The Lost and The Found

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Eight

A young man, charcoal suit, skin cold and pallid. 

Tall grass brushes against his legs as he wades deeper into an endless meadow. The waning sunlight empties gold all around, everything bathed in a fluorescent glow. There is a purpose to his journey, yet the further he travels, the less he remembers. His where and why slip away with each stride.

Ravens fly backward above him, their wings flapping in reverse. Flickering clouds are pulled toward the horizon behind a rising sun, now setting in the East.

The sky is rewinding.

Every so often, he spies a cottage out of place behind the overgrowth. Each one different, but all windowless, with sealed doors. He tries to pry them open as he passes. Knobs immovable, frames unrelenting.

As the sun drips lower in the sky, the air around him grows warm, inviting. He wants to give in, to lay there forever. For a moment, his eyes feel heavy.

***

A small girl, white lace dress, hair fixed neatly with a bow, sobbing.

He is drawn to her as she trembles in the shadows of an ash tree.

“Hi there. Are you okay?”

The small girl turns her back to him.

“Don’t worry,” he stays put, afraid another step will send her running. “Are you lost? I am too.”

His words float between them.

“What’s your name? I’m…I’m…,” despair claws at his throat. He can’t remember who he is. The young man thinks he feels a heart beating outside his body, but everything is quiet, still.

The small girl turns and looks into his eyes. She wipes away her tears and finds the words, “I can’t remember my name either.”

Kneeling in the cool grass, he offers her a hand and declares his purpose.

“Can I help you find your way out of this place?”

The small girl looks past his shoulder and sees the golden hue of the sun melding into orange. More Ravens fly backward below a darkening sky. One of their caws echoes against the emptiness. With a nod, she reaches out, her little hand soft in his, and the two of them move on together.

***

A tall cottage, red bricks, steel door.

They notice it, not far from where they met. Unlike the others, a figure stands beside this one.

An older man, dressed in black, leather book clasped against his chest.

He is bald, and the smooth skin of his head reflects the sinking light. His thin lips curl into a smile as he watches them inch closer.

“Welcome,” he bellows, extending an arm towards the cottage. His fingers are long, bony. His skin is powder white, “I’ve been waiting for you, John.”

He remembers now.

A young man, John.

The older man opens his book and combs through its heavy pages, extracting a dull onyx key with razor teeth. He drops it in John’s hand and signals him towards the door.

John walks forward with the small girl, but the older man lowers his arm into a barrier, “I’m sorry, this one is not for her.”

“It’s okay,” John persuades. “I’m bringing her with me.”

“I’m afraid she cannot follow,” the older man is unnerved, his eyes swirling pools of dark matter.

John thinks to grab the small girl and pull her in so they can leave at once, but he knows it won’t work. “Well, can you show us the way,” his voice exasperated. “So I can take her where she needs to go?”

The older man crouches down in front of her and buries his face inside the book again. He points in the direction of the disappearing sun,  “Yes, Abigail. Just follow the line of pines, out beyond that hill.”

A small girl, Abigail.

John pushes past the cottage, and she follows close behind, towards distant shimmering trees.

“Do hurry back, John,” the older man calls out as they depart. “Before long, it will be dark.”

The sunlight turns to a puddle above the trees, a purple sky blotched with navy. There are no more clouds, no more birds, just darkness closing in.

***

A brand new cottage, fresh cedar, violet door.

They spot it ahead. It smells like sawdust. The older man from before somehow stands outside of this one too, and boasts a familiar greeting.

“Welcome. I’ve been waiting for you, Abigail.”

The older man digs deep within his book again, this time depositing an oversized silver key into Abigail’s hands. She looks up wide-eyed at John.

With his encouragement, she steps towards the door. Tiny shuffles, tears bubbling.

She slips the key into the lock, and it’s swallowed whole. The knob clicks, then twists by itself, and the door springs open. A bright, misty fog hangs over the threshold in front of them.  

Abigail turns and waves to John. “Thank you,” she shouts back, and then vanishes through the door.

Once she is gone, John stares at the sky and watches the last bit of color get extinguished above. He tries to close his eyes but can no longer tell whether they are open or shut. Sound and space vanish. He is everywhere. He is nowhere.

***

A soon-to-be mother, anxious, pacing, blue scrubs covering flushed skin.

Her wife lay in a room at the end of the hall, getting prepped for an emergency c-section. “Everything will be fine,” she is told. “This is not unusual.” Still, her stomach churns as she is led underneath the white glow of a hospital corridor.

“So, have you settled on a name yet?” The nurse tries to make small talk while they wind deeper through the fluorescent maze.

“John, if it’s a boy,” the soon-to-be mother says, her collar tight, suffocating. They are getting closer to the room, only a few steps left.

“Abigail, if it’s a girl.”

She says a silent prayer as the nurse ushers her through the door. Soon, she’ll find a newborn child waiting for her on the other side.

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