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To Stand With Trees
By Stephanie Angelea
Her name was GiAia.
She was Vietnamese and beautiful. Blind at birth, she learned to work hard at a young age, pulling her weight with the help of her devoted, twin brother, Bao, who was mischievous but a highly intelligent young man.
She was also a survivor of the underground cities. Cities built beneath the tallest forest trees, plush landscapes of beautiful Lotus flowers, the deepest and most secluded marble mountains in Ba Na.
Today marked the second anniversary since her people carefully laid by hand the first of many marble steps to build the walkways to each city. Steps that allowed them to escape the spray of bullets killing their families from a war they did not understand and knew nothing about.
In the beginning, the villages joined together constructing three interconnecting cities with sweat and blood, soon to boom with life. Self-sustaining and rich in power plus great wealth, but not of your typical paper money from before it was destroyed by Napalm. The currency of choice became seashells blown from the salt water beaches below the mountains littering the sand dunes in abundance, each contributing its own amount of worth. Daily she picked up shells in a burlap sack dropped by a friend of her people next to the forbidden step.
As the war escalated, their cities trembled but the marble walls held strong. Protection she felt only God could provide. While blood spilled into the rivers above, their rivers flowed of fresh water from springs traveling from unknown tunnels. A gift they knew only Mother Nature would provide.
The numbers of soldiers carrying guns quickly multiplied, setting up camps near the base of the mountains where she would sneak up to sit on the steps. She would stand beside the tall trees reaching as far as she could feel, hoping to reach the Heavens and kiss the Sun whose warmth she felt on her ivory cheeks.
Her ears heard the chatter of the mountain critters screaming in anger at the sounds of grenade explosions and diesel loaders digging the mass graves while the jumping spiders spun their silky webs without a care in the world. They were cities without a name, and it was forbidden for any villager to open the entrance step much less exit it into a country of war.
She and her brother knew the rules, but he was the rebel and she was the follower. While he gathered “much-needed contraband” and stole new technologies from the growing naval base of the foreigners, she sat quietly, waiting and listening to life in the woods. Their parents would be furious with them both if they knew, but her need for peace from the controlled chaos below gave her a chance to be alone and was worth any light punishment she would receive. Bao, on the other hand, would not get off so lightly.
One particular Spring day dawned and the weather was unusually cooler than normal. She sat contemplating the world, daydreaming of her longtime boyfriend, Xang, and sighed, thinking what a sweetheart he was — everything she could have wished for in a fellow — understanding and sensitive. Bao often teased her, whistling wedding bell tunes, yet something felt distant in their relationship she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Only she did know exactly the reason why. It was because of another who was not of their people and had already captured her attention and her heart long ago. A relationship more scandalous than the war itself.
Still, she daydreamed and brushed off a cobweb that had fallen to her nose. Plundering through the camouflage burlap full of seashells, she soon became annoyed at the cobweb tickling her nose and tiny spider legs running across her face.
“OK, little spider, enough! Time to leave me alone,” she desperately pleaded. Assuming it had jumped, she went about her business only to stop short with silent screams when Mr. Spider sunk its teeth into her eye. A bite that felt like huge fangs of a venomous snake.
“Never scream!” she remembered her father saying over and over. “The enemy will hear.”
“Who are our enemies, father?” GiAia replayed the question in her mind.
“Everyone, darling!” he replied.
Reminiscing helped her to cope with the excruciating pain only to repeat the scene while enduring a second bite to the other eye. GiAia’s eyes throbbed, and rubbing them only made it worse.
“Where are you brother? Hurry!” she whispered, sobbing to herself.
“GiAia! RUN!” Bao screamed running toward his sister. “Open it!”
She immediately sprang to open the first step, forgetting her pain and tears, still slapping the spider with its tiny legs crawling over her face. She had it open. The first step to their wonderful city. She could hear her brother running, one stomping foot after another, knowing then that trouble had followed.
Bao’s breath was quick and heavy but he made it to her, sadly convulsing to the ground with three bullets to the back. For a brief moment, she turned to him and they held each other tight, hugging under the step. Her tears and pain returned.
“RUN!” Bao’s pained scream rang in her ears.
“I won’t leave you!” yelled GiAia.
Without fear, she bolted, dragging her brother down the corridor. Her legs felt weak but she had to reach the foyer, set the charges, and close the boulder. It was their only hope and nothing was going to stop her. They knew this place better than anyone and she was fast.
Though the faster they ran, the sooner the enemy caught up to them and infiltrated the corridor to their city.
It confused her and she couldn’t help seeing the worst had finally come to their doorstep.
The corridor seemed to grow longer the more she ran, and she turned to see the Americans chasing them. Just a small glance for them to know she saw their faces! Their faces drew nearer yelling after them and firing machine guns, but it was not the Americans they were fleeing from but the newest enemy of their people from across the border.
People of their own nationality who decided that killing their own would bring them more power. She didn’t understand and it angered her, especially seeing how they had hurt her brother. The entrance was near and a great sense of relief overwhelmed her because they were closer to safety, but it was short lived. The enemy was upon them. GiAia gasped as Bao pushed her through the entrance where she hit the floor rolling.
“Bao!” she screamed, begging, reaching for him to get up.
“STAY! Blow them all, NOW!” he ordered.
“NO! Get up! Please!” she pleaded in tears, running to him.
The enemy continued to shoot and the bullets ricocheted off the marble walls.
“NOW, G! BLOW IT!” he screamed, his last breath, tossing a backpack to her feet.
GiAia stopped, frozen in place as the boulder closed. The corridor on the other side where her brother lay screaming was gone and he with it.
“GiAia, we have to go! He is dead!” her father yelled to her.
She fell to her knees and held the backpack close.
What was so important you would waste energy throwing a backpack instead of saving yourself? You can’t leave me! she thought, drowning out the screams of her father, then her mother.
Her eyes burned less and her surroundings were no longer pitch black. The dirt of the earth become less blurry and now she saw her father’s neatly kept hair lined with gray. The dark fog in her eyes disappeared and her mother stood before her, beautiful with red ribbons in her hair.
“GiAia, your eyes! They are clear,” GiAia’s mother said quietly, holding her tear-drenched cheeks.
She unbuckled Bao’s backpack and it was as always — “much needed contraband” for the cities. She giggled to herself plundering through it one item at a time. Deep inside in a hidden compartment was the newest information and blueprints for building machines specifically for laser surgery — eyes included.
“I can see, brother. I saw you for the first time but you will never know it,” she whispered, rubbing her eyes over the bumpy presence still clinging to her skin as she clung to the backpack and rocked with tears.
“You gave me sight, didn’t you little fella?” GiAia whispered.
Another year passed and the corridor still lay in shambles. The steps laid by hand to their secret city was destroyed. Only holes small enough for her to fit through led to an uprooted tree and was the only access to the boulder she managed to reopen. Bao was smart and he taught her a thing or two about a great many things.
Standing beside the toppled tree, she admired its hollow form — their efforts of turning it into a sight tower.
“False trees,” Bao called them. We could see out over the valleys and cities below but all anyone would see was a tree. The tallest trees in the forest.
The explosions of gunfire still rang in the distance but she was not startled for the seashells collected in the burlap sack was still left every day. The burlap sack Angel dropped off to get the latest Viet Cong intel and where they were in the forest. Thanks to her jumping friend with tiny legs, she could see for miles and had excellent vision.
The web of messages she and Mr. Spider left for the American soldiers today read fifteen southeast. That was fifteen spun knots down the center of the web and a straight line pointing southeast.
The Viet Cong enemy would never know the web held a message and they were all scared of spiders so they steered clear. Messages graciously left in the cobwebs by Mr. Spider before crawling into GiAia’s ear where he would get comfortable draping over it to watch the army creeping along the wooded jungles.
“Angel!” an American soldier hollered out.
“Yeah!” Angel responded.
“Your friend is here!” He smiled, walking away.
Angel approached with his rifle shouldered, pointing to the sack of seashells in her hand and pointing his thumb to the air.
GiAia smiled to him as she had for years holding the burlap sack he left for her daily on the pile of rubble that was once the walkway to the underground cities and the place they first met. His sack of gathered seashells strewn from the explosions of the salt water beaches below.
She smiled, waving proudly to him, grateful he spared her life and that of her brother one Spring day years ago when they first went into hiding, fleeing to their underground cities. In that moment, he ordered his men to help them reach the steps safely after they commuted their first rebellious act of defiance against their parents’ wishes and the strict rules of the newly-appointed leaders.
From that day on, he made their cities wealthy with beautiful seashells blown from the salt water beaches below, unbeknown to everyone.
“No matter. We are a people with no name and on that foundation we grew strong because of him and his American friends.” She spoke proudly. “One day, Mr. Spider, mark my words, I will lead my people and Angel will stand beside me! My name is GiAia and we will be Angels of the Lotus. We will shout louder than all the trumpets in the world to our mutual enemy — WELCOME TO OUR HELL!”
Stephanie does not currently have an author page but you can find her on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/tjdsam