“When you walk through the forest,” he whispered, eyes glinting, “Can you hear them? Can you hear the trees?”
I looked back at him unsure of what to make of his intensity.
“The secrets they whisper. You have to listen really close. You have to open your mind and just let them,” he leaned back with his eyes closed, inhaling deeply, “I don’t know. Just let them in I guess.” He let out his breath and smiled serenely. I liked how he smiled. His smile seemed to hold its own secrets and made me wonder what kind of things he wanted to whisper to me in the trees.
“Maybe we should go for a walk through the forest sometime. You can let the trees know that I’m trustworthy and they can tell me their secrets too.” I laughed and brushed my hair out of my face. Most people wouldn’t notice the slight upturn of his lips or the way his eyes seemed to dance even more. But I did. I noticed it all.
“How about now?” he asked.
“Now is my favorite time,” I said.
The sun shone through the branches of the Washburn Forest and birds chirped as we passed by. I breathed deeply as we walked, letting the forest wash over my senses. He was right. The trees were quite talkative today. It’s just too bad the boy didn’t speak their language. You don’t have to understand what they’re saying to appreciate them though.
We walked along exchanging volleys of personal questions starting from “What’s your favorite color?” and leading to, “What is your greatest desire?” My answers were moss green and “to have all that I need.” His; yellow (“golden, the sun before it sets”) and “to live simply.” He mused on how our answers were so similar and really, once you boiled it down, the same. I smiled at him politely. I couldn’t fault him for thinking that everything I needed was simple.
One hour before sunset, he suggested we turn back. Nonsense, I told him. I know a shortcut. We’ll be out faster this way. He grinned and looked at me sideways. The trees began speaking in tones that no one would describe as a whisper. I smiled at them; innocently and sweetly. We continued to walk on and I let my hand brush on his. Once, twice. He finally got the hint and took it. We walked this way for some time.
We continued on in silence for a while, letting the trees fill the space where our voices were. If they were talking before, they were positively shouting now. They even went as far as to drop a branch in our path. Such silly creatures, they do try.
I tried to distract the boy from the fact that the trees were growing thicker and that east could only lead deeper into the forest by explaining to him that my grandmother lives on the edge of the public park, we could cut through her property and maybe even beg a cup of tea off her before we left. He told me that sounded lovely. I liked the way he said that word. Lovely.
A cottage was soon in our field of vision and anyone with a discerning eye could see that no one lived here and in fact, no one ever had. Thankfully, boys smitten by girls, walking in the woods at dusk, do not have the most discerning of gazes. I told him to wait here, by the back door. And don’t move from this spot. Grandma is a little jumpy and I want to explain to her who you are before she sees you. Okay? Of course, he told me. Of course. We held eye contact and I slowly leaned in and he closed the gap until we were kissing. It was perhaps the most gentle of any kiss. I slowly pulled back and let out a sigh of contentment. Be right back, I promised. One more soft kiss. For luck, I said.
I walked around to the front and opened the door. Grandma? I said to the empty building. I felt the presence stir and give off an air of amusement. That’s the story you used? It seemed to say. That’s the least creative one yet. I shrugged. I walked across the room to the cellar door. I could see him through the window, swaying with the wind, eyes closed. I imagined the kind of girl he should have gone on this walk with. She would be a dreamer, possibly a poet. They would lay out at night and look at the stars. I felt a small sense of relief for this girl who would never meet him. She would be much better off. Besides, I needed him. The presence gave me a slight nudge. I summoned a light and went down the stairs.
Everything was still in place. I had to pull the rope before he decided that I was taking too long and came to check on me. I took a deep breath and yanked, letting the ceiling open up, allowing dirt, moss, leaves, and the boy to come tumbling down. The trees were beside themselves now. Their voices carried down with the boy.
I heard a distinct crack when the boy hit the ground. He lay unmoving. Typical. The pain of a broken leg and head trauma is usually enough to buy me the time I need to secure them. I hummed softly as I worked. I had long forgotten the words but the tune was something that my actual grandmother used to sing to me. Once his arms and legs, one definitely broken, were secured to the plank, I raised the platform and tilted him to face my ancestors. I lit the candles in their skulls, which gave the impression that they had fire for eyes. Judging from the injury and past experience, I figured that I had time to make tea before I needed to come back. I’d know when he awoke.
The presence was with me while making the tea. They are louder than usual, it impressed upon me. They really are, I replied. In their defense, they are sacred and we are not. It must be torture for them to watch this and be unable to do anything.
Not that they haven’t tried. A few of the brave have thrown themselves at me or the cottage but indiscriminate fire keeps them at bay and scares the bold into– not silence, clearly. But inaction. Even trees have loved ones.
A scream from the basement. Pained and then the name he thought was mine. It’s time. I could feel the energy of the presence building and it stirred my own excitement. I always forget how good the rush feels. I went back down to the cellar and found the boy straining his neck, looking for something. An escape? A rescuer? Me?
What the hell? What the hell is going on? It hurts, oh god, it hurts. Help me. I’ll do anything. Help me!
It’s always the same. Every time. Not one compelling argument as to why. Just pleas and empty promises and calls to a non-existent god. He made me angry.
I smiled at him and approached calmly.
Relax, sweetie. Maybe you should have listened to the trees. You said they whispered. Why didn’t you listen when they told you to stay away? Can’t you see my grandmother smiling at you? I said, gesturing to the centermost skull. You’re being very rude, you know. Screaming in her house. You should be more careful.
His breathing was ragged. His weakness angered me further. I could feel it building, white hot inside my stomach then meeting the excitement in my throat, merging and dispersing to my limbs. If the Buddha only knew this feeling, he never would have bothered with nirvana. I walked up behind the boy, putting my hands in his hair. Boys like this don’t they? I whispered in his ear. He winced and tried to pull away but I didn’t leave him much wiggle room. I guess they don’t, I whispered. I softly kissed the tears from his face. I hovered over his lips. Closing the gap, I tasted the iron of blood. They always taste so lovely.
The final rays of the setting sun were shining in through the hole in the ground and it was time to begin.
I walked over to my grandmother, allowing the presence to lead. I placed my hands on either side of her head, warm from the fire within. I focused all my energy on the skull between my palms. I felt the deep grooves of an ancient language she had etched into her skull before she died. I felt her strength surge through me like a lightning bolt and I was ready.
The boy was harmonizing with the trees behind me. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
I touched each skull surrounding her spreading the lightning to them. My ancestors; most of whom I did not know in life but all of whom I knew were watching me. The shadows danced as the fire swayed along to the tapping they made as they rocked. The presence filled the room and began to slowly circle the boy. I placed my hands on his chest, rocking with the rhythm of my family. His breathing grew more rapid and I felt my hands rise and fall with him. His heart was threatening to break free from the confines of his chest and that made me hopeful that he would be the one. We had waited for so long.
I strode across the room to the closet. The smell of decay filled the room as I opened the doors. I breathed in deeply. The scent reminded me of my true calling, the act that I did better than anyone else. Someday everyone would know, I told the boys. By then it will be too late.
I crouched next to the freshest one with the dagger still in his chest. He was quite the opposite of the boy on the plank. The rotting one agreed to walk with me for one reason, and one reason only. I’m not sure which kind of boy I prefer. I guess the variety is what makes life fun. They say your twenties are for dating around and finding your type. I’ve sure met quite a few interesting boys.
This one let out a croak. He’d been here for, how long now? Over three months, I believe. Much longer than usual. “Let me die,” he begged now. “Let me die.” I smiled. Finally, a request I can actually fulfill. Something I’m more than willing to do. Of course, I said. Of course. I grabbed the jeweled hilt of the dagger, letting the stones’ energy build beneath my fingers. He began to thrash his decomposing limbs, bits of flesh sloughing away as he did. Lovely, this one.
I slowly pulled the dagger out, relishing the feeling of the blade gliding over bone, catching, pulling harder, until finally it was free. The moment the tip of the blade broke contact with his chest, he slumped. You’re welcome, darling.
I went over to my now quiet boy, my new boy. He would serve his purposes as best as he could, I knew. He was passed out cold. I gazed at him for a while, letting him have a bit of rest in his final peaceful moments. It really was peaceful. But mostly boring.
I slapped him hard across the face. Wake up! Rise and shine! Did your mother used to say that? It’s a beautiful sentiment really. Will she miss you? The presence was dancing around the room to the drum of the skulls rocking. I began to hum again; he began to yell. The trees–oh, the trees! Relentless in their crying and helpless, so helpless. Just like my boy. I could have lived in that moment forever.
I kissed each of my ancestors on the mouth and lent them my voice. They used it so much better than I ever could. Discordant sounds filled the room, the air practically vibrating from the intensity. I looked at the boy and opened my mouth in silent laughter. I held the dagger in both hands and found the sweet spot in the ribs that allowed easy access to the heart. I pressed, slowly, feeling the muscle tear. As soon as the dagger was in to the hilt, silence enveloped the room.
My ancestors quieted.
The presence stilled.
The boy ceased.
The trees–oh, the trees. Their silence was mournful.
My silence was brief. My ancestors returned my voice to me all at once and I sang, remembering the ancient words as if I was there to write them. The stones in the dagger grew hot and hotter still, sending the heat into the boy. His eyes and mouth opened in horror.
He was the one.
He looked at me with his open eyes, now resembling my ancestors, matching their fire. Theirs went out as the presence swirled; the glow of the stones, the silver of the moonlight, and the boy’s fire being the only objects left to light the room. I felt the presence converging onto the boy and he began to shudder violently, breaking his bonds, levitating off the plank. A sound like the crack of a whip rang through the air and the boy’s limbs splayed out beyond human ability. He cracked and twisted as the presence took over and made every cell in the boy’s body their own. When at last it was done, the boy stood before me.
No, not the boy anymore. The boy had sky blue eyes, this one had eyes of fire. This one would never sway in the breeze, appreciating the sun on their skin. This would set fire to the whole world in an attempt to outburn the sun and stand laughing in the flames.
“May I?” I asked, gesturing to the dagger still in their chest.
“As it pleases you, my queen,” they cocked a grin and bent into a shallow bow. I pushed the dagger further into their chest until the hilt was completely absorbed.
“How do you feel?”
“Complete. This is a good one,” they said rolling their shoulders and stretching their arms.
“We still have a long way to go. Shall we start with the trees? They are so loud and I’m worried their penchant for gossip is going to get us in trouble before we can even begin. Not that we can’t handle it. You are the final piece I needed.”
They were yelling again. The trees. Oh, the trees. They were so lovely as they burned.