(I'm sorry this got on kind of late. It was an insane and exhausting day and Trick-Or-Treaters are just starting to arrive. I can't wait to show you the pictures of the front of my house. If I were a kid--I'd be jumping up and down! This is the last of the Halloween shorts. I hope you enjoy it. Happy Halloween/Samhain!)
As if by magical design, the forest had turned a shimmering gold, so vibrant that the pale tree trunks went unnoticed, the deep blue sky above ignored, and the dark rich wet black earth neglected. The contrasts were so sharp and the air so clear on this Colorado day that it was nearly painful to view all at once. The leaves on the aspen trees shimmered, creating light sizzling sounds that filled the air like distant applause.
Teeth chattering, the young woman approached the line of trees, looking up at them as if trying to discern if she would be allowed in such a sacred place. A soaring hawk overhead cawed and swooped to the top of a tree to rest. Megan took the sharp-eyed bird as a sign of sight and entered the path.
The temperatures were dropping fast at this elevation and Megan came prepared, dressed in a thick coat and mittens, a hat, scarf, and fur-lined boots. She crept cautiously along the path lined with damp fallen leaves. It was slick and dark within the woods, the sweet smell of rotting groundcover filled her heart with nostalgia. She loved all the seasons, but autumn held her heart year-round.
Her family begged her not to come to this place, but there was no better time to do so than on the night when the veil between the living and dead was the thinnest. A time when it was appropriate to remember those who had passed on. She no longer felt sad about it, no longer angry or numb. In fact, when she thought of her brother and her father, she smiled to herself. The memories would last her forever and they would always remain young and vibrant, happy and playful.
She stopped and studied the area. It was hard to judge from the lodge just how much further she must go, but she did recall quite clearly the rock outcropping. The ledge had been the only thing burned into her mind. It had been where she was waiting when the rescue crew arrived. She had few memories of the whole event. She had been only eight years old and that was 10 years ago. She’d also been stunned and confused. Whole parts of the mountain rescue had been erased from her mind. Honestly, she was thankful for the anesthesia of it when she was younger. Now, however, she wanted to wake up from her emotional fugue state.
The altitude was making her feel out of shape. Megan pulled out her compass but just as she did, something between the slender white tree trunks caught her eye, a ledge of granite. She felt a determined knot in her stomach as she moved towards it on sure feet.
Her mother had taught her much about her pagan heritage. Megan was proud to be Irish and even more proud that her mother, who still held her gentle Irish dialect, had patiently taught her and her siblings about magic and mythical creatures, beautiful forested places, and Sabbats and Esbats and the meaning of the nature of seasons. Those ties to the Earth had saved her from despair.
“You cannot do this, Meggy.” Her mother had chided. “It’s a bad idea. Very bad. Spend Samhain with us. Leave your offerings here like we do every year.” Her mother had wiped her hands on her apron and sighed as she studied her daughter.
Her mother never ordered her. She believed Megan had a steady head on her shoulders. But, there were times when her mother’s intuition feared for her and Megan had come to dislike her mother’s “third eye.” It was the same one that had her begging her father not to take her and Samuel to visit her grandparents, leaving her mother and the babies at home.
Had they not gone on the flight…
Megan sighed and slipped the backpack from her shoulder and immediately began to gather dry twigs to start a bonfire on the stone outcropping. She got it built up and burning quickly and the warmth made the area seem less like a still scarred mark in the forest from a plane crashing into it and more like a natural clearing.
Admittedly, the sound of an owl followed by a pack of coyotes on a far away hillside calling to each other reminded her she wasn’t truly alone. Megan had grown up in the out-of-doors. She didn’t fear the creatures. At this point, she feared the place most of all. Perhaps her mother was right. This land was marked by death. Was it a good idea to come and perform her Samhain ceremony in such a place?
Her baby brother Derek filled her mind with stories of ghosts remaining in the place of their father and brother’s deaths. Could they still be there? Trapped? Was that why when she performed Samhain ceremony at home 50 miles away she had never felt their presence?
She shivered and pulled up her hood over her wool cap. The fire crackled, sending tiny little fairy lights into the air. At least, that’s how her mother always referred to campfires as the birthplace of fairies. Megan tried to see the fairies, but all she saw was fire. Flames turning her world upside down, unable to see which way was up, unable to breathe through the smoke. Calling for her father without a reply.
She stumbled back and turned, trying to steady her hands as she pulled the things from the backpack. The sooner she did this, the sooner she could forget it all.
How can I forget what I don’t remember?
She rolled out a table runner to create her altar upon the granite ledge. It wasn’t just a tapestry found at a store. No, this one was sewn by her own hands and out of her father’s dress shirt and her brother’s pajamas. She gently glided her hands over the smooth mix of fabrics and trims and smiled. Next, she laid out an abalone shell that her father gave her when they vacationed at the beach when she was six. Inside of it, she placed her brother’s favorite yo-yo, the design nearly worn off from his handling. She slipped a photo of her family together for the last time beside a crooked snowman. Lastly, she set with the shell a butterscotch candy, the kind her father sucked on while he worked in his home office. Lastly, she added her brother’s favorite thing, a fortune cookie.
A chilly breeze passed between her and the fire. Megan turned to watch the fairy sparks flying high into the air in the clearing. A shiver raced down her spine as if she were being watched. She tried to focus her attention on the candle, placing it inside a glass jar to keep it from blowing out. She went to the fire and lit a twig and used it to light the candle. With a sigh, she looked around her, the vibrant aspens standing sentinel around the bonfire like yellow-haired sentinels.
Megan had always been attuned to nature. Something in the clearing was coming to attention, awakening from a deep sleep. She studied the white-barked trees and peered past the shimmering golden leaves and into the pines deeper within. The ground felt strangely off kilter and she stumbled slightly. A flash of dizziness had her grasping the ledge.
“Daddy?” She called out, her voice sounding strangely childlike. “Samuel?”
Her eyes darted around the darkness beyond the clearing, sensing it. Something watching, waiting. It felt menacing, but then it also felt protective. Whether it was protective of her or its territory, she didn’t know. Megan decided to proceed with her altar. She would have done her usual routine of chants, but tonight she felt this was more than just a way to honor her father and brother, but perhaps a way for her to complete something.
“Samuel?” Megan called. “You were a very patient brother with me. You always explained things and were willing to play with me and walk with me to the bus stop. I always knew I’d be okay when you were with me.”
“Daddy?” She called out. “I don’t remember a lot of the flight. I don’t know why I can’t remember. I want to remember. I really do. I remember you, though. I remember you well.” She smiled as she studied the altar. “I wish I could just remember so I can let go.” She murmured.
A flutter of sound overhead had Megan turn and stare up at the bright branches of the trees. Along one bare branch, she saw a heavy owl perched, looking out over the trees with his amazingly keen vision.
Megan rushed through her memory of the animal symbols her mother had taught her. The owl was a guide to the netherworld and brought with it insights and knowledge.
The sound of a cry in the night startled her and Megan peered around the blotchy darkness outside of her bonfire. She squinted to try and adjust her vision.
Just then, a loud crashing sound sent her to her knees, hands over her head in protection.
Megan trembled as she heard the sounds of pleaded and crying, a baby wailing, a man nearby shouting into her ear. Her seat was apart from her brother and father. The flight had been crowded and she was forced to take an aisle seat in the middle of the plane while her father and brother were in the rear. She didn’t have time to brace herself or understand the impending peril. A woman across the aisle from her yelled for Megan to put her head in her lap. She trembled violently as she as the woman asked. The man beside her prayed loudly and tried to clasp her hand, but she withdrew it. There wasn’t time to understand what was happening when she heard the first splintering cracks and snaps. They came to a dead stop so fast that the plane snapped. Her first breath of the toxic smell of fuel made Megan cough violently.
With no understanding that they were on the ground, Megan pulled open her seat belt and rolled from her seat to the row of windows which was now on the ground. She climbed over someone who grabbed her ankle and it frightened her in the darkness, so Megan pulled hard and fell forward and out of an opening. She scrambled over the hard ground towards the ledge of granite where it smelled less awful. Her clothing was crusty and wet from the fuel and the odor made her wretch several times.
Studying the clearing and the bonfire, Megan was no longer in the present. She was reliving the sounds of cries and screaming, the crackling and exploding of leftover fuel-dowsed fuselage. Sitting there patiently until her father could find her, Megan trembled from the cold. Her mind couldn’t accept the devastation. She thought they came down before the runway maybe and as soon as everyone was out of the plane, they’d all walk to the airport.
Her father and Samuel were taking forever. A group rushed in to wrap her in a blanket and carry her from the scene through the fire-lit woods. She struggled and begged to wait for her father. They had a rule that if she got separated from him, to stop and wait for him to find her.
The hysteria rose in Megan’s throat and she vomited beside the bonfire, sobs welling hysterically from deep within her belly. She trembled as she remained on all four on the forest floor, sobbing and sobbing. Her mind hadn’t taken it in all those years ago. It was beyond her comprehension. Now, she realized just what she had gone through and she sobbed for her father and her brother and all of the others, but she cried for herself most of all…for having lived.
When she had no more energy in her body for another tear, Megan sat back on her heels and studied the clearing with a hiccup of exhaustion. It was then that the owl looked down at her and then opened his huge wings and flew away into the darkness.
When Megan turned and looked at her altar, she remembered the contents. Reaching for the fortune cookie, she snapped open the custom-made treat and took the paper out.
“Samuel, this is your fortune.” She set it inside the abalone shell with the yo-yo and the photograph. She dug a hole with a hand shovel from her backpack and gently put the contents into the hole. When she looked down before she put the dirt atop of it, she read the fortune one last time.
“You are at peace. You are free.”