BEYOND THE BEYOND

A Parable by Sarika Dharma

Once upon a time, a time beyond beginningless time, a singular village, a rare and unique village, nestled against rolling hills and rested contentedly in the midst of forests, streams and fields, luxuriant without, luxuriant within.

No one knew how long the village had existed nor who the founders had been. It was just here. And the women who lived in it, for it was a village of women, didn't seem terribly concerned with its past. Rather, they focused on the nowness of everyday life in Gateville.

The village crept along the edges of lush rolling hills on the west. If you made a day's journey hiking over those gentle hills, you'd come to a vast expanse of undisturbed ocean and glistening beaches. Every villager made the journey at least once in her life; most went four or five times; a few never came back.

To the north, a river beginning somewhere beyond the forest disappeared into the hills. An indolent river, it stretched to a far shore where nothing more was visible. Elders were said to have crossed this river, but the stories seemed more myth than reports. Nowadays, no one bothered. There was nothing they needed from the other shore.

The forest on the east was inviting at its beginnings, lush with more shades of green than any artist knew about. There the foliage was sparce, with room between tree limbs and leaves so the sun and the breeze could work their magic, creating constantly changing shadows on the grass-covered ground. Further on into the depths of the forest, the light dimmed and the foliage became thicker. Abundant overgrowth and undergrowth made passage virtually impossible without the destruction of true nature. No one in the village cared to explore any farther than the edges.

At the south end of the village, fecund fields as far as the eye could see were planted with wheat and corn. Some pastureland where cows, horses and sheep grazed lay in-between. Groves of orange and pomegranate trees gently patterned the horizon above the flatness of the land. No one went farther south than Mama Karuna's farm, and even she didn't stay there much of the time. No one could think of a reason to go futher.

Two of the girls in the village, Riki and Tarry, ages 11 and 12, were constant companions best of friends, yet more than that. Very different from each other, they were somehow connected by an invisible but unbreakable thread that neither understood but that both honored.

Tarry was impetuous, constantly in motion, thoughts zooming into her mind and out again as fast as her long legs carried her over the earth. Riki was more deliberate in her actions, even reflective on occasion. A sweet sensitive girl, with a special awareness that books could never teach, she would watch her friend. Once Tarry seemed to settle on a direction, then Riki would join her. She knew how to be patient without waiting.

It was summer, and lessons were only held twice a week in the afternoons. Students were encouraged to do their own explorations in books, in nature, in their hearts. Tarry, as usual, led the way, at least in their physical movement. And they were always accompanied by two other friends.

Watchdog was Tarry's dog; they had met when Tarry was seven years old and Watchdog was seven days old. It was love at first sight for both of them. Watchdog could tell what Tarry was going to do before she did it. Maybe even before Tarry had thought of it. Although, with Tarry, the two were most often simultaneous.

Watchdog was a cocker spaniel, beige, big eyes and hair that always fell in front of them. Nonetheless, she saw very clearly.

Wobbilus and Riki were family. Wobbilus' mommy belonged to Maitri, Riki's mom, as had generations previous on both sides. Wobbilus was only three years old, and Riki loved him a great deal. He had been her constant companion, her confidant, her buddy, and her protector from the time he could scamper around on his own. He never let her completely out of his sight if he could help it. If he wasn't allowed to follow her into a building, he would steadfastly wait at the door, ignoring cats, other dogs, squirrels and people, anything that might distract him from his friend's return. Time meant nothing to him. He would sit for two nights and a day if necessary, as he had when Riki had to stay in bed with the chicken pox.

He was the only male in the village, except among the cat population. Wobbilus was a mixed breed, some German Shepherd, a bit of Labrador, not a mutt, rather a merging. He was not a playful dog, more of an athlete who loved to stretch his legs in a good game of fetch. He also knew how to sit very quietly when that was what Riki needed to do. He was always available, never imposing.

The four friends had spent the last two weeks trying to map out the northeast section of the forest. Not that any of them was writing anything down nor making any marks on anything except their consciousnesses. They had circled and circled, until, totally enveloped by branches and trunks, they stumbled into a glade. It was to this glade that they were returning once again.

Where the river met the forest, they headed into the thickest part of the woods, following faint signs of a trail at first, then just following their instincts. The glade came so suddenly that they were almost as startled to see it this time as they had been the first time.

The route was familiar by now. They'd found this location by accident, then, unable to find it again for days, they'd stumbled onto it once more. That time they marked their trail as they came out so they'd know how to find it again. They were careful to leave no traces near the road; they wanted to keep the place as their secret. Hardly anyone came to the end of the road at the river, anyhow, except a few hikers set on climbing the hills along the river bank. But the hikers headed west, toward the ocean, and wouldn't be noticing anything on the east side.

The place that they had discovered was a glade in the midst of thick forest, so incongruous with its surroundings that it seemed someone must have put it there. At the other side of the glade was a wooden bridge that was strangely always fogged in, even when the sun was shining directly on it. The fog didn't enter the glade itself, just sat there covering the bridge so that nothing could be seen beyond the first few planks.

Each time the girls visited this place, they ventured a little further into the glade, a little closer to the bridge. Now they had progressed to a large flat rock about fifty yards away from the mysterious bridge. There was no sign that said "Don't Cross This Bridge" or "Danger" or "Private Property." In fact, there was no sign at all. Yet they were cautious and instinctively alert, expecting the unexpected. The energy was different here. They felt it when they walked into the open space beyond the thick woods and they felt it intensifying as they neared the bridge.

From where the girls sat, on two different levels of the rock, they could hear the river, but they couldn't see it. They approached the shore very slowly, not that unusual for Riki, who was a cautious girl, but extremely unusual for Tarry. She couldn't explain what held her back. And they didn't talk about it.

Even the dogs tried to deter them. Both Watchdog and Wobbilus sniffed all around the area. After they checked it out carefully, they returned to the girls and barked, running back and forth toward the woods, trying to get the girls to leave. Finally, the girls gave in and followed their insistent friends.

They hadn't told anyone about their discovery yet. Usually, they were very open, sharing with their moms, their aunts, their classmates. But this time, something kept them from talking about it. Even to each other. Nonetheless, they were both thinking hard about it. Tarry stopped abruptly and looked directly at Riki.

"What is it?" Tarry asked. "Why is it so strange there? I know you feel it too, don't you?"

"Yes, but I don't know why. It's not like anything I've ever felt before, and I don't know any words to explain it. I think we need to ask someone. We need to talk to my grandma."

Riki's grandmother, Mama Prajna, lived in a cottage at the edge of the forest. Tarry could see the smoke curling from the chimney before they reached the turn in the road. She had resumed her normal pace, on the run. Riki was following close behind, wanting urgently to allay her confusion, and to see her grandmother, one of her favorite people. Being around Mama Prajna soothed Riki, made her feel safe and secure.

As the four approached the cottage, they could see Mama Prajna on the front porch, rocking in her rocking chair. She looked up when she heard them coming, glad to see her precious granddaughter and her friend Tarry, who was almost as dear to her heart. The energy of the young, especially the young she had watched grow, filled her heart with joy and with the peace of knowing all would continue.

Prajna had only one child and one grandchild. It had to be that way. For she was a shaman, one of the wise women of the village, and she couldn't allow that wisdom to be lost. She knew from a very early age that she had special powers, an ability to see so clearly that nothing was hidden from her. She knew she had to work hard to polish those skills. Only her direct descendants would be able to learn from her and then surpass her. And training more than one might dilute the power.

"Come ahead, then," the crone called out to the girls and their companions. "Come give this old lady a kiss to perk up her spirits."

The girls laughed and whooped when they heard this; Mama Prajna was less like an old lady than anyone in the village. Still spry, she tended her own gardens, kept her home in tiptop condition, including chimney repairs and squeaky gates, and, more than anything, she was playful, with the wholeheartedness of a child or a cat.

After the appropriate hugs and kisses, lemonade and cookies, they sat together quietly at the table in the cozy, warm kitchen. A round table, sturdy underneath the elbows, a table of substance. Riki leaned toward her grandma and looked deep into her eyes. They had always done this together, more and more connected over the years. Riki felt the wisdom in those eyes. She couldn't put it into words, no details came to mind, but she knew if she kept looking she would understand.

"Grandma," Riki began. "Grandma, we've got a question."

"Oh, you youngsters always have questions. Well, I'm not opposed to answering them. But before we settle down to that, how about you girls give me a hand with some of my chores. The front yard could sure use a raking and a sweeping. The trash needs to be carried down to the pickup, and my old bones just won't do all that moving."

"Oh, sure, Mama Prajna." Tarry jumped up and headed to the kitchen to find a broom.

"It's out in the tool shed, my dear. The rake's out there, too, and a basket to put the leaves in."

Tarry ran out of the house, urging Riki to move faster. "Come on, let's get this done. I want some answers."

The girls worked quickly, but, even so, by the time they got back in the house, they found Mama Prajna sound asleep on her couch. "Okay," Riki said in a hushed voice. "Let's leave now."

When they were outside and back on the road toward home, Tarry yelled, "Darn it all. I thought we were going to get an answer."

"I think I saw a piece of an answer when I went into her eyes," Riki said softly. Maybe it'll get clearer." She seemed lost in thought as she kicked her toes into the dust. Wobbilus stayed close by her side.

Tarry and Watchdog raced up ahead, circled around and ran back past the others. Tarry whooped as she ran, relieving some of the gnawing of unanswered as well as unasked questions.

The next day, first thing in the morning, the girls went back to the glade. And again they felt the power of the stillness under the sound of the river, and they were slowed by a strange scent that permeated their skin. Nothing was different. Again the dogs circled the girls, trying to urge them back away from the bridge and out of the glade altogether.

The girls gave in quickly and left the glade in short order. Tarry especially wanted to explore further, but even her adventurous spirit was quelched by the solemn feeling that came over her when she crossed the threshhold from forest to glade. And she hoped that Mama Prajna would tell them more so they would be better prepared for their investigation.

When they arrived at Mama Prajna's cottage, they saw that she had company. The two women were sitting at the kitchen table, a crystal and some other items on the tabletop between them. The crystal immediately fascinated Riki with its reflections and the striking patterns of colored light that radiated around the walls. She walked closer and began to stare into the crystal itself, noticing some shapes beginning to form.

As soon as she got close to the table, the visitor reached over and covered the crystal with her hand, putting an end to Riki's explorations. Then this old crone began to laugh, making fun of Riki. "You can't see in there, little girl. You have to grow up first. Aren't you a silly little goose. Even your mother knew better than that."

Even Mama Prajna laughed at the quizzical look on Riki's face. But that only lasted a few seconds, and then Riki dashed out of the old woman's house, feeling insulted and hurt. Tarry looked back at the two sitting at the kitchen table, but they weren't paying any attention to her, so she followed Riki, running to catch up with her.

Mama Prajna and Mama Karuna, for that was the other one's name, looked at each other. They were sisters and could almost read each other's minds.

Mama Prajna asked, "Were we too hard on them?"

"Maybe," her sister answered. "But they may find their way more quickly. The anger will impel them. And the challenge will make them stronger.

"I hope so," Prajna replied. "Tarry is headstrong, and Riki will follow."

"They'll be fine. You know they'll be fine. And Watchdog and Wobbilus will protect them from any harm."

The sisters looked into each other's eyes, smiled, and went back to moving crystal, chicken bone, topaz, marijuana leaf, plume, flint and the tail of a rat around the table, forming different relationships between the symbols, studying the design, then changing it again.

The crystal sparkled with its own inner life, throwing rays of color against the smooth wood of the walls.

Riki and Tarry, followed closely by the dogs who were yipping at the rush, finally ran themselves out. They had reached a broad field with a stream at one end. They plopped down under the shady branches of an elm tree, but were too upset to hear the birds singing or see the squirrel poking its nose out of a hole in the tree trunk.

Riki's face was streaked with tears mixed with dust from running down the unpaved road. She lay on her stomach, head resting on her hands, elbows on the ground supporting her.

"Why were they so mean? I've visited Mama Prajna so many times, and she was never cruel before. And Mama Karuna is known for her compassion. They were both awful."

Tarry just watched an ant crawl toward the end of a fallen leaf, determined, mind set on his goal. "It doesn't make any sense," she muttered." It's like they wanted us to run away, but they couldn't tell us to or even tell us why."

The girls mused for a long time while the sun traveled the skyway and the clouds drifted into the shapes of giraffes and women's faces.

Tired from crying and worrying, Riki and Tarry dozed off under the tree. When they stirred, the sun was getting closer to the horizon and the air had the touch of a chill. They looked at each other, and then hugged.

"Okay," Tarry said, "Come stay at my house tonight. Aunt Edna and Aunt Margo are spending a few days. No one will bother us. They'll be busy talking and laughing. Besides Edna's cooking dinner, and she cooks really good."

Riki agreed, and they took off across the field to where the village houses were clustered near the bottom of the hill. There were other houses, some like Mama Prajna's at the edge of the forest, others away from the rest, farms with space for animals and growing crops. So town people, like teachers and store clerks lived nearby their work in the village, and others, farmers or people who craved the expanse of uncluttered land, lived far enough away to satisfy their needs.

When the girls got close to the house, they smelled the wonderful smell of Aunt Edna's ratatouille garlic, basil and oregano and freshly baked bread. Riki elbowed Tarry and said, "There's something good for dessert, too, something with raspberries and chocolate. Stop and smell all the different smells mixed together."

The girls basked in the odors, closing their eyes, trying to pick out each separate smell from the combination. After a few moments of savoring, they couldn't wait any longer and ran into the house. They were carefree for the moment, having dropped their problems into the loving warmth of home and family.

That night both girls slept in Tarry's room. They curled up together in one of the twin beds. Outside the window, Watchdog and Wobbilus made settling-in sounds. The girls felt safe and comforted for the moment. And they fell asleep in each other's arms.

Riki opened her eyes in the morning to find herself half off the bed, with Tarry nestled into her back. Every time she'd moved away during the night, Tarry had moved closer to find her until she woke on the very edge of the bed. She slipped from the bed, feeling a bit off-balance.

Her mind was full of images from a dream she'd had just before waking, but the pictures were vague and muddled. Shaking her head, as though to get all her thoughts into place, she headed for the bathroom where she splashed water on her face. Looking into the mirror, seeing deep into her own eyes, the dream images became clearer.

Some of them reminded her of what she'd seen in the crystal that had led to her embarrassment at Mama Prajna's. But mostly those were colors and amorphous shapes. The other scenes got clearer, and a feeling of discomfort grew in her. She ran back to the bedroom and jumped on the bed, this time on the other side of Tarry, who had continued to move closer to the edge, still reaching out, in her sleep, for the comfort and warmth of her friend's body.

Tarry sat straight up, rubbing her eyes, and said, "Hey, what's the big idea. I was sleeping. I was having a nice dream."

"But that's why I woke you. I have to tell you about my dream. I just remembered it, and I don't want to forget it before I tell you."

"You could write it down," Tarry grumbled, but then relented. "Okay, okay, tell me."

"Okay, but wait a minute." Riki took several deep breaths as she settled her body, sitting cross-legged on the bed. Tarry looked exasperated but didn't comment.

"I was in the forest, in a part that's thick with trees and undergrowth. I couldn't find a path, so I just kept walking in between the tree trunks and 'round and 'round. I didn't know how to get out of there, and I was beginning to get really scared.

"The scariest part was that there were lots of people there. Behind the trees. I could hear them whispering, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. I tried to call out to them, but, when I opened my mouth, no sound came out.

"I tried to catch one of them, but they all moved when I did, and I never could see them clearly. I couldn't talk at all, but I kept trying. Opening my mouth and pushing funny sounds out. I wanted to say, 'Tell me the answer.' But I didn't know what question to ask anyhow."

"So what's so bad about that?" Terry asked as she stretched and yawned. Then, really looking at her friend, she realized that Riki was upset, and, no matter what the reason, she needed a hug. She jumped on Riki, knocking her back on the bed, and they tussled for a while. Tarry ended up on top, pinning down Riki's arms and quickly kissing her on the lips. Then, rolling over in embarrassment, she pulled Riki with her, and they both flopped onto the floor.

"Come on. Don't waste so much time. Let's get some breakfast and go back to where we were." Tarry dropped her voice so no one outside the room could hear. "You know, by the bridge."

"Okay, I'm coming. You wake up too fast. Give me a minute." Riki's thoughts kept returning to her dream, her mind trying to make more sense of it, to give a name to the feeling in her belly.

"We've got to feed the dogs," Tarry yelled, as she ran into the kitchen.

"Okay. Okay." Riki felt a surge of energy as she saw the sunshine through the kitchen window, heard Watchdog and Wobbilus scratching by the door, and heard her stomach rumble for some food.

Each girl spooned food for her dog out of the extra large container in the pantry. Dog bowls of different sizes were stacked on the shelf, each one painted with the name of one of the village dogs. They had found Watchdog's medium bowl and Wobbilus' large bowl, mixed the food pellets with water until they were just the right consistency for each dog's taste. As they walked out the kitchen door, carrying the bowls, the dogs stood alert and panting, trying to be patient, but ready to snarf up their breakfasts.

After both dogs had eaten all their food and drunk some water, the girls gave them a brushing and spent some time talking with them, connecting, to start their day. Once everyone had been appropriately brushed and comforted, the four set out down the road that led to the river.

Usually the girls ran, but today they walked, although at a brisk pace. The dogs ran ahead, then came back to try to rush the girls along, but Riki and Tarry were deep in conversation. Tarry had her mind made up. "This is stupid," she said. "I'm just going up on that bridge. What could possibly happen?"

Riki responded, "That's just the point. We don't know what's going to happen. It could be dangerous." She paused a moment, then almost whispered, "I know it's dangerous. It feels dangerous."

When they reached the entrance to the glade, Tarry told Riki to stay back. "I'm just going to do it and get it over with. You wait here; in case anything happens, you can run for help."

Tarry walked at a slow pace, but with determination, toward the fog. Riki was so nervous watching her that she couldn't stand still at all but kept jumping up and down and making small anxious sounds. Wobbilus ran around her, then started barking at Tarry. When he got no response, he dashed over to Tarry, grabbed her by the seat of her pants, and literally dragged her back to where Riki was standing.

Tarry was yelling, "Let go! Let go! Leave me alone!" But Wobbilus paid no attention. He walked over to Riki as if to say "I don't care what she says. I did my job." Riki was astounded at the whole event and didn't know what to say.

Tarry's face was red, and she was stomping her foot. "I was going to do it. And your dumb dog stopped me. Why'd you let him do that? What kind of a friend are you?"

Riki felt tears come to her eyes. She spoke softly. "I didn't tell him to do it. He didn't want you to get hurt. He loves you."

Tarry settled down a little, but the adrenaline was still pumping and the words kept spewing. "Okay, okay. But I am going to do it. I'll wait until tomorrow, but I'm going to do it then. And you're going to hang on to your dog and make him leave me alone. I don't care if you come with me or not. I'm going to do it."

Riki saw the determination in her friend and knew Tarry would do what she promised. Danger hung as heavy as the fog.

The girls spent the afternoon at the Learning Center. The current project was identification of plants and trees. They didn't only learn the names, however. They explored connections, how the ecosystem supported different plant life.

Both Riki and Tarry were good students, interested in their studies, curious about the world around them. But today they were both distracted by thoughts of the bridge and what might lie beyond.

Tarry was still pissed at Wobbilus for grabbing her and dragging her away from her objective. She also felt a touch of resentment toward Riki for letting Wobbilus do that; after all, he was her dog. At the same time, she understood that Riki couldn't have stopped him anyhow. What pissed her the most was that someone had controlled her, prevented her from taking action.

Tarry didn't like to be restrained in any way. She barely restrained herself. Her energy spread out into open spaces, and she needed to feel free. She didn't like her toes cramped inside shoes or her hair tied up in braids. Her spirit could only thrive in an atmosphere of freedom. Being physically prevented from carrying out an action did not sit well with her.

During lessons, she was very restless, couldn't focus, didn't want to answer questions, didn't even want to talk. Everyone could tell she was upset. The other girls didn't bother her, knowing that everyone needs to process their own stuff, but a couple of the older students made sure to put an arm around her shoulder or pat her on the back in a casual way, just so she'd know they understood.

Riki was having her own problems. She had mixed feelings about the plans for tomorrow. The idea of going off without Wobbilus or even Watchdog bothered her. She didn't want to dump her friends and felt unsafe thinking about going to a strange place without Wobbilus' protection.

She thought about Tarry and how rashly she acted sometimes. She worried that Tarry might get hurt in some way but she didn't really understand what the danger was. It sat in her mind like an ominous black cloud. She couldn't make out the details.

Riki knew with certainty that she couldn't abandon Tarry; she would follow her despite her fear. She also knew she had to go through with this for her own sake. Had to find out where the bridge led, had to find out why no one else seemed to know or care about it, had to find out why Mama Karuna had made fun of her and hurt her feelings. She was suddenly glad that Tarry was taking the initiative; it would make it easier for her to pursue her answers.

After lessons were over, the girls hung around the Center for a while. They sat on the steps, watching some of the girls playing volleyball, some relaxing and chatting on the lawn, a few sitting under a tree and reading a book. But Tarry was too antsy to stay very long. And Riki needed to see her mom. So they decided to separate until the next morning. They didn't talk about the plan, but it remained foremost in both their minds.

When Riki arrived home, Maitri was sitting at her desk, writing furiously on a yellow pad. She'd been at it for some time from the number of crumpled yellow papers on the floor near the waste basket and from the size of the pile of flat yellow papers on one corner of the desk. Maitri felt a certain satisfaction in picking up the discards after a work session.

Maitri looked up when she heard the door open and immediately called out to her daughter. "Riki, my darling, I'm so glad to see you. Come give mommy a big hug."

Riki almost jumped into her mother's arms. As they hugged, Riki let all her muscles relax. She snuggled into her mom's neck and smelled the fresh smell that was her mom, a smell all her own, a reassuring smell. She didn't say anything, just let the feelings of safety and warmth envelop her.

After a long hug, Maitri pulled back and took a close look at her daughter. She focused on Riki's eyes with compassion, knowing intuitively what Riki needed. Maitri said, "I'm really happy you're here, Riki. I've been wanting to spend some time with you. Maybe we could have an evening just for us. Or do you have other plans?"

"No, Mom. I just want to be with you tonight. Nobody else. Okay?"

"Of course, my love. We'll make a fun dinner and play some games and maybe you can read aloud to me for a while. You read with such good expression. And we'll talk and talk and talk about silly foolish things. And maybe even not so silly things."

Maitri stretched and got up from her chair, heading toward the crumpled papers. Riki rushed ahead of her and grabbed up all the papers before her mom could get them. She threw them at Maitri, bouncing a few off her head and others off her torso. Maitri caught some and started throwing them back. They continued to roughhouse for a while, then dumped the papers into the waste basket and walked arm and arm into the kitchen.

Maitri smiled to herself, knowing Riki was fine. They had played that little game for many years. She knew Riki would grow out of it soon, but she loved to see the playfulness of her often serious child.

Before Riki was conceived, Maitri had decided to have a child, just one, to share her life with. She wanted to show the world to someone she cared about the way she saw it, full of possibilities. She was excited knowing they would explore and discover together. It wouldn't be an easy time, bringing up her child. But she talked to her mother and listened to what Prajna had to say.

At first, it was the feeling of love that rushed through Maitri's body when she first felt Riki move inside her womb. A funny, tickling feeling like no other feeling she'd ever experienced before or since. And, as the fetus developed, she was even able to see her stomach move in waves as the baby changed positions. How exciting to know that a new life was growing inside her, part of her, only created because of her, a life that would soon be outside of her body, but never outside of her heart.

Prajna had not been as romantic about raising children. For one thing, she was the eldest of five and already had experience in raising little ones, being attentive constantly, changing diapers, washing diapers, waking up to feed infants every few hours throughout the night.

Nonetheless, Prajna had been a fine mother; she still was. As evidenced in her relationship with Maitri as well as with Riki. Maitri knew love from her beginnings and let it flow through her. Riki was surrounded but never impeded by all this love.

The time with her mother, touching, talking, listening, smiling and laughing, restored Riki's spirits. She even slept in her mother's bed, something she hadn't done for a long time, having decided she was much too grown up for that at age seven. Now, she knew it was okay to be a kid sometimes.

The girls met right after breakfast. They didn't talk about the plan until they got the dogs to chase sticks in one of the fields. They threw the sticks as far as they could into the tall wheat. The dogs obediently pursued them, taking a while to locate the wood in between the crops.

"How can we get them to leave us alone? I've been thinking about it all night and all I can think of is tying them up somewhere. I don't know if I can do that." Tarry kicked the toe of her shoe against the dusty road.

Riki thought for a long minute. Finally, she said, "Let's go see Mama Prajna."

"What good will that do?"

"I'm not sure, but I feel that if we just told her everything she would be on our side. Anyhow, that's all I can think of right now."

The girls picked up their pace and the dogs seemed relieved to not have to hunt for hidden objects. When they reached Mama Prajna's cottage, they saw her on the porch, a big bowl of peas she was removing from their pods in her lap. She waved as soon as she spotted the girls. "Come along, darlings," she called. "It's a perfect morning for it."

For a moment, Riki wondered what she meant. It sounded like she knew what they were up to. But she wouldn't have been so surprised at that; it often seemed that Mama Prajna knew her thoughts.

The girls explained the situation, and Mama Prajna didn't seem surprised nor even concerned at their plans. She immediately agreed to distract the dogs and keep them in the barn while the girls went on their adventure.

Mama Prajna went into the kitchen and seemed to be rumaging through the drawers in the service porch. "Ah-ha," she exclaimed after a while and came back onto the porch, two little cloth bags clutched in her hand. "I made these some time ago," she explained. "I've just been waiting for such an occasion." She handed the bags to the girls, the purple one to Tarry and the gold to Riki. They were small enough to fit in one fist or in a pocket, but they also had a long string which could be worn over the neck. The bags almost pulsed with life, energy strong around them. And the smell was special as well, not sweet or flowerly, but a peaceful attractive smell.

The girls left the house as soon as the barn doors were closed, taking off at a lively pace. As usual, Tarry was out in front, loping at a steadily, her long legs carrying her easily across the earth. Sometimes she felt she could stride around the world without much effort. Riki was close behind her, excited now, anxious to culminate this adventure.

As they got closer to the glade, they slowed down without even realizing it. They felt the specialness of this place. A feeling of peace and calm exuded from every tree and rock. And they connected, suddenly full of awe, consciously aware for the first time of being in a holy place.

The air around them filled their nostrils with a sweet smell, not unlike the smell from the bags Mama Prajna had given them. The grass was lush and inviting; one could rest there comfortably. And, at the far side, the bridge and the fog beckoned, no longer threatening. Now it seemed like a sanctuary, the inner place where safety and true home abide.

The girls moved steadily toward the bridge. At first, they were far apart, but as they neared the fog they moved closer to each other, finally close enough to hold hands as they stepped onto the first wooden plank.

Each of the girls suddenly felt alone, looked for her friend, but the other was nowhere to be seen. Yet, there was that feeling of holding hands, perhaps now just holding hearts.

What happened to each of the girls during their time deep in the fog could never be described. They were swept into another dimension. And neither was ever able to remember it in any kind of words, only feelings and images. They each met a teacher, a wonderfully wise woman, and she was available to them whenever they remembered to look within.

The changes that came from their exploration weren't apparent to anyone but themselves and each other. Tarry's mom, Riki's mom, Mama Prajna all saw them growing and developing. They didn't see the special happening. They didn't need to know.

Riki became stronger, an inner strength that sustained her. And she knew about connections. She could feel them.