Artemis at the Capitol [short story]
(you can also opt to listen to an audio recording of this story, although it is inside of this week’s storyletter so it comes with a small commentary on mythopoetic expression)
I had a dream that I was going to be introduced to the elders of this land.
I was told that there were two of them, and that they were waiting for me — I just had to climb up to the top of the grass covered mountain in order to meet them.
And so I climbed, expecting to find two people, wrinkled, and old, big ears and white hair to their knees, but when I finally reached the top of that hill, and laid my eyes upon those elders, those ancients who had invited me into their long lives, as if an invitation to play a part in more than a life long existence, I discovered my expectations were misplaced. Sure they had wrinkles, but it was the skin of their bark that had long deep crevices maring their surface, for the elders who had invited me to be with them were trees.
As I knelt before them, honoring these ancients, where my knee touched the earth– where their roots touched the fecundity of life in the making– my skin tingled with an immediate mycelium knowing of what it was to be connected to the all. A wind swept around me, as if placing a cape around my shoulders, and my entire being knew what it was to know this earth, her minerals and crystals and the worm beings who work day and night to cleanse and remake her, and I knew the moon and the stars, through the light they caressed and nourished the leaves of these elder trees with and I knew what it was to be—
The phone rang.
The dream burst— yanking the memory from Artemis as she was kicked out of the kingdom of her memory of her initiation and abruptly returned to the reality of what her life had become.
It was the time when nothing appeared as it was.
The calls were coming from all directions, and it was hard to hear what was a call for life, what was a call of death, and what was the call of distraction.
Artemis was perched in the tree outside the Capitol. She had received a message from an unknown caller asking her to be on standby today. This annoyed her to no end. She wasn’t Batman and she didn’t have a sidekick Robin to take messages and answer her emails. She would have appreciated a few more details.
But nonetheless, it was a desperate call, in desperate times, and she knew she had no choice but to respond to the call to protect life.
What she wasn’t expecting, was the woman wrapped in the flag.
She had no hint of what to expect at the Capitol that day. She had turned off the noise of the internet two months ago, the constant chatter had made it impossible to hear the wisdom of the roots of these trees. Humans and their obsession with information. The roots of these trees not only gave her something more: knowledge, but not just knowledge, connection to life itself.
She was grumpy, and hungry, and annoyed that she was reduced to protecting this last stand of trees in this urban atrocity they called the capital of the united states, and that all these trees could now accomplish was hold strong as they held the memory of what this land once was, a marsh, filled with the juice of life, these trees were the record keepers of the past. It was no accident humans ripped them from the land to use them to carry their own form of limited knowledge into books. Artemis understood that it was part of the curse of forgetting— that somewhere in the humans they knew these trees were the doorways to knowledge, and it was only in their curse of forgetting that they couldn’t help but come close to them, catch the scent of their true essence, but then be plunged in the mute blind existence of not remembering, so transformed them into carriers of their own limited knowledge. Artemis knew in her core it was an act done from their own internal hunt for knowing. But it didn’t quell the tragedy.
Artemis was annoyed that this last stand of trees needed so much protecting. What had she become, she wondered. As she listened to her list of complaints she realized somewhere along the way someone had dropped their martyrdom, and she had picked it up.
But here she was, perched in the tree, once again responding to the call of life, when a slurry of red crowded the steps of the Capitol. At first she assumed it was the red of sacrificial blood, that the old ways of honoring her were indeed returning, but as she looked closer this red was a mess of hats and jackets woven from the thin threads of cotton, angering on the hate born from how that cotton pant was raised and used to capture and enslave the land and all who touched it. And how that cotton had fed those people, and clothed those people, and made it possible for them to be here, and now there they were, dressed in the rage of the planet that born their presence, and it was a hot mess of the rage of the planet speaking through them.
Artemis leaned back, watching the drama unfold. Finally, the rage of land was speaking through the humans. She reached into her back pocket for her water satchel, but it was empty, and she was thirsty. She flipped over a few leaves on the tree to see if there was still some morning mist that she could sip on, but before she found a drop, the first shot was fired, and it hit her in the head. A piercing howl screamed through her, it was not what she expected, and now she sees this was a trap.
She ripped at the leaves as she fell through the limbs, scratching and clawing as she went trying to find something to hold on to, but the thing that caught her was not what she expected, it was the arms of a man, with the spirit of a woman wrapped in an American flag beside him.
Artemis tried to scream, but the man placed his hand over her mouth, and hissed into her ear, “You aren’t safe here.” And then walking very casually through the street, with Artemis, still stunned in his arms, and the ghost of a woman wrapped in the American flag walking beside him walking blank faced, hollow eyes, even for a ghost she looked absent.
One would think that Artemis would struggle to get out of the arms of this man, but he had no interest in her, nor was he coveting her, he was simply doing the task of removing her from a place where she did not belong, and quite frankly, she was appreciating the ride. A horse drawn carriage walked by, an annoyance, why horses were given street privileges and her stags were not– was beyond her. He walked her to the edge of the city, and he walked her deep into the night as they made their way into the forest, and he walked her into a circle of stags. “Don’t look back,” he said, “Here, we need you here, you can go home. You are free. And she returned to the forest, and at last, she was free, and she was home.
Those beautiful images are by Julianne Skai Arbor, and can be found at TREEGIRL.ORG