The First Stone

Tessa was playing at the edge of the boundary line when she first stumbled upon it. Hundreds of polished stones arranged into interconnecting circles at a flat clearing on the hilltop. Against the chestnut and walnut tree bark, it looked as though it was floating. A chilly breeze stirred up the leaves and whirled around her.

Her uncle had told her not to go there.

‘Don’t touch it,’ Tessa could hear his warning voice in her mind. ‘They’ll take everything you own, and then they’ll take your freedom, and your very sense of self.’

She looked around. She was alone. Jo had left back down by the creek. Tessa couldn’t blame her. That scared look on Jo’s face, the understanding that they were stepping into a portal that might lead them to truth or danger or both. The whole two hours in the forest walk, Jo kept bringing up Kendal. After Kendal’s parents found out about what the three of them were up to trying to navigate up the river, they hadn’t heard from or seen Kendal again. No one in their rusty old town mentioned her name. It was like she never existed at all.

But Tessa felt Kendal in the wind and the softness of the crumbling earth. It led her further, to here, where the earth grew damper and the smell of tree bark more pungent.

A large bird with a proud gray chest and head of blue feathers landed on a nearby tree, colors so unusually vibrant, it was alluring. Tessa knew she should leave. Her family would only try to protect her. If she wasn’t supposed to be here, the grown-ups must’ve had a good reason.

But she couldn’t look away. Her feet didn’t move. Her body felt at rest.

She walked the large labyrinth of stone. One step, then the other. Until she was at the furthest edge and a small mound of soil revealed itself to be a cloth-bound book.

With shaking hands, she picked it up, nearly dropping it as a loud caw filled the air. The blue-feathered bird took flight and soared West. Moving out of the only land she knew, the dividing lines meant nothing to this creature.

Tessa stacked the book beneath her arm and ran to follow the flight of the bird, through the ticket of forest until a warm glow began to peek between the trees and then she was through to the edge of a mountain.

The book fell from her side. A sharp inhalation.

Below, huge bending towers spiraled towards the sky. They were made from some material Tessa had never seen before, bumpy textures and imperfect shades of browns and yellows and whites. Lush green plants climbed the towers and filled the walkways. Birds soared the landscape, congregating on open green patches that hovered above the swaths of water. The earth vibrated with the calm sounds of rushing rivers. Tessa tried to trace the infinite maze of the water that spiraled like the stone labyrinth between the towers, down along hillsides and into unknown glass buildings gleaming rainbows from the sun. The landscape was moving. No, people were moving—hundreds of people walked bridges between the towers, sailed the waterways, navigated hovering balloons made of strange metal with black panels that reflected the sun.

It was then Tessa noticed a glow much closer. Pink light emanated from above. She looked up. It came from round pixelated eyes attached to a three-foot-tall hovering metal body. With sleek circular edges, it was made to look alive, a clean and zippy little object. It made an inquisitive purring noise, tilting its body side to side before scanning a laser scanned over her, aqua like the clearest lagoon.

Then everything went black.

Tessa woke up to the vibrant scent of sweet flowers. She shook her head, trying to clear away her blurry vision. Her heart was pounding. She was lying on a hammock inside one of the tall towers. Tiny mushroom heads grew out along the inside of the walls. Plants climbed from the stone floors up towards pockets of blue light. In the center of the room, a single tree twisted upward.

“Thank you for bringing that book back.

Tessa jumped, sitting up, her feet hit the floor with a thud. A person with a clear, iridescent arm, long hair, and a kind smile sat in a wooden chair across from her. The person was clothed in loose cream linen pants and a wrapped top.

“What am I doing here?” Tessa whispered.

“What are you doing here?”

“I… I was just looking. I found this book and…” Tessa trailed off. Fear tore at her insides. “There is no fear in this meeting,” the person smiled. “If it is pleasing, you can refer to me as Zero.”


“Yes. And, there is appreciation that you have stumbled upon the book. Though, it will need to be placed back again.”

“Placed… back? You mean, it was… you put it there?” Tessa frowned. “A trap.” “Trap. Invitation. Matter of perspective. Except you are welcome to leave anytime.” Tessa’s eyes went to the gentle archway of a door. She shifted uncomfortably.

“Really?” She considered her options and realized she had too many questions to want to leave. Was this part of the trap? “Doesn’t seem very friendly. I was just looking and then… did you stun me or what? Why?”

“Your people are violent,” Zero continued. “You have come onto our land. We protect the present of things. We remember the past to value our peaceful present. Do you?”

“Remember the past? Of course I do.”

The book, still in her lap, shook as she said it.

“Then why are you here?” Zero said with a raised eyebrow.

“I… I just like the forest. It’s… calming. And then I saw that bunch of stones–what is this place?” “Those aren’t any ordinary stones. That is symbolic worship, to the RFA.”

“The what?”

“It was assumed you would have read it in the book… But you didn’t open it did you?” Zero held out both hands. “Do you want to see?” Tessa looked at the book. A cold sweat pool around her finger tips. She swallowed the lump in her throat.

“Maybe… yeah. I mean, yeah, I do.”

Slowly, Tessa walked over and handed the book to Zero. There was a calmness about Zero, like something she’d never experienced before except in those small moments when she and Jo and Kendal used to sneak out to sit and look at the stars after midnight.

Zero opened the book and blue light emanated out forming a three dimensional cube. The top of the cube lapped like a dark water, it mirrored back Tessa’s eyes as she looked into it. Through the transparent sides, she could see thousands of tiny colorful strings bound together at small points that shone like gems. The strings and gems moved as one, twirling like an octopus without a face. Tessa had never seen an octopus, but she had seen a picture, once, from a children’s book her parents had buried in the basement.

“The RFA is a representation of brainwaves,” Zero explained, “waves which are a representation of the energy you emit and that connects you to the everything. It’s always around us, a dimension not seen or touched or otherwise reached with the usual five senses.”


“Smell, taste, touch, sound, vision.”

“I know what they are. But that’s silly. What else is there?”

“Much more. Technology has illuminated these dimensions of reality and these connections to each other. That to hurt one, is to hurt the many.”

“Can I–” Tessa reached a finger out to touch the light object.

“Wait. Only if you are ready to feel what you see to be wrong with yourself.”

“Whaddya mean? There’s nothing wrong with me!”

“That is truth. This is nothing wrong with you. Do you see that?”

Tessa’s eyes narrowed. She’d come this far and wouldn’t let these silly fables work on her now. She reached out and swiped her hand through the light cube.

A sudden burning began to take hold in her chest. She felt more emotions than she’d ever felt in one day, every terrible thing in her life, the pain of disconnection from her parents, a sense of emptiness and loneliness, the worry of her safety or not having food or shelter or anyone who would care about what she’d lack. She was surrounded by a dark veil that hung over her like a cobweb. She thought she might keel over from the pain. But just beyond the veil, she could see the tiniest bits of light. And if she moved her arm, if she resisted the terrible feelings and thoughts that she knew were her own, the heavy webs began to lift and they turned into the same multi-colored strings that attached to the bright, vibrating gems. As she did, she pulled back her hand and was out of the RFA.

“Why are you doing this?” Tessa cried out. Her body felt cold again. Her voice echoed in the open room.

“As internal, so external. You have enough. When that is not believed, then communities always pursue more, endlessly more.”

The voice of her uncle began to creep back in. The fear and the worry and the sense that the world was a cruel place out to get her.

“You’re trying to brainwash me,” she said.

Zero laughed. “There is misconception. Now you have two perspectives in mind. You’re welcome to go back. You are free to choose.”


“Yes, free.”

The word. Tessa had never heard it used in that way. Free, to explore two perspectives, and to choose what future she wanted. Her uncle had it all wrong, in hiding this from them, in trying to control where she went and what she learned. Was this what it was to be free?

“I knew it.” Tessa whispered. “That there had to be, you know, something more… something different.”

“That’s why you are here?”

“Yeah, yeah… I mean, yes. Yes! I don’t want to go back…”

“You can stay. But it is understood, you won’t…”

Tessa laughed to herself. It was so simple, but it was her choice.

“Yeah. Well, yes, I couldn’t just… Everyone I love… Jo, and Kendal… they should, they need to see this! To have the freedom to choose, too.”

“The pain of one, is the pain of many.”

“I know, yeah, but… I dunno, I’m just… a no one. I wouldn’t even know how to–how would I convince anyone of anything?”

Zero smiled again and stood up. Setting the book on the chair, Zero walked over to one of the walls, moving aside a few vines, pulled out a large white sack, and gently handed it over to Tessa. “Every stone has to be laid by someone.”

Much later, as the sun began to fall and Tessa made it back through the forest, her heart beating fast in anticipation and sadness, she walked past the sign that marked the town square, “where freedom reigns.” Feeling the strength of the book in her backpack, she began to lay the stones out, one at a time, in a delicate, interconnected circle.