The rustling sounds stilled her, drawing her eye line between the wilting and sorrowful leaves drenched in sunlight grasping onto eschew branches.
The brush was almost too thick to peer through, but she caught the movement of antlers stretched into the sky above; white like milk, clear against the green. A deer’s face peered around through it, startling her.
Her gasp caught the attention of the animal, its whole head moving in order to gaze its ink-like eyes at her, its twitching ears moving into two stiff horns. The two dark eyes stared into her. Layer after layer those eyes peeled back and she felt the gaze in the palms of her hands. The burning blankness of black was nothing but animal instinct and human intensity. She got the itching feeling that a long time has passed since something has looked at her; that a gaze is an unspoken connection between her and the breaths that the deer huffed in stilted silence. Goosebumps rose up on her arms.
She moved her hand to cover her mouth and the movement made the deer turn tail. The sound of the rustling bushes became the only proof of its presence.
As she looked around, a warm sort of confusion settled within her. She asked herself where and what she was doing before arriving at this spot in the forest where the sun seemed a little too bright. Everything felt off-kilter, but she couldn’t place her finger on why that was.
Rows of trees stacked on top of one another stretched to an impossible height and teetered up an incline. They were green, she noted, and pine. Little birds twittered off in the distance, their calls watery and thin, echoing into the cacophony and bleeding to nothing. She looked up to see the sun centered in the sky shining rays between the branches of lodgepole pines.
Although the columns of sunshine seemed inviting and floated clouds of particles within the beams, the warmth didn’t penetrate her skin. She shook her hands out to bathe in the sun. She didn’t feel much of anything.
Where am I? She asked no one but herself. That unsettling feeling grew a bit more in the pit of her stomach.
She began to walk in the same direction she saw the deer.
Into the Box
With a broken doll in her hand and a hand even quicker to her head, she stood in the silent pit of cooling fear; the one that addresses the pull of flight and dips into the fantasy of fleeing before being dropped right back down into the hold of reality.
She didn’t quite remember upsetting him; she just wanted to play with her doll. She didn’t mean to break her toy; it was barely held together anyways.
“Now you must understand,” he huffed between staggering breaths on his cigarette, pulling at the base of her hair, “I only do this for your own good. Children need to learn how to behave.”
“No papa! Please, I promise I’ll be good. I’ll never do anything bad. Please,” a sob caught in her throat, as she tried to pull his hands off her head. His hand pulled at the root of her hair, the strands of it wrapped around each of his fingers like rings.
She hated how she could feel every strand of her hair being pulled into tiny pin points across her scalp. The smell of her papa’s cigarette smoke was rough against her throat, burning the inside of her nose from the proximity. She coughed between sobs, unable to get a proper breath in, the sound of her breathing scraped and rattled around inside her chest, before escaping into a sound like wind squeezed between two narrow pipes.
“Into the box,” he said. His nonchalant coldness echoed the hollowness in his eyes, and if he could feel the intensity of her fear then he could reclaim what was lost in the past burned away by his papa. But that quiet forgiveness that is held for ourselves burns anger to apathy to those too broken to identify the cause. The girl knew this about her papa; that the coldness within his heart tapered like the ash on his cigarette, burning and burning until it came to nothing at his fingertips.
Her heart dropped to the pit of her stomach and it was the only thing she could feel; the rush of blood pumped from adrenaline turned cold and moved sluggishly over the lump there. The long sobbing, scraping breathing had taken her voice from her, and she knew the definitiveness of her papa’s word. The box was the silence of her thought and the incongruous feeling growing in her heart.
His grip on her head tightened to an impossible hold and her eyes swam with flecks of black and her field of vision narrowed. The approaching blackness of the box swam in her mind, and it was like she was already there.
He grabbed her beneath her arms, the tops of her feet dragging behind her like a rag doll. She couldn’t feel what was going on, she had already numbed herself, hollowing out every emotion inside her until there was nothing left.
You’re my Best Friend
“You’re my best friend,” he said, taking her hand in his and tugging her along the path. She was suddenly somewhere else. Her head felt like it was floating between two places; one piece in front of her, barely out of reach, and a fuzzy loss of memory dropped deep down the valley of her mind.
Her friend kept his head turned from her so she couldn’t see his face. She couldn’t see the color of his clothes in the darkness either or the shade of his hair. He was an enigma all except for the shadow of his back carved into the sight in front of her.
Around them, fireflies burst into the sky, illuminating the valley below in faint hues of pressed-out oranges, fuzzy against the edges of the trees. The night air cooled her skin, wiping away the heat of the day. Her eyes were drawn to the unfamiliar sights around her, blooming like cotton in her throat. Stars twinkled above her like little magnets on the dark canvas, drawn to the shape of the glowing moon.
Dust kicked up under their feet as they continued to ascend the path, floating particles caught flaring, just barely, in the dim light. His hand was warm in hers, a comforting presence that radiated under her skin. It reminded her of a feeling from long ago, slipped through the strands of time, the outline of which had faded to dust in her memory but the sticky left-over bits glued itself to her heart. Those feelings wove themselves into memories she couldn’t grasp, like a web holding her together, but she was just a shell of impressions. The big memories passed through the gaps but the small things clung to the spider’s silk.
The path winded down the side of the mountain, and looking out at the valley below, she saw it was dotted with trees. She liked the way the trees passed by her, the night turning them into dark structures pressed into the looming shadow of the mountain. It seemed almost sinister, she thought, the way the moonlight illuminated the mountain path but only dusted the tops of the pines. That feeling crept up within her, the sinister one that turned the dark several shades darker and wiped the moon from the sky.
She gripped her best friend’s hand tighter, clinging onto this bit of reality.
When they reached the end of the path, the sky now eclipsed by trees, her friend turned towards her. She still couldn’t make out his face, couldn’t comprehend the shape of it in her mind, but his emotions passed through her like water.
A smile stretched from one end of her friend’s face to the other. “Come,” he excitedly whispered, “she’s here.”
They slipped between two trees that seemed like they did not belong; against the others, they looked like a watercolor painting faded by age, the vibrancy long lost to a veil. The tips of the trees slipped to the sky in shades of dark green, tall spherical towers of pine stretched to the stars above. The longer she looked up, a faint tingle crawled up from the back of her head and stretched a hand across her scalp. The feeling itched its way down her spine, plucking the nodes and pooling itself in her lower back.
A Ghost Lady
The woman stood amidst the animals, movements slow and precise, dancing alone in the forest clearing.
Her hands plucked the air from the sky and stuck the moon in her eyes. Long hair cascaded down her back and pooled at her feet. Little white flowers and vines wrapped around her hair starting from the circlet on her head down to the moss-covered ground. As she danced, her white sleeves and flowy dress floated and caught the wind, the long ends of her sleeves balanced in the air and defying gravity. The woman’s back was turned to her, solely focused on her audience of deer and rabbits that gathered starlight around them in her presence.
The girl was caught up in the way that the woman moved. Entranced so much that time seemed faint and she didn’t notice that her best friend disappeared into the night, dissipating like a shadow, the trace of his handprint a smudge on hers. His presence faded to nothing except the impression in her heart where she would look to a feeling long forgotten.
The woman stirred another feeling within her. As she watched her dance, the movement like the cycles of the earth, water pushed back to the tide, and the beginning of spring, she felt the calling to some greater thing her mind had yet to comprehend. Her message was sweet and gentle, yet firm.
The woman stopped dancing with a light bow to the deer nearest her. With the end of the show, the animals sank back into the forest, the dark swallowing shadows of antlers and bunny tails.
“Come dear,” she said, her voice like a dancing light, thin and airy enough to dance off into the sky. She turned her ink-like eyes towards her, and the young girl noticed that the pupils were like obsidian orbs almost iridescent from the reflection of the lantern next to her. They were intense, seemingly picking her apart within her gaze. But it also filled her with a warmth, a kindness that made her feel like she was floating away and lighter in all the ways her heart has never been.
The woman gathered her sleeves into her lap and sat on a moss-covered stone. She patted a spot on the ground next to her.
The young girl approached her with little hesitation, tucking her dress under her knees as she sat with her legs crossed. She was turned away from the woman, only the faint glow of her in the peripheral of her eye. In front of her, the forest warped to one color, shifting this way and that in the color of the dark.
The woman undid the ties in her hair, letting the honey blonde trickle down her back. She used her fingers to comb through it, the feeling lulling the girl to a steady calm. The pinching and pulling feeling the girl couldn’t shake was slowly shaved down every time the woman reached the end of her hair. The young girl didn’t notice the chaos within her until it was gone.
Her fingers danced delicately across her hair and large, billowy white sleeves brushed against her face and back. The lantern floated next to her, and as the young girl looked out the corner of her eye, the sleeves turned translucent when back lit by the yellow glow. They reminded her of pillowy clouds on a clear summer’s day.
As the woman braided, she wrapped little purple, white, and yellow flowers with tiny petals into her hair. Their scent wafted up and the girl considered them to be quite mellow and pleasant. Every now and then, little petals broke off from the flowers and gathered in her lap. She placed each of them into the palm of her hand to stroke the silky smoothness of them.
Neither the girl nor the woman spoke. Quiet stretched out between them but the young girl couldn’t help the curiosity arising within her. She rubbed her thumbs together before a question she’s been holding onto for a very long time tumbled out of her.
“Do you know where my home is?”
The woman let out a little hum. “Isn’t your home here little daisy?”
The girl pondered this for a moment. She didn’t know anything else, so who is to say that it isn’t. The only recent memory she has is of the forest and waking up in a fit of flowers, so wouldn’t it be fair for her to assume that she belonged here? The answer felt right in the weight of her body, the ache of her heart, but a clinging worry wouldn’t allow her to accept it fully.
“I’m lost. I don’t know where I am. Everywhere I go, the forest looks the same,” she said, her face twisting up.
The woman didn’t answer her as quickly as last time. The soothing pressure of the braid didn’t let up and more flowers gathered around her face. An owl hooted in the distance, far off from where they were, a tick of time in the timeless clearing.
Silence lingered but not in an uncomfortable way. Although the girl couldn’t help but feel that the quiet was the woman’s answer, that some piece of missed clues was hers and hers alone to find.
“I forgot,” the young girl finally admitted. It was like a pressure balloon building up inside her letting out all of its air.
“Sometimes we forget where we were so that we can get to where we’re going,” the woman said, her fingers coming to a stop at the end of the braid.
The woman stood up and stretched out her hand. They left the clearing and weaved between the trees, the young girl in awe by the woman’s floating lantern that followed them everywhere. Occasionally, animals would peek their heads out before skittering away.
“Little daisy,” the woman whispered. She pointed to a spot of lavender under a tree, the faint dusting of dawn pearling them with light. The tree’s branches all pointed down with sadness as if it was weeping.
Oh, was the only thing the girl thought. The pieces began to find themselves, and the woman’s hand slipped from hers like a cool piece of jade.
Near the tree, a deer with antlers dipped its head low to the ground, starlight clinging onto its head, shining unnaturally in the fading slumber of the night.
I’ve found you again.
And she sat on the ground; and where her bones separated from the flesh of her skin, sprung lavender, fresh on a spring day. Moss covered the ground, yet this strange place was softer and brighter than other parts of the forest, with its sprigs of the purple plant defying the odds to exist.
She took the stems between her fingers, feeling the silkiness of it as it stretched into leaves, before plucking a couple of flowers. As the sky began to pitch to violet hues, the dark indigo dropping into painted colors of deep reds and oranges, her eyes drooped from sleepiness. The woman’s touch still lingered on her head and it spread warmth, like fingers running through her hair.
She tucked the sprigs behind her ears, long stems twisting into the strand of hair braided down her back, standing out against the little flowers placed there. There it rose like a mist lulling her into sleep, tucking her back into the ground, where her tired body finally met the earth and it reached up to catch her bones. The weeping tree groaned as water trickled down its branches, fat tears watering the ground.
And at last, she closed her eyes.
She slept until the deer stopped at the edge of her feet, awakening her for another warm sun, and for all the love the earth had yet to give its children forgotten.
I’ve found you again.