Chapter Twenty-One: The Gift

I buried him beside his favorite rock by his favorite river in his favorite woods in the whole, wide world.

I cried the entire time I buried him, a shocking, foreign cry unlike any sound I have ever made. It was a heavy sound; a sadness and grief so vast I couldn’t contain it within me. It was spilling over into the forest, which has remained respectfully silent since his death.

      I used a knife he made to carve into a rock: Kala. My whole world, gone. The cry stopped the moment I placed it over his grave, and I felt my spirit leave me. I had not stopped to notice her, spinning inside me, gathering her things as the fires grew hotter. I was focused on the sound and the dirt and my son, as colorless as the woods I tucked him into for the last time. I felt her leave through the top of my head, taking her cry with her as she flew up into the silent trees. A nighttime prayer from my childhood echoed in my empty insides in her absence.

      Now I lay me, down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake…

      What happens to a soul trapped in a copy of the woods? What will happen to me?

      I didn’t leave that spot for days. I felt the hunger from a faraway place; instead of feeling sharp and real, it felt like I was watching someone else experience hunger. I wondered if I would die that way. I laid there, feeling nothing, scratching a single line into the rock beside his name each time the sun went down.

      The first sound since my spirit’s cry woke me. It was a faint, distant whimper from somewhere deep in the trees. As it grew closer and louder, becoming a mournful howl, my body did not react and my mind did not reel. When it was loud enough to know that it was behind me, I watched myself from the treetops, not even turning to see what it was. Maybe it will kill me, I heard myself thinking.

     It grew louder until it was right behind me, but I still didn’t turn my head. What my body finally reacted to was not the sound (which had become a frustrated, low growl), but the smell. The smell of blood sat me up, grabbed my chin in its hand, and slowly turned my head until my eyes met those of the giant gray wolf. Inches from my face, a young rabbit dangled limp in his mouth, its blood spilling over enormous fangs and onto the rock.

      Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. THUMP.

     The wolf lowered its head, dropping the animal onto the rock, its velvety fur matted with blood. It released a final whimper before turning and running back into the woods.

      I borrowed the stillness of the sea to bury my son in these woods. I walked home on my hunger, back to the broken, colorless cabin where I once lived with him. I used his knife to skin the wolf’s gift, cooking it in what was left of our little kitchen and devouring it in minutes.

      The rhythmic tap of the cabin’s broken screen door, crooked and swaying with the wind, lulled me into a restless sleep. I woke through the night to the wolf’s cry, distant and howling at times and sharp with an anxious growl that seemed to be right outside the door at others. When the howling didn’t wake me, my own body did, shivering violently despite the warm August night. I finally relaxed into a deep dream.

 Kala was on the other end of the couch, his feet touching mine, the sunlight shining gold on his face through the window as he drew in his book. I watched in silence as the light dulled with the setting sun; I watched in silence as my son disappeared. Cold air whipped through the cabin, picking up force and speed until the windows shattered and the door flew off the hinges. It stopped as suddenly as it started, and Kala was gone. I lay frozen on the couch, staring out of the hole where the door used to be. Something caught my eye in the distance; a tiny, ribbon-like shape moving in the wind. As it moved quickly toward the cabin I began to see it much larger and more clearly. It was a gray blanket, suspended from the mouth of a giant black crow. It billowed through the doorway and spread out above me before slowly lowering onto my body. I lay motionless under the warmth of the soft blanket and watched the crow fly back out of the cabin.

      I woke this morning and sat up, still groggy from the dream. My stomach growled loudly as I scanned the room, quickly separating the real events from the dream. A soft, gray blanket was draped over Kala’s end of the couch. I stared at it, trying to remember if it was there when I went to sleep, and it began to move. It raised up slowly like a ghost and moved to the center of the floor before sliding off the body of the wolf as he yawned and stretched.