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Root (Book One of The Liminality), Page 1

A. Sparrow


  A. Sparrow

  Copyright 2012 by A. Sparrow, All Rights Reserved

  Cover Image by FractalAngel-Stock

  To Andy

  In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

  Albert Camus (Reflections on the Guillotine)

  There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly.

  R. Buckminster Fuller

  Chapter 1: The Liminality

  Across the pond, a willow dances for me, branches twisting and swaying despite the absence of any breeze. The water’s stillness and sterility annoy me. Surface uncreased, depths devoid of fish or worms or even plankton, it may as well have been a pool of mercury.

  I toss a pebble. Ripples expand and rebound off the shore, distorting the mirrored sky, cloudless yet grey. I toss another stone before the ripples can fade.

  On a throne carved into the muddy bank, I wait for Karla, hopeful and calm, stable at my core. How much I’ve changed in the few years I’ve been coming here, as if all the neurons in my brain have been ripped apart and reconfigured. I’m only twenty-one, but I feel ancient.

  Stray sprigs of tamed root inch across the flats, alternately tensing and releasing their spirals. One severed tendril pauses at my feet, sensing the presence of its master. Slowly, it curls and uncurls in time with my breath, reflecting my inner mood. I send it on its way with a glare.

  Curious now, how my former foes await my beck and call like empathetic dogs. I used to think they were the nastiest things, before I learned how to domesticate them. So malleable and helpful, who knew these roots existed only to serve?

  When I say ‘roots,’ I don’t mean those scraggly, dirty things that anchor trees and channel their life-giving nutrients. Sure many here resemble something you might dig up from under a maple tree, but that’s just one iteration of their boggling diversity. You’ll find roots here as fine as spider silk or as thick as tree trunks, those that glow or vibrate, hollow ones, some slick and translucent that pulse and gurgle from their inner flows. I wouldn’t be surprised if some carried electricity or blood.

  They creep and climb and wind themselves into thick and ropy tangles. They can wriggle like manic night crawlers or lie inert as dead wood, all mossy and frayed like the moorings of some old boat forgotten in a bayou.

  They’re sneaky and sentient, scheming and conniving against us human souls. Some conspire with the Reapers, but I don’t think it’s voluntary. Reapers are Weavers, too. They just do their dirty work and get on with it. They don’t feel the need to boast or brag like us humans.

  To ‘weave’ a root is to possess it. Their diversity and mutability can be harnessed to any purpose imaginable. They’re the raw material of dreams. We can join them, split them, make them hard as steel or soft as mush.

  With a glance, I spread one of the crawlers out into a sheet as thin as paper. I fold it into a crane and add it to the pile beside me.

  Karla taught me all the origami I know. A crane is about all I can manage. After the tsunami in Japan, she had folded hundreds after hearing about some kind of fund-raising scheme for the victims, only to find that no one in her country knew what to do with a sack of paper cranes.

  Roots will stay set for quite a while, once woven. But quite a while doesn’t mean forever. They tend to revert back to their native state after a week or so, sooner if you don’t out enough desire into the things you’ve woven. So far, none of my cranes have dared unfold themselves.

  One does not go to Root, by the way. Root comes to you. If you’re unlucky enough to have your soul plunge off the deep end, the roots will come a fetching and immerse you in their world. You’ll know they’ve arrived from those fleeting blurs in your peripheral vision, those stray itches and random crawly sensations that brush or scrape against your limbs.

  They’re attracted to depression of the deepest, darkest sort. They can sniff out the truly suicidal and I don’t mean the dabblers. They’ll lurk and drag you down just when you think you couldn’t possibly get any lower.

  But it’s not so bad here, once you get past the Reapers. Some of us can weave a decent life out of the place. Life? Well, maybe that’s not the right word for it.

  Subsistence? Persistence? Existence?

  Though I do feel more alive in Root than I ever did in the world of my birth. My soul lives on here, happy, or at least hopeful, as I wait for my Karla.

  Chapter 2: The Calling

  Chances are, you’ll never meet anyone like me, and not just because I’m weird, and not because I’m dead. I’m James Moody. I have abilities you can’t even imagine, skills that serve me well in a place you’ll never go—if you’re lucky.

  It’s a long story, but I’m going to tell you how I came to die, but not because I’m fishing for any sympathy. I don’t need any. Thanks. I have Root.

  Someone dying doesn’t necessarily make a story a tragedy. Death can be a good thing if it’s done right. And death doesn’t have to be forever, once you know your way around this place. Nothing is permanent in the realms of soul.

  Root is not the afterlife. It’s more like a halfway house for souls in transition, a waiting room for places I have yet to experience. Places like Penult and Lethe and the Deeps, which in turn are just a deeper set of anterooms for the real deal afterlife. I have yet to meet a soul who has experienced those rumored and legendary realms we know as Heaven and Hell. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It’s just that the entrance requirements for either are steeper than you might think.

  Not that I’m in any hurry to get to either place. I’ve only had peeks, but the Singularity is Heaven enough for me.

  Root first came calling when both Mom and Dad were still alive. Those were simpler days, when my greatest angst revolved around how to spring loose to hang with the public school kids in downtown Ft. Pierce. I wasn’t ever happy cooped up at home. My parents weren’t horrible, but they were … parents. It didn’t help being an only child. That kept their focus entirely on me.

  I got home-schooled because Mom the librarian was convinced that Ft. Pierce High School was infested with junkies, heathens and cretins. That was totally true, of course, but she didn’t realize she had a kid fully qualifying for at least two of those labels living under her own roof.

  Getting out of the house I could manage; but getting one of the Ft. Pierce cliques to acknowledge my existence was a bit more challenging. I don’t know about your town, but around here, society gets ossified once you hit about fourteen.

  Being home-schooled made it even harder. The old play groups worked fine until I hit ten, and then as the years went on I found I had less in common with the prodigies, religious nuts and wacko Libertarians that made the bulk of the home school crowd. Creationism was popular among that crowd. Mom, on the other hand, pulled me out of charter school because she was afraid they wouldn’t teach me enough evolution. Remember, this was Florida.

  The ice breaking strategy that had worked with grade schoolers—acting all goofy as I butted my nose into cliques of complete strangers on playgrounds—now usually only drew ridicule or worse—blank stares. I kept at it because it was the only tool in my shed.

  Sometimes it got my ass kicked. Once it scored me drugs when I linked up with a gaggle of potheads who wouldn’t have cared if Muammar Qaddafi had come to sit with them.

  By far, my greatest success was the time I hooked up with Jenny Gallagher’s crowd. This one was notable because Jenny was a female unrelated to me and she acknowledged my existence. Those two things, my friends, were a rare combination in my world at the time.

  It was a Saturday in June. A bunch of kids my age were loafing around beh
ind the kiddie swings under an old weeping willow. I took a deep breath, walked up to them and went into my little nonsense spiel.

  “Anybody see my pet wombat?”

  Blank stares. Blinking. Par for the course. The idea was to hit them with the unexpected, knock them out of their comfort zones. Pathetic, I know. It failed more often than not, but it was my only game.

  “I’m serious. My wombat got loose. I think it went up a tree.” I gazed up into the swaying fronds of the willow.

  “What the fuck’s a wombat?” said this guy with a vacant scowl who was built like an offensive lineman. He outweighed me by about a hundred pounds.

  Whoa! A response of any kind was a great sign, way better than total silence, which happened more often than I care to think about. At least this time I wouldn’t need to slink away feeling one inch tall.

  “Ain’t that some kinda rodent?” said a skinny guy who wore a knit cap, despite heat and humidity in the nineties.

  “Not a rodent. It’s a marsupial. A kangaroo-like thingie,” said a girl whose cinnamon hair flowed with the breeze, every strand dancing to its own rhythm. That was Jenny, of course. You could probably already tell it was her from my purple prose.

  “Are you serious? You actually have a pet wombat?”

  “Yeah. And his name is Marco.” I kept my face absolutely straight as I swam in eyes like twin lagoons.

  The others got up started scanning the willow branches. All except Jenny, who looked at me with her nose scrunched up.

  “Wombats don’t climb trees,” she whispered. “Don’t they burrow?”

  I just winked.


  So that time, at least, my stupid little entrée worked. From that moment on, Jenny’s friends let me hang with them. I never had to bring up my pet wombat again. Most of them figured out right away that I was just goofing on them. Though Burke, the football player, was still asking me about it weeks later.

  It was quite the breakthrough. A huge confidence booster. All on my own I had managed to meet a group of fellow humans my age that weren’t home-schooled prodigies or Jesus freaks. Not only that, the group included the rarest of creatures, the most mythical of beasts—a girl who liked me.

  When some of the others tried to blow me off or ditch me, Jenny wouldn’t let them. She insisted that they include me in their plans and conversations, treating me as if I had equal standing with the kids she went to class with every day. That basically forced the reluctant ones to acknowledge me. I still got ribbed a lot for being a mama’s boy, but Jenny would always jump in and defend me when things got too brutal. Is it any wonder I got stuck on her so fast?

  My weeks came to revolve around hanging out with the gang every Friday night and Saturday. One night Jenny didn’t show and it perturbed the whole equilibrium. Without Jenny there, those kids turned nasty on me. I clunked around their periphery like a square wheel, parrying jibes, absorbing insults. I left early and lumbered home down in the dumps.

  That night I was in such a fragile state, every little bit of friction with my parents ignited arguments. Over stupid stuff. Socks on the floor. The tone of my voice. And that sent me spiraling into a full-fledged funk.

  I dreamt that night of being trapped in a jungle. Lianas tangled around my waist. Spider webs plastered my face. Little did I know then, that these were the first visitations of Root.

  Things got clearer the following week when Jenny didn’t show for the second week in a row. No one could or would tell me why she wasn’t there.

  “I dunno. Maybe she moved,” said Burke, sporting a cruel grin.

  I never had Jenny’s number. I didn’t even know how to spell her last name. I went home early, barricaded myself in my room and stayed there for the rest of the weekend.

  I barely knew the girl. She was hardly my girlfriend. Still, I could not bear the thought of losing her. If she never came back to the group, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on living. Pathetic, I know, compared to the tragedies to come, but that just shows you the depth of my obsession.

  Meanwhile, mom kept hassling me to practice my SATs. She was in way over her head trying to teach me college level chemistry and physics. It was driving me insane.

  It drove me to consider taking drastic measures to break out of this funk. I could legally disown or divorce my parents and go off on my own. Emancipation, it was called. I could leave Ft. Pierce, go to Ohio where my Uncle Ed, who managed a landscaping business had made me a standing offer for a job.

  Other options more extreme and permanent also crossed my radar. Things were getting crowded in my head, and I wanted out.

  At night, I’d creep downstairs after mom and dad went to bed, raid the liquor cabinet and scarf some of my mom’s pain killers. Not that I was a junkie or anything. I was just looking to nudge my mood somewhere more tolerable than the status quo. By that time, I had tried just about everything but heroin, but never long enough to get hooked on anything, except for maybe alcohol a little bit. There was always plenty of wine and whiskey in the house.

  So I was sitting there all drowsy and wallowing on the sofa. Some crappy movie was on, full of spies or criminals or whatever, careening in cars, taking pot shots at each other. And then this stuff came creeping into my consciousness, slithering into the space between waking and sleep. For a time, I felt stuck between two worlds, mingling the audio of those mindless movies with these under-the-forest sensations: a musty smell like the mold growing inside a rotten log. Bristly, snaky things scraping their bellies across my legs.

  All of these ‘hallucinations’ started happening about a month before the embolism claimed my dad, an event that made them a hundred times worse. Hard to believe that it’s already been over a year now. There I was, a seventeen and a half year old wanna-be rebel seeking emancipation from his parents. Turned out, my dad beat me to it. Death emancipates like nothing.

  One windy Saturday morning, as lightning flashed against a bank of dark clouds, he collapsed on the sidewalk while fetching the mail, crumpling like a puppet with his strings cut. I watched it all happen while I was moping on the front stoop. I ran up and started CPR, the breathing part and all, pressing my mouth against his onion breath and gritty five o’clock shadow. A neighbor called 911. He was already gone for good before I even reached him.

  On the day of dad’s wake and in the weeks that followed, I took to lying in the cab of his F150, popping whatever pills I could scrounge from the medicine cabinet. Sometimes I would find mom already sitting there.

  That interior of his truck retained the distilled essence of everything that had been the man named Roy Moody: traces of tobacco smoke from the time before he quit; the spearmint chewing gum he had used to compensate; with undertones of rancid French fries, stale farts and rubbed off aftershave. Being there, I could close my eyes and imagine him sitting right next to me.

  That’s how that dang truck ended up becoming a sort of shrine, never driven, devoted only to meditation about the enigma that had been Roy—devoted father and angry beast packed into 5 feet seven inches and one hundred forty pounds of wire and bone and sinew.

  I didn’t know how I was going to manage without him. Though he was sometimes the enforcer, particularly when he lost his temper, he was more often a buffer between me and mom. Without him, we only scraped on each other’s nerves.

  On the day of his funeral I went there and laid across the seat, letting my body go numb until I felt nothing, not an itch or quiver or daydream to let me know I was alive. I let the heaviness flow over me like a mercury bath.

  This numb feeling soon became my new normal. It got so I didn’t have to steal mom’s Oxycontin to conjure it. I greeted it like a friend. I didn’t feel right without it.

  But there came a time that another sensation began to intrude, a feeling like rough twine coiling around my neck and wrists, reaching out of the seat, wrapping around, hauling me down. My eyes would flash open and there would be nothing there. Close my eyes and the feeling would return.

p; For a while, I blamed these crawly sensations on the crystal meth I had played around with a couple months back. That had been just a lark. It felt dangerous, like taunting a mean dog, but it never set its teeth in me the way it had ripped into some of my acquaintances—fifteen pounds underweight with teeth like seventy year old vagrants.

  Another night in the pickup I was really far gone and one of them things tightened up against my ankle and wouldn’t let go. A persistent bugger, this one—even my wide open gaze couldn’t make it go away. I could actually see this gnarly root stripped of bark, snaking along the scuffed black leather of my combat boot.

  “Jesus Christ!”

  I pulled at it with his hand and still it clung. I pulled out my Buck hunting knife and hacked away.

  The loop loosened, bleeding white sap. I yanked my foot free and stumbled out of the cab of the truck, only to see other roots poking up out of the concrete floor of the garage, wiggling like worms, bending their tips at me like little periscopes. I screamed and ran into the house, slamming the door behind me, pounding up the stairs to my room. I dove into bed and pulled up the covers, swearing I’d go see a doc about this before dad’s insurance ran out.

  I didn’t know it then, but being upstairs and cozy in my bed didn’t make one bit of difference in terms of security. Like I said, one doesn’t go to Root, it comes to you, wherever you keep your soul.


  Why do they call it ‘Root?’ Well, that’s pretty obvious, though not everybody gives it that name. Some here call it ‘Limen’ or the ‘The Liminality.’ Don’t ask me what means. Karla explained it to me once, but I forget what she said. You can look it up if you want. I’m sure it’s in some dictionary.

  Like I said, it’s obvious why it’s called ‘Root’ to anyone who sees it in its raw and untamed form. It’s a subterranean jungle, a tangle of brown strands of every dimension, woven into sheets like old spider webs, threading in and out every which direction, connecting things, outlining spaces, or just getting in the way.

  Root is basically a staging area for souls on the way out. It’s not Purgatory. That’s for dead people. I’m talking about live folks about an inch from ending their lives. And not from cancer or heart attacks or anything like that. The folks I’m talking about are what you might call … volunteers.