.Chapter 2 - The Search for 11:11



The Grey Eucalypt

By some form of coincidence, the Yellow Pages fell open to the right page. For some reason, George unwittingly picked the first name his eyes fell upon. And by some stroke of luck, the telephone was almost immediately answered by a real person, not some dumb answering machine, even though it was after five-thirty in the afternoon-and on a Friday!

In the rush to get the attention of someone—anyone—who could take that Gray Eucalypt down, the father feverishly moved like a machine, a robot, a servomechanism, programmed to protect his family. Surely, nothing else could have existed in his mind.

Not until many weeks after the event did he begin to realize what had happened. And he needed to sit down and think about it all. “My God!” he heard himself say. “George Mathieu Barnard, what a stupid clod of a slow learner you are! The Spirit Guardians have worked ever so hard to make you take notice.”

Douglas Shannon, tree surgeon, sounded tired but friendly enough. He would be around forty years of age, perhaps a little younger. His deep voice sounded like that of a confident man, a decision maker.

“You caught me in the nick of time, Mr. Barnard,” he informed George. “I was about to close up shop for the day. Two minutes from now, and the gate would have been locked, and I would have been contemplating a large, cold beer.”

Shannon listened to George’s directions, then he cut him short. “I know exactly where your hobby-farm thing is,” he commented, “because I grew up around there when it was practically all still bush. I probably know that very tree. My whole crew will be working most of the weekend, and we will be less than three miles down the road from your place. We are snowed under with work, and the electricity people are pushing us to complete the job so they can hook up another farm.”

He paused. “Does your farm carry livestock?” he asked.

“Two cats, one dog, a duck, two geese, three goldfish, and a pony,” George told him. “Then there is this huge herd of freeloading kangaroos.”

“Bloody city farmers,” Shannon laughed. “Are you growing anything, harvesting anything from the place?” he wanted to know.

“Oxygen,” George told him, “lots of it. Ten hectares were cleared when we got here. The rest is covered with trees, all individually adopted by us, and they can stay. We love trees. But one of them is no longer welcome in this family. We’re divorcing that one.”

“Those bloody city farmers,” Shannon repeated. He was enjoying himself. Serious broad-acre farming might well be in his background, George thought.

“I’ll tell you what I can do,” Shannon said. “I will come and look at your tree first thing in the morning, but it will take us a fair while to drop her, if she needs taking out. I will see you around six-thirty.”

Again he paused. “Now, you had better get yourself ready, Mr. Barnard,” he told George in a most solemn tone of voice. “Start thinking about herding up, and fencing out, your extensive numbers of livestock.” He laughed. “Those city farmers. . .” He rang off.

* * * * *

“Your dinner is back on the stove, George,” his wife informed him. “What did the tree man say?”

“There is good news and there is bad news, Jodi,” he told her. “He will come and look at our tree tomorrow. That’s the good news. Now for the bad news: The man is a heathen! He gets out of bed before six in the morning, just like you do. That’s revoltingly unchristian! He simply refuses to sleep when civilized people are still in bed.”

“That’s a matter of opinion, Barnard!” she answered him, gruffly. Despite the children’s laughter, she was pinning him down with a long, cold, disapproving stare.

“I will need to break all the rules tomorrow morning,” he told her, “and get up before six, and be fully awake. I will need to convince him to fell that tree, quick smart. It’s urgent. Danielle and Simone have got it right. And I can feel it in my bones. You had better try very hard to bring me back to the land of the living, like . . . really early.”

She nodded pensively. “It makes such lovely shade, that tree, and it nearly covers the whole house. We will miss it.”

“With a bit of luck, it will miss us, too-on the way down, that is—if he can get it to flip over the other way. Otherwise, it will cover the whole house. Until then, remember you were once a Christian, and keep saying your little prayers, Jodi,” George suggested.

“Never a dull moment in this household,” she complained. She was giving him that tired, life-can-be-a-struggle look, but he knew she was only having a shot at him, and, likely, a shot at the Spirit Guardians, as well. “Lord only knows what we’re in for next.”

“Don’t complain,” he warned her. “A decent fright at regular intervals gives you smooth skin, less freckles, and it reduces your pimples, too.”

“I don’t have any freckles or pimples,” she muttered.

“Shows you it’s working already,” he assured her.

* * * * *

George was the only one still finishing his sweets, but they were all still at the table. The children had missed him. It was so obvious.

Their mother liked order; George brought confusion and disorder into their lives. But kids love chaos—at least the Barnards’ children always did. Their father was also, unmistakably, reading their mother’s mind.

“You fool around endlessly,” she complained. “Stop and think about what you are doing to these kiddies’ minds. You are confusing them . . . utterly. It’s a wonder they remember who they are when they wake up in the morning. It’s a miracle these two find their way home from school and kindergarten, with all the crazy stories you tell them about lots of money in the bank and things like that. One day, George Barnard. . . one day, you will need to tell your children something really important, and they won’t believe you at all.”

“My father tells fibs,” the little one chimed in, with that absolute integrity of a three-and-a-half-year-old, “all the time. But not when he says, ‘I’m serious, kid!’”

George turned to the little sprite who still needed two pillows on her chair to raise her chin above the table. “What did I tell you about listening to grownup people’s talk, nipper? Eh? Your ears will grow as big as my hands, furry and pointy, and they’ll flop about in the breeze.”

She gave him a cheeky smile because he had not said he was serious.

“That’s just what I mean,” the mother explained. “George, that’s the kind of story that makes them all want to sleep with the lights still on.”

Jodi Barnard was worried about that Gray Eucalypt, first and foremost. She was simply having a shot at him. She, herself, often enough joined in the fun, but the mother was on edge, worried about her brood. She did not have her husband’s confidence in the Spirit Guardians. She couldn’t have that confidence. She didn’t know any Spirit Guardians.

“We might get lucky, Jodi,” he suggested. “Lots of clowning around might develop their brains, their minds, and they might even acquire a sense of humor.”

“We already have a sense of humor!” the boy heatedly interjected. His looks were dead-set serious, almost angry.

“Progress being made,” the father told him, trying hard not to laugh, and succeeding admirably.

Only Danielle appeared to be appreciating the ironic aspects of her brother’s behavior and outburst. She was rolling around on the floor now, laughing and holding her belly. Her mom had missed the point entirely.

Having Gray Eucalypts in the family, it seems, can cause lots of stress to mothers.

* * * * *

The converted army “Blitzwagen” had bumped its way into the home yard.

“Thanks for coming,” George told the two men in the cabin.

The driver was obviously the boss, and he appeared to have no intention of either switching off the noisy engine or hopping down to terra firma. He seemed somewhat rushed and preoccupied. His voice was terse as he said, “Was it you I talked to last night?”

“Yeah, sure was, Doug!” George shouted to make himself heard.

“Which tree, mate?” Shannon wanted to know.

“That Gray Eucalypt, next to the house,” Barnard answered loudly.

Shannon casually glanced at it. “Nothing wrong with that!” he barked. “I’m busy! We’re going. I’ll see you later!” He moved to put his stubborn old vehicle into reverse gear, but the gears just wouldn’t engage.

“Doug! Eh, Doug!” George was shouting as hard as he could to make himself heard over the clamor of grating gears. “You’ve come all this way! Can’t you at least take a good close look at it? Just to make sure?”

From his perch up in the cabin, Douglas Shannon looked down on him as if his patience were being sorely tried. His expression seemed to be saying something quite familiar to George’s ears—something about city farmers, and hobby-farm things.

Getting out of bed so early in the morning, George mused, has got to be unhealthy after all. I knew it! What happened to the congenial Douglas Shannon I spoke to last night? He left his sense of humor under his pillow in the rush to get away.

Finally Shannon stalled his engine, grabbed up a large screwdriver, and came down to earth. His young friend stayed in the cabin, grinning from ear to ear. His staying there was a statement: “Hobby farmers know nothing.”

Talking to no one in particular, the tree doctor moved all around the tree, prodding it with the screwdriver, and with great force. He was saying, “Nothing wrong. . . Nothing wrong here. . . That’s okay. . . Bloody nothing wrong. . .” He levered up a large section of bark and made a great show of straightening his back. “There’s nothing bloody well wrong with your tree, Mr. Barnard!”

George took his time to answer him. “Doug, my little girl tells me this tree is going to fall on the house. And when she says this tree is going to fall on the house, then that is what it will do. It will fall. And it will land on the house.”

Shannon was losing his cool. “We’re all bloody experts!” he cried out. “What a load of bullshit!” The angry, frustrated tree surgeon grabbed hold of the loose bark and ripped off a strip to well above their heads.

“Ker . . . rist!” he shouted. As a shower of little white insects landed on their heads, the two men jumped out of the line of fire. Urgently, they brushed the tenacious, biting little pests from their bodies and clothes.

“Shees . . . sus!” said Shannon. Then he stood there in a long, purposeless silence, watching a stream of tiny “timber workers” as they continued to fall in their thousands from a gaping big hole in the monster Gray Eucalypt. Finally, he rediscovered his tongue. His humor as well, so it seemed. “You told me your name was George?” he asked.

“George Mathieu Barnard. That’s what my momma always called me, Doug.”

“Well . . . George Mathieu Barnard. . .” he drawled. “I think this tree is going to fall on your house.”

“It kind of . . . looks like it,” George suggested. He could do that drawl just as well as Shannon could. “What are you . . . uh . . . going to do about it?”

“We can’t fix her. It’s a shame. She still looks good, but she’s too far gone. There are millions and millions and millions of them up there. She’s had it. We’ll have to cut her down.”

He stepped back some more from the trunk and looked up at the foliage, still shaking his head in disbelief. “You would never know. They have done all that in the space of a year, I tell you, and she’s only months away from dropping all her leaves. You know, you could have built a whole house out of what these little blighters have chewed up. What a shame. . .”

He paused. “I could have never picked it,” he admitted. “And your wife knew?”

“No, my little girl knew,” George corrected him. “My daughter, Doug. That’s her, way over there in the sandbox, in her red jumpsuit. She’s probably fabricating some breakfast for me right now. The child simply looks at what will happen tomorrow when it is still yesterday. It’s a bit spooky, but it’s handy to have her around. She has the Gifts of the Ancients. That’s what we sometimes call it.”

Shannon had once again lost his tongue. He was looking at Barnard in disbelief, but since George would only smile and nod his head, the tree doctor must have finally understood it had truly been petite Danielle who had sounded the alarm.

“Feed her regularly,” Shannon suggested, “and when she gets to be twice that size, send her around. I’ll give her a job.” He turned to the young man in the Blitzwagen. “Rodney! Get your lazy butt out here! Something worth looking at!” He turned back to George. “That’s my son and heir. I’ll trade him with you for your little girl.” Then he smiled. “I’m joking, mate. He’s a good one, our Rod.”

“When can you cut her down?” George asked.

“In a week. When we’re finished down the road,” the tree doctor answered.

“No way, Doug. I want her down today. I’d like you to do it, but I will get someone else if I must. I can’t ask my family to keep living under that booby trap.”

“You’re right, I wouldn’t either. Tell you what, we can knock her down now, but we won’t cart her away for at least a week. There’s still more than twenty tons up there. Is that okay with you?”

“Suits me fine, Doug. Just do it,” Barnard suggested. “Rodney,” Douglas Shannon addressed his son, “get the gear out pronto, or I will ask Mr. Barnard’s little girl tomorrow to do it for me yesterday and in half the time.”

* * * * *

Expertly, the two men attached a heavy steel cable around the trunk at about three and a half to four meters up from the ground. The other end of the cable was hooked onto the winch cable of their ancient Blitzwagen.

Way out in the field, well beyond danger, Rodney Shannon skillfully made the winch increase the tension on the cable. Time and again, Douglas eased the chainsaw into the massive trunk. Slowly, the insect-laden Eucalypt gained the upright position.

Holding on to their cats, dog, and goldfish, the Barnards watched from a safe distance. Their pet duck, geese, and pony were nowhere to be found. Somehow they all knew what was going to happen.

Finally, the tree leaned over the other way, bit by bit, more and more. Then she dropped, flattening the fences and shattering into dozens of huge chunks. The echoes of its eardrum-splitting impact roared and bounced around all through the valley below.

“What are we going to do with all those bits of wood, Daddy?” the little one asked.

“First up, I’m going to telephone the zoo,” George told her. “We will need to borrow at least one hundred big fat South American anteaters, to lap up all those white ants.”

“See you in about a week, George. And look after that little girl of yours,” the tree doctor yelled, as the Blitzwagen grated painfully, then ultimately discovered its first gear. “Feed her regularly.”

“She’s earned her tucker for at least another week!” George yelled back. “Thanks a lot! Both of you!”

The children had spent some twenty minutes scraping, spooning, and brushing the white ants into jars and tins. All that effort expended in inspired anticipation of the arrival of the anteaters. That was fun to watch! Then one of them must have remembered that their dad never told them he was serious.

“They will eat your house!” he heard Jodi argue with them. She sounded desperate. “You can’t keep termites for pets! Oh, Lord, give me strength.” The clinic might well be the best place for me to hide for a while, he thought.

Kids! Chaos!

* * * * *

“You’re just about bankrupt, George,” Jodi told him with a devious smile on her face. “You’ve got no money and no real estate. You’re out of business. And it just goes to show you that what I’ve been telling you all these years is right on the button: You are totally irresponsible with your money.”

Petite Michelle Barnard generally, and for obvious reasons referred to as the Little One, had long ago fallen asleep on the carpet. As always, right underneath the table was her place of choice. Her siblings were wide awake, and together with the mother, they were enjoying the inevitability of George’s financial demise.

“Skid row for me,” he remarked, seeing no way out of the dilemma. “Out on the streets on a Tuesday night when there is a gale blowing. I haven’t really lost. No, sir. I was robbed by a whole family that ganged up on me. There is the irony of it all. This is what I get in return for years of tender loving care.”

“It’s only a monopoly game, Daddy,” Danielle tried to console him. “But Mum and I are winning and . . . we like that!”

“That’s making me feel so much better,” he told her. “Your concern for my welfare has made my day. It touches my heart.”

Moments later, a powerful gust of wind was unleashed on the homestead. Doors and windows shook and rattled violently. Then the storm carried on as it had been blowing all evening.

“That was it, you guys,” George casually noted. “That big blast of fresh air just then, that was the moment our Gray Eucalypt would have flattened us all.”

They all sensed it. They all felt it. They all knew it. There really had been no need for him to say it. But suddenly, they all felt the urge to look under the table to see if little Michelle was okay.

That was strange. Why wouldn’t she be? They were all fine. For some minutes after, they were all still keeping an eye on each other. To George, it felt as though the shock of the realization of their all having cheated death had awakened some primitive, knee-jerk response—a kind of disbelief that they were truly safe.

He excused himself from the game and found a quiet place for a silent prayer.

“You gave Danielle the Gifts of the Ancients. I thank You for that. . .”

* * * * *

Morning light revealed twenty-two smashed roof tiles strewn across the home yard by the previous evening’s savage gust.

“That was it, Jodi. It came precisely from the northwest.”

“I’ve got the feeling They like us up there, George.”

A whole trainload of Spirit Guides has worked their ethereal butts off to make this turn out right. George was sure of it now. Douglas Shannon’s home base was right at the opposite end of town. There was no logic in his picking one of the most distant firms to do the urgent job.

Someone knew Douglas’s crew was working nearby.

“Who Are We?”

Body, Mind, Spirit and Soul,
we occupy Time in Space,
yet we belong to Eternity.
Experiential meets Existential.
Such complex products of Creation and Evolution.
As if caught up in an avalanche of psychic events.
Spinning head over heels and out of control
down a never-ending mountain slope
surrounded by the ever-present powdered snow
of the elusive Spirit World.
Bruised and beaten creatures,
and their victorious Spirit Selves.
He is the heir of our expanding universes.
She is rich beyond her wildest dreams.
And still, so many must ask the question:

“Who Are We?”