The age old and huge weeping willow on the green in the centre of town had been there all of his life. At least eight times taller than any who stood by it, and providing a canopy of lush foliage, umbrella like, over an area the size of a racket court, the tree conjured up a metaphor for breath itself. Every limb of vibrant, cascading greenery punctured the air, extracting life from the surroundings, an exchange resulting in the beauty on show, a continuation, a statement of perpetuation, energy absorbed from star and planet alike, converted and put to use in branch and root.

Mac could not remember the leaves looking ever more beautiful as they did this morn, even in his childhood years when brought here by Gramps for a summer dawning, a walk before school, there was no more colour to the ancient tree even then.

Mrs Timmin passed by him, in something of a fluster. “The donkey got out again,” she explained, looking back and gesturing to her muddy farm boots and wax coat.

“Do you want some help?” he shouted after her, ready to increase pace to catch her up.

“Oh no thanks,” she replied, “I’ve got him back now. He was only down the lane at the waters edge. Thanks anyway Art.”

Mrs Timmin always called him Art, Arthur, his middle name, the name his Gramps had preferred and given him at naming day. Of late though he had chosen to use Mac, a shortened version of Mackenzie, his third name. Mrs Timmin smiled and bid him a good day as she left the green to go about her delayed itinerary. Mac guessed she would be on route to the herb and vegetable gardens.

This particular tree, like all willows, growing and thriving close to water, reflected the reverence entwined within its legend and mystique. Associated with Mater, and Her influence over the movement of tide and river, being intimately bound up with, and affected by Her domain, its presence stood testament to mystery and myth. The friendly tree’s ability to quickly regrow after coppicing, putting on several feet in one season, or the ease with which a new sapling could grow, merely by pushing a healthy cutting into the soil, even upside down, demonstrated its reverent symbolism of renewal, growth, vitality.

Within its shadow and also not, wooden bench seats and tables, dotted here and there provided the townsfolk with a meeting place, a more personal focal point than the barn or central forum. This place of the willow, as the green was also known, offered an enclave to share a game of counters or throwball, to take a picnic or open a coffee flask, and the tree was even more than all that. Having served the community in this capacity for hundreds of years, stoic in stance, emblematic of mother nature herself and comforting in times of pain and fever it brought Mab into the very heart of the town itself, and the folk therein, Her presence here as well as there delivering them of all their dreams and aspirations.

Mac thought on the people in the new town he now inhabited. Ah! The terrible fact came to mind at last, there was again the unwelcome truth. This was dreaming again. He realised it now, sadly, and reconciled himself to the fact, then thought some more of those inhabitants of that new town, his hopeful temporary place of residence, who, in his opinion would benefit a visit from Mab herself, to show them visions of their past, present, and most importantly future. A past and present characterised, in his own opinion, by oppression, injustice, misery, and suffering, caused, if the facts were not to be ignored, by hierarchy, commerce, and religion. Mab could show them a future, and what a future, when there condition would improve and a better life could emerge, death no longer feared, a future of perfectibility, humanity and nature reconciled, working in unison and harmony, not against one another.

Within the place of willow a few groups of people sat, some stood, conversing, drinking morning beverage, playing checkers. All acknowledged Mac for the grown man they had known since his childhood, his playtime jaunts, some in this very spot. Around one table sat his own generation, Sam, Bart and Will sharing a conversation and breaking their fast, around another table elders played board games.

Sam’s long ginger curly locks bobbed about his forehead as he shouted over to his friend. “Now then Mac, where’ve you been of late?”

“Oh! here and there, been off the mark for a week or two,” Mac answered.

Sam threw a catchball over the ten yard between them. “You going be up for the cricket this season fella? The nets start next week,” he asked, rolling his blue denim sleeves up to the elbow and egging Mac on to throw the ball back hard and low.

Mac obliged, tempting the town’s wicket keeper and putting him to the test. Sam was having nothing if it, he dived for the soft ball and caught it left handed, hitting the grass lengthways as he did so.

Mac applauded while Bart and Will cheered at the acrobatics, prompting several other onlookers to follow suit. Such was a typical scene missed fervently. It was all too good to be true.

It was not, true that is, for under the willow, on a circular seat which went about the striated brown and grey bark of its thickset trunk, sat Aunt Bessie beckoning him over. She stood up to greet her nephew, a primrose floral dress of some length, which matched a floppy fabric hat sat to one side, fluttering about her tall figure as she spoke.

“Hello dear boy, so sorry I haven’t been in touch,” she began, “but the membranes are not close at present so I didn’t want to raise your hopes.”

Blue harebells, yellow spring messenger with its heart shaped leaves and archangel, its leaves of mint flavour and red medicinal flower, carpeted the banking side and untrodden areas of the green. They painted a tranquil spring backdrop of colour. Mac strode the last few steps across the grass and white daisies, made even more beautiful by the early morning sunshine illuminating at an acute angle.

In his walk was a purpose of some intent, a determination which on seeing his Aunt’s beaming smile melted away to nothing. Aunt Bessie always had a calming demeanour about her and today was no exception.

“Aunt Bessie,” he began, “when can I come home, what are Sal and them all doing, do they know….”

Aunt Bessie cut him short. “Sal is fine Mac, they’re all fine. I take it you now believe me then. You went to the fountain?”

Mac took her outstretched hand. “I don’t know how it’s possible, but yes I believe you. When can I come home, what do they think’s happened?” His words tripped over each other as he spoke.

The two related sat down on the well worn wooden seat, hand still in hand. Aunt Bessie tried to ease her nephews concern.

“They don’t know what to believe to be honest Mac, I have told them you needed some space and are in contact with me. They think you are having one of your downs and have gone to the coast. Can I tell Sal something from you to reassure her?”

Mac thought for a second or two while two crows flitted from branch to branch above his head. Appreciating their significance he found an ease to his frustration flow into mind.

“Tell her I still love her and will be back soon. I will won’t I Aunt Bessie?” he pleaded with her to sort out his plight.

“Not be too long now Mac.” Aunt Bessie’s expression was now one of compassion and sincerity. She had authority in her word, it was all he had to hold on to. Her face helped him to make peace with that fact

“Also tell her that I like the name I chose at the start, for our baby, it was Walter. She will know then that you’ve been speaking with me.”

A flap or two of wings saw the black birds fly from under cover to take to the air in search of food for their newly born, a number unknown, who called a hungry message from a hidden nest somewhere high up in the willow’s branches.

“Ok, I’ll tell her that. Now, listen dear boy, once the acceptance is in place, probably in another week you can come home. You can also travel elsewhere too once you have your bearings. I want you to try and navigate the portal starting Sunday two weeks hence. The membranes are proximal for a fortnight starting then, so travel is possible. If I don’t see your return I will come to you.”

“And what do I need to do, to get through?”

“The bridge will accept your endeavour. When you get home I will furnish you with a gift, a bracelet like mine.”

Aunt Bessie pulled her dress, slightly above the ankle to reveal a bracelet of metal, not gold or silver, but a metal just as elegant, with a hue to it best described as intermittent, slightly blue, purple but at the same time green tinged with a yellow. On further examination it was none of these. A metal not of known composition, or colour for that matter, at least to Mac, a metal yearning for attention and giving up of its beauty without question or asking.

“What will this allow?” Mac enquired. The bracelet had an inexplicable presence he found himself in awe of.

“This little trinket acts as a beacon,” Aunt Bessie explained, “to establish the conduit, the passageway, call it what you will. It warms and resonates and glimmers whenever a portal is near, and that portal always leads to the same place and time, and returns to home, but only when the membranes meet.”

Mac needed confirmation. “So when will the portal be active?”

“From the Sunday two weeks next.”

“And all I have to do is walk through the bridge?”

“That’s all dear boy, and I will tell Sal you will be back soon. I have to leave you now.”

As she spoke Aunt Bessie melted into the surroundings leaving Mac on his own, sat on the bench. Not one person about took any notice or thought the event strange, and that confirmed it once and for all, it was another dream, evidence was now certainly met, there would be a time coming soon to wake up.

The two birds robed in black now sat on a lower branch, looking to him for some reason or another, their heads to one side then the other in order to spy him in good focus. As they swapped eyes, first left then right they brought a smile to both who looked on.

Mac marvelled over their message, kept secret. They looked him up and down, their colour, black, symbolic of pure potential, their own being situated in proximity to higher energies within the universe, as heavenly, divine oracles, messengers, prophets of survival. He knew they would never come to anyone not equipped to read the deeper meanings behind their presence. If Mac did not already have all the answers, he would not have had this encounter, and that settled him immensely.