Alice fell down a rabbit hole and discovered Wonderland. Wendy flew away with Peter Pan to the enchanted world of Neverland. As young Juniper sat below her favorite maple tree, watching the autumn leaves flutter down, she wondered if her parents fell down a rabbit hole. ‘Maybe one day they’ll come back and get me!’ she thought, softly smiling. She made a terrible mistake one day, when she told her aunt that her parents would come back one day and whisk her away to a magical land. “They’re not coming back Junie! You must move on and get such silly thoughts out of your head!” she yelled, tears cascading down her cheeks. After that, Juniper decided it was safer to keep her thoughts to herself; she did not want to upset her aunt anymore. Her train of thoughts was interrupted when a single maple leaf fell on top of her crossed legs. The single golden leaf had pirouetted down, spinning through the air as though it was being carried down. As Juniper reached out to touch the rusty golden leaf, she suddenly felt the world spinning, faster and faster. Gasping, she held on to her leaf and shut her eyes. When she felt stable again, she slowly opened her eyes. What she saw before her eyes, was even beyond her overactive imagination. Instead of its usual blue, the sky was a pale milky white. A sweet smell of honey and flowers hung in the air, and the glistening sunset far away cast an ethereal glow over the nearby crystal blue lake. Juniper, who was in awe till then, suddenly felt afraid. She felt lost and alone. “Hey! Listen!” A squeaky, almost inhuman voice called out. Juniper was startled for a moment, but then composed herself. “Down here! Come on, I don’t have all day!” the voice said. She felt a tug on her skirt and looked down to see a tiny, dwarf sized man, who looked rather cross. The strange man looked exasperated, and started tugging on her skirt, pulling her forward. “Excuse me mister, but where are we going? Where am I? Who are you?” Juniper gasped. The man let out a groan and stopped. “Alright. Listen carefully. I am Cecrops, and you have been summoned here. It’s my duty as messenger to deliver you. I am a very busy man, and I have to get back to my own home as soon as possible and tend to my flossberry plants! Now stop asking me so many questions and follow me quicky!”. “But where are we?” she breathed out, completely overwhelmed. “Isnt that a question we’d all love to know the answer to” Cecrops muttered, looking up at the startling white sky. After walking for what seemed like forever, they finally stopped. The scenery was exactly the same as when they started. The same sky, the same lake, and the same sun that seemingly never set. Except now, there was a pitch black hole on the ground. Juniper felt a sudden flush of anger, and turned around to give Cecrops a piece of her mind, only to discover that he was no longer standing behind her. ‘well, here goes nothing!’ she mentally encouraged herself, and jumped straight into the hole. When her eyes opened again, she was lying on top of a bed of roses, surrounded by lush green grass and willow trees, that went on for miles. “I must have fainted! Wow I really am a brave girl” She muttered to herself, while softly giggling. She heard a loud boisterous laugh behind her, laughing along with her. She stood up clumsily, and smoothed out the creases in her skirt. The man she saw in front of her looked much kinder than Cecrops, and roughly double his size. His smile seemed to light up the atmosphere, and his spotless white clothes exuded elegance. His sparkling brown eyes held a hypnotic power that had her glued to the spot. “Come along Juniper , there’s someone here who has been asking for you” he said, offering his hand. Wordlessly, she placed her small hand in his warm palm, and walked with him into the jungle of willow trees. So lost in her surroundings, and the unusual peace she felt, she did not even realize that they had stopped. In front of them, was a juniper tree. Its small, silver, needle like leaves were spread out in every direction, and its ripe blue berries were dangling off the hanging branches. “Juniper?” A soft voice called out. Juniper knew that voice well. It was the same voice that sung her lullabies, and lulled her to sleep at night. It was the same voice that she dreamt of every night. Juniper gasped, and ran into the arms of her mother and father. With a steady stream of salty tears flowing down her rosy cheeks, she held on to them with her head tucked underneath her mother’s arm, while her parents softly told her that they loved her, over and over again.
After what seemed like hours of complete serenity, she felt the warmth around her slowly disappear. Juniper looked around, and found herself standing right outside her modest home, clutching a maple leaf tightly. Her palm still felt warm, a sweet reminder of her journey.
Years later, Juniper lay in her creaky old bed, looking around with wet eyes at the photo frames that surrounded her. The photo frames held pictures of her aunt, her children and her grandchildren. With nimble fingers, Juniper grasped the smallest photo frame from her bed side table, and held it close to her chest. Framed in that small photo frame, was a maple leaf that meant more to her than anything on earth. She let out a shaky breath, and looked at the frame once more. The leaf was shriveled, and looked like it was almost a thousand years old. If taken out, it would surely crumble away into ashes. As one final breath escaped Junipers chapped lips, her lifeless fingers rested on top of the frame, right above her silent heart. The sky seemed white again, just as it did years ago, and the same sweet smell wafted past her. She heard the same squeaky voice, the loud laughter, and the soft voice of her mother calling out to her. When she opened her eyes, and saw familiar sparkling brown eyes, she knew she was finally home.
By Nandini Mehrotra