By Jocelyn Cheung
When I first met you, I thought you were a ghost.
Your silhouette blended into the lush green foliage, your figure hidden between the trees. You stood so incredibly shock-still that I almost missed you, and when I did I did not think of you as a mere person – your skin was so pale that it reminded me faintly of snow and alabaster. Your aquiline eyes were watchful and alert but never sinister as they peered at me through the leaves, prompting my curiosity like a petal to the sun. You seemed so intensely different from me that I felt a gaping distance between us; and yet I still called out to you with a naivety that unsettled even myself.
You responded, and I felt myself becoming increasingly drawn to you. When you slipped through the greenery with a soft rustle, I blinked at the sound: it ascertained that you were indeed corporeal. At my surprise and subsequent amazement, you laughed, a clear sound that spun through the wild air in entangled threads of invisible gold and silver. “Come on,” you offered lightly, “I’ll show you around these parts.” Follow me, the twinkle in your eye seemed to say, and so I did, footfalls a rush as I tried to keep up with your longer strides. The breeze seemed to caress our skin as we walked on together; the blades of grass by our feet whistled earnestly with the current.
You told me about yourself. You admitted with bashful candour that you were something between a person and a spirit, and when I conferred breathlessly my original assumption, your olive gaze lit up with amusement. “At least I’m not an alien,” you grinned, running a thumb over your lip. “Close enough,” I shot back, rolling my eyes. You told me other things, too: I found that you were a rather worldly spirit, having heard you boast about the time you blew halfway across the world with the wind and the dandelions. That you drew your power and harnessed it within nature, and so you could never stray too far from it. That your favourite flowers were bluebells; that you liked summer the best. I found all of these little factoids fascinating, and I found myself spilling my own truths without hesitance.
I had come to these woods a few miles out of the city on a whim, looking for a day of escape and relief from the uncomfortable pressure that unfurled with my horribly dull life of working to support myself, and just barely. I supposed I had no one to as no one but myself was responsible for my state of living, but who can blame someone for wanting to be simply free from every single burden that had been piled onto them? It was at this point when you reached for my hand and held on tight, while I finally realized that tears had been leaking steadily from the corners of my eyes. “I’m so stupid,” I spoke wetly into my muffled palms as you petted my head gently like you wasn’t certain what to do. Eventually you just relented and hugged me while I hiccupped my way back to a steady breath, armed with a wobbly smile.
After that, I came to the woods quite often, drowning in the contentedness that the verdure and your voice lulled me into. Usually you found me before I did you, but the rare times I did I witnessed you work your magic with abandon: healing the broken wing of an ambitious nightingale, purifying the air previously contaminated by the proximity of industrial human life. It always entranced me to watch your powers: the light that trickled through your fingers almost seemed ethereal, and lit up your pale face so you seemed even more otherworldly than you were, though you took care to remind me we came from one and the same world, just with different circumstances. If I was lucky you let me watch you even with your knowing: once you coaxed life back into a patch of wilting bloodflowers with the most delicate hands, and I was certain that I would never forget that moment. Later, you warned me about the poison in their stems, but I thought faintly that perhaps my greatest poison was just you.
One day, I fell asleep in a clearing, and when I woke the stars had begun shedding their dizzying white glimmer onto the earth. As I got to my feet, you emerged from the lengthening shadows to stand beside me, staring at the sky and the twisting, billowing wispy clouds that drifted across the expanse. I watched the forest before us with the strange feeling that I was seeing it come to life, and indeed I was right. In the late hour, the bushes and the trees all buzzed with movement, and I felt pure delight sink into my veins. All the greens and chartreuses were dyed a darker shade of myrtle at night, and it seemed all the more beautiful when the moonlight seeped through the canopy and broke into millions of shards on the woodland floor. “It’s amazing,” I whispered, turning to you. You were already looking at me, and at that your unreadable expression broke into a fond smile. “Yes,” you agreed with an acknowledging nod, blindly finding my hand and intertwining your fingers with mine tenderly. Before I could react, you leaned forward and pressed your nose to my cheek, almost reminiscent of a cat.
As with all things, everything that has a beginning has an ending. After that day, events progressed mostly the same, with me coming to this safe green haven on my off-days and you being there. And yet it was different. Your words, your actions – they all began to take on a nervous, desperate quality, and even when you tried to play it off I could read the foreboding in your eyes. You always seemed to want to say something, but it got caught in your throat every time. When you thought I wasn’t looking, your face grew incredibly sad, and I wanted nothing more but to comfort you as you had done for me. But this was out of my hands, and however much I wanted to rebel against it, my mind was aware of it. And so when your voice broke off unnaturally, I murmured sweet nothings in your ear to calm you. When your hands forgot what you meant them to do, I guided them to meet their mark. Perhaps I really could do nothing of use, but even the faintest glitter of happiness in your dulling eyes relieved the ache a little.
After a few weeks of your uncharacteristic behaviour, you were gone. Just like that. I felt it even as I got from my car and walked towards the woods, my feet breaking into a run on their own. The air felt colder and less kind, and even though the trees still gleamed with viridescent beauty, it was not the same. As I stumbled to a stop in the clearing where we once stood together regarding the stars, I noticed a circlet of red lying atop a jagged rock nearby. With my pulse stuttering in my chest, I stepped towards it with shaky legs. And what I found made my eyes well up with unshed tears: it was a chain of bloodflowers threaded painstakingly carefully into a flower crown of sorts, the blossoms enchanted to still be alive. A forced disappearance then, I thought, now certain. Perhaps it was taboo to get too close to a human. Perhaps some authority figure pulled you away. Yet it made no difference. You were still gone. Gone from these woods, this green paradise, the mess that was my life. But the flowers did make me realize
something. Remembering you insisting that you weren’t an alien, I laughed wetly and lifted the crown with trembling hands. If nothing, this green planet was the only thing that we shared anymore.
No – this was our green planet.