It started out as a game. I pretended to feel afraid, until I was. At first I hid from him because I wanted him to find me. I loved to hear my heart pound in my ears when I ducked behind trees wider than me. I loved to feel the ground shake as he turned over stumps and boulders. Then he scooped me into his arms and placed me back on the ledge with a view of the canopy below.
When I said I was thirsty he curled a leaf and trickled dew into my mouth. When I said I was cold he padded the cave with lichen and moss. At night his body settled in around me, a barricade of hair and muscle, protecting me from predators and insects.
I memorized the pattern his cloven hooves made on the ledges that led down to the forest floor. As I followed his path my feet grew calloused. I found new paths, ones created by footprints like the ones I left. I wanted to follow them, but he found me before I could.
My mind wandered the paths before my body could follow. I dreamed of the ones with feet like mine. I wondered if they had my hands and face, too. Before long I could think of nothing else.
I started hiding so I could not be found. I covered myself with fallen leaves and burrowed myself into the hollow centers of bushes. He found me. Then I sunk into the pond and sucked air through a hollowed reed until my lips ached and my skin wrinkled pale. He pulled me out, shivering. My breath must have formed a little curl of vapor that only he could see.
Then, one full moon I followed the silver path until the living trees stopped. Through a gap I saw what made the sounds of ravens. I saw figures wearing colors I have only seen on flowers. The skins of dead animals hid their feet. Their palms, like mine, commanded the flame into submission. A smaller flame flickered inside their eyes. Their laughter sounded like rain on dry leaves and their mouths formed words I could not understand. Their fire browned the flesh of a bird that pulled at my belly.
I did not feel afraid, so I stepped through a gap and coughed. Their eyes squinted into the darkness and their mouths and arms fell open. They pulled me inside and fed me. I stayed.
Their words were strange until one day I remembered what they meant.
I listened for him. He never came. Perhaps he was frightened by waves that carried sounds and pictures from far away, places of noise and light, with sharp edges.
One day I returned to the boundary. I stepped through the gap, and waited, eyes closed. I heard only wind against leaves and I felt my feet sink into the soil. I looked down and there, upon my knee, he landed, with soft buzzing wings.
Avesa Rockwell lives with her family in Duluth, MN. near a creek that serves as her portal into the "the real world" of woodland creatures. She teaches writing for a living. Her recent work has appeared in Freshwater Review, Perfect Duluth Day, Wisconsin Public Radio and LakeTime Magazine.