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? Peter 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.