Jo climbed the tree fast.
“Hang on,” I said, pulling myself up after her.
The branches shuddered. Old twigs shook loose and caught in my hair.
“They won’t see us up here,” I argued, “Not in all these leaves.”
Jo paused. Her face was rippling with green light as the swaying slowed. It was hot.
“Did you know,” she said, “when you get to the top of something, right to the top, the top of the tallest something, then you can reach Somewhere Else.”
She was always saying this sort of thing, with utter certainty, dragging me in.
I made a tiny gap in the leaves. Were the boys and their snarling, slavering dog still hunting us?
“This isn’t the tallest tree in the woods.” I pointed out. Further up the ridge were larches, looming and angry even in summer.
“It’s the tallest tree in this bit of the woods.”
“Well I’ve been up the top of Bryn Cawr and didn’t find Somewhere Else. There was just rock and dirt and a dead sheep.”
Jo twisted on her branch and looked over to the mountain across the valley. It looked like a fat, lumpy sleeping giant.
“Mountains ought to be pointy,” she argued, “and anyway, Bryn Cawr isn’t the tallest mountain around here.”
“Shh,” I hissed. The bracken was moving; the boys were crouched down, sneaking. Did they know where we were?
Jo shinned up the tallest branch. There were bloody scratches on her soft legs. I looked down, it was a long way to fall.
“Come back,” I begged.
“No. I want to be Somewhere Else.”
If she fell, she’d break her neck.
The tree stopped moving. The bracken was still. Why had I climbed in the first place? Why hadn’t we just run home? Jo and her other worlds! She got me believing her fantasies and I always forgot she was making it up. I leaned back as much as I dared to glare at her.
The tallest branch was empty, leaves shimmering in the heat.
She wasn’t there. I’d imagined it all, running from that dog, from those boys, wishing I wasn’t alone.
Suddenly, the bracken exploded. The dog came out with the last boy, threshing under thumps and kicks. A hand was over his muzzle and then released. All the dog’s pent up fury exploded into vicious barking. Spittle flew. Shouting, the boys raced towards the tree, throwing stones.
“We know you’re up there!”
I climbed higher until I was holding onto the slender highest branch. There was nothing over me but blue. I was higher than the mountains and as high as the distant larches.
“Psst,” said Jo.
I looked up and saw a door in the sky above my head.
“Catch hold,” Jo’s hand appeared through the door, “I was right! Come and see.”
And I reached up and wrapped my fingers round hers and let go of the tree and the bullying world below faded away and I was Somewhere Else instead.
Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission