The elements for Round 9 were: listening to headphones, catching a butterfly, parachute, lightning bolt, rainbow, teepee, stone bridge over water, sleeping person
I may have missed another round due to writing too many stories and liking none of them. But I would still like to keep a record of them here, for myself even if no one else reads them. I almost hope no one else reads them because then I don't have to regret subjecting them to my writing. I know that's not the best way to sell my work, but.....
The first story I don't like because there's too much truth in it and because I kept writing for a long time after fitting all the elements in, so it's not as concise as it could be and new pieces keep appearing after I try to declare it finished. The surplus of truth is that I feel exactly as Allyssa does about the concept of home--or its absence. Because a house and a home are not the same thing at all, and having a place away from my parents is like a wish flitting past my face yet just beyond my reach on butterfly wings that I am not swift enough or graceful enough to catch. And I am extremely unskilled at living in the right reality.
Home is Where the Heart Finds Peace
The old stone bridge near my new home is at its most beautiful at midnight. When the sky falls into darkness and is relit with stars, the lanterns in the park glow to life and cast shimmering reflections that ripple across the surface of the lake. A stillness hangs in the air at night, deeper than the silence left by the absence of birdsong and passersby, softer than the calming of restless wind. The scenery is not asleep in this stillness; it merely holds its breath and waits. For what, I do not know. The light of dawn? The footsteps of a lonely traveller? The end of time? I doubt that I will guess its expectations of the future, but when I witness the beauty of this moment of stillness I cannot help but pause in my tracks and absorb the peaceful anticipation that hums through the silent, windless air.
And then I turn back, every time, feeling satisfied that my midnight stroll is complete and forgetting that I intended to wander to the other side of the bridge.
Tonight I pause on my doorstep reaching for my key, and I suddenly wonder what enchantment keeps me from crossing that bridge. I hesitate, glancing down the path behind me as my fingers grasp the key hanging from my neck and trace the shape of the heart on it. It is late, and I have already wandered home. I am too tired to wish to return to the bridge at this moment to explore further, but I promise myself that tomorrow I will not turn back before I see the other side.
I could have sworn the mailbox was empty a moment ago, but perhaps in this dim lighting I failed to notice the package in it. To be honest I didn’t even notice where the mailbox was until now; I vaguely thought it would be on the door or something, but it’s in the wall beside the door. Normally I don’t pay attention to the mail because I know it will all be for my roommates, since after only the few days I’ve been staying here any mail I happen to get will still arrive at my parents’ house. Yet this one is different. For some reason -- possibly the way it seemed to spontaneously spring into existence when I wasn’t looking, or the way it bulges out of the mailbox just begging to be taken out, or the way the envelope has my name on it -- this package intrigues me and before I finish asking myself what on earth it could be it is already open in my hands.
A small square of paper flutters to the ground. I stoop to pick it up, the rest of the contents of the package still weighing down my hand with curiosity. For Allyssa, it reads when I tilt it toward the light of the lamp above me.
Take a leap of faith,
And when you do, be safe.
Unfolding my gift, I discover it to be a parachute.
I ponder this mysterious delivery as I wander inside, locking the door again behind me and pouring a glass of water without bothering to turn on the kitchen light. Who would have given me a parachute? And how long past midnight must it be, for the house to be silent and dark?
My feet carry me slowly and carefully downstairs, and my path through the darkness is lit by memory almost but not quite as clearly as day. I turn to the left, take two more steps, and walk to the left again, past the curtains that form the walls between the laundry room, storage space, cats’ room, and the room I rented for this month. The sheer curtain in my doorway falls closed behind me, and I am no longer in darkness. I smile at the sleeping form of my boyfriend who left the fairy lights on for me, but then my smile fades because I am caught by how peaceful he looks under these out of season Christmas lights that line the edges of the art room’s ceiling and twinkle over my bed in the corner like multicoloured starlight. For a moment, the beauty is too painful to appreciate. I try not to see in his closed eyes the crinkles that conquer those eyes when he smiles, that will squeeze narrower the windows to his soul and shield him from my laughing gaze. I tell myself I don’t know how to feel true happiness, but when he opens his eyes and smiles at me for a moment, I let my heart soak in the warmth and hope with all my might that I will never let it fade.
I leave the parachute on my little bookshelf and the half empty glass of water on the tea table before I turn off the lights and change into pajamas.
Take a leap of faith. I hear the words echo in my mind through the darkness.
I undo the clasp of my necklace and return my house key to its drawer of my jewellery box.
My whole life is holding its breath like the stillness of that stone bridge at midnight. I am a bird standing at the edge of a branch with wings spread open wide but without the confidence to test them in the sky. My life has been holding its breath for so long that I worry I forget how to breathe.
I slip under the covers and wrap the waiting pair of warm arms around me, snuggling closer into the comfort of a familiar body that fits around me like it belongs there. He shifts and hugs me tighter, and I kiss the arms that hold me as I close my eyes. Sleep is but a momentary rest before I face the world anew and attempt that proposed leap of faith into my future, yet I am not certain that I will ever wish to wake from my life’s temporary stillness.
I dream that I am in the stairwell of a familiar building. The walls are grey and dimly lit, and all that they contain is the flickering silence of mostly absent footsteps.
A student hesitates by the door on the third floor landing. Her boyfriend hugs her tightly, almost as if he could squeeze into her the confidence in herself that he has in her. She kisses him goodbye; he walks back down the stairs, and she puts her hand on the doorknob, pauses, then walks through.
I wait here because I know she will return.
The silence of the stairwell is sparsely broken by the echo of passing footfalls. I stand barefoot on the concrete floor, a softly glowing presence invisible to all who pass me. I offer each of them a handful of light as they walk by, hoping to brighten their day with a little of the happiness and peace that I am made of. Each of these strangers leaves the stairwell with a lightness in their step or a sparkle in their eye that they either do not notice or cannot place the reason for. I pace in a small circle on the third floor landing with the tips of my folded feather wings brushing against the walls, and I watch trails of my light shift across the floor like shadows that lighten instead of darkening.
Soon the door opens, and she enters the stairwell again. She walks almost in a trance, her eyes closed, her feet shaking. A few steps forward, then she stops, then she starts up again. I ask her quietly, as gently as I can, to please return where she belongs, and unlike the others I know she can feel my presence but she chooses to ignore me. She walks as though the only direction that matters is up: speeding up, slipping up, taking up her time trying to run away. Up, up, up…
How many floors does this building even have?
She stops on the thirteenth floor and looks over the railing.
No, I say with a firm warning in my voice. Not happening under my watch.
I wrap my arms around her to steady her as she analyses the distance straight to the bottom of the stairwell. She balances against the railing, still slowly swaying, and I feel her panicked heartbeat pounding through me as I try to pull her away. She turns back, shakes her head to clear it, descends one floor… but then she hesitates once more and the darkness roaring inside her slowly pushes her to continue up the stairs…
On the top floor she falls against the railing again. The ground looks so far below that the floor seems to spin in her eyes. Or is it just the lightness of her head that makes her dizzy?
I feel every frantic pinprick of her pain and every overwhelming wave of her despair, and I try to comfort her by wrapping her in the safety of my soft white wings. She sways forward over the edge of the railing, away from me, toward the window in the shadowed grey wall across the emptiness through which she longs to fall.
“You never jump,” she mutters to herself. “You never do. This time won’t be any different; you’ll live through it.” But I don’t want to live through it, I hear the shadows in her whisper.
When she tries to swing one leg up onto the railing I yank her back and pin her to the ground. Her eyes are dark with shadows, her face stony and frightened. With my hands pressing her shoulders firmly into the stairwell floor and my face hovering directly, invisibly above hers, I stare those shadows in the eye and order them to leave her be. She convulses with pain as they writhe in resistance to my light and tear her insides to shreds. Tears run down her face as she inhales my light and the darkness in her burns. Then she coughs violently, expelling the writhing shadows like tendrils of smoke. They catch in her throat and almost choke her, but she spits them out in a puff of smouldering black feathers.
An angel of darkness flies to the windowsill, shaking the smoke and embers from her singed wings. She glares at me, but her cold stare does not freeze me. The eyes that meet her gaze burn with life. Go, I tell her, and be in peace, but do not linger here if you would cause this person harm. The dark angel opens the window and flies off into the stormy sky. Raindrops splatter across the windowsill, and a crack of lightning shines in the distance.
Allyssa, I tell the girl as she hesitantly rises to her feet, still weak from the darkness that had possessed her, you are worth so much more than this.
She looks out at the view from this height and sees the world stretched out before her, illuminated by the electric glow of a second flash of lightning. The dimly lit stairwell feels like a prison, and the shuffling of papers and scratching of pencils still echo in her mind. Storms rage beyond the walls, unknown and terrifying, but free, begging her to escape her bubble of fear.
Life is so much more than this.
In the morning – well, when I wake up; I’ll call it morning – I find another package in the mailbox. This one is a set of headphones that come with the note "Listen to your heart". I wonder where all these cliché sayings and odd gifts are coming from.
I examine the headphones, purple and unextraordinary, and for some reason I decide to put them on my head even though they are not attached to anything that would play sound. And inexplicably I hear a song:
"There is a darkness in me,
A shadow I cannot shake and cannot cure;
All I can do is carry
This burden through all the days I can endure.
So I must, at my darkest, shine with all my might;
I must be my own angel of light."
I take the headphones off and toss them onto the shoe rack beside the door, because this is not a song I want to hear. I want to pretend there is no shadow hanging over my freedom and joy, even if it isn’t true.
It isn’t until my last night here that I pick up the headphones again on my way out for my evening stroll. There is a restlessness in my feet that I can’t control, and I worry a little about the fact that nowhere in this world feels like home anymore. I am only at home with the wind in my hair and the road beneath my feet. Home isn’t a place anymore. It is the company of people I love; it is peace of mind; it is freedom, possibility, and hope. It is completely lost. I don’t know where tomorrow will take me until the day comes and I find out where the wind will carry me.
I place the headphones over my ears as I walk because a part of me wonders where my heart believes I should let the wind take me next.
"The world is so vast I don’t know where to start;
There are too many wonders to see.
Life’s awesome and all, but I don’t like this part:
Choosing what kind of person I’ll be.
Oh what do I do? I would follow my heart
But my heart says, 'What? Don’t look at me!'"
Well that’s helpful. Even my heart doesn’t know.
I find myself humming along to the melody as I wander, and my feet fall into step with the rhythm. This old song of indecision is one I know well, and it repeats several times in my ears.
"The world is so vast I don’t know where to start;
There are too many wonders to see."
I pause on the abandoned train tracks a couple alleys and pathways along, in order to take in how perfect the sky looks at this moment. On one end of the tracks, to my left, the sunset is captured precisely in the break the tracks form between treelines, and streaks of light stretch out through the surrounding clouds in brilliant gold, pink, and purple. On the other hand, to my right are misty rainclouds dispersing to clear space for an increasingly vibrant rainbow that arches perfectly over the train tracks like a little bridge through the sky. If I had a camera I would capture the view in photographs, but instead I focus on taking pictures with my memory. I almost want to turn and continue down the train tracks for a while to keep this image in my eyes for longer, but I can’t decide which direction is prettier.
"Life’s awesome and all, but I don’t like this part:
Choosing what kind of person I’ll be."
The peaceful, unquestionable and unassuming beauty of this rainbow reminds me of the stone bridge over the lake ahead. I take one last look in each direction and continue onward, leaving both stunning views from the train tracks behind. Tonight I will remember to cross that bridge.
There is a cat that likes to lurk on the path near the children’s park with sprinklers. I’m not sure why it chooses this area to lurk in because every now and then it will narrowly miss being sprayed with water, leap aside and hiss viciously at the innocent splashing children. The only explanation I can think of is that it enjoys lingering just at the edge of danger and discomfort so that it can complain about its near misfortunes (or that it lives nearby, but the former thought is more interesting and less rational). This evening it is amusing itself by pursuing a butterfly, stalking its prey and pouncing just as the creature flutters away and flits just beyond its reach. As I pass them and observe the dance the feline and flutterer make around each other, the butterfly darts across the lake with tiny wingbeats and fades into the misty distance, uncaptured. The cat paces on the shore and then sits at the edge of the lake and stares across into the mist with almost exactly the same expression I am sure I wear upon my face each time I gaze at the bridge.
This time when I reach the bridge the overpowering silence is drowned out by the song playing at full volume on my mysterious purple headphones.
"Oh what do I do? I would follow my heart
But my heart says, 'What? Don’t look at me!'"
I fail to hear the silence of scenery holding its breath, and my own breath fails to catch, just as my step fails to pause. For the first time, I step onto the bridge and traverse the misty lake without stopping in the middle to listen to the ever-present silence of stars and hushed wind.
As soon as my feet touch the other side, and the rain-drenched grass soaks my sandals, my music abruptly changes. At first all I hear is the hushed instrumental opening of a new song. Then slowly my eyes take in the forested path, and the rhythm grows less hushed and more mysterious. I follow, as the music grows swifter and more intense to keep pace with my accelerating steps and increasing anticipation. My feet feel the pull of the wind, and I almost want to fly. I inhale, let the wind rush through me and cleanse me as the music flows to my ears like pure, delicious, sparkling water or like light seeping into my veins to wash the shadows from my heart. And then I let go, and I become the wind. Trees are a blur of misty green and the grass is a streak of raindrop-coated sky through which I soar.
This song has no room for lyrics, and the rhythm of my thudding heart comprehends it beyond words. It sings of what I feel beneath my worries, doubts, and repeating unnecessary thoughts. It plays with a self-assured certainty, a freedom of heart that I wish I felt. It almost makes me glow with the depth of its beauty. I cannot possibly hope to describe how terribly, delicately, delightfully fulfilling it sounds to have the song your own heart is pulsing with playing audibly in your ears, when your heart is momentarily free of its burdens and the quiet melody of the little bead of everlasting light and joy deep within can be heard.
If I could run forever, I would. If I had wings, I would never leave the sky. I would make my life a journey that never paused and I would make the wind my home.
But I am human, and the distance I run is not endless. When I finally slow to a halt on this forested path, I find myself in a grassy clearing sprinkled with clover and dandelions, and before me stands a teepee. It looks empty, but it smells of cedar, leather, and campfire smoke; it does not feel abandoned. It feels like a home, not just some unknown person’s dwelling but a place that I am welcome in and walls within which I belong.
I step inside, and notice the campfire smell is mixed with the smoke of sweetgrass, sage, and tobacco, though I see no evidence of any still burning. What I do see beside the cedar branches on the floor is a package with similar wrapping to the curious mail I have been receiving this month, and like the two others it is labelled with my name, Allyssa. I cannot help but open it.
I don’t want to leave.
I pack all my things on the last day of the month, but I cannot bring myself to ask for the help of a car to drive them back to my parents’ place. I sit on the bed in the pretty room in the basement and try not to feel as distraught or as lost as I am. I try not to think about the fact that I don’t know the meaning of home anymore.
I wake up from an accidental nap with a little black kitten in my arms. This is the kitten that climbed into my laundry basket earlier this afternoon, and when he didn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon I just carried the basket over to the drier to dump the new load of clothes on top of him. He is kind of adorable. I will miss the cats that live here.
The kitten stirs when I shift to get up, and I try not to wake him because of how cute he looks in his sleep. I vaguely wander upstairs to see what time it is, wash all the dishes, and grab the tin with the rest of the tiny muffins I made this morning. I linger on the couch with my roommates, munching on my muffins as night falls and it becomes too late to leave. I feel increasingly heartbroken and anxious the longer I put off my departure.
“Can I hug you goodnight?” Amanda asks when everyone is finally heading to sleep.
I hesitate. I feel too weak to stand and wrap my arms around her. I feel that if I let her hug me, she will squeeze my heart like a sponge soaked with tears that I am only barely managing to keep inside.
Finally I say, “I am too heartbroken to hug you.”
She doesn’t like that answer. “That only makes me need to hug you more!”
I collapse inward under the weight of her caring arms. She doesn’t let go until Rachel takes over the hug, and Rachel holds me until I stop shaking from repressed sobs.
I don’t want to fall apart where I can be seen by the people who care about me. I don’t want to fall apart at all. But I do, and Amanda stays up until 2am talking with me. If it were up to my best friend, she would keep me there for as long as I wanted to stay. But I can’t call a place home if I am not wanted there by even one person, and Rachel does not want anyone living in the basement permanently.
When Amanda goes to sleep I sit in the basement petting the little black kitten for several minutes. Then I fetch the container of chocolate ice cream I have stored in the extra freezer in the laundry room, unpack a spoon I bought earlier in the month for a dollar at Walmart to eat a tub of ice cream while my boyfriend got his hair cut, and eat the last of my food under the multicoloured lights. Now that I am alone, I do not try to force back the tears. My midnight snack of richly creamy chocolate tastes like salt.
In the morning I feed my friends’ cats and do the cat litter, wash a few more dishes, and cook the last of my eggs and mushrooms while I bake another batch of muffins. I enjoy the eggs, but the peanut butter chocolate chip muffins are terrible this time. I’ve made much better batches.
Still I pack the red muffin tin into my bag, because it’s all the food I have except for walnuts, the remains of four different chocolate stashes, and baking ingredients.
I know I can’t procrastinate anymore. But even if my parents’ house will feel vaguely like home it will also feel like….. a slow and painful death beginning with the soul, then creeping into the lungs, then crushing the heart, then clouding the head and then just generally swallowing the rest of me. It will feel like a cage that I will die if I can’t escape from, but I have nowhere else to fly.
I stand in the basement with all my things packed and I look at my three mysterious gifts one last time. Why was I given a parachute? What leap of faith is my heart supposed to tell me to take? And the last one… The note I can’t read yet because it’s closed inside a jar I am not ready to open, so I have not even a cryptic explanation for it. I stuff the gifts into my purse. It bulges with the bulk of the parachute, but there’s always room to stuff one more thing into a purse, even if that thing is a little bit huge.
I leave the little bookshelf, my one item of furniture, because I still don’t want to ask for a car to help me. I have a backpack full of clothes and muffins and a purse full of mysterious gifts. Everything I can carry will have to be enough for now. I hope my little corner of the basement won’t mind the space still temporarily taken up by the bookshelf I leave behind with the stuff I don’t have the strength to bring with me. I find it kind of funny that my bookshelf has already accumulated about twenty books this month despite the fact that I didn’t bring any with me other than the trilogy hidden in my jewellery box. I can’t take them all, but maybe I can fit at least one into my purse so I have something to read… If I take out the headphones and hang them around my neck, there is room for The Name of the Wind.
My key still hangs on a silver necklace, sparkling in the sunlight as I step outside. The door that it unlocks no longer belongs to me, but the key is mine to keep. I will return, but I will need to find somewhere else to call home. And it won’t be where I told everyone I’d be headed. I don’t want to be the person I am when I live in the place I was born. Even Rachel said I was always welcome here if I needed a place to get away, but that doesn’t entirely change the fact that I always need to get away and I’m sure “always welcome” doesn’t literally mean “welcome always”. If it did she would just let me keep living here.
There is only one thing left for me. I cross the bridge and walk through the paths I followed the other night. My mind feels lost but my feet find the teepee again easily. An idle gust of wind flicks my hair to one side and tosses the smell of cedar and wood smoke into my face. It smells like freedom. It smells like a lonely and broken sort of freedom, but freedom all the same.
I finally take out the jar from my purse and remove the lid. A flash of purple butterfly wings flutters out of it and takes off into the wind. I dump the rest of the contents out into my hands, drop the small collection of wilting flowers, and unfold the note.
“Creative hearts and butterflies
Are not meant to live confined;
Seize your freedom and take to the skies
Where your future awaits, undefined.
P.S. Allyssa, the teepee is for you. You need a home that you can take with you wherever the wind will carry you.”
I put the note into my pocket and look at the teepee for a while, wondering what guardian angel I have.
Then I carefully take the teepee apart, tie it up, and drag it down the path by its supporting poles. I am surprised how heavy such a small teepee is to pull. It is long, heavy, and tedious work, but it is mine, and I do not want to be anywhere else.
By late afternoon I decide I should have brought a water bottle. By early evening I wonder how far this forest reaches and why so much of it can fit right beside the city without my ever having heard of it. By late evening I am thirsty enough to drink from the clear, delicious stream I run across. By nightfall my arms are burning and I ask myself why I haven’t reassembled my teepee yet. I stop to eat a few of my terrible muffins, with a handful of chocolate chips to improve the meal. And maybe a walnut or two.
And I fall asleep curled up under a pine tree’s shielding blanket of branches, beside my teepee still bundled for travel.
The road begins to slant upward, and my arms, already sore from the previous day, complain even more viciously. I take more frequent breaks and drink from every stream I cross on my way up the mountain. At noon I collapse in the shade and finish the last of my muffins, and instead of simply drinking from the stream I dunk my whole head in and splash water all over myself. And then I keep going, feeling somewhat cooler but very near exhaustion. I may have experience wandering around with a heavy backpack, probably stuffed with books, but I’ve never dragged a teepee along before in the city.
I put the headphones over my ears to see if music will help motivate me to keep going. I think of home.
“Home is the spot where I was born; my life literally started here.
Home is the welcoming atmosphere.
Home is the walls made of bookshelves, troves of knowledge, wisdom and fantasy.
Home is familiarity.”
Then I think of the wind, the endless forest, and how the house I belong in no longer feels like home. I pause to feast on wild raspberries.
“Home is not a single place
Or a specific set of walls;
My home is something that I call
Everywhere my heart finds peace.”
But the wind seems like a lonely home to wander in, however peaceful. I miss Eric.
“I could travel far and wide and have no better home to find.
Let me wrap your arms around me, and then never let them go.
Once your arms like walls surround me, with your head the roof above,
Varnished floors or fluffy carpets could not form the floor below;
Even shoes won’t hold my footsteps—your feet will fit mine like a glove.
Your heart will be my fireplace to fill me with warmth and light
Or to roast marshmallows on and feed them all to you
Until I rest my tired face on the pillow you become at night.”
My phone is almost dead when I approach the summit of the mountain, but I want to text Eric the lyrics of that last song my heartphones played for me. The signal is weak, but he receives it. My poem makes him blush and smile, and he replies, “I am your house and your fire, your pillow and blanket”.
I don’t know how I’ve let myself wander so far alone because I can’t keep him with me always. But somehow, when he isn’t there, the fact that someone can love me just doesn’t seem real.
I reach the mountaintop, and here, finally, I rest.
I text my boyfriend smilies. And then I tell him my phone might die soon. “I’m not at my parents’ house so I don’t know when I’ll be able to charge it again.”
“Okay,” he says, “*hugs*” and “Where are you staying?”
“I’m in the forest across the bridge near Amanda and Rachel’s.”
“The bridge with train tracks?”
“The bridge over the misty lake.”
“The one beside the bike path near the park with sprinklers.”
“Allyssa, there is no lake near Amanda and Rachel’s. Where are you?”
My phone goes black. I shake it and press a few buttons and smack it for good measure, but it does not wake up again. I return it to my purse and take out the parachute.
I almost don’t care if none of my safe haven exists in the same reality as the one it is normal to live in. I knew my guardian angel and these mysterious gifts probably didn’t come from that reality either. But I needed someplace that was solely mine, even if magic was the only way to obtain it, and I am still willing to live in this fantasy. Now more than ever, I need this.
I attach my parachute to the bundle of teepee parts and make sure everything is secure.
A butterfly hovers on the edge of the cliff. I catch it my hands, admire the deep blue of its wings, and then release it into the wind where it belongs.
Carefully, I push my things over the edge of the mountainside and release the parachute so I float through the sky like a balloon. Down, down, down I fly, toward the hills below. Somewhere, in this realm of fantasy, I will land and build my home where I can not only survive but be at peace.
And behind me on the mountaintop I almost catch a glimpse of snowy wings beneath the fluffy white clouds, the wings of a being of light watching over my fall.
The parachute is not nearly as graceful as I imagined it would be. First there is the wind so intense I can’t enjoy the view behind my tightly shut eyes that I can only barely open if I squint through my eyelashes. Then there is the constant struggle not to let the ropes tangle as I fall, and my paranoia that the parachute and teepee might not be firmly enough attached and I might lose one of them, either tumbling to the ground too soon without the shield against the full force of gravity or letting go of my temporary home to watch it shatter below before I have even rebuilt it once and slept in it. And finally when I land, I crash through the trees, tangling the parachute in the branches of an oak and knocking over a couple of small beech trees with the falling teepee. I roll apart from my makeshift floating contraption and end up in a mess of limbs and leaves, my arms covered in scratches from twigs and my knee feeling bruised.
The landscape here is more densely forested than the path I walked for the last two days, but perhaps that could be because I am nowhere near a trail. There doesn’t appear to be much of a clearing for me to set up camp anywhere else nearby, so I take advantage of the accidental space cleared by knocking over trees.
First I untie everything and check to see my luggage is all intact. It is a little dirty from the dust of hiking and falling but seems to all be present and fine. Then I spear the poles of my teepee into the ground to create the frame of my tent. This is harder than it looks, even though I am the one looking. My arms are tired, the ground is hard, and I am not particularly strong. I take a deep breath and picture the poles as actual spears that I am violently launching into battle from the back of a dragon. That seems to help. When the poles are firmly lodged in the ground, and tied more than securely enough at the top for good measure, I take out the tanned fabric of the walls and tie it around them. Then I smooth out the ground inside some more and add the cedar branches for sweet smelling padding. Lastly I bring my bags inside and, after checking over my work, allow myself to relax.
There is space to build a fire, but I have no energy, matches, or particular need for warmth. I collapse in my new home, warn out from my day. I don’t even know if it’s night yet, but my eyes are closed and I fall asleep.
Some hours later, I wake up hungry and cold, and judging from the pitch black surrounding me it is definitely night now. I grab a warm sweater from my bag to wrap myself in so I stop shivering—from the feel of it, it’s the one Eric let me borrow once and refused to take back—and I fish out the remains of my package of walnuts. I find my chocolate chips as well, and I eat three of them, savouring each one slowly in my mouth as I let it dissolve.
If I never go back, and I live in this forest for the rest of my life, the thing I miss most will probably be chocolate.
I mean I might miss my friends and family more. Or books. Or Eric…
No, I’ll miss chocolate.
I take one more chocolate chip, hold it between my fingertips afraid I’ll drop it in the dark as I hesitate to consume it, and then put it back in the bag for later. My supply won’t last forever. And unlike in the city, I don’t have anyone to force me to eat when I forget to feed myself; my body is already complaining about the lack of nourishment. Tomorrow, I will have to find my own food in the wilderness.
In the morning I wake up feeling like I was run over by a train. The ache in my legs, back, arms, knee, head, abdomen, shoulders and heart is enough to cripple me. I feel lightheaded from dehydration, hunger, and possibly extended sun exposure. And to top it off nicely I am covered from head to toe in mosquito bites.
Even so much as sitting up is torture. I try to tempt myself with the promise of another chocolate chip but it’s too much effort. I lie back down and close my eyes until it hurts less to keep them open.
I dreamed about home. I want to go back, but I’m not ready. I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready. The life my culture has taught me to strive for is a game that I’m not designed to win but can’t just stop playing, and I don’t know how to change the rules to be less unfair. But here there is no one but me, and the fierce, unbroken wilderness, to make the rules. Here there will be no fabricated monetary steps between me and the actual resources I need to survive. Here there will be no imaginary, culturally constructed threats to keep me from thriving—only real and probably more dangerous ones.
I feel awful. I don’t think my life here will be easy. I haven’t even begun to figure out how I will live in this foreign forest, and I don’t know how long I will stay. But I know one thing for sure: I am going to make the most of this beautiful chance at freedom.
I am going to get up, scavenge for food, and build myself a life.
Just as soon as getting up doesn’t hurt quite so much.
*~Probably Not the End~*
I'm beginning to suspect this Allyssa becomes the same character from my Round 7 story who finds a planet made entirely of chocolate.
The second story I don't think I finished, despite the fact that it was the most promising. I'll have to look for it and try to fix its incompletion sometime.
The third attempt I almost liked. But it was entirely narrated by a butterfly. I'm not sure who would want to read the life story of a butterfly...
In Search of Sky
The very first thing I remember is the shade of growing things and the irresistible desire to reach the brightness above. My longing for the sky was an ever-present itch in my still wingless back as I nibbled on leafy meals and slowly grew. Back then my whole world was the size of a few rich leaves and I never travelled into the world beyond the one tree, or even the one safe branch of this enormous tree, that I knew. But when I did start to crawl a little farther to reach more leaves, I would always crawl upward, in the direction of the deep brightness I craved. From the very first moment of my life I felt with every fibre of my fuzzy, earthy being that I was destined to fly.
But on the night of the storm that destroyed my highrise home, I had a taste of flight too soon. I was nibbling happily away on a delicious leaf and enjoying the spectacular view from this high branch when the first raindrops started to fall and I retreated to the underside of my leaf for shelter. Naïve little creature that I was back then, I expected the drizzle to pass quickly so I could continue eating in peace. I was always hungry, and I couldn’t think of much beyond food. When the rain only grew harder and the winds picked up I didn’t know what to do except cling to my shelter and wait, and try not to keep eating my shelter.
A sudden rumbling from the sky startled me into falling to the next branch below, and I scrambled to grab hold of the slippery surface of my new shelter. The fresh leaf was stronger, but I was still at the mercy of uncontrollable gusts of wind threatening to sweep me away, little sweet smelling roof and all. Another roar crashed through the sky, and the clouds split apart with light so blinding that I forgot how to see in anything but shades of shadow the moment it passes. Then my world was cracking, crackling, snapping, spinning…
As my home collapsed the wind wrenched my little leaf into its stormy claws and threw me into the sky. My shelter billowed above me as I fell with the pouring rain, and I don’t know how far the wind carried me with my little parachute but I do know that this terrifying journey was nothing like what I imagined flight to be. It was a little too cold and far too wet, and much more uncontrollable than I would like. I hung on tight and wished, now more than ever, that I had my own wings instead of a makeshift parachute swept away into the wind.
I landed ungracefully and painfully, spinning across the ground until the wind finally dropped me in a puddle and moved on to pursue other leaves. The ground was even wetter than the pouring clouds, and I had to find new shelter to keep from drowning. My leaf sank to the bottom of the pool of water surrounding me, and I flailed wildly to try to swim back toward my beloved, raging sky. Finally my feet stuck to something solid, and I climbed it blindly. Raindrops still rolled off me, but I could shake them away and struggle to breathe again as I crawled across this stone bridge to drier patches of land.
I never dreamed that freedom would be so terrifying and so difficult to survive, but despite how much I still feared for my life a part of me loved the thrill of the fight and couldn’t wait to feel the pull of the sky again. For now, I pulled together a couple of my tree’s fallen leaves and built a tent out of them to keep me dry until the sky was safer to fly to, and I waited with great anticipation for the storm to end.
Luckily the sky was clear again by the time I had eaten the little teepee I built out of leaves. Struggling to survive was hungry work for a growing creature, and the leaves were too delicious to simply hide my head under.
I took a tentative step forward, not sure yet where I was headed. All I really knew was that I wanted more leaves. Or even just one leaf. Or even just somewhere safe to rest when I grew tired.
I lost track of time, meals, and distance travelled, but finally I found the most beautiful leaf caught in a tangled mane of long curly hair. It was a leaf for hiding, a soft and sleepy leaf for curling away inside curls. It was perfect. I was ready for a long sleep, and this was a leaf that had the gentleness and patience to hold me and keep me safe. But the curls were too wild, too full of wind and tangled whispers of deeper chaos that would not lend sweet dreams. I carried the soft leaf a few curls along in the direction of the sky, until I found a round hiding space pulsing with a tiny voice that almost resembled an echo of the shouting sky. It was a softer, sweeter, more melodic echo, holding none of the fear and flashing light that rang through the roar that broke my home. The delicate rhythmic nature of the noise was soothing and pleasant enough to coax me and my perfect leaf inside the little echoing chamber. I made my bed between the leaf and the singing wall, and slept.
The wall of my sleeping space had changed its song by the time I awoke again as a different creature. The being that had crawled into this chamber was a humble survivor of rain and wind-torn leaves, but I was made of music and sunbeams now, ready for the sky. My trembling, untested new wings hummed with bubbling anticipation and the confidence of freedom.
The first thing I see when I free myself from my cocoon and from the tangle of curls surrounding it is a dazzling rainbow beckoning me to the heavens. I can see in colour now, not just in shades of brightness and dark, and I have had my fill of green. What I long for is the sweetness of flowers and the infinity of blue. I flutter through the wind, heading for the topmost leaftips of the trees. From here the view is brilliant, and the vibrant rainbow arching across the whole sky is even more beautiful. Finally I have reached the height where I belong.
But then the sun catches on a flash of purple wings that are not mine. A rival butterfly flutters up to my tree, ignorant or uncaring of the fact that I have claimed this as my home. I must catch him and chase him away before he adopts the misguided impression that he can steal this spot from me.
This time when I spread my wings, they are like drawn weapons sharper than the edges of spinning leaves. I slice the sky with them, twirl around my enemy, and force him down, down, away from the spot I have claimed. I am a being that has survived the broken sky; I hold its anger in my wings and let it shine through me in violent bursts of purple. No one steals the sky from me, now that I am able to fly. No one.
This is my home.
< Message edited by Crystal Sunshyne -- 8/20/2015 20:58:08 >