Home is Where the Heart Lives (Finale): Becoming Home

talking tree

Click here to begin from Part 1 of this series.

Sleep came quickly and soon James was lying on his back in the yard, the summer sun warming his face while a gentle breeze rustled the leaves at the edge of the woods.  As he lay there, watching the clouds float slowly overhead he imagined himself a dragonfly, darting through the air landing briefly on a tall blade of grass before becoming the blade himself.  And then it was dark, and all around him the smell of damp earth, and he could hear the earthworms crawling through the ground, or maybe he was the ground.  Before he had a chance to give it much thought he was once again basking in the sun and listening to the whisper of the leaves rustling gently in the afternoon breeze.  The sound of it was oddly enticing, tempting him to listen harder while at the same time feeding the uneasy feeling growing in the pit of his stomach.  Over the whispers he heard a low growl but it was soon drowned out of his head, pushed aside by the enchanting melody that was the language of the trees.  Like a picture slowly coming into focus the whispers became words, their edges soft and blurred becoming clearer as he strained to make sense of them.  There was a rhythm to them, subtle but insistent, funneling the sounds deep inside him and then, suddenly, as if he had been tuned to receive the signal…it became crystal clear.

Home is the place you’ll always belong.

Put down your roots and you’ll grow very strong.

A mother’s wish we heard that day…

“Put down roots”…

She wanted to stay.


 A wish of the heart requires but blood,

To make fertile the ground and turn it from mud,

To magical earth with transformative power,

To bring forth new life

And cause it to flower.


 Drink from the rock where the blood- blossoms grow,

Then come back to the place where you long to go.

Your mother awaits, her heart-blood is strong.

This home is the place you’ll always belong.


They repeated… the words of the trees…over and over inside of James.  Lost in the rhythm, time stood still.  Somewhere in the distance he heard the low rumble of a familiar growl and he lay in the space between wake and sleep while the rhythm battled with the growl until he felt an uncomfortable licking at his face and slowly he returned to the world.   When he opened his eyes, James found himself on the floor of his parents’ closet, Keeper standing over him, the rhythm replaced by a faint knocking sound. Joe.  Yes…the dress.   James stood quickly, the dress still in his arms, and hurried downstairs to answer the door.

“Hi, James.  I wasn’t sure anyone heard me.  I tried the bell, but I don’t think its working.”

“Yeah, sometimes it does that.  Sorry.”

“No problem.  Is that the dress?”

“Yeah.”  He handed it over to Joe and hoped that he would take it and leave and not want to talk.  Adults always wanted to talk.  The dream hung in James’ mind like a fog he couldn’t shake and a rhythm danced inside his head, demanding attention.  He needed Joe to leave.  He needed to be alone and…and…and what he wasn’t quite sure.

“Your Dad here?”

“No, he went for a run,” James lied.  He didn’t know how to explain his father to Joe and he figured this particular lie would be easily believed and the fastest way to get Joe to leave.

“Ah.  Probably good for him to clear his head.  You ok?”

It occurred to James that he was about as far from ok as a person can be.

“Yeah, sure,” he lied again.

“I mean, I know it’s not ok and all…but…well, is there anything you need?  Besides the dress, I mean.  I’ll take it over to the funeral home but is there anything else you need help with?

“No.  Thanks, Joe.  We’ll be ok.”

“Alright then.  You call me if anything else comes up.  Tell your Dad, too, when he gets back, ok?”

“Sure, Joe.  Thanks.”

When he gets back.  As James closed the door, he wondered if his father would be coming back.  The oddness of the question did not escape him, but the world had turned upside down since yesterday and James had no idea what to think anymore.   What was he supposed to make of how he’d found him, sitting there at the base of that tree staring out into the distance with those empty eyes, looking as if all the life had been hollowed out of him?  James tried hard to push it from his mind but the disturbing image was only replaced by one of his mother lying among the bloodied roots of the very same tree and he ran out onto the back porch and into the yard, tripping on a stone near the base of the steps.  He splayed out into grass, face down, the wind knocked out of him.  James lay there, gasping to regain his breath before losing it again as the weight of the day settled on top of him.  Tears seeped from his eyes and his chest began to heave and he lay there sobbing for a time, Keeper licking at the sides of his face. His stubbed toe throbbed in rhythm with his heartbeat and he held his mind there, in that safe place for a while.  Slowly the rhythm in his toe faded revealing the one still inside his head from earlier and his mind betrayed him and ran off in the direction of unsettling thoughts once again.

It was just a dream, he told himself.  He’d heard the whispers of the trees in dreams all summer, but never like this…never real words that he could understand.  It was just a dream, a creepy dream.  But what if it wasn’t?  James sat up and tried to remember the words that matched the rhythm still inside his head.  Something about home and his mom and a wish.  It didn’t make any sense.  He tried harder to concentrate, to hear the words again as they were in his dream.  He remembered roots…there was something about the roots, he thought… and he closed his eyes.  Keeper barked and nudged James hard in the ribs.  “Stop it, boy.  I don’t want to play now.”  Annoyed, James closed his eyes again and concentrated harder still.  He felt the rhythm pulsing through him but the words remained just outside his grasp.  Keeper barked again and James squinted his eyes shut tighter and put his fingers in his ears and rocked in time with the rhythm, trying his best to ignore Keeper’s relentless attempts to get his attention.  Slowly, ever so slowly, the words began to take shape.  Not all of them, he was certain of that, but some of them materialized and danced in the darkness before his eyes.


A wish of the heart requires but blood,

To make fertile the ground and turn it from mud,

To magical earth with transformative power…


The words swirled in front of him.  They twisted and turned and grew tails that trailed colors then faded back into the darkness behind his closed eyes.  The low, muffled rumble of a growl crept along the edge of his awareness, pulling at his attention, coaxing him away from the words as he struggled to maintain his focus.  Keeper barked insistently.  Pushing harder, wiggling his fingers deeper into his ears, James concentrated as hard as he could.


Drink from the rock where the blood- blossoms grow,

Then come back to the place where you long to go.


Visions of tiny blood-red flowers blooming on thread-like stems appeared in the darkness where the words had danced and James stiffened at the sight of them and opened his eyes.  The greenhouse.

James jumped up and ran across the yard, advancing toward the small glass door, Keeper at his heels.  The boy was no match for the dog who quickly outpaced him and sat, determined and barking, at the threshold, trying in vain to stop what was about to happen.   But James would not be deterred and soon enough he was on hands and knees at the back of the greenhouse staring at the mess Keeper had made of the moss at the base of the leaky spigot earlier that day.  Only a few tiny flowers remained intact at the base of the stone where the moss was thickest.  James put his face close to the earth and watched the flowers pulse, ever so slightly, in the now familiar rhythm.  Looking closer still, James noticed a small gap at the edge of the stone just big enough to fit a finger under and that’s exactly what he did.  The smooth, water-worn rock, so at home there under the spigot, did not easily give up its resting place.  James wriggled his finger a little deeper into the earth below and tugged with all his might.  He was unable to dislodge it, but he did lift it just high enough, and just long enough to lay eyes on what lurked beneath it – a gnarled, ancient-looking root that pulsed like a vein, producing what appeared to be a single drop of blood with every pulse.   James let go of the stone and it quickly nestled itself back into place, the water from the leaking spigot above gathering in the divot carved in its middle.  Without thinking James touched his lips to the stone and drew the tiny puddle into his mouth and before he could comprehend what he had done, he swallowed.

Sitting back on his heels, James felt oddly comfortable, peaceful even, as if nothing that had happened mattered anymore.  Keeper let out an almost imperceptible whine as James reached over and scratched behind his ears.  There was little more he could do now and he followed slowly as James got up and left the greenhouse.

The sun was approaching the horizon, the last of it streaking through the trees at a low angle as James stepped into the forest and beyond its reach.  In the stillness of twilight James made his way back to the place he now knew he belonged.  The path he’d worn in the pine needles led him up the hill and down the other side, past the stream and deep into the heart of the forest.  When he reached the spot where the Tallest Tree stood he saw the silhouette of his father’s lifeless body curled among the roots as if he’d found comfort there in the spot where his wife had drawn her last breath.  His heart broken, it simply stopped beating.  James understood.  He stepped closer, drawn to the soft earth near the base of the tree where the roots broke the surface and wound themselves like tendrils through the soil.  A searing pain shot through his foot and he ripped off one shoe and then the other to watch in agonizing curiosity as his toes elongated and plunged into the earth.  They dug deeper and deeper still, entwining within the vast network the existed well below the forest floor.   Slowly, James felt himself connect as he tapped into the great collective that was the forest and everything that lived within…but it was bigger even than the forest and before he had a chance to try to make sense of any of it, he felt an agonizing ache that brought him back to his body and the excruciating transformation that had overtaken him.  His skin pulled taut as his bones stretched taller and taller until his face was level with the canopy and he could see his house in the distance.  It was then that he knew he was home, truly home for the first time in his life and his hair stood sideways from his head and branched out forming limbs that reached toward the sky and unfurled a lush crown of leaves that encircled his head.  His transformation nearly complete, he felt his skin harden like caked mud drying in the summer sun, cracking into vertical furrows and twisting fissures than ran up his trunk and down the length of his arms that were by now strong branches.  And as suddenly as it began, it ended.

A gentle breeze rustled the leaves that were his hair and in the moonlight the clouds floated slowly overhead and James imagined himself a firefly, darting through the air landing briefly on a tall blade of grass before becoming the blade himself.  And then it was dark, and all around him the smell of damp earth, and he could hear the earthworms crawling through the ground, or maybe he was the ground.  Before he had a chance to give it much thought he was once again standing tall over the forest floor listening to the whisper of the leaves that were his hair rustling gently in the evening breeze.  He felt her there, her blood coursing through his roots…through the entire forest…through everything that ever was and ever would be.  He was a part of it all.  He was home.


©Kelly Rainey and 500WordsandCounting.Wordpress.com, 2016

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