Noah stared into his computer screen transfixed and mesmerized by the motion and color of the action on his twenty-three inch monitor. It was the hottest game of the year that drew away so many hours of his days lately. His parents would beseech him to go outside and play, whatever that was and to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine of the southwestern city they lived in. But Noah’s world was on that computer screen and that had become his reality lately.
He thought he heard someone squawking at him so he answered with his usual, “I’ll be there in a minute.” That was the standard response a twelve-year old like himself would give. He knew adults would be satisfied for only a few minutes with that answer. He figured if you said it enough times you could buy yourself time to stall out the inevitable.
About ten minutes later Noah was in the back of his parents classic old 1952 pink Buick. He only hoped none of his friends and certainly the young ladies of the neighborhood would see him. He hunched down in the back seat trying to hide from the almost certain disdainful or whimsical looks he would get as the hunk of antique iron rolled down the street. He couldn’t stand the looks or stares; he just wanted to be left alone.
When she smiled Noah noticed his mother always seemed to look prettier. She turned from the right front passenger seat and flashed that electric smile of hers at Noah.
“Noah, isn’t this going to be fun? It’s a beautiful crisp clear day to be wandering through the zoo and seeing all those fascinating creatures?”
He stared back at her with no response and finally gave a low harrumph of agreement.
His father, strong, tall and somewhat humorless had to chime in. “You’ll love it buddy. You’ll final get off your duff and away from that computer.”
Noah turned to watch the traffic on the fast moving highway. “I know it will get you moving again, Noah.”
His mother’s smile dropped a bit, “It’s good to get out more, Noah, to explore and see the world.”
Noah turned away again and watched cars on the highway. Everyone he saw on the road was rushing about, pressed by deadlines. Places to go, people to see, deals to be made, and purchases, always purchases.
He barely listened to his parents’ voices as they chatted away about which continent they should visit first. Maybe they should get the out of the way noisy aviary or the small aquarium. Can they see it all, how about lunch, where should that be or should…
Noah’s imagination began to take him away from that huge old Buick rolling down the road. But the visions he saw in his head were jumbled and non-specific, he was just moving through time. And not enough of that had passed yet for him to feel normal.
“Welcome to the Southwest Zoo, joining one hundred and seventy-five million people per year who visit zoos around the world. Enjoy your day.”
Noah stared up at the cashier as she handed back his mother’s credit card. He wondered why adults talk so strange sometimes. He thought that they talk at times like they are reading something instead of just talking. He shook his head and walked away from the cashier stand. He stopped a few steps away from his parents and waited for them to catch up.
He was suddenly a bit excited about being at the zoo that particular day. He didn’t know why. He opened his eyes a bit wider and concentrated on the sounds around him that he was hearing. He heard the low murmur of nearby human conversation. He heard the distant squawking and cries coming from the animal enclosures and exhibits well past the wall of souvenir shops, food stands, and sign boards directly in front of him.
His mother unfolded a map of the Southwest Zoo. It was considered the best zoo for hundreds of miles. His father tagged along silently heaving a long sigh. Noah was not sure he was thrilled to be at the zoo; maybe he had golf on his mind or spending time in the garage with his Ford Mustang rebuild.
“Sweetheart, where should we go first? What land and animals would you like to see?”
Noah stared down at the map then looked up at his mother. He shrugged his shoulders.
His father final spoke up, “We’ll let you pick where you want to go first. We’ll walk around for a bit and then grab a burger someplace, how’s that sound?”
Noah looked up at his father and shrugged his shoulders again. So far, he was not Mr. Excitement that day.
His mother asked again, “Where would you like to go first, Noah?”
Again he shrugged his shoulders. He scanned the several manicured paths ahead. He saw people of all ages strolling shoulder to shoulder. They too scanned their zoo maps thrust in their faces at the cashiers stand. The paths all looked the same.
Then, he heard his name whispered. He turned toward the direction of the sound. There, he thought, the path on the extreme right. Was that someone I know who just called out to me?
“What?” Noah said quietly.
His mother spoke up again, “Where would you…”
He raised his arm and pointed to the path on the extreme right, “There, I want to go there.”
His mother looked at the map. “Okay, good that is toward the animals of Asia, and on the lower level the Panda Bears. Sound good everyone?” His father nodded in agreement as Noah started to walk to the chosen path and away from the open plaza entrance of the zoo.
His parents quickly followed.
As they entered, the path narrowed at its start. Trees, shrubs, and bushes began to form a lane. Noah looked at the signs and the people. He kept walking as he stared at a small introductory enclosure display of small monkeys and squawking parrots.
A bit further Noah slowed as he saw a sign ahead and to his right with arrows pointing down toward the Panda habitats on a lower level. He made a beeline directly toward the top of a pathway that lead to that lower level.
His parents had to quicken their step to catch up. Noah stopped at the top of the path and looked down along its line as it turned to the right and then the left and then disappeared as it continued its descent. A wall and ceiling of green trees and tropical plants covered the walkway. The foliage formed a cocoon over and around the beckoning narrow asphalt trail. The light was cut off from the partly cloudy sky and it was quite a bit darker the further the path continued downward.
Noah was transfixed by that dark green tunnel moving away and down toward infinity. His parents then turned to their left, a small commotion around two free-strolling peacocks that were putting on a show for an audience of people. People were ogling at the beautiful birds snapping pictures as the peacocks gloriously and slowly unfurled their plumage. The performance by the brightly colored birds was quite dramatic but Noah was not paying attention.
His mother pulled out a compact camera from her purse. She looked toward Noah’s father. “Oh let’s get a picture too, aren’t they beautiful?”
Noah continued to be mesmerized by the green path, what was below and beyond. “I want to go there. I want to go there,” he murmured to himself.
His mother said to Noah, “Stay right here Noah, I wanna see these two beautiful birds.” She handed her husband the small point-and-shoot camera. “Honey, take a few shots for me.”
He grabbed the camera and then looked down at his son. “Noah, stay here. We’ll be right back. This will only take a sec. We’ll head down to the Pandas when we come back. Stay here.” The last “…stay here” was a firm command.
His parents then scurried away, not that far, maybe twenty or twenty-five feet. Noah watched them walk over to the growing crowd of peacock onlookers. Noah didn’t care. He turned back to the path and its green canopy. He thought he barely heard his name whispered again. “Noah, come visit.”
Noah did not hesitate. He immediately started walking slowly on the descending path. The further he walked the darker his surroundings. It was as if the green canopy was closing in on him. The further he walked the quieter and the more distant the background noise from the zoo sounded. As the background zoo noise began to fade a louder hissing noise began to rise to replace it. The darkness continued to deepen then began to brighten once again. The green enveloping color from the canopy above turned into a mist and began to saturate the tunnel. It permeated the space in front and behind Noah. The mist grew thicker.
Noah stopped walking. He was suddenly afraid. He grabbed the metal railing straddling either side of the path to steady himself. He was temporarily disoriented and dizzy. The mist grew even thicker and the hissing became louder.
“Come Noah. It’s okay.”
Noah’s fear began to heighten even more when he heard that voice again. He turned sharply to his left and took one step back up the path now.
“Come Noah, come. We must talk. I want to meet you.”
Noah stopped walking and turned back toward the descent of the path. Someone wanted to meet him. Who wanted to meet him? His curiosity then kicked in full tilt. He continued to walk down the path. He walked one slow cautious step at a time. The mist began to clear and the light began to fill the covered path. In front of Noah the light turned a more natural golden hue. Noah thought he saw a magnificent sunset in front of him. The hissing sound was almost gone. The further he walked more of the mist disappeared until it had finally vanished. He saw a small piece of the sky in front of him. It looked similar to those wondrous rare evenings when the sun was setting behind a veil of scattered clouds and the sky was on fire with gold and red expanding and deepening on the horizon.
As he reached the bottom of the path and cleared the opening of the green canopy he saw a broad field of flowing wheat in all directions. He looked behind him and he saw a diminishing and closing of his green path cocoon. The path receded behind him further and further away. Noah tried to run back to his world and back to his parents, it was impossible. The path then disappeared completely. Noah was standing in a small round opening in the middle of the wheat field with a red and gold sky above and around him in all directions.
“Mom…Dad…” he screamed out. He twirled from one side to the next. He began to panic. “Mom…Dad…” he cried out louder.
He heard a rustling sound in the distance. It was soft at first but grew louder as it seemed to move toward him. Something was in the tall wheat moving in his direction. He hoped it was not a loose Panda from the habitat that was supposed to be there.
Noah took a step or two back. The wheat slowly parted about ten feet in front of him as he stood at the other end of the clearing as the footsteps and sounds of the rustling wheat stopped.
Moving out from the thick stand of full grown wheat Noah saw a small furry creature. It stopped in front of him. It had a pointy nose and its two black hands and golden furry arms were resting on its stomach. It looked at Noah and smiled sweetly. A bird somewhere above their heads made a chirping noise. The animal looked up suddenly, the smile dropped. It looked anxiously from side to side trying to determine the bird’s location. The bird then became quiet and flew away.
The golden furry animal, maybe one and half feet tall, turned back to Noah.
Noah was put off by the smile at first but then seemed to relax. He stared at and carefully surveyed the animal from head to toe. It looked familiar. Its arms were still together still resting on its stomach.
Noah smiled back, “Wait a minute. You are a meerkat.”
The meerkat nodded in agreement.
“Did you get out of your enclosure?”
The meerkat did not move. It just stood there and continued to smile.
“Are you lost?”
Then to Noah’s shock, it spoke in a comforting adult voice, “No, but you are.”
Noah screamed and ran to the edge of the clearing frantically looking for an opening.
“Noah, there is no place to go. You have to stay with me.”
Noah turned his back to the wall of wheat. He shook his head in disbelief. What was happening was too much for the 12-year old to fathom.
The meerkat took several steps toward Noah. It was only about 5 feet away from Noah who still had his back to the wheat wall.
“Noah, I will help you find your way back, not right away, but I will help you.”
Noah tried to speak, stopped, and then finally in a shaking voice, “Animals can’t talk…how can you talk?”
The meerkat then moved down to a half-stand and half-sit position, resting on his haunches. He was concentrating before he answered. He didn’t know how to answer.
“Well, to be quite truthful about the matter…I just don’t know how it is I gained the ability to speak. I guess I just woke one day, after hearing humans like you talk and I thought it seemed perfectly logical that I could as well. So I did and I do.”
“That’s impossible,” the shocked Noah blurted back.
The meerkat became even more comfortable. “It would seem so Noah, but I can talk and there you have it.”
Noah relaxed a bit as well. He took one step forward. “How do you know my name?”
The meerkat smiled broadly this time, “Oh Noah, I know all about you.”
“How, I’ve never met you. I’ve never talked to a meerkat…I never…this is crazy.”
“That would also seem so as well. But here we are. You are talking to me and I am talking to you. Do you want to know my name?”
“Your name, you have a name?” Noah was shocked as the conversation moved forward. That moment seemed as if he were talking to a human, not an animal. Talking to a meerkat and having him talk back would be insane. Noah wondered if he was hallucinating.
Noah looked over at the immense wheat field. He turned around in a three hundred and sixty degree circle.
“Oh I can assure you, Noah, your green walkway is nowhere to be found around here. We’ll have to find it again, together. I can help you.” And after a long pause while the meerkat allowed Noah to calm again, “My name is Manny, you can call me Manny.”
Noah smiled, and then chuckled. “Manny, your name is Manny?”
Noah then laughed a bit. “You are Manny the Meerkat.” Noah chuckled again.
“You don’t need the “THE.” Just remember Noah that sometimes saying fewer words is better than adding too many words at one time. It makes a conversation move more quickly and it makes what you are saying seem more, uh, intelligent. Makes it seem more understandable. It’s easier to comprehend by the person you are talking to.”
Noah shook his head in agreement. He still couldn’t believe he was actually talking to meerkat who seemed to have a touch of wisdom. “I am sitting here talking to Manny…Meerkat in the middle of nowhere with the zoo somewhere, maybe close by or maybe faraway. I don’t know which at this moment.”
“Oh Noah, you are nowhere near the zoo. You are in a wheat field in Asia.”
Noah stood straight. “ASIA. What are you talking about, Asia? We are in the southwest of the United States.
Manny now stood and shook his head negatively. He said quite seriously, “No my new friend Noah, believe me, you are now in a wheat field on the continent called Asia.” your paragraph here.
Manny Meerkat. That was his name. He was Noah’s new friend. He was Noah’s expedition leader. He told Noah that they would be looking for Noah’s route home through his green tunnel. He also told Noah that they would continue on their journey now in Asia to find that green tunnel. They would be traveling through varied environments and would be passing the animals of Asia and the other six continents.
But first they had to pass through the never-ending wheat field. Noah stayed close behind his new little friend. He wanted to go back to the world he knew but he was still flabbergasted over his discovery of a talking meerkat who remained absolutely silent as they walked through the wheat field. The wheat field then transformed into an open meadow. Cresting a hill the meadow then revealed a beautiful tree lined small pond chock full of glorious flowers. The brilliant-colored flowers stretched away from the pond to a line of faraway snow-capped mountains. The landscape Noah and Manny traversed kept changing rapidly and Noah was confused and jolted at the speed of the transformation and in the change of scenery.
Noah slowed as he viewed the beautiful scene. He enjoyed the beauty and took at all in.
“Manny, what is this place?”
“Noah, let’s walk to this pond ahead. Rest in the shade of this tree.”
Noah was confused, he thought his first discovery of Manny was at sunset. “No, it was at sunrise.”
Noah looked at the small meercat walking ahead of him. He wondered how Manny knew what he was thinking.
“Manny what is…” Noah was interrupted. It was as if Manny was finishing his thoughts.
“Noah, we are in the Xiling Xueshan Dafeishui Scenic Area in Central China.”
“How in the world can I remember that mouthful of strange words? Do you speak Chinese as well as English?”
“I speak many languages, Noah.” Manny paused and then said, “Just remember the pond and this beauty. You will never forget this place. That’s the one great gift you can carry with you from exploration. Memories.”
They approached the pond and found a small tree and several boulders next to the tree. Manny approached the pond and took a small drink as Noah collapsed next to the rock. The long walk to that spot exhausted him completely. But he had enough energy just to stare at the beauty in front of him at the carpet of never ending flowers and the snow-capped mountains on the horizons.
Manny straightened and then walked back to Noah. He studied Noah’s face. Noah became suddenly melancholy and he continued to stare off into the distance.
Manny sat a few feet from him, again on his backside with arms dangling together in front of him…hands almost touching. He occasionally looked up and around, jerking his head to and fro, looking for danger as meerkats often do. But he turned his attention back to Noah.
“Noah, does this place remind you of something?
Noah smiled. “Yeah, we used to go camping in places like this in the Sierra Mountains, in California. Noah smiled even broader. “My brother and I used to…” his smile quickly faded. He stopped daydreaming and came back to reality.
“What Noah, what is it?” Manny said in a quiet but definitely deeper adult voice.
Noah avoided Manny’s stare. “Nothing.”
“No please tell me, tell me about your brother.”
Noah remained speechless for some time.
“His name was Jeremy, but he is gone now.”
“You mean, he has died? Recently, no?”
Noah was still distracted. “Recently…yes.” Again there was a long pause. Noah scanned the scene again surrounding both he and Manny. “We would go camping to places like this. He was my older brother. It was amazing that my parents would let him take me alone. But we had the best of times.”
Noah smiled again quickly but it faded just as quickly. He then he snapped his head toward Manny. “I thought you said you knew everything about me? Why did you bring it up? Why are you asking me? Why did you trick me into telling you something you already knew?”
“Because Noah, I wanted you to say the words so you could hear yourself. You haven’t been talking about it, I know this. And you have to…you have to talk about it and you have to remember those camping trips, the beauty that you saw, the animals you saw. You have to talk about it.”
Noah didn’t agree just then. He stood up and stormed away from the boulders and the small tree. He walked about another one hundred feet around the edge of the small pond to another tree another set of small boulders. He stepped to the pond and drank a few sips of water. He then sat and stared out.
After a moment or two he shouted at Manny, “I want to go home. Take me home now.”
Manny heard Noah plainly enough and whispered to himself. “Not just yet, Noah, not just yet.”
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