Lessons have slipped my mind and gravitated elsewhere. Some place mysterious, I hope. I couldn’t process how the earth – the clumps that I mashed between the crevices of my boots – was ultimately a sphere. There was nothing round at my core, certainly nothing as stable as a circle. As it became darker, I walked the midnight forests. I took the soil and rubbed it between my fingers and fleshed out my nail beds. I took muddy leaves and laced them between my toes as protection. I masked my face and thickened my clothes to eradicate my humanness. Smelling of the fleshless soil, I took handfuls and fed myself, sucking up the mud, blowing wiggly earthworms out from my nostrils. I let the ants crawl up my feet haphazardly, just as lost as I had forgotten I was.
At dawn, I would go to the creek to collect more mud from the edge of the water. The wildlife didn’t seem to care for or against me. Except Crow, who wasn’t actually a crow, but a shadow of one. Sometimes, I would stare at Crow, reach towards his face, and draw in his imaginary beady eyes. His outline would sit on my shoulder and shout an empty, “Caw! Caw!” The flora awakened, detected, and hid from my tampering, closing its petals. I realize now that cloak helped me stalk myself, even though I believed there was nothing left to me.
One of those nights, wrapped up in my camouflage, I went down a route to capture Crow’s shadow. Fly and Seek. It was exhilarating to run full speed after him, using the sun, that unreachable marble in the sky, as a guide. I spotted the winged patch of darkness turning its head at me from a high branch.
Excited, I was about to wrap my hands around the trunk when my foot knocked something over at the tree’s roots. A colorful box was tossed on its side. I knelt immediately, grabbing hold of the heavy box, red with royal lines of gold. As my muddy hands slightly smeared the edges, I shook it and felt the weight inside shift.
“There’s something in here! A present?”
Even Crow’s shadow came down from the tree to see what I had found. Hanging over me, he pointed with his beak to a side of the box.
We noticed a wind-up handle with black markered-in letters saying, “Turn me”
Clockwise, I moved the handle. It started vibrating and I dropped it.
Dum Dee Dum Dee Dum Dee Dum Dum
The box was playing music. I couldn’t remember the name of the tune, but it was a nerving song, one that grew threateningly towards the conclusion rather than fading.
Yet, that was all. It was an empty box with a haunting song. There was nothing more to fear, except the new quietness of the box. I tried turning the handle again, but slower. My heart naturally moved with the rising of the music. The song grew and faded. That was all. And though Crow was there, the box made me feel lonely. I started to put the box back in its place when I was interrupted.
A voice from inside vibrated and told me, “Try again.” I lifted the box up, looking at the bottom for a hole for the voice to emerge from, but everything was shut, “I’ll do better this time.” I shook the box, but nothing happened.
“Who are you?” I asked, feeling even lonelier for speaking to a box.
“Good question. If I told you, I wonder if you’d believe me. Would you? Believe me? I mean, you can’t see me, can you?”
“Well…do you lie about who you are?”
“That’s not a very good question, is it? Would it validate you if I said, ‘No, I never lie.’”
“I think it would. Maybe. Probably not now though.”
“Well, I live here in this music box. These walls protect me. I came here out of confusion, but I’d like to leave.”
“What are you scared of?” I asked, “And how long have you been there?”
“I don’t recall.”
I thought about the calendar I once made, the one I etched into a tree when I first arrived to the forest. As time went on and those etchings began to feel pointless, I couldn’t remember which tree was the calendar.
“Would you mind turning the handle once more? You try on that side and I’ll try on this side.”
I hesitated, wondering if it was worth the effort. Why save something to bring it here? But I heard the voice had a shard of sadness in it, and I couldn’t leave him alone in there to battle solitude. I started turning the handle again, imagining a friendship with a fairy. The music rose and fell, and still nothing escaped.
“Did I do wrong?” I asked.
The lid popped open slightly, leaving a crack of darkness looking in and a spurt of lights looking out.
I opened the box and looked in. Gold shined outwards, blinding me. The voice, it seemed, was a ring. I picked it up, holding it with my fingertips and bringing it closer to me. On the inside of the ring was an engraving, etched into the side like I had done with the calendar on the tree.
Inside the box was a note reading, “We will dream of the day when we can wake up with hearts that are open.”
Gently, I placed the empty box on the bare roots beneath the trunk. I walked away silently, avoiding sensitive twigs so the voice didn’t have to hear, though I wasn’t certain if I had just imagined it. I moved farther away and stopped beneath a cylinder of light that broke through the trees. I looked at how the mud on my hands had hardened. I took my nail and dug deeply away at the thick flesh I had made. I needed to see what had become of me underneath. A layer was removed, and the pinkish skin on my hand looked the same, but paler from a lack of light over the years in the forest. I moved away from the trunk, away from the trees I had grown accustomed to living besides, and the crow was still on my shoulder. I found the creek as it had away been, but it seemed wider, more like a river. I dipped my toes in the water and ripped off my shoes, the dried leaves. Then I went further, standing in the water and feeling the rocks underneath push deeper in the soil. The water came up to my knees and I washed away the mud. I ducked my head underneath, watching the fish swim away and my cloak cloud the water. I thought about the music box, about filling it with water. Maybe the water would rot away at the edges and I could drown the voice inside. I held myself under, wondering if I had the capacity to stay, to breath in this new place. I looked at the ring, the words glowing NEVER ODD NOR EVEN. I thought about the ones I knew before the forest, the reasons I was hiding. Faces burst through my retina as pressure built in my ears. Blinding smiles, not one frown, not one speck of sadness, and that made me dig my hands deeper into the soil, hoping that I could feel that bout of happiness in those faces. The pressure behind my ears grew stronger, I sucked in water, hoping to be free of the forest, but it filled my lungs, and my body alerted itself to the danger. I sprung up, coughing out what I had tried to breath in, and the Crow was perched on a rock, and realizing I wasn’t his old friend, he flew away and disappeared in a cluster of billowing trees. I could hear the voice asking me to free it as I walked out of the forest and into the arms of warm skeletons, and it was the lonely voice that kept me from going back there.