we came from the forest
all ash and bone and blood and glass
and all that other YA shit.
I went to her house for the weekend on thursday.
It was a better place than mine, always had been- tall, wide, multiple stories. I had known Ava since we were younger. Some grade ago. Half my life. Back when it really counted.
She was a skinny white girl with long dark hair and a skeletal face, the sort of configuration models were made of. I'd never told her this. She answered the door and let me in.
"What do you want to drink?" She asked, like some sort of bartender.
We always had ice.
We bounced up to her room, each step loud and heavy as we carried my bags up two flights of stairs. Her room was a nest of error, a couple wrong turns in terms of spending and design- old projects lay never finished along the floor, neat but numerous, while her hoard of books lined three bookshelves.
I loved it here, I always had. Some of the binders dotting the floor were mine, but many were ours- shared concepts that never happened. She drew, I dictated, and we always felt somehow proud.
When we were kids, we felt superior for having ideas. We didn't know the other kids, but we knew that we were better- that our monsters were better drawn, that our words were more creative. It was laughable now, but the pride still lingered.
We liked who we were.
We settled on the bed. It was the cusp of night and morning, but we weren't tired yet.
Ava's house is sheltered by the woodlands, but in the comforting sense- my home was nowhere, her's had neighbors. She had a great lawn too, a hill worthy of rolling and a tall tree fine for climbing. But we liked what we knew. We liked the woods.
I could draw a wildly inaccurate map if I wanted to, of all the places I knew and what they meant to me. I could tour groups through my childhood.
Instead, from left to right:
A: You enter through a gap in the branches- unnoticeable until you're there. This is the arch, the best entrance (though we must acknowledge you can enter anywhere)
B: Straight down to the stream- or not stream. Ditch. Narrow area of many rocks. A stonewall appears and ends. This is a good place to start, a good place to balance.
C: There are many ferns.
D: Re: C: You could build a den from then, for the animals, for yourselves
E: The trees are notable until you hit the marshes- this is the land of shadows, we call it. The land of enemies.
F: The ditch is gone and the stream has arrived- on your left, notice the well. On your right, the old foundation. Don't you want to dig it up? Don't you want to know who died?
G: There is an old treehouse here too. One day, we will fix it. Right now it is only two triangle planks, high above the ground.
H: The two stone guardians, the boulders worth climbing. There is not much to see in a forest, but from here you can try.
I: Drink from the stream
J: Try to fit under that crevice
K: The path continues forever, off to the left is the field of deer, above you is the field of crows- but there is one last place, an exit
L: A great pine towers above us all. You can climb only so far, but it is easy to break the branches. With enough time, you could reach the top.
M: There is are a lot of dead trees. A sawmill without saws. You can return here. It's only a five minute walk back.
No one but her has ever called me ugly. I've always wanted to be that direct with her.
"You're not very pretty." Ava says, and it doesn't need to be fronted with any remark to excuse offense. We know each other. "But I've seen worse."
"I like looking at elderly couples," I say, "reminds me everyone gets to have sex at least once."
Ava frowns. "There's plenty of young, ugly folks out there getting laid. You'll make it."
This seems like a very superficial conversation to be having, and it is. We are too young for sex, but we think of it often. We are alone, and we can be honest here. Once, one winter as we were rolling down Ava's hill and sliding on the ice, the following conversation occurred:
"I want to be rich. Too rich." (Me)
"Money corrupts." (Ava. She has money though, so it is clearly bias)
"I don't care. I want to buy things."
"Yeah. Me too. If I had money, I'd pay your bills." (I don't mention that she could pay my bills, probably)
"I'd give thousands of dollars to every store downtown. So they'd stop having to close. And I'd also build a huge mansion with a swimming pool."
"I'd pay off your parent's debts."
"Oh yeah. Me too."
We'd had worse conversations, of course, but the point was that sometimes we'd err on the side of the amoral, and sometimes we wouldn't, but generally we were just two people talking and walking in the midst of not much else.
I had been expressing my desire to Ava that I wanted to have sex one day, not meaningful sex and a healthy relationship- just sex, once. An one-night stand, an attractive stranger staring me down.
"You don't have much going on," Ava said, "you're always going to have people falling in love with your true self, I think. Probably going to have someone nice fall for you, a kind guy with slightly long hair who plays guitar and helps you through depression."
"You'll find plenty of sinful folks." Ava wasn't pretty either, but I'd never say it to her. But she knew what she was: above-average. Nice. She worked with what she had, while I always was just there, trying to act like I knew how to use my face.
"Oh yes, I'd expect so."
Everyone called me pretty, but she never had.
We conserve our hours at first, and then waste them, and then it is again the next day. We rise.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, Ava's parents do exist. One works far away, the other works at home. They both wake earlier than us, and they are always kind to me.
This morning, they are already gone. There's a note on the fridge that Ava ignores, pouring me a cup of ice and talking about our plans.
We're going to play pretend. We're too old for it, but whatever. We head outside, a scheme roughly set, deciding characters- I'm always the demon, she's always an angel. When we were kids, it was a name game- Ava the angel just sounded good.
It's saturday. There's something in the sky.
I wonder how long its been there.
Looming, it sits. It doesn't move, it doesn't do anything besides exist. It doesn't cast a shadow, but it consumes the sky.
It is hard to describe. Dark, massive, there. It has thousands of eyes like a seeded drink, but they are comical, white with a simple fine dot, like this shape is a cute thing.
But it isn't. It's there.
Me and Ava don't really move, just watch it hang from the gravel driveway. I guess my base instinct is the scream, some sort of bred-in belief from back when mankind didn't know anything about anything.
Of course, I don't know a thing about this thing. Just that it scares me. Just that I don't like how it is there, how sudden it is, how I doubt it will ever move.
The sun is getting closer to one of its horns.
"Are we still going?" Ava asks.
"Can I scream?" I say.
She nods as we start to walk to the woods.
I scream for a bit, and God it is refreshing. God- that's sure a word to think about in a time like this. But I don't want to, so I don't.
Ava screams too, and it becomes a collaborative project between the two of us, comparing pitches and tuning accordingly.
We laugh, and the thing in the sky continues.
Shielded by the cover of trees, we miss the thing move. But the next time we find a clearing, out in the marshlands, it has changed a little. The eyes are gone. There are only horns and an ear.
"Is this better or worse?" Ava poses, as we walk back under the trees.
"Doesn't matter." I say, "we're going to die."
I used to believe I could talk with crows. I guess we both did, but I always held onto that narcissistic scrap that only I truly believed. And that maybe only I could speak with them.
We talked by screeching, cawing and whistling, imitating crow calls and listening for answers. We haven't done it in years, but every time I hear one squawk, the thought comes back.
Those were my consorts.
We're just walking in the woods today, it seems. The game is lost with the new presence in the sky- we suddenly feel too worried, too grow up to have fun. But there's nothing we can truly do about it either- just look at it from between the trees. Nervously.
We come to the end of our territory, the two stone boulders. Beyond it, though we pretend it doesn't matter, is a yellow notice stabled to a tree- private property, keep out.
"Do you think it's an alien?" Ava asks.
"So not an alien?"
"I don't know. Doesn't look like satan, and I doubt it's God."
"What if it is God? What if God is just some giant thousand eyed beast with horns and ears?"
"Then that would have been a crucial detail left unmentioned in the bible."
"Maybe it's some other God. Like from the first civilization, so old that we don't have records of it anymore. Maybe they were right, and they'll never get to gloat about it until the afterlife."
"Do you believe in any afterlives?"
We didn't do much. The blocking of the sun from the thing in the sky drove us back to the house, and the advent of stars helped wrap up the night.
Over dinner, I left to use the bathroom and instead went outside.
It had moved again, slightly, and a single eye watched me from the horizon, cut by the skyline like it was peaking out cautiously. I stared at it for a while, longer than I should have. Ava's parents were probably wondering what was taking me.
I hadn't looked up at it much during the day. I guess I didn't want. It might seem weak to Ava, too concerned and scared.
I took now to look, but as ever, there was nothing to see but a great dark shape and a stark white eye. The air was heavy, like it might rain sometime between now and tomorrow, and the many tones of many insects made for a scene of night.
Night. Regular, dark, and then there was that thing. An owl hooted. I felt like the animals should have been quiet, out of respect.
I went back inside and slept that night occasionally plagued by the feeling of bugs crawling over my skin.
Everyone but my family had always tried to coddle me, calling me beautiful. Ava's parents were guilty of it. Ava knew better. She knew, like me, that my loveliness was coming. But it was not now.
I was a girl. The rest was a work in progress.
"We could build a den here," Ava says, examining a bush of some sort. The leaves are wide and leaf-shaped, the stems a little bit shorter than us.
"There's not much room inside them."
"So we pull a few out. It's all going to be gone by tomorrow." She jerks her head up to the sky. I don't look up. Don't really need to.
She's right, of course, on both accounts.
We clear out the bush, snapping stalks and placing branches until we have a small hollow. Then, we hear snapping somewhere nearby us. Something moving. We bolt without a word to the field outside. Stand around and listen.
"Deer?" She says.
"I'd like for a bear."
There's an odd sound, a sort of un-grunt-like grunt. The noises stop.
We go back into the woods and finish our den.
Our final act for the day is to muster up bravery and walk beyond our bounds. The woods here are unfamiliar, unappealing. Messy. Unknown.
There's more snapping throughout, and there is an eerie feeling of being watched. A feeling not helped by actual eye in the sky.
There's no wind today. The trees look fake, like I could only walk so far in any direction before hitting a painted wall, unable to proceed and try to grab a leaf.
The sky often looks like that too, fake and disturbing. A cardboard cutout or a well made dome. Sometimes I question if my reality exists.
I can only remind myself it does by looking in the distance, and thinking on repeat: I could go there. Anywhere I see, I can go. Mountains are real, and I could climb them. Trees have leaves that I can grab, and there are always animals.
There are always animals. What a mantra to live by, a reminder that a place is inhabited.
The last time we were in the woods this deep was the time I thought I could talk to crows. It had been a morning in the middle of winter, and Ava's parents had pointed out a great stag across from the house, on the lawn outside the woods.
We ran out and followed it. One stag led to a herd, and the herd only ran from us.
And we followed it, deeper into the forest, until we came to a great field. Another herd of deer were there. We gave chase, entering another forest together, one far from our bounds, an area that surely no one but us had thought to explore.
Here were the crows, cawing as we ran.
My theory: they warned the deer. My next theory: if we called back to them, they'd stop their worry.
It honestly worked.
We cawed and cried and the crows stop caring. The deer were gone, but we continued to walk deeper, conversing with corvids, discovering a language.
It was night when we returned. Both now and then.
There would be no tomorrow, so we watched the sun set. The thing was there. That was a given. It was there and mostly hidden, just a soft black shape beyond the treetops.
We drank hot chocolate on the porch.
Not talking, until:
"It's nice out tonight," Ava says.
A subdued pop rings out from the woods.
"Hunters?" Ava suggests.
It was always one or the other.
I couldn't sleep that night, but I don't think I was expected to. Ava was breathing and laying on her bed, but the moment I stood up, she joined me.
There were no lights on her street. It was dark. Pitch black. Anything could have moved and I wouldn't have known it.
Besides the thing in the sky. It was there, and it was attentive, eye wide open, watching of course. It took up most of the sky now, the few stars visible having trouble outshining that odd, odd glow the thing seemed to give out.
Its eye was full, uncovered, black enough that it could have been transparent. Long lashes, strange filaments that caught the light offly, framed it.
There was only an eye. Horns gone, no ears. Just a circle.
I wanted to walk, but the darkness paralyzed me. Ava took my hand and walked me forward. As often, as always.
Our forest was different without the sun. We'd never dared to come out and see what might change while we weren't there to supervise. Though we might've walked down the road a bit and entered from the exit, skipping ahead on our trek to the two stones, we did not.
We entered as we always had, and walked from point A to point H. We climbed on each of our rocks. There had never been a moment of discussion about it, but I always took the one on the left. It was easier to climb onto, and below it was a small crevice- we had always figured some animal might live there. I had always imagined one day slipping into it and discovering some cave of gems.
I'd like to say it was a good metaphor for who I was.
We sat on the rocks and we looked up.
"You're the best."
There was a lot that needed to be said, but I didn't know what order made the most sense. I had this feeling, this real gut feeling, that I could talk with her for hours. That my laundry list of conversation would last me into tomorrow next.
But also, that we'd be dead by then.
We both kinda knew that.
It didn't need to be addressed.
It was quiet for a while as I tried to think what had to be said first.
"I'm not ready to die," I said.
It really didn't need to be addressed.
"I want to look beautiful," I tried.
Ava looked at me. "You're fine."
Right. Okay. I was fine.
I watched the eye, staring down, feeling like it was disapproving of me. Disapproving of my thoughts.
"We've always been together."
There was a loud rumbling in the woods. I didn't know what it might have been. We both turned our heads to seek the source, and nearly did a full circle. It felt like it was coming from everywhere. There was a high pitched screech from somewhere down the road.
"You're my favorite person."
"You should meet more people."
"I really want to."
One autumn, years ago, me and Ava debated the future.
Not ours, but everyone's, and not everyone's in that broad sort of fatalistic way.
We were wondering if the future could be changed through thought. If believing someone to be fine could save them, or if worry might get someone killed.
Our example: A man goes off into a winter storm to travel somewhere else. His wife is at home. The situation seems grim. If she writes him a letter, asking how the trip was and cheerfully small-talking, if he better off than if she is silent with anxiety? If she thinks 'He is dead, he is dead', will he die?
We really weren't sure. But we nearly thought yes.
"It's late now. But I really like you. Might as well go the extra mile and say I really love you."
"You've always stood up for me. And supported me. And been my friend."
"Maybe you should have stood up for yourself."
"We wouldn't be friends if I did that," I said, "I would date you. And kiss you. And all that."
"Yeah?" Ava's voice carried a question, but I knew better than to answer.
"I love you."
"And we're going to die."
We watched the sky.
Let us wander in those woodlands
where we used to rule
play amoungst those skeletons of other former kids
we pledge not to be like them
not to rot until we're toys
objects of wonder for those who wander
wells and wood and well-worn streams
You smell like smoke and I am the Crowcaller:
I caw, they sing
answers leading us deeper
on deerpaths and pine perches
between two stone guardians
let us wander in these woodlands
and stay out until dark
We made no promises
We made only dens
Rooms of ferns
Not worth visiting
The sun, the deer
We never pledged to return