Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Monday, February 25, 2013

     Working at Gregor's was one of the most important events of my young life for a great many reasons. While of course a strong role model, and a source of income were important, it was the smaller things that really helped me out along the way. I rarely ever had the opportunity to be alone; a drunkard father and a gossiping town saw to that. To this day though, I find myself frustrated at people who can't spend five minutes alone with themselves. While I would never encourage a lifestyle of it, just a few hours of tranquility gives you a fresh perspective on problems you may otherwise have difficulty solving. It also should be said that loneliness itself can teach you so much of who you are, but it is a gamble. Spend too much time alone, and you may become addicted. Self-pity is so easy, so tempting; I'm sure it has ruined the plans of many great thinkers throughout history. Life is much too large to spend by yourself.
    Sometimes when I speak to myself, I know the voices I hear don't belong to me. That hoarse voice in the back of my head that offhandedly tells me to give up when I find myself in a difficult situation; I know that to be my father's voice. When I'm sad, and just want someone to embrace me, and tell me everything is going to be alright, it's Gregor's voice that tells me to straighten my back, and stop moping. When I just want to walk to the hill over on Parker's field, and fall asleep counting the stars, I can hear a calming voice coo to me that I'm going to catch cold if I don't go inside. I know that voice to be my mother's. Whenever I did something that seemed to be in mischievous fun, I could hear the nagging tone of Miss Margaret getting ready to flare up behind me.
    So many different opinions, so many voices going through my head, burying my own under an avalanche. Don't get me wrong, I have pigheadedly pursued problems long since I should have given up, and I have acted like a sniveling boy, one who is old enough to act like a man, often enough. Even though I don't think I’ll ever stop, I know that I've spent too much time sleeping under the stars for my own good, and it goes without saying that I have spent far too much time dabbling in mischief. Good advise is always good advise, and wisdom from the mouth of fools is no less wise. Sometimes a man just needs to listen to his own voice, though.
    It is through this mindset that I believe there to be great peace found in monotonous work. It's a sort of mindless distraction from all outside influence, but still an act of productivity. Just my axe, the various bodies of unlucky trees, and my own voice floating casually through my head. Nothing else could bother me during those hours, at least until Gregor came and would tell me to go home, and I'd finally see that the sun had almost reached the horizon. 
    Working also gave me the opportunity to grow physically, to shape my body much in the same way I had been shaping my mind. My mind would start to grow as sharp as the edge of my axe, my body as solid as its handle. My goals as precise as my swing, and my problems started to seem more and more like trees that could be removed with the right tools. A sound mind, body, and soul were the tools I needed for my problems, and I was crafting all three.
    There was another small lesson I was learning from all this time working at Gregor's that I'd like to mention. It was Sunday, and I was heading home early so as to get enough sleep for school. As I walked down the road, the early summer sunlight warm on my back, those thoughts of Ashlyn came crawling back into my head. Dare I try talking to her again? Could I salvage anything from the disaster I made on the schoolyard last week? The final lesson I recall learning from Gregor's that weekend is that you can't run from every problem. Some problems are trees that need to be cut, but some problems are trees that you need to grow. I had been learning how to finish, and completely ignoring how to start.
    Thoughts of Ashlyn fluttered around my head until I finally found myself at the stairs to my home. The entire walk, I had been mostly looking at the ground, too deep in thought to pay attention to my whereabouts. I knew my way to and from Gregor's without any problem, so I never really needed to pay attention. Deep in thought, and muscle memory taking me straight home, I wasn't even aware that the sun had finally dipped below the horizon some time ago. It wasn't until I grabbed the handle of the door that I was abruptly torn from my thoughts. The back of a chair was sticking out through a now broken window and I heard the roar of my father tearing through our house. I closed my eyes, and wondered what I should do; run away for the night, or walk inside and stop my father from destroying our house? Hearing Gregor's voice in my head this time, I took a deep breath, and walked into my home.

    As I walked in, I was caught off guard at how wrecked my house had become. Overturned tables, and broken glass lie everywhere. So much was happening all at once, it took me a moment to realize that there was a path leading to my bedroom, where I could hear my father inside, swearing and breaking something wooden. When I peeked my head inside, something started to heat inside of me; my face red, my blood boiling, my body felt on fire. My father was tearing my room apart.
    Ripping books from their shelves, and swearing loudly to himself, my father was covered in mud and wore his usual cologne of bourbon and sweat. I took a step inside the room, and thought as quickly as I could on what to say or do. I was large enough to easily manhandle him, but I know how much stronger kind words can be. I took another step towards him, and stepped on a small piece of splintered wood. White noise flooded my ears, and nothing else seemed to matter for that moment as I bent down to examine what I had kicked.
    A small, wooden rocking horse lie smashed in half on the floor, a dent in the wall from where it was thrown can be seen over my left shoulder. Looking up at me, my father was throwing his hands wildly, casting shadows along the wall by the flickering candlelight he had on the window-ledge. As the initial anger melted away, I could pick out some of what he had been saying. “Where the hell ish all that money at, boy! I know Gregor is paying you. Where is that money!” he yells at me, his words slurring. 

    I've told you before that I was lucky enough to still hold many memories of my mother, and I can remember the day my parents brought me home that rocking horse. My father was taking a business trip to the next town over, and my young adventure's spirit yearned to go with him. I remember how I sobbed, and begged my mother to let me go, but she just laughed to herself, and kept running her fingers through my hair. I thought she was so cruel back then, to laugh at me so! I know now why she did it, though. At the time, all I knew was that it was my birthday, and my father wasn't going to be around to celebrate with me. Oh, how I cried that day. 
    I cried myself to sleep, and can remember being gingerly awoken sometime that night. “Happy birthday, son,” my mother said. I frowned at her, and rolled to face away from her, getting ready to start up my crying  yet again. She started to sing a song for me, and although it stopped me from crying, it didn't fix anything else. It was just a song after-all, What good could a song do? I wouldn't know it then, but in the year to come, I'd remember this song; every single word, and I'd always regret not being able to hear more of them.
    I thought on this until I heard something else that wiped all of those thoughts out of my head. It was a man's voice singing along, my father's voice. My father, you see, was always distant when I was young. As I look back now, I realize my mother was right, it was this town that changed him so. That short trip to the next town over made him smile for a night, and it was one of the best moments of my life. My mother was alive, and my father was kind. It is a shining memory in my head that glows brighter as the years go by, even as other memories start to fade and disappear.
    My father pulled a box out from behind him - a great white behemoth, covered in red ribbon! Wiping the tears away from my eyes, my mother started that great, melodious laugh of hers. I stared in awe as my father, still smiling, rustled the hair on my head, and said “well what are you waiting for, son? Go on, open it!” 
I was caught off guard, you see, because of my father's actions. Not only was he smiling – which was a rarity in of itself – but he was smiling at me. Which of the two are a greater present to a young child?
    Snapping out it, I turned towards the box, and heard my parent's laughter turn into the sounds of wind and animal calls of some unknown African prairie. My body, it seemed, grew bold stripes, and my teeth and fingernails grew longer. That poor box grew legs, and strange spiraled horns. I was like a tiger from the books I’d read, and hunted that poor deer-like box. Tearing it to shreds, I finally gave it one last swipe, and reached in to claim my reward! A small wooden toy, looked up at me, as though specifically created to be played with by my hands, to be watched by my eyes alone. It was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen.

    I've had that rocking horse all these years, and it's always been a part of my life that helps me live with the creature my father had become. Whenever I wanted to smash his face in, I always remembered the smile he gave me when I pulled that wooden horse from that box, and I'd slowly start to forgive him. Whenever I missed my mother, I would look across the room at that silly horse, and I would hear her laughter. That rocking horse was a silent witness to the awful thing my father had become over the years, and was the only one around to comfort me when mother passed. Something inside of me snapped along with that wooden horse, and I could no longer hear the words my father was saying.
    He stumbled over to me, and kicked the horse out of my hands, and grabbed me by the shirt. “Quit staring at the floor like that, you dumb ass. Where's that money at?” he hollered. That was when I first hit him. I caught him in the nose first, and heard the snap of cartilage breaking from my knuckles. I next struck him near the eye, and as I pulled my fist away, I could almost see the bruise that was going to grow in all black and blue there. I picked up a small plank of wood torn from my wall, and swung it across his back as he huddled away from me, trying to hold the blood from his nose in. He fell shortly after the crack of breaking wood, and looked up me with such a look of terror. 
    I knew in that moment what he was afraid of. He had seen a look on my face, and although I had no mirror on me, I knew exactly what kind of face I was wearing. It was the same look that he often had after my mother had passed, the same look he had as I scrambled from my window, and easily outran him as a young child. I could almost hear my mother's voice in my head now. “Oh son... what have you done?” she seemed to say. Gregor's came in shortly after hers, saying “think this is what it means to be a man? Think because you struck a drunk that you're all grown up now?” 
    I reached for my father, to try and comfort him, but he shied away, and started to shout at me. His eyes were wild, and he started to flail on the floor, kicking towards me, screaming for me to get out of his house. His face and hands were covered in blood. He smacked himself up alongside the wall near my window, and sent the candle resting on its sill sailing outside. A full moon lit up my room, hiding all the wreckage my father had made, only showing his face glowing faintly blue with the moonlight. Standing up, my face now mimicking the look of horror on his, I stepped out of my bedroom, and ran until I reached the town.

    Pounding my fists on a wooden door, a woman in a white nightgown opened the door, holding a small candle. Miss Margaret glared at me, and started to say “Henry? Do you know what time it is? What exactly do you think-” until she realized the look on my face. The anger flushed from her face, and concern grew in its place. She set the candle down on a nearby table, and placed her hands on my shoulders. “What have you done?” she said, lightly shaking me. That's when the siren went off.

    The only truck owned by our town was purchased a few years back, and was quite impressively modified to carry a large quantity of water in the back by a fella over in Atticus. Nicolaus Wawrzynski was a heavy-set balding man, who always seemed to be sweating. He was the mayor, and he was driving the vehicle across town as another man sat in the passengers seat, cranking a siren. Men were starting to pour from their houses with buckets, and were chasing after the truck.

    Miss Margaret looked me in the eyes, and didn't say anything for awhile. She saw the swollen knuckles on my right hand, and looked at the broken plank of wood in my hand. I honestly had no idea I was still carrying the damned thing. “Get out of here, Henry. Go run into the woods until all of this blows over. I can fix this,” she said. Miss Margaret's children had long-since grown up and moved on, and her husband passed away some years ago. I never knew why she stayed in this town, but I believe now that it was because the voices she heard when she tried to think. 
    My voices were from the adults I had grown up with, and likewise, I think Miss Margaret's were as well. Seeing as how she was nearing 50 years old, I now think that the bulk of voices she heard must be from people who have long since passed on. At this moment in my life, I started to understand that we are much more than just bodies. We can be carried on in word, and song, and picture. We can be carried on in memory, and in lessons. 
    To be human is so vast, and complex, I don't think we'll ever fully understand what it means to live, but I hope we never give up on trying. We place living into the category of worldly gains, and judge dying off of a hole in the ground. We're taught all our lives that the world isn't so opaque, why should the beginning and end be any simpler? I don't mean to say that there is necessarily an after life, or anything of religious nature. I'm not here to preach, I just mean to say that there is so much we don't know, and we should always be feeding that curiosity to the point of overindulgence. 
    I think one of those voices Miss Margaret heard kept telling her that this town needed her, and that she couldn't leave. As I explain this, I assume most would agree that the voice must have belonged to a great human being, one who believed in right and wrong and the selfless pursuit of helping others. I personally just think that person must have been a great fool. This town needed Mrs. Margaret alright, but Mrs. Margaret didn't need this town. I'm appreciative, because there are good people in this town, and I myself probably wouldn't be here writing this if it wasn't for the help of Miss Margaret. I'm just glad that she was able to get away from here, eventually.
    Turning back to me, she said “Go, Henry! Go hide out for the night, come back in a few days.” and stopped herself with a look of consternation. “Hold on, Take this with you,” she said, and disappeared from the door frame. She came back in a few minutes holding a cloth sack tied up. “It's some food and water, and the sack is an old blanket. Now go!” and gave me a small shove, and then slammed the door in my face. I still can't tell you if Miss Margaret liked me or not, but I do think that somewhere in that woman burned a protective motherly love for all children; particularly those – much like myself – with wayward souls. Love by proxy is better than nothing at all.

    With everyone in town running frantically to help put out the fire – although I assume most people showed up simply because there is always gossip and rumors to be found at these gatherings – it was quite easy to sneak out of town. I still can't decide if it was human nature, or the small part of me that grew up here, but I was tempted to ask people running whose house or barn was on fire. I thankfully decided against it, and made my way across the outskirts of town until I found myself on the dirt path that lead to the ocean. Walking for awhile, I had time to calm down, and start thinking things through without my mind running faster than my legs. I'm thankful this all happened during the warm months. “Focus on the good things,” my mother used to tell me. Things could always be worse, after all.
    I had come to terms with what happened with my father, and knew that despite the very nature of the townsfolk, nobody would particularly blame me for hurting my father. He didn't really have any friends, and I've heard many whispers from people, wondering about how I've managed to deal with him this long. I Suppose I should thank him for teaching me patience one day, although I probably could never say it outright. My mind was now back to Ashlyn, but specifically on how to make it a clean break. Chopping trees down at Gregor's, I learned that going about the job swinging wildly always took more effort, and brought a dangerous fall. Relationships with people could benefit likewise from that. Plan carefully, keep yourself focused, and then swing. I needed to smooth things over, apologize for embarrassing her, and promise that I would leave her alone from now on. Perhaps if I could pull that off, she wouldn't come to hate me.
    As I walked down that dirt path, getting enough of that beautiful moonlight to keep on track, I thought about how things went down that day on the schoolyard. How I had given her that handful of flowers, and how angry she looked at me for it. I didn't realize that by snapping those flowers off, I had essentially killed them. They had perhaps months of beauty left, and I traded those in for a few days of a selfish gesture. I thought about how she would feel if she learned I chopped down trees with Gregor, and found myself laughing. It grew louder, and louder, until tears started to well up in my eyes. I couldn't necessarily tell you why I was laughing so hard, but it just felt right, and so I did it. In between bouts of laughter, I bent down and snatched up the occasional acorn as I made my way to the ocean. What I planned to do with them, I really didn't know at the time. It just felt right, and so I did it. 
    I walked until I saw the ocean, and stopped myself. Looking over to the Bramblewood, I felt the acorns in my pocket, and suddenly everything clicked. I destroyed trees all day, why shouldn't I plant them all night? I stepped off my initial path, and walked towards the forest, knowing I'd find something of myself that desperately needed knowing there. For all the things I thank Ashlyn for, an appreciation of nature is one of the greatest in my eyes. There is something so majestic about listening to the orchestra of a forest, hearing all the individual rustles, and yelps, and chirps. The same can be said of its nocturne, if you are able to keep your mind at rest, and not create phantom dangers.
    A forest at night is incredibly dangerous; I do not mean to lead any of you astray in that regard. The fears, however, are predictable. Running could cause you to trip and break your ankle. You could poke out your eye, or fall into some miscellaneous hole dug by animals, or created from erosion. The call of a wolf, or any other fearsome creature could be dangerous as well, but most southern people know that those creatures tend to shy away from villages full of people. I accepted these dangers, and tread carefully through the forest, and was rewarded with such a beautiful sound. Crickets set the stage for owls to begin their strange hoots, followed by the shrieks of small rodents being snatched up by those not singing. I could hear the fox cry out triumphantly, as the rabbit shrilled his final note. Wind blew through the trees, smacking each leaf like the ivory key of a piano. I walked carefully through the forest, enjoying the song, until I came upon that clearing I so recently embarrassed myself in front of Ashlyn at. 

    The clearing was stunning by moonlight; flowers I hadn't noticed the last time stretched themselves up to reach for the moon. Individual reflections of moonlight danced and gave chase to each other as the water babbled along the stream. The night seemed to glow as I made my way to that log laying over the stream and – taking off my shoes – dipped my feet into its cool water as I sat on that fallen giant of an oak. The forest didn't solve any of my problems, and I knew that I'd eventually have to confront my father. I wasn't running from my problems here, you see. I just finally found something else to clear my mind outside of work. Whereas Gregor's made me think clearly, helped me to see problems, and how to fix them, this night did the opposite. It allowed me to stop thinking, if only for a short while. It was relaxing to hear my own voice, without needing to swing an axe at something.
    I must have sat there for quite some time, thinking over everything that lead me to this night, and surprisingly enough, I started to cry. Not the wretched sobbing of the previous night, where I had thought the entire world was against me, and not the welling tears of earlier, when I laughed at myself for the problems I seemed to walk into. I cried for a brief while simply because I needed to, and somewhere inside I knew it would all feel better afterwords. It felt right, and so I did it. I was trading in all my time of complicated planning for  of acting by instinct. 
    Something flickered in the corner of my eye, and I scrubbed the tears from them quickly. A section of tall grass grew alongside the stream, and I watched it for awhile before giving up. It was night time after all, and I was the intruder, not the animals. Stepping into the stream, I pulled a handful of acorns from my pocket, and followed the water towards the edge of the clearing. “It's about time I created something, guys, and I need you help me out with this. You've got to promise me to grow like I hope to grow. To try your hardest to get out of the shell you're stuck in, and reach high up into the sky,” I said, laughing to myself. 

    Walking through that ankle deep water - pushing aside playful patches of reflected moonlight – something miraculous happened. For the first time in awhile, I wasn't thinking about stress. Ashlyn wasn't angry with me somewhere in my head, for I had tucked her away to the far back of my mind for the moment. I didn't think about my father's likely-to-be broken nose, because I had blurred the memory, and set it to the side temporarily. I didn't think about Gregor's approval, or Miss Margaret's frown, or Mr. Lutz's chalk, or Mildred's rumor. I worried about getting to the edge of the clearing, and planting these seeds, and I can only recall a few occasions in my life where I have since felt such a victory.
    Nearing the edge of the forest, I crouched down, and plunged my hand into the soil, raking out a few handfuls. I had honestly never grown anything in my entire life, and so I acted as well as I could, given my limited knowledge of the subject. As many people undoubtedly learn in life, this is usually the wrong way. We keep tackling problems this way, because underneath that inky cloud of failure that looms over such activities, there is a golden light tucked inside somewhere that we can only pull out through experience.
    This manifested itself by me dropping an acorn into the hole, and ignoring the direction it was facing. I suppose I had just assumed that plants grew up, and that was that. Flattening my hand, I pushed the dirt back on top of the acorn like a shovel,  and poised myself to stand and walk a few feet over and start the next one.“You're doing that wrong,” a small voice said from behind me. 

    It's always fascinated me that moments of love seem to stretch on for hours, whereas moments of terror seem to run twice as fast. Even in that wonderful, full moonlight glow, I'm not sure which flew higher: me, jumping nearly out of my skin, or the handful of acorns that I threw. Either way, I shrieked when I landed, and took off running as soon as my bare feet touched the ground. I looked over my shoulder for a second, and that's when I saw her. 
    Ashlyn stood in that field, with such a peculiar expression on her face. Here eyes were large, staring at me as though I were the one that scared her. She stood with her arms pressed against her body, one hand rising to her face, almost as if she were embarrassed. Mud and water were climbing her dress, like she'd been laying in the stream. A long blade of grass was stuck into her disheveled brown hair, framing those big eyes, and showing a small pout on her lips. I knew in an instant that she was the culprit I saw in the patch of grass earlier. She was here tonight first, and when I walked on through, my mind and body at ease for once, I never saw her slip from the log, and hide in the nearest place she could find. My thought from earlier still stood, I was the intruder, not her. 
    Her eyes seemed to sparkle in the moonlight, and time started to slow down again. What appeared to be a shadow fell over her left eye, and she looked thoughtful, as her fingertips rested on top of her lips. “Why are you still running, you fool?” I asked myself, but it was too late for me. I hit a fallen branch, and twisted my ankle, falling to the forest floor. My head bounced off of a nearby stump from a long-since fallen tree, and the nearby darkness crept into my eyes.
    When I woke up, I saw Ashlyn's face near mine, cradling my head in her lap. Somewhere in my head, Gregor's voice started to speak up, telling me that men don't show such weakness in front of their loved ones, but as I opened my mouth, I heard my mothers voice telling me to be quiet. I blinked a few times, and looked up into Ashlyn's eyes, and watched mouth moving as though speaking, not hearing the words she was saying. I gazed into her eyes, and somehow my own voice finally crawled to the top. “Kiss her!” it yelled. “Kiss her you idiot!” it yelled. “I can't,” I thought back to the voice. “She's talking to me, isn't she? Shouldn't I be able to hear her?” I thought. 
    Suddenly, time kicked back in, and I snapped out of the daze. “What did you say?” I managed to ask Ashlyn. She frowned at me, and yelled “you giant fool! You could have killed yourself,” and stood up. My head dropped back onto the dirt, and I winced before I stuck the ground. Immediately Ashlyn's face fell back into worry as she scooped me back up. Opening my eyes, and mumbled an apology for being a fool, but frowned right back at her this time. “Did you have to sneak up on me? Damn it woman, you scared me half to death!” I hollered. Ashlyn's eyes narrowed for a split second, and she looked at me for a moment before talking. “Don't make me drop you again, Henry Showalter.” 
    I'll admit that I was the first to laugh, but it took only a matter of seconds for Ashlyn to join in. It was a funny incident, by all means, but I thought of how it would be if I were to read this in one of my books; the damsel standing over the knight in distress, yelling at him for being an idiot. The damsel, dropping the knight in a fit of anger, only to realize the additional pain she caused him. We laughed for some time, and added our own noise to the forest song; a rich, wonderful, joyous song. I stood up, and offered my hand to her. After a few seconds, she accepted it, and we started to walk back to the clearing. Although I had to favor my right foot, limping from the strain of falling, it wasn't hurt as bad as I thought.
    Looking back many years later, it was indeed a silly thought, but I was wrong to laugh at the idea of a woman saving a man. My entire life has been exactly that, and if a woman wants to slay a dragon, she'll damn well slay a dragon. I sometimes think back on these events in my life, and picture my mother, singing to a dragon and putting it to sleep. I think of Miss Margaret frowning a dragon into submission, and Ashlyn swatting at the beast with flowers it had stomped on. If you're willing to put on armor, and fight for what's right, it shouldn't matter what you look like underneath. The color of your skin, your gender, or your beliefs dictate who you are, not what you can or can't do. Prejudice is a monster everyone should wish to fight.

    Walking back into the clearing, Ashlyn lead us to where I had planted the seed, and started to dig the earth back up. I dropped onto my knees, and tried to stop her, but she lightly smacked the top of my hands. “I told you, you were doing it wrong.” Ashlyn said. “I put the seed in the ground, what could I possibly have done wrong,” I argued back. Sighing, Ashlyn pushed my hand away, and said “shut up and watch.” It took her a little while to find the seed, seeing as how she was digging into the dirt so gingerly, almost as if she was worried about damaging the acorn. “It's in a hard shell, you know,” I said under my breath, causing her to stop digging, and look me in the eyes.
    “So do you, Henry Showalter, but I've seen you cry. Does that mean I should be rough to you?” Ashlyn asked, tilting her head down and looking at me as though explaining something to a child. “I wasn't crying,” I tried to say, but she mumbled something, and turned back to her work. After a few seconds, I decided to try again. “I'm not a seed, Ashlyn, I'm a human, it's different,” I said, confidence oozing over my words. “Oh?” Ashlyn asked, feigning surprise. “Where you born this tall, Henry? Do you plan to stop growing? It's not impossible, mind you, I know plenty of people that choose to stop growing,” she spoke. I decided to shut up and watch. I saw a smile creep onto her face, and although every atom of my being was screaming for me to defend myself, I could do no such thing. I finally put a smile on Ashlyn's face, and I wasn't going to ruin it now.
    As she finally pulled the acorn out, Ashlyn held it up in front of me, and pointed to the cap. “This cap, this is the head of the seed. Always face this up, so as to give it the best course,” she said. I nodded to her, and watched her start reaching towards the hole in the ground. “Secondly, don't just toss a seed in. I know that's the way most people think of human reproduction, but you need to plant it with care,” she said. I blushed slightly at her talking about such a taboo subject, and to my surprise, she did too. It was nice to be reminded that Ashlyn was just as human as me, and I started to relax a little.
    “Thirdly,” Ashlyn said, “you need to push the dirt on gently, so you don't hurt the poor thing.” I started to roll my eyes, but without looking Ashlyn assumed I would blow off the advise, and kept on talking. “If I were to bury you in food, would you not find it difficult to find a meal, Henry?” she asked. Reluctantly – a trend for the evening, I assume – I nodded, and let her continue. “And finally, you need to sing to the seed, so as to wake it up!” Up until this point, I was on the edge of my metaphorical seat, watching Ashlyn masterfully plant a future tree with interest. Now I looked at her with a blank face, and a flat mouth. “You must be joking,” I said, but she didn't respond. She smiled much more deeply now, completely focused on the seed. Closing her eyes, Ashlyn placed her hand over the dirt, and started to sing.

“It's time to wake, my little seed,
I know for sure you will succeed.
Go on now, go, you are freed!
Climb to the sky with all your speed.”

    Her voice was so beautiful, I couldn't help but close my eyes, and just enjoy. Even if the song was silly, with the forest providing the instruments, I was completely under it's spell. Finishing the song, Ashlyn opened her eyes, and saw me smiling with my eyes closed, and yelled “pay attention!” but it came out fast, and when I opened my eyes, even in that soft blue moonlight, I knew she was embarrassing. “Your song was lovely,” I managed to say, and it was of course the wrong move. Ashlyn stared daggers at me, and then broke out into a particularly wicked grin. “It's your turn now, Henry. Let's see if you were paying attention.”
    Picking up all the acorns we could find, we walked a few feet away from the first seed, and I started to dig my hole. Under the scrutinizing eye of Ashlyn, I did everything she asked of me. I was gentle as I placed the acorn facing up, and pushed dirt on top of it. Patting the dirt with my hand, I stood up, and said “alright, on to the next one.” Crouched on the balls of her feet, Ashlyn looked up at me, and put on that mischievous grin again. It was the same grin I wore whenever I would hatch a particularly clever plan with Simon Greene, Todd Tilman, and the Rowd twins. I knew before she even opened her mouth what she was going to say, but knowing did nothing to help me out in this situation.
    “Henry,” she asked, looking up into my eyes. “You forgot to sing to it. How will it wake up if you don't sing to it,” she asked, feigning innocence. I'm not sure which surprised me more, hearing Ashlyn actually speak after so long of knowing her as a wallflower, or at how much I genuinely wanted to sing so as to make her smile. She was hypnotizing, and all men know this moment is a moment of dire trouble. 
    Scratching the back of my head, I tried to think of an excuse out of the situation, but I appeared to be trapped. “Trees have been growing themselves for thousand of years, Ashlyn. Surely they don't need us to sign to them,” I said. She just kept smiling at me, and I knew I would eventually end up singing. Sighing, I crouched back down, and hovered over the seed. “It's time to wake,” I started to sing, and stopped as a small clump of dirt hit the side of my head. “You can't use my song!” Ashlyn said incredulously. “You need to pick your own!” Squeezing my eyes, shut, I turned towards her. “Well, could you at least go plant some of these elsewhere? I don't want you to hear me sing,” I asked. Rolling her eyes, Ashlyn snatched a few acorns from my hands, and said “alright, I guess,” and walked away from me. Deep down, I knew I could just lie to Ashlyn, but I was young, and in love. I could have more easily flown in the sky than lie to her when she had that smile on. 

    As I knelt there, it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't know that many songs, to be honest. I knew a few I learned from some of the boys that I wouldn't dare sing in front of a lady, and I knew some of the songs my mother used to sing. I thought long and hard on the subject, and finally decided to sing one of the songs my mother used to sing for me whenever I would cry. She had been sick for awhile, and I now think this was the last gift she gave to me. It was called “Little Henry,” and was always my favorite. 

“Little Henry, don't you know I love you?
I love you so much, and you know it's true.
Dear, little Henry, there's no need to cry
Mama's here with you, you know we'll get by.
Brave, little Henry, even when we're apart,
know I’ll always be with you, deep in your heart.
Sweet, little Henry, you have me to lean on.
Even long after your Mama is gone.
I love you, Henry,”

    “I love you too, mom,” I said, and never noticed Ashlyn behind me until I heard a twig snapped. “Oh Henry,” Ashlyn said, and wrapped her arms around me. The hug caught me off guard, but that wasn't what had me so shocked. Although I had just sung that song out loud, I wasn't embarrassed in the slightest, nor was I sad. Strangely enough, I felt sort of happy. I think it wasn't until now that I truly realized that my mother was always with me. Ashlyn was crying onto the back of my shirt, and I turned and helped her to her feet. “It's alright,” I said, and for a wonder, I realized I had actually meant it. Just another triumph to add to this night.

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