“Worn” was a forgiving description of your hands – covered in dirt across every crack of the skin, the fingernails bent back and cuticles bloodied; you held them out to your eyes in the dawn’s early light. Sweat ran down and into your eyes. You had been digging for something, searching down below for whatever it was that you’d certainly had no luck finding up above. Flat terrain just made it easy to see how empty it all was, and when they cluttered it with their buildings and trees as feet snapped above twigs and shriveled leaves it only made it harder to see what you were sure had become reality.
You walked in forests and wandered through towns. On long nights you’d drive your car, the color of the quilt once knitted for you by a grandmother long since buried. You’d open a six pack before stopping at a convenience store to pick up twelve more, only to drain them all as you sat firm, legs kicking and feet swaying, at the edge of the canyon you first made love in. It was a phrase you’d always hated, but in this case, one you knew had been right.
Before your parents had screamed as infants to claim their first breaths, beginning the paths that started this whole mess, water ran through here. But now, like too many things it had dried up. Low trickles and excuses for streams ran through the cooling earth at nights. You’d first come here in the sun, but now you only saw it with the moon. Wolves sipped from streams and howled up at that moon. It was full, and it was beaming, and it seemed so heavy with the light of that distant star that you used to look forward to.
You tossed the bottles into the expanse below, careless by now. Glass shattered and you wondered if any of it would ever land on the tan and faded straps of the bag you’d lost down there, that night you’d spent with him. It probably just crushed some part of a snake, the rest of it slithering away, leaving a cooling trail of blood behind.
The wolves were far-away thing, something you found romance in, longing for their sad and distant beauty, so far away from everything else. When they’d howl, you’d howl back, a low, punctuated, “how-uh, how-uh, hoooowooooo” sound coming from deep within.
It made you think of the sobs you still released, when you knew you were alone, when you knew you were safe from other’s ears. Red ribbons of scars waited to form inside of you to be seen someday by some unfortunate soul assigned to the inevitable autopsy. You knew that they had to be there, that sting still scraping away, that ache of a space where something had gone missing.
But you didn’t mind this audience, their glinting eyes in the distance below turning to look towards you. When they first heard you, they’d run away, scattering, but now they simply sat, looking at your swinging legs, listening to your solitary sounds. You’d felt the wound for so long, wondering when the scar would finally form. You’d lost flesh before and had grown to like the faded scars left behind. But this was a wound no eyes could meet. You wondered what made it different.
In the night, your eyes adjusting, you’d look down there, amongst the sand, searching for something. Whatever you had lost, your eyes thought they could surely find it, if only you glanced at the right rock again. You’d shut your eyes, not quite knowing what you were doing, head back, the light of a thousand stars that you couldn’t see in the skies back home puncturing the skin that hid it all from you.
Towards the wolves, you’d sing. It was only without words that you seemed truly able to speak.
And when they’d sit – their tiny shapes and hind legs moving down, tails touching orange dirt that looked blue in this light – they’d watch you, and listen, and soon begin to howl back, their own songs saying everything words couldn’t, something only you and they seemed to understand. Why’d no one else hear it?
One night you returned, your six drinks turned into eighteen, your face almost bright, your scars almost ready to be seen. What used to be a lonely place had become a source of reverie, where you’d take communion and see that pack you almost thought of as family. Except their eyes did not glint that night, and through their snouts they did not sing. And they didn’t glint the next. You wondered about the cubs. You knew there were still snakes your bottles had yet to cut.
So those gray eyes couldn’t find it there, after all. You weren’t going to find it coated in sand. And you didn’t know what it was, and maybe you didn’t even really think about it all that often anyway – but deep down, you knew what you were doing. You knew you could feel the pull of something so familiar, yet so elusive, something like a dream you maybe used to have and were just now remembering in fragmented speech and flickers of shade, colors smearing across rain-soaked streets that get your socks wet inside your canvas shoes.
You stopped going to the canyon, after one too many howls alone. You had no interest in singing to empty crowds.
You switched to drinking just one bottle at night, heavy in your tired hand and full of whiskey. You went back to those woods, deeper this time. You passed bushes where you used to hide your replacement bag with his on days when you’d skip school and wanted to save the contents from the rain. They wouldn’t go looking for you here.
And you’d dig. You’d dig so deep and dig so wide. You’d start with a shovel but move on to your hands. There was something in the damp cool of the soil that you needed to touch, but you didn’t know it by name. You’d smell that soft earth and feel your eyes water. So many things were reactionary. Everything had become instinctive. There were no howls anymore. Sometimes, you’d think there were sobs in the distance, mirroring your own
You knew something had gone missing, and you’d started digging in hopes that you’d find it. You’d realized that that torn tissue would never heal to scar. But even if you found it, you weren’t quite sure that it would be something that you might still recognize.
Josh Sczykutowicz is a young author from central Florida who believes that love is limitless and hate is limiting. He has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Polychrome Ink and Unsung Stories, among others. You can Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter, WordPress and tumblr.