There is a squat house in a small clearing. Something you would miss if you weren’t looking for it. The siding, which was once a light blue, has deteriorated to nothing more than an inscrutable paleness. There is never a light on inside this house. The clearing rests in perpetual darkness, shrouded by thick trees through which there is no obvious path.
I was hiking one day when I lost the trail and stumbled into the eerie silence of the clearing. As my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, I caught a brief glimpse of a curtain shifting back into place in the window. I called out to ask if anyone was there who could help me. The only response was more silence.
I approached the screen door to the small porch, reached out, pulled, and found it was open! Peering in, I called out into the blackness, asking if anyone could help me get back to the trail.
Entering the screened in porch, I saw piles of clothes, books, boxes of toys, the ephemera of a full life. I looked to my left and saw something strangely familiar. Sitting atop an open box of old toys was my Susie! A small rabbit-like toy, with the softest ears that were perfect for catching my childhood tears. I had forgotten but Susie had a little pattern of stars on her body that glowed in the dark.
As I reached through the dim light for her, she seemed to disappear! I thought I saw a small hand snatch her away from me, and my suspicions were confirmed when I heard a door latch close. It was almost silent, but my ears had adjusted to the quiet enough for me to get a general direction of the small click.
I charged through the darkness in the direction of the door, stuck out my hand, and made contact with a doorknob. A quick twist and a strong push got me into the main part of the squat little house. As I walked forward, the inside didn’t feel familiar, but once my eyes adjusted slightly to the crushing darkness I recognized what I thought was my grandmother’s kitchen table. I felt for the familiar design on the back of the wooden dining chair. There it was! I pulled it out and sat down.
“I’m not here to hurt anyone, I just need your help getting out of here.” I told the quiet.
A slight scraping sound followed by a small creak broke the stillness. All of a sudden, a familiar face popped up opposite me at the table. It was a small, tow-headed child’s face examining me with a mix of intense fear and curiosity.
“No one comes here. Why are you here?”
“I got lost. I need you to show me how to leave.”
“You tried to take Susie.” the child said flatly, while still trying to size me up.
“I wasn’t trying to take her. You see, she used to be mine when I was your age. I just wanted to say hi. Can I come over and say hi?”
“NO! You stay away from me and Susie!” The child roared and waved something in my direction now. The glow from the toy glinted off of something shiny, and sharp.
“Look, I just need to know how to find the trail.” I said, trying to keep my voice calm, and low. This seemed to be a measured enough response to allow the child’s curiosity to get the best of them. A small scrape and another short squeak told me the child had hopped off their chair. As they rounded the table and got closer, I could see that old Eeyore nightshirt covering the belly that hasn’t been that small since.
“You look like my grandpa.”
“I’m sure I do, but can we put that down for a minute?” I said, pointing to what I could now see was a steak knife.
The child hesitated, but decided they could trust me enough to set it on the table for a minute.
“You have a beard like my dad.”
“Yes, do you like it?”
“It’s prickly!” the child exclaimed while running a palm across it.
“Just like dad’s, huh?”
“Yeah,” they said, much softer now.
“I promise I’m a lot nicer than dad.”
“Okay…did you really need to go?”
“I do, but if you show me the way to the trail, I think we could go together.”
“I don’t think so…” A thick blanket of quiet hung between us now. “But, I’ll show you the way.”
A tiny, soft hand guided me through the house, my boots thumping along behind the silent, padding steps of the child. I was so big and heavy the house shook slightly with every footfall.
“I hate that noise”, the child’s voice cut through the ever deepening quiet.
It took only a minute to get back to the screened in porch and the cool night air. The hand continued to guide me all the way up to the tree line.
The child pointed into the forest, “Just keep going through there, you’ll make it out.”
“Come with me.”
Grasping their tiny hand a little tighter, we set off into the trees. Shortly into the walk an almost deafening CRRAACCK burst through what had become a comfortable silence. Off in the distance, a dead tree had finally given way to time and rot.
It took me a second to notice that the tiny hand wasn’t in my own anymore. I wheeled around to see the pale figure of the child sprinting back through the trees. I gave chase but they disappeared into the forest, and I had to turn around. Eventually I made it back to the trail and found my way home. But I couldn’t shake that stillness. I started to crave it after awhile.
These days I regularly make my way back to the quiet house. It’s a bit of a hike, but once I’m there I take my boots off at the door, settle into an old rocking chair on the porch, and wait for the child to join me. I made them their own little rocking chair, and we like to sit together for awhile just taking in the silence.
Complement this work of short fiction with another great piece by an awesome guest author, or a peek into the old trans survival strategy of “spontaneous transition”.