss.
The forest holds many secrets yet offers no judgment. Overcast, rainy, and the air crisp I walked quietly among the trees. They allowed me entrance into their kingdom. With honor, I held my head down as to show respect and submission. I knew the secrets were to be revealed I only had to ask. I began this journey of myself not so long ago. Every night for weeks I would cast my circle, arranged my stones, light my candles then awaited for vision. Now I am here standing in the forest awaiting for the answer to my question. A soft sigh escapes my lips as I take the first step. The grass tickles the soles of my feet. Birds sing a sympathy. Creatures hide but I know they are near. I feel their energy. The crackling of elecrity tuned the molecules of my DNA. I couldn't tell if they were here out of curisoty or to act as guides ensuring the completion of my journey. No matter, I shall move on and accept for what I have asked. The forest will hold my secret. my perception. I will always from this moment on be- different, clearer, and real. I will be real, conscious, and aware. Aware of who I really am, who I truly meant to be. Why do we dream? Why do we know of things that cannot be successfully explained? Why did I choose my choices? Too many questions with less answers.
For what seemed like hours, I finally came upon a clearing with a small brook. Within this brook crystal clear water dances upon the bed of stones. The water forms a perfect circle amongst the stones. I then knew in this instant I was summoned to a portal. Without fear, I step into the water. The cold, frigid tempature shocks my heart. Time stopped. for. only. a. brief. moment................... As the blood burns through my body, a burst of light shoots out of me from every pore, every cell I possess. The portal pulls me down, swallowing me, the light, the being I have became. Every life I ever had, every memory I held, every thought I entertained merged into this being of me. I had no ending, no beginning, light, dark, and everything in between is me. This is my true form. This is my immortality. I will forever exist. Energy never dies, never fades, never disappears and for a mere lifetime has the opportunity to experience the parallel realities.