The logs were strewn haphazardly along the upper edge of the beach. Rough rows of them looked to be the result of a careless telephone or hydro company employee saying to the supplier, “Dump them any where.”
As she surveyed the water-worn logs, Miranda began to appreciate the prospect of the gradual discovery of the island world.
Muriel’s voice interrupted Miranda’s thoughts, “I didn’t imagine the logs changing like that. Look.”
The logs were taking on shapes. One with a rough bark pattern was morphing into a crocodile. The scars left by fallen, lifeless branches were becoming glaring eyes. Small, sharply-jointed legs were flexing below the elongated body and the tail was lashing from side to side. Another log was metamorphosing to a scaly dragon. Its dark red eyes darted in the direction of Miranda and Muriel, then to the crocodile. It lay close to the women at the edge of the log heap.
Horizontal lines along one smooth log were cleaving and the legs were forming. The legs soon were flexed up under the body of a great brown frog. A huge tortoise emerged from another log. The creatures were moving toward one another. The dragon hissed and roared. The crocodile lashed its tail. The frog leapt forward and the tortoise plodded towards the others. The animals seemed intent on colliding with and destroying each other.
Miranda was breathing hard. She stood close to Muriel as they watched the tension build among the agitated animals. As the frog reeled back from the dragon’s first burst of flame and the tortoise crawled over the crocodile’s back, Muriel fumbled in her sweater pocket. She brought out irregularly shaped pieces of grey and black paper. She gave a few pieces to Miranda and said, “Here. Throw these up toward the sky.”
Miranda looked at her, questioningly.
Muriel shouted, “Go on. Throw.”
Miranda threw the papers upward. They didn’t go very high since they were flat, irregular discs of paper. Despite that, to her astonishment, some of the papers were expanding rapidly upwards. A few fell to the ground but the ones that had somehow caught the air were puffing upward into great dark clouds. Once the clouds were shading the beach, rain poured from them. The animals quieted immediately. Almost as quickly as they had emerged from the logs, they sunk back into them, until the beach looked as it had when first Muriel imagined the logs into being.
Muriel laughed, “Thank goodness I thought to bring clouds along in my pocket!”
Miranda shook her head. “How?” She wanted to ask how Muriel had known, how she had done this but the question drifted away between them.
Muriel noticed Miranda’s puzzlement but didn’t choose to assuage it. “Shall we go on? Or is that enough for now?”
Miranda hesitated. She wanted to go on but the beach drama had shaken her. “Could we just stay here for a while?’
“Sure, why not? We can talk a bit about what else we may encounter.”
“Yes, please.” The rain had ended. Miranda watched the logs nervously to see if they showed any signs of transforming again. They lay still and silent. She walked toward the crocodile-log and gingerly seated herself on the middle of its back. She thought the worst it could do, should it resume its crocodile form, was to throw her off. The log still bore most of its bark. It had not lain so long in the water as to be so perfectly smooth as the frog-log was.
After half an hour of calmly sitting on the log, Muriel suggested that they explore the island some more before heading back. Muriel asked Miranda to imagine the next phase of their journey. “But be careful, I don’t know where those animals came from. I must have slipped them into those logs somehow. I wasn’t conscious of doing it. I merely wanted a row of logs on the beach.”
Miranda protested that she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to admit that she was terrified of what she might accidentally conjure for the coast of the island. Muriel reminded her that it was she who had drawn the island’s shoreline and that she was perfectly capable of imagining something to populate it. Miranda agreed reluctantly to try.
Although she fought with herself to keep from imagining animals, a cougar appeared down the beach. It was walking purposefully toward them. Muriel put her hand on Miranda’s arm. She had to hold Miranda still. Despite her fear of the large cat, Miranda had the distinct feeling it was coming to her summons, as it drew closer. The cougar walked directly to her and sat on its haunches three feet from her.
“Very good, Miranda”, Muriel whispered. “What a beauty!”
The cougar waited, it seemed, to be directed. He stared at Miranda and cast a glance at Muriel occasionally. Muriel spoke quietly to Miranda, “I think the cougar will lead us on the next phase of our journey.”
Miranda followed Muriel’s cue and both women rose slowly from the log on which they had been sitting. The cougar stood watching them and then with a nod of its head and whip of its tail turned with a leap and started treading along the beach. The women followed him. The cougar turned his head to see if they were behind him. When the cougar turned inland, the women had to clamber over logs which the cougar had cleared in a single bound. When he saw that they were struggling he waited patiently.
They found themselves on the edge of a cedar forest. Miranda had not imagined the forest. It just seemed to appear naturally. Now the cat led them into the forest.
At first, ferns rose to knee height but as they walked farther into the forest the ferns grew taller until they reached above Miranda’s waist level. Patches of sunlight played on the ferns and sometimes touched the forest floor.
A huge boulder lay off to the left. Shortly after it came into view, the cougar veered towards it. As they drew closer to it, they realized that it was the tip of a large rock outcropping that fell down a very steep cliff below.
The cougar checked to see if the women still followed. He had slowed his pace and was stepping lightly over the rocks. Then down he jumped, twice, and stood as if pointing to something.
The cougar checked to see if the women still followed. He had slowed his pace and was stepping lightly over the rocks. Then down he jumped, twice, and stood as if pointing to something. Miranda slid down over each of the two large squarish boulders which the cat had used as steps. She waited for Muriel to follow. Miranda held her hands out to catch Muriel should she slip but the older woman was fit and almost as sure on her feet as the cougar.
At the foot of the boulders was a narrow ledge. They followed the cougar along the ledge to where he stood gazing back at the rock fall. They now saw that the cougar had brought them to the open mouth of a cave. The two women looked at each other.
Muriel shrugged and led the way into the cave. The cougar sensed her movement and sprang forward to accompany her. Miranda had misgivings about being alone in a cave with a cougar but Muriel seemed confident of the animal’s goodwill or benign nature.
The cave was not completely dark. Their eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light near the entrance. As they wound through a passageway, it became darker. They followed the slope of the passage downward and unexpectedly the surroundings grew vaguely brighter. The walls of the passageway, themselves, were lighter coloured than they had been closer to the entry. When the slope became steeper, they found steps along the right hand side of the passage. The women followed the steps downward. The cougar continued walking on the left. His padded feet and claws were better suited to the steep slope than the women’s shoes. The walls now were cream-coloured and opalescent. The passage was becoming wider and gradually opened into a small room.
The walls of the room were a clearer white than the walls of the passage but they were decorated with panels of dark purplish blue upon which were set silvery crystals. Each panel was a rectangle, taller than wide, about four feet by two feet. The panels were separated one from another by spaces of blank wall. The pattern of crystals on each of the panels was different. The patterns didn’t represent anything which Miranda recognized although they were somewhat reminiscent of constellations of stars.
As Miranda surveyed the panels she noticed that the cougar was lying on the floor near the bottom stair of the stairway they had descended.
Muriel was crouched in the far corner of the room. She motioned to Miranda to join her. Muriel had found a small wooden chest. She already had begun to open the chest’s drawers.
A blood-red monochrome pot was in the first drawer. The pot contained a fine black powder. The next drawer had a celadon green pot which contained a sweet-smelling liquid. In the third drawer, there were tiny scrolls each tightly rolled around a tiny brass post. They did not try to open any of the scrolls since Muriel suggested they should find out what else was in the chest first.
Beside the row of drawers, there was a door covering the other half of the front of the chest. Muriel opened the door carefully. Inside it stood a pottery jar glazed in yellow and orange tones. Carefully, Muriel took the jar out of the chest. She set it on the floor between them and removed the lid, laying it gently beside the jar.
The jar contained tiny folded packages such as a nineteenth-century pharmacist might have used to dispense powders. The envelopes were brightly coloured reds and greens. Muriel handed a red one to Miranda and selected a green one for herself.
Muriel asked Miranda to open hers first.
Miranda shifted her position so that she was kneeling with the envelope on the floor before her. She folded back each of the four corners. Inside lay a folded tissue-thin paper with writing or drawing on it. She lifted up the paper. She could feel fine stones, seeds or spice inside.
Miranda looked to Muriel for a signal to open the tissue paper. Muriel understood and nodded. Again Miranda leaned over so that she could open the precious tissue on the floor. As she spread it out they could see that there was a drawing of a plant and writing in an odd script. They tried briefly to decipher the script. Muriel whispered that it must be planting instructions or instructions for the use of the plant or its seeds which must be what was lying in the packet. Miranda carefully refolded the tissue placed it in the envelope and folded the corners back as she had found them.
Muriel glanced at Miranda and Miranda gave a tweak of her left eyebrow which meant, “I don’t know what to think of that”.
Muriel opened her envelope. She turned back the four corners and found a similar folded tissue paper. She removed the tissue. A single flat disc lay under the tissue. Muriel glanced at Miranda and Miranda gave a tweak of her left eyebrow which meant, “I don’t know what to think of that”. Gently Muriel opened the tissue. It was covered by a drawing of a huge tree. Again there was some writing in the strange script. The figure of a bird at the tip of the tree gave them a clue to the scale of the drawing. They took out two more envelopes and opened them. Their contents were similar to, though different from, the first two.
Muriel suggested quietly that they take out all the red and green envelopes and see if anything else was in the container before replacing the contents. At the bottom of the jar they found an envelope of brilliant yellow dashed with darkest orange. Muriel took it from the jar. It was thicker than any of the other envelopes.
This time, Muriel glanced at Miranda for reassurance before she opened the envelope. The tissue was yellow and the lines they could see from the reversed folded portion on top were in red-brown. All the other tissues had been near-white with black markings. Once she removed the yellow tissue they saw that the envelope contained three thick flat seeds. They looked at each other with a mixture of relief and wonder.
Muriel gently unfolded the yellow paper. The drawing was enormous. There were three trees placed on the paper so that they formed the points of a triangle. Each tree had a different overall form. The one at the lower left of the triangle bore flowers which looked like large single roses. The tree at the other lower corner bore flowers which looked like a tulip tree’s. The one at the apex bore enormous flowers, each flower consisting of five broad petals.
Miranda leaned over the page and studied the images. “Muriel,” she exclaimed, pointing to the page, “there are symbols on each of these flowers!”
The largest-petalled flowers bore script on each of their petals. The rose-like flowers each had, as if stamped on them, repeated images of what appeared to be tools or instruments. The same implement was repeated on each petal of a single flower but each flower bore a different image. The tulip tree bore images of persons engaged in an activity. As Miranda stared at these tiny figures she became convinced that they were images of musicians. She suggested this to Muriel who confessed she couldn’t make out the miniature figures. Muriel suggested Miranda look more closely at the images of the tools or instruments. They now became clearer to Miranda. She saw a loom, a shuttle, a mallet, a spinning wheel and other tools of crafts. When Miranda told Muriel what she was deciphering Muriel shook her head in amazement. “I wonder if we can understand the script.”
Miranda replied, “If we take it back with us. Do you think we can?”
“I don’t know, Miranda. I’ll have to let something or someone tell me that.”
Muriel now wore a glazed, distracted expression. Miranda was a little frightened. “Are you alright?” she asked.
“Yes, I’m just trying to take this in, my dear. We’ve made so many discoveries already.”
“Yes. We haven’t even looked at the scrolls. And, this chest reminds me of spice boxes. I suspect it has a secret compartment behind the drawers.”
“Well, let’s look.” Muriel quickly became enthusiastic again.
Miranda removed each of the three drawers. She saw immediately that they were not as deep as the compartment which had contained the jar of envelopes. The creator of the box had set a puzzle for the finder. Miranda tipped the chest this way and that, trying each of three sliding panels she found. One was behind the drawers, one on the bottom of the chest and the third on the back. Eventually she established the correct combination of adjustments of the panels and the back half of the box swung open. It was like a miniature bric-a-brac shelf. Starting at the top Miranda picked up the first object, metal and shiny— a silver polished so that it glistened. She handed it to Muriel with only a cursory glance. The next object was gold and the third copper. Lying on the floor of the secret compartment was a large key which Miranda picked up and examined. It bore no marks. Its surface was quite smooth and polished. She wondered if it had ever been used.
Muriel had the three metal figures lined up in front of her on the floor. She was arranging them and rearranging them as if she was playing a shell game without any shells.
Miranda watched her. Finally Muriel spoke, “I don’t understand these figures, Miranda. They represent something, obviously. Must be very important to be so well hidden.” Noticing the object Miranda was holding up between her thumb and forefinger, Muriel asked, “What have you got?”
“This was on the floor of the compartment where those were.” She gestured with the key to the three figures Muriel had been studying.
“Let’s see.” Muriel reached for the key. “I have to admit I’m amazed by this cache. I’m baffled.”
“Maybe they will help, Muriel.” She pointed to the small drawer full of scrolls.
“Oh yes, that was silly. I forgot those. Let’s open one and see what we have.”
Miranda had a sudden pang of anxiety. This was accentuated by the cougar’s stirring from his nap. He sat up and yawned and stared at them. “Oh, cougar, did you know about all this? Is this why you led us here?”
His eyes caught hers. He inclined his head to one side as if to say, “Yes and follow me there’s more to see.” Then he straightened his head and yawned again.
“Muriel, do you think we can take the chest with us? I feel nervous about getting back.”
Muriel looked up from the floor where she had just begun to open one of the scrolls. She saw the cougar yawning and stretching. “Looks like he’s ready to go. Cougar, will you lead us back to the beach?”
Miranda gasped. She had not thought of that problem. They hadn’t noted landmarks. At least, she hadn’t. There weren’t any—it was all forest except for this cave and the rockfall.
The cougar made a sound in response to Muriel’s question. It wasn’t a roar and it wasn’t a purr. Muriel said, “What do you think, Miranda? Was that a yes?”
“Sounded more like a yes than anything.” Miranda hoped she wasn’t kidding herself.
“Let’s pack up the chest and act as if we are taking it. If the cougar seems to object we’ll leave it. Somehow we’ll be able to get back. This place will be on the globe in your study now.”
“What about the scrolls? Should we look at one first so we know what we’ve got? Or have some idea?”
“You’re the one in the hurry. If it’s OK with you, I’d like to look.” Muriel spoke calmly.
“Yes, I think it’s a good idea.”
Muriel began to unroll the scroll she held in her hand. She motioned to Miranda to take the end that was unrolling. Miranda pressed it to the floor as Muriel continued the unwinding.
The drawing on the scroll appeared to be a plan for a garden. A triangle of trees stood at the end of the long narrow rectangular outline. The triangle was familiar from the yellow envelope. Clumps of plants were shown at intervals around the enclosure formed by the rectangle and here and there a tree or large shrub was depicted in outline. Notations covered the bottom of the page and there were several panels of script at the end of the scroll closest to the pin which Muriel still clutched in her hand.
“I know what to do with this.” Muriel’s firmness astounded Miranda.
“Wait until we get back to your study. I’ll show you there.”
Miranda took that comment to mean that they had settled on taking the chest with them. At least Muriel was persuaded to carry it along.
“OK let’s pack it up, Miranda.”
“You think it’s alright?”
“Yes.” She glanced at the cougar, now standing on all fours at the foot of the stairway, “Unless . . .”, she tilted her head in the direction of the cat.
Miranda understood the gesture and nodded her own assent.