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LightTree

by Justin Elliott 3 months ago in Fantasy

Would you rather live in a treehouse, or a lighthouse? Why not Both?

Original Art by Maggie Elliott

“I don't know about this.” Jack Hunter said, staring up at the tree. “A tree house is great for a kid, but living in one?” The clank of the jeep gate was the first reply he heard.

“Oh come on!” His girlfriend, Marceline Livesey said cheerfully, a bright smile on her face. “You said you wanted me to come with you on a new adventure! Come help me lug this stuff up the stairs.”

The two young lovers had just arrived at the northern tip of the Francois Peron National Park after a nine hour drive from Perth. It had been exhausting travelling from Massachusetts, but finally, after 12000 miles, three flights, and 51 hours, they had reached their destination. In front of them was something that many who have heard of it assume is nothing more than a legend. The kind of place that exists in Neverland. In front of this young couple stood the fabled LightTree.

The LightTree is an immense oak. Easily one hundred feet tall, the trunk eight feet wide at its base. The tree is so large, that you almost miss the lighthouse held within it. Almost. Though dwarfed easily by the tree holding it, the house was large compared to others that performed the same function. A spacious home, enough for a large family to comfortably reside in, was woven into the branches of it's deciduous cradle. But it was the tower that drew the eye. Spiraling above the house stood the main feature of any lighthouse. The light. As wide as the trunk, and higher than the uppermost branches, the light tower dominated the view as they drove up to it.

A very strange abode. Wholly unique. And recently vacated after the passing of Jack's Great-uncle. His family had been caretakers of this remarkable station for generations. His Great-uncle had been in residence for nearly 40 years. With his passing, another member of the family had to take over. Technically the responsibility fell to Jack’s father, but as a respected Taxidermist with a thriving business outside of Boston, he couldn't uproot his life and commit to a remote outpost in Western Australia. When he expressed his concerns, his son, only 20, jumped at the opportunity. One call to his girlfriend and they were off for a grand adventure.

Jack let out a loud huff as he finally reached the top of the steps. “I should have trained before moving here.” He said, dropping the suitcases with a thud.

“You'll get in shape quick enough, going up and down those steps.” Marceline giggled. “Not like you have much choice.”

“True enough.” Jack said, smiling and placing a kiss on Marceline’s lips. “Want to have a look around?” He laughed as Marceline's eyes lit up.

“Yes! Tower first!”

Jack groaned, but followed along as she raced toward the spiral staircase in the center of the house. “I suppose it's for the best. Start at the top and work our way down.”

“Race you!”

“Really?!”

~~~

The trap door burst open and Marceline surged up through it. Laid out before her in the center of the large space was the light array. An immense bulb, with a mirrored shield half enclosing it, and a large bundle of wires leading from it to a small console beneath the floor.

None of which Marceline took any notice of, because from this height all of the coastline, ocean, and scrubland were visible. The coast in this part of the country was dominated by high cliffs, and the land continued only a few hundred feet before dropping away, to a precipitous drop to the warm sea below. Even at this height she could hear the crash of waves against the rocks. Looking back the way they had come, she saw nothing but miles of desert and low scrubs. It was a beautiful view all around.

As she was marveling at it, a labored panting came to her ears. Looking down through the trap door, Jack came into view, visibly winded. “Really, very out of shape.” He wheezed. Marceline laughed and helped hoist him through the floor. Once he was upright they both fell quiet, enjoying the natural beauty surrounding them. Silently Jack stepped up behind Marceline, wrapping his arms around her waist and resting his chin on the top of her head as they looked out onto the Pacific. “Gorgeous.” Jack said simply. Marceline wasn't sure if he meant her, or the view, but realized it made no difference. She knew three things in that moment; the view was stunning, Jack loved her, and she was deliriously happy that they were together, here, at the LightTree.

~~~

Several minutes later they descended the tower. The rest of the house was nice, if a little anticlimactic. Starting with all the incredibleness of the lantern room made for a calm tour of everything else. Three bedrooms, two baths, a study, dining room, living room, and kitchen. Comfortable, spacious, and clean, it was more than either of them could have asked for. Back in Boston they could have barely afforded a tiny one room apartment, let alone a palace like this.

As they were looking around the kitchen, beginning to put away the supplies they had brought with them, Marceline caught sight of the envelope on the counter. “Hey, check it out.” She called to Jack as she opened it. Jack approached as she began to read aloud. “Dear Tom- it's to your dad.”

“Well, he was supposed to be the one that took over, my uncle didn't know he was going to pass the job to me. What's it say?”

“Dear Tom,

Welcome to LightTree, the most unique and wonderful place you will ever find. Our family has always had a very special relationship with LightTree, because we understand that it is so much more than a simple lighthouse. It is a living thing, singularly strange and beautiful. It protects the ships at sea, points the way into Shark Bay, and helps them avoid the cliffs.

But it does so much more than that. LightTree represents balance. Land and water, Earth and sky. But mostly importantly, the balance between man and nature. Building and plant, fused together to protect us. LightTree is blessed by Mother Nature. So long as we respect her, she will look out for us.

LightTree sits at the Nexus of the possible and impossible. The real and imagined. The known and unknowable. And our family guards that Nexus. You will see the unbelievable here. You will come face to face with Mother Nature. And you will cherish it. There is no place like LightTree. There is no place better.

Welcome to LightTree.”

Marceline and Jack sat there in silence for a minute. Neither really knew what to make of the letter. Was the deceased man just being poetic? Was it all metaphorical? Had the years of isolation driven the elder caretaker insane? It was Marceline that finally broke the silence.

“Your Uncle was weird.”

“No argument here. But still, isn't this exciting?” Jack wrapped his arms around Marceline again and gave her a loving kiss.

“Yes. All the more exciting because we are together. Now come on, let's get unpacked.”

~~~

The next few weeks passed quickly. The two soon learned the business of caretaking. The light itself was automated, which is how it kept running after Jack's uncle had passed but before they had arrived. They did need to check the bulb everyday, as well as keeping the glass and reflective surface clean. But otherwise, the modern lighthouse was pretty low maintenance.

The LightTree was very isolated, the nearest town a 45 minute drive each way. Besides the odd ship passing, they never saw anyone else. Which suited them fine. All the two young lovers needed was each other. They spent every minute together. Cooking, chores, reading, bed, they were never more than 20 feet from each other. Life at the LightTree was calm, serene, and beautiful. But there were some strange things too.

“Jack? Where are you?” Marceline called, looking around the kitchen.

“Out here.” Came the muffled reply. Marceline walked out onto the balcony that surrounded the house and looked down to see Jack standing by their dusty old jeep at the foot of the tree.

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to solve a mystery. Come down here please.” A couple minutes later Marceline had joined him.

“What's up?” She asked curiously. Jack was staring up at the LightTree, a look of mild consternation on his face. She followed his gaze, but couldn't pick out what may have been bothering him. Everything seemed to be in place, from the stairs twisting up around the tree, to the house itself, the brown color nearly camouflaging it, up onto the tower and lantern room. It all looked fine.

“Marc… where does the power come from?”

“Huh?”

“The power. Electricity. The lantern, our stove, water pump, all of it. Where are we getting the electricity from? No power lines. No solar panels. I can't imagine that they buried a line all the way back to Denham.” Jack never broke his gaze from LightTree as he explained, searching diligently up and down, as though he might find some small inconsistency that would explain the situation perfectly.

And now Marceline's mind began working the problem too. She hadn't ever thought about it, but Jack was right. She couldn't see where there would be a power line, unless it was through the tree itself, but that seemed really risky. You could end up killing the tree that way.

“Huh. I'm not sure. It's gotta come from somewhere, obviously. Maybe it's in the paperwork you found.” Earlier in the month Jack had found a mass of papers in the office, and they were slowly working their way through them.

“Yeah…” Jack answered slowly, still staring at the tree. “Yeah. Right. Obviously it comes from somewhere.” He smiled at Marceline. “Come on.” He started back toward the stairs.

After a minute Jack noticed that Marceline wasn't with him. He turned back and saw that she had only taken a few steps before stopping again. “Water pump.” She said slowly. “Water pump. Jack, where's the well?”

~~~

Another week and they hadn't solved either mystery. Working their way through the paperwork hadn't revealed anything. Through an unspoken agreement between the two of them, they had decided not to worry about it for now. The water was running and the light kept working, so it was a problem for another day.

Jack woke up early one morning, turning towards Marceline's side of the bed to say good morning, and found it empty. Odd, they normally stayed in bed until the other woke up.

Padding out barefoot into the kitchen, Jack looked around and saw Marceline on the balcony looking out over the ocean. “Hey.” He called as he stepped out. “Been looking for you.”

“Sorry.” Marceline replied as Jack wrapped his arms around her, kissing the side of her neck. “I noticed it from the bed, but wanted to come out and double check. I was right.”

“About what?” He asked.

“Look.” She said simply, pointing out over the Pacific. Jack had been focused only on Marceline, but now looked up to where she was pointing.

The sky had a sickly green tint to it, and just at the horizon they could see the tops of dark black clouds. As they watched, the clouds were lit from the inside by a flash of lightning. “Is it heading this way?” Jack asked. Marceline nodded.

“I couldn't see the clouds an hour ago. I think it'll be here by this afternoon. Looks like it'll be bad too. We better get everything ready.” In the paperwork, they had found a list of storm procedures. They had to shore up the windows in the lantern room, put up the storm barriers on the house doors, and hook up the lightning rod at the top of the tower, running the ground wire away from LightTree.

They set to work quickly, getting everything ready, and were well prepared for the storm when it hit the shore.

They thought.

The storm was worse than anything either of them had seen. The entire house swayed in the tree, thunder blew out their eardrums, lightning hammered the cliffside and the lightning rod. All around them was nothing but rain and wind and lightning. The two just sat together at the base of the spiral staircase, in the exact center of the house and tree, and held each other, waiting for the storm to pass. They had no idea how long they'd been sitting there, time didn't matter now.

“Jack? I'm scared.” Marceline hated to admit that, but she had always had a fear of thunder, and this was so far beyond anything she had experienced before.

“I know, baby. Just focus on my arms around you.” Jack held her tight, and Marceline breathed a little easier.

*CRACK!*

The sound of a branch snapping shocked both of them. They looked out and saw one of the tree's largest branches topple away from the tree.

*KRRRSSHHHHH BOOM!*

A flash of light and a sonic boom rocked through the room, rendering both of them blind and deaf for a moment. As their senses returned, Marceline noticed a strange new light source. Looking up, she saw that the floor of the lantern room had torn open, and the top of the stairs was alight in flame. “Jack!” She screamed. Jack looked up and they both jumped away from the stairs. Jack raced toward the kitchen for the fire extinguisher, and looked toward the big window over the sink just in time.

“Marceline! Get down!” He shouted, seconds before…

*CRASH!*

A branch fell through the window, shattering it. The wind tore through the house, rain pouring in. Jack crawled over to Marceline, cradling her in his arms as the world around them tore itself apart. They heard another sonic clap of thunder, before everything went black.

~~~

Jack woke up with his arms wrapped around Marceline. This wasn't unusual. But they were laid out on the kitchen floor, which was. A moment of confusion was burned away by the memories of the night before flooding back to him. He shot upright, jostling Marceline awake in the process. She had a similar thought process, and surged to her feet a second later. Together they surveyed the wreckage from the storm the night before.

Only, there wasn't any. The kitchen window was whole, the sun streaming through. Crossing to the base of the stairs they looked up to see the floor of the lantern room solid and unsinged by flame. Even the tree branch that had broken away was in its proper place. “Marceline, there was a storm last night, wasn't there?”

“I think so. And a ton of damage. The window, the branch…”

“And the stairs.” Jack finished for her. “So it wasn't a dream. We both remember it, and it felt way too real.”

“Agreed.” Marceline said, still looking around.

They checked everything, but the entire house and tree were completely intact. The ground was thick with mud, so it had definitely poured here, but not even a leaf seemed to have fallen from the tree. They should have been grateful for the miraculous reprieve, but really felt uneasy. This was the second mystery about LightTree they had discovered, and without answers to either, they no longer felt quite so serene about life at the lighthouse.

~~~

A couple months go by without any further issues, or any answers either. The light continues to run, the tree continues to cradle the house, the sea continues to beat against the cliff. The young pair chalked the strange stormy night as stress, nerves from being away from everything they had grown up with, their family, the city life, the States. It had all collectively weighed on them until they snapped for one night. So they set about putting it out of their minds. And for the most part they did. But whenever they thought of the unknown power source, or the invisible well, that strange, terrifying night would creep back into their thoughts.

Marceline was washing the dishes one bright morning, looking out into the branches of the tree mindlessly, just enjoying the quiet, when some brief movement caught her eye. Focusing in on it, she saw the head of a large snake sliding into view around one of the branches. Now, she didn't panic. This was, after all, Australia. The two had studied and prepared for all the things that they may face in the wild outback away from civilization. So she remained calm. But she did steel herself. This was the first snake that had found its way into their tree, and was by no means small. It's head was bigger than both her fists set together, and a thick neck was trailing behind. Should it try to enter the house, she had to be prepared.

So she stood there, cautiously but firmly, watching more of the snake appear. It turned its large head away, it's forked tongue tasting the air. It seemed now to be moving toward another large branch, but the angle it was traveling at put the next solid contact point a good twenty feet away. If it could reach that, she was in real trouble if it didn't leave on it's own.

It nosed it's head further out into space, inch by inch. Suddenly it pulled it's head back slightly, then surged forward with a snap! Marceline gasped at it's speed, a gasp that changed to a strangled cry of fear as its body came into view. The snake head and neck ended after a few feet, meeting instead a leopard's muscular shoulders. The body was that of a spotted leopard also, though it's back haunches were tan and large, more that of a lions. And all four legs ended in a cloven hoof.

This strange amalgamation of wild beasts leaped through the air, landing lightly on the opposite branch. Marceline backed slowly toward the spiral stairs, eyes never leaving the creature. At the bottom she called up to Jack, where he was cleaning the glass. “Jack, can you come down here please? Quickly! And quietly!” Soon she heard the quick light footsteps of her beloved. As he reached the bottom, before he could say anything, she pointed out the window at the beast. Jack let out a light gasp.

The thing still had taken no notice of them, seemingly distracted by the leaves swaying in the wind. They stood in place, a mix of fear and wonder staying their feet. As they watched, the curious creature moved it’s reptilian head around, something had caught it's attention around the corner of the house. It leaped again, disappearing around the side.

Once out of sight, the spell it had on the young humans broke. Without a word, as one, they darted off to the living room, sliding up to the window to see their unique visitor. But it was gone. The branch it would have landed on stood empty. No others in this area could hold such a large creature. They raced out to the balcony, the thought of never seeing the wondrous beast again overriding their caution. But it was nowhere to be seen. No tracks on the ground, no sign of it ever existing. Just another mystery in their minds.

~~~

It was soon decided that it was too much. They couldn't stay here any longer, not without answers. It wasn't safe, if not a danger to their bodies, then a danger to their minds. They began to pack.

Marceline sat at the kitchen counter, pondering their decision while waiting for Jack to return. He had gone to Denham for some more packing material. He had been gone a while and she expected him to return at any time. She was playing listlessly with his Uncle's note, welcoming them to the LightTree. She was torn, as she knew Jack was too. They loved it here, but they were also scared. They didn't know what was happening, and that made them uneasy. “Oh!” She exclaimed aloud to the letter. “Why couldn't you warn us about these things, explain what would happen?!” She let the note fall from her fingers to the counter.

Wait a minute…

Her eyes scanned over the note again, rereading it for the first time since they had arrived. “Unique… strange… blessed… impossible! You did warn us!” As her mind was wrapping around the connections it was now making in quick succession, she heard the rumble of their jeep returning. She raced down the stairs to meet Jack. “Jack! Jack! I understand now! It's all here! We can stay!” She spoke very rapidly without much pause for breath, and Jack lowered his hands in a calming motion.

“Easy dearest! What do you mean? Slow down and explain.” Marceline took a few deep breaths, calming her pounding heart.

“It's all right here. You see-” she raised her hand to show him the note, but it was gone. She had left it upstairs in her excitement. She groaned in frustration. “Come on!” She grabbed Jack's hand and dragged him back up the stairs. “Your uncle's note! It's all there.” She said as they reached the top and entered the house.

“Whoa!” Jack exclaimed as they entered, freezing in his tracks. Marceline could understand why. Standing in the middle of the kitchen was the snake headed leopard lion.

“It's ok!” Marceline said quickly. “I understand now.” She took a cautious step forward, then another, watching the creature as she did, as it watched her. Four steps in, only ten feet from it, Marceline knelt in front of it, holding out a hand. She could hear Jack gasp behind her as the beast took a step toward her, moving as slowly as she had.

“Your uncle wrote it all down, we just didn't believe it.” She explained, both to the creature and Jack. “We thought he was being whimsical, or crazy even.” The beast took another step. “But it was all the truth. LightTree is special. LightTree is alive.” Another step. “The power and water come from it, because it provides balance.” Another step. “The storm would have destroyed everything, including us, but we were protected. The blessing LightTree has kept it safe, and repaired the damage.” Another step. The beast was only a few feet away now. One more step and it would be in striking range, but Marceline didn't move. “LightTree sits at a Nexus, which we guard. And at the Nexus, we'll meet Mother Nature.” The beast took its last step, still staring at Marceline, her hand still out. “That's you, isn't it? You're Mother Nature. Or, at least, a representative.” The creature also knelt, opposite Marceline, and lay it's snake head on her lap. She let her hand fall lightly to it's head, and looked back at Jack for the first time. He was pale, and leaning against the door frame. “Your Uncle explained it simply. It's magic.” She looked up at the lighthouse around them. “We live in a magic lighthouse, in a tree.” She finished with a small laugh.

Jack took the few steps to her and sank heavily to the floor. Their eyes met, and beyond everything that was going on, everything they had been through, they still held their love for each other in that gaze. After a moment, Jack too laughed, and looked down at the creature's head on Marceline's lap. He reached out and stroked it. “Well then,” he said finally, “I suppose we're staying.”

And they never left. Their love and the protection of Mother Nature, saw them through many years together, in that fabled tree, out on the coast of Australia.

And they were happy. Oh, so happy, in the LightTree.

Fantasy

Justin Elliott

An aspiring writer that's just trying to hone his skills in his spare time.

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