Kenneth Curtis Brown
The chirping of birds, a soft light that covered me in a blanket of warmth. Morning. Awake, drops of cold had formed all around my body. I was groggy. Days had passed since my descent. That storm so many nights prior had been the worst I had ever encountered, and the most punishing. Prone, broken, injured I lie amongst the droplets of water and the creatures coming to life with the rising sun. The birds played their melodies, insects buzzed to about gathering the dew drops, next to me an eager mouse scurried forth in search of breakfast. In limbo, I lie still waiting for fate to do its work and finish me off.
For hours I was left trapped in some waking nightmare until suddenly the cracking of twigs and dry foliage alerted me to new comers. Unable to peer around the forest to see what was coming I remained alert, tense. At the lead a pair of feet, crunched along the forest soil, slow, deliberate. Behind the first set I heard a hyperactive scurrying, smaller, lighter, and trailing with eagerness. The jumping, stomping, kicking, came closer to me, closer and closer. Suddenly, a small pair of clammy hands wrapped around my rigid frame.
“Whoa! Look at it! How about this one?” A high pitched voice squealed with delight as the hands gripped me tighter. An eager young boy held me, brown curls hung all over his head while innocent blue eyes sparkled through, staring up at a second figure.
I shifted, a strong fist clamped down taking me away from the eager hands. Poked and prodded I was examined by the new stranger. I examined back. The man who held me was gargantuan, barrel arms and torso breathed heavily with life under a flannel jacket. Vibrant and strong he looked down on me with eyes that hung just above a large dark beard.
“Hmmmm. Good weight, nice feel. It’s long too and pretty sturdy. I’d say you found a good one.” The mountain of a man answered in a deep, calm, manner. “We’ll get this home later and with some work he’ll be good to go.”
The man’s son jumped about the forest excited. “Yeaah! Can we go by the lake now? Oh! Look I thought I saw a fox!”
The big man laughed at the boy, his beard bristling with mirth. Still in his grasp the man spun his wrist fluidly. My equilibrium went mad in that dizzying frenzy before he stopped me in a vertical position. I was now pointed high into the sky. The man looked to his son. “Now calm down you. We’ll get down to the lake soon enough. Don’t be bothering anything that can bother you back neither. I don’t want to explain anything to Mama now.”
Slowly, father trailed after son. While skipping about the bushes and trees the child was always kept in his father’s sight. Eventually the son fell back to the adult’s side. The three of us moved through the brush, reaching a trail amongst the clearing that led to the waters ahead.
The sense of wonder the boy possessed did not diminish. His eyes remained in awe as he took in everything around him. Chattering and questioning everything, the boy began to take their toll on my already worn nerves. The man who held onto me was another story. His warm smile never faded as he answered every question, explained every plant and flower. Sometimes the man would stop, his large hand would fall to the child, signaling for silence. In that moment of quiet an animal would scurry past, leaving the son with even more surprise and amazement, and his father with gratification.
All three of us had made it to the lake. On a dry rock that had been large enough, the two hikers sat. The big man unslung the backpack he carried and produced a two sandwiches and two apples. There we all sat, staring at the lake while the boy ate, his mouth filled with apple bits while he continued to ponder the questions of the world with his father. After some time, an hour to my guessing, the father packed and the three of us departed the lake to parts I could not fathom.
Eventually I was carried back to a large creature of steel and bolts. The thing had been dead by my guess. Casually, the man rested me against the warm metal frame as he threw the pack over and into the thing’s interior.
“We’re gonna’ take it with us right?” The child asked, obviously about me.
“Right you are my boy.” The man looked at me and smile. With that iron grip the man snatched me up once more and threw me into the carriage of the steel square. Soon after the thing belched and rumbled to life and we were on the move.
Hours passed and the sun bid farewell to us allowing the moon and countless stars to make their grand appearance. Through the strange, clear, barrier I counted the billions of tiny white dots that speckled the infinite blackness. Though I was now with two strangers riding along some foul smelling metal beast, the feelings of trepidation I had once possessed was gone. There was only calmness. A peace was what I felt. In front I picked up the soft sounds of the boy snoring while his father whistled softly.
Before long, the man’s beast of burden slowed to a stop, its angry rumbling ceased. With large hands acting gentler than I expected, the father removed his son from the steel animal and carried him into the interior of a stone dwelling. Eventually he returned for me. Inside, a female sat and stared at the man with a loving smile.
I did not follow the rest of the family. Taking a detour inside, the man brought me to another area, dark and soundless. There I was placed with my fate left uncertain.
From an opening in the wall, the sun’s light peeked through, greeting me with the presence of a new day. Neither man nor boy had yet to return. Hours crawled by and I still had yet to see anyone or anything. In a lull I drifted into a dreamless slumber until I was eventually jolted back to consciousness. Over me, the man stood alone. He picked me up with both hands, running his fingers along the length of my body.
“Well, best get to work.” He said with a smile.
First there was the blade. The steel whittled at any vestigial extremities that protruded off from me. Then there was the thin pieces of rough parchment that the man rubbed vigorously. I did not know how long the man worked, his hand falling to task with deft skill. Eventually it seemed that he had finished and brought forth a foul smelling container. Cloth in hand, the man covered me in the disgusting substance. Time passed and there was a happy voice that shrieked from the distance.
“Daddy! Is it done yet?” The child screamed.
“Whoa now, let it all dry. It’ll be ready by the time we go out to our next hike. If we’re lucky maybe next time Ma’ will come out with us too.”
The boy cheered at his father’s words. The two of them departed from my vicinity once again leaving me alone. I for the life of me could understand what had been done. I felt woozy, strange, but yet balanced and more compact. Once more the feelings of worry engulfed me as I sat in the dark.
Time passed, days measured by the rising and falling of the sun. Eventually the door creaked opened, followed by soft, padded, scurrying.
“Wow, you look amazing!” The brown haired child said, staring at me with a massive grin. He took me in his tiny hands, clutched me close to his breast and dragged me from my dwelling.
“Oh well that does look snazzy doesn’t it? You’re daddy has a knack for whittling.” The boy’s mother said happily. She and the man sat inside their beast which sat purring in lazy slumber.
The boy jumped inside the animal with me in tow. All of us rode under the early morning sky, the family chatting idly amongst themselves, happy and content. We arrived back at the clearing, there we departed the animal and began a familiar walk back through the forest.
Whatever the man had done to me left me feeling taut. His iron grip clutched me tighter than before. He smiled at his family, his free arm wrapped around his woman while she held the boy close. Through the greenery we went, traversing back down to the blue, rippling waters ahead.
The walk came and went like how it had so many days before. Walking, laughter, joy at the things around us. There had been a lunch and peaceful talks about everyday things. As before the events of the day ended as it began, strolling through the trees that had abandoned me and back the once strange creature that carried us back and forth and finally concluded with a lengthy night ride back home.
Inside of the family dwelling the woman carried her boy while the man held onto me. This time, instead of being placed in the darkness of solitude, the father rested me upright in a corner that allowed me to look on where the man and woman sat. The boy snored softly as he slept on top of the woman’s lap.
Kenneth Curtis Brown
The days came and went and every so often the man and boy would return to the woods with me in tow. Sometimes the mother would come along, though not really taking part in any real part of the hike. While she enjoyed the sights we would see: the birds, scurrying rabbits, and deer, she seemed more taken by her husband and little boy. Her eyes seldom diverted from her men and her smile never left. There was an aura to these people, a joy that intensified when they strolled together through the greenery of the forest.
Time passed, the days grew shorter and the warmth that fell from the waning sun grew cold. In those weeks the man's hand ached whenever it grasped around my frame. After one last trip through the orange and yellow leaves that cracked under the boys scampering boots there was a discussion between the father and mother. Later that night, as I sat in my appointed corner I watched the man call for the boy from the comfort of a soft, padded, seat. I watched to my dismay as the child’s grin, a smile of heartfelt joy and missing teeth begin to fade. In the glow of the roaring fire streaks of liquid began to run down the boy’s cheeks. Slowly, the boy slumped off of his father’s lap and skulk to off to his bed. From my corner I sat, wondering what was said and what was to transpire. Gradually I became aware of why the child was so heartbroken.
In my little area I remained. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, I stayed put. From the many panels of glass I watched the leaves disappear altogether. The naked branches shook with fright against violent winds. That sight sent my mind back to the night that had sent me plummeting. Where would I be had that not occurred, I wonder? Had it not been for the crashing thunder and blinding deluge would my demise been postponed? I knew I would have never met these people if it had not been for the pain that I experienced that night. Here I was now, with these people. New, better, with purpose. But now, that purpose was gone.
I had become a sentry to these people, an impotent guard unable to truly serve the man and boy who saved me. I now watched. Early mornings, the time of day that was normally lazy filled with yawns and sleepy eyes had changed. The woman would rise, earlier than the man and child rushing about, preparing everything possible before having to wake the others. With that hyperactive spirit I had become so used to the boy would come rushing from his room like a bird jetting through the trees. Strapping on a small satchel and giving him a parcel of food, the mother sent the boy off for the day. Following close behind the man would lumber forth, metal tin in hand. Both would plant a sweet kiss on the woman’s cheek and leaving her alone for the day.
For the rest of the day, the woman would rush about the household, sweeping, cleaning and wiping everything in her path. Every speck of dust was obliterated in the path of her cleaning onslaught. Eventually the woman in her nonstop momentum I would gaze on the woman and her upkeep. As time would pass the child would hop back inside, happy as can be. After his return the boy would plant himself back in front of me, colored pieces of wax in hand and the large glowing cube in front of him blaring loudly.
“Shouldn’t you be finishing up your homework first?” The mother would scold the child. Whatever it was the boy needed to do would always be at the forefront in her mind.
“Ah, okay.” The boy would answer with a pout and trudge off.
I for the life of me could never understand these people. There was the woman and her incessant work at sweeping and brushing. The child and his baubles absent in whatever strange task that possible could not be of importance to be remembered. Then there was the man. After so many long hours into the day he would return. Dirt, and black stains would cover every near inch of the man’s body. In his eyes would be haggard and heavy with fatigue. His legs would be weighed by heavy boots. Aching, the man’s feet would drudge forward, tin pail dangling weakly in his hand. With a labored groan the man would drop into his seat.
“Daddy!” I would hear the child shriek from wherever he would be.
With the speed of the deer bolting along the forest floor the boy would sprint to his and leap into the big man’s lap.
His wind completely knocked out by his son, the father would gasp for air as the child bounced happily. Questions and ponderings would pour from the child’s mouth in a waterfall of inquiry.
“How was your day? How big were the trucks that came in? Did you get to ride around in any?” The man’s son would go to ask.
“Now now, you go wash up for dinner and let your pa catch his breath.” The mother would scold as she entered from the tiled cover cooking room.
Giggling the boy would hop from his father’s lap and run off once more. Winded, exhausted, beaten, the man would smile and give a hearty laugh. While his body seemed wracked, I could see the same glimmer in his eyes as he had when he first held me in his grasp. Shaking her head and kissing the man on the top of his head the woman returned to her cooking. Slowly, I could see those tired eyes growing too heavy and finally close. In the room a heavy snoring melded with the noise coming from the glowing box.
This had become the pattern set for me in the colder days of the year. Soon the naked limbs of the trees would become clothed in a white cold blanket of snow. Thankfully, the biting cold that had plagued me in the past as I hung above the tree line. Though kept warm I had remained useless in the daily routine of the family. Worried I feared that my purpose had been served and my fate would be sealed.
“Well that just leaves you.” I would go on to hear the matron of the family say to me. It could have only been me she was referring too. The man and boy had yet to return home, I was the only one she could have been focused on.
Her small hands belied a strong and rough grip. In my panic she carried me forth before a small door.
“Well in you go until the summer.” She said, absent thought.
Trapped once more in darkness in that cramped space I remained. For how long I could not recall. Thoughts raced through me in that black void. Sightless, soundless, motionless, there was nothing now in my world. That happy cherub grin, strong iron grip, or kisses flowered along a tired head, were all gone.
“Awww, where are you?” A high pitched voice asked to no one from outside of the door.
There was nothing more than I wanted but to scream out, cry for aid, to be saved again. Finally, creaking through the shadows, a light blinded my vision.
“Come on! We’re gonna be late!” The boy now covered in a thick padding and bright red wool cap. In his mitten covered hands we departed.
From the black, my eyes were assailed by a pure, ivory, white. Once more the I was carried off into the iron beast where the man and woman waited.
As we rode out amongst the snow covered scenery I feared this would be my final send off. After so long the beast grew tired and stopped, but not at the woodlands where we used to spend our time. Instead we stopped along other rows of metal creatures before a massive white hill.
In the one hand the man carried me. Wrapped around the other, a roped was pulled, dragging along a bizarre contraption. Flat, and bolted with iron, atop strange metal curves, the thing trailed behind with the boy and mother happily hiking with us.
Once more they chatted idly while I listened. At the top of the hill were other families. I would gaze bewildered as the other children with contraptions of their own slid downward back to the bottom. A trail of streaks would mar the snow as they zigzagged down to the base of the hill.
“Can I go? Can I go?” The boy would chatter to his parents. Shaking their heads and laughing together the parents let loose their son.
With smile the man passed the rope to his son. Happily, the child rushed off to meet the other same sized balls of padded clothing that rushed down the hill slope. Alone husband and wife began to stroll about the top of the hill, footprints left behind with each raised foot. They mingled with others, chatted and laughed. With me in one hand, and their fingers intertwined together they walked.
“We still need to pick up a tree after this. I hope we don’t take too long here.” The woman would go on to say.
“You got it sweetie. But next time don’t leave this guy trapped in the closet,” said the husband with a chuckle. He shook me in his grasp playfully as he looked into his wife’s eyes. “Almost ran late tryin’ to find him.”