FOR PART ONE CLICK HERE
It was some time before I encountered much about which to write. Another week should by rights have brought me to the brink of starvation, and to acute dehydration. I had not consumed a thing, not solid nor liquid, since my journey had begun, and it had begun with a hangover.
Having not expected such an epic quest to present itself to me, I was wholly unprepared for it and carried upon my person only my teachers' planner. This essential item in a teacher's inventory was now battered from its many encounters with the fruit flies I had swatted with it. So often had this been necessary that I now could not tell where the various pulpy smears of apple, banana and kiwi each ended and began.
Despite the hardship that my logical synapses were informing me I must be enduring, my neural circuits concerned with pain and discomfort were apparently none the wiser. I pressed on relentlessly, through days and nights with neither sleep nor nourishment, feeling no pangs of hunger, no sense of imbalance and disorientation, nor were my lips even chapped from their exposure to the desert air and burning rays.
At one point a pupil (I do not remember which one) asked me for a pen but I was unable to lend one as there were none left in the store cupboard; so many had been lent and unreturned that the supply had run dry. I stopped and allowed myself a rest there briefly, afforded by the break in the monotony that the request had brought. A matter of minutes passed before I put into my mouth another of those strange red and white sweets that I had earlier confiscated from young Gleeson, and on I continured.
I eventually caught up with the Dark Dying Woods, although by now I had passed through many lifetimes. My incarnations had thus far included a Golden Eagle, at least a dozen mayflies, and the policeman from the 1980s sitcom Allo Allo. When I again gained direct sight of the trees I was a tall attractive Latino woman with a fiery temper and a penchant for both older and younger men, as well as a shoe size of six and a half.
I had seen them appear on the horizon two days before and finally I seemed to be gaining on them. As I approached I was accosted by a series of local men of some generic foreign descent, who shouted a lot, remonstrated with elaborate hand signals and stared intermittently at my exquisite breasts.
Through our fornications I gradually began to understand their sign language and, aside from the predominantly salacious communications in which they engaged me, I learnt that the trees had arrived from over the horizon, and stopped just past my current location through the simple reason that they had reached the edge of the world and could go no further.
It was not until now that I really took in my surroundings. I had passed through seemingly (though apparently not) endless miles of desert landscape, and wondered now how much of this had become so barren with the passing of the trees. How many communities, civilisations even, had been trampled under their stampede?
On several occasions I contemplated this whilst puffing on a post-coital cigarette and stroking my ginger beard, which, for some reason, had remained with me throughout all of my rebirths.
I knew I would have to approach the Woods with a tact I save only for the most awkward situations. I settled on humour as my aide.
"Come on, you big pansies!" quipped I, proud of my use of a phrase with both a common metaphorical definition, and a more literal translation, as trees and pansies are each types of plant, so in some way you could say that trees are very much like "big pansies".
The biggest flaw of this comparison, however, is that the trees of the Dark Dying Woods were predominantly monocotyledons, or non-flowering plants (or rather, they do produce flowers, but not flowers in the usual colloquial sense of the word, with colourful petals and such). Pansies are, of course, dicotyledons, and do produce petaled flowers, of which many a keen gardener is very fond.
A spokesperson (or spokestree) for the Woods came forward.
"Are you Bates?" she (I think this one might have been a she) enquired gruffly.
"No," said I.
"Oh, the spokestree said. "Then who's Bates?"
"Oh, I expect he'd be dead by now," replied I. "He had leprosy, you see, and even I've died loads of times since then."
"Leprosy?" the tree repeated. "I don't remember anything in the prophecy about leprosy. It was mostly about tennis."
"Tennis?" repeated I.
"Yes. We are talking about the same Bates, aren't we? The former number one British tennis player?"
"Oh, you mean Jeremy Bates!" exclaimed I, partially relieved that it had almost certainly been one big misunderstanding. "My Bates had a third eye, on his left earlobe, so I can tell you they're definitely not the same person."
"Oh!" she said. "Oh well, these misunderstandings happen. Well, I'd better get going, really. I've got to lead a wedding ceremony. You can come along, if you like."
And so it was that I attended the wedding of two trees. Paul and Carla, they were called, both Scots Pines. It was a lovely service and afterwards the bride and groom were both burned in the time honoured tradition.
As the flames licked around my feet a loud ringing came into my ears, and was then replaced by the distant sound of panicked young voices and emergency sirens. I sat down at my teacher's desk and put my feet up, waiting for the happy couple to lead the first dance.
To be continued...