An abandoned street. Maybe that’s inaccurate as it was only humanity that had forgotten it. Nature, at least, never forgets. It marches onward, always grateful for what it can get its hands on.
I rapped my knuckles against the rusted hood of some unidentifiable car. A majority of the car was covered in thick moss and small bushes causing its original shape to be lost in time.
I shivered. Despite the vibrant green of life, spring was only just starting. And the occasional breeze still pierced my thin hoodie. Time to move, I thought as something slumbering beneath the car stirred. Weaving throughout the lost and reclaimed cars. Pausing only to stroke the occasional star-shaped leaf of an ivy-clad light post. Or admire vibrant green and red leaves almost twice my size, I struggled onward. The concrete sidewalk of the neighborhood was gone. Clumps of grasses and saplings had obliterated mankind’s efforts into nothing but the workings of a twisted ankle.
The paper in my pocket grew warm and I rummaged for it with haste. Earlier in my quest, as I had dubbed it, the small square paper had only shown an arrow and the simple command follow. The arrow had rotated depending on which way I was facing, like a compass, but it rarely faced north. It reminded me of an unhelpful and irritating GPS. But I doubt there were any satellites controlling the magic parchment.
Gone was the arrow directing my travels. In its place with the same flowery script were three numbers: 619. I flipped the paper upside-down to make sure I was reading it right and scoffed at myself. Six-one-nine read the same regardless of which way you looked at it.
The time, according to my watch, had just turned to 2:31 p.m. I doubted that whoever was giving me these tasks wanted me to wait four hours. If it wasn't a set time, the most likely meaning behind the numbers was an address to one of the houses on the street. Well, what remained of it. The thought of figuring out which house was what in their current state of decay made me want to grind my teeth. To be honest, a vague arrow would’ve been much more helpful. I pocketed the scrap of paper as its sudden warmth left me.
First things first, which side of the street would the address be on? After scrapping some moss off a semi-collapsed brick mailbox I found the numbers 516. So the odd numbers were across the street. My stomach let out a soft gurgle to alert me to the fact I skipped lunch. The top of a worn and rusted delivery truck met my needs for a quick break. The thought of walking past fifty houses on an empty stomach sounded exhausting. Dinner with my mystery magician sounded more appetizing than my squashed sandwiches, but I’d rather not take my chances. Never underestimate the wrath of an empty belly.
The truck made a good conductor for sunlight and I felt myself grow warm and drowsy. Surely my secret admirer would permit me to take an afternoon nap? I counted the abundant faerie lights, slightly larger than a firefly’s glow, and felt my eyelids slowly flutter closed.
The magician’s magic paper had other plans. I was unceremoniously lifted several feet in the air and dropped on my back. The vehicle moaned and shook as the top of van collapsed to the sudden impact and I fell through the roof of the delivery van. The rotten cardboard boxes broke my fall and I coughed as the decades old dust assaulted my senses. A paper airplane spiraled down from the hole in the sky before unfolding itself back into a bookmark. Despite being paper-thin the little shit could easily lift me and fly. It even took me over an unfortunately deep river when I complained about being unable to swim. The message on the paper slip, in the usual flowery handwriting, told me I could sleep when I was dead and to get a move on.
“Sure, just let me teleport out of this magic box.” I rolled my eyes as the paper displayed its previous message of 619.
The van’s doors fell open after a couple solid kicks to the hinges followed by a loud crash. I cringed at the sudden unnatural sound of destruction in a world of life. After a glance at the back of the truck, I prepared myself to jump off. But then I noticed the spilled contents of the box that broke my fall. I ignored the adult magazines and mail order catalogs as I opened up box after box. The glint of metal caught my eye. Yes, that might be useful. Satisfied that there was nothing more of use. I finally jumped off the back of the truck and continued toward my goal.
527, a small home with a two car garage. Bird nests occupied the corners of most windows and there was a fresh hole the size of a small child in the front door. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out what made the hole.
549, a larger two-storied house. The previous owners must have had an interest in gardening and home improvement. Large thorny bushes hugged the intact walls. But beyond the giant leaves and thorns, I couldn’t tell where the overgrown garden ended and the nature's domain began. A ginkgo tree, home to several neon frogs, had claimed what was left of the garage.
601: a well preserved house. I assume because of the ominous scorch marks that thwarted nature’s adamant takeover. I generously tossed a couple coins into a water well on the front lawn. Putting my hands together, I closed my eyes for a wish. There was a pleasant sounding splash, soon followed by an unpleasant thrashing and hissing. I nervously resumed my walk.
I stopped. Was this the right place? Splintered wood and brick crushed the foliage in various spots across the lawn, indicating this was in fact a recent occurrence. The perpetrator of this attack on nature was most likely the titanic tree that had completely torn off the roof.
One hesitating step after another, on top of magic shingles that danced into a path through the jungle of grass, I made my way towards the front door. Tentatively, and suddenly full of doubts, I lifted my hand and let out three raps on the front door just under the peephole. I waited and my heart threatened to jump out of my throat.
The door creaked open inwards. I paused to let my eyes adjust to the difference in light then stepped onto the welcome mat. The door closed and I turned to look at the tall, muscular man that stood with his gloved hand on the lock. There was a slight chill as I looked into his coffee-colored eyes. He bowed at the waist and his blond mustache drooped and swayed with the movement. The door was locked.
“Please follow me, please.” The man beckoned me from the entryway to the base of the tree. In the few strides it took us to get there, I couldn’t help but notice that while the man was dressed like a butler or perhaps a bartender, he wore no shoes.
“Please remove your boots and socks, please.” Once again, he said please twice. There was a pause before I slipped out of my boots, covered in grass stains, and socks, moist with my sweat. I gave the magician’s familiar an accusatory look, daring him to make a comment, before setting my footwear onto what remained of an end table. He said nothing, but his mustache moved half a centimeter in what was either a playful smirk or judgmental scowl.
The tree trunk looked rough and the lowest branch was far above what was left of the roof. But if I squinted, just above the line of faerie lights was something that resembled a tree house.
A ladder of vines and leaves slowly grew out of the trunk. I turned to question the man, but he had vanished. It would seem I was to climb. I tried to pull out the bookmark to double check, but it too was gone. A mystery for another day.
Up and up I went. Past the roof, past the lowest branches, through the faerie line, and then onto the porch of the house in the tree. Gone was the green world I had become accustomed to. Various shades of brown and the occasional splash of sky blue through the thick, leafless branches was all that was left. The land below was intact as I had left it, green, green, rust, and the white shine of migrating faeries.
The windowless house beckoned, and I knew it was finally time to end this journey—no, this story. A deep breath calmed my nerves and my hand opened the door. There was a single room. An off white mattress sagged in the far left corner and a skylight illuminated countless origami cranes across the floor. A broken mirror on the wall and a foul smelling bucket next to me finished the decor of the room. In the center, with an oversize witch’s hat and cloak, was a child folding a crane. I waited patiently for them to finish.
“Here I am… I didn’t expect to go on a vague quest and find a princess high up in a castle tower. Not much of a castle though. And aren’t you a bit small to be a princess?” I leaned against the door’s frame and shoved my hands into my hoodie pocket.
“You’re not much of a dashing hero either, nor were you supposed to be.” The child smiled as she grew several years older until she was around my age or more accurately, until she was me. The same eye color, the same messy haircut. The same pained smile, the same fading scar above our eyebrows. The hat now fit perfectly, but I thought the cloak showed off our legs a little too much, especially in this weather. I suppose I should be thankful to the faeries for the lack of insects.
“I’m not sure what’s going on,” I asked Myself.
“Well, I’m sure I can get you up to speed,” Myself said to I. She walked towards the cracked mirror and tapped the broken glass three times. Magic images appeared on the mirror and I let out a small gasp and watched what could only by my memories.
A dining table loaded with food. A man loaded with alcohol. I closed my eyes as I remembered hearing the sound of breaking glass and a woman’s groans. I flinched as I remember the drunken roar to stop crying. I rubbed my scar as the broken bottle kissed my face. I dug my fingernails into my palm as I remembered the carving knife on the floor next to me. I turned away from the mirror as I defended myself to the death. There was a pause. Myself looked apologetic as I faced my memories. Relaxing, I wiggled my fingers and rubbed the indention marks left on my palms.
“So what shall we do?”
“We’re the same person so you must know what I’m thinking, right?”
The witch's bare feet disturbed the thousands of carefully folded cranes while she paused to think.
I took a step forward, and then another until I was standing less than arm’s reach from her. Myself twirled on her heel until she was facing me, before crossing her arms and pouting.
“Nope, I got nothing. Are you sure I didn’t get the wrong person?”
“No, we are one and the same. It doesn’t matter who existed first, all the matters is that we are here, together.” I smiled before letting out a small sigh.
“You created I and I created You,” we said in unison. The witch let a small giggle escape her lips. Then she strode to the center of the room, just under the skylight, and spread her arms as if to embrace the sky. I gripped the item in my pocket.
“Where shall we go? Out of this forgotten room, to the future?”
“No. There is no longer a ‘we.’”
I swung the ax down. It bit her neck, and her eyes filled with sadness and acceptance, not anger as I would have guessed. I slid the ax out from the wound. There was a sucking sound as the weapon moved through her flesh. I planted my foot for another swing—upwards this time—to just under ribs. She made a sound almost like a hiccup and blood splattered my neck. I stood up and released the grip on the handle. The ax fell with a boring thud. I looked at Myself, gave a sad smile and hugged Me.
“I created You and so thus I shall destroy You.” The witch looked me in the eye and I watched as My life ebbed away. I wiped her blood stained lips and laid her down to rest. Nodding in satisfaction at the way My blood on Me mirrored My blood on me, I lied next to her.
“I am now free,” I whispered as I shut my eyes in the brown room, covered in red blood, on this green street.
The mirror stopped its performance.
“That is your choice. And if you wish to make the choice again, well… we both know how that will play out.” The witch smiled.
I pulled the ax out my hoodie and examined the currently spotless edge. Was killing Myself really my answer? Or was it her answer?
“What’s up with the origami cranes?” I asked, as I crouched to examine one.
“There’s a certain legend, that if you fold one thousand cranes, your wish would come true. I just wish I knew what our wish was,” Myself answered.
Our words on the mirror moments earlier rang in my head and then I connected the dots.
“So the choice is who is real? If I decide I’m the real self, I kill Myself. But what happens if,” I twirled the ax, offering the handle to Myself, “the opposite happens? What if you kill me?”
“Is that your final answer?” Myself asked me. Her eyes met mine and I knew I had come to the wrong answer. To kill myself, or to kill Myself. No matter how you looked at it, it ended the same way.
“No,” I decided as I pulled the ax away from her and raised my arm.
If I must kill Myself or die I’d rather do the killing, was what I no doubt thought in the other choice.
I dropped the ax and approached Myself. I wrapped my arms around her and whispered, “I forgive You. You folded the cranes out of guilt for killing him. You didn’t know what to do so you wished for someone to save you. But the only one who can save you is yourself. I’m here to decide how to end the guilt by either killing myself or forgiving myself.”
“Correct,” I whispered as we fused into one. I was now myself and no one else.
I walked over to the broken mirror and tapped it three times. The cracks vanished until the mirror was one and no longer splintered. There was no longer any need for me to be here. I summoned my broom and hoped on.
My black cloak fluttered in the blue sky as I flew over the green street.