I’ve never had an easy time finding a home for my less strange fiction so I suppose the best thing to do with this piece is to post it here for all three of my regular readers to enjoy. I was walking along the path behind the station one evening this past summer, eyes closed, head tilted back to enjoy a few minutes in the warm air as the sun slowly sank behind the trees. This is what it resulted in.
You Can’t Go Back Again
I closed my eyes and tried to navigate the old narrow trail by memory. My feet followed clumsily behind one another across the broken stone where fingers of weeds had sprouted, clawing towards the sky. The air was cool and damp, rich in honey suckle and the crispness of nature. Gradually the light shining over my face dimmed as the canopy of tree branches above me grew thicker. Opening my eyes I looked up the broken path to find the old house looking back at me. Time had been unkind to the body but not the memory as I walked through the rotted gate where kudzu had had once wrapped around the trellis. Brown, gnarled teeth were all that was left of the white washed picket fence we had put up the summer I was eight. The flower beds where purple iris and butter cups had blossomed were a brown carpet of moss and soft dirt. The faded red tip of a ceramic gnome’s cap, all that was left of the jolly little man, pointed at a slant towards the sagging porch.
The stairs creaked and groaned as I wandered up them and pushed open the front door. The living room was cavernous with so many of the fixtures and all the furniture taken away piece by piece over the decades. A broken picture frame was face down on the mantle over the fireplace where we had warmed ourselves by the flame. It had been a picture of my mother when I was a little boy; holding me in her arms and smiling with that sweetness and love that had always made the worst pains diminish. Her eyes had been green and seemed to glow in the firelight like the tail of a lightning bug in June while shadows danced across the flush of her cheeks. In those days life was full of fairy stories about the magic and wonder surrounding us in our little house in the woods.
Walking through the kitchen towards the back door I stopped and leaned against the island counter in the middle of the floor where we had prepared and eaten so many meals. I could almost smell fried chicken and potatoes in the dust saturated air stirring around my head. Outside through the dingy, cracked back window was a yard filled in over grown weeds that were steadily swallowing the skeleton of the tree fort and jungle gym that had been a little boy’s kingdom. Opening the back door I stepped into waves of brown-green weeds bathed in golden sunlight and waded out towards the fort. It was smaller than I remembered. In those days it had been a castle and I had been responsible for protecting it from ogres and dragons when damsels were not actively in distress. As I grew older it became a saloon, a rocket ship and a place to sneak cigarettes when I was older and thought no one was looking. Always, though, it was a refuge for a dreamer who wondered about the world outside the bucolic sanctuary that had for so long been home. Eventually I grew up and moved away, far from my home where I was swallowed in a forest of concrete and florescent light.
Sitting at the base of the tree was a mason jar with a rusted lid. A small puddle of water had seeped in over time through the vent holes I’d poked in the top. This was the home of my fire flies. Every night I captured a dozen twinkling bodies, little stars that sat on the table by my bed and kept the bad dreams away. Every morning the jar was empty, as if they knew their purpose was served and by some act of animalistic magic had freed themselves to be captured again the next night. I knew now that my mother had come behind me as I slept and released them into night but, to a little boy with an imagination the size of the world she had given me the fantasy to keep that wonder alive. I picked up the jar and smiled as the sun refracted off the water inside and formed a million tiny stars inside.
Suddenly, the world changed. The grass was verdant and short, the tree fort an impregnable castle looming above me. The jar was filled with lightning bugs dancing and shining to light my path back home. The smells of honey suckle and fresh flowers were thick in the air, subdued only by the smell of fresh pie wafting out from the kitchen window.
“Supper’s ready,” my mother called sweetly, her voice a melody after so long. “Come wash up, hon.”
Not thinking for a single moment about the strangeness, the sudden change, I took off running for the back door. A rock caught the toe of my worn out sneakers just before the porch and caused me to lose my grip on the jar of fire flies. It tumbled end over end through the air and shattered on the wood planks of the stairs. No longer was I eight years old as I picked myself up and limped up the rotten wood and into the empty house. The smell of mildew and must crept in from all around me and the only sound was the labored breath of an old man who had run when he should have walked. I couldn’t bring myself to be sad though. If only for a brief moment I had heard her voice, felt the sun shining on unwrinkled skin and knew the warmth and magic that had left me long ago. I smiled as I walked down the old path, away from the world I had known that was slowly being returned to the earth from which it had come. They say you can’t go back again and maybe they’re right but for a moment, I did and the memory will always be there.