I am never lost…

I kept that flickering through my mind as I climbed across the ragged rocks, pulling myself over the fresh leaves. I felt a branch catch my sleeve and I stopped, hearing the tear rack through the silence. Pulling the branch from my shirt I wondered if the tear was large enough to be considered a rip. It went around almost half of my wrist, showing the bare flesh beneath. My red shirt was riddled with dirt, seeming brown to the eyes. But I knew the true colour that lay beneath, and now, looking at the strip of skin, it seemed odd. I could imagine the bright red, and the flesh, just like a fresh scar, except everything else was bleeding instead of that which had been injured.

My thoughts already gone from the tear, I continued paving my way through the bush. Another branch ran across the back of my hand, leaving a thin scratch. Staring at my left hand I saw the scars that had accumulated from my time. Some fresh, some old each showed its stories; that ragged branch, the watery gush. And now, another story added to its open book. My eyes trailed to the one scar I could not recall, the perfect circle, no more than a dot, placed in the lined space between my thumb and finger. Its bright red encompass so small only someone looking for it could see it. But it was still there. And my mind could find no history of it.

That little reason gave me the reason for why I was here; traversing through this lightening forest with a breathing heart and the same words repeating through my head, I am never lost. Life had given me a curious mind, one that would not let the unknown always be unfound. This little dot had burned across the back of my hand, shining out like a beacon. And I had to know where it came from. So for two years I had followed each opportunity given to me, knowing that somehow, it would lead me to the answer.

And then I had found her.

The girl shrouded in a mask of black that hid everything but her face. She had appeared as I had sat, no sound being made as her body had crinkled gracefully beside me. I had waited for her to speak first, and when she did she had spoken with a story.

'A man once married a widowed woman, her husband had died three months earlier. The woman had loved her husband, and after his death, this man had swept her off her feet into a world that befitted only the wealthiest. He had adorned her in luxury; to quell her mind of her sorrows if ever she asked. People began to talk, wondering if this was really the best for the woman. But this story if not about the woman, it is about the man. The man found pleasantries in the woman, emotion came difficulty to him and though he did not feel love for her, he found she made him complacent.'

And then the girl had left, just effortlessly heaved her body from the ground and walked away. I had stared after her disappearing rustles, wanting to follow but knowing that I was not meant to. For many days, she had been the first person I had seen, and so suddenly had she appeared then left in a flourish. But I was not surprised. I was curious. Curious to know more of this strange girl, curious to know more of the story that ended with an ease of abruptness. Though the story had no real ending, and seemed to serve no purpose, I knew that it continued no further.

A bird scuttled across the trees above me. I took my eyes to the sound, finding the coloured beast preening its dark feathers. Such a simple daily task that required so much dedication from the animal.

The sun had reached its peak, beckoning still hours of sunlight ahead. Though I walked with a purpose, the path ahead lay with an unknown ending, one that I hoped would lead me to my answer.

The girl had come again one night, whilst I had sat by the dwindling fire I had managed to burn. Again I waited for her to speak, and again she spoke with a story.

'A small ant, smaller than the rest, once had dreams to become a great lion. This ant would stare at the greats cats as they manoeuvred their dance, and he would dream to dance like them. He tried once, after the beasts had stalked away, but his legs had tangled and he had fallen in a knot. Such a longing he felt to be like the lions, he resolved to cut off two of his six legs. And so he did, and died from blood loss.'

The story ended then, and like once before she rose and left. I didn't let her just leave that time, I had turned, and left her hear my voice.

"Wait."

She turned, not seeming surprised.

"For what?" And this time I heard her voice ring out in words that were not known before they were said, and yet, they sounded expected.

I didn't answer her question, and she spared not the briefest wait.

I had stopped now, to break in the midday sun, resting against the rippled trunk of a tree. My breathing came evenly, the land here was void of growing heights, the hills reserved to the smallest. It gave no reason to have ragged lungs. I leaned my head to the cracking bark, feeling the hard grooves digging against my light hair. My light hair, that like me, would now be riddled with dirt. I stopped longer than usual, telling myself there was no need to hurry away but really wanting the mysterious girl to once more appear. And when she did not, I left my stop with a heavy mind.

I once more recalled the third time she had appeared to me; I had been walking then, trudging my way through the undergrowth.

This time I willed myself to speak first, to command instead of listen.

"What's your name?"

She didn't answer the question but, like the other times, began with a story.

'There was a girl who had seven sisters. She was the youngest. Another family had eight sons, each one matched an age of the one of the seven sisters. At each child's eighteenth birthday they would marry one of the other. It was commonly known throughout the village in which they lived, and if anyone disagreed with these methods, they never shared their thoughts. As the youngest girl began to grow talk turned to what would happen to her, they were no sons for her to marry in the other family. The girl meanwhile, began to hope about choosing her own future. She had meet a stranger, and though older than her, she found something enchanting about his gentle words. Suggestions came from all around town about what to do about the girl, many parents wanted her for their sons. One night, two boys got into a fight concerning who had more courage to ask for her hand. And then it was there, the notion that the girl could be asked instead of given. And so a bitter war amongst the town, each boy fighting to be seen the stronger. And all the while the girl neared her eighteenth birthday. One night news came to their house that two men had gotten themselves into a fight over her and one man had meet his death. The girl went to where the two men had fought and looked upon the face of the dead man. She saw it was the stranger. No one knew his name and so a tombstone that held only the date of death was erected in his honour. The day after the girl knew what must be done to cease the fights. Seven days after the stranger had died another tombstone appeared next to his.'

This time, instead of leaving immediately, the girl paused and glanced at me. In the moment, I could almost see the truth behind her facade; a person that was tired with reality. But the moment passed and she once more swished away.

The story had left me with countless questions. Was the tombstone at the end the girls'? Or was it someone else's? If it was, did she kill herself because of grief? Or because she wanted the fighting to stop? Did she even kill herself? These questions accumulated to the many questions that now burned inside me. I had come here to have questions answered, not asked.

Night began to rippled the edges of light, shrouding the sun in stars. The trees above let in faint shreds of moonlight but not enough to allow continuance.

Like always I managed a small fire, just enough to ward off any nightly beasts. I settled against the ground but sleep would not come easily.

The next time she had come I was walking again. I saw her coming, off in the distance, before she disappeared then reappeared beside me. I sat down against a root, waiting as she placed herself beside me.

"Where are you from?" Again I had risked to speak first, and again I received no answer but a story.

'It was raining one day, when an old woman decided to go for a walk. She could not move well but she hobbled across the path. Her mind began to grow eager to know what lay ahead and soon she found the path had stopped long ago. And it was there that something instilled in her, something that had once been there, like a memory that had been lived more than once. Something about where she was made her want to dance, and so she did. There amongst the trees she twirled, her crumpled body flying across the ground below. As she danced it was like the stars were falling over her, coming to rest in a spark that was only seen to her eyes. And when she finally stopped she felt younger, and she found that once more she had become a girl.'

Whilst she had told this story, she had been stroking the root on which we sat. Her soft hand touched the tree in a way that seemed so tenderly I wondered if she knew she was doing it. She looked down at her hand, seemed surprised that she was doing it. It was the first emotion I had seen in her. She lifted herself up.

"I'd be careful." And she left me with that single piece of advice.

As the fire crackled my mind immediately turned to the next time I had seen her. It had been midday, and my eyes had been tired. As they had closed her gentle words had started with her next story.

"A little child liked to play against the trees. She found them calming, and soon she saw them as her friends. From a young age if she could not be found people would search there, and there she would be. But one day she was not there, and could not be found elsewhere. Late that night she returned home, and her parents saw her just as she had been when she had left. They asked where she spent the day and she told them she had spent all day amongst the trees. She had said that she had found a little toy village, that had a castle and houses, and little people that could do amazing things. She said she had spent the whole day playing with this village but she had not left the trees. The next day when the girl went out they again looked amongst the trees, and again could not find her. When she came home they asked where she had been and she said the same as the night before. For a week this happened, and the parents grew worried. The girl meanwhile, longed each night to return to the little village with the castle, whilst playing she felt as if she could do anything. On the eighth day the parents followed her as she went to the trees and spent all day watching her. But she merely sat against a trunk. They snuck home before she could see them. They asked what she had done that day and she said that the village had not been there, so she had played with it in her mind. The parents grew more worried and forbade her to go to the trees again. But the next day the parents went out, and the girl went to the trees. This time the village awaited her, and like always, she found herself entering the realm of her imagination. There the people greeted herself, and she danced with the prince and played with the royal cat. Each day she would continue to go to this realm, and her parents found they could not stop her. One day in this realm she saw another little girl, her own age. They soon became best friends, but she found something odd about the girl, something almost real when everything else seemed fake. One day the girl found out something terrible. Only one person could exist in this realm, and there were two people already. The girl tried talking to the other, to convince her to leave, she had been there first after all. But the other would not leave and so the girl, not wanting to give up what she had found killed the other and became the only person in this realm. And for some time, it gave her peace.'

She had left that day as quickly as she had come, flashing between the trees. The story had not been long, and like the others, it was like she only said what needed to be said, nothing more.

That was the last time I had seen her. It had been several days and still she had not appeared. This girl had told me her stories and now, my curiosity had grown beyond all need. My quest to find the answer to the little dot on my hand had become a quest to find out more about this girl.

The little dot, how such a small simple thing had lead me to this pathless forest. And it was all for curiosity, another simple thing. It was just an emotion, not a need, but to me it encompassed all my desires. I ran my finger over the small dot, feeling no bump, knowing that the only way to find it was to look.

Though each story she had shared seemed to share no common traits, I knew that somehow they were all connected, each one in its own way.

Tired eyes began to take over, sleep reaching me with a small thought; would I ever get out of here?

I woke to the risen sun, its body already having structured its ascent. The fire had long cooled and I left the ashes sitting in the dirt. With a simple sigh I once more took to the unknown path, seeing the day ahead as every other day.

I yearned to see the girl again, to hear another story from her cherished lips. As the stories grew in detail, so did she. So maybe I should find her myself. The thought entered my mind but I did not dismiss it idly. To find the girl instead of her finding me.

I looked to what lay ahead, trees, leaves; beside me the same. And that morning, instead of keeping with the straight, I turned my body and walked to what I should have passed. For some reason I felt this was the way that I must go.

The sun reached its peak, but I did not stop. I could see shadows forming against the trees and for the first time, my breath came in heaves. But still I did not stop.

And then I found her.

A small river ran across my sight, and she stood, as if a part of it with her back to me. She turned as a fresh lead crumpled under my weight.

And she smiled.

She stepped from the river, water rippling as she moved its body. Still dressed in the same mask of black she looked clean, compared to my dirt-filled composure.

"Who are you?" My voice was strong, disappearing amongst the trees.

The girl reached me, put her hand against the trunk by my side. She stared at it for a moment, as if longingly, then spoke.

"Let me tell you one last story. There was once born a girl, a beautiful girl, who though had many luxuries, was not happy. As she grew her beauty only increased and word soon spread of her. Though her life was paved with everything she could need, it did not have everything she could want. She was seventeen when she meet a woman, an old woman whom she tried to command. But the old woman was not scared of her, and offered her a gift. A gift of life. The girl accepted the gift, thinking it could only bring her good and so a six-pointed star appeared on her left hand, right between her thumb and finger. Each point was a life, a chance that she could take if she found what she had was not wanted. At first the girl was scared but then as soon she came to find boredom in her life she used the first point. And so she was born a man, a rich man. But he continued to remember his past life and found that happiness was hard to find. So she used the second point and found herself a small ant. But there was something more she wanted to be, so the third point hard its use. And so she was born to a woman who was told she would not have any more children. She belonged then to a large family, but love would let her be and she choose the easy option. She had begun to relish in the opportunity to escape the life she did not like, and she did not think of what would happen when there were no more lives to live. The fourth point took her to the form of an old woman, a woman who wished to once again be young and found it, not in the points, but in the stars. But to relive the same life was not what she wanted and so the fifth point was used. So she was once more a girl, who worried her parents. It was this life that gave her the most peace, and she held what she thought was happiness. And so only one point remained, one point that she dared no use." She paused, as if to catch her breath. "What do you think is in this tree?"

The question came unexpected, my answer came as a stumble, unsure. "Wood, bugs maybe."

"No, there is a life." She took the tree in her hand, running it along its breadth. "The beautiful girl then found that the past would catch up with her, and she ran, not knowing what else to do. And she used her last point."

"What was the girl's name?" I stopped her in her speech, causing an eye to be cast at me.

"Her name was Averly."

And I knew it was her name, this story was hers, as were all of them.

"The girl used the final point of the star and she became a boy, one who grew with the stories of all the others in him, but he did not remember them. It was all held in a little dot that was placed so curiously in his hand, a dot so small that only someone looking for it could find it. The dot held all the stories and so in him burned a desire to know more about the past that he could not recall. And the girl watched him grow, waiting for her moment to take the final step to use the sixth point. And then the moment appeared." She smiled at me, a sad, almost magical smile. "Do you know the rest?"

And I did know the rest, for as she stared at me, I knew it all. I was the boy. The stories she had told, they had been her life, my life. I was her, but she, she was not yet me. But soon she would be. A part of me knew that I had expected this, her I was now and I would die for her to live.

"Think not of it as death, but as a beginning." She spoke forcefully, but softly, almost sadly. "The boys life was the final one, so it had to be perfect." She spoke as if still in the story, but we both knew the truth.

I could do nothing to escape this, it was what I was born for. I stared at the small dot on my hand, the sixth point. I had found its meaning, and now the girl had left no questions for me. I knew everything I wanted to know, and now I was ready to die.

"Your life will still be lived."

"Then what will die?" I choked across the words.

"Your soul, I do not share that."

I nodded, and relinquished myself to my fate.

She took my hands in hers, their soft cover warming my scars.

And a final whisper escaped her lips. "Thank you." In those two words I saw her, a frightened girl, searching for an answer. Whereas me, I had already found mine.

And so my life swept into hers, and the small dot, that had lain between my thumb and finger was never seen again on her.