Twilight had taken over our path and the leaves glowed amber with the last rays of sunlight as night began to take its place. We had thought it would be a good idea: a romantic, sweet evening watching the sunset from the top of the hill, with the dusk settling in just as we finished up and headed back. And it was. The wine bottles were lighter now that they were empty and the food was much easier to carry our stomachs than on our backs. We laughed our way back
down the path, and Daniel pulled me under a tree for a stolen moment of affection as we both tried our best to extend the evening for as long as possible. What or whom that moment was stolen from, I don’t know, but wherever it lived before, it was ours now. Our car was a few yards away, past the treeline, past the border of our oasis from reality, our respite from jobs and stress. Neither of us wanted to go back. He wrapped his arms around me from behind and leaned his cheek against my ear, ra
ised our hands together, then twined his fingers through mine and reached our arms forward to point out the first of the fireflies that had begun to jump around in the dark like errant sparks from an unseen fire. My eyes followed them here and there as they appeared and disappeared like excited children playing a game of tag or hide and seek in the dark. More and more flashed and went out then stayed lit and began to looked like tinkling gold bells in the dark, to the point that I thought I could almost hear the jingle of their laughter. We kept walking and the path dipped down in to the thick of the woods. It would reappear just beyond the treeline by the parking lot that was currently obscured by the tall, thick trunked trees whose canopy filtered out the last of the sunset, making the fireflies seem so much brighter.
I’d never seen so many in one place and as the path curved through the dark, we came face to face with a sight that was – well, I don’t know what it was. I don’t have a word for it. They had gathered in floating, pulsing mobs over the roots of the trees, one or two, in some places three globs of them hanging around the base where heavy roots began their tentative journeys in to the soil. As far as I could see, they spread throughout the forest, floating amorphous lanterns whose light grew steadily growing darkness. Here the smell of damp earth and leaves pervaded, but with the summer warmth it felt like a sauna, the earthy smell creeping into your lungs and holding you there, forcing you to take long, deep breaths. Daniel inhaled sharply when he saw the clouds of floating light and said something, but my attention had been drawn to a lump below one of the flying globules of light. It was dull, and hard to see, but its ruddy color caught the amber light and reflected it back in a sanguine pulse that undulated with the swarm’s movements. Leaving Daniel behind, I inched towards it, and when I got close enough I crouched and brushed away the leaves from roots that surrounded the heart and grew over it like a wooden ribcage. I wanted to scream and every alarm in my head told me that I should but I just sat there, fingers resting on the flat, bone like roots, mouth open, staring at the gore beneath my hands. The fireflies numbers had grown while I had been looking at the heart and they had begun to slowly descend around me lightly touching my hands and face, landing soundlessly in the wood, crawling up my fingertips and playing through loose strands of my hair. In the movement of their light it almost looked as if the heart was —
“Amy. Come here.” Daniel called me from the other side of the path.
I pulled my eyes away from the impossible scene and turned to see him crouched similarly beneath another tree, another glowing mass of flashes and sparks, dimmer than mine in front of him. I came up behind him and he jumped a little when I touched his shoulder, but he didn’t turn.
“Its beating.” He said in disbelief.
At his feet lay another heart entrapped in wooden ribs its pulse moving the leaves that formed its bed ever so slightly. There was a crunching creak behind us and I turned back to the roots I had been inspecting, to the cloud of fireflies that moments ago had been my halo. They had descended on the heart and now crawled the surface of the roots that held the cardioid lump that pulsed faster as more and more fireflies landed on its surface. One by one they disappeared in to the wooden ribs and in to the heart, their new host glowing with their light and slowly expanding with their support. The roots were widening, flattening themselves out reaching towards each other until they encased it. The tinkling, laughing sound that the fireflies’ flashes had only suggested now bounced around the forest quietly as if far off in the distance. Daniel stood, wrapped his arms around me again, more protectively this time, then pointed out in to the forest.
Where previously glowing swarms had hovered, now red pulses surrounded by amber wood lay on the ground, and the tinkling laughter could be heard all over.
“What are you?”
Asked a tiny voice from my feet. Startled I jumped back and searched for the source of the sounds, seeing only a tree and the strangely glowing wood.
“Are you — Others?”
The sound now obviously came from the wood, the light pulsing with each word. The roots hand continued to grow, down towards my feet, building upon themselves.
With creaks and giggles the knots of wood in the trunk smiled, and the legs that had grown from the rib cage stood themselves up on creaking feet, testing their uncertain purchase. No larger than a child, and built from glowing wood, I could see the red beat of the heart inside its chest.
“You, you are others. Others don’t stay here. But you are here.”
The tiny creature reached its hand out towards mine and I touched it. Daniel tried to croak an objection but before he could the tiny creatures wooden fingers had brushed my palm, and left a trail of glowing light on my skin. Daniel and I both froze, and the creature reached for him and he stared as it traced another line down the back of his hand. It giggled and took our soft fingers in its wooden ones, turned and began to walk. I knew that we shouldn’t follow, knew that we should go somewhere else, but I couldn’t figure out why any more. So we followed it, passing trunks of trees, each of them glowing and stretching, with giggling lights infusing wooden ribs with life. Somewhere deep in the woods, we came to a group of them, each no larger than the next, all giggling, tinkling and playing. They greeted us, and each of them touched our hands, our fingers, our faces, oohed and aahed. Then whispers began to spread through them.
“Come!” said one “Come, Others, you should come. You are tired.”
The others nodded in agreement and hands grasped for our forearms. Now that they mentioned it I was tired. Daniel and I looked at eachother, but his eyes had glazed over and my thoughts were foggy. Lying down did sound nice. The giggles tinkled around us with a hypnotic quality. They filled my ears and mind, like tiny vibrations on the surface of water. They lead us to our own trees, and we lay down on beds of soft leaves, our heads propped up by pillows of mossy roots. I felt my eyes close. Only a few moments, that was all I’d need.
At night I wake, and my joints feel stiff. At first I can’t rise, but then a tingling begins in my chest and it spreads throughout my whole body. It is warm, and happy and makes me giggle. I see Daniel, and we giggle and play together. We don’t have to steal moments any more, because all the moments are ours. They sparkle with us in the night, with all of us.
This story was inspired by Nika Harper’s story “Structure and Lullabies”, which can be found here and was made possibly by my patrons on Patreon. If you would like to support my work you can subscribe, share, become a patron or leave a tip.