It’s early April and it’s raining. An easy hike in our beautiful temperate rainforest is the only thing on the docket today. Maybe a stop a a brew pub, afterwards. It’s not too cold, the raindrops are refreshing. Everything smells alive and green – moss, ferns, trees. Like many children of Cascadia, you love the rain.
You crest a small rise, and stop to enjoy the view. As you turn back towards the trail, you catch a flash of black, hear the call of a raven. As you look closer, you see a bundle of feathers on the ground, a little off the trail.
It could be a baby; sometimes one falls out of the nest. You’ve got the number for the Audubon Society programmed into your phone and you’re not too far from their facility. You softly walk closer, don’t want to scare the poor thing. Upon closer inspection, this is just a clump of feathers. There’s a skull in the pile and something…else. Something red. You pick up the skull, brush away the feathers and find a hand-bound journal. You know you won’t see anyone, but you look up and down the trail anyway. Curiosity rises as you open the pages.
If only I could sleep. Sparkles have flashed behind my eyelids since I was a kid. It’s gotten worse. When I’m in a city, I can hear the voices. I was in a funky local bar and there was a roaring, I couldn’t see anything but sparkles. I have to get a handle on this. I’m so tired. How will I live? How will I work? This backpacking trip, maybe I can sleep in the woods.
It was just bare ground with my thin little camping pad, but it was like a cloud, as far as I was concerned. I don’t know how long I slept. Sleep!
I’m writing this tucked into my sleeping bag. It’s raining, I can hear it pattering on the tent and on the leaves outside. I’m warm and dry. All I can hear is the rain. I was never one for lullabies, but I could get used to this.
March 26th, morning
It must have been a dream. It had to be. I heard crackling and popping, like there was a campfire. I almost caught sparkles on the edges of my vision. I opened my eyes and there was a fox sitting in my tent, by my feet. I wasn’t afraid. It was too red to be a real fox. It looked me straight in the eyes, I could see stars in its eyes. It spun in a circle and then was just gone, as if it had never been there at all.
But, it was the strangest thing, when I woke up there was half a clamshell in the tent. Right at my feet, where the dream fox had been. I picked it up and remembered the stars in its eyes. I’m keeping it in my pocket. Every time I run my thumb over it, I can almost hear the sea.
March 27th, morning
I fell asleep to the sound of the rain again and it happened again. I guess, now that I’m sleeping, my dreams are catching up to me. This time, the fox was pale, but the stars in its eyes were the same. It told me to go back to sleep, that I would find my present in the morning. It called me “Meadowlark.” I was too surprised to say anything.
The second half of the clamshell was in my pocket. I’m keeping one in each pocket.
I caught the whispering first. Then, a sparkle. Then three. Not more than a handful, really. I held the clamshells in my pockets, I don’t know why. The sparkles didn’t seem as harsh, they were more like the stars in my dream fox’s eyes. I took a deep breath and kept walking. The whispering didn’t get any louder and the same six stars stayed with me. I rounded a bend in the track and came upon a little stone house. It’s covered in moss and ferns. I tried the door, it was unlocked. There’s a single bed, fireplace, and a nice supply of canned food. It must be one of those cabins for hunters or hikers. If I can get used to the whispering and stars, here, maybe I can learn to control this. Maybe I can find some freedom. I’m going to stay for a few days. I had hot soup for dinner, it was amazing.
The bed was much more comfortable than the ground. I just put my sleeping bag and camping pad on top. It’s also much warmer, with the dying coals in the fireplace. I woke a couple of times to the sound of wings flapping near the window. I’m going to see what’s around here. How far can I get from the house before the stars disappear? Before the whispering fades?
No dreams last night.
I found a tub in the little outhouse. I washed my clothes and was able to take a bath. I feel almost human. The stars don’t seem to bother me, they don’t overwhelm me. The whispering just sounds like rain, a constant lullaby. I don’t want to say for sure yet, but I think it’s helping. I found a little creek, down the hill from the house. There was an open clamshell on the bank. I guess I just scooped up some shells with my tent a few days ago. It’s amazing how beautiful a little clamshell is. I’ve set them all on the mantle of the fireplace.They reflect the firelight.
I got back from a walk this morning to find that a crow had pushed the door open and splashed water all around my little house. I chased it off, but it took one of my clamshells. Damn it.
I found a couple of clamshells at the creek today. When I got back to the house, there were eleven shells lined up on the mantle. Nothing else had been touched. I don’t know what’s going on here. I have thirteen shells now.
I just found a black feather on my pillow. I’m no expert, but it’s too big to be a crow feather.
April 1st, early morning
It’s so early, it’s still dark out. I built the fire back up and am writing this instead of sleeping. Maybe I’m losing my mind. Maybe too much time without seeing another person has made me hallucinate. But, I don’t feel crazy. I feel hopeful. I’ve got to get this down, so I can remember. So I can start.
I woke in the middle of the night. There was a huge raven perched on the foot of the bed. It spoke to me.
“It’s about time, Meadowlark. I thought you were going to sleep through my visit again.”
“Again?” I asked.
“I see you got my apology gift. I’m sorry that one of my children stole a shell. Shiny things, you know, we can’t get enough.”
“The shells were a gift?”
“Of course. You’re in my home forest, it’s just good manners to give a visitor a gift.” He tilted his head to one side, then the other. “I see you’re learning how to play the game. I’m proud of you, Meadowlark.”
I felt myself tear up. “What game?”
“Life, of course. The only game there is. The only illusion worth maintaining. Though, the fleeting ones are amusing in their way. I have a fondness for illusions, you know.”
There was no sound, no flash. Instead a raven, a man with dark hair was sitting on the foot of the bed. I gasped. He made no move. I looked into his eyes and was lost in stars. He smiled, then. And laughed. His laugh was deep. It was infectious. I started laughing, then crying. Years of tension released. I felt light. He looked at me and transformed into the raven again, then each of the foxes from my dreams, then a coyote, a white raven (who winked at me), then was back to the raven.
I really think I’m going to be okay. I’ll learn this game. I’ll maintain this illusion. Maybe try my hand at the others, though I don’t think I’ll ever be as powerful as he is. It’s okay. I’ll be okay.
You close the volume for now, brush your hand over the leather cover. You had been sure it was red, but now it’s a faded blue. There’s a flash at the edge of your vision. You look up and see a raven watching you from a nearby tree. It tilts its head, looking at you. The journal in your hands is now a weathered green. It must have been teal all along.