Journey | The Last Forest

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The air is different. We’re in an old forest, lush with life and history. Father feels it, too, and he tells me stories about the people of the past – Native Americans, Romans, Celtic Druids, shamans.

“Full circle, Grey,” Father says. “We look to their example now, to survive.”

I nod. I like these stories: real ones, and not fairy tales like before.

“I feel like I might see one of those people,” I say. There’s a note of hesitation in my voice.

From Father’s furtive glancing, I know he feels the eyes on us in the forest. We are being watched, observed – maybe hunted.

And then there’s the other thing: the way his shoulders relax, like he’s not carrying any burdens at all. Like he’s finally at peace. He found it, because she’s here. There’s that undeniable familiar feeling of her in the air.

I get it now, when Father said he could feel her in the wind at the mountain pass. In these brief moments, I know more about my father than ever before.

Why he had to leave Sasha, even though we could have been happy with her. Why he drank to numb the pain of denying reality for a wish and a dream. Why he kept pushing me to hope for her, to find her, to not give up on her.

We’ll never get my mom back. She’s six feet under and going nowhere. Rose, though – we could have been with her this whole time.

An arrow whizzes by my cheek, so close I’m surprised I didn’t lose a chunk of ear.

“Hey, hey, hey!” Father cries out. He pulls me down to the ground, and we flatten ourselves in cool, moist dirt.

“You crossed the boundary for our town,” I hear a man cry. He’s somewhere in front of us, but I can’t see him. I hear movement on both sides of me.

We’re surrounded. Father coughs a little, and I look over and the shaft of an arrow protrudes from his right shoulder, out of place on his person. Shock overwhelms me, and I can’t move or think. It is only when I see the pained grin and the light in his eyes that I relax.

“I’m fine,” Father whispers, “only a flesh wound, right?”

I nod, my cheek pressing in the dirt.

“Why are you here?” Another voice asks from behind us. Maybe the archer, but that part doesn’t matter – because even though one of my ears is pressed in the dirt, and I’m afraid for Father, and that voice sounds muffled by layers of fabric, hardened by age and tough choices, I know it. It’s the voice we’ve been searching for, and Father knows it, too, and I can see through my own fresh tears that he’s crying, too.

“For you,” I say to my sister. “We’re here for you.”

Journey | Drowning Gods

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“It’s like a cathedral,” Father says. I blink the world back into focus and register the cross-topped stone spire in front of me.

“Where’s winter?” I ask. The air is cool but not cold, and I cannot see any snow or ice.

“You were sick, Grey,” Father says. “You slept a lot. I found a little town – you would have loved it – and there was medicine. I just kept giving you things. I didn’t know. I prayed I wasn’t doing more harm, and you gradually got better and better. Your mind has been hazy from fever. You haven’t remembered much from when you were awake.”

“I thought you were mad,” I feel tears well in my eyes. “I thought you were crazy.”

“I know,” Father says.

We leave it at that.

Journey | The Tunnel

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“Grey?” Father’s voice echoes around me. The air in the tunnel is damp and stale. It feels warmer here. We have been in this tunnel for weeks now.

“Grey!” There’s a note of despair in his voice. He’s calling me, but he doesn’t expect it to work. He’s lost his mind. I have to get away from him.

“No,” I wheeze. I stumble down the tunnel. I have to get out; I have to get away from him. “Leave me alone!”

“Please, no,” Father whispers in the dark. “Please, God, please…”

I wipe my forehead with the back of my hand; it is slick with sweat. The image of my dirty hand swims before me. I feel my body give, and I fall.

Journey | Winter is Here

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“Snow is when the bad things come,” Father says.

“Like monsters?” I ask.

“Like hypothermia, starvation, or death,” Father replies.

“Like desperation.” I say. My voice is flat. We have never known desperation. Not in the settlement, and not in our travels so far. I can feel it creep in, loitering like a scavenger. My lungs feel tight with frigid air. I rasp out breaths in tiny warm puffs. I want a thicker blanket. I want more food. I want socks and new boots and a dry place to sleep. The winter closes in on me, and now I understand what it means to feel “claustrophobic.”

I just wanted to see where the tracks went. Father made it about finding her, but maybe she didn’t want to be found.

We walk the snowy tunnel in deliberate silence.

Journey | Mountain Pass

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These tracks are different. The stone is hard and cool under my feet. Specks of gravel pierce through worn soles. Not for the first time, I miss my old bent tree.

It’s different for Father. The road energizes him. The mountains look promising, not menacing. With each burst of cold wind, he inhales and smiles.

“Can’t you tell, Grey?” Father laughs. “She has been here. You can feel her in the wind.”

I see it: a little patch of sky that looks like a blue heart amidst the clouds. It’s not much, but it reminds me that life is fragile, and hope is a scarce commodity. I won’t be the one to deprive Father of that.

“You’re right,” I tell him, “She’s in the wind.”

Journey | Omnipotent

I decided to do something new: write a short vignette about the image below, similar in style to Erin Morgenstern’s flax-golden tales (I love them!). The difference? The shorter vignette fits into a larger story, which I will continue to write until the characters tell me I’m done.

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We took what we could from the asylum: blankets and sheets from the dormitories, old clothes and boots buried in rusty lockers, and canned food from a thin pantry. Father isn’t sure if the food will hold up, but we decide to take it anyway, just in case.

We have a few rough days: early chills and early nights, irritation and frustration.

“I miss Sasha!” I cry out one day when he begs me to keep going. “She was nice and kind, and she had pictures of pretty things like cathedrals.”

“Cathedrals?” Father spits out the word like it is poison.

“I wanted to see them and I never will!” My voice wavers. I am on the verge of tears.

“You want to see cathedrals? Find God?” He pulls me to a branch, where a knot like an eye stares back at me. “There. This is it. This is all there is.”

I look at the eye and sob, my hands catching the salty tears as the drip from me.

The next day I see the flask abandoned in a hollowed trunk.

Journey | Winter is Coming

I decided to do something new: write a short vignette about the image below, similar in style to Erin Morgenstern’s flax-golden tales (I love them!). The difference? The shorter vignette fits into a larger story, which I will continue to write until the characters tell me I’m done.

Feedback always appreciated.

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Winter is coming. Father laughs when I say it. I don’t know why, and when I ask he only says, “You know nothing.”

He laughs again and takes another swig from the flask he found. We continue to wander through the asylum, a broken place frozen in time. It looks like it has been abandoned for a long time, and the air feels old and dead. We gather what we can to stay warm, wrapping ourselves in ancient blankets and setting fire to fallen-apart furniture. We’ve made camp in what appears to be someone’s office.

“What’s in the flask?” I ask. Maybe I will get a real answer this time.

“Not really sure,” Father says with a chuckle. “Some kind of liquor. I never really liked it that much. I always preferred beer or wine. This stuff was liquid courage; you could do or say anything. Good in some cases, but bad in most.”

“Like when you met Mom?”

He nods, brushing pale graying hair from his brown eyes. He looks more unkempt than in the settlements.

Maybe it’s the liquor.