The Shadows of My Heart

Chapter One: The Beginning ~ Revised

The Punjwari Village was sound asleep, except for the two sentries who were making the haphazard rounds. The sentries were very lucky that on this night; there were no enemies nearby. Their rounds, if you could call them that, barely covered a quarter of the village. They went back and forth from their watch fire to the two main entrances to the village, the East and the West. Of course entrances was a huge misnomer, as the village had no gates, just a heavily traveled path that ran east and west through the village.

In his small hut that his parents had let him build, more so to get him out of their hair than the fact he was old enough; eleven year old Spook was sleeping fitfully. There was something in the night that wouldn't let the young Punjwari sleep. If anyone had been watching Spook sleep, they would have seen his body suddenly shake and then go perfectly still. However, this wasn't the stillness of natural sleep; this was something else entirely.

'I am asleep; why are these voices talking to me? I can only understand bits and pieces of what they are saying. The voices are familiar, but I don't really recognize them. Then there are the ones that are speaking in strange languages. There are other voices that are very different, and I feel that I should know and understand them, but I don't.' Suddenly the voices ceased; his body relaxed, and he dropped into a deep and normal sleep.

When Spook awoke the next morning, he remembered nothing of the voices. However, he did have a headache, and he was very tired. Putting on his loin cloth and the pouch containing his sling shot and ammo, he then headed to his parents' for breakfast. He was halfway to his parents before he realized that he had forgotten his knife. He hurried back to his hut to retrieve his most prized possession; his grandfather had given it to him for his eleventh birthday. The thought of that day brought tears to his eyes; his grandfather had gone to the great spirits only a few days later. He couldn't be seen outside of his hut without his knife; that knife conferred adult status on him, well, at least in his own eyes.

When he arrived at his parents' much larger hut they were waiting for him, so they could start eating breakfast and get on with the day. Breakfast consisted of the usual boiled and roasted tubers and some of the left over meat from last night's dinner. There was also a few pieces of fruit, and, as he would find out, they were the last ones.

"Spook, I don't know what you have planned for the day, but you will have to forget about it. You just ate the last of the fruit, and we are also out of nuts. If you keep growing and eating like you do, we will need the whole village hunting, just to keep you fed." His mother ruffled his hair as she said that.

"So, what do you want me to do?" Spook asked, even though he knew what the answer would be.

"If I asked you to go pick us some fresh fruit and bring back some of your favourite nuts, what would you say?"

"Do I have to share the nuts?" Cheekily he asked.

"Scat, you rascal! If you do good, I will fix your favourite dinner tonight, and your father will take you fishing tomorrow."

"And?" He asked trying to get a rise out of his mother.

"Well, if you don't go, you won't get dinner, or your father can cook!"

"Bye mom, bye dad," and with those words Spook grabbed a bag made of knotted vines and leaves and was gone.

Although Spook was thrilled to go hunting for fruits and nuts alone in the forest surrounding his village, he couldn't let his parents know that. He was walking through the woods with his knife held out in front of him, ready to cut any branches or vines that dared get in his way.

"Hmmm, I wonder what that was?" He mused out loud, as he thought he saw shadows flitting through the trees around him. He looked around, but the shadows were gone, at least the moving ones. Getting back to his task, Spook started walking forward again, heading toward a place where he knew there were several fruit trees. But more important was the spring where he could swim to his heart's content.

As Spook headed to his favourite spot, he was glancing back and forth at the plants along his way. Not realizing what he was doing, he began saying the names of the plants out loud. He never even realized that yesterday he didn't know half of the names. Stopping in front of one plant, he was having an issue with the name. The only thing he did know absolutely was the fact that the plant's roots were great tasting, roasted over a fire. There were several different names for the plant going back and forth in his head. Shaking his head with the resilience of youth, he then picked up a flat rock from the ground and began digging it up to get to the tubers. Strangely, while he was digging the battle in his head subsided.

The plant had more tubers than Spook had suspected or hoped for; more than enough for his family and several others. Heeding what his grandfather had told him over and over, he left one of the largest tubers with several eyes and leaves attached to it in the ground. That way, in a few months there would be more tubers to harvest. That done, it was time to head for the spring and the fruit trees.

Several times on the way to the spring something made him veer off the path to check out some plants that he marked in his head where they were. Finally, he arrived at his favourite spot and was very upset, as he had lost several hours and had no time to swim. He quickly went to work and gathered as much of the fresh fruit as would fit in his bag; but no so much as to squash the fruit. He remembered one time when he was much, much younger, when he filled his much smaller bag with very ripe fruit. He was heading home, when a butterfly flitting back and forth in front of him distracted him. Before Spook knew it, he was rolling down a hill merrily, smashing the fruit to a pulp as he did. When he finally ended up at the bottom of the hill, he just brushed himself off and headed home. Unfortunately, his trip home wasn't a carefree stroll, as every stinging, flying insect discovered the treasure trove of fruit juices dripping out of the bag and smeared all over his body.

When he arrived home, flying out of the trees as if the whole world was chasing him, he caused the village to go on alert. The all-clear horn had just been sounded, when a large black cloud of insects emerged from the same trail. Spook's dad never hesitated; he just picked up his son and ran to the river as fast as he could. When they reached the bank, his dad plunged both of them into the river. Before he would let them surface, his dad worked the messy bag off of his son and let it float downstream.

"Don't move, I will be right back," his dad told Spook in as stern sounding voice as he could, while trying to muffle his laughter. 'Well, at least we know that our sentries are alert and that the alarm system works. Now if only the village elders will see it that way.' Those were the thoughts going through Spook's father's head as he went to get some of the ubiquitous soap root growing on the river's banks.

Being the dutiful son that he was, Spook did remain sort of in the right spot. Rather than remaining still, as his dad had hoped; he was busy ducking his head underwater, looking for fish and the funny things that swam backward and hid under the rocks. He knew he wouldn't have much luck finding any of those so close to the village; they tasted so good that most of the ones near the village had been caught long, long ago. But the village elders in their wisdom had decreed that some of them be left to reproduce. The Village Elders were wise beyond their years as they were trying to make their village self-sustaining and their disturbing of the area to a minimum. They were faithful Steward of the Earth long before that became fashionable. 

Spook had his head underwater when his dad arrived. His dad scared the bejeezus out of him, and he leaped out of the water, nearly touching the sky.

His dad was laughing so hard at his son's antics that he nearly dropped the soap root. Moving very quickly for someone his age, he quickly grabbed his son before he could swim away. Once he caught his son, he began applying the soap root in an attempt to remove all of the fruit juice from his son's clothing and skin.

Meanwhile, back at the edge of the forest, where the clouds of bees had come swarming out, several of the village guards and elders had gathered with smoking torches in an attempt to keep them out of the village proper. One of the brighter guards had grabbed a large clay cooking pot and had lit some of their cattle's dung and brought that with him. With one of the guards leading the way with a smoking torch, he placed the cooking pot as near the swarming bees as he dared. The acrid smoke from the burning dung quickly did the job, within a few minutes, the bees had vanished and the village was safe.

By the time the father and son had finished trying to bathe the son, the father was clean as well. The two headed toward the bank, where they could remove their wet clothing, leaving only their loincloths on. They had just finished undressing and were headed to their hut, when the village elders arrived, preceded by their frowns and negative energy.

Before the elders could begin to speak, Spook's dad cut them off at the knees.

"You will not say a word to my son; he is just a child and did not know better. I will take care of making sure that he learns not to do the same thing again. I will arrange a punishment for him that will help him learn what he did wrong. He has also volunteered to spend the next several days hunting fruit for the entire village."

Spook was stunned at those last words, for, of course, he had pledged no such thing. Since his father had said he would do it, well he would do it. Trying to keep the look of shock off his face, he looked at the ground and just nodded "Yes".

His bag filled, Spook decided that he at least had time for a quick swim to wash off the dust from the trail. Hopefully, when he got home, some of the other children would want to swim in the river. His parents were very pleased with all of the fruit and tubers that he had brought, and they gave him permission for a short swim while they prepared dinner. That was if there were other children to swim with him.

Predictably there were several other children willing to join Spook for a quick swim before their evening meal, and then the evening chores. Several of the children, when they heard how much fruit and what kinds he had brought back, became very friendly, trying to weasel some for themselves.

Dinner that night at Spook's parents was very special, as his mother had marinated the meat in some of the citrus fruit juices. She then baked it in a clay pot with more fruit and some tubers. That was all served on a bed of freshly picked greens. Spook's stomach was bulging by the time the meal was over. He helped his mother clean up the few utensils and plates and then headed back to his hut. On the way to his hut, he made a brief detour to gather some wood for a small fire.

The next several days were pretty much the same for Spook, as he continued hunting and gathering trips through the forest. He did seem to notice a few more shadows, and he thought that some of the shadows had a bit more substance. He wasn't really sure if he actually noticed more shadows, or if it was just the fact that he was paying more attention. The one thing that he did notice was that somehow he knew the names of more and more of the flora and fauna he saw every day. 'Flora and Fauna?' Those were two of the new words that kept popping up in his head, but he didn't have an inkling of what they meant.

The dreams kept occurring whenever he slept alone at his hut; they never occurred when he slept over at the hut of one of his friends. The dreams also never occurred when he deigned to grace his parents with an overnight stay. Of course, being young, he didn't waste a lot of time puzzling that out though. He did notice that each succeeding dream seemed clearer, and more detailed, and he remembered them better and better. He was still unable to understand the speech of any of the people or animals in his dreams. What annoyed him most was the fact that some of the words he almost understood.

Spook was still at the stage in his young life where he still believed his parents knew everything. So, one morning after a particularly vivid dream that was still partially with him when he awoke; he went to his parents for help. His parents surprised him immensely when they listened to every word he said and never interrupted him once. Stranger still, they never mocked him or tried to pass off his dreams as just wild imagination.

"What do these dreams mean, and what do I do about them?"

His dad was the first one to answer. "Well son, I can't really tell you much, other than they sound like teaching dreams."

His mother picked up the explanation, as it was. "Things will become clearer to you in the upcoming days and months. Now, as to why you are having them, and at such an early age, that we don't know. I can tell you that, when you are a little older, we can hopefully explain more about the whys of teaching dreams."

Spook felt a little better, since his parents paid attention to him and actually seemed to believe him. He did wonder why they wanted to wait until he was a little older before giving him more of an explanation. But if there was one thing he had learned in his young life, it was the fact that when his parents said the discussion was over, the discussion was over. No amount of pleading or wheedling would get another word out of their mouths. He definitely knew better than to try puppy dog eyes and pouting; that was a quick and easy way to a spanking or no swimming! While he was thinking all of this over, his mom and dad had moved next to him, and they were both hugging him and telling him they loved him. Of course, his dad, in that way that only dads can do, was busy ruffling his hair, so it now stood up like a peacock's tail.

"Spook, tonight is our turn to supply the main dish for the village feast. Your dad will hunt for the meat, but I need you to bring back lots of Carambolas. If you can also find some Pitaya, I will make your favourite juice."

"As long as I can go swimming while picking the fruit, or as soon as I come back?" He replied to his mom with a cheeky smile.

"You can go swimming, but remember--no Pitaya, no juice!" His mother replied, just as cheekily.

Spook was off at a run for his hut before his mom had gotten all of her words out of her mouth. He never did hear his father tell him to be safe and have fun. Knowing that he would need lots of fruit, Spook not only took his largest net bag from his hut, but he also grabbed one of his most prized possessions. This was a very special net bag that he had woven himself. The bag was larger at the bottom than the top, and the narrow top was long enough to fold over to seal the bag. However, that wasn't what made it so special; okay, that was part of it. What made the bag so special was the straps that he had woven and then attached to the bag. The straps allowed him to wear the bag on his back. That way, he could get twice as much fruit and nuts in one trip and not wear his arms out, carrying two bags. Back to the narrow top, well what made it so special was the fact that it was long enough to reach over his shoulder, so he could put fruit in the bag while he was wearing it.

The village elders were astonished because none of them had ever even thought of such a thing, let alone woven one. Muttering to himself, "It was easy", he hurried off on his hunting expedition. The first part of his trip went very quickly and very well, as he had headed to a small grove of Carambola Trees that he hadn't visited in several weeks. He had figured that there should be lots of ripe fruits, and he wasn't disappointed. In no more than half an hour he had filled the large net bag he was carrying in his hand. He used that bag, as ripe Carambola Fruit would squish when he tossed them over his shoulder.

Although, Spook was very young to go foraging for fruits and nuts alone in the Jungle he had been taught how to survive outside the village not only by his father, but by his Grandfather before he left this mortal coil, as well as the Village Shamans. He was always aware of where he was and of his surroundings,  well mostly he was a kid after all. He had his trusty knife, and he knew how to use his net bags to entangle any wildlife both two-legged and four. Not only that but he and several of the young villagers had learned how to make slingshots by spying on the older teens and men as they practiced defending the Village. Spook rapidly became one of the best shots in the village as well as one of the fastest and that meant of the adults as well. He also listened to all of the lessons taught by the village elders about what was edible and what wasn't in the stream and jungles surrounding their village. He also went with his Dada on his foraging trips even before he could walk. His Dad carried him in a reverse Papoose Board so that Spook could look over his Dad's shoulder and see where they were going. Not only that but his Dad would explain everything he was doing even though Spook only understood a small portion of what his Dad was teaching him. Years later all of those things slowly made their way into Spook's young brain and soon became indelibly ingrained into Spook's memory banks.

Since the first part of his trip took so little time, he decided to head for his second most favourite spot in the forest.

Babbling Brook JPG

Spook's Babbling Brook

Spook just absolutely loved sitting on one of the rocks, absorbing the sun and letting the melodious sound of the flowing water relax him. He also enjoyed watching all of the birds, insects and small animals that visited his brook. After spending several hours just watching nature, he decided that he had better go find some Pitaya before he fell asleep.

'Now, where did I see those Pitaya plants the last time I picked their fruit?' Lost in his thoughts, he never saw the root that was sticking up in the path directly in front of him. Since he wasn't looking where he was going, his foot predictably caught the only thing in his path. Before he knew it, he was flying through the air; luckily for Spook, he landed in a clump of ferns. Once he had stopped seeing stars and multiple moons, he began looking around, trying to regain his bearings. Sitting up, he turned and faced the way that he had come from, he then carefully stood up, not an easy feat with all the roots of the fern plants. Finally regaining his feet and his balance, he slowly turned around, and there in a previously hidden grove were enough Pitaya Plants to feed his village until he was as old and decrepit as his father. Laughing to himself, he carefully made his way into the grove and began picking enough fruit for the feast. Once he had enough for the feast, he picked several not-quite-ripe fruits so he could have some several days later.

When he was finished, Spook then turned and faced the fern plants that he had fallen into. Beyond his wildest hopes, the ferns had almost completely recovered from the thrashing he had accidentally given them, and the path was virtually invisible from where he stood. Spook was a lot more careful making his way through the ferns on his way home. He wanted to keep that grove of Pitaya Plants a secret; he would tell his dad, though. That way their family would always have fresh Pitaya for his favourite juice.

As he was joyously heading home, he began thinking about the large bounty he was bringing back to the village. As he was walking, parts of his dreams began playing back in his head, causing him to stumble slightly. Strange words like 'Star Fruit', with an image of a Carambola appeared as well as 'Dragon Fruit' and an image of a Pitaya. 'Strange words; maybe they are in another language and are names of the fruits I picked. Oh well, maybe one day I will understand this dream business.'

Spook's parents were suitably impressed with the bounty he brought them and the village. So impressed were they that his mom said she would make sure that he received a large portion of the credit for the meal. His father decided that wasn't good enough.

"Come on son, let's go swimming before your mother finds some more work for us to do." Spook's dad leaned over and gave his wife a hug and a kiss, before scooping up his son and throwing him over his shoulders.

The feast that night was awesome; everyone had pitched in and either supplied food or entertainment. Spook was embarrassed most of the evening, because his mother had followed through on her promise. Villagers kept coming up to him all evening long, saying thank you; of course, the adults just had to throw in something along the lines of "What a great job for someone so young," and several of the older girls, and even a few of the older boys, gave him warm hugs, very warm hugs. After a few too many hugs, he snuck off to his hut and went to sleep.

His dreams that night were the most vivid ever and were completely different than any he had, had before. In this dream, he was walking through the forest, and instead of picking fruits and nuts, he was picking flowers. That wasn't the strangest part of the dream though; the strangest part was that the shadows now had forms. The shadows had taken on forms of animals and children about his size; some larger and some smaller. But the part that blew his mind was the fact that he was talking to one of the shadows, and the shadow was answering him. They were talking in a language completely unknown to Spook, yet he understood it. Just as Spook was about to wake up, the dream began to end. Just as he reached the edge of the forest, the shadow he had been talking to took the form of a child his age. However, this child looked nothing like Spook or anyone in his village. Unlike Spook's brownish skin, the stranger's skin was olive-toned, and he had red hair and green eyes. At the sight of his dream friend, Spook awoke with a jolt.


TBC – maybe ;)

Author's Notes:

This beginning of a story has been floating around in my head for a while. I do have a rough outline of where it may go, but that is it. I foresee it being a fairly short story with only a few chapters. We will see. This story is a standalone story and not part of either the Dragon Earl Universe or the Hearts Across Space Universe.

If you like this beginning, please let me know, and if you don't like it, please let me know as well.


Northeast Editor's Notes:

Well, this is something new from The Story Lover, a story with no dragons. Spook is an interesting little person. His dreams seem to be leading him in a strange new direction. I wonder why his parents are so reluctant to talk to him about his "teaching dreams." Hope we'll find out soon!

Arli J AKA Aloysius Abercrombie

Midwest Editor's Notes:

I totally agree with Arli J. This is a very interesting story, so far. Of course, I definitely want more. I want to know just who these dream people are. What interesting adventures will await Spook and his new friends? Thanks TSL for another of your interesting ideas.

The Radio Rancher AKA Darryl AKA Your Friend Darryl etc... etc..

Mid Atlantic Editor's Notes:

Let's see, first how did Neal get in this story? (see weasel comment) I'm not so sure we won't be having dragons in the story, there was a hint to that effect. Spook is a very lovable character, will he grow up to be a science officer? Oh, sorry that would be Spock. I'm sure we don't have to worry about more chapters. If necessary I'll have 'Philip' contact 'Goos' and have Neal shipped to TSL. A day or two of having to feed that kid will break him for sure.

Very nice beginning and I want to know if when Spook wakes up is his new friend there with him.

Str8mayb AKA THE Evil Author, Evil Editor and Master of Misdirection.

Author’s Addendum:

Sorry Str8mayb what you thought was a hidden clue, was only a bit of misdirection. BTW, I learned that from you. You can keep Neal.


Comments appreciated at The Story Lover