Queen Elizabeth still exists in the Appalachian Mountains.
Old man Volney took me down to Devil’s Elbow where a cascade froths against a corner of the mountain. The river there is rapid, deep, and dangerous even for trout.
“We gotta dive down,” he said, tying his long white beard around his neck so that, presumably, it wouldn’t catch on anything underwater. He stripped down to his underclothes.
“Can’t go entirely naked before the Queen,” he said.
I followed his lead, minus the beard-tying, and stripped down to my underclothes.
“The current will suck us right down under the cliff and spit us out on the other side.”
“And that’s where she is?”
“In a clearing just above it. A pretty ol’ place. Now jump in exactly where I do.”
He vanished into the river. I took a big breath and was pulled through the water like blood through a vein. In no time I was thrown above the surface. Spikes of sunlight danced high above me. Spluttering, I got my bearings. The old man stood on the first step of a rock staircase leading out of the grotto. I swam over to him and he hauled me up with a lumberjack’s strength.
Up the staircase we went, hugging the wall on the narrow spiraling steps. Above it was a forest of Appalachian hardwoods that gave way to an acre of luminous greenery without trees.
Something was in its center, like an assembly of gemstones blunted and faded with age.
“Is that a mushroom patch?” I said.
Old man Volney pressed a finger to his lips.
I walked behind him. The shapes and colors came into focus and my heart skipped a beat.
The old man kneeled. Before us were a thousand mushrooms and mycelium webs that formed, very roughly, the shape of the great Queen I’d seen in old portraits. Her gown was made of honey fungus and turkey tails. The gills of wooly milkcap formed the intricate pleats of her neck ruff. Sickly-white hoof fungus sprang up in a loose oval that resembled a human face. Tracing the upper arc of this face were a few scarlet cups that gave an indication of thinning red hair.
And yet lying in the moss and dirt was a necklace of very real pearls.
A voice from the earth commanded: “Kneel.”
“Have you been to England?” the voice asked sadly. “Have you seen the tors of Dartmoor, the silver Isis, the cathedrals where choirs sing matins and vespers to move the soul?”
“I have,” I said.
“Have you been to the barren North? Helvellyn, Blenchathra. Those eternal rocks swathed in snow and browning heather, not a single tree in sight. Have you seen them?”
“I have,” I said.
“And do you not miss them with all your heart?”
I could not say no to a queen, or that England had broken me, so I simply shook my head.
“Just like the others,” she said. “England isn’t your home. Nor, I assume, are these mountains. I thank my stars I will never be your queen. It is a burden to rule those who will never find a home.”
Old man Volney kissed the mushroom that formed the farthest corner of her gown. He stood up.
“Come on,” he said. “You’re not the feller I hoped you were. You’re no bard fit for a queen. She’s like leaves in the woods and won’t last long. At this point you’re just wasting our time.”
I followed him back into the forest. There he brushed aside some pine needles and opened a door in the ground.
“That’ll lead you out,” he said. “I’m sorry to say it’s nowhere near where we came in.”
“You’re not coming with me?”
“Can’t do it.”
For the last time I saw his dark eyes, white beard, and gourd-colored skin.
I passed through the door. On the other side was an ocean. I was far from Appalachia, far from my family and friends. This journey had gone so far awry that it could never be fixed. I needed someone to help me. But before I went searching for a kind soul I plopped down on the sand and looked out at the ocean. I threw shells into the waves. It was so ugly I wanted to cry.
Gregory Ariail is an avid gardener and forager from Georgia. He holds an M.A. from Oxford University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan. His writing has appeared in DIAGRAM, The Millions, and The Molotov Cocktail.
What is Gregory’s ideal vision of a post-revolutionary world? “Call me hopelessly romantic, but William Morris’s post-revolutionary utopia in News from Nowhere (1890) has always moved me. The society of this future Britain is agrarian, egalitarian, and culturally vibrant. Environmental pollution is obsolete and the water of the River Thames is glacial-clear, so pure that you can drink it. Everyone is both a farm-worker and an art-worker. The obsessive materialism of late capitalism is a distant memory. ”
Art — Aleksandra Apocalisse was born in the USSR, from which her family fled when she was only 6 years old. She spent most of my childhood and young adulthood in Brooklyn, New York until she moved to Portland, Oregon in 2015. There, she is living the dream; spending the days outside with my dog, playing in the dirt, hanging out with plants, and expressing her dreams and innermost musings through art. She also loves animals, reading, learning about nature, getting lost in music, and traveling to tropical jungles.