Chapter 9

Mabel sat down on the bench and nodded at the honeymooning couple as they strolled by on the gravel path. She waited until they were out of sight, because it would look silly to call for someone who didn’t seem to be there at all.

“Dun,” called Mabel, “where did you go?” She scanned the trees along both sides of the path, and waited in silence a few minutes more hoping he would return, then glanced at her watch. She was due to meet her parents at the spring in ten minutes. Feeling disappointed, but oddly not surprised by Dun’s disappearance, Mabel hurried along the path toward the edge of the garden, opposite to where she’d come in. The garden’s tall trees gave way to more areas of low growth, lush with greens and flowers until the gravel path emptied into an arid, rock-strewn clearing in the center of the Cochiti Spring basin.

Many of the larger boulders were markers, labeling paths to various destinations such as “Temple Grove” and “Herb Garden.” Mabel spotted the beginning of a boardwalk pathway next to a rock labeled “to the spring” and she took off at a sprint until a handful of loose pebbles on the ground sent her into a skid. She landed squarely on her bottom, but softly, as she’d managed to break the fall with the heals of her hands. She stood up and brushed her hands on her shorts. An abrasion on her right hand bled a little, and stung where the rocky ground had rubbed it like sandpaper, but the injury was not as bothersome as the intensive afternoon heat. There was no shade where Mabel presently stood, and the thought of getting wet was enticing.

Cochiti Spring itself bubbled out of the cliffside, splashed down between boulders in a huge heap, and landed in a natural pool, half of which was shaded by a thick stand of trees. The surface of the water bubbled, as if boiling, but when Mabel pulled off her shoe and stuck in a toe, the water was deliciously cool.

Mabel spotted her parents who had approached from the direction of the lodge. Her mother waved a bathing suit at Mabel and pointed toward a cedar cabana where she could change.

By the time Mabel emerged from the cabana in her blue tank suit, Mr. and Mrs. Crockett were in the pool at the base of the spring. Mrs. Crockett had her arms on a rock and was letting her legs float gently to the surface. Mr. Crockett, his face a picture of relaxation, was leaning against another rock with his hands behind his head.

Mabel took careful aim, and leapt into the water at just the angle necessary to splash her father as much as possible. Mr. Crockett returned fire until Mrs. Crockett’s glare suggested that the battle would not escalate any further.

As soon as Mabel paused to feel the water bubbling up around her, she too felt a truce was in order. In a sparkling pool where the water seemed to extract every ounce of tension from her muscles, it was hard to do more than relax. She leaned against the rocky side of the pool feeling enveloped by wellness.

“Did you have a nice walk?” asked Mrs. Crockett.

“I met someone really interesting, named Dun,” said Mabel, suddenly feeling confident that she would encounter that unusual individual again. “And I slipped and scratched my hands up, but it was no big deal.”

“Must be the other one,” said Mrs. Crockett, drawing Mabel’s right hand out of the water to examine it.

“No, I scraped this one pretty…good.” Mabel stopped and stared at the perfectly clear skin on her formerly abraded hand.

“It’s the water,” said Mrs. Crockett.


Dinner at the lodge was the first opportunity Mabel had to see just what kind of guests Cochiti Spring attracted. She and her mother had changed into sundresses after their dip in the spring, and they joined Mr. Crockett at a table for six at six-thirty. Mabel waved at the honeymooners who were being seated across the room and they waved back with vague expressions suggesting that they hadn’t paid much attention to her in the garden.

Soon the Crocketts were joined by Margie Haycraft, followed by a gangly university professor. He introduced himself as Niles Lampkin, and as he shook each hand in turn, a smile broke through his bushy yellow whiskers revealing that he did, in fact, have a mouth. The last guest to be seated at their table was a tiny mouse of a lady named Ida Prickles who giggled nervously at each person to whom she was introduced, and tended to peek at the rest of the group over her reading glasses.

Mabel was grateful to have Margie at their table, as Margie’s natural openness and warmth made conversation easy.

“Ida,” said Margie, to Miss Prickles, who was fiddling with her napkin. “I understand your work involves plants.”

“Yes, plants,” replied Miss Prickles, nervously, “and associated life-forms. Associated…teehee, with…uh, plants, that is.”

“That is so great!” contributed Professor Lampkin, a broad smile once again parting his whiskers. “I myself am particularly interested in the interdependencies of plants and human societies, and I’d LOVE it if we could share notes!”

Next Margie turned to Mabel. “What sounds good to you tonight? I think the dinner choices are baked tempeh strips, a lentil pasta, or veggie stir-fry.”

“Cool,” replied Mabel. “We should bring Ivy here. She could eat everything.”

“Your friend is a vegetarian?” asked Margie.

“Not only that,” explained Mabel, but she’s so sensitive to herbicides and pesticides that she can only eat organic vegetables. Her family runs a botanical center and they grow most of what she eats there.”

“Wow,” responded Professor Lampkin, shaking his head in awe. “That chemical sensitivity thing. It’s spreading, I’m telling you.”

A young waiter came by with their drink orders and invited them to help themselves to the buffet table. The Crocketts followed their tablemates, and Mabel somehow ended up with a plate far fuller than she had intended.

“Did everyone get a chance to explore some today?” asked Margie, returning to the table with a more modestly filled plate.

“Goodness yes,” exclaimed Professor Lampkin. “I recommend visiting the excavation site near the Temple Grove. My colleague Professor Ignacio is doing a bang-up job of uncovering some of the artifacts the Anasazi Indians used in their religious rituals.” Professor Lampkin’s head bobbed as he talked, reminding Mabel of a marionette puppet on strings.

“I went to the Orange Garden today,” Mabel volunteered. “I liked the fountain.” She paused a moment, considering whether to mention her encounter. “Margie…do you know someone named Dun?”

Margie’s eyes lit up, and a smile spread across her face. “You met Dun?”

“Well, for a minute,” Mabel replied. “Some people came and he disappeared.”

“Go back when no-one’s around,” said Margie. “Dun doesn’t show up unless he has a good reason.”

Mr. Crockett dug into his mashed potatoes. “Who is this Dun, anyway, Mabel?”

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “We hardly got a chance to talk at all.”

“Dun is kind of a reluctant celebrity around here,” explained Margie. “Most of his people have little or nothing to do with humans, but Dun…well, in addition to being a bit of a misfit, he sees himself as a kind of liaison between humans and dryads.”

Ida Prickles had suddenly begun tearing tiny bits off of her napkin and rolling them into wads between her fingers. She turned to Mabel. “You met a dryan?”

“A what?” asked Mabel, turning to Margie. “I thought you said dryad.”

“A dryan,” said Margie, “is a male dryad. Ida, you must know more about this than I do. Would you like to explain?”

Miss Prickles shrunk a little smaller into her chair and began building pyramids out of her rolled napkin bits. “Well, alright,” she said with a nervous laugh. “A dryad…for anyone who doesn’t already know, that is…is a sort of a…sort of tree spirit. They live with their trees, you know…they really have too, because they’re very weak away from their trees…and they’re almost all girls.” Ida sat up resolutely in her chair as if the difficult task of speaking was now behind her.

“But Dun’s a boy?” asked Mabel.

Miss Prickles looked startled as if she’d been sure her explanation was adequate and no questions would be necessary. She looked at Mabel with what appeared to be wistful envy. “Males are almost unheard of,” she said shaking her head. “You should consider yourself very fortunate.”

“Well!” said Professor Lampkin, in a booming bass voice as he pushed his chair away from the table. “All this talk of mythical creatures has given me an appetite for dessert!”

Margie stood up next. “I’m going to skip dessert tonight,” she said, “I have some work to do upstairs, but I wanted to remind you all to be sure you go for a massage before you leave Cochiti Spring. They’re the best.” Margie set down her water glass and left the room.

“Dessert Mabel?” asked Mr. Crockett.

Mabel thought for a minute. “I’m stuffed,” she said. “Maybe a tiny piece of blueberry tofu cheesecake.”

By the time the Crockett’s left the lodge dining room, it was dusk and the air was notably cooler. Full stomachs were more of a deterrent than heat as they hiked up the steps to Zuni, and by the time they entered their room Mabel was feeling downright chilly. That afternoon Mabel could not have imagined why the beds would need quilts at all, but now as she switched on a small lamp, she was glad to see an additional blanket at the foot of the bed.

“Mabel,” said Mrs. Crockett, as Mabel picked up a book to read, “you do meet the most interesting people.”

Breakfast at the lodge was a more casual buffet than dinner had been. Mabel chose a Belgian waffle, topped it with strawberries, and added several dollops of whipped cream. Next to the coffee was a hot chocolate pot. She filled her mug halfway with hot chocolate, then nearly overflowed it with more whipped cream. Behind Mabel, Mrs. Crockett made disapproving noises before plopping a large spoonful of whipped cream onto her own coffee.

After breakfast Mabel joined her parents in a game of badminton in the center of a grove of tall willows. Even in the shaded grove the desert sun soon made sports unbearable, and the Crocketts retreated once more to the refreshing coolness of the spring.

Mrs. Crockett retired to Zuni after lunch, to organize her notes for A Different Drum, while Mabel worked at convincing her father that what he really wanted was a massage.

“Look,” said Mabel, pulling Mr. Crockett toward the site map. “Up staircase three.”

“You sure this is a good idea?” asked Mr. Crockett. “After being in that spring, I’m afraid if I relax any harder I’ll dissolve.”

“Dad,” responded Mabel, tugging him along, “you always do geeky educational stuff on your trips. It’s time to be pampered.”
Mabel led the way up three flights of stairs to a row of shallow cliffside chambers where several masseuses in peach-colored outfits vigorously rubbed, kneaded, and pummeled towel-clad guests. Within minutes, a young man who introduced himself as Raul led Mr. Crockett into room 1, and a woman named Lottie, who seemed impossibly ancient, escorted Mabel into the second chamber.

“Most people don’t realize how healthful a good massage can be for a young person,” said Lottie, patting the table in the center of the room to indicate that Mabel should hop up. “How about sandalwood?”

“Sandalwood for what?” asked Mabel, watching as Lottie removed a dropper from a small amber colored bottle and squeezed it into a larger ceramic pot.

“Aroma!” exclaimed Lottie gleefully, waving the larger pot under Mabel’s nose. “It will help you relax and dream, and really go inside.”

Mabel wondered where inside was, and how might she go there, when Lottie gave the massage table another sharp smack.

“Now you lie down right here on your belly and we’ll relieve some of those homework blues.”

Mabel found it hard to believe a person as aged as Lottie could possibly be supplying the pressure she suddenly felt boring into her back and shoulders. The sensation lay somewhere between pain and ecstasy, but Mabel closed her eyes, determined to absorb what she could of the experience.

The pot contained an oil which Lottie seemed to be kneading into Mabel’s skin, and as she rubbed the air became infused with a new odor. It reminded Mabel of trees…spicy, exotic, delicious trees. Soon, the scent became the most notable feature of the experience, and Mabel began to feel she was somewhere else, in a floating, cloudy place. She could see the town of Logjam below her, and she drifted over rooftops and trees, finally coming to the roof of Sparkle’s toolshed, where Sig was tumbling playfully in the grass outside. Sig and Sparkle ran first in circles, then took off at a gallop across a green and wild field.

Mabel zoomed along above the pup, whose soft, spiky fur began to grow. It started fast, and grew faster, until it wasn’t Sig running along at all, but a carpet of fur, elongating, greening, growing woody and leafy, until Mabel was drifting above a forest, through which a river snaked. A beautiful, sandalwood smelling river which emanated from a clearing of glowing silver, achingly beautiful light. Mabel wanted the light, it was drawing her in, and she aimed for the silver light in the clearing, until a sharp series of staccato chops brought her back to a wooden massage table in a cliffside room, where a very old woman named Lottie was running a rapid succession of chopping strokes up and down her backbone.

“How’d that feel?” asked Lottie, pulling Mabel gently into a seated position.

“I feel like an invigorated noodle,” said Mabel.

“Oh, come on,” said Mr. Crockett, who had poked his head around the corner. “You’ve got to feel at least as good as a carrot in a food processor. I know I do.”

Lottie gave them each a playful smack on the back and a gentle shove toward the exit. “You all come back if it fits your schedule. We can try patchouli next time.”

“Patchouli,” said Mr. Crockett, as they started down the stairs. “Is that like Chinese water torture?”

“I think it’s a scent, Dad,” said Mabel.

“You know,” said Mr. Crockett, “I could be a nice guy and go help your Mom with the article. I mean, now that I’ve been meat tenderized.”

“You go be a nice guy, Dad,” agreed Mabel. “I’ll meet you guys for dinner.”

“Hey Mabes,” said Mr. Crockett as he turned to head for Zuni, “if you’re looking for that tree guy, take some mashed potatoes. In my experience elves like to fall into mashed potatoes.”

“Not elf,” said Mabel, “dryan.”

Mabel skipped around the lodge, past the spring, and entered the Orange Garden from the dry and rocky side, where she’d come out yesterday. As the plants became taller, and the trees thicker Mabel examined every bench, around every corner, looking for signs of a tree that wasn’t quite a tree. But the garden seemed disappointingly quiet. Even the birds were scarce, and Mabel began to feel that Margie had been mistaken about Dun having a reason to speak to her.

The fountain clearing opened up ahead of her, and Mabel sat down next to the fountain’s bowl, listening to its trickle. She decided to try to remain upbeat about the entire Cochiti Spring trip. All in all, it had been fascinating, and very few people met a dryad at all, whereas she had had a real encounter with one. The best thing to do would be to explore some parts of the resort she hadn’t seen yet, then meet her parents for dinner.

Mabel stood and took a long drink from the sparkling water. The fountain’s spray shot vertically, then landed in a cascade, rippling the water’s surface. It looked like a kaleidoscope where the rippling water fractured the reflection of the trees above in an ever changing palette of greens, orange, and…beige. Moving, smiling beige.

“Dun!” said Mabel, spinning quickly to face the dryan behind her.

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