A family deals with the stress of parting with father and husband to Mars station.
The thick grasses fogged his vision as Franklin sought where his feet would go next. Sharp plants within the thick and wild mixture he was walking through continued to grab at him as though beseeching him to stay for some unknown reason. The half hidden moon shed a silver light, which he used to tread by while walking closer to the darker region under the supervision of the pine trees nearby. As he reached the trees the thick and thorny brush cleared away remarkably. The forest was shaded by darkness, in contrast to the dim silver sea he waded out from; yet the path between the trees was clear as he carefully felt his way forward. The young man followed the dim signposts of a fallen tree blocking his way forwards, and then a mass of dead branches grown over with thorns. The path widened out into a clear area still dark under the close branches of the trees above. A very old stump lay with its roots exposed, bleached white by time. It had an appearance akin to a large dinosaur skull.|
There was more light here, but that disappeared as he followed a cavernous path through more pine trees. His journey abruptly stopped when he came to a smaller and intimate clearing within the trees. It was dim, but moonlight filtered through in the centre and several other small spots. Thick vines climbed among the family of youthful cedars that made up this area. They stood out, for nowhere else on his path had their been any cedars. As he moved forwards he noticed silver glimmer amongst the moss in the slender light. Kneeling down Franklin sought to feel it out with his fingers. Soft, velvet moss gave way to cool and somewhat damp silver as he pulled out a slender chain which was attached to a tarnished silver locket. The locket had a horse engraved upon it, but before he could observe it further a faint white movement caught his eye just outside the light amongst the cedars. His hands felt a cold wetness from the locket, as though dew was dripping off of it. As he looked down, in the dim light he saw not clear wetness but a dark liquid trickling… trickling out from the closed locket and onto his hand. It looked like blood! It smelled like…
Frank rolled over and groaned a little, putting his hand before his eyes to keep the morning sunlight out. His head hurt a little, and he knew that high school was today. It was a Friday and the weekend was so close yet so far away. He looked at his hand to make sure it was alright. It still felt cold, and the dream was fresh on his mind. The cool wetness seemed to linger on his hand for a few moments, and his skin was cold. Frank got up and pulled on his jeans, deciding to just leave on the shirt he had slept in from yesterday. He had sweat a lot, but good deodorant and antiperspirant made sure there were no worries of a raunchy odour. He wouldn’t be around people much today, anyway. He had already decided that he would skip school.
He remembered his dream pretty well, though he could not remember why he had been walking through the woods nor any clear emotions he had felt. He had not recognised any place there except for one: the place the dream had began. On the way to a friend’s house there was a country road that had a field in it. It was not used anymore and had overgrown mostly. It was worse in the farther areas, which trees screened from the road. There was a dilapidated old farmhouse that had been swallowed by greenery and remains of what might have been sheds or other related woodwork. It was in this area that he had been, but at night. He had never explored the woods near there very much because the field was thick with brush, nettles, and anthills with stinging ants. Everything else had been purely from his dreaming mind. The dream was vague, but an emotion that seemed to be lingering… was loneliness, and regret. He did not know why he felt that, but he did. There was an underlying dissatisfaction and he felt it could not be set aside without immediately going there and seeing what the woods looked like in that area.
“Mom, I need a sick note for school tomorrow.” He said as he went downstairs.
“What? Are you sick? Damn it, I... I guess I need to cancel my plans to go out with Hannah today, then. Come here and let me take a look at you, first.” She said from the other room. He could hear the sound of her stepping from her closet into the master bedroom.
“No Mom. I’m just- feeling depressed. I don’t want to go. I make good grades, right, so it’s better for me to go some of the time and make good grades. Or would you rather me get more depressed, then just give up on it all and make bad grades?” Frank said with a bland tone.
His Mom stepped out from their room with an angry frown, “What the hell do you think you’re saying?”
“I’m saying you can go out with your friend, I’ll be just fine, and I’ll be able to keep doing a better job at school if I can get a break every now and then.” His tone was more placating this time. His mother sighed and shook her head.
“Look, do whatever you want. You do well in school and I guess a break won’t hurt. But if your grades go down because of this, I won’t let you stay home even if you are sick. Your Father and I worked hard to get you through school this far.” Her face softened a little. “Listen, Franklin, you relax and take it easy, okay? I love you, honey, and I’ll be back late in the afternoon.” She kissed his forehead before heading out the door. “Hey, can you take out the trash and feed the cat for me? Since you’re not going to be going to school, maybe you could sweep the porch too.” He nodded and agreed. He didn’t really remember what he’d agreed to after she left the house, he just always agreed.
‘Do what it takes to get her pacified, make her happy, because she’s going to get mad again whatever I do and it’ll blow over eventually too.’
Frank pulled on a light jacket before heading out the side door. He put his cell to his ear and called his friend Tim. “Hey, F-man, what’s up?”
“I’m not coming to school today. Decided I need a break.” He said briskly to Tim as he walked to the street from their yard with his bike. He mounted it and started peddling as he talked.
“Man, my parents would never let me just take a break like that. You didn’t even have to pretend you were sick?” Tim asked with a whining tone.
“It’s not that big a deal. I have a reason, anyways. I had a weird dream about that field on the side of the road, on the way to Ben’s place, so I thought I’d go and check it out. We’ve never been in the woods there, but I dreamed about them. Might as well go see. Maybe I’m psychic.” Frank laughed along with Tim.
“If you are, then let me know the next time you dream about one of our tests.” Tim replied. “Seriously, if it really is like your dream, that’d be pretty awesome.”
“Yeah, I’ll tell you about it if it is. Listen, I gotta focus on riding there now. Later.”
“Alright! Bye!” Came Tim’s cheerful voice. Frank tended to be the more easygoing and quiet sort out of his friends. He wasn’t a particularly passionate guy, he just took life as it came and tended to analyse the things around him. After what happened to his sister, things didn’t really faze him that much. He enjoyed time with his friends, he tried to appreciate his parent’s support; but life just seemed to go by quicker and quicker. He sometimes found himself trying to cling to the less pleasant and boring times, like in class, because at least then life went at a more normal pace. Most often it felt like a bicycle that had bad brakes on a steep hill. He could not stop it or slow it down for long, he just had to let it sweep down the hill and it would only stop at the end. Is that how his life would be? Just going by faster and faster until he got old and died? Older folks tended to talk that way a lot of times, telling him about how time flies. Trying to emphasize how everything seems far away to him now but eventually within an eye’s blink he would be looking down at his grown kids.
He did not know if he really liked that. Things were already going too fast now.
Frank left his bike on its side in the grass a ways from the road so nobody would see it and steal it or anything. He zipped up his jacket and tucked his jeans into his shoes to try to avoid anything getting on his skin. Pulling his hat down tight over his short, fine brown hair, he began to push through the tall grasses and weeds with a long walking stick to clear the way ahead. It was his favourite walking stick that was actually a piece of wood intended to be the handle of a shovel or pick. That was why he had chosen it- sturdy, long, thick, and coated with a nice finish to make for splinter free walking. It also was an added source of security since he was pretty good at twirling it around if the need ever arose. Frank kept it hidden near the road for easy access.
He was sweating a lot by the time he got through the brushy field to its edge and began to walk along the wooded part. Nothing similar yet, and a lot of the woods looked alike on the edge. He walked for a good ten minutes with no success, but as he got closer to the inlet of the field- that was surrounded by a cove of trees with the old farmhouse nestled in the trees on the opposite end- he suddenly stopped. This was it, but with sunlight. He hurried up his pace, pushing through some brush until he abruptly walked clear of it. Here was a clear space in the trees, and he remembered it like he had been here once a long time ago. Except he had not, rather it was in his dream.
Frank began walking into the woods. It was much easier going than it would have been at night. He saw a clear dead end in a fallen tree, and took a left. There were open patches but a general trail, perhaps helped out by animals, lead him around until he was stopped speechless. There, on the grey muddy forest floor, was the skull-like tree stump. He had never been here in his life, and yet here it was. It was less magical looking here, in life and during the day. The cool air caused the trees to rustle and autumn leaves to flutter down around him. His pace slowed to an entranced walk as he followed the smaller path forwards while the trees grew thicker. On he went, and he expected to see what he did in reality see: an intimate little clearing with moss on the forest floor, surrounded by… cedars.
These cedars were not youthful, however. They were tall and mature, so things were somewhat different. Their roots had grown into the little clearing somewhat, in comparison to his dream. The mossy floor had some leaves over it and looked a little different, but this was it. He stepped forward and knelt down to the moss. He ran his hands through it. It was dry, and rougher than his dream. The teenager dug a little with his fingers, then began to tear the moss up. Frank did not know why, but everything else had been the same and there was only one resolution now. In the soft, cold dirt his hands hit something hard and icy. He grabbed it.
Slowly, he pulled the object up and dug it clear- the heavy, dark object covered in earth. Cleaning it off, he could make out the shape of a horse on the locket. The silver was tarnished and it was much older, more damaged than in his dream. He was worried that the chain was broken from when he had pulled it out, but it was not. Such a delicate piece of jewellery: it was so tarnished and damaged by the cruel hands of the earth. It did not feel right in some way, that something so precious would be violated by dirt and corrosion.
Frank stood turning to look over the clearing one last time when he saw white amongst the trees. His eyes locked upon it, and the flowing nightgown lost his attention as his eyes immediately went up to the face of the figure in it. Beautiful curled locks of dark red hair danced around the fair, slender face of a girl probably several years younger than he. She was not tall, and her figure was gradually shaping into that of a woman. Small breasts and hips that were just beginning to fill out, but a face that was still rather girlish especially with such a height. She looked curious and a little hesitant as she stood there next to a cedar tree, watching him.
“Ahh… hi there. What are you doing here? Do you live anywhere near here?” Frank asked, putting the locket in his jeans.
She stepped forwards and made a cute little curtsey, “Calliope Angelina. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Oh… I’m Franklin. It is a pleasure.” He reached out to shake her hand, and she placed her hand on his. It was a little strange, and he held it for a second as though wondering what to do with it before smiling and giving it a fake kiss- stopping short of actually doing so. She giggled as he did so. Her hand was so delicate and light in his, even more so than the gentle handshakes some girls in his class had given him. She did not have a country accent, either. It sounded rather well schooled and formal- hard to place.
“I do not live near here, but I was visiting my aunt’s farm for the Summer.” She replied, looking his clothes over. Franklin always pronounced ‘aunt’ like the insect, yet she said it quite differently. He then realised that however well embellished it was, Calliope still seemed to be wearing a nightgown of sorts. It was nice enough looking to have its sleeves ripped off and turn it into a daytime dress, yet it seemed rather old style.
“You haven’t gone back yet, then? It’s Fall already.” He replied vaguely while still in thought.
“You do not wear a beard.” She responded thoughtfully, as though she either had not heard him or else had no interest in the matter.
“No… I don’t. Why, should I?” Franklin replied, smiling just a little in his reserved way.
“Well, most of the young men here have beards. I think they grow them as soon as they can to try to prove that they are adults, even when there are large, barren expanses and it looks incredibly awful.” She spread her gown and sat down elegantly at the base of the tree.
Franklin laughed and shook his head, “Some of the guys here do that I guess, but there are lots of guys who don’t. I don’t have anything to prove- if someone thinks I’m a kid, they can think it. What I do will prove them right or wrong.”
Calliope tilted her head to the side, smiling with the corner of her little mouth. “I am a woman now, but still look much like a girl. Few think me anything else. I like what you say, for I think it true. Tell me, Sir, are you courting?”
Franklin laughed a little, “Courting? Isn’t that like dating? No. I have a friend or two that is a girl, but I don’t think they’d be interested in going out. It’s the popular guys who get the attention from all the girls, even the ones who have no chance at them. Those who do, go out with them, and then get their hearts broken… or they…”
“I think I understand.” She interrupted, her face neutral for a moment before the gentle smile returned. “I read a few years ago that across the seas, beasts will decide who leads or who can mate by whom is the strongest. Do you think we are just beasts, Franklin?”
Franklin grabbed at the moss next to him, realising he had been sitting down. “Of course not. I mean, there are plenty of people out there who act like them, but I think part of being a good person is learning not to act like one. I hate seeing jerks mess girls up and I hate seeing them rewarded for it. The girls I know complain, but they up and choose another guy just like the last one.”
Her cool, gentle hand touched his, “I think part of becoming a man, or a woman, is learning to grow beyond that beastly part of ourselves and to see past the illusions that others put on to disguise theirs.” She giggled and put pinched his hand, but her face had a seriousness and intelligence to it that made her look less girlish when she had spoken. Her words were incredibly well articulated, and he felt like he was speaking to someone older than himself rather than someone younger. She seemed incredibly cool headed as well, though she expressed it by covering with carefully happy and relaxing cheer; his was expressed more by being reserved and easygoing. They were different, but similar. He was fascinated and yet…
“Why did you come out here, anyway?” He asked Calliope.
“Why did you?” She retorted with a raised eyebrow.
“I had a dream… and this place was in it.” Franklin replied with a straightforward attitude. In a story he might be nervous or embarrassed, but he didn’t really feel the need. His heart was beating a little faster, though, which he thought rather odd in his own analytical way. She was really cute, but still, she wasn’t quite his age. Something about the maturity hidden beneath her girlishness made her rather attractive to him.
“I like to take nature walks in the woods, so I know these paths fairly well. I used to come here more often, to think or read.” Calliope replied. She looked off into the trees, and with her tinkling soft voice spoke to him, “Are you happy? Do look forwards to being an adult in everyone’s eyes? Think you that life will become increasingly better?”
Franklin bit his tongue and thought a moment. “I enjoy some things and not others. I guess I hope I’ll enjoy things even more. I don’t know, though. Since my sister…” He caught himself, surprised at the fact. “Life just keeps going by. It just is. I hope maybe I can make people around me happier than I am.”
“Your sister…?” Calliope asked, her eyes looking directly at his.
“You know those guys I told you about? Well, she liked them. They liked her too… too much. They used her and loosed her…” He said quietly, his face as though it was carved from the cedars around them.
Calliope looked down for a time, silence caressing the little grove, and when she looked up there were tears on her cheeks. “She must be very, very sad.”
Upon seeing her gentle face with tears, Franklin felt somewhat removed from himself as he realised he was beginning to shed tears as well. He also realised, for the first time that he could remember, the moment seemed to have slowed to a normal pace. He was here, in this still period of time, talking with Calliope and yet life was not rushing by. “I hope she isn’t anymore. I don’t think I could stand thinking otherwise.”
Calliope looked at him with a question in her eyes.
“She died.” He said simply. Calliope looked at him a little longer, and after a moment he simply knew that she understood. She stood up, adjusting her gown, and walked over to sit down next to him. Her head only came up to his shoulder, and as she leaned against him her weight was nothing short of delicate. She took hold of his arm and leaned her head on his shoulder. They sat like that, for almost an hour. Just sitting and watching the cedars, experiencing the exquisitely slow creeping of time in this quiet little wood.
Calliope stood up finally, and looking down at him with serious eyes, she said in almost a whisper, “She must regret it. I know she does. I shall see you later, Franklin. I will be here for a while yet.” And they parted ways for that morning.
It was night again, and he was walking through the wooded path once more. Franklin walked into view of the skull stump and suddenly heard a sobbed cry. It was Calliopes’. Franklin did not even take the time to think about it, and he ran right through the thorns without even bothering to follow the path. He knew where the cry came from and he could feel tree branches gouge his face as he rushed to get there. It was a dream, and his feet could not move fast enough. He breathing was rough as he pushed and pushed, but he could not run faster. He reached the path near the cedars and saw Calliope running along the path, stumbling. She kept falling in her white nightgown- the same one she had worn when they met. She would get up again, her beautiful curls in horrid disarray as she finally stumbled into the clearing, fell down, and then wept. Franklin walked towards her down the path, but slowed as he saw her reach to her neck and take off… the locket. It was shining, untarnished in the moonlight. She looked at it, tears streaming down her cheeks, before letting it fall to the ground, onto the moss where he had found a locket the day before. She looked up at him, and he froze. Her dress… her white, lovely dress… it was covered with dirt from the ground.
Tears filled his eyes. ‘No… no, that’s not right. Not her.’ The dirt was all over the beautiful frills of the gown, and now it was on her sleaves. ‘No… no… oh god not her too…’ There was blood on the gown, and it was covered in dirt.
Free of the dream and breathing desperately hard, Franklin tore the covers off of himself. He pulled on his jeans and shirt, and pulled the locket out of the jeans. He looked at it a moment before wrapping it around his wrist and climbing out of his window. He hung from the ledge and then dropped down, running to his bike so fast that he stumbled. He was not normally so flustered, but it did not matter now. It was still night, it was night and the moon was out and full. Climbing onto his bike, Franklin raced through the moonlit night. He did not think or analyse, he simply moved his feet around and around. Though he normally sweat easily, tonight his skin was cold and dry even as he pushed himself as hard as he could to ride, ride, ride.
He let his bike fall beside the road once he reached the field, and he followed his path from the daytime to get through the dense brush. Into the wooded path he went, and it felt a little like the dream. Time seemed to lift and his legs did not seem to be able to go as fast as he wanted. They were heavy- heavy, slow, and lumbering. He felt like he was wading through water: going as fast as he could with all his might, but still only moving slowly in comparison to the scenery around him. Then, as though he had cleared the water, the resistance stopped and he slowed his pace. He walked down the path through the close trees, and it curved until he could see the little clearing. The locket was cold against his skin. There were the cedars
She was there, where he had found the locket. Just like in the dream, she was exactly like in the dream. But there was the locket beside her, clear and new- while the dirty one was around his wrist. He stepped forward and fell to his knees beside Calliope. She flinched as he wrapped his arms around her, but he would not let her pull away. She resisted as he gripped her hand, but finally relented to the point he was able to pull a slender, antique letter opener from it. “Don’t. Don’t do this. It won’t put it right. Nothing can put it right.” What he would have given to tell his sister that before she died. Why didn’t she give him that chance?
He realised that he was crying, his tears falling into her hair, cleansing himself- cleansing her hair. “I cannot… I cannot, Franklin… I hurt everywhere, and I am so filthy…”
He leaned back and gripped her shoulders, “No! You’re beautiful. You’re a beautiful girl, and nothing any ass does to you is going to change that. I felt like… like… like I was so lucky, that you just talked to me yesterday. Nobody like you would’ve given me a second glance at school. You’re smart, you’re beautiful, you are … you’re pure…”
She clawed at her face, “No… no I am not… not now…” He held her hands tightly.
“If you don’t stop this for yourself, stop it for me. Please. It doesn’t matter what everyone thinks, right? It’s what you do. The girl I met today wouldn’t do this. I’ll meet you everyday, I’ll be here. I would’ve been there for her, too, but I can’t. I’m here, for you. Please…” He let the old locket fall to the ground and reached to give her the one she had dropped.
Her gentle hand held his, preventing him from touching it. “Do not, Franklin. It is too late… I … already did. A long, long time ago. This same night.”
The words hit him like a fist in the stomach. He froze, staring at the silver locket. “Then … then it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. She’s gone, and… and you aren’t even here, are you? I couldn’t save her, and I can’t save you.”
The young lady in white closed her eyes and spoke in a whisper, “No. I am saved. After years upon years, I am finally saved. Do not touch this, I must put this on myself. This was given me by my mother. My late father had given it to her at their wedding. I… did not feel I could wear it anymore. This clean locket died with me… but, maybe now I can wear it again.”
Franklin looked at her for a moment. He knew that look. He hated that look. He saw that look in his sister’s eyes the last time he had seen her although he did not know what it meant at the time. It was a look that said ‘goodbye’.
“No.” He said to her, firmly, and pushed past her hand to take the locket in his. It was warm in his hands, warm from the moonlight. She looked shocked, and tears filled her eyes. “No, I’ll put it back on you. You aren’t alone anymore.”
She looked up at him for a long moment. Slowly, eventually, she nodded her head. “You can’t go back, now that you have touched it… I did not want…” He put his finger over her lips, and he gently fastened the silver locket around her neck.
“For the first time in my life since she died, I know what I need to do… I have a reason to do something.” He leaned down and gave Calliope a gentle kiss- his first and only.
He held her, and she rested her chin on his shoulder before whispering, “Thank you, Franklin. I am…”
The sound left the air as the moon passed over the trees. The clearing was still, silent. Nothing was there but the gentle breeze in the calm, cool night. Still, for those few who remain long in this sacred little clearing, the lingering last whisper echoes softly on the wind. The soft, tinkling hint of a girl’s joyful voice-
“I am finally so happy.”
ID #446368 entered on August 7, 2006 at 8:52pm
ID #436605 entered on October 3, 2006 at 2:15pm