CHAPTER ELEVEN: THE LIGHTS
It is July 30th, 6:04 pm.
My son and I are standing outside the Tank, the sound of its door closing behind Agni and her daughters still echoing through the woods. We look at each other for a moment, making an unspoken agreement to just head toward the cabin. I’m hoping the walk wakes us up; the sound of Agni’s voice jolted me out of the deepest sleep I can ever remember having, and my son’s wobbly footsteps are telling a similar story.
The bag slung over my shoulder is hitting my thigh with each step, reminding me of the journal inside that I still haven’t opened. I feel certain that a few short weeks ago I would have scoured its pages before deciding if it was safe to show my son; now, I wouldn’t dare look at it without him. I don’t know if it’s the thought of reading it with him or the wet morning air that woke me up, but I’m walking faster now.
“Let’s go to the woods. I have something to show you.”
He pauses a moment, looking for something in my face, and a huge smile spreads across his.
As I race him to the cabin to get our things, I wonder if the Mother’s book will mention anything about increased speed. Even holding back to let him get a little ahead of me, I feel twice as fast as I ever was. I smile at him as he turns around to face me, running backward to taunt me with his impressive lead. I’m waiting for the perfect moment to smoke him. I dig my heels in the grass, preparing to fly past him, when I look past the tongue he’s sticking out at me to our porch.
That word was mine. I chose it, I moved the muscles in my very own throat to make it. The corners of my mouth are tingling because I opened my mouth so fast and wide to scream that word, but I heard it screamed back at me from deep within the trees, hitting me in the face. I heard it so loud that I screeched to a halt, jamming my ankle hard into the dirt. My son stopped too and is staring at me, stunned. I silently move my mouth to my next words, slow and exaggerated.
D O N T M O V E, my lips tell him.
The monster on the porch rises and falls with its breath, eyes fixed on my son’s back. Its thick grey fur separates into a million shadows with each massive inhale. I think I hear a faint growl. A gust of wind picks up, rolling past my son first, then me, whispering in a thousand voices the sounds I never made.
The monster tenses at the sight of his sudden movement, growling. His back lowers as he prepares to jump off the porch. The next word we hear did not come from me. It crashed down on us like thunder, shaking the earth with its force as it boomed through the trees.
We both jump at least a foot in the air at the sound, startled so violently that we break into a full run toward the trees without a thought. I stay two steps behind him, running as fast as my legs will move. We run full speed through the woods for a few minutes until I’m sure I no longer hear the breath of the beast behind us. We stop, panting, and my son grips me tight around the waist. He’s shaking. I hold his arms, pressing him into me as I frantically scan the woods for a direction. Nothing looks safe around us; even the colors are different. My son is tapping on my arm, pointing just ahead of us to a floating light, like a single warm Christmas bulb hovering in the air. He whispers.
It isn’t. It’s pulsing, hovering like a tiny white angel, and somehow it feels as if it is looking at us. It speeds ahead, leaving a thin white trail of light, then stops and comes back to us, slowly. This happens several times while my son and I stand as still as rocks, staring at it in silence. The fourth time it looks impatient, glowing brighter, speeding away faster, and coming back towards us suddenly, inches from my son’s nose.
“Mom. It wants us to follow it.”
We do. I don’t even question it, because the presence of this thing feels as different as possible as the presence of the giant porch wolf, which seems to have doubled in size since I last saw it. We follow it through the woods for about twenty minutes, holding tightly to each other as we follow the little light.
We are walking alongside the river, very close to our favorite spot in the woods with the big flat rock. The light suddenly swerves to the left, speeding so fast we have to run to keep up. I’m surprised when I hear my son call out to it.
“No! Please don’t leave!”
The light slows to a stop, allowing us to catch up to it. My eyes were so fixed on the bright little orb that I hadn’t noticed it had led us to the mouth of a cave, about ten feet across and just barely taller than me, and pitch black inside. I am not going in there.
“We have to, Mom. She saved us.”
He drops the hand he was holding and follows it into the darkness. As soon as we step inside, the cave comes to life, a thousand little lights glowing slowly awake. They float through the air, drowsy and dim at first. I swear the cave walls are stretching, yawning. A deep sigh shakes the floor of the earth, and with little twitches and bounces, the lights reach a rich, full glow and are bouncing off each other, the walls, and us. My son’s giggle echoing off the cave walls swaddles my heavy heart. He is dancing, bouncing with the lights, which are all swirling around him now, bouncing off his head and falling dramatically to the floor before circling back up around him like a beautiful tornado.
“Mom! They’re playing! They’re hugging me!”
I sit in the cave floor, removing my bag with the journal inside and hope my son doesn’t remember that I wanted to show him something. After the wolf, I am questioning my decision to read it with him before checking it out first. This place is beautiful and it feels safe; I know it in a way I can’t describe, and I don’t want to ruin it.
My son sits in front of me, little lights resting on his shoulders in clusters. He is smiling and his twinkling eyes are more brilliant than ever with the reflection of his new little friends.
“Can we keep them?”
I laugh, smiling back at him.
“Keep them? What are they?”
The little orbs squeeze in tight to him, circling his shoulders. They move slightly toward me, as if they’re looking at me in anticipation.
“Let’s spend a little more time here.”, I tell him, pulling snacks from my bag. “Let’s just see what this is all about, ok?”
He agrees and happily devours his food. We stay in the cave all night, and it feels just like that first night in the woods. We talk about everything; the lights, the wolf, burnout, what he misses about home. He misses Tok and his projects. We talk about stories we’ve heard, movies we’ve seen, things we’d like to do in the woods. Whether or not we will be here forever.
“I hope so.” he says, searching my face as if to see if I’m happy we came.
“Well then so do I.”
“I like home, I liked the school. But I bet once Tok checks us and we are done with our treatment in the Tanks, we can make it just like that here, don’t you bet that Mom? I bet everyone else will come here too, when he tells them how magic it is here now. If we didn’t come and I found out there was this much magic here, I would be so sad. I’d beg to come. This is better than the stories I used to write, huh Mom?”
He’s happily talking away, and has been scraping a flat piece of rock rhythmically on the cave floor for nearly an hour, stopping every few minutes to inspect its shape. The tiny orbs are moving with him, lighting his work.
“What are you making?”
He turns toward me, holding the rock up so I can see. The lights swirl around it, illuminating a perfectly symmetrical, razor sharp stone knife blade.
“In case that wolf comes back. I’ll protect us. Wanna make one?”
I join him in the middle of the cave floor. We sort through all the rock pieces, finding the perfect ones to use. He drags in a sturdy tree branch, splits it with his new blade, and nestles the sharp rock into the split before wrapping it with a piece of his shoelace.
“That’s incredible.” I tell him, marveling at the craftsmanship of his weapon.
“How on earth do you even know how to do that?”
He just smiles, moving on to another stone. We make three knives each, working so intensely that we completely lose track of time. My son often sings or hums when he’s focused on something like this, and I love it. Sometimes I’m not sure he is aware he’s doing it, and I usually stay quiet, happy that he can lose himself so fully in something, happy that he can relax and sing contently. Happy I get to hear it.
This time I join him when he sings, the cave’s echoes blending our voices like a choir. It’s a song I remember hearing my mother sing to me, a song I bet I sang to my own infant son a thousand times. As our voices overlap in the cave, they seem to be growing effortlessly louder.
My son points to the lights while we sing, tapping my hand and smiling as he watches them glow and pulse with our song, quickly whispering to me between the words.
I keep singing with my son, with the lights and the cave and the magic in the woods, singing while I sharpen knives just in case we need to fight the impossibly large grey wolf that may or may not be following us. Singing because it feels good to breathe deep enough to sing as long and as loud as I can with him. Because it’s all I know to do, and my body feels light and my heart feels warm and my son is smiling and I’m not shaking. Because together our voices sound more beautiful than they do apart. I keep singing because the love I feel for this little boy is too big to keep inside.