Here and Away Chapter 6


He walked through the wood. When he thought about what he was doing he couldn’t think of his feet moving or his muscles pulling his bones along or the joints pumping like pistons in an organic engine. He was not good at vehicle anatomy. Instead, he thought about the ground. The territory of his footsteps, the path he cut. Roots and tubers twisted underneath as he past.

It was spring but the last fall still covered the ground with sweet smelling decay. The dry, grey leaves crackled and flaked apart as he stepped, his foot like a giant mouth munching a flaky croissant.

That’s what he thought about as he walked through the wood. Croissants. Food. Where the next meal would come from. That was one of those unanswerable questions until fate saw fit to throw a morsel across his path by way of a dumpster, abandoned campsite, or garbage bag thrown onto the road from the hand of some careless hick. He appreciated those careless hicks, even if tossed out taco bell was disappointing and unfulfilling.

He thought about the ground, food, and dead leaves as he walked until his stream of consciousness was interrupted by a moldering, brown steamer trunk sitting smack in the middle of his trajectory. It didn’t appear there out of the blue or by magic but it definitely wasn’t there before he put his foot down. He swore it wasn’t.

It sat squat and curious like a mushroom or a sleeping toad. It’s eyes were closed and it did not breathe but he could tell it was most certainly alive. He stopped thinking about food.

The leather straps, some kind of scaly hide, were flaking and cracked with age and use. The scarred top looked constructed out of bark and smelled faintly of cinnamon and clove. Preservatives, he thought. This is a thing for keeping safe and biding time, not traveling. Even though the steamer trunk had seen its fair share of travel, peeling stickers and faded stamps in tarry inks and far away places stained the barky surface. Tokyo, Panamá, Amsterdam. Far away and close enough to touch.

“And what do you have for me?” his mouth asked before his brain could properly form the question. He wasn’t really sure if he wanted to know the answer.

He laughed and ran a puzzled hand over the biggest latch. A rough, rusted vine, not metal at all, twirled and wound into something that was not quite a chain, not quite a fixture, but a successful being of closing and holding fast.

“Can I see what’s inside?” he asked softly. He ran his fingertips over the vine, he felt it pulse and stretch. Years of being still and now the request to move. The vine moved slowly, at first mere fractions of millimeters, barely perceptible, but then whole centimeters and inches began to unwind and the latch uncurled. The vine pulled itself open and coiled down like a happy snake in the dead leaves.

But the lid of the trunk remained shut. Cinnamon stained the air.

“Alright,” he said, “you want me to work for it.”

He grasped the corners and hauled the lid open. It was like pulling the sun up into the dawn, drawing a year across Autumn into Winter and then back around to life giving Spring. Opening was like lighting a lamp that would guide a ship through the rocks to a safe harbor.

The hinges creaked and the lid groaned. Flakes of cinnamon sloughed away as his fingers made clawed gouges in the corners but against the inexorable weight of passage, time, love, and loss, the trunk opened.

He sat back on his haunches and peered inside.

A sparrow skeleton with three wing feathers poking straight up like a sail, or a sign, or a warning.

A cat skeleton with mummified skin stretched tight, all fangs, claws, and eyeless.

A fresh, human eyeball with veins and stem attached, softly glistening next to the two sets of bones.

Lastly, his own heart, raw, red, and pulsing to an irregular beat.

He then noticed the hole in his chest, neat like a cookie cutter slammed into him and pulled out the most precious chunk of himself.

“One of these things is not like the other,” he sighed against the steamer trunk, feeling the fatigue of centuries weighing him down, crushing him into the dirt.

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