I woke up with her name upon my lips; such a pleasant feeling, that becomes fleeting and distant like the sound of shifting aether upon a harp. I am young, and though my room is dark, it is lit by a soft glow that comes from nowhere, but just is. The staccato ceiling reminds me of stalactites, and the shadows on the wall could be the afterglow of fairies and goblins running away and back to their holes when they saw me stirring, the sun rising, forcing them to end their midnight orgies and balls. Somewhere in the distance, I hear a windchime loudly ring off in the quiet suburban block, but next to me in the same little bed I sleep in my younger brother snores softly, unaware of anything, dreaming sweet dreams, I hope.
I have to leave this place. There is something that must be done.
I kiss the child’s brow then leave the warmth of the blankets; I am wearing a silly dinosaur shirt and blue pajama pants, and I am barefoot. I step lightly, leaving my room, and running down a long, dark hall with a wooden floor and more white walls lit by small lanterns on their tops, holding meek, silent candles. It is the kind of hall angels carry coffins of their loved ones through, when their faces cannot be seen by white hoods, and the coffin itself is a large, somber beast.
I am in the living room; there is a grungy carpet now, as well as an ugly couch, a TV and VCR on top of it, as well as a tall grandfather clock in the corner, which suddenly booms loudly. I stare at the clock and shudder for some reason before darting to the front door, and looking back one last time to the end of the living room where I know my parents slumber. They are so young, so sweet at this time, and though I’m sure I will be safe, I’m not entirely sure I will return to them the same, so I whisper to them a soft goodbye, then turn and escape through the door and into the brisk night air.
It is a Summer night, and the stars have pierced through the shroud of polluted air, and are beautiful. I look around and see no cars or people, so I step off the cement step and onto cool, wet grass, which feels pleasant, and I miss the feeling as I soon run off of our lawn and onto the jagged, sharp asphalt of the street we live on, still warm from the heat of the day. I move quickly, through streets and sidewalks, around the backyards of giant, sentinel like red apartment buildings. Lampposts illuminate everything, and if someone were to look out of there window, they might have seen me, a small, scrawny creature, pale and with bright blond hair. But I pay no heed to any of it; I am following an invisible path.
Soon, I escape the confines of the 90’s suburban world and after climbing a high fence, find myself along the banks of a chill creek. Pieces of ice float on the surface, but I know that it is shallow and not very wide, so I take off my pants, holding them above my head, grit my teeth, and quickly run through the freezing water. When I get to the other shore, I let out a small cry of pain, and clutch my numb legs, and I begin to rub them to try and bring heat back to them.
Once they feel fine again, I collect my emotions, put my jammers back on and take in my current surroundings. I’m sure the trees weren’t as tall as I remember them, but at the time, they appeared to tower over me, watching over me like giants. Fierabras. I eyed them warily, took a deep breath, and stepped into their realm, the forest, the moon lighting my path.
I wrapped my arms around myself, continuing to walk, scared by the sounds of things chirping, rustling, fluttering. Immense shadows crisscrossed around me like a sea of swords that I was stepping on the surface of. Old America and it’s spirits were still potent then, back when old timers still wandered with a singular ounce of remaining dried out, bitter, fleeting youth.
At one moment I had to stop as a band of spirits crossed my path and I could find no tree to hide behind, forcing me to stay as still as possible: perhaps fourteen see-through men in old, raggedy suits, with top hats and big, bushy mustaches suddenly wandered into the clearing. They carried with them a diverse collection of old-fashioned instruments, from guitars and mandolins to accordians, and most were smoking thick cigars but a few also held small candles in their hands. They also had opened flasks and were singing happy, old-fashioned songs but in ghostly, indefinable voices. One large fellow stepped to the side and I could see behind him was a small boy about my age, aglow with spiritual fire. The boy held a candle of his own, was wearing silk, black pants with suspenders over a white button-up shirt, and he had black hair in accompaniment with happy, sweet orange eyes. He turned his head, and saw me; I felt a shiver of fear run up my spine. But the boy simply smiled at me, waved, and continued with his merriment, along with the rest of the old time spirits as they left the path and continued on their way through the forest. But I still didn’t move, for I couldn’t get over the mark I had seen that had been carved onto the boys hand; the bloody image of a house on fire.
I heaved a heavy sigh; I only had to stop once more, as a second series of ancient things crossed my path, the great golden, glowing spirits of bizarre animals, with heads like that of lions, bodies of dolphins and the wings of moths. I was so terrified, I had to close my eyes, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I must say, it’s such a bizarre feeling to forget how to breathe for a moment; you focus on the thing that is stopping you from moving your chest, and it fills your eyes, but your eyes and lungs are suddenly one yet you can move neither for a second but that second feels like an eternity and then you jarringly regain the knowledge that you have lost, and there is this bizarre, triumphant feeling as you take in air again, as if you won a battle that you didn’t know you were going to fight and what you see in your eyes and lungs is suddenly before you, but there are no distractions and there is a moment of clarity. I had this feeling, staring into the bodies of those terrifying things that exist above and across, and I knew it was a sign that I was close to my destination.
After what felt like hours, where my feet were made cold from dirt that has been too long in shadow, I finally found a circular, round clearing, free of the presence of both titans and nephilim. Once upon a time, a theater, and in the center of the stage was a shadowy being, barely discernible in the illumination that came from nowhere but the hallowed Earth itself. I called to him, a pathetic mewl, but there was no response, just a soft, gentle ‘shooshing’ noise, like the sound of a breeze stepping upon cold, trickling river stones.
I ran my small hands through my hair, moving golden bangs, and bit my lips, wrapping my arms around myself. I stepped into the circle, very cautiously, until the figure was more defined; he wore a brilliant, bright green mask that fit his face, and this mask was made out of a multitude of green leaves that fell down his face as a green beard. Dark, black hair that was straight fell to his shoulders, and his hair matched the color of his eyes, of which no reflection of light could be seen in their black voids. He was wearing dark, loose robes, and the scent of strange but sweet spices could be smelled. He was sitting in the zen position, legs crisscrossed, and his dark, tan palms were resting on his knees. Sometime earlier he he must have set a fire, for smoke drifted up from the ground in front of him.
When I was closer, I jumped slightly, for though he had been motionless, his right hand was suddenly raised, for a pause, but then he brought the rest of his right arm, still held aloft to the right side of his body. He stood, and then turned his whole body to the right, like how when you push the left-side door of a building to let yourself in. He was looking at me while I did this, before making a slight bow. My hazel-green eyes grew wide with understanding; he wanted me to keep walking forward.
Before I did though, I darted to the firepit and grabbed two pieces of still smokey but strong twigs. I took a rubber band that I still had in my pocket and wrapped it where I had them meet, forming a tiny but perfect enough cross. I didn’t necessarily think it would help me, but I felt better with it. Then, having made it, I looked at my guide, who was still waiting for me patiently. I hadn’t noticed before, but little white flowers were growing out of his verdant, mossy beard, and he wore a golden shirt underneath his robes that was inlaid with shining jewels.
With all distractions taken care of, I inhaled, held it in, slowly let it out and began walking forward, the spirit of the forest following a few steps behind me.
It didn’t take long before I was at the place I needed to be; a huge, black oak tree, massive and intimidating, with branches that seemed to be slashing out at the darkness of space itself, and surrounding it’s surface entirely was cool, white fire, playful, seeming to dance like a million white butterflies. It suddenly came out of the path in front of me, this burning tree, as if waiting for this moment as well, and together, I had to gasp, for the tree and the fire were both just so beautiful together, intense but comforting. I stood there watching and stayed that way for what felt like many very long hours, just staring at this beauty of an angel that was before me, feeling the warmth emanating from the two of them together, for the fire never seemed to grow small and the tree never seemed to burn. I oohed and awed, in giggling, childish amazement at such a wonderful, gorgeous and sublimely celestial and beautiful sight. My eyes were wide with such joy, and let this be known, that that brief second I had with that fire and that tree is and always will be the greatest second of my life.
But it was a moment not meant to last.
A cold wind, unnoticeable at first, began to blow. Firstly, it was at the bottom of my feet, but it blew up, rustling fallen leaves, and the fire began to shiver and the oak began to moan in pain. I saw this, and my cheerful expression began to change into something more dour, as I saw the evil that was at work begin to unfold.
From the fire, I saw flashes of things sick and solid; flecks of ice. At first the pieces were small and unnoticeable, but soon they reached out, becoming bigger, taking up more of the fire’s place, consuming the flames, which began retreating inwards. The flames, in turn, tried to take a bit more fuel from the tree to combat the coldness. And here’s the part that kills me, that makes my gut wrench, because no matter how the fire tried to spread, the tree beneath it wouldn’t burn. But the branches of the tree were suffering from the cold too, and were themselves beginning to freeze, and the once mighty oak tree began to shrink in size as well.
I couldn’t stand-by for another second. I tried to look around on the ground for a rock, or something I could use as a tool or for a hammer. At that moment, I looked up to see the man with the leaf mask shudder violently, and the once splendid leaves upon his face began to yellow and fly away en masse.
“No!,” I screamed! Unable to find anything of use, I remembered the little cross I had in my hands. I eyed it; so small, gentle, but it looked so strong. It would have to do.
As I turned and ran to the tree, I saw the forest spirit out of the corner of my eye suddenly burst into a cloud of yellow leaves, his robes unwinding themselves into thread as they all hit the ground without sound. I was sad, but turned forward again to face the tree and fire, which were quickly becoming more and more like a glacier and ran toward it as fast as I could.
Finally, when I was at the skin of the ice, I took my tiny cross and with all my strength, tried to begin chipping away at the beast while dried, dead leaves stormed around my head like a tornado. And indeed, drops of ice were struck off, hitting my face with coldness that felt like bullets, hurting me, but alas, my efforts were miniscule and not nearly enough to slow the doom down.
I screamed no! continuously, constantly, until my voice and throat were raw and sore, but soon, the tree, fire and ice were all but one block that was smaller than the entirety of me; the oak tree itself looked not unlike a sapling, that was constantly growing smaller.
Giving up, I dropped the little cross I had made and began sobbing vehemently, wrapping my arms around what remained of it all, desperately trying to use my own heat to melt away the ice, but to no avail, only growing intensely numb in coldness as well. When I hugged the ice, I was resting on my knees, but soon, I was laying on the ground, face in the mud, not knowing what had happened. I just lay there, crying.
Tears still streaming down my sorrow contorted face, I pushed myself up after what felt like a million eternities of nothing but sadness, to see that my arms, body and clothes were all extremely muddy, and I was staring into a puddle that showed only my own heartbroken visage. I reached into the puddle with my fingers to see that my hands were covered in nothing but wet, cold ash.
I took my hands, my whole body shaking, and rubbed them against my face, feeling the shape of my nose, cheeks and little lips. And then I ran my hands through my hair, darkening the strands. Soon, my face was so dark, it was unrecognizable.
I screamed one final time again, up at the sky, alone, muddy, at midnight, in the forest of spirits.
And I knew I would be alone as such for the rest of my life.