by Charlie Fabre
Another example of an interpretation of our theme ‘bodies’ about the human body and the larger body of forest and home
A little piece I wrote a while ago for my 2nd year at uni. I lump it in with the Bodies theme as it holds descriptions of the human body changing with its environment, and discussions of the larger body of the forest and home. This is the last part of a 3 part short story.
“I missed you,” I exhale.
You look startled and you shake. In the forest’s syrupy light I see that you’re caked in mud and hairier than you once were. Your hair is long, shaggy, it lingers around your collar bones, floating in the breeze like fairies. They’re hollow – your collar bones I mean – and I notice that you’re slimmer, bonier too.
“Have you eaten?”
You look at me, you stare. Your gaze doesn’t break from mine nor does it soften. It’s more intense than I once remembered. Twigs and leaves tumble out of your hair as you shudder. Are you cold? I’d like to run a comb through it. Or just my fingers.
A ring of fireflies surrounds us, lending our figures a golden ethereal glow which slowly starts to die, they blink and their lights dim as the sun starts to rise. There is a white outline around you, ghosts which had been haunting you. It fades.
I take a step forward, meeting you, chest to chest, but you flinch. Then you snarl.
You take off sprinting, flailing your limbs wildly over holly, mistletoe, honeysuckle. You flee the clearing and push past dogwood branches letting them snap at my face like whips. You skid down river banks, and scare the robin and blue tit, your feet are bare and slick. I catch myself on rocks, bump my knee and twist my ankle. I catch glimpses of the soles of your feet, notice that they’re bruised and rough.
We run after one another and I’m reminded of a time when we got caught in a storm and ran to take cover. We hid under the porch of a seven-eleven and you doubled over, holding your knees and panting like a dog. I can’t help but think that we’re there again.
“Wait up,” I call. You lead me to a place near a stream, then stop abruptly. I almost crash into your back. You turn and face me.
There’s a hole in the ground choked by tree roots, it’s deep and dark inside. This is a den which you have decided to call home.
I look around and find that we’re deep in the woods. It’s a side I’ve never seen. All around us is green; deep, lush, healthy green. It’s overflowing and never ending. Moss curls possessively around beech trunks and rocks, it lays quiet and soft in beds where white clovers grow. Water glitters as light oozes like molasses through tree-leaves. It creates columns of amber and gold. They are the spotlights that display the rustle of life. A kingfisher rattles and a toad croaks then hops into the stream.
This is old land. It has seen everything since the beginning of time. It’s gentle, it bears no anger or hate. It knows you, it has felt your underbelly and tickled your appendix, licked up the sweat behind your ears and the sugar between your teeth. You know it.
Does it know me?
“Is this where you sleep?” I motion to the hole. You nod. The whites of your eyes have jaundiced with deep purple bags sinking under them.
“What’s happened to you Connor?” My chest tightens. “You should come home.”
You recoil and bare your teeth.
“I am home,” you growl.
I shake my head no, “This isn’t where you belong.”
I feel myself start to cry, hot tears trickling down the plumpness of my face. Recognition sparks in you, though I can see that you don’t know what to do and you flinch again. Confused.
Edges form around you that I’ve never seen before. It’s like you are mutating before my very eyes.
You show me your home, an old fox den I think, abandoned because the smell of human is now stronger than that of urine.
It’s cold and damp and hard but you’ve gathered fallen leaves and grass and mushroom caps to make it comfier. Do the fireflies keep you warm?
I ask why you have no clothes, aren’t you cold?
“It’s what she wants.”
I don’t understand but I listen and ask if I should bring you a blanket next time I come see you.
You say, “You can’t come back.”
“You’re only a guest.”
I don’t take it personally, I wonder what it all means. “Don’t you miss your house? Your mom?”
You stay quiet so I fall silent as well. I watch. You go to the river to bathe and as you do I start to see the way in which you move with the water, you understand how it flows, see and know where it goes. I watch you pick fat blackberries and glassy mistletoe. You lay them down, you know which to keep and which to discard for another creature. You know where the ground is soft or hard, where it’ll draw blood or lay you to bed.
You are one – I see that you are one with the woods.
“Connor,” I call softly, smiling, admiring you. You stop what you’re doing. Spin on your own axis. Face me.
“What did you say?”
“Connor,” I repeat, shyly. “That’s your name.”
“Argh,” you reply and repeat it as though your throat is full of phlegm. “Argh, nargh,” you walk over and sit with your legs akimbo; “That’s not my name.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t need a name anymore.”
“Do you remember mine?”
“Blair;” you don’t miss a beat. Before I can ask how you remember mine but cannot remember yours you blurt out words again. “How did you find me?”
I stare at the muddy color of your eyes.
It’s something they might ask me later when, and if, I brought you back. Local journalists pointing microphones and cameras at my face asking how I found the Missing Boy. I followed the fireflies, I’d say, but that wouldn’t make sense to them, they’d laugh, right? Fireflies don’t fetch living ghosts out of the woodwork.
But I see the underlying ferocity in your eyes. I remember how it’s always been there.
It swims quietly under the mud like a monkfish ready to bite; a wildness you came out of the womb with.
You would understand. You have always understood, haven’t you?
“I followed the fireflies.”
You only nod and return to your chores. You seem different, distant, maybe not human.
You crouch and creep, you prey on a bird and in one swoop you smack it with your hand. It’s limp so you bite into its belly, feathers and all.
My stomach churns and I try my best not to vomit as blood dribbles down your chin.
You move into one of the columns of light, it rains on you gently. And suddenly I see you as tall as the trees, I see you reach your limber arms to the sky and see your fingertips brush apart the clouds. Twigs and branches tickle your sides and your laughter booms over the canopy and the rocks on the ground rumble. I see you become small, small enough to slink inside a bird’s nest and nuzzle its eggs. You can hide under a leaf and you can drown in the bubbles of the stream. I see you change and grow swapping forms and skins and I know that you are home. In this forest you are home.
We walk back to the clearing as twilight comes on. It lengthens the forest and stacks its shadows. I picture mushroom circles glowing faintly and pixies coming out to play. You walk either one step in front of me or two steps behind me at all times.
If I think about it too long, it saddens me: the fact that you were once a boy I knew so well, and now not at all. That someone else knows you better than I.
We get to the clearing, and the spot where you found me. I turn around to face you as before. There’s something kinder in you.
“Do you remember my backyard…” I start. I want to ask about how we used to run around and make ourselves dizzy and eat peanut-butter crackers and hard-boiled eggs, then run some more and make ourselves sick.
You don’t respond. The white glow settles around you again and I nod. The clearing is still, the sky darkens and only the gossip of the brook breaks the silence.
Your breathing is shallow, you are calm.
This is your heart, out of which everything grows, and everything flows.
“I miss you Connor. You’re always welcome back home.”
I turn around and walk back the way I came. One by one fireflies start to light the way. I stumble over rocks and tree roots once again and wonder if spirits are looming over my shoulder. Do they want to guide me or make sure I stay gone? The path of gorse and foxglove is claustrophobic, but the further I go, the more it lets me breathe. The sycamores shrink and turn into tamer trees like birch, elm, and sweetgum. Heather pops up, purple and cream, and bluebells start to dot the way. As more light breaks through, the mushrooms and moss shy away.
I find the main path again. The search party’s prints aren’t as deep now, old. I step inside them, my feet much smaller. Behind me, the ground bubbles up in the steps, healing, erasing. No one was ever there.
Trodden mud and primrose, and the familiar clusters of ivy tell me I’m almost home.
As I trek out of the woods and into my backyard, I spot a pair of sneakers under a cluster of ferns. They’re yours.