Sipping on a cup of something that feels like sunshine but looks like a stormy day, a story starts brewing… Hmm, that’s a clever pun from a few different angles.
I prefer writing from coffee shops for a reason that I assume is true for most writers, storytellers, and creatives. The world outside is buzzing, and the vim inside stirs up an inspiration that rivals childish candor. Even when it is sluggish outside, the smudgey world looks in and you still feel like there is a sort of melancholic whimsy it bestows upon you. Very well so whatever then there are also studies scientifically explaining away the creative process, which I find to be a bit of a middle finger to creatives, don’t you? You wouldn’t ask a skydiver to perform open heart surgery just because they understand the thrill of a beating heart.
The silver mist curled around the small child’s ankles as creatures swept overhead. Some of them had names to the child, others were just incorrectly labeled “bird.” No matter what their true names are (whatever true means – I’ve always thought true is more of a term for know-it-all adults than for children who, in my opinion, know parts of the world better than any adult could understand), they flew soundlessly overhead, and the mist shifted and crawled and spun and danced soundlessly below the child, and the black, black trees in front of him stood watching, ominous and elegantly creepy. Their branches twisted and wound skyward, seemingly grasping for the “birds” as the wind shook them stiffly. They seemed reluctant to be moved by such a petty thing as the wind.
There was a path between two trees leading into the dense wood – a path that was unbeknownst to adults. As I said, children see and understand things that adults don’t, sometimes. It was about a foot and a half wide, and I don’t mean that as a sense of measurement, but rather, the little boy could have only fit one and a half widths of his own foot on the path at any one time, and so progressing through the wood was slow, and much like a tightrope walk. He remembered going to the circus with the sturdy elephants and silly clowns and the daring daredevils. There was a lot more light than this in that circus tent, even when the lights went down and the spotlight showed on the ring leader, the boy thought.
The black tree trunks were so close together that there was hardly enough ground for grass to grow, if it would even grow in a place where the air was so dense and heavy. The boy’s head was swimming and he felt like he just got off the merry-go-round at the park. He braced himself as he walked between the trees, one hand touching a tree to each side. He stopped after a few minutes of imagining there were people and elephants and lions and clowns watching him from far below and turned to look back to where he came from. He wasn’t so sure he could believe the wood had a beginning or an end, even though he started walking into it from a place where it must have begun or ended. Once things like that are out of sight, it’s not so easy to believe they really existed in the first place. And now, the tightly packed trees looked like a black, textured wall rather than woods, so thinking anything but the woods existed seemed as impossible as dragons or gryphons or phoenixes. He turned to look forward, if forward existed anymore, but he could only see a few more feet (the measurement kind of feet) of the winding tightrope path in front of him, and only when the mist had a gap from climbing a tree instead of crawling along the ground.
The boy looked at his hands and noticed a thick, gritty soot caking his palms and starting to get under his fingernails and the spaces between his fingers. Even the lines on his hands were indistinct, and his fingerprints were concealed. He wiped his hands on his jeans, but the lines in his hands didn’t come back and his jeans looked filthy. He didn’t like having things stick to his hands. Then, from what sounded like a long way off, he thought he heard someone crying. The boy looked down at the path to confirm its general direction, and began bounding and bouncing between the trees, pushing off of them and wishing they were more springy like a trampoline or a freshly made bed. He nearly lost the path as he bounded too far in one direction and immediately began panicking. Blinking the beginnings of tears out of his eyes, he saw the mist rolling up one tree trunk and saw the path reappear, so he carefully made his way back and decided to go a hair slower and keep a closer eye on the path.
Maybe it was his imagination (which is entirely possible as his imagination often ran off without him, and he’d have to chase after it to keep it in check – imaginations are really such mischievous creatures), but he thought mayhaps the trees were starting to widen and reveal more of the path and the air was getting a touch less dense. There was a sharpness to the air now, like the morning autumn air that he would breathe as he and his sister ran through the apple orchard playing tag. His head began to feel less stuffy. He was going the right way. Without warning, the path wound around one tree and opened up to a large clearing. In the clearing, he saw a girl on her hands and knees, crying. He was going to run over to her and throw his arms around her, but he didn’t want to forget where the path was, so he took off his shoes and placed them on either side of the path inside the clearing. That way, he’d know where to place his first foot as he made his way back out, if “out” existed.
The trees surrounding the clearing looked like the same black, textured walls that the rest of the wood was made of, and they rose up so high that the boy could cover the little bit of the sky that was showing if he reached out and held his palm in front of him. The “birds” were visible overhead and flapped in a way that seemed like slow motion. Mayhaps the heavy air was still plugging up his brain. Either that, or they were much larger and higher in the sky than he realized.
As he placed his socks into his shoes (making sure the correct sock was in the corresponding shoe), he tiptoed over to the girl. He wasn’t sure if there would be pokey things that would get stuck in his foot, and he didn’t want to startle her and make her cry more. He placed a hand on her back and rubbed it from side to side. Slowly, she lifted her chin and looked up at him, tears still streaking down her face. It took a few second for her vision to become less blurry, but once she could see that he was just a boy and not a monster or “bird” coming to gobble her up, her eyes went wide and she gasped. “You’re not lost too, are you?”
“I’m… I’m not really sure,” he said, “I might be lost. But I think this is the way I am supposed to go. I figured I’d find out once I got to wherever I got to.”
“Where are you trying to go?” she asked, her voice became firmer.
“Well… I guess I’m not sure of that, either. I just know I didn’t want to be where I was. Where were you trying to go? Are you lost?”
“I wasn’t, but now I think I am. I walked into this clearing and couldn’t find a way back out. Not even the way I came in.” She stood up, still looking uneasily at the boy. She hoped he was, in fact, a boy, and not a shape-shifting monster. “I wanted to find the place where a golden flower grows.” She pulled a small journal out the pocket of her elephant pants that the boy noticed had an actual elephant pattern on them. Inside the journal was a flower pedal that sparkled as if it had glitter on it, and seemed to glow of its own accord. The boy marveled at it and put his eye close to the pedal to try and see all the little flecks.
“Well, I don’t know where that kind of flower grows, but it must be a magical place,” he said. “I’d love to find it with you, if you’d like me to join.”
She blushed a little, “Yes, I think I’d like that.” Her smile made the dimples in her cheeks pop and her pursed lips and crinkled nose made the butterflies in his tummy dance. He didn’t mind knowing butterflies lived inside of him, but he wondered what kinds of flowers must grow in his tummy for them to live on. If the flowers looked anything like the things that came out of his tummy when he ate too many chocolates, he felt bad for his butterflies and wished he could plant a better garden for them. He would have to ask his mommy for help, though.
“I left my shoes by the path that I came in at. We might not find the flowers following that path, but I know it will lead us out of here,” he said as he looked back to the direction he entered the clearing from. He scanned the edge of the clearing, but his shoes weren’t there anymore. He ran over to where he though he came from, hoping there was just a lump of mist sitting on top of them, but after walking around the entire circle twice, he looked back at her and the worry on his face reflected onto hers. “They were here a second ago…”
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