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.