Welcome to Evergreen. Tis a place known to no map in the old world. Its beauty lies rich and vibrant; endless green farmland and vast woodland surround it, protect it, this village of endless spring. As residents we know not of winter, of snow or rain, we only know of warmth and the eternal youth the fruit shall bring. We are not allocated a traditional name one associates with people of a similar appearance in the old world. Instead, we are given a letter from birth by our Elders. I am K. Along with me, there are three other K’s in the village, all born on the same cycle. Teachings of the old world cite that offspring come from the womb of a woman, in Evergreen we come from the womb of the earth. We are chosen by a greater power to come to this place and mask in the beauty, forever young until the time comes for us to return from which we came. We’re assigned chores by the Elders. Some of us are assigned washing duties, others prepare the meals. And some pick – the fruit. The fruit grows in the spanning fields, spawned from some ancient and otherworldly force known only to us as - The Sea of Purple. I pick the fruit, it’s no bigger than my palm. The round squidgy texture glows with an orange shimmer. The basking colour inside makes it hard to resist, it’s inviting to just take it into your mouth and bite down. The juices would flow through our veins, making us ripe once again. However, we’re forbidden to eat the fruit by the Elders during the picking; we eat when they tell us to eat. I usually pick three baskets of fruit a day, although I can tell the quantity is dwindling as I’m struggling to now fill one. The fruit is becoming harder to find and that means a summoning by the Elders is imminent. The fields are flanked by fruit trees on either side, most of which are just shy of my height. Approaching is a familiar face. It’s one of two J’s of the village. She has pale flesh, blonde hair in a ponytail hidden behind a white veil. J’s dress is red, flowing above her tight white tunic and flaring from the waist. J and I had always been close. We’d attended the teachings of the Elders together, learning about the old world. When J was assigned picking duty I was ecstatic, spending time in this field searching for the orange glimmer all day, one can become quite lonely. ‘Good day,’ I said as we met. I looked in her basket and saw a dozen pieces of fruit, not nearly enough for this time of day. ‘The fruit runs scarce for us it would seem.’ She nodded looking down at her basket, ‘Madam Elder will be announcing a summoning any day now.’ I concurred, ‘aye, I believe it would be your time to bless the earth.’ J crouched down to the hard dirt and ran her hand over the loose gravel. ‘Tis a great honour to become one with the earth again,’ she said standing, her face falling distant. ‘I have to say that I would have enjoyed more time with you before I leave.’ Tis true; the feeling was mutual. As residents of Evergreen, we are forbidden to have any physical contact with another. Physical relations result in rotten fruit, and that could bring an end to our beautiful society. But it would be a lie to say that I didn’t feel the warmth flare in my body when I laid eyes on J. ‘Aye, it’s a shame our friendship will be over prematurely,’ I said, feeling a small ache in my chest. When we returned to the village, we placed our half-filled baskets in the temple hall ready for collection. W, who is one of the food preparers came and looked what we had managed to scrape together. He was a bullish boy with a few strands of hair mopped over his shiny head. ‘Is that it?’ he sniggered. ‘With what the others brought, I will barely be able to feed the village.’ ‘The fruit is hard to come by at the moment,’ I said. W looked up at J, ‘it shall be you who redeems the fields then, huh?’ ‘And with great honour,’ she replied without hesitation. As I made my way back to my shed I wondered about J’s words. She would have liked to spend more time with me? This sounds foreign, I’d never heard of any member of the community with a distaste of giving themselves to The Sea of Purple. A peculiar notion. Since birth from the ground I have always looked forward to when my time comes to nourish the fields. It’s our purpose to serve the Elders and give ourselves to The Sea of Purple. There was tightening in my chest, a prodding burden. I couldn’t get J out of my head, her pretty face refusing to leave my vision. I entered my shed and bolted the door. The community sheds were identical. They were made from the wood of the forest, sculptured from thick trunks. It was a haven, a place to recuperate before the next day’s hard work. We had a wooden block to lay on and rest and at the moment - think. When the dark came, we would stare out to the night sky and prey to the Great Ones, as Madam Elder taught us. They have given us a sanctuary to live until we are called back to the gut of the world, she had said on many a teaching. Yet tonight, I couldn’t forget J. Dinner was served in the temple as nightfall fell upon the village. The temple was a vast structure, towering above all else. It was where the Elder’s resided and seated the entire village, twenty-three of us on either side of the long table. At the head was another table that faced us seating the seven Elders, with Madam Elder at the center. She was tall, thin, with a mop of blonde hair to her bony shoulders. Madam Elder had small piercing eyes, hazel in colour and dressed in a long white robe with blue collar. The other Elders were matched in the same clothing. Three male and three female, all with the same stern and piercing expression as they watched us. Along the middle of the table were bowls of fruit, shining under the candlelight. Across from me sat J, the glow in her face from earlier had become absent. With a twang of the drum, Madam Elder rose, towering like a goddess. ‘As you all can see, the fruit is falling in numbers by the day,’ Madam said, her voice echoing off all the walls. ‘The time has come for a summoning, where we will grace the earth and be rewarded with new life. It is tomorrow, under the night sky where we shall present our gift to the great Sea of Purple.’ Madam Elder looked over to J and smiled, ‘do you accept this honour, child?’ she asked. ‘I do,’ J replied. Madam Elder then turned to the other J sitting further down the table, ‘and you, child?’ ‘Yes, Madam,’ the burly boy replied. ‘Then it shall be tomorrow where you shall arrive in your purest forms. Tonight, you will feast,’ Madam Elder said holding out her hands. ‘But first we pray.’ Madam Elder sat and we all placed our palms on the table in tandem. It was Papa Elder sitting to Madam’s right who spoke the words: Thank you for the fruit, It shall fill our veins and replace our blood. We shall remain young, faithful and ready at your will, when the time comes, we shall bow in all your grandeur. There is no death in Evergreen, only rebirth. It is under your guidance and grace, that we continue to live free and in paradise. Amen. ‘Amen,’ we all said together. ‘Feast, children,’ Madam Elder instructed. Then we ate and ate well. The aches in our bones vanished. The lines under the elder’s eyes reversed and youthfulness flourished across their brows. My eyes locked with J’s, a sadness laid between us that I’d never felt before. After dinner, I went back and laid in my shed, staring at nothing. J’s face, that’s all I could picture as the darkness drew in. When the knock came on my door, I sprang up, thankful for the distraction. It was J stood outside, her eyes glistening in the light of the burning torches planted around the village. ‘J, are you all right?’ I asked. She nodded and took my hand within hers. ‘It’s my last night in Evergreen, I was wondering if you’d accompany me to the place where this world falters and the next begins?’ My head told me to stay and decline the offer, if Madam Elder found out that we’d been out together then the repercussions would be dastardly. Yet, my heart pushed me out the door, my hand gripping J’s tightly. To the north of the village sat Eden hill, the tallest point that looked out over the village and endless woodland. It was forbidden to venture there, only the Elders were permitted to look beyond Evergreen. Planted in the middle of the hill was the tall oak, the tree full of bloom which held the ripest of fruit. Again, it was the Elder’s privilege to taste the fruit that fell from the tall oak. ‘I don’t think we should be up here, J,’ I said as she dragged me up the final steps of the incline. ‘I am giving myself to Evergreen,’ she replied. ‘To gaze upon where the sky ends is something I have to see.’ We reached the top of Eden and fell to the ground exhausted. Nothing could have prepared me for what flowed beneath the other side. A terrain of colour swirled in a pool of purple where the night sky ended. The greens and oranges mingled and caressed one another back and forth. The Sea of Purple. It was glorious. ‘And there it is,’ J said. ‘The place where Evergreen ends and another world begins. The Sea of Purple, the great one that comes alive when summoned.’ ‘What do you think is beyond this great sea?’ I asked fixated on the sparkling pool. ‘The book of Evergreen speak of a place not like ours.’ ‘You read Madam Elder’s transcript?’ I asked aghast. J didn’t directly answer me, she just said: ‘The book speaks of a world where people like us grow old … together. A place where the night sky is alive with twinkling light and a white sun. Tis a place where people like me and you hold one another, where we give life to offspring.’ I frowned, ‘the fruit?’ J smiled, ‘the fruit does not exist in this other place.’ ‘Then how do the Elder’s stay young?’ ‘There are no Elder’s,’ J replied. ‘In this other world, you grow old until the time is right.’ It almost killed me but I managed to pull my eyes away from the purple vortex and stared into J’s eyes. ‘I think we need to be heading back,’ I said. J smiled and nodded, ‘you know, I would enter this void now to see this other world, if only you’d come with me.’ I reclined in fear as J grabbed my hands. ‘We could be more,’ she continued. ‘Evergreen isn’t the end, there is so much more, it’s just Madam Elder is reluctant to share her knowledge. We could leave and grow old together, K. I have read the transcript and know this to be true. My heart aches as I know yours does too, we could be together in another life.’ ‘Tis true that I feel something odd whenever I think of you. Yet leaving Evergreen is not something any of us should consider. We are a family and the family needs the fruit.’ J peered down solemnly. ‘I know you’re right,’ she whispered. ‘It was unfair of me to bring you here.’ ‘No, I’m glad I saw such beauty.’ ‘It is beautiful,’ she replied staring at the void of purple. ‘I wasn’t talking about the sea,’ I said, my eyes now firmly on her. J stared back and bloomed. Back at the village I walked J back to her shed and bid her goodnight. As I strolled down the path back to my dwelling, I saw the tall imposing figure of Madam Elder stood outside the temple. ‘K, come forth,’ she said. The tone in her voice made my chest pump. ‘Yes, Madam.’ ‘What are you doing out of your shed at such a time?’ she asked. I declined to answer, one does not tell lies to Madam Elder. ‘You’ve been somewhere you shouldn’t have?’ she probed. She knows … she knows I have seen where the world bounds with another … the Sea of Purple. ‘Aye, Madam,’ I replied. ‘There is no excuse for my treason. I shall serve with any debt you deem adequate.’ Madam Elder placed her long finger against my lips and stared into my soul with those bright eyes. ‘Shushh, child,’ she whispered. ‘In Evergreen, thou shall be tested by many a thing. Tis how you come through those tests which determine what kind of Evergreen resident you are.’ I nodded. Madam said: ‘Tomorrow is the summoning, where we bring forth the great one, the one who will cherish us with life, I would like you to stand beside me, child.’ My eyes studied her, ‘that would truly be an honour, Madam,’ I said. ‘Then go and rest,’ she replied. As the warmth of day returned, I felt different. The words of Madam Elder had placed me at ease, even though she knew of my treachery. At breakfast and lunch, I kept my head down. I felt two sets of eyes staring at me as I ate: J’s and Madam Elders. They were both watching me, I could feel it, both for different reasons. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a flicker of sorrow losing my lifelong friend at the summoning. But that is what we have to sacrifice to live here in Evergreen, the eternal beauty and life comes with a price. I had to shun away those warm feelings in the pit of my stomach. I locked myself away the shed for the rest of day, surprised that there were no knocks at the door. I thought that J would give it one last attempt to run away to this so-called other “old world”. Yet, J did not come forth. Instead I was left with nothing but my thoughts and they were consumed with the Sea of Purple. The drums boomed out as darkness fell on the village. It was time. In my small wooden cabinet was the summoning attire. It consisted of a long flowing white robe, blue collar and the mask carved from the woodland trees. I placed it on the front of my face and tied the rope behind my head. The mask was heavy with thick slits chipped out where my eyes fell. The masks of the villagers matched with one another, the Sea demanded we appear equal during a summoning. Once ready I exited the shed. Many of the other residents were already stood outside with their masks on and flaming torches in hand. I grabbed my burning torch and waited patiently. The whole village fell silent. No sound other than the flickering flames. The Elder’s walked down the road, Madam’s flowing dress made her appear as though floating like some goddess. She wore the huge Elder wicker mask that matched her grandeur. Papa walked next to her followed by the other Elder’s; they strode straight ahead with purpose. Behind the Elder’s: the two J’s. Both of which were absent of clothes, their pale flesh looking as pure as when they came into this world. The village followed behind them in tandem. When the head of the group reached me, I waited to see if J would give me one last glance … she didn’t. I studied her naked body and felt that warmth enter me again. J’s long blonde hair now dropped to her bare shoulders. She was true beauty to behold, only matched by that of Evergreen and the Sea of Purple. I joined the group as the Elder’s marched us to the bottom of Eden hill. There we stopped and Madam Elder took off her mask turning to face the group. ‘Tonight, we summon the one that shall bring us fresh and eternal life,’ Madam said. ‘The great one shall take their prize and bless us with the fruit that binds us together, maybe even create us new lives to cherish.’ Madam Elder held out her arms to bring forth the two J’s. They walked up and stood beside her, one on either side. Madam bellowed: ‘The chosen ones must now leave us to rejoin with the earth from which they spawned.’ Madam Elder looked at me, a shot of cold eyes, ‘K, join me,’ she said. The group all turned and when I stepped forward, they parted without hesitation. Reaching out I took Madam Elder’s hand. She placed me next to J and I felt my heart beat faster, a longing to hold her one last time. Madam Elder continued, this time her voice louder – unworldly: ‘Great one, the one who resides in the Sea of Purple and wonder. Come forth and take these offerings we give to you. Bless us with your beauty and wonder. Silence. Followed by rumbling beneath my feet. Madam’s eyes grew bigger, ‘the great one has heard our plea, now all must shield your eyes, we are too inferior to gaze upon the great ones wonder,’ Madam said picking up her mask and placing it back upon her crown. The rumbling was followed by an almighty growl that made my ears yelp. The ground shook harder as I clenched my eyes as tight as I could. There were shrieks, whistles and gusts of wind as the darkness came alive. I twitched my hand with contemplation to reach over and take J’s. The sound boomed and was thunderous before slowly subsiding and fading away back to silence. Instinctively I reached out and grabbed nothing but thin air. ‘You are now free to open your eyes,’ Madam Elder said. Quickly, I snapped my hand back by my side before anyone had the chance to see my conflict. J was gone. ‘The great one has taken the offering, be gone now and prey that they bless us with fresh life,’ Madam ordered. The residents of Evergreen took their leave back to the village. As I went to walk, Madam grabbed my arm. ‘Tis with great bravery that you shunned your desires,’ Madam whispered. ‘You have proven yourself to be a noble resident. Perhaps there is potential to be an Elder in you,’ Madam said. ‘Really? An Elder, me?’ I asked aghast. ‘Many a more challenge shall come forth, my child. It is how you deal with those challenges which determine Elder status.’ ‘But Madam, I’m K, next in line for the summoning.’ Madam took off her mask and smiled. ‘If there is Elder status in you then the great one shall spare you, child, just as it did with me. The Sea of Purple and wonder are more than we could ever imagine. If you are chosen, there are secrets that you shall learn. Until then, rest.’ The following day I headed out to pick the fruit. Specks of crimson sprayed the fruit trees with chunks of pale flesh scattering the fields and on the floor. Crouching down I ran my hand over the remains of J, now seeding the earth. ‘Your beauty will endure,’ I said. As I stood, I peered into the distance, gazing at the shimmer of light. Flashes and sparkles of orange. Fresh fruit had begun to grow. The Sea of Purple had given us our blessing.
Ethan works for a utilities company in South Yorkshire. Currently he is editing his first novel that he hopes to be completed this year. The works of Stephen King and H.P Lovecraft are influences behind his fiction.