Firefly Lantern

I awoke someplace in the forest after my closed eyes began seeing streaks of green. I was surrounded in complete darkness and if not for that man who held that light, I would have thought I was still asleep. He was a gruff old man, wearing tattered rags and had a beard that mimicked an old dog’s fur. He was large, to say the least, and his voice was heavy. He carried a cage of fireflies with one hand that danced in the night. With his other hand he carried a walking cane to tread the night. I didn’t know how he found me, but he told me that I was simply asleep when his cane bumped into me. I didn’t know where I was, nor how I had gotten there. He was sitting on a stump when I had awoken.

He told me that there were no trails in the forest. I chose to believe him out of courtesy since he was the one guiding me. He told me of his home further north and that he lived a modest life of hunting and gathering. I asked him where the nearest city was. He looked back at me in utter confusion. It was almost as if I was following a piece of the past. I had no way of knowing whether I had fallen asleep and traversed to the past, nor did I wish I did. I just had no other choice but to follow that man.

“That cage you hold. How did you come about it?” I asked. He gave a slight chuckle and simply said, “I made it. From a man long ago who came to my home.” The cage was made from steel with a protective layer preventing the fireflies from leaving, but still thin enough so that their light could guide us.

“That man, was he lost as well?”

“Far from it.” He smiled, remembering something far beyond me.

“How about you? What brings you here? You tell me that you have no memory of it, but surely something had drawn you to this forest.” I honestly couldn’t recall and so I didn’t answer him.

“Either way, a man claiming to have no relations once came to me in another life as well. Much like the man who gave me this cage. He taught me a lesson about the forest that I would never have guessed an outsider would know.” I watched as the man in front of me walked up to a tree and waved his cage over its trunk. There was another cage hinged into the tree. The man opened this tree cage and in a single motion brought some of his fireflies over to the tree’s. The light of the tree wasn’t nearly as much as the man’s cage, but it was enough to suffice some kind of path.

“This was that lesson,” the man said.

“Do these lights make a path to your home?”

“No, but I made this path for people like you.” He began speeding ahead to another tree and transferred more fireflies over, slowly paving a path for me.

“And if someone doesn’t find this path?”

“If someone doesn’t find this path, then this path will lose its meaning, is what you’re saying, right?” I didn’t answer.

“You must be mistaken if you think you’re still of the realm you came from.” The man’s voice grew distant, for some reason. He began speeding along on his cane and as the path grew more illuminated, his figure grew more distant. I hurried along, following the cages of fireflies that were attached to the trees. On one of the trees I passed, I noticed a crystallized brown liquid dripping from the nail that held the cage to the tree. The fireflies were particularly fond of avoiding that drip.

“What do you mean?” I asked. I hadn’t noticed, but the path led us to the top of a hill. Once I had arrived next to the man, I looked down to see a moon within the lake.

“I made that path for people like you who have lost their way. People don’t come into this forest unless they are lost.”

“And what about you?”

“I don’t come to this forest. I live in it.”

“Do you know why I’m here?” The man sat on the edge of the cliff, with his cane parted on its side, and held his now empty cage in his lap. The moon within the lake reflected a beam of azure onto his face. I looked down into the lake again, and stretched my eyes to the edge of the lake, but was unable to find it. The moon seemed to stretch forever, but I dared not to look up. There was a small sparkling within the lake, and I wondered if those were stars or bubbles from underneath.

“If you would tell me whatever you know about this place, or why I’m here, I think that would help my memory.” The man stared into the lake as if it had taken his being in reins. He set the cage beside him, and said, “Look at your person.” I had only noticed then when he had pointed it out, but I was wearing a coat, and pants. Their weight had not seemed to find me until he brought attention towards them. I checked all my pockets, and found a golden tooth. The man looked up to see it, and then chuckled.

“The men who have walked through my forest have always forgotten about something within their lives. They are lost until I tell them about what is so obviously in front of them. That is the gift I have been given. The gift of knowledge.” The man picked up his cane and used it to station himself.

“I know nothing of this forest other than that my home is to the north, and that this path leads to the moon in the lake.” With his cane, the man flicked his cage up and caught it with his free hand, showing nothing of his stature.

“I know not of why you so happened to be here, but I know that it is linked to this loss. The men who have come here always carry a memento of that loss. So that is yours.” I turned the golden tooth in my hand, but could find nothing to trigger my memories.

“What were the objects of the other men?”

“The one who gave me this cage came with multiple blades strapped to his back. He had not noticed that they were rooting out of his being until I had told him of it. He gave me the blades, and that is how I had made the cages.”

“And the man who taught you about lighting the path?”

“He came with a small device that created flames. I had no use for such a device as it would easily spread wildfire, but he taught me to preserve flame.”

“And did they know why they were here?” The man nodded. He began walking back down towards the illuminated path.

“Each one had left aptly after coming to terms with what they lost. This is no place for people of your realm.”

The man began walking down the path, leaving me with the golden tooth. I stared back down to the moon within the lake, with more questions than answers. The golden tooth reflected something from the lake, but I still couldn’t find much to do with it. No matter how hard I tried to force something out, it would all be for naught.  I looked back at the path that the old man walked. It seemed like he had no intention of finding me again, nor did he have any intention of being involved with me. The fireflies in the trees seemed like they would dance forever, and some part of me wanted to see them dance forever. I walked up to the nearest cage, and noticed that the nail connecting the cage to the tree also had the crystallized brown liquid dripping. The fireflies made great distance from that liquid. I wondered why. I began tugging at the nail, and noticed that with one motion I could unhinge the cage altogether. I dared not as the man who brought me here had incurred a debt to my wellbeing, but something within me wanted to try anyway, to try and see how close I could get.

I began tugging at the nail, and the more I brought the nail out of the tree, the more that brown liquid began oozing. I realized it then as the fireflies began dancing near my hands that the tree was bleeding. I also noticed that the fireflies were surprisingly quiet.They weren’t emitting any noise as they danced around my hands. They were complacent with lighting up this path, and being stuck in this cage. I took my golden tooth, and wondered something. I loosened the cage entirely, taking the nail out and seeing a large spurt of brown liquid cascade across the trunk. I stuck my tooth into the gap, and watched as the flow stopped.  I then carefully began working the nail into my tooth, and once it was properly hinged, I saw that the fireflies began dancing freely again. They were no longer huddled away from the tree’s trunk. I smiled at that.

I walked back to the edge of the cliff, and looked into the moon within the lake. I still hadn’t a single clue of why I had found myself in the forest, or why I had a golden tooth. I was still lost, but I smiled as I brought myself towards that moon within the lake, knowing that a cage in the forest had dancing fireflies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frost Bitten

I heard myself panting, but I didn’t know whether it was because I was being chased by a pack of wolves, or because I had just shot one. I tried aiming behind me to shoot another bullet but I knew for a fact that the thing in my hand was a poor excuse for a working gun. It jammed every other bullet, and gave me absolute hell. When it finally went off, the sound of it scared me more than it scared the wolves behind me.  I remembered my gym teacher telling me to never look back when I was running track. That was the only time I remembered something from school.

I must have ran for miles until the snow storm finally swept me. It was the middle of a raging winter, and I knew for a fact that having a marathon in the middle of winter in a desolate forest out in the country wasn’t doing me any good. The storm pelted me with so much snow that I was glad to be wearing three layers and a scarf. But I wasn’t glad enough that the wolves had been hunting in the woods for as long as I’d been in school. I looked back in the raging storm, unable to see much, but fired off the rest of my shots. I didn’t hear anything, and didn’t expect to. I dropped my gun in the storm and then with full force pushed ahead until I was out of breath. I thought I was sitting meat when I grabbed onto a trunk and bent down for a quick rest. The snow was not letting anytime soon in the forest and I knew for a fact that the wolves had my smell. My heartbeat was probably racing down the street and my face was being burnt alive. Everything seemed to stop once I concentrated and caught my breath. Time slowed down, the snow began feeling like a warm blanket, and my entire body felt like it was being baked in an oven. I felt like my entire being was being melded with the winter’s snow, and I heard the sounds of bears and deers slowly making their way in the snow. I envisioned antlers and fangs and the smoke out of mud houses and venison being roasted slowly in a campfire. My head then began filling with the sounds of chants and humming and dancing and young children smiling and laughing around an open fire. Then, I remembered an old man giving me a pipe, and then being sent into the clouds.

I was brought out of my trance when I felt a sharp sting on my leg. I looked down to see a wolf had driven his mouth into my leg. If I didn’t move fast enough I would have thought that the wolf was drinking my blood, but I kicked it with my other leg and brought it down into the snow. The kick took all my strength, and I knew that the smell of my blood would attract the rest of the pack. I brought one hand onto my wound, and began limping away. I couldn’t stop blood from dripping onto the snow, and I knew that the path I was making would spell my death anyway. I cursed in the snow, and looked back for the wolf. I couldn’t find it, and I began panicking. My breathing began fluctuating again, and everything was shaking. The snow kept raging on, and even if the wolves didn’t find me, I knew that the cold would. I leaned back onto a tree, and pressed my hand onto the two fang marks on my pants. I felt the meat of my legs sink as blood spurted out. The pain shot up through my body, but I pressed forward and reached into my back pocket. I grabbed the knife I kept for emergency measures and sliced the bottom of my pants off.  I then tied it to my wound and got up. I could barely stand, but with the snow freezing my legs, It made moving surprisingly easy. I began moving with my arms out to try and find balance with my steps, but the snow storm was proving to be too much of a hindrance to make any progress. I felt my gloved fingers starting to numb as well, and then realized that I hadn’t had a fix in over two days. Once that realization hit me, my entire body began shaking, and my vision slurred into a canvas of red and black. I felt my eyes widen in excitement, or adrenaline, and suddenly my entire body began entering into a canvas. I imagined being painted blood red and standing in a field of wild deer.

I rummaged my pockets for a needle, trying to make reality of what was already fiction, but the only reason why I understood that was because of the color of my hands. I peered under my gloves to see my hands covered in red liquid. This brought me back and I was suddenly in the middle of a raging snow storm. I shook my head and then looked back. I sighed in relief, but then upon turning forward my eyes locked into the eyes of the wolf who bit me. The only reason why I knew that it was this particular wolf were the drips of blood staining his teeth. The knife was still in my hands, but despite any amount of strength I mustered to try and use the knife, my hands wouldn’t move. They were frozen in place, but I felt no fear. The wolf opened his mouth, and I stared back, unmoving to his bite. It was at that moment that the snow storm calmed down. Visibility around me recovered and the wolf, instead of biting down into me, closed his mouth and lowered his head. I brought my free hand over the top of the wolf’s head and began patting its fur. I made broad soft strokes down its neck, and that was when I felt a surge. This animal was mine. I began trying to remember the old legends and tales that my grandmother used to tell on the reserve. I couldn’t remember much, but I knew that this wolf was mine. My sister used to tell me stories of how a wolf would find its way to our home every winter and bring her fish from the frozen lakes. I knew my sister was no liar.

The wolf turned, and began slowly walking into the residing storm. I grabbed onto a nearby tree trunk and propped myself back up while holstering my knife. I began following the wolf through the thin snow, which still irritated my skin, but did not freeze my legs as bad anymore. It was this time that I also stopped feeling the effects of not taking any hits. I followed the wolf’s strides with my eyes very carefully, to the point where I began crawling on my hands and feet to match the wolf’s strides. My legs hurt far too much for me to continue the act, so I stopped, but the urges fought against me like a needle would.

Sometime in the storm I began dozing off. The wolf’s fur began glowing bright white, but I knew that the magic my people used to chant about were not of this world. I knew that my ancestors had already abandoned me once I began partaking in the rituals of the white skinned people and took to arms with their medicine. I knew that I had no business in partaking in their magic. However, the wolf’s fur continued to glow bright white to my eyes. I knew it was not the storm. The storm was dying down already, and I stretched my fingers to prove that fact.

Rows of dead trees paraded the forest, and I knew that the wolf leading me was not lost. Every tree around me began oozing some kind of strange aura towards me. It was as if the dead trees of winter were all cluttered to create a cemetery. The wolf in front of me didn’t let for a single second, but the leg that it bit began losing itself, and I fell straight into the snow. I tried to pick myself up, but a sharp pain shot itself up my body again. There was something in my leg that needed medicine. I wanted the white skinned men’s medicine. The wolf came back for me when he noticed that I was kneeling, and brought his head under my arm, indicating that he wanted me to use him to move. I began moving forward in a limp, slowly allowing the wolf to drag me forward. The texture of his fur as I crawled alongside him brought me back to the times of when my grandmother would show off our grandfather’s wolf pelts. She would knit them into carpets and clothes, and she allowed us to touch it before she would.  Each fur would glide alongside our hands and feel like a million fibers were caressing our palms. Except, with the wolf by my side now, it didn’t feel like a million fibers caressing my palm. It felt like a soft touch on my bare skin. Like a woman’s fingers gently wrapping herself around my arm. The wolf’s fur no longer glowed.

I didn’t know how much time had passed since I first got on the wolf, but time seemed to pass by without me ever really noticing. My leg was still in shambles and I knew that putting any more strain on it would not help in any way with its recovery. My longing for the white skinned men’s medicine grew with every step in the snow, but that would all dissipate when the wolf had arrived at his destination. At first, I didn’t know what I was looking at, but as the pains in my body began relaxing, I fully understood where the wolf had brought me. I didn’t know where I was in relations to the forest I was in, nor did I know how far I was in this forest. It amazed me that the white skinned men had left such a thing here in this forest. I knew that many reserves still existed, but the remnants of those that were destroyed were said to have all been cleaned. But what I was looking at seemed to refute that. It was a burnt down hut covered in snowfall and ashes. I could imagine where the fire pit would be and where the kids would gather, where the father would go out to hunt and where the mother would prepare all their necessities. Everything in this small family system bloomed in my mind, but the only thing that stood was their remains. The wolf brought me up towards the charred wood, and I reached one hand over only to have the wood fall apart upon my touch. Everything in the area seemed to gravitate towards my being. Not only the trees, but this destroyed settlement began enticing me. I got off the support of the wolf and then touched the wood again, watching as it broke in my hands. The wood dust littered the snow, and something in me sought out to keep reaching for more pieces. Every plank I touched broke, but I kept my pace and didn’t give up. The wolf that had brought me watched in silence.

I didn’t know why I remained there scurrying away at planks of rotting wood, but I did know that I was determined to hold one of the remains in my hands. For some reason, it felt like my duty to hold one of their fragments. Perhaps I thought it would honor them, but even so I had long forsaken my heritage. It must have taken me nearly twenty minutes until I was finally able to hold a piece in my hands. By that time, my gloves were torn, and the red of the blood from the man that I had killed began dripping onto the snow and wood. The wolf nestled itself under me, and licked the snow. It then began growling, and pushed me down, forcing pressure onto my injured leg. It widened its mouth onto me, making me smell my own flesh. The wood that I was able to hold was now in shambles, and the wolf grew closer to my face, inviting me to its fangs. My muscles would not pulse any resistance no matter how many times I told my body to move. The wolf now began growing white, and as the wolf came towards my face, I closed my eyes.

When I opened them, the wolf retracted its head, and got off my leg. It then bit into the wood that fell when it brought me down and placed the ashes of it in a strange pattern.  I couldn’t read the symbol, but it felt similar to the symbols that my people wrote long ago. This wolf and its pack had a connection to my people far greater than I could ever achieve. I looked at my bloodied hands again, and remembered what it was that drove me to kill that man. My hands began shaking again, and I began hearing the sounds of boots driving its way into the snow violently. The wolf’s ears jerked up at the sound of other humans, and looked at me before running off in the opposite direction. I knew that it wanted me to follow, but I remained on the snow, unable to do anything, and held onto my injured leg. Even a wolf’s blood was purer than a human’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mirror

I stared at the mirror unable to recognize who was staring back. I tried blinking, but the image didn’t change.  I tried closing my eyes, but upon looking at the mirror again, I still could not recognize who was staring back. I thought maybe the mirror had been swapped, and that I was looking at a picture. But if that were to happen, then I would wonder who would have broken into my room late in the night to do so. And why they wouldn’t have just smothered me in my sleep instead of leaving me to this fate. I had a rule in this room. It wasn’t my rule, but the rule of the people who sent me here. I was given this room filled with ornamented glass, centuries old wine, and a coaster. The coaster was my favorite part of the room. It stood unabashedly on the finely carved wood table, and waited for me to settle a fine glass of wine onto it. I couldn’t keep track of how much I wished that I would be that coaster. Such a life would be wasted on me, but I wished for that life. I needed that life. The rule of the people who sent me here was simple. At least, that’s what they called it, simple. But nothing really ever is simple. The glass in which I drank my wine was made in a way that could never be formulaically simple. The coaster that was so delicately hand crafted could never be simple. If I ran such trivialities in my head then I would no longer find the need to bring a knife to my arm. That was what they told me. Simple.

If I broke any of the rules, then they would know. And if they knew, then I would have less of a chance of leaving this condition. Except, if I were to die in this condition, I would die alone, and I would die with no records of me ever having lived. That is what they told me. The first step out of my condition would be to look at myself in the mirror, that is what they told me. That was the rule. I had to draw a picture of myself every day in great detail as I looked in the mirror of my living room. I had the paper and pencil sprawled in front of me, and the wine glass setting on the coaster, and the whine of the refrigerator somewhere to my side. That whine kept me sane as I stared into the eyes of whoever was in the mirror. If I failed to produce a drawing, I would have broken the rule, and there were no other mirrors in this room. I considered the wine glass, but I could not see through the distortion. Rather, I preferred not to touch my wine glass. I wished for it to sit on the coaster forever. I looked back in the mirror. I didn’t know who was staring back, but I drew my picture anyway, thinking I could figure something out with what I had. My room was insulated, with nothing but those few things that I could use to keep myself alive. The white walls seemed like it wanted to swallow me, to transfuse my body into its composition such that it wouldn’t be a white wall. I understood it’s sentiment.

I drew what I saw in the mirror and then inspected every last line that I had produced. It didn’t look like anyone special. Just a man with slicked hair and a clean shaven face. His eyes were a bit too large for his face, but his mouth and nose were exactly where they should be. His shoulders were broad, and his upper body was well toned. I could not draw a lower body since the table was blocking. I didn’t recognize this man, not in the mirror, nor on the paper. It made me frustrated. I didn’t have much in the room to uphold this frustration, and if I were to break out in frustration rules would be broken. I knew of no other way to expunge the anger that welled up in me, in my inability to recognize who was in the mirror. I couldn’t call on anyone, I couldn’t tell them that the mirror I stared at was not the same mirror from yesterday, nor the week before. It frustrated me that on that particular day, of that particular week of that particular month that my mirror was different. It all seemed so haphazard, slapped onto my everyday routine just to vex me. My anger couldn’t be subsided, I knew it couldn’t. The white walls that paraded me knew it couldn’t. I would never be subsided as long as I had been given such freedoms as drawing on a table with a wine on a coaster. My arms flung unrestrained and my bare feet stamped on the white tiles below me in a fit. The wine glass fell and shattered onto the white tiles, becoming almost transparent as it did so. The coaster remained on the table unattended to.

I continued to thrash about until my feet were swollen. The pleasure ebulliently filled my body and I felt everything stop for a brief moment. My muscles all relaxed and I looked at the picture I drew. It was still unclear. I looked back in the mirror. It still wasn’t me. The whine in the refrigerator stopped, and the entire room rung white. My breathing relaxed, and I looked to the door that existed to keep me here. There was a note plastered on the bottom of its frame, stuck in with a nail. I walked over to that door and lowered myself to inspect the note. I had often been given such notes on strange occasions. Certainly such an occasion was due, but I had no way of telling. The note read simply, “You’re doing well, keep it up.” And in smaller print, “Don’t hurt yourself, alright?” I felt obliged to answer the notes, and in the morning following they would disappear. I grabbed the pencil I used to draw and scrawled my reply to them. I said, “Today I can’t see the mirror. Did you guys switch it?” I knew I wouldn’t get an answer, nor would I ever get an answer. There was nothing else left in that room for me to do, and the only connecting room was the kitchen. I walked over in hopes of finding something to ail me.

The kitchen was much smaller than the room with the mirror. It was perhaps half as large, with the same white walls. There was the refrigerator, a table in the middle for dining, and a sink. There were no cabinets, but beside the sink was a knife, a plate and a fork. I wasn’t allowed to touch anything in the kitchen unless there was an absolute emergency, or so they told me. Usually food would be prepared for me by the morning I woke up, but I figured they wouldn’t be able to tell whether I did enter the kitchen if I didn’t touch anything. This gave me a giddy sense of clandestine, like I was a patient hiding something  from his doctors in a cuckoo’s nest. I grabbed the knife in passing before I left the kitchen, unknowing if its use would help me.

I walked over to the mirror and looked again, hoping that I would not have to resolve this in the few ways that I knew. I could not recognize the man in the mirror.  My patience grew thin and my entire body shuttered as if I was glass being shattered by a hammer. I had no way of keeping the rule if I had no proper way to see my reflection. I would not be able to leave this condition. And as such, I figured that by partaking in the methods I knew  how to perform, the methods that would lead me to salvation, would not be so bad. If my breaking of a single rule would prevent me from making progress, than what difference does a few rules. I brought the knife to my arm, and let my mind drain itself from all extremities. The refrigerator started up again. I plunged the knife into my arm, and slid it up my wrist. I then brought it out and watched as the white tiles were painted red. My mind didn’t waver, and it remained clear. A surge of immeasurable pleasure ran my entire body, but it only lasted for a few seconds. I drove the knife into my arm again, and again, until my arm could not be held. My body remained in a state of bedlam, but I knew that it was just from deprivation.  I brought my arm to the mirror, and I recognized that arm. It was my arm. I was overjoyed that I fixed the problem. I pushed back the table, and then brushed my face against the mirror, watching as I smashed my head into the glass, and as the reflection became mine. I smiled as the shattered glass had depicted my image in a near perfect state. I was overtly ecstatic, unable to contain my joy. I wanted to express that to the world, my perfect image. I began drawing.