Muriel and Miranda, part 5

Note to the reader: the simplest way to find the other episodes is to go here. They appear on the linked page in order of publication and recommended reading order.  

Muriel produced the key from the pocket of her shirt. “Let’s go. Hold onto the key with me. Cave or garden, which will it be?”

“Cave.” As she said the word, Miranda took hold of the key.

They stood quietly, eyes closed, holding the key between them and concentrating on returning to the cave.

When they opened their eyes, they were standing in front of the panels in the interior room of the cave where they had been the day before. Miranda had a brief panicky concern. Should they have brought anything else from Honoba’s chest? She calmed herself by thinking that Muriel would have brought anything they needed. She reminded herself that she was the apprentice. She felt even more reassured when she saw the cougar standing up and stretching in the far corner of the room. Seeing him reassured her that they really were back in his cave on the island.

Muriel was already busying herself looking around the room. She was trying to reach the mask over the door but couldn’t quite. “I’d like to get this down, Miranda.”

“What’ll we do with it? There’s the other one.” Miranda tilted her head in the direction of the silver mask opposite the doorway.

“One at a time, Miranda. Remember what I said to Honoba? About the theatre door. Masks, theatres. Surely there’s some connection.”

Miranda raised her eyebrows. “True enough. I’m afraid I can’t reach it either. I’m not as tall as you are.”

“No?” Muriel seemed surprised.

Miranda reached up in vain toward the green and gold mask. “See.”

“Phooey. What will we do? It’ll come to us. Let’s try something else. Do you think we’re right under that garden here?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t think about it.”

“Think of your drawing. The rock ridge is at the edge of the forest on the map. The garden is quite close to the ridge. No, I guess not. I wonder what we are under here.”

“Maybe the theatre.” Miranda surprised herself with the comment which popped out of her mouth.

Muriel looked at her as if she had said the most amazing thing possible. “Yes.” She drew out the word and as she did her eyes began to brighten. She started running her hand along the edge of the blue panel closest to her. Finding nothing she moved to the next one.

Miranda took her cue and began examining the edges of other panels in the room even though she wasn’t sure what it was she was looking for. They were all smooth edged. There was no give if she tried to pull one toward herself. She had another idea. The silver crystals or some combination of them might make a change. She began pressing each one in the panel in front of her. One gave way. “Muriel, I’ve found something. This crystal gave way when I pushed on it.”

“Good girl. Probably need some combination. Let’s see.” Muriel put her hand to her chin and held it there as she turned in place looking at each of the blue rectangles.

The panel in which Miranda had found the moveable crystal had its crystals arranged in an irregular zigzag starting at the top left corner and ending about two-thirds down on the right side. Muriel picked out a panel with a mirror image of the one Miranda stood beside. She tried the crystal in the equivalent spot on that panel. When Muriel pressed it she stood back since she was half expecting the panel to turn towards her or make some kind of movement. Nothing happened at the moment when she pressed the crystal.

Miranda looked at Muriel and shrugged but Muriel was looking at the ceiling. Miranda automatically looked up too.

Miranda hadn’t noticed the ceiling of the room even though the masks hung quite close to the lowest part of it. The ceiling curved up from the walls of the room for a couple of feet. Then it curved inward and upward again so that the ceiling in the central part of the room was considerably higher than at the walls. Muriel had heard something which made her look to the ceiling. When she followed Muriel’s gaze, Miranda saw a slowly moving trap door opening above them. The two sides swung steadily downward into the room. As they opened, Miranda saw a staircase unfolding between them. Muriel hurried around to join Miranda since the foot of the staircase was going to land in front of her. The cougar also was watching the stairs descend.

“Here we go.” Muriel said as the stairway stopped moving and firmed itself against the floor of the room. “I think we can reach that mask over the door from here.”

The cougar, seeming to be familiar with the staircase, led the way up it. Miranda followed him. As she approached the top of the staircase, Miranda leaned over and was able to poke two fingers through an eye hole in the mask and pull it to her.

She handed the mask to Muriel and continued on up the staircase. Muriel followed her.

Miranda stepped into the space to which the staircase opened. Unlike the cave, the space was completely dark. After Miranda had taken a couple of steps forward, she turned slowly. Something glowing was moving toward her. She took a step backward and the glow moved closer.

Muriel asked, “Where are you?”

Miranda realized it was Muriel wearing the green and gold mask which was giving off enough light to allow Muriel to see a couple of steps in front of herself and to give Miranda the impression a golden blob was gliding very slowly towards her.

Muriel, grasping Miranda’s plight said, “Here, take my hand.”

Miranda reached in the direction of the glow and after a few moments of moving her hand back and forth slowly and advancing toward the glow made contact with Muriel.

“I’m most worried about falling off an edge, Miranda. You may be able to see better. You lead.”

Muriel directed the mask toward the floor or ground in front of them.

Miranda couldn’t see any obstacles so they set off in a line away from the top of the stairway.

When they had taken several more cautious steps into the darkness, Miranda stopped. She thought she’d heard a sound.

Muriel pulled on her hand. “What is it?”

“Did you hear?”

“No, what is it?”

“Shh.”

When they heard nothing, Miranda began to step forward again. After four more steps, her foot landed on an angle. The wedge depressed and a very narrow door swung open to the light. The passage was just wide enough for them to shuffle through sideways. When their eyes adjusted to the light outside they realized they were in a grove of trees of uniform height and all of one species. The trees were all in bloom. Large papery blossoms hung from their branches.

Miranda moved close to one and when she leaned over to look directly into the blossom, she saw that it was covered with an intricate design. When she looked more closely she realized it was some kind of writing. It appeared in a spiral emerging outward from the centre of each large petal. She wished now that she’d paid more attention to the script on the scroll. She wasn’t sure if this was the same. She called Muriel over.

Muriel removed the mask to look at the blossom’s face. “One of the seed packets had this tree in it.” Muriel said almost immediately.

“What a bizarre idea—to write on flowers—temporary too.” Miranda said.

“I don’t think it’s written, not in the way you mean. I think it’s grown that way.”

Miranda couldn’t hide her incredulity. “Come on, Muriel. That’s impossible.”

“No, it’s happened. Here are the trees with their blossoms to prove it’s not impossible.”

“Are they all the same?”

“I don’t know. That’ll take some study. We musn’t harm the blossoms. The pattern of the planting makes me think someone’s arranged it. Maybe we’ll encounter them.”

Miranda wasn’t sure whether to quake or smile at that prospect. She wished again that she’d done more work last evening.

“Do you understand this script, Muriel?”

“No, but I think we can decipher it. I wish we had something to copy some of it onto.” Muriel was looking around at the ground.

Miranda realized that neither of them had paid close attention to the place they had left. The cougar was still with them. She was sure he would help if needed. She looked back at the narrow opening. It was at the corner of a very tall structure which reached perhaps a hundred feet high and curved around in a gentle curve for some distance. It crossed her mind that it was Honoba’s theatre but if it was there was no place for the audience, unless the stage was the highest part of the building and it sunk away into the ground behind. Miranda couldn’t see enough from their vantage point to tell whether that was likely.

“Miranda, I think I’ve found the perfect thing. A sample for us. One of the blossoms in good condition here on the ground.”

“Good. Will it lie in the mask so it won’t be crushed?’

“Good idea”, Muriel said.

Miranda pointed out the structure from which they’d emerged, the structure they now knew was over the cave room. Muriel agreed that it might be Honoba’s theatre but she wasn’t convinced.

Muriel was anxious that they try to discover what the significance of the writing on the flowers was. She told Miranda she was more concerned with getting some information about that before they did anything else. Miranda hadn’t really given it any thought assuming that the papery flowers were a mystery and would remain that way.

Muriel began methodically examining the trees to assure herself that they were growing plants and not works of art. Since she couldn’t make out the patterns in the script and since the patterns were quite complex, she was beginning to think that what appeared to be writing was indeed that and not a complicated formation which the plant displayed as part of its own growth. She was wishing that she’d spent some more time examining the scrolls and the seed packets before they came here in order to have some more information. She wasn’t able to find a bud anywhere. All the blossoms were fully open. They appeared to emerge from the tips and nodes along the branches in the same way as any familiar blossom would. She became more convinced that the patterns on the flowers were writing. Still, she was left with the question of how the writing got onto or into the flowers.

Miranda was anxious to explore more of the area of the island where they found themselves. She hurried Muriel, promising to spend time with her later trying to decipher the writing on the blossom she now carried in the mask’s interior.

They left the grove of trees and walked away from the structure where they had emerged from the cave. The land, rising up from the grove was covered with a meadow of grasslike plants and flowers which were predominantly yellow, orange and red. Miranda was frustrated by Muriel’s wanting to stop and examine each flower. As they climbed the slope they could see that the grove was in the base of a cup-shaped valley. The structure which they had suspected was Honoba’s theatre appeared strange from this angle. It was a looming dark box curving along one side of the circular grove of trees they had visited.

When they came to the top of the ridge of land which surrounded the valley, they could see the structure divided the bottom of the cup in two. On the far side of the ridge was another grove of trees also arranged in a circle but with the trees forming rays from the centre of the circle to its circumference. Muriel remarked on the contrast between the patterned groves and the formless forest they had walked through on their way from the sea to the cave. When they looked down the slope in the other direction, they saw nothing. All was whiteness as if they were looking at a blank screen in a movie theatre only this screen was three-dimensional. No colour or shape or shadow broke the blazing white.

Miranda gasped but Muriel put her hand on her shoulder. “We’re not ready for that area yet. Think we need to do some homework before we attempt to go there.

Miranda found it strange that they saw no other moving things. When they walked back down toward the grove of trees, Miranda now saw shadows flitting in and out amongst the trees below them. She shivered. She checked with Muriel to make sure that she still had the key in case they needed it again. The cougar was padding along beside them. He seemed unperturbed.

Muriel told Miranda to stop fussing. Miranda couldn’t tell if Muriel saw the shadows moving about or not. As they drew closer to the grove, the shadows seemed to take on more form. They were ghostly figures which appeared to be tending the trees. A thought flashed into her mind that these figures were somehow responsible for the writing on the petals of the flowers. She stopped Muriel.

“Have you noticed the movement amongst the trees?”

“I’ve seen some shadows. That’s all.”

“They’re moving purposefully. They have some shape. They’re not just shadows formed by the light and the trees.” Miranda was breathless as she spoke.

“Let’s try something, Miranda.” Muriel spoke softly. “Take the flower out of the mask and put the mask on.”

Miranda looked at her questioningly.

“Yes, yes, go on. Do it.” Muriel urged.

Miranda squatted down and took the flower out of the mask and laid it gently on the ground. Then she held the mask to her face while Muriel tied the bright green ribbons behind her head. The mask fit her well. The shape was neither too large nor too small for her head. She had expected it to feel quite rough and stiff but in fact it was softly pliable and seemed to mould itself to her face as she adjusted it. She’d been so busy concentrating on the feel of the mask that she did not notice until she turned to face Muriel that the mask altered her sight.

Muriel appeared as a grey shadow figure. So did the cougar. When Miranda exclaimed and then explained the change to Muriel, Muriel remained calm and told her to turn to face the grove of blooming trees.

Miranda turned slowly and then stood speechless. She felt almost faint, wobbly legged. She put out her hand towards Muriel who took her hand and then also took hold of her arm at the elbow. “What is it? Can you see them?” She whispered to Miranda.

Moments passed before Miranda replied, “Yes, they’re beautiful. You must see too.”

“Not now. Later. Tell me. What do you see?”

“They’re people. Well, sort of. They move more like large butterflies. They’re not flying, they’re on the ground but they are drifting about the trees. They’re doing something to the trees. I can’t see what.” Miranda was transfixed by the sight.

Muriel was straining to see but all she saw were the same shadowy figures as she had earlier. No more definition or form was evident.

Miranda had relaxed her grip on Muriel’s hand and was standing steadily. “They look as if they have huge butterflies on their backs. I think it’s the cloth, the costume. They look as though they’re moving at first but when I watch one carefully I don’t see the big folded wings move. They’re copper and red and grey. Bands of colours and big spots of colour just as we’d see on butterflies or moths at home. Muriel, won’t you put on the mask so you can see?”

“No, not yet. Tell me more. Watch for a while yet and see if you can understand what they’re doing. My vision is not as good as yours.”

“Maybe it will be better with the mask.”

“You keep looking. Then, I’ll give it a try. Do you see anything else we were missing?”

Miranda scanned the scene before her. They had walked closer to the trees and were only part way down the slope of the valley. She didn’t experience any other revelations with the mask.

“Have any of them noticed us?” Muriel asked.

“Not as far as I can tell. They’re all very preoccupied. They are doing something to the blossoms. Shall we try to get closer?”

“Very slowly. I don’t want to disturb them if we can help it.”

The two women inched forward, each setting one foot down very gently and letting her body follow through before moving the other foot. Miranda stopped Muriel when they had advanced a few yards down the slope.

“This is better.” Miranda whispered. “They’re drawing on the blossoms with the tiniest brushes.

“One mystery solved.” Muriel said aloud.

A rustle moved through the group of butterfly people. Two of them turned in the direction of the women. The women froze in place. The only other choice was to run.They could see one of the figures pointing in their direction.

“Now I’ve done it.” Muriel whispered realizing her mistake.

“What’ll we do?” Miranda said under her breath.

“Stay put unless they look menacing. The cougar is calm. That’s good.” The cougar was sitting on his haunches beside Muriel. He was staring in the same direction as the women.

“They certainly don’t look menacing. But they have seen us or me. Should I take off the mask?”

“I think not.” Muriel said, calm as ever.

The two figures who had seen the women spoke to another figure who turned and looked toward them. The third figure started to walk toward them. He glided, seeming not to leave the ground, but not moving with the sway of a person walking. When he had come about half way toward them, he stopped. He bowed very low, then turned and glided back toward the grove of trees. When he arrived there he seemed to summon the other beings and they all turned and bowed toward the women.

“What’s going on?”, Miranda demanded of Muriel.

“Must be the mask. Powerful, I’d say. We already know it is—changing your vision.”

After each of the strangely cloaked beings had bowed in their direction they resumed their work. Miranda reported each of these events to Muriel as they happened.

Muriel now was anxious to see for herself. Miranda handed the mask to Muriel. They were crouched down close to the ground as Muriel accepted the mask. None of the workers seemed to notice. Miranda felt disappointed to give up her view of the creatures.

Muriel grabbed for Miranda’s arm when she got her first full view through the mask. “The colours! I’m surprised you let me have the mask.”

Miranda admitted she hadn’t really wanted to give it up. She supported Muriel until the older woman gained her equilibrium. Muriel reported, “Nothing changes but the clarity, does it? But it’s so overwhelming to see all the colours and the shapes of those robes or whatever. I see them doing the painting now. Fascinating. I wonder what they do it for. The flowers are beautiful when they finish. They’re beautiful before too, aren’t they?”

“Yes. Still, imagine having such large, papery flowers to write or draw on. How are we going to figure out what it all means, Muriel?”

“We’ve just discovered these things. The answers will come. We’ve got one answer here. The flowers don’t grow that way on their own. I did find that hard to believe. Still . . . .”

“Shadowy creatures floating around with little brushes aren’t much easier to believe, are they?”

Muriel shook her head, “No. You’re right. But plants with writing. You have to admit. That would be too strange.”

“Yes, since some of the plants look so similar to ours at home. It did seem hard to believe they could grow with writing on them.”

The simplest way to find the other episodes is to go here. They appear on the linked page in order of publication and recommended reading order.