I stopped at the edge of the forest, staring down the dark path and chewing on my lip. We were back in the same forest I’d visited that afternoon, where I’d found out I was deaf. It looked different now, and not only because it was covered in the snow-like blackness of night. It looked different because, where I had once looked at it and imagined its boisterous voice, I was now looking at it with the certainty that it would be silent.
“You okay?” Nolan asked, his glowing green eyes watching me. The feathers on his cloak were still, no wind to make them dance, and I thought that he, too, looked silent. It was as if everything around me had lost its voice all at once. In reality, I knew, it was me who’d lost my hearing.
Sighing, I nodded to Nolan and knelt to untie my shoes. I slipped them off and left them and my socks outside the perimeter of the forest. It was bad luck to walk in the forest with boots on at night. I couldn’t remember who’d told me that, and I had no idea if it was true, but it had become one of those things I never questioned and so I always took my shoes off before entering a nighttime forest.
With Nolan a little bit behind me, I walked into the trees, my bare feet following the familiar tread of the path. The soles of my feet were chilled by the fallen leaves and blades of grass kept slipping between my toes. My footsteps were like whispers in the forest’s eerie silence. I tried to focus on those whispers, to hear what they might be saying, but they skipped beyond my senses as nimbly as daisy-sprites.
Nolan still had his flashlight, which he used to illuminate the ground directly in front of his feet, but I relied on the moon’s light and my own memory to guide me through the woods. This was my domain. Even in night, I knew it inside-out, every dip in the path, every overgrown root jutting out of the ground. I walked comfortably, sure of where I was going, when suddenly some sixth sense made my foot stop mid-stride.
Nolan bumped into the back of me and, confused, he scanned the forest with his flashlight in an effort to find what had stopped me. I gently took the flashlight from him, without explanation, and pointed it straight down, where my next footstep would have landed if I had completed it.
“Do you see that?” I whispered, pointing the beam of light at a patch of forest floor where the leaves were cleared away and it was bare mulch. In the centre of the patch were eight or so cone-shaped structures made of wrapped-up leaves. Nolan got down on one knee to get a better look, and when he reached out his hand to touch one, I snapped, “Don’t!”
His hand froze and he slowly withdrew it. He turned his eyes up to me, eyebrows raised in obvious hope. I knelt next to him and gazed at the little cones, thinking hard. Nolan’s eyes narrowed as he studied my face, the small crinkles forming at the corners. “Do you…?” he started to ask. I shook my head slightly and closed my eyes, and then the words were tumbling from my mouth faster than I could contain them.
“Little houses,” I said quickly, “The Village of Dishwin. The crickets live in the cones, and when they wake in the morning, they unwrap the leaves and spread them out in the sun to warm up. Then at night, when their chores are done, they return to their leaves and get inside, where it’s warm, and they wrap them back up again for protection. They’re tur…” I struggled with this word. “They’re turn-ups, I think,” I said uncertainly. I willed myself to remember just a little bit more… “Turn-ups because they walk with their faces turned up towards the sky.”
Nolan’s pointed ears twitched with surprise. He lifted his eyebrows a little more, scrutinizing my face to see how much I could recall, but that was all that my clouded mind could dredge up.
I sighed and leaned back on my heels, frustrated. “That’s all I’ve got,” I told him bitterly, but he shook his head firmly.
“That was good,” he said encouragingly, one corner of his mouth smiling at me. “At least you can remember. It isn’t easy to remember things like that when you can’t hear the voices.”
I shrugged. Remembering was easier than listening. Intending to stand, I put my hands down in front of me to push myself up when I felt a strikingly familiar feeling beneath my palm. “Fifteen,” I said aloud, not knowing what it meant. I stared at Nolan, silently asking him to help me as I puzzled over the number. “Fifteen what?” I muttered.
“Paces?” he suggested, and suddenly the memory snapped into place.
“You’re brilliant,” I said with a grin, and hurriedly stood. “Fifteen paces right,” I remembered, and began walking, counting as I went. “Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen,” brought me to the base of a tree, where there were bare, tangling vines atop a carpet of moss. There, nestled beneath, amongst the green sea, were four clovers in a line.
Nolan followed me curiously, head tipped to the side, and I pointed the clovers out to him. “Little umbrellas,” I explained, “but I can’t remember who they belong to.”
Agitated and wishing there was more, I turned away from the clovers and scanned the rest of the forest, hoping beyond hope that something would pop out at me and make me remember.
I sensed Nolan behind my shoulder just seconds before he nudged my arm. I turned my head and he said, “I need to ask you a question.” His voice was very quiet and very serious, lacking the optimism he’d had just moments before. “Can you remember any names?” he asked, sounding a bit apologetic.
I rubbed the bridge of my nose, thinking hard. What little clarity my mind had gained, however, had disappeared just as suddenly as it had come. “I’ve got nothing,” I admitted, feeling a small knot of worry tie itself in my stomach as I said the words.
“Not even her name?” Nolan asked, putting his hand on the trunk of a nearby tree. Wondering, I put my own hand on the tree’s side, feeling how smooth her ancient bark had become over time. There was a knot in the wood just a few feet above my head that looked familiar, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember her name.
I shook my head at Nolan and he blinked, lowering his chin. When he lifted it again to look at me, there was a calm firmness in his eyes that I rarely saw on his expressive face. “Let’s get home,” he said softly. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
I nodded and he started walking towards the path out of the forest. I lingered just a moment, my hand still on the tree trunk, wishing that I could remember her name.
I’ve got a question for you. For those who have decided they’d like to join me in my adventure of finding a persona, or those who are interested in doing so in the future, is there anything I can do to help you along? For the most part, I’ve been carefully constructing my persona in silence, just going with what comes, but I do have a method to my madness that has made the process a bit easier. So would it be useful for you if I wrote down some of the things I do to create my persona, to give you ideas and inspiration? Or is it more a thing that you have to figure out on your own?
Also, if anyone does post their own adventure based off this, feel free to send me the link. I’d be happy to link to your stuff on Valourbörn and spread the word around.
Anyways, I’m off to sleep. Here’s hoping for some good dreams!
Do you ever have those moments where a name is on the tip of your tongue, but just beyond memory?
May you remember the important things, and never let your tongue forget a meaningful word.