The moon is an island ...
The island of lovers, dreamers
Island, the island of poets ...
We meet up there, in the dream

- Carmen Gavrila

CHAPTER TWO: THE FIRE WHIRL

There weren't too many people in Emily's life who seemed to truly care about her, but she always looked forward to seeing her Uncle Robert. Emily's Uncle would always ask what was happening with Emily at school and in her life; he seemed genuinely interested. So, when an especially dramatic incident took place for Emily one summer, Uncle Robert was the first person she thought of when she wanted to call someone for support.

It was a cold night in June, and Emily wanted to share some pictures with her sister and her grandparents. The pictures were some of the best she had ever taken. First, Emily walked into her sister's bedroom, eager to show her the impressive images, but Emily's sister just kept reading a magazine and told Emily to go away. Likewise, Emily's grandparents were too engrossed in crossword puzzles to glance over at Emily when she approached them in the living room.

Frustrated and lonely, Emily stormed out of the house and went for a walk, even though it was late at night.

In a tempest of emotion, she walked furiously along the street through the charcoal-coloured evening. Staring down dejectedly at the sidewalk as she plodded along the sidewalk in her wounded gloom, Emily began to notice an unusually strong wind coursing through the tall trees that lined the avenue. It was a loud howling wind, causing the trees to bend and rock. In front of some of the houses, the wind was throwing leaves up into the air in rapid spirals. A mild drizzle of rain began to fall in a cool mist. Thunder rumbled above in the dark sky. A bright flash of lightning illuminated all the houses along the entire street.

Emily knew she had to find shelter soon, before the gentle drizzle turned into a heavy downpour.

Looking around in every direction along the street, she noticed one particular house with an old barn beside it. She could see lights inside the barn, and it looked warm and dry. She sprinted across the front lawn of the house, and ran swiftly into the barn.

Once inside the big wooden shed, a crowd of animals welcomed Emily, emerging from behind stacks of hay and piles of wood. A few chickens came into sight, greeting her with their flapping wings. Some pigs and dogs scampered in front of Emily, curious about this new visitor to their barn.

Suddenly, the barn animals looked anxious, and their eyes quickly widened. Emily could tell that the dogs, pigs, and chickens were all staring at something next to her. She looked over to her side and saw a big heavy lantern swinging wildly at the end of a rope, just inside the barn. A strong wind, blowing in through the barn's open door, was causing the lantern to sway back-and-forth like a pendulum until, without warning, the lantern broke free from the dangling rope and landed in a big pile of hay, instantly causing it to burst into flames.

The next few moments seemed to take place in slow motion for Emily in an unreal otherworldliness. Emily cautiously backed away from the burning hay and stared at the flames as they twisted and curved into a whirling spiral of fire that was moving in her direction. The powerful wind inside the barn had turned the blaze into a fire whirl that was swirling right toward her with its rotating arms of flame. In an instant, before she even had time to react, the fire whirl rushed at Emily. As she collapsed onto the ground inside the barn, she saw shining ribbons of flame descending upon her.

At that very moment, with the fire whirl raging upon her, Emily gazed up through the barn's open window at the dark nighttime sky. She saw the white radiant Moon, shining like a watchful beacon. Right beside the Moon, an especially prominent white star gleamed with a startling brightness. Suddenly, the white star glowed even more brilliantly and the fire whirl lifted up and moved away from Emily until it escaped out of the barn. Once outside, the whirl of fire rose up through the overhanging branches of a large tree, sending a shower of smoldering leaves down onto the lawn.

For a moment, Emily remained perfectly still, lying motionless on the floor inside the barn. She began to move very slowly, cringing and stinging from her injuries. With her arms trembling, and her eyes wet with tears, Emily carefully stood up. She looked down at her clothes; they were tattered and burned. She glanced at all the animals; none of them had been harmed by the flames. She started to walk, yet she could only take small measured steps because of her soreness.

She wearily stumbled out of the barn, stepping into the light sprinkle of rain falling outside. After she lied down on the wet grass, a couple of dogs ventured out from the barn and scurried over to Emily in concern. They walked right up to where Emily lay in the grass and stared at her with wide worried eyes.

Emily smiled as the dogs came up to her, only inches away. Then she saw the outline of another animal approaching from across the lawn. Staring intently at it as it drew near to her, Emily began to make out the creature's bright glowing eyes. She immediately recognized them as the eyes of a cat – not just any cat, it was her own cat, Tilley Bean, with her tan fur dappled with dark brown polka dots. A moment later Emily noticed a slender V-shaped shadow circling above her under the falling moonlight. She squinted upwards and realized that it was a bird – her own pet bird, in fact, with its white belly and dark wings.

"Oh, you've been following me!" Emily exclaimed. Her cat drew near and gently nuzzled up beside her, lying down next to her on the grass. Emily hugged her cat and smiled, looking back up at her bird flying above her.

Emily knew she had to find shelter soon, before the gentle drizzle turned into a heavy downpour.

Looking around in every direction along the street, she noticed one particular house with an old barn beside it. She could see lights inside the barn, and it looked warm and dry. She sprinted across the front lawn of the house, and ran swiftly into the barn.

Once inside the big wooden shed, a crowd of animals welcomed Emily, emerging from behind stacks of hay and piles of wood. A few chickens came into sight, greeting her with their flapping wings. Some pigs and dogs scampered in front of Emily, curious about this new visitor to their barn.

Suddenly, the barn animals looked anxious, and their eyes quickly widened. Emily could tell that the dogs, pigs, and chickens were all staring at something next to her. She looked over to her side and saw a big heavy lantern swinging wildly at the end of a rope, just inside the barn. A strong wind, blowing in through the barn's open door, was causing the lantern to sway back-and-forth like a pendulum until, without warning, the lantern broke free from the dangling rope and landed in a big pile of hay, instantly causing it to burst into flames.

The next few moments seemed to take place in slow motion for Emily in an unreal otherworldliness. Emily cautiously backed away from the burning hay and stared at the flames as they twisted and curved into a whirling spiral of fire that was moving in her direction. The powerful wind inside the barn had turned the blaze into a fire whirl that was swirling right toward her with its rotating arms of flame. In an instant, before she even had time to react, the fire whirl rushed at Emily. As she collapsed onto the ground inside the barn, she saw shining ribbons of flame descending upon her.

At that very moment, with the fire whirl raging upon her, Emily gazed up through the barn's open window at the dark nighttime sky. She saw the white radiant Moon, shining like a watchful beacon. Right beside the Moon, an especially prominent white star gleamed with a startling brightness. Suddenly, the white star glowed even more brilliantly and the fire whirl lifted up and moved away from Emily until it escaped out of the barn. Once outside, the whirl of fire rose up through the overhanging branches of a large tree, sending a shower of smoldering leaves down onto the lawn.

For a moment, Emily remained perfectly still, lying motionless on the floor inside the barn. She began to move very slowly, cringing and stinging from her injuries. With her arms trembling, and her eyes wet with tears, Emily carefully stood up. She looked down at her clothes; they were tattered and burned. She glanced at all the animals; none of them had been harmed by the flames. She started to walk, yet she could only take small measured steps because of her soreness.

She wearily stumbled out of the barn, stepping into the light sprinkle of rain falling outside. After she lied down on the wet grass, a couple of dogs ventured out from the barn and scurried over to Emily in concern. They walked right up to where Emily lay in the grass and stared at her with wide worried eyes.

Emily smiled as the dogs came up to her, only inches away. Then she saw the outline of another animal approaching from across the lawn. Staring intently at it as it drew near to her, Emily began to make out the creature's bright glowing eyes. She immediately recognized them as the eyes of a cat – not just any cat, it was her own cat, Tilley Bean, with her tan fur dappled with dark brown polka dots. A moment later Emily noticed a slender V-shaped shadow circling above her under the falling moonlight. She squinted upwards and realized that it was a bird – her own pet bird, in fact, with its white belly and dark wings.

"Oh, you've been following me!" Emily exclaimed. Her cat drew near and gently nuzzled up beside her, lying down next to her on the grass. Emily hugged her cat and smiled, looking back up at her bird flying above her.

Then, a woman wearing a nightgown came out from the front door of the house, and sat down next to Emily on the lawn. The soft moonlight brightened the woman's gown, making her look like an angel. The woman gently covered Emily with a blanket while carefully leaving the burned parts of Emily's clothing uncovered.

"Just lie still, darling," the woman said. "I'm a nurse. I already called for help."

"Have we met before?" Emily asked in a whisper.

"I live here. My name is Bronwyn. I never got a chance to say hello to you before, but I've seen you in our neighborhood, ever since you were a little girl."

"My name is Emily."

"I know. Lie still."

"Please, Bronwyn, can you reach into the pocket of my jacket to get my phone, and call my Uncle Robert?…"

Emily was too tired to say any more. She drifted off to sleep. When she woke up, Emily found herself in bed, inside a hospital emergency room, with the tranquil light of the morning sun spilling in from a window, filling the room with hope. Cool, moist towels had been carefully wrapped around Emily's arms and neck and abdomen. One of her hands was covered with a moist cloth. She realized that someone was quietly holding her other hand. She looked over and grinned when she saw her Uncle Robert, who let go of her hand once he could tell that she was awake.

"How are you, Emily?" asked Uncle Robert.

"A little sore and swollen," she replied.

"Don’t worry, my dear," he assured. "I'm taking you to California. We're going to the Grossman Burn Center. They're one of the best and biggest burn-care hospitals in the world."

"Wow…"

"I met their lead surgeon, Dr. Grossman, during a charity project a few years ago. Nice guy. He's totally respected in his field."

"Okay," said Emily. Then, she fell sleep again.

When Emily awoke, she soon realized that she was sitting in an airplane, high up in the sky, on her way to the burn center. Uncle Robert sat beside her. It was a big plane, with many other passengers aboard in the rows of seats that surrounded her.

"Hi Emily," said Uncle Robert.

"Hi," she replied, faintly.

"Hey, check out those clouds," Uncle Robert suggested. Emily peered through the airplane's window beside her and saw a misty layer of clouds, like a vast mountain range of translucent, cottony fog.

Soon enough, Emily and her uncle landed in Los Angeles, California. A deluxe taxi cab awaited them at the airport, filled with cold drinks and featuring a built-in entertainment system with a high-resolution TV screen and a stereo system. The cab quickly shuttled them off through the gray, sprawling city, to the nearby San Fernando Valley.

Upon arrival to the Grossman Burn Center, Emily admired the large, modern, cream-coloured building, which looked like a stately palace. Friendly staff in light blue outfits came out from the building, bringing a high-tech motorized wheelchair over to Emily, for her to sit in. As Emily and her uncle entered the lobby, with Emily seated in the fancy wheelchair, a blonde woman with a gracious demeanor approached Emily with a smile.

The blonde woman extended out her hand and warmly said, "Welcome, Emily. We're going to take good care of you." Emily shook the woman's hand.

Then, Uncle Robert earnestly told the blonde woman, "Mrs. Grossman, we're so grateful that your husband can see Emily on such short notice."

"No worries," Mrs. Grossman said. "I hope you had a nice flight."

During the next few months, Emily underwent a miraculous series of surgeries. Although she had sustained third-degree burns, the care and attention she received gave Emily the confidence that her health would be restored. Emily got taken to an acute care unit within the burn center, where nine other patients were also receiving medical care, including a few small children. All the medical staff – Dr. Grossman especially – had a nearly magical level of expertise as they rehabilitated Emily and repaired her injuries.

Emily was impressed by the special support given to the children staying at the burn center. She would sometimes visit a recreational room for kids, inside the acute care unit, where the children enjoyed themselves with books, movies, board games, video games, and art supplies. The recreational room also featured a colourful mural on the wall, with rolling green hills and a sparkling blue lake with swans. Nurses would visit this fun room for kids, to show the children reassuring pictures of what they would soon experience during their medical treatment, so the kids would not be surprised. The nurses would also help the kids to try on the equipment they would wear during surgery, such as protective masks.

As the weeks went by, Emily was happy to feel her health steadily returning, and to see the progress of the other patients as well. Mrs. Grossman would sometimes drop by to visit Emily, offering words of encouragement. After a couple months, Emily was ready to go home. On her last day at the hospital, Mrs. Grossman told Emily that she would be just fine – she simply needed to take it easy for a few months. When she left the Grossman Burn Center, Emily felt like she was departing from an enchanted place where incredible levels of healing could easily be achieved.

After they returned to Canada, Uncle Robert called Emily every few weeks to see how she was doing. Soon, once the autumn arrived, Emily began her senior year of high school. In the month of October, Uncle Robert invited Emily to join him for a drive out to a seaside cliff there in Newfoundland, where they could have a picnic. In his younger days, Uncle Robert had been a tour guide in the interior wilderness of Newfoundland. So, he knew of some beautiful, remote places to visit along the coast. Uncle Robert suggested to Emily that she pack herself some lunch. He picked Emily up from her grandparents' house. Then, they drove through tree-covered hills until they came to the sea cliff where the radiant sunlight lit the air in a misty haze.

They sat down together upon the cliff, overlooking the ocean. They could see distant clouds and icebergs floating in dreamy slow-motion on the horizon. That afternoon, Emily and her uncle had a fun, lengthy discussion about literature, film, and music. Emily said that her English class had just finished reading a famous book about a man who woke up one day to discover he had transformed into a beetle. Uncle Robert remembered that book fondly, and mentioned his own enthusiasm for Magic Realism, a style of writing that is always very truthful yet also filled with wonder. Emily reminded her uncle about her love of spooky movies, but, inwardly, she considered that she still needed to overcome her fear of the dark, in real life.

As she visited with her uncle, Emily turned to him and reflected, "You know, every time I see a fire in the news on TV, I feel so grateful for the Grossman Burn Center. They really helped me recover. Thanks again for flying me out there. I don't know what I would have done without them. I really liked how they have this beautiful recreational room there for the kids, with this lovely mural of a meadow on the wall, and games and art supplies, like a little world where you can find some joy and wonder between all the medical activities. Ever since I left the burn center, I’ve been thinking that I'd also like to help people in need."

Uncle Robert became introspective for a moment, and suddenly he looked a bit more serious. Then, he told Emily, "You know, Emily, I admire you."

"You do? Why?"

"Well, you always have such a nice attitude, Emily. I know things haven't been easy for you, but you’re able to notice wonderful things, whenever life gets rough. It's like in this book I just read -- a non-fiction book written by this woman who had the craziest time growing up with her family, as they moved from state to state, across the United States. Her whole childhood was so full of hardship, but, like you, she never complains. Her life as a kid was often a valley of shadows for long stretches of time, but she's still able to look back and be grateful for certain things. In her book, she re-visits all these tough times from her y0uth, but, sometimes, she’ll also share a luminous memory, a small poetic moment from those hard times. It's like finding a diamond there in the valley. You can hold up that jewel, admiring it from different angles. What could be more elevating than being awe-struck by a diamond you find in a valley of freezing mud? That's what I admire in your perspective too. I know you can appreciate that."

Emily smiled, but she kept gazing off toward the sea, unsure of what to say. Inside, she was grateful that her uncle had noticed this tendency of hers to keep a sense of wonder even when life gets very hard. Then, Uncle Robert shared a little about his belief that we can only see the magic in life if we want to. The key is in your heart, but, sometimes, as we get older, we can lose that key, or forget that we even had it in the first place. Importantly, a sense of wonder is what keeps our hearts alive. After all, only a heart that is still alive has the ability to love, and what is life without love? Uncle Robert encouraged Emily to sometimes share with him when life is not easy. Emily said she prefers to talk about happy things with him, since they don't get to visit as often as she would like.

Then, Uncle Robert said, “Well, here’s something uplifting. I know you enjoy music. I wanted to share with you about one of my favorite musicians -- a songwriter who’s been making music since the 1960s. He always makes music full of heart and soul. Listening to any of his songs is like riding along on a magical journey, full of bright lights and good spirits, even during times of peril or days of trouble.”

“Oh, yeah?” Emily said, clearly impressed. “What’s his music like?”

“He’s a musical chameleon. His songs are informed by rich traditions of music from days gone by, with an appreciation for cultures around the world. Sometimes, his songs reflect folktales and classic literature. He’s a good guy and – to me, at least – a true star.”

Emily got to watch a brief interview with this magical musician, on Uncle Robert's smart phone. She smiled when she saw how friendly the musician was. His mustache and his slender pair of eye-glasses made him look distinguished.

As Emily and her uncle kept visiting over lunch upon the sea cliff, they were so busy enjoying their time together that they didn't notice how the Moon was shining much more brightly than usual in the afternoon sky above them. Drifting slowly toward the Moon, one particular white star was glowing with exceptional brightness.

Continue >