Her father said she dreamt stranger than fiction. She found it peculiar that a respectful man holding a doctorate in Literature could take no fancy to the things she became more and more accustomed to seeing as she entered adulthood. They had lived in a damp cabin in the heart of the woods, until the day of revelation.
“Oh, for the love of…”
“My daughter, no more nonsense! Get back to studying. You heard me, go!”
Her tears were welling small seas in her eyes. His disgust would follow; he loathed her tears, just as he had her mothers. So she decided to exit entirely and ran outside the lamp lit cabin. The bug-light emitted fumes like a funeral pyre as she proceeded, but still they were somewhat soothing like incense. Her father didn’t begin calling until after she had traversed the weathered bridge; a loose nail tugged at her dark dress. She snagged her hem and then eluded her father’s sight.
She tread her feet upon a familiar path and moved in position to look back when she stepped into a swampy puddle, which hugged her foot unstoically; she was almost glad something was watching her steps. As she unclasped her leather laced shoe from the wet clay, the small swamp snorted like a boar. She rolled her eyes and walked onward, avoiding anymore of such footholds. Small ravines had fallen into the pathway since the storm a few days prior; already they were dry and split with famine; her feet avoided them as she climbed the against their rocky cliffs. At the apex was the clearing to the fields usually so green, but now lay raked, undone at the seams, raped of fruitfulness, scarred black as a battlefield. Her eyes narrowed under a few heavy blinks before she moved on down the clearing.
The beckoning branches of a leaning tree persuaded her to sit underneath their shelter. She sat just outside the shade of the weeping willow; she felt in no need of an umbrella. Yet she allowed herself to be played upon by walking shadows of dark and light falling from the highest branches; then the earth breathed and they danced on her skin. Although she felt wedged between earth and sky, she nonetheless gathered strength and reclined her head backward to watch their display; they waved in the brisk wind, while floral buds like cotton blossoms littered against the sky.
“What’s all this for? Nothing?”
She no sooner asked before suddenly looking behind, feeling something beating deliberately against her eardrums; a sound barrier was breaking between the south and the north. But she hardly realized before it was over. Gunfire? Such a bad sound to become so accustomed to. Its buzzing still echoed in her ears. She absently wondered what may happen if a shot should ricochet into her forest and strike a member of her body. A tear released as she envisioned the thought of stumbling, planting herself into the welcoming earth, and no one would hear a cry because she was determined she would not shout. She would become just like a decaying fawn she had passed earlier; its ivory marrows tickled by teal flies, hollow hoofs curved reclusively, and its rib cage exposed like an empty prison. She suddenly shuddered, fearful her own body was already too much of a white-washed tomb.
The return of brisk wind cooled the narrow streams falling down her neck. As she realized she had been crying and dried her tears with a cupped hand, the echoing grew louder. It was actually swarming around her. She stood and ran as bees aggressively chased her and she raced for life several yards before she stumbled over a groundhog hole and communed with solid ground; she watched the bees storm past her.
“Great! Lovely,” she spit as she pushed herself up and smoothed her pale dress. “I mean, honestly, is creation after me too? Am I so detestable that bees should want to exile me? Will no one in this world accept me? Or, am I even meant for this world? Or, have I been misplaced? I would appreciate an answer. I’m done trying.”
The reservoirs of her eyes were dry, but she stood adamantly waiting, feeling like Scarlett O’ Hara holding onto her Old South. The firing had ceased; all she could hear was the whimpering of dogs; she turned in their direction, but her eyes could only fix on tree limbs that were wagging in the wind. Then the earth snapped. Her eyes searched the clearing for an intruder. They could find none, though she was still possessed by an undeniable feeling she was not alone. Then something tussled her hair immediately behind her. She turned; a look over the shoulder revealed nothing but wind. Then earth cracked, closer this time. She shifted a few steps and then ran like bees were driving her again.
She skipped over the groundhog burrow, only to catch the hem of her dress on a brandish arm like a crooked tree branch. She stopped short and ripped herself from its clutch, but seams tore and dangled in full surrender, revealing her cream slip; she swallowed her pride and trotted. She only stopped again when her eyes caught some birds that were taunting each other, bombing in attack again and again; whining, failing engines rang sonorously in her ears like kamikaze aircraft.
“If this is all for no purpose…make it stop!” her head turned violently as she forced her eyes away; immediately the death cry stopped like silent black-out drills that follow an air raid. Her eyes fell onto a shivering skeleton tree; it was holding onto memories, and only a few translucently veined leaves remained. Her stare was too harsh; a leaf withered and found its grave on the ground. Her eyes followed and she was abruptly startled by a rugged tree stump calling her to attention.
It was as if she saw a soldier frozen in time, yet a face empty of expression; she held her breath as she stood in rank. He was about her height; a little taller had his feet not been so rooted in the ground. His armor was like bark; a shoulder was gnarled; elbows worn bronze revealed he had combated in the trenches; one ear remained, as if still listening. He wore no medals or badges; the only decorations were rusty wounds that seeped as sap; the gangrene fashioned his firm trunk like flowery moss; the bayonet pierced his trunk like a long dead twig; she finally saw two arms raised in surrender. One held his gun, deflected of heaven, sight broken, barrel bent, pointed backward, thrown from target. The other arm retained its crooked hand, which reached out above her. She lifted her eyes. A small sapling rested its own frail arm in his grasp. She would have likened him a descendant of Lot’s wife except the breast of his jacket was torn away and his heart lay exposed before her like petrified wood, white as snow. Her fingers dared touch it; the smoothest thing on his person; she felt, surely, he had said his prayers. Her eyes watered. The wind was still brisk. She trembled and cowered past him, unable to avoid seeing his neck ripped like stripped bark, yet a stem and spine was still in place, enabling him to stand. Her heart ached.
“I’m tired of seeing and hearing! Make it stop right now! Such nonsense! I’m nothing! I’m nothing!” rooted out of her throat as she allowed the fibers of her being to unwind.
Her world crashed. Her ears nearly shattered by the force of the loudest whisper. She felt a ringing again, this time like a test pattern interrupting her television set. She had entered a new era. Her stomach ached, grieved alongside her heart in lament as her whole body writhed.
“Who’s there?! Who are you?!” she shouted to hear herself through near deaf ears.
Suddenly her heart failed; collapsed as if paralyzed, she struck the earth. The color was running out of her life and she wanted to live; she choked on her few remaining breaths.
“Forgive me…I won’t be so presumptuous.”
Finally a breath was gasped and she stirred again; her hands could move, but nothing else. A light was shining into her face, though she dared not look; closed eyelids watered from the intensity; she used a hand to cover them. Her dress was bleached. He was whispering; it was hard to hear his voice, but she suddenly knew. She pushed her forehead against the ground and listened intently.
“Don’t be afraid, Rachel.”
“You know my name?”
“I know you. You doubt too much. Why must you question a gift?”
“The language of the forest? The birds and their melodic ciphering, the trees and their esoteric symmetry? I can see the history of the world in the clouds. They’re always unrolling like scrolls. But there’s already so much I’ve forgotten it frustrates me. Then I hear these things are only dreams. I try to tell how real they are and he…no one listens. Am I the only one who sees this way? Can no one see or hear? I’m so frustrated, so tired of seeing these things.”
Meanwhile, a shadow moved like a man in the woods, but her face was still hard pressed. The fiery figure standing before her noticed though, kept a watchful glance.
“You do not know what will happen tomorrow. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
“You inspire me, and I…I want to tell the world! You fill me with such…”
“Daughter!” the shadow took form and moved closer.
“Child, inspiration does not come easy. But I will be here, always.”
Its whisper slid warmly against her face just as the other cheek was struck by bitter wind. It would have been like two fronts conflicting had her father not slithered past them and continued stumbling in the forest as if he were blind; it immediately stirred her compassion. Off on the horizon a mountain was falling into a dark sea that looked just like the forest; any minute it appeared a rider with a white stallion and a herd of angels would ride over the top. It was a sunset like she had never seen, and she suddenly realized that she could no longer keep these things to herself.
B. R. CLINE is a recent graduate of Mount Vernon Nazarene University with a major in English and minor in Biblical Literature, and she has a passion for integrating these two disciplines.