Three young children were running through the forest. They were playing. They had given Richard a head start, and the other two, Amanda and Greg, had to chase him down. The forest looked like a place of pure magic. The beams of light from the sun were penetrating down through the trees on to the forest floor, and high above the children the tops of the trees were gently swaying in the wind and their leaves seemed to dance and rustle from far overhead. It was quiet, other than the distant rustling, and the giggles and occasional shouts of the children who were running along the ground.
Richard had been running and turned around to see how close the other two were. He was in a thicket of trees far off any man-made path, and he thought he may be able to trick them. He got in behind a large tree and waited for his friends to run past him.
He heard them approaching, and Amanda began to say that they couldn’t see him. Richard's heart was beating faster, feeling he may get caught soon. He saw his two friends either side of him run past and then slow down not too far ahead of him, and he was watching them quietly.
They began to look around, and before they turned around, Richard disappeared round to the other side of this big tree, and he began to quietly wander off in the other direction. He could see a small circle of trees about a stone’s throw away, and he wanted to go and sit in the middle.
"There he is!" shouted Greg. Richard began sprinting towards the circle of trees. He knew he would soon be caught, but there was something about that circle of trees that seemed alluring to him, like he just wanted to sit down inside it.
He went and sat down, and he felt a huge calm come over him. The other two ran up, making stomping sounds as they slowed down, and they entered this circle, and sat down as well.
They were all panting, out of breath, but no one said anything. They just looked around for a while.
"Do you ever think these trees might be alive?" Richard asked.
"They are alive," Greg said, nodding surely towards Richard. "My Dad was telling me, they have all kinds of processes going on inside them, so they can drink water and eat the sun's light. They start off tiny and they end up growing big and strong like that one," he pointed to the tree Richard had been hiding behind just a moment ago.
A thoughtless moment emerged, after which Richard said:
"Yeh, but I mean really alive, like us, like they could move and talk and speak if they wanted. Or maybe they are speaking now?" He heard a rustling of trees in the wind. "But maybe we don’t know it, maybe they just speak a language we don’t understand."
Richard felt uncomfortable all of a sudden, as he was sure that the small tree he had his back up against, moved. Ever so slightly. He was sure he felt it tremour. He sat forwards and looked behind him, then decided it may have just been the wind.
He looked up at Amanda, and her eyes went from a calm gaze to a widening look of horror. She pointed behind Richard, "Richard, look!"
Richard sat forward and stood up as he turned around, to see this tree morphing shape and turning into the body of a man. A big shirtless man with some brown, muddy-looking cloth for shorts, and he was sitting there, with his eyes open, looking at Richard.
The three children ran. As fast as they could, all the way out of the forest without stopping. They went their separate ways and went back to their houses, and immediately told their parents what they had seen.
"A tree turn into a man?" Richard's mum repeated as she was making him a nice cold drink. "Ok, dear, what did he look like?"
She did not seem surprised, but Richard told her, and she indulged him.
"Oh, wow dear," she said, drinking her own drink and enjoying the wildness of imagination of her son. "You didn’t ask his name did you?"
"No I didn’t, I just ran straight here, what could it be, what was it?" Richard asked, feeling too exhilarated to drink any more.
"Oh, I don't know dear," she said. "Now remember, if any stranger ever comes up talking to you for real, you mustn't engage with him, you must come straight home and not trust anything he says. But if you are just playing and see a tree come to life and speak to you, then you can go ahead and speak back, there's no harm in that. But," she repeated, "if it is a real man, then leave him."
"But this was a real man! I watched as he turned from a tree to a man, and he was sitting there, absolutely still, looking at me with big bright eyes, and his body looked all muscley, even more muscley than those men in those magazines you read."
His mother shifted in her seat, and her skin turned a slight shade of red. She pretended she had not heard that last comment. She thought her private reading material had always done well to be kept private.
"Ok dear," she said. "Now, what would you like for your dinner?"
The next day the three children met up again, as usual. They were on their holidays, and every morning at ten o’clock they would meet at the edge of the forest on the border of their little town.
Greg was there first, looking nervous beneath his curly hair and slightly grubby-looking face. Richard arrived next, and Greg said, "What do you reckon then? Should we go in and look for him? Should we stay out? My dad told me that I was just imagining things, that there was no such thing as a tree man. He got annoyed with me by dinner-time. He wouldn’t even let me show him."
"I don’t know," Richard said. He felt nervous as well, as if there was no doubt about what they had seen, but he was not sure what to think of it.
"Maybe...maybe Amanda will be too scared," Greg said, slightly hopefully. "After all, she is a girl..."
"So what if I'm a girl?" Amanda appeared next to Greg, and Greg now looked even more uncomfortable.
"Um...no...I was just saying," said Greg, shifting on the spot and looking down at the ground. "You might not want to go in there again in case we see that weird tree man thing again, that’s all..."
"Well I want to go in," Amanda said. "Are you scared, Greg?"
"No," Greg said, in a quick and cutting manner. "'Course not."
"Are you, Richard?" she asked. Richard had nothing to hide.
"Yes I'm scared, who on earth was he? What was it? What if it tries to hurt us or something?"
"Look," Amanda said. "After we saw him yesterday, I went to the library and I found this." She pulled out a book from her rucksack, and walked inside the forest, just inside so she could lean up against a tree. "Look," she said, beckoning the two to come closer. "Look at this."
The two boys came forward and sat either side of Amanda. She opened the page to where her bookmark was, and just before she did, Richard noticed the title said "Mythical Creatures Of The Forest." The book was old and yellow, with dirty-looking pages and worn-away edges.
"This book tells you everything about mythical creatures," she said.
"What's a myfical creature?" Greg said, wiping his nose with his sleeve.
"Mythical," Amanda said, correcting him. "It means creatures that were spoken about in stories that most people think is just something made up, or something to represent something else. Like dragons," she said. "Dragons are a mythical creature. People tell stories about them, but not many believe they are real. They are more like magic stories."
"Dragons are real though aren't they?" Greg said, "My Dad has shown me pictures of fossils..."
"No, that's dinosaurs," Amanda interrupted. But then all three children wondered, for a moment, whether this was an absolute certainty.
"Anyway, look at this," Amanda pointed to a page that began with a sketch of a strongly-built muscular man, with no hair and bright eyes, with another eye in his forehead which looked different to the other two.
This chapter was titled "The Earthman".
Amanda began to read the words out loud to the other two, who were very intrigued. The two boys were leaning in to read along as well.
"The Earthman is a breed of man that emerged prior to the modern human being." She sounded enthused. "They began to die out hundreds of years ago from a disease of feeling separated from the Earth, and as they began to lose their roots, they lost their abilities, which now seem supernatural, and gradually their species changed into what we now call human beings. At the time of completing this book, I'm not sure if any remain. I have only met one, who claimed to be the final one of his kind, and a few weeks ago he told me he would be dissolving back into the Earth. I have not seen him since."
There was more writing, but Amanda skipped to the very back page of the book.
She put her fingers on the final page and started reading. Richard was reading along, and the page read:
"A Note From The Author
Although mythical creatures are supposed to be make-believe, unreal animals that humans use to tell stories, it is my firm conviction that many of these beasts I have seen for myself whilst carrying out my research for this book. Many years of work have gone into it, and whilst I realise I will be ostracised for saying this, I know for a fact that many of these creatures are real. I have seen them in the flesh, communicated with many of them, and have seen how they operate in nature. The only one I have not seen is the Helper Fish, who acts to save drowning people in the ocean, lakes and rivers; but I believe this is purely because of my life-long fear of water, which prevented me from diving into water to find it. Perhaps if I one day happen to find myself dumped in the sea, it may just come to my rescue.
May this book act as a resource for all those hungry for the truth.
Dr. Bernard J. Hoothfellow"
"I've heard of him!" Greg said suddenly. "My dad told me about him. They used to be friends back in school, really good friends, and then Dad told me he went crazy, let his work get the better of him or something, and now they don't see each other."
Amanda flicked back to the Earthman chapter, and showed the two boys all the extra information there was – the history of the Earthmen, what they could do, and that they never harmed people unless they were forced to protect the land. The final sentence said:
"If you love the forest, you will always be safe around the Earthman."
That settled it. All three children were now excited and ready to go and find this Earthman. All three of them loved the forest, how it seemed to be like an old friend that would look after them, and so up they stood, the book went back in Amanda's backpack, and off they marched, back to where they had met the Earthman yesterday afternoon.
It didn’t take them long to find the circle of trees where they had fled from yesterday, and they felt as if they were walking quicker than they ever had done. Amanda nearly burst into a run, but felt she wouldn't want to come charging in on a mythical creature.
They arrived at the circle of small trees, and the tree that had turned into the man was not there.
"The tree's gone!" Greg said, looking stunned. "It was right there wasn’t it? Now there's just a gap."
Greg went over to the spot that was now empty, and sat down.
"Greg," Amanda said. "Be careful."
Greg shot back up into a standing position after only having sat down for two seconds. "Gosh!" he said. "That was weird. It felt like electricity going up my legs just then, and I felt my bum was being gripped by the ground!"
The three were looking at the spot, the bare, blank patch of ground, and then they heard a deep and powerful voice come from behind them.
"Try again," the voice said.
The children quickly looked round, and standing a few feet from them was the same man they had seen yesterday, huge and muscled, towering over them with a deep smile that seemed like it was coming out of his core, rather than just a contraction on his face.
Richard took a step back.
"It's you!" Amanda said, "You're who we saw yesterday, you're an Earthman, aren't you?"
"Yes," replied the Earthman. "We all are actually, but yes, humans refer to my kind as Earthmen."
"It says in this book you died out!" Amanda got out her book from her backpack, and found the page she was looking for. Greg felt like he was rooted to the spot. He was sure he had never seen something so beautiful. He felt like when his father had taken him out on a field trip, and he had seen some wild horses standing in the sunlight. There was something magical about them, something majestic, and he could feel, even from this distance, that this creature had a power about him that was quite unfathomable.
Amanda showed the Earthman the words on the pages saying that his kind had likely died out, and handed the book to him. He read for a moment, his bright eyes scanning the words in a very calm, unhurried manner.
"Ah yes. Well, this book was written, still with some misunderstandings," the Earthman said, handing the girl back her book. "It is good but not fully informed." He walked through the children and sat back down in his spot in the circle of trees.
"What do you mean?" Amanda asked, following at his heels.
"The author of that book thought that the Earthman had died out, and human beings had evolved, or perhaps de-evolved out of them, after a disease of separation had befallen the Earthman. Really the human being and the Earthman are no different, except the Earthman knows his oneness with the Earth, and the human being does not. That is the only difference. We are not different species, you and I."
The children heard a kind of wrapping and gripping noise, and they saw huge strong roots growing out of the Earthman’s big legs, and going deep down into the ground. After a few seconds it looked like he didn’t even have legs anymore, he was just a body with roots attached.
"So did you ever meet Dr Hoothfellow, the one who wrote this book?"
"Yes, I used to know him," the Earthman said. "He was a good man, loved the forest. Loved the forest very much, actually."
Richard came tentatively to sit down next to Amanda, Greg had still not yet moved. He wasn’t frightened, but had just completely forgotten about himself. This was an incredible sight. His dad would probably faint if he were to see this!
Amanda was reading some of the words about the Earthman.
"I was reading this yesterday after we saw you," she said, flicking through the pages. "Is it true you don’t have to eat or drink?"
"Well, sort of," the Earthman replied. He closed his eyes for a while. "I still eat and drink, but not in the way you do. I eat and drink like a plant or a tree, I get my nutrients from the sun, and the water from the rain and the ground. Since I know that I'm one with the Earth, she takes care of all my needs, and I don’t often have to consume food through the mouth."
Amanda was quiet.
"Solid food is still good though," he reassured her, "and if you notice that it is a gift of the Earth, then it will have even better effects for you. It is all Earth, it is all Nature."
"So you live here in the forest?" Richard asked.
"Yes," the Earthman replied. "I tend to rest here, right here in this spot, but I walk around and enjoy the forest when I feel to. I don't often go into town, because people tend to think I am a monster. I tried once and scared people away, and then they came back in a big group and tried to harm me with big forks and fire."
"Did they hurt you?" Amanda asked.
"Oh, goodness, no," the Earthman said. "The wind blew out the fire on their torches, and when they went to stab at me with their forks, the metal blunted itself. This body is quite tough, so I didn’t feel much, and then I just came back here, to the forest."
Greg came and sat down, and the Earthman looked directly at him. Greg felt his insides shake a little.
"You got scared just now when you sat here, didn’t you?" the Earthman asked him.
"No," Greg replied, with his arms folded.
"Don’t worry, it's normal," the Earthman said. "If you think you are separate from the Earth, to feel connected to it again can feel scary, like you're losing your identity. Humans think there is the Earth, and then there is them, like they are separate because they can walk around on the Earth. But you are the Earth. You are like a piece of the Earth that can get up and walk around, and that's what the Earthman is."
Richard gently took the book from Amanda and pointed to the sketch that the author had drawn.
"Have you got a third eye?" Richard asked, tapping the picture.
"Yes," replied the Earthman. "So have you, but it is not as obvious as the other two. It helps you see things, extra things, things that the other two eyes can’t perceive, but not many people know about it, and when you watch your televisions, it's like sticking a knife in your third eye, and it may take a while to heal itself."
A brown bird came and landed on the roots of the Earthman. It started to hop and tweet loudly.
"Ok, ok," the Earthman said, stroking its head. "I'll fix it.
"This bird’s nest has fallen from the tree, I have to go."
"Well, can we come?" Amanda said, putting her book back in her bag.
"Yes," the Earthman replied. "It’s not far from here. We can walk."
The three children nodded in the same, almost hurried way due to their enthusiasm, and the Earthman rose up to his feet and began to move along the forest floor. He was majestic, like a god, and as the Earth came into contact with his feet, Amanda noticed that the grass and the leaves seemed to come slightly together, almost as if they were supporting and responding to his touch.
Greg could see all of the muscles in his back as he walked behind the Earthman, and he began to wonder at how strong this creature was.
Richard was watching as the bird danced and fluttered around the Earthman, occasionally calling and landing on the Earthman’s shoulder.
"Ok, ok," the Earthman would say, as if everything was taken care of.
They soon arrived at a small nest of twigs lying at the foot of a big and powerful, almost deep red tree. The Earthman bent down and very gently picked up the nest. It looked extremely fragile in his hands at first, but as he held it for a while, whilst its size did not change, it began to look slightly thicker and stronger.
"Baltdu Mora Keendo," the Earthman said, as he placed his hand on the bark of the tree that looked like it had been aged and made wise by the years.
The tree made a very strange sound, almost like a groan, like someone not wanting to be woken up, then the Earthman whispered something closely to the tree, with his mouth nearly touching the bark.
"What's he saying?" whispered Greg to the other two, but never taking his eyes off the Earthman.
"I wish to climb the tree," said the Earthman, hearing Greg's question. "I always ask the tree for permission first. No one wants to be climbed on without notice."
The three felt slightly guilty for all the times they had climbed trees without even letting the tree know about it first.
The big reddish tree then made a kind of soft, whispering sound that seemed to relax the surrounding area, and immediately the Earthman began to climb upwards.
He had no branches to grab on to, he was just climbing, his hands and feet seeming to stick to the ancient tree that now seemed happy to let him climb up it.
The Earthman moved so smoothly and fluidly, until soon he was like a blurry speck high up above the children, and Amanda, who had the keenest eyes, was looking up and could see the Earthman reaching out to put the nest back where it had fallen from, this time with a more secure and firm connection to the branches.
They heard the bird singing extremely loudly, the chirpy song was echoing out to the neighbouring trees, and it was obvious to all three that the bird was delightedly grateful.
Then the Earthman released his grip from where he was holding on to, and he began to rapidly fall down towards the Earth, where the children all backed away to clear a space for who they thought was about to crash into the ground, either making a hole, or hurting himself.
And as the form of the Earthman quickly got bigger as he fell through the air towards them, just before impact with the ground, it was like an invisible buffer absorbed all of his falling force, distributed it evenly and quickly to spread out over the Earth, and the Earthman's feet ever so gently touched back into the ground after hovering above for half a second.
Greg felt his jaw hanging open, and shut it abruptly.
Without saying anything the Earthman began walking back to where they had all met, in the circle of the trees.
The children didn’t say anything, they just followed in a line, feeling like he knew what he was doing. They got back to the circle of trees, and the Earthman sat back down in his usual position, reconnecting his roots again.
The three sat down next to each other, on the ground that they were now extremely aware of.
Amanda felt questions beginning to burn inside her again.
"What about women or girls? Why aren’t they in my book?" She got it out of her bag again and started checking through it. The Earthman looked at her with half-open eyes. "We don’t have a gender," he said. "We are neither man or woman, but because we look more like a human man than a woman, we are called Earthmen. It is easier for you to understand like that."
"How do you have babies then?" Amanda asked, no stranger to the science behind birth.
"The Earthman never gives birth, the Earthman is born straight out of the ground. When the Earth wanted to extend herself, she would give birth to an Earthman, and he would jump straight out of the ground."
"Why aren’t there more of you then?" Amanda asked, confused about it all.
The Earthman closed his eyes. "Because there is a sickness, Earth is sick, and she does not want any more of her children to risk becoming sick. When the Earthman was high in number, all over the Earth, we lived very wonderful lives. All our needs were met by the Earth, and she would take care of us while we enjoyed walking around and being in the forest together. We had such good lives, but we became lost in it, and we began to think that we had done it all, produced it all, like all was from our own power, as if all was our responsibility, and we started to imagine we were separate from the Earth.
"We started giving ourselves names, and we started to think we were all like separate people, rather than all part of one living being. Then this sickness spread, and the Earthman began to die out. We would usually live many hundreds of years, until the Earth would call us back to rest, but we started becoming weaker, smaller and less powerful, until we became as human beings have become now. Have you seen how they act? They have no idea that they are part of the Earth. So it is not just that the Earthman became sick. The Earth became sick. The two are one thing, and since Earth is sick, she can give no more life."
The three children sat there, feeling quite sad for themselves and the others, and the Earth.
"When human beings realise they are not separate from Earth, then the Earthman will come back to prosperity. She does not want to just create more Earthmen in the ground, she wants the human beings to come home to her, and realise who they are. More Earthmen being born may mean more become sick."
"Well you could help though, you could help tell them and bring them back!" Richard said, enthusiastically.
"No, I have said, they are too afraid. Many do not even enter the forest. They fear me when they see me, and if they feel themselves merging back with the Earth, they feel like they are dying. But it is really the other way round. If they do not come back soon, all of them will die, in pain."
"Well what about us?" Greg said, feeling a surge of confidence inside him. "What can we do then? We always come into the forest and we love it, how can we help?"
The Earthman’s roots untied from the Earth beneath him again, and he stood up from his sacred spot. He walked two large paces forwards, and sat back down again, facing where he had just been.
"For you, young man," the Earthman said, looking at Greg, "you just need to sit quiet in this spot. Earth will do the rest. Just sit quiet. Don’t try to be something, don’t try to help yourself, just sit quiet and relax into Nature. Go. Sit." He pointed to the sacred spot, and Greg marched over to it, beginning to feel touched by his memories of yesterday.
"But, last time," Greg said, now feeling hesitant, "last time it felt like if I stayed there I would disappear, like the Earth was going to swallow me up or something."
"Yes, good," the Earthman said, nodding. "That is right. You lose yourself, the self that your parents and teachers told you that you were, and you fall back into what you really are, one with Nature itself. Sit. Trust. Earth will not forsake you when you surrender to her."
Greg, despite his hesitations, wanted to be like the Earthman, he was so impressive, and seemed to be like a real life super hero. So Greg sat, and waited until he turned into an Earthman.
"No," the Earthman said. "Don’t try to be an Earthman. If you try to be an Earthman, you are saying to Earth that you are not an Earthman. Give your desires to Earth, say that you are hers, and then keep quiet."
So, Greg relaxed himself into the ground, followed the Earthman's instructions, and the same sensation came over him again, the electricity, the sinking into the Earth, and his heart started to beat as if it had been woken up suddenly.
"Now, just relax," the Earthman said, just before Greg felt himself about to tense and stand up again.
Amanda and Richard looked on, as they saw living roots shoot out of Greg’s legs and down into the ground.
"Woah!" Greg yelled, and although his eyes were closed he looked like he was having some wild dream. He sat bolt upright, and his body began to glow with a gold haze that was emanating out of him. He exhaled deeply and he had a slight smile on his face.
"Woah!" he said again. The Earthman watched, as if nothing was happening.
Amanda and Richard were raring to have a go. After a few minutes, Greg slowly got up, and his roots gently released him from the ground.
Richard went to have a go, then saw Amanda move to go as well. Amanda stopped as she noticed Richard was ahead of her, and after Richard saw her look slightly disappointed that she could not go next, he sat back down and gave her space to go and sit down on the blank space of land. She smiled and said thanks, and as soon as she sat down, she entered a trance. She was not aware of anything. Nothing. She opened her eyes after what seemed like a few seconds, and the evening sun was setting.
"Twenty minutes," Richard said, looking slightly bored. Greg was sat next to the Earthman, looking like he was meditating, with his legs crossed, and when Richard looked closely he could see a single root connecting Greg's lower back to the ground.
Now it was Richard's turn. Amanda went to sit next to Greg, and before she closed her eyes again, she was looking around at the forest, now fully aware that it was all one thing, one big living thing that no-one was separate from.
Richard walked over and sat down, wondering what might happen. Nothing happened. He waited, he opened his eyes and saw that the Earthman was watching him, quietly.
"You want power don’t you?" the Earthman asked, looking deeply into Richard. "Yes," Richard said, "I want powers like yours. I want to be strong and be able to talk to birds and..."
"No," the Earthman interrupted. "I am not strong. Earth is strong, Nature is strong. That is how we became sick in the first place. We wanted all of Nature's power for ourselves, to act like it was our own, our own individual merit. But all is from your source. All is from Nature. Give up your power to her, she will use you, and then her power flows through your body. You are nothing, just a vehicle for Nature."
Richard felt his mind empty of all of its content, and he felt like his mind was being sucked into his core, somewhere in his chest or stomach. Then he heard someone speaking from overhead...
"Look, Earthmen are coming back!" He looked up and it was a bird, calling to his friends. Richard did not hear it as tweets, but as actual words.
"You can hear me can’t you?" the bird asked. Richard nodded, and the bird flew off.
Amanda came downstairs the next morning to her mum, who was cooking her something nice to eat.
"Hello dear," she said. "Did you sleep well?"
"Amazingly well, thanks," said Amanda, sitting down at the table in her dressing gown.
"Oh good dear. Are you hungry?" Amanda would usually have a good breakfast the morning after she had been out in the woods all afternoon the day before, and so her mum was cooking her up a load of pancakes and waffles.
"Um...no, actually," Amanda replied, wondering why she was not as famished as usual.
"What do you want to drink dear? Orange juice? Apple juice?"
"Just...just water please," Amanda said. Her mum gave her a glass of water and she practically inhaled it, quickly.
"Gosh!" her mother said, holding a spatula in one hand. "You're just like one of my plants when they haven’t been watered for a few days. Would you like some more?"
Amanda drank some more water, then some more, and then she felt she would need no more that day. She ate some breakfast, out of politeness to her mum, but felt she did not want to eat as much as usual. She could see the sun rising through the living room window, and she felt hungry to go outside and soak up some of the goodness it was giving off. So she did. She felt herself leaning toward the sun as she stepped outside, and she felt as if her whole body was opening up, thankful for the beams of nutrients. After a few minutes she felt completely refreshed.
In a house nearby, Greg plonked down the stairs in his pyjamas, and sat down in his chair. His chair creaked.
"Alright son?" his dad said, looking like he was already busy doing something around the house. "Listen, before breakfast, would you mind helping me with something? I need your help moving a big bookcase. Now, your brother can help me with the heavy lifting, but I'll need your eyes to help us manoeuvre it outside and into the shed."
"Okay," said Greg, rubbing the tiredness out of his eyes.
"Darren! Out of bed now!" His father called up to Greg’s older teenage brother Darren, who obediently but slightly resentfully came downstairs in his own pyjamas, quite soon after the call.
"Clothes lad, put some proper clothes on!" Darren turned, went back upstairs, and came down again with a t-shirt and jeans on. He hadn’t said a word. Darren was not fond of the mornings.
The two boys followed their father into the study, where there was an empty bookcase. Their father turned to them.
"Now, we need to get this bookcase from here into the shed, lads." He put his hand on the strong, heavy-set bookcase that came up to his eyes. "I'm having a new one in here, and this one can keep my extra books in the shed. I..."
He stopped as he looked at Greg standing in front of him. "Greg, what's happened? Are you on stilts or something? Look how tall you are!" Greg would usually come up to just below Darren's shoulder, but now he was about level with his older brother's chin. Darren, still hazy and foggy, seemed to jump as he noticed the height of his brother, and checked to see that Greg was not wearing anything extra on his feet.
"And look at you," his dad said, touching Greg's pyjama shirt, "that thing looks too small for you now."
The three of them could see shoulder muscles looking like they wanted to burst out of the top of Greg's sleeves, and the buttons were being pulled tightly across a rather full-looking chest.
"Wh...I dunno," Greg said, feeling that if he were to tense his arms, he might tear his pyjamas. He slowly took off the shirt, his dad swore in disbelief, which he was usually careful to never do around the kids, and Greg went and picked up the bookcase, by himself, with one arm.
"Ok, out the way," Greg said, as he easily carried the bookcase that the other two would have struggled to carry together, and they watched Greg march through the room, out of the house, into the garden, and go and place the bookcase into his dad's shed.
"Anything else?" Greg said, as he dusted his hands off and walked back across the grass to the house.
Richard woke up and heard a load of people talking outside his bedroom window. They were all chatting to each other, quickly and merrily, sometimes repetitively, and Richard felt slightly annoyed that they would be so inconsiderate. He walked up to his window, reached up to open it, and out on the grass he could see five birds, all of different colours and shapes, looking up in his direction. Usually they would fly off, but they barely moved.
"There he is! That's the one that can hear us!" one of them said. Richard recognised it, it was the bird from yesterday evening.
"Yes," Richard said, finding it both weird and normal, like he was still dreaming. "Yes, but would you mind keeping it down out here? I feel quite tired."
"Oh, yes, ok," the bird said. "Sorry. Just...just one thing, could you tell your mum to leave those seeds out for us instead of the bread? We love the seeds much more."
"Ok, I'll tell her," Richard said as he yawned, closed his window and got back into bed.
An hour later he went downstairs, told his mum about the birds preferring seeds, and she once again said, "Oh, ok, yes dear, that's fine. Did you read that somewhere then? Did Amanda tell you they prefer seeds?"
"No," Richard replied, "they told me themselves." Richard's mum stopped cleaning her plate in the sink and looked forwards out into the garden. She wondered if this was going too far.
"You know, Richard," she said, "there is someone you can go and speak to about all of this if you want. A professional, like a doctor, he..."
Richard got up and walked out of the room. He went upstairs to his room, and his mum was calling after him. He opened his window, and three of the birds were still there, as if they were waiting for him.
"All rested up?" the familiar one said.
"Yes," said Richard, sounding quite hurried. "I think my mum will do the seed thing, but just to be sure, I need you to do something..."
The bird hopped a few steps towards him."Yes?" said the bird, looking quite eager.
"In a few minutes I will walk up to you out there, and I’ll ask you to do three easy things. Do them, then I'm sure my mum will put out the seeds when she has them."
"Great," said the bird, hopping back to the other two. The three birds were talking again as Richard shut his window, and he went downstairs to his mum. He opened the sliding glass doors that went out from the kitchen into the garden, and he said to her, "Just watch, will you please. I can talk to birds." She put down her dishcloth.
"Ok, dear, let's see," she said, with a sigh of resignation. She followed him out into the garden. Richard went and sat in the middle of their small lawn, and was well within hearing range of his mum, who was standing on the patio outside the kitchen. She noticed a bird was standing nearby, looking at Richard, which had not yet flown away. Perhaps it had a bad wing or something.
"I'm going to ask it to land on this finger now," Richard said to his mum. She watched him as a beautiful tweeting sound left his mouth, sounding exactly like a morning bird call, and the little black bird on the lawn flew up and landed on his finger.
Richard's mum felt like her heart stopped beating for a moment.
"Now I will ask him to land on your shoulder. You mustn’t move, he won’t hurt you, just stay very relaxed and still." Richard sang again, as if he should have had wings, and the bird left his finger and flew quickly towards his mother, who tensed up but remained where she was. It fluttered upwards and landed on her shoulder. She heard it tweet. Once.
"Now he will walk back to me." Richard made his call, and the bird quickly dropped to the ground with a few flaps of its wings, and made it by foot, back to where Richard was.
"So at least now you know they prefer the seeds," Richard said. He walked back off the grass and past his mother, and announced he was off out to meet his friends.
The three friends arrived in the usual spot that morning, to go back in and meet with the Earthman. They were all discussing what had happened to them as they walked into the woods, and they could feel a superior sense of connection compared to yesterday. They could not find where they all ended, and the forest began. The forest was moving them, breathing them, talking and walking and living through them.
They saw the Earthman standing still in the distance, and he was waiting and watching as they walked up to him, and they were all looking bigger than yesterday, especially Greg.
The three slowed as they reached him. Beneath Amanda's feet a bright yellow flower emerged out of the ground, as if it had been hiding and had come out to say hello.
Richard noticed a rabbit approaching him in the distance, who wanted to tell him welcome to the forest, but the rabbit did not want to interrupt their conversation with the Earthman.
Greg felt like he just wanted to lift something up, something really heavy, just to feel what it was like.
The three Earthchildren began explaining what had happened that morning, and were now all equally curious as to why they seemed to vary in their new abilities.
"Earthmen can vary in their strengths," the Earthman replied, looking at them all with a complete neutrality, "but over time you will become more well-rounded and balanced. Not all will happen overnight. Some new things happen very quickly, others are slower to mature. And both are good."
The children did not seem completely satisfied with his answer.
"For instance," he said, "I am very good on land, but not so good in water. The rivers of this forest are fine, but the vast and open sea, I still have some trouble with.” Amanda stared intensely at him, and felt something almost beginning to click in her head.
“Is it normal for Earthmen to dislike water?" she asked. "I thought they were one with all?" She had not brought her bag or book to check, but she was confident in her question all the same.
The Earthman paused. "I have not told you, children. I was not born a realised Earthman. I was a human being for many years, then after much time spent in the forest, falling in love with it in fact, I found myself returning to my natural state."
Amanda looked at Greg and Richard, wondering if they had worked it out yet. Greg looked vacant, and sniffed, while Richard could only tell that Amanda was excited about something.
"However, the old fears of water still live in me from time to time," the Earthman continued, "and although they are far less than before and are gradually leaving my system, sometimes they still influence me if I approach the ocean."
“So you are Dr Bernard Hoothfellow! He was afraid of the water too! You wrote the book on mythical creatures I was reading!" Amanda said.
“Yes,” the Earthman replied. Greg bolted his head up at the Earthman. "So you knew my Dad? David Wiswick?" The Earthman paused again, and seemed to be searching deep into a distant memory. He looked up at the sky and the tops of the trees, who seemed to be waving down at him.
“Yes, yes I believe so,” he replied, and he said no more on the matter.
"Now, you have a choice," the Earthman said, seeming to forget or ignore that Greg had more questions about him and his dad. The Earthman did notice however, that the three children were blending back into their backgrounds. Greg looked to him like stone, Amanda like a plant, and Richard like the very Earth itself, who could hear everything going on within it.
“You can continue with all of this," the Earthman said, "continue on the path of the Earthman, and I can show you all the many ways and creatures of the forest. We can meet here, even sleep here, and I will show you all I know on what it means to be an Earthman.
"Or, you can go back to the human life. If you go back, you may be accepted far easier, you will not meet with family resistance, or get any strange looks from your friends. But if I may warn you, all of that stuff is like the wind. Empty."
The three children looked at each other, but without any hesitation on their faces.
"Let’s go," Greg said, feeling the Earth grip his feet as he said it, and the four extensions of the Earth, as one, disappeared into the forest.