# 3 From Middle-land to Beyond the Threshold
It was still night. The hairy cat-creature had lit a small campfire and was squatting near it, busily cooking something for them to eat, in a large black cast-iron pot. It smelled good. Mackenzie sat on a fallen log on the opposite side to the creature, and cuddled up in a blanket wrapped over her shoulders.
The creature finished stirring the broth, and standing up grabbed two bowls which seemed to be made from leaves woven together, with a resin mixed in. He spooned the sweet-smelling broth into the two bowls, passing one to Mackenzie. She took it gratefully as by now her stomach had started to hurt from hunger. The bowl in her hands was warm, and the broth smelled of cinnamon and basil. It wasn’t much to look at, but it smelled good, and it was here. Amazing how quickly fussy eaters are cured by hunger. She took a spoon and tasted it. Delicious. As she swallowed it tasted more like a lamb roast – just like Mummy would make when she had the time.
Thinking of Mummy’s lamb roast made her feel sad. She remembered that she was lost and alone with this strange creature. And even though the broth tasted wonderful, and warmed her inside and out, and even though she had a nice blanket wrapped around her, and even though she felt safe with this cat-creature, she still felt sad and lonely.
“I want to go home now,” she said in a sad little voice.
The creature looked up from his own bowl of broth. “Yes, I’m sure you do child,” he said. “But what you want to happen and what is actually possible at this point in time, and in this place, are two very different things.”
Mackenzie felt sad and confused. She took another mouthful of the tasty broth and sighed.
“But – who are you, and what is this place? Where are we? Am I still in my garden somewhere, or not?”
The creature looked annoyed. “So many questions from one so young,” he grumbled. “Why aren’t the young born knowing everything already?”
He finished off his broth and leaned back a little on his seat by the fire, combing his fingers through the hair around his chin. He sat there, not looking at Mackenzie, but staring off into the distance, deep in thought. Finally, he turned back towards her and spoke very slowly so that nothing would be misunderstood.
“This realm of mine is not like yours child. Not your garden,” he began. “This is a magical place which is neither here nor there. It is not a place that a person can journey to, but rather a place they journey through. A type of middle-ground. A place between places.”
Mackenzie blinked at him. “So, I am nowhere?”
“In a way yes,” said the creature. “And everyone knows you cannot stay nowhere for very long. You must move on from here – everyone must. This place is more like a pathway from one place to another. One realm to another. In fact, from here you can go to many thousands of other realms.”
“Then can I go home?” asked Mackenzie.
The creature shook his head from side to side. “From here you cannot return directly from where you came. Like the emu or the kangaroo, you cannot step backwards. You can only move forwards from here. Forwards to another realm. From there you might find your way home.”
Mackenzie didn’t much like the way he said might find your way home. She would have felt much better if he had been clearer and more certain about her return home. “Then where should I go?” she asked.
The creature blinked his large eyes a few times. “Normally,” he started. “When a human (not that I’ve had any of those pass through for a very long time. A few magicians passed through a little over 200 years ago, and after that there were the two children Polly and Digory – but even they came through here at least 100 years ago), or a nymph, fairy, varnuks, or any other variety of creature arrives in my land, I always know where to send them because I am always expecting them.” He looked away for a moment as though he has just realised something that he didn’t like. “But you my girl…”
“My name is Mackenzie,” she said.
“Ah – right you are,” he said. “You Mackenzie, I was not expecting. So, where I am to send you I do not yet know. In fact, I was not expecting anyone, not for a long time to come.”
“Is that why you were asleep?” she asked.
The creature frowned. “Still no reason to fart on my head!”
“Oh yes. Sorry about that,” she said. “I didn’t know. I’ve never seen such a strange sort of creature as yourself. Can you tell me what type of beast you are?”
“I am Windwhirl,” he said. “Keeper and protector of this middle-land. Guide to weary travellers and navigator to the lost.”
For a moment, the creature appeared much taller and grander, even heroic. It was a though he shone all over, and his voice boomed and echoed. His hair seemed to glow like gold and for an instant he seemed wise and all knowing, rather than the grim old cat-like creature she had first encountered.
Windwhirl looked over at Mackenzie, pointing his walking-stick at her. “The question which still needs an answer to not only how you got here all by yourself, but why you had to come here at all.”
Mackenzie began to cry. “I didn’t have to come here. It was an accident. I just want to go home. I want Mummy.”
“No one has ever passed through my realm unless there was a reason for them to do so. Many travellers do not know why they have arrived here, or what they need to do in the place they will go to. But there is always a predestined reason. Everyone’s path had already been laid out for them. They either choose to walk on that path, or choose to walk on their own path.”
“But I don’t want to stay here,” cried Mackenzie.
Windwhirl looked at her with hope in his eyes. “Well you won’t. You must go on.”
Windwhirl sat down again and a calmness came over his face. He relaxed on the log. “It is perfectly natural for you to not want to be here Mackenzie. This place is a moment of decision. No one – except for me, is ever supposed to stay here very long. It is a place where you are to travel from the normal to the extraordinary, strange and adventurous.”
Mackenzie sat there thinking: This was all very strange. Like a dream. But so real. The breeze, the cool air, the warm campfire, all felt as though she was here, really awake. Even if this was a dream she didn’t want to be dreaming it any longer. She was tired of this dream, of this place. She was ready to move on, but neither she nor the creature seemed to know where she was to go next.
Just then a loud wind blew up, rushing through the surrounding bushes and blowing out the fire. She looked over at Windwhirl and saw that his rocky head was glowing brightly. His eyes closed and he rose. It wasn’t him standing on his own strength, but he was being lifted by the rushing wind. He seemed to be in a trance. He stood there, floating in thin air, held up by the wind for what seemed like a very long time. Mackenzie dropped her bowl of broth on the ground. Tiny glowing dust particles began to whiz around Windwhirl’s head and body. They whispered a song to him. Then as suddenly as it started, the wind disappeared and Windwhirl lowered back to the ground, where he sat again on the log. He was all slumped over, as though he had just done some hard exercise. He was puffing, and then looked up at Mackenzie.
“I know where you are to go,” he said through puffed breaths. “You are to journey to Faerie, the land of the fairy folk. This is your way back home.”
Mackenzie’s mouth dropped wide open. She didn’t know what to think. A land of fairies? Could this be real? Was this a dream after all?
Windwhirl looked across at her compassionately. “Yes, this is real,” he said. “And there will be many challenges ahead. Obstacles you must overcome. New things you will need to learn. Many mysteries to behold.”
He stretched out his arms and yawned. Mackenzie also yawned. It had been a very long day.
“But first,” he said. “It is late and you must sleep now. Your journey to Faerie begins tomorrow.”
It seemed that as soon as she had laid down and closed her eyes, she opened them again, and it was daylight. She felt refreshed, and realised she must have been asleep all night, but had no dream. Normally she would always have a dream. Perhaps it was this strange place, a place which was no place, which caused her to not dream. Maybe you can’t dream within a dream? The cool dew covered grass she had been laying on felt real enough. The pleasant smell of breakfast cooking on the campfire smelled all too real. The sun on her skin felt warm. Windwhirl was there, cooking something on a grill plate over a low fire.
They ate a type of roasted fruit for breakfast, which tasted like bacon and eggs with tomato sauce. Windwhirl had picked it from a tree in his garden. The breakfast and casual conversation about all the types of trees in this realm ended with a nice warm drink – some sort of plant milk. Then they packed up and prepared for Mackenzie’s journey.
Windwhirl has cleaned and dried Mackenzie’s backpack. He placed some of the fruit from his garden inside the pack. A blanket too. Her big-red-plastic-torch which had fallen into this middle-land with her was also in the bag. Windwhirl has fixed it. There was a rope, Mackenzie’s notebook, and pen on blue string.
“In Faerie, some of the folk are kind and good and will no doubt help you on your journey. Others are not so nice. In fact, you would be forgiven for calling them evil. There are some who will try to trick you – perhaps pretending to be your friend, but who are really determined to trip you up as you walk. You must be alert and aware always. Test the character of the fairies you meet, and make good friend choices.”
“That’s what we learn at school,” said Mackenzie. “Some people are good, others are mean?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Windwhirl. “Folk are folk, the same everywhere.”
Mackenzie put on her red coat and pink beanie. She picked up the packed bag, and swung it over onto her back. Windwhirl looked at the stick – the one he had been poking her with. He handed it to Mackenzie.
“This old stick has some magic left in it,” he said. “It is old, but still strong, and it will serve you well when you need it most.”
Mackenzie thanked him and took the walking-stick from Windwhirl. Touching it for the first time (besides being poked with it) it felt old and worn, but strong; like hugging a huge tree that’s hundreds of years old. It felt heavy in her hands. She felt stronger just by holding it.
“This is all I have to give you. But once you enter Faerie you will discover other objects which you will need to complete your journey and eventually return to your home.”
And so there Mackenzie stood, with her explorers’ beanie on her head, golden platted pigtails dangling down each side of her head, pink t-shirt on, red jacket, packed bag on her back, and wearing some new boots that Windwhirl had also given her which seemed to be made from bark. In her hand, the magical old walking-stick. She stood there looking still a bit like a scared ten-year-old girl who missed her mother, but now looked a little bit more like a brave explorer, ready to embark on her first real adventure.
And that was how it was. For Mackenzie, now packed and dressed, was about to leave Windwhirl and his strange middle-land, and journey to the even stranger realm of Faerie.
“I’m ready to go,” Mackenzie announced.
“Indeed, you are,” remarked Windwhirl. “You look as ready to go as you’ll ever be.”
“What happens next?”
Windwhirl led her to what seemed to be the very edge of his little realm and parted some of the shrubs along the ground. This revealed a little wooden door which was hidden behind the shrubs. Mackenzie’s eyes lit up. How long she had fantasised about discovering a secret door in her own garden at home. And now here was one, real, and right in front of her.
“Is this the door to Faerie?” she asked.
“This is your door to Faerie,” replied Windwhirl. “There are many ways to start an adventure. This little door happens to be your way.”
Mackenzie beamed. This was a little girl’s dream. But as Windwhirl opened the little door, she hesitated as fear of the unknown overwhelmed her. A lump stuck in her throat and she began to panic. If she bent down and crawled through that little door she would never be able to come back here again. She would enter an unknown strange land, and her life would be changed forever. She froze.
Windwhirl placed a comforting hand upon her shoulder. “Be strong and courageous Mackenzie,” he said. “Do not be afraid or discouraged. I’ve passed my old walking-stick along to you, and if you keep hold of it, a little bit of me will always be with you, guiding you along. Remember this, and remember to be brave.”
Mackenzie looked a Windwhirl and gave him a big hug. “Will I ever see you again?”
“These things are hard to tell. I have my work here as you know. But I’ll keep a watch out for you as long as I am able from the edges of my realm.”
And so, as many adventures begin, Mackenzie took her first step, or rather her first crawl, through the little doorway. She crawled through it leaving Windwhirl’s middle-land forever, and before she knew it she had entered the magical land of Faerie.
Mackenzie entered through the little wooden door hidden in Windwhirl’s garden, and encountered a long dark tunnel which she had to crawl through. As she progressed along it became wider and taller, and eventually she could stand up straight once more.
She turned on the torch (which worked all the time since Windwhirl had repaired it) and was able to guide herself along the dark underground tunnel. At least she assumed it was underground. The walls felt rough as she ran her hand along. They felt like wood, as though she was inside a great tree. It smelled lovely – which is not something you would not expect in a dark tunnel. A memory came to her of her own garden at home, just after it had rained, how the soil and fallen logs and leaves on the ground would smell so sweet, refreshing and natural.
Looking up she saw light ahead. The light shone and began to fill the tunnel so that the closer she got the less she needed her big-red-plastic-torch. She had to watch where she trod as a little creek now formed on the floor of the tunnel. She jumped from one rock to another to continue without getting her feet wet. The boots Windwhirl had given her seemed waterproof but right now she wasn’t taking any chances. She was still alone in a dark tunnel. The rocks reminded her of pavers Daddy had laid in the back garden which she used as stepping stones in very wet weather. Little creeks would form all around the garden, and the pavers were the only way she could still explore (without getting her feet wet).
Mackenzie stopped and leaned down to run her fingers along the rocks, finding they also were made of wood, not stone. This was curious, as though she was inside some giant log and not an underground tunnel after all. This journey continued to be very strange. Mackenzie reached the end of the tunnel (whatever it was made of) and stepped out into the most amazing sight she had ever seen.
A soft green light saturated the landscape of the country before her. It was daylight, but the green glow, gave a much softer, cooler feel than you would normally have in direct sunlight. As through the whole area was underneath shade-cloth. Mackenzie looked down at her feet and her eyes followed the little creek which flowed out of the tunnel, as it continued onwards into a good-sized river which wound itself along the green land beyond, until it disappeared into the distance, around a corner.
Covering the ground between herself and the river were round green leaves with a jagged edge, about the size of her hand. They covered the ground like grass, but she had never seen big round grass like this before. She bent down and felt one of the leaves finding that it was unexpectedly slippery and slimy – like wet moss.
While she squatted near the ground she noticed a ring of rocks along the ground in front of her, surrounding the opening to the tunnel. She had not yet stepped over the threshold into this new realm. Not quite yet. The thought now occurred to her that maybe it wasn’t too late to turn back.
I haven’t really committed yet, she thought. Not really. I mean, I haven’t crossed this threshold of little rocks in front of me just yet. I haven’t really crossed the starting line. I’m not yet in the race. I could turn around and go back up the long wooden tunnel. Once I got back to the little door I could explain to Windwhirl that I’m only a little ten-year-old girl, and how I’m small for my age. I don’t think he understood that properly before. I’ll just go back to the little door and knock on it, and he might take pity on me because I’m just a poor little girl and can’t do this adventure thing, because I’m too little and so he might just send me back home again.
Mackenzie closed her eyes tightly for a moment, screwing up her little nose, wishing with all her might that she was back home. Wishing for this adventure to be over before it began. The words of Windwhirl came back to her. “Be strong and courageous Mackenzie.” Remembering these words, she relaxed her face and opened her eyes. Strong and courageous. This was the moment of decision. The time to step forward into a new land or to turn back (if she could turn back now) and return to perhaps something less than what could be. And even if she did turn back now, that might mean that she could never get back home. The way home was clearly forwards.
She stepped over the threshold of stones and placed her feet at the very beginning of the soft and slippery green path ahead. This was her first step into Faerie and she felt inside herself that this adventure had truly begun.
I would LOVE it if you wrote a comment below – Josh Reid (author)
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