‘And when she pulled apart the leafy branches she saw…’ (Unknown)
The crepuscular light of day played its usual tricks with Time amidst the gnarled oaks and pines of her world. Only the angle of the light betrayed whether it was morning or evening in this sylvan realm where even the moss and pools of water exuded something ancient. Syrinx was no exception. She was an autochthonous attribute of the forest as a whole, a girl who was old, a timeless child playing the game of time beautifully. The glowing blues of the lichen growing on the bark of the oaks, on the stones worn smooth by the wind and water, were millennia-old inspirations for the fire of her mind as she rambled through the woodland. Ferns and the decay that fed them muffled her carefree steps while the unseen birds in the canopy of hard and softwoods played their intertwined songs of joy and fear. As she ran west, she felt a beam of light at her back. Syrinx smiled and winked at the morning as a song of her own sounded its hollow instruments in her head.
He was a shadow’s shadow. Even the boundless imagination of Syrinx had failed to give him form. But sometimes when she scrambled up the slick rocks of a waterfall, or heard a branch break behind her, she could feel his breath on the nape of her neck. At such times, even in the halcyon days of her youth, Syrinx felt something bone-shaking within. Dread overtook her like a chill wind at high summer. As swift and sure-footed as she was, he was always somewhere nearby. To be perpetually close, he had to be faster than she was. Just as night followed day, Syrinx felt that their first encounter was only a matter of time. In spite of his formlessness, Syrinx perceived the primal darkness he exuded. Even if he appeared as a beam of light, darkness would still articulate it.
Her mother had told Syrinx she was crying even before she had left the womb. Syrinx was raised under the pretense that she was a virgin birth, a miracle child. Judging from her features, Syrinx knew this to not be true. But her mother wanted nothing of the people of the world and was determined to convince her daughter of the same. Her mother slept throughout the days and worshipped the ever-changing moon by night. She died on a moonless night in the bathtub with Ovid’s Metamorphoses floating over her submerged face and an empty pill bottle on the tile floor as an offering to the gods who used to reside above. Even her mother’s chaste words of blind piousness had failed to keep her above water. Into the woods Syrinx went. Had anyone seen her go, it would have looked like a little girl skipping into the forest to play.
As Syrinx paused to take a drink from the stream, she thought of the transition from house to forest. There she was confined and cribbed in an unnatural state of shame. Here, she was free and open to go on without regard to time and in a natural state of curiosity.
—Et in Arcadia ego.
The ghost of her mother interrupted the reedy song in her head. Of course, Death had to make its ever-present whereabouts known. Not only was Death so narcissistic as to be the punctuation at the end of every sentence, it had to interrupt the Song of Life whenever it pleased.
—Yes, yes…I know you’re here, too. But if I can keep outrunning him, I can keep you at arm’s length long enough to either forget you, or be rid of you. Oh! And mother, you never put enough peanut butter in the PBJ sandwiches. How’s that for irreverence for the dead?
—Oh, I’m going to. I almost always am.
—Just give me a minute. I only have so many of them as you keep reminding me.
Evening became night as the crepuscular rays gave way to moonbeams. As Syrinx took to the toes of her bare feet, the rich earthen colors of the forest became sepia-tones and grays tending towards a landscape of nebulous shadow. But she felt like Zeno’s arrow or the Red Queen running as fast as she could just to stay in one place. A paradox of time and space had taken hold of the forest and the girl. But instinct, that beautiful and blameworthy thing, put one horrified foot in front of the other in a muted rhythm pounding at a prestissimo pace along with her heartbeat that pounded in accordance with the hummingbird. Had she been a mere mortal, she would have taken fire.
Deeper into the boundless forest brought her amongst the sharp-leaved oaks that bid farewell to the last Age and would say hello to the next. Nothing lived beneath the mammoths besides the mushrooms whose caps showed like withered satellite dishes for the transmissions they were sending and receiving amidst their towering neighbors. Beneath the damp earth, millions of strands of mycelium were tangled like an infinite web woven by a drunken spider. This was the place of the eternal song, the silent melody unbroken for millennia. The chorus of the ancients pointed to a secret law.
She heard the sound of hooves galloping across the soft ground. Whatever possessed them, was far larger than she was. Syrinx had heard far too many deer and bears in her day not to be mistaken by the weight of the sound. The faint clank of metal, an element almost forgotten to her, echoed through the forest world of dirt, rock, water and wood. She knew the hooves propelled the metal, the metal that either bound or penetrated. Metal was the tyrant of the world of solids. If it gleamed, it threatened.
The forest behind Syrinx was a place where every rock had a name, every stream a particular note, every sapling a pair of eyes to watch it grow. But this part of the forest, the place fear had taken her, was a place where the towering trees were nameless and silence was the overarching track of its song. When she reached a place with stunted trees that looked like trolls, their gnarled branches blocked her way. The thumping of the hooves sent a dark harmony through her bare feet. There was no turning back. And when she pulled apart the leafy branches she saw.
A grid as far as her keen eyes could see unfolded across the treeless landscape as she struggled to adjust to the openness. With mathematical precision, identical white houses abutted each other like a spreading virus would appear through a microscope. Manicured lawns of shaved green grass marked every cell while the hard and linear bloodstream of the place was petrified in nebulous concrete. Dogs barked in identical tones while every window encased a cat peering out with their psychotic eyes. Fluorescent street lights cast a laboratory glow on the suburbs giving everything the look of immanent dissection. Syrinx was paralyzed at the shock of the scene, the alien of the once familiar taking hold of her. She looked down and wondered where her shoes were. The knots in her hair asserted themselves in the breeze. By the time she looked back to the edge of the woods where a pine tree was twisted by the wind, he had already taken hold of her. His manic face was crowned by the needles of the pine.
—Now, just tell me your name and where you live. I know you couldn’t have made it far barefoot and dressed like you are.
Hayden Moore was born and raised in Georgia and has lived in New York City for the past thirteen years. He studied Journalism and Theater at the University of Tennessee. In the past five months, he has been published thirty times for his short stories. He lives with his wife and cat on the waters of Jamaica Bay in Queens.