Wetness soaks through, making the air hang low around her. It is not dense per say, but it
folds around her in a chill that fills everything, a state that she may never escape. Poor, poor
pouring down, she closes herself away from the elements, holding in the warmth of her breath.
She wishes to be numb so she won’t have to feel the piercing drops prick at her skin. Skin. Her
skin aches, it seems she will never be warm. As if a force of needles is pushing against every
inch, if she moves, her skin will ache. Her skin is fighting back, fighting for warmth, screaming
to get dry. She must listen to her skin.
The air tastes sodden. Sodden trees sodden flowers. Flowers, there are flowers at her feet.
She lifts her folded head to the sky, letting rain pelt against eyelids. The clouds are so low
she could touch them. To run her hands through the mist as the clouds swallow the trees. Four
walls and a roof made of these mists, secluded into nothingness. Breathing into the sky just so
she could drink it in forever. But the air leaves her lungs too quickly to sustain her. She needs
more. She opens her eyes and her head hinges down to look at her hands. Her fingertips appear
as a wrinkled white, while the back of them are a stinging red. She can still feel too much.
She is no longer bleeding and the adrenaline has left her body behind. She remains.
She angles her head to look forward, feeling a strain in her neck that was not there earlier.
She allows her spine to align beneath her neck. Her eyes see through the mist and nothing
moves, the trees huddling together against the sleeting air, leaves shivering. She moves. Her
limbs unhinge themselves to bend and she passes through the cover of fog. The only strength
comes from deep within, a dying fire. Her eyes slide back and forth expecting it to come back, to
come and claw out her insides, to take all that is her away. Air escapes her lungs in a wheeze,
and she lets her body fall into mechanical movements to save her strength.
We are afraid for her, stumbling through our crowd, looking above herself as if that will
help to orient her body. She pats down her pockets without attention, perhaps holding herself in.
Wandering, she stumbles from each of us, placing her palms on our bodies, gnarled in different
places to show our age. We tower over her, the fog creating a smoke screen where shapes steal in
and out of view. She stops at every shadow, attempting to wrap her worthless sweater around her
person. Her neck cranks to the right at the crack of a noise. We stare down, unsure how to
comfort her. No, it is not fear. Perhaps she is lost, but she does not seem afraid of this place.
We see her arm hangs limply at her side, a trail of blood coiling its way around it. We
haven’t seen a lot of them today.
The wetness weighs through our leaves, our limbs dipping lower to the ground as we try
to reach her. She is walking too quickly, we cannot comfort her. We watch as she blindly
tramples into dampened bushes over a carpet of our fallen leaves, our fallen needles. She is not
She can still make it.
We stand tall in our ranks, and we move out of the fog around her to halt her stumbling.
She believes she is trapped. She can leave, we hope she will leave. She lets her back straighten in
defense as she looks about herself, opening and closing her ankles to turn. From above, she turns
in a perfect circle of earth, like a shrine. We are the pillars that surround her. The white yarrow
dots its way around her and the yellow aven slink below her feet. Such colors blur among a gray
Stopping her spin, she lets her eyes focus on one of us. When she walks closer we stand
firm, not wanting to let any slight movements scare her.
She extends her arm to us. Her fingertips press in a light touch at first, creating the five
points of contact that sit delicately on the harsh bark barrier. It feels so different, to have such
vulnerable contact. But leaning the rest of her palm and fingers against our bark, we can feel her
roughness too: hardened skin that grows in layers each year. Her skin shows the scars and the
lines that may change or fade, but will never leave her. She traces her finger along our scars that
grow and harden, but will never leave us either. Our scars may come from others, from the
elements, but hers are self-inflicted.
We try to tell her that we understand, that every growth ring resembles another year of
survival. The rings that will grow to suit her later. We’ve seen her before, she knows this
affliction—this place, our home.
It is not always this way. The rain or snow usually comes in seasons, but the sun always
comes back, breathing life into our community. Sun so sweet, raindrops sink in, snow
sublimating out, we treasure our sun. We must survive to one day reach the promise of warmth.
But now, the rain stays. And when the rain stays, when the snow lays its blanket across our
stand, we breathe together underneath. The warmth buried beneath, we hold it in now. Many
wander through our stand hoping to replenish their warmth, perhaps something they have not felt
for quite some time. They do not always find it.
She pulls away, as if surprised to feel a heartbeat—one connected and pulsing around her.
She receives no answer. She looks down to her blood-wrapped arm as if noticing it for
the first time. She does not appear alarmed, instead she braces her other hand—the one that
touched us—against the wound, holding herself together. Holding on, her face closes and she is
looking to the sky again. Addicted, she does nothing to stop her pain. Pulling her hand away, the
blood smeared, she looks at both hands.
The blood, it must be warm.
We are helpless to help her, all we do is watch.
We shrug our leaves together.
There was once a time when we tried to look away, away from her and the others. They
would be fine. They would seek help if they needed it. We must believe such things, for the
anger, the fear, the sadness, we are afraid to take on the weight of others.
She does not stop for long, she is moving now. Something pulling at her, something that
has caught her attention. Where could she possibly go?
She mustn’t go near, she mustn’t lose herself even further.
But she stops in front of the staircase.
A staircase. There is a staircase through the trees. The sheer whiteness of these stairs
resemble something of pristine, untouched. Her feet set their direction, the narrowing footfalls
crunching against fallen needles. She walks toward it. The whiteness almost blinds her through
the tepid colors sinking around it.
She reaches out her hand to its bannister and peers to the top. It does not go on forever,
just about 15 stairs. The steps don’t have any carpet. Even more, there are no needles, no dirt, no
wetness, yet it feels as if the staircase could have been standing here forever.
The trees suddenly tremble around her—a chorus of crashes cascading—so she pulls her
arm back, looking around at the sudden noise in such a silent place. There doesn’t seem to be any
wind. The trees seem to be peering down at her and the trembling stops.
The staircase pulls her back in and placing her hand on the bannister, nothing happens.
She looks around once again, expecting the trees to come back to their chorus. It is not the trees
that make sound this time. Surrounding her, the churning voices of buzzing insects build with the
pace of her heart. Her hand is still on the staircase as a sickly feeling swims through her head.
Thick phlegm makes its way to the lower part of her throat. It makes its way down into the pit of
her stomach to fester there. The blood remains as she pulls her arm away. The cicadas are joined
by a crow’s caw and the rattle of a snake. She steps onto the stairs, expecting something inside
her to collapse. As everything seems to stay in place, she continues her ascension. The noise
becomes a roar, this darkened place suddenly alive. Reaching the top of the stairs, she is
expecting more, more of something to take her away. She looks down upon herself. Nothing has
changed. But looking back up, she can no longer hear the sounds of the forest. A low pain starts
at the top of her brow and silence takes the place of everything. She can’t even hear her own
Everything still and quiet, the noise has filled up a space inside of her. She will never
reach the top. She turns back, no longer wondering what could wait at the top, and makes her
way down with difficulty as everything spins through her field of vision.
At the last step, she falls to her knees staring at her fists balled up with dirt, the blood is
leaving her too quickly. And when she looks back, only the trees remain.
Her vision fails her and she is left in darkness. Her head pounds behind her eyes. All she
feels is a blinding rage filling her skull. She tries to contain it, bringing both of her hands to her
temples, clamping her nails in hard. Her entire head begins to tremor violently, she is losing her
mind—losing everything. She brings her hands in front of her face to see two blurry, trembling
shapes closing into fists. The pressure builds within her skull and she cannot stop shaking. The
shaking fissions seep into the rest of her body until the fury explodes through her. She screams.
The sound is detached: an angry, wretched sound that tears through her throat. More, there’s still
more to be done. More to be lived and more to be found. She wishes to be anywhere else but
here, lost and searching for something that will make her feel. Feel. Something splits in her and
the shaking stops. She stops screeching, a low, gagging sound replacing the higher pitches from
Her eyes get the taste of tears for the first time in a while. Air shoves its way into her
lungs, her chest constricting to the point of pain. She gropes for air, feeling the stiffness of her
back give way to the expansion of her lungs.
When she rises, her pulse begins to withdraw, her breath withdrawing too. Slow, slow
breathing, breathing is something trees know how to do. She could feel it, her legs absorbing the
soggy warmth from the earth. She could feel it, her limbs extending forth, needles protruding like
fine hairs. She could feel it, their breath mixing, exhaling their oxygen together. She attempts to
exhale herself, but instead her entire body breathes, the air beginning at the tips of her limbs and
soaking through the rest of her rising body. The oxygen doesn't leave her right away, it circulates
through, expanding to her new form. The stiffness of her body feels familiar, but the peace does
not. Her body is better built for the chill now. Through her thick skin she doesn’t feel the
piercing cold anymore. A thick skin that doesn’t show her old scars anymore. The scars are
buried beneath the leaves now. The warmth from the earth rises through her body, circulating
through. She allows the elements to mix together in her body, all of them transforming into
something life-sustaining. Peace, a sort of stillness, falls into her. She doesn’t have to run
anymore, a power drawn from stillness. She thinks she’ll stay.
The staircase does not appear very often for us, but it seems everyone eventually sees it
the longer they stay. Looking for warmth is a dangerous task, and it doesn’t always work the first
time. Looking for warmth, you must survive the cold first. And she doesn’t know it, but there are
many others wandering this forest, trying to find their way—to warmth. She believes she is
alone, but there are many others like her. Others who have been banished here because no one
understands how to help them, how to cure them. They must be fixed to survive out of this place.
Fixed. Such a quick and easy word. Something we’ll never really understand. Sometimes they
wander forever trying to see in this depression of fog. Maybe one day they'll escape. But now,