Thank You

It's been a long while, hasn't it?
Yes, ma'am.
When was the last time you saw another person?
A long while, ma'am.
Why aren't you looking for anyone?
There's no one here, ma'am.

The empty road stretches out before her like a yawning beast's wide and curling tongue. Dark forest accompanies each side and reaches toward the other to complete the image. A lone girl walks deeper into its midst, small and obtrusive, her small form weighed down by a massive pack, the intruder in this game. The prey. Beside her, there is no one, no one at all.

No One speaks.

I bet the forest has people. Why aren't you looking in the forest?
I can't go there, ma'am.
Stop with the ridiculous 'ma'am'ing. Why not?
I'm not allowed, ma'am.
By who, little girl? By the sky? By the leaves? Don't be a fool. You can't carry that bag much longer on your own. The forest people will help you.

The child hesitates. The burden grows heavier, so heavy it makes to snap her back in two. Other people. Her pack is so heavy, so very heavy. Maybe... Her glance shifts to the darkness. No One sees.

Like oil dripping in her ear, No One whispers.

Mother and Father are there. They miss you.

The oil freezes and boils through the child's body. The bag is slipping.

Mother?

Wide eyes frantically search the everlasting shade of the forest. The strap is slipping from her strangling grip, her hands too slick to hold it.

Father?

One hand left on the bag. The other hand reaches, reaches to a father and mother it cannot see. It has never seen. Four fingers left. Her body aches. Three fingers...

And the forest screams. Three fingers spasm, contracting onto the remaining cloth of the bag. The forest screams with the pain of a thousand dying trees, the shrillness of their agony cutting jagged scars into the child's being. Her sharp nails cut into the flesh of her palm, but she does not feel them.

STOP! she cries on her knees now. STOP IT!
She weeps. Mucus and tears drip down her face. Please... stop...

The voices fade to an echo, to a stop. Blood stains the little girl's ears and a single scream remains, ringing in her head like time-trapped nightingale. No One persists, the oil set aflame.

What are you doing? Your Mother and Father need you! Let go of that bag, run to them!
The girl says nothing. She holds tightly to her weight.
What is in there, eh? Is it your playthings? Is it what's left of your home? Eh? IS IT YOUR PUNY, PATHETIC BRAIN, YOU WORTHLESS RUNT?
No reply. The nightingale sings.
Give it to me. GIVE IT TO ME! Give it to me or I'll...

You can't hurt me, ma'am.

The little girl readjusts her grip and stands. The pack is so heavy it doubles her over, but still she takes another step forward through the shadow of the forest. No One returns to her oblivion in the sweeping of the wind. She moves on.

After a while, something warm settles on the little girl's other shoulder. She gasps, frozen in mid-stride.

Who is that?

Who is there?

Something strange comes out of the wind. It is deep and tremulous, as thick as the dirt and as soft as a bed. It speaks, but she cannot understand it.

What?

It speaks again, but now the sounds turn into vowels and consonants and the girl realizes there are words.

"I am a traveler."
You're not from the forest, sir? She still does not turn around, for fear of what she may find.
"No, I am not from the forest. Now, may I ask a question?"
Yes, sir.
"Is that pack heavy?"
She hesitates. Her body aches from the pressure of the bag. Her body droops.
Yes, sir, she replies. It is very heavy, sir.
"Do you wish to carry it all the way to the City?"
I must, sir.
"No, you don't."

Without a moment's hesitation, the burden she carried for so long lightens. It slips from her bloody fingernails upward into another's hands. Her body is confused. It loses balance for a moment before standing upright. No more bowed shoulders. No more aching hands. She looks at them and they twitch and curl, looking for her burden. They are brown with blood and scabs. Her head spins. Her body is too light.

The traveler appears before her. No, he used his legs. He walked in front of her and smiled. That's what a smile was, right? The upward turn of the lips as the teeth gleam white out of their shade. One eye closes and opens. A wink?

"It's not so bad." She see the burden on his back, and it is so small. So much smaller than it was for her. It is nothing but a sack, a half-empty sack. And it's white.

"Wai-!" The sound of her voice shocks her into silence. Has it always been so deep? Has it always been so clear?

The traveler laughs. "It looks like you grew up."

Regaining herself, she asked, "Don't you want to know what's in there?" It could be something horrible. It could be something cruel.

But it looks so different...

The traveler just shrugs. "I don't need to know." He turns his back to her and starts walking.

The grown girl stares after him. At the small sack. At his shoulders. At her hands.

Thank you.
Thank you, sir.

Further ahead, he calls for her. "Aren't you coming?" She laughs. She runs. She flies. Tears glisten in the corners of her eyes.

You don't know what this means.





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

polythenepam said...
Jun. 11, 2010 at 7:01 pm
This is wonderfully written. It's very meaningful and I really enjoyed reading it.
 
silencedprayer replied...
Jun. 12, 2010 at 10:07 pm
Haha--this may seem ironic considering the story--but thank you! :D
 
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