I never remember much each time I return. It’s always cold coming out of the darkness, never knowing at first where I am. I walk aimlessly when I arrive, and I find that whichever path I take will lead me to wherever I’m going.
There is no childhood or memory that I can recall, nothing to look back on and no reason to acquaint myself with those who surround me. Although I perceive myself as one of them, I know I am not. I don’t feel what they feel, no past, no future, no sadness, no regret, no hope, no happiness, only intentions.
It seems this time I have come to someplace calm. When I open my eyes there are no bright lights or tall buildings. The air is warm, but there is dew on the grass that cools my feet. It’s morning.
I see a small path in front of me and I begin to walk towards it. As I step out of the grass the sun begins to peak over the horizon and the dew recedes. The grass here is tall and brown. The trees are short and callused; they seem to be a darker shade of green. I’ve been in a place like this before, but I can’t seem to recall when.
As I keep walking I begin to make out a road in the distance. It’s not large, only one lane. Its the kind of road that no one bothers to fix when it gets holes in it, because they figure the few people that travel down it now won’t be doing so for much longer. It doesn’t lead anywhere really, only into the quiet lives of others who wish not to be disturbed once they’ve gone down it.
When I reach the road I hear the discordant sound of an engine. It’s large, and its bellows are deep and slow. It’s a school bus. The driver is young and seems discontent with his current situation. This isn’t a place for youth; it’s a place for people to live out the last years of their life with another in the quiet. Something about the young man reminds me of what I should be doing at that moment, and I make him forget to take a left at the small back road he’s approaching. Consequentially he keeps on driving towards me. As he passes I try to imprint his face in my mind; I stare at him as he passes but he doesn’t notice me. I think I’ll see him again, but I don’t think I’ll remember him.
After the bus is out of sight I decide to head for the street he has just passed. The road I come onto is made of dirt, dust and gravel. As I start to walk down my feet kick up the earth and the bottom of my pants begin change from black to brown.
I soon discover the way I’m going only has one stop. It looks like a farmhouse. As I come closer I notice a small boy out by the driveway. He has a lunch box in hand and a pack over his shoulder. He’s six, maybe seven; but his eyes have the look of someone’s much older. There’s emptiness in him that only such a forsaken place could give to someone so young.
I walk up to him but he doesn’t see me. I notice the latch on his lunchbox has begun to rust, and I decide to let it give. The worn metal snaps and the boy’s lunch falls to the ground. As he sees his food hit the ground he looks annoyed, but not upset, and turns to head back to the house. He doesn’t remember until he reaches the front door that his parents have gone into town today and won’t be back until the afternoon. He tries to go inside, but finds the doors locked. His parents never lock the door, but on this day I’ve made sure locks are turned.
The child looks confused. He thinks for only a moment, as a child his age would, and heads for the most familiar place that comes to mind. He’s going to an old tree house he discovered a year and a half ago. It’s about a half a mile east of the farmhouse, down by Bynum Reservoir. The boy goes there often. It’s quiet, and he can get away from his parents to be alone with his imagination.
But today is different. As the boy approaches the tree house he notices a scruff of grey hair hanging over the platform. The boy is confused, he has never seen anyone around here, but it seems too vivid to be something his mind’s eye has conjured up. I am following the boy closely behind, and notice him hesitate and then quickly decide to head up the ladder, despite the presence of the stranger.
As the boy reaches the high platform he sees an old man who sits upon it. They are both motionless, the boy with freight and the man with weariness. The old man’s eyes are mere slivers now, his skin like worn leather. His muscles are exhausted and have resigned from his control.
I reach the tree house, and give one last breath to the old man’s lips, and a sense of apathy for the young boy in front of him I myself cannot understand. The old man does not acknowledge me, but takes a deep breath and begins to speak to the boy in a deep and trembling voice.
“I did not expect to see anyone coming here. I have come this way, like many others to die a quiet and peaceful death. This place is one of the last where you can simply fade from the earth without a sound.” He pauses to take a slow and steady breath. “This is not the place for a young boy, who has so much in front of him. Reach into my coat pocket.”
The boy does so and pulls out a key. He notices the numbers 407 on it.
“I planned to take it with me, but it will serve you better here than it will me where I’m going. Keep it safe, but do not dwell on it while you remain here. When you are older you will feel an urge to leave this place, just like other young men. Do not hesitate or doubt the importance of this feeling. Head to the city and find what the key can give you.” With that the old man exhales the one breath I had given him, and slowly begins to fade into the silence of the wilderness.
The boy is now alone with only I. I lead him back to his house, and before we reach it I unlock the door. He is too young to pay much attention to the incontinuity, and heads inside unastounded. I watch him head to his room and put the key in a small porcelain bowl his aunt had sent him for his last birthday. With this accomplished I see the emptiness leave his eyes, and watch as anticipation replaces it.
With this done, I suddenly feel there is somewhere else I need to be, although I can’t quiet tell where it is. I leave the house unnoticed, and as the sun rises directly over my head I begin back on the dirt road. Only now I let my feet fall heavy upon the dust and dirt, so that it takes to the air and envelopes me. Once again the darkness surrounds me, but I have a feeling I won’t be here for long.