Month: May 2020

Into the Forest

Tom Tom/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on January 8, 2019.

It ended with the wind.

The sky had been overcast all morning, and a deep, abiding cold had permeated the air. The elders of my village warned me not to enter the forest, but it’d taken my brother, and I would not let it claim my only sibling for its own.

“If you won’t stay home where it’s safe,” Grandma pleaded, “at least take this.” She handed me a woolen cloak, which I draped over my head gratefully, and told me not to stay out past sunset, brother or no brother. “It’ll do us no good,” she said, “if the forest decides to take you, too.” She hugged me as if for the last time, then sent me out into the gloom to face the trees alone.

I believed I’d win, that I’d find my brother curled at the trunk of a tree, or hidden beneath a rock for shelter, and that, like so many of the heroes Master Gideon tells stories about by the light of a late-night fire, I’d emerge from the brambles and the trees triumphant, my brother in tow, ready to tell stories of my own.

But the forest had other plans.

By increments, the sky grew darker, and what started as a light, clinging mist soon turned into a drizzle. The drizzle turned into a downpour, and before I knew what had happened, the sky became a blazing torrent of thunder and lightning.

I scrambled over steep hills, tripped over gnarled roots and upturned stones, scratched my limbs against low hanging branches and thorny brambles. All the while, I pressed on, blind to pain and exhaustion, dead set on finding my brother.

Then the wind came, a violent, world-ending gale that knocked me off balance and stopped me in my tracks. I let loose a hailstorm of curses, but the forest was unyielding. Cold, weary, and out of breath, I had no choice but to huddle against a nearby tree and hug myself for warmth.

For centuries, my people had lived in fear of the forest and its ancient powers. But when its diabolical whims had culminated in the abduction of my brother, I was sure that I could best it, that somehow, the brash exuberance of youth could overpower its dark and terrifying magic.

Now, as the forest closed in around me, I discovered the awful truth, that it was no use fighting such raw, elemental strength. I’d been a fool to think myself superior to the forest, and it would punish me for my pride.

Just as I was ready to succumb to the will of the woods, a light caught the corner of my eye. I turned, and a pair of glowing green pupils looked back. I peered into their depths, and as whatever creature they belonged to edged closer, I knew that wherever the forest had taken my brother, I would soon join him.

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Connection

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The phone rings and Kevin answers.

“Hello?”

But static is his only reply. Kevin waits one second, two seconds, three, then ends the call and drops the phone back into his pocket.

The phone rings again.

Kevin glances at the screen—Unknown Number—and answers once more.

“Hello?”

Static.

Kevin waits some more, then drops the phone onto the coffee table and takes a seat on the couch, waiting for the other party to call back. He’s been through this a thousand times before and will go through it a thousand times again. He knows this call is important, and he’ll answer as many times as it takes to make a connection.

The phone rings again, and this time, when Kevin answers, there’s an ocean of static. The sound is so loud, so irritating that he has to hold the device in front of him to keep from going deaf.

“Hello? Can you hear me?”

Now, at last, the static changes. The pops and hisses run at first closer together, then further. The sound begins to take shape, but it has not yet resolved into a language Kevin can understand.

This time, he does not hang up. Instead, he leans back and puts the phone on speaker, saying, “I’m here when you’re ready. I’m listening.”

Now, a crackling burst of something that almost resembles a voice.

Come on, he thinks, silently rooting for the person on the other end of the line. You’re so close. You can do this.

“—ell— Can—”

The two partial words emerge from that roiling sea of static, and Kevin cheers.

“Yes,” he says. “I can hear you now. Keep trying.”

“—ello,” the almost voice says before collapsing into static.

“I’m still here.”

“—an you hea— e? —eed help.” Static. “—ou help m—” Static.

Kevin has the sinking feeling they’re not going to make it through on their own. It’s happened many times before, and Kevin, already aware of what he must do, cups his hand over the phone and closes his eyes.

All at once, he’s flying. Not his body, which remains planted on the couch in his apartment, but his soul, which shoots through space and time to bridge the gap.

I’m here, Kevin calls in a soundless voice that ripples across the cosmos.

At last, the two souls meet.

Help me.

That’s what I’m here for, Kevin answers.

Kevin can feel the other soul’s relief rolling off of him like heat.

I didn’t know if you could hear me. I thought— I tried—

But there they stop and say no more.

A soul, male, trapped between two worlds, stuck on the precipice between life and death.

Listen, Kevin says, having done this many times before, you have to let go. I can’t help you break free until you do.

But my wife, my children—

Kevin sees the cord that tethers him to the Earth, quivering with worldly concerns.

You can’t be with them anymore. It’s time to move on.

But who will take care of them?

Kevin understands this kind of post-mortem anxiety well. With great care, he makes contact. A connection is forged between their intersection, and for a timeless instant, the two souls merge. A spark of something like electricity passes between them, and the man, frightened, tries to pull away. But Kevin’s grip is tight and he does not let go.

See for yourself how your wife and children are getting on without you.

Kevin reaches across a great cosmic threshold, and together they traverse the intricate tapestry of human life that covers the Earth. Starting from the top, they burrow down through more than six billion lives, narrowing their focus until the man’s wife comes into view. They watch her, working hard to put food on the table, and when it’s clear his family’s financial means are taken care of, Kevin shifts their attention to the man’s children, playing on the swings at school during recess. They feel as one his wife’s and children’s pain, their sadness, and their grief, but also their determination, their grit, and most of all, their obstinate will to go on living.

As you can see, your wife is strong and capable of providing for your family on her own, and your children, though sad, have already learned to go on without you.

No, the man says, still afraid and clinging to what he’s lost. I can’t go. I can’t leave them. I can’t—

Kevin grabs the cord that binds his soul to the Earth, and in one deft motion, severs it in two.

The man’s soul howls, wounded and in shock.

No! he cries. Nonononono!

But without that tether to the Earth to hold him back, Kevin can already feel the man’s mind clearing and his heart preparing for the mysteries of Beyond.

Go, Kevin says, not unkindly.

For a moment, the two regard each other. Then the man’s soul nods, a gesture of gratitude and respect.

Thank you, the man says, then kicks off and rockets into Beyond.

Kevin feels a tug on his own cord. It calls him back to Earth, and soon enough, he’s opening his eyes on the couch, the phone still sitting on the table beside him.

“Good luck, my friend.”

There are other calls that night, a few as desperate as the first. Kevin answers each in turn—”Hello?”—and someplace, sometime, another connection is made.

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Katie’s Secret

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Little Katie Morgan has a secret and she’s not telling. Not her father, not her mother, not her brothers or her sisters. There are many things Katie’s not good at, but keeping secrets isn’t one of them.

How would the world react if it learned the truth that was revealed to her? She imagines the rioting in the streets, the talking heads on the news, and sometimes, when she’s afraid, she hums the tune of the song the witch across the street taught her when she was four years old.

“An ancient song,” the witch said while Katie lounged in her garden, basking in the sun and watching the woman pick a handful of long-stemmed roses.

Katie didn’t know what ancient meant, but judging by the witch’s expression, it must have been important.

“You remember those words,” the woman said, and Katie, eager to please her elderly friend, repeated words whose meaning she would never understand until the witch was confident she wouldn’t forget.

“That song will save you,” said the witch, “when the time for the world to change comes again.”

Katie asked what she meant, and the witch, after making her promise not to reveal her secret, recounted the story of a great cataclysm yet to unfold.

There are nights when Katie dreams of what she was told, nights when visions of the dark and the macabre process before her sleeping eyes like float’s in Hell’s parade.

Sometimes she screams, and sometimes her mother checks to see if she’s all right. Katie just nods her head, white as a ghost, and her mother, frightened by what she sees in her daughter’s too large eyes, pads off to bed and entertains nightmares of her own.

The world is changing, so says the witch. But that’s a secret and Katie’s not telling.

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