Fractal Myth

THE TOWERS

Garden of Hope

[Michelle Chapman ©2001]

'Ravenous Rhinos Wreck Riverside Restaurants'

screamed the headline of the local newspaper. Hope glanced at the story before throwing the paper down beside the back door, to be used as mulch in her garden. Apparently the rhinos had come, about twenty in all, to the busy riverside restaurant belt, just as the patrons were sitting down in their finery to feast on the region's rare aquatic delicacies.

Although entirely wild, the rhinoceroses were adorned with abandoned tyres, plastic bags, and other assorted rubbish with which they proceeded to pelt the waiting diners. According to the front page article some of the rhinos barged into various restaurants and began eating from the salad and seafood bars, while others amused themselves demolishing vehicles in the car-park.

This did seem extremely unusual, but Hope realised she had lived a particularly isolated existence ever since she had come to care for her grandmother. It had been something of a culture shock at first, moving into the dilapidated old house completely overgrown by its jungle garden. In this garden, Hope remembered being a very young child, listening in rapt fascination as her grandmother taught her about self-sufficiency, and supplying one's needs from what was freely available.

It was the need to protect this fiercely cherished independence which had led an older Hope to swap the weird, wild life of the city for the old lady's weirder, wilder tales of a time before the city. A time when the jungle was rich and lush, like Sleeping Beauty's forest of thorns enclosing a happy peaceful village where Hope's grandmother had spent her childhood so long ago.

When she first came to live in the old house, Hope had pined for the bright lights and excitement, resenting her grandmother's insistence that they do everything for themselves, in the traditional ways. Gradually, however, Hope had fallen under the spell of growing and harvesting, discovering a simplicity and peace which made her increasingly resent any intrusion from the rough, noisy, dirty world which she no longer felt part of.

When her grandmother passed away, Hope's life hardly changed. If anything, she became even more secluded, until finally, her only remaining contact with the world outside her tiny private jungle was the newspaper - a rolled up baton which came arcing through the dense foliage, every morning, regular as clockwork. Lately, however, the headlines had become strangely disturbing.

'Elephants Eat Elms in Endeavour Park'.

Hope couldn't help laughing, but her mirth was occasioned mainly by the overenthusiastic, elaborate style of the young cadet reporter whose name laid claim to this story of "peckish pachyderms" picking at the city's precious plant-life. From her daily reading of the paper, Hope knew that the city's inhabitants had been increasingly encouraged to move into tower blocks which could house more people in less space, and as a result, the city's once expansive gardens had diminished to a single row of trees, artificially arranged in the city's centre.

It was these prized remnants which the elephants had attacked, but according to the article, the government had assured the citizens that there was no cause for concern, as the trees had been getting old and messing up the park with fallen leaves anyway, and now they could be replaced by low-maintenance, city-friendly, synthetic substitutes, which were guaranteed never to attract rampaging wild animals. Hope shuddered as she tossed the paper on top of yesterday's and went back to sorting and storing the seeds and grains which would ensure her food supplies for the coming year.

When she had been alive, Hope's grandmother had spent every today preparing against tomorrow's possible disaster. "How would you have prepared for this?" Hope wondered, as she read the next day's headline.

'Vultures Vandalise Video Arcades'.

She suspected a hoax, but each day a new paper arrived with another story of what was now being termed the 'National Natural Menace'!

'Electric Eels Enliven Evening's Entertainment.'

'Gorillas Go Gambling'.

It seemed that everywhere the human population of the city gathered to enjoy themselves, their animal neighbours soon made their presence felt. They came to return the refuse of a century of city occupation of the land.

As the days went by, Hope noticed an increasing panic creeping into the rampant sensationalism of her normal newspaper headlines. They were still her only contact with the world outside, so when the next morning's headlines proclaimed:

'Eagles Endanger Evangelical Excursion',

Hope decided it was time to see for herself what was actually occurring.

Following the practical habits instilled in her by her grandmother's example, Hope first packed a knapsack with enough dried fruit, nuts and bread for several days, as well as plenty of water and a warm jacket. Then, for the first time in twelve years, she ventured beyond the boundaries of her grandmother's jungle garden.

Over the years, the houses surrounding Hope's had been gradually deserted, an exodus fuelled by stories which labelled her grandmother a crazy witch, and rumours that those who entered the jungle never returned. Hope's grandmother had had the last laugh, however, for her beautiful jungle had grown rampant once the neatly manicured lawns were abandoned.

Now it took Hope over an hour to cut herself a path through the thickly tangled vines and creepers which decorated the new trees and old houses. She passed a number of dilapidated, destitute dwellings before reaching the edge, but saw no sign of life other than the birds and frogs and small lizards who called her jungle home.

Delighting in a brightly jewelled spider dangling at nose level before her, Hope wryly recalled her grandmother's laughter when Hope had first arrived, scared and squeamish, and totally avoiding contact with all creepy crawlies. Now, preparing to venture out of her green cocoon for the first time in many years, Hope realised just how integral the jungle had become to her sense of herself.

As the dense undergrowth thinned and the going got easier, Hope's steps slowed considerably and she was seized with a nervous apprehension which kept suggesting she turn back and abandon her quest for information. Her curiosity soon overcame her timidity, however, and, settling her knapsack more comfortably on her shoulders, Hope took the last few steps which would carry her out of her sanctuary - and then stopped cold .....

The contrast was incredible.

Hope felt like a being frozen on the border between heaven and hell, between the lush, green, natural world behind her, and a sterile, bare world which she could not recognise but which chilled her to the bone. Instinctively, Hope steadied herself on a tree trunk, drawing strength from the contact with its rough bark, reeling the life-force of the jungle into her spirit, a trusty clue to guide her through the labyrinthine city that she faced.

As far as the eye could see there was only grey. Grey roads, grey pavements, grey buildings, grey sky. A concrete abomination which seemed to have sucked all colour from the people in the streets. As she walked, Hope noticed how tall the buildings had become, towering tenements which blocked out the sky and stopped the sun ever reaching the streets below.

Craning her neck, Hope noticed that the higher windows in the buildings were decorated with brightly coloured cheerful curtains. On the levels closest to the street, however, such luxury seemed unknown, with the greyness of the environment echoed in the fading newspapers which gave a tenuous privacy to the blank banks of grimy glass.

Only once did Hope find a note of individuality relieving the dullness, as she passed yet another nondescript windowsill and found a precariously balanced clutter of tins and jars playing home to a miniature garden of lovingly nurtured dandelions.

The sight of the cheerful yellow flowers seemed incongruous after the desolate cement wilderness through which she had been wandering, and Hope suddenly realised she had been walking for many hours, and had crossed right through the heart of the city without noticing.

Dull grey towers had given way to more dull grey towers, and the only discernible change had been in the air itself, which had become increasingly thick and choking until Hope felt that every breath was filling her lungs with cotton wool. It hardly surprised her that those who lived in the towers rarely ventured out into the streets anymore.

Realising that night was falling and that she was at least a day from home, Hope decided to continue walking straight out the other side of the city, in an attempt to find out whether there was any relief from the nightmarish concrete landscape that was draining her courage and strength.

It was easier walking at night, for the glowing squares of lit windows towering above her stood in for the invisible stars and served as a reminder that life and human activity was occurring all around her, despite the city's apparent sterility.

Once or twice Hope passed small groups of destitute homeless people, clustered closely around small fires of combustible garbage. She gave these groups a wide berth, but as she passed quietly by in the shadows she heard enough to convince her that these people envied the comfort and security, the sense of impermeability conveyed by the concrete boxes that the majority of the city's inhabitants called home.

At several fires, the faces gathered around the flickering flames were tense and troubled as in raised voices they debated the recent events which had prompted even Hope to emerge from her isolated existence. Public opinion, so far as she could judge from her unrepresentative sample, seemed evenly divided between two solutions to the attacks by angry animals.

The most vociferously expressed and aggressively supported opinions had coined the slogan "This planet is for people", under which banner gathered those who felt that all problems could be resolved by simply removing the cause. After all, their arguments ran, the animals were almost extinct anyway, their habitats constantly receding. Surely the humane thing to do would be to put them out of their misery. It was common sense.

Others, no less outraged by the attacks, but less exhilarated at the thought of all-out massacre, were advocating the cement alternative - enclosing the city entirely within an impenetrable concrete wall which would theoretically leave the citizens safe within, while keeping the creatures in their proper place. Neither group appeared concerned about the welfare of their natural neighbours - it seemed that even among the property-less, protection of possessions was of prime importance.

Dawn came as a gradual lightening of the streets and buildings from dense black to dull and even duller grey. Munching slowly on dried fruit and nuts, Hope trudged on, determined to find the city's other side. It was well into the afternoon by the time she realised that if the city had an end, and she reached it, she would no longer have the emotional fortitude necessary to turn and re-enter the soul-sapping greyness that now surrounded her.

Having seen for herself the extent of the concrete abomination the city had become, Hope knew neither she nor her jungle had much chance of surviving if they stayed. She therefore resolved to return to her preciously preserved garden, and gather all that she could carry in the way of seeds and cuttings in the hope of restarting outside the city's environs.

No matter which choice the city made, Hope was certain of one thing only, that she no longer wanted to be a part of it.

By the time she approached her own neighbourhood, however, Hope discovered a peculiar shift in her perceptions. For four days she had seen only man-made, angular shapes and surfaces, until now even she could feel somewhat fearful of the sprawling, untidy tangle of green leaves and living branches forming a barrier of fairytale proportions around her home. It seemed unreal, a fantasy she had dreamt up to relieve the unrelenting greyness of the surrounding city.

Strangely, it was the greyness which reassured Hope of her jungle's existence. The fresh, brilliant green of the leaves was everywhere mottled and muted by a covering layer of dust, for the suffocating air of the city blanketed everything it touched.

While the jungle appeared to passively bear this burden, at ground level the onslaught was reversed. Here and there, around the outskirts of the tiny jungle the cement was losing the battle as strong questing roots forced star-shaped fractures through from underneath the concrete, and creepers and vines slowly brought the toppling lamp-posts to their knees.

In the centre of this silent struggle, Hope saw something that was totally out of place, seeming to have sprung at once from both worlds, and yet to belong to neither.

It was the movement which first attracted Hope's attention. Swinging in the treetops like a monkey was a small, brightly dressed, cheekily smiling little boy. He barely looked old enough to walk, let alone talk, but he moved easily among the leaves, lithe and free, at home in the branches that hardly bent beneath his weight.

"Hello!" Hope called. "Who are you?" She felt quite incongruous, as though she were addressing some gaudily feathered parrot and expecting a reply. And a reply she certainly received.

"Hello! I'm Harry Chan, and you are Hope. These are your trees, aren't they?"

He spoke so quickly his words overlapped each other in a babbling stream, and he answered his own questions before Hope had time to even open her mouth, let alone wonder where his knowledge came from.

The trees are beautiful, and they're full of living things. Look, I found a caterpillar."

Without ceasing to talk, the nimble little elf had landed lightly on his feet near Hope, and held out a grubby hand adorned with a golden-brown striped furry crawler.

"Do you know about the animals? I'll just put the caterpillar here very carefully on this leaf. Caterpillars eat leaves. I tried, but they didn't taste very good. Do you have any food? I'm hungry. Did you hear about the tigers? I like tigers. I'm all alone. Will you be my friend?"

Hope, by this stage, was laughing uncontrollably, as she managed with the aid of a handful of dried fruit to momentarily stop Harry Chan's mouth.

At first glance she had felt a trifle ruffled at this intrusion into the peaceful sanctuary that she needed so badly after the smoky dreariness of the city, but as the branches closed behind her, shutting out the greyness and bathing her in a gentle green filtered light, Hope was glad of the cheerful chatter which lessened the cloud of gloom she had felt stifling her since she had ventured away from her leafy haven.

She only had to look at the little boy's ragged, torn clothing to see that he had been caring for himself for quite a long time. Hope found herself experiencing an unfamiliar shiver of happiness when, stumbling as he raced to keep up with her longer strides, Harry Chan slipped a warm, sticky hand into hers.

By the time they reached the more ordered areas of Hope's garden near the house, she had heard his confused and tragic life story, for he had immediately accepted her as a kindred spirit, given her habitat of leafy green where he so obviously felt at home.

As they approached the rickety verandah that enclosed the old house, hidden in the centre of the tiny tangled jungle, Hope was surprised to see four neatly wrapped newspapers lying where they had landed after being hurled over the thick foliage. Harry Chan raced to open them, and Hope read the headlines with mounting disbelief.

It was hard enough to accept the fact that she had been wandering the city's streets for four days, but even more astounding were the events which had occupied the city during her absence.

On several occasions during her journey, she had been forced to slip into an alley or otherwise out-of-the-way spot to avoid crowds of hysterical people running in a seemingly confused and aimless manner, but it was only now she discovered the cause of their panic.

In each case, the bizarre behaviour of the animals that had prompted her to undertake her investigation was reported in a style so outrageously hyperbolic that Hope felt that the reporter, whose name, apparently, was Richard K. Pip, was trying to purposely stir up his readership, to make the citizens see just how ridiculous the whole situation had become.

Tarantulas Terrify Tennis Tournament'.

'Aberrant Antelopes Attack Academy'.

'Terrible Tigers Tyrannise Train Terminals'.

'Enraged Equines Eradicate Educational Edifice'.

Hope's laughter was sour as she threw the papers onto the leaning pile by the door.

"But it's true!" Harry Chan said. "I saw the tigers myself. It was awful. The poor tired things were so skinny, and they were so dusty you couldn't see their stripes. Tigers have stripes, don't they? I remember ..."

The little boy's voice faltered and Hope gave him a hug. In the hope of distracting him from obviously hurtful memories, she suggested he tidy up the pile of papers while she gathered together her supplies of nuts, seeds and fruits, the produce of many years faithful tending and harvesting, with which she hoped to start a new jungle, somewhere outside the cement wall that was rapidly growing to surround the city.

She had only heard the project discussed, but according to Harry Chan, over eighty per cent of the city's boundary was already enclosed, and they would have to move quickly if they wished to disappear without challenge.

Despite the urgency, Hope approached her task with care, packing precious living cuttings in damp moss, stowing envelopes and bags neatly into the pockets of her knapsack and clothes, When she had finished packing the food of the future, Hope filled all remaining spaces with enough dried fruit and grains to feed herself and Harry Chan until their first new harvest.

At least, she hoped it would be enough.

Finally, Hope took a last look around the ramshackle house she loved so much. She could feel her grandmother's presence in every picture and piece of furniture, and it broke her heart to be leaving.

At the same time, however, she could hear her Grandmother's voice in her ear, practical and pragmatic as ever. "There's no future for you here, my girl. Lock the door behind you, and don't look back. This old place knows how to look after itself. You'd better go and help the land that has forgotten."

From the garden, Hope could hear Harry Chan singing as he swung from the branch of a pear tree, with his mouth full of fruit and the sweet juice leaving sticky trails down his chin. He looked so innocent and carefree that Hope felt a flood of protectiveness towards him, and loading herself up, she headed towards the door and her new life.

The last thing she saw as she closed the door behind her was that Harry Chan had carefully arranged the pile of newspapers in chronological order, with the ten most recent on the top, exactly placed so that only the first letter of each headline was visible.

Amazingly, these first letters formed a message of their own, and as she turned her face away from the city and steadfastly began to march towards the unfinished breach in the encroaching wall, with Harry Chan's hand in hers, Hope found that all she could see whenever she closed her eyes was the single word formed by the stack of newspapers.

'REVEGETATE'

The Towers:

Exodus
Romance
~ Garden of Hope
It's a Beautiful World
From a Tower Tall

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