The ravens squalled overhead as I approached the contorted redwood. I should have let Toby come with me, but the deaf hag was insistent that I go alone.
“What if you get lost or run into a bear?” Toby argued. His arm was broken and he’d sprained his ankle.
“I suppose I’d have to feed you to it!”
The hag’s eyes were focused on our mouths. She grew tired of our bickering and bellowed, “Walk until the tree stops getting closer. Then you must hold your breath, turn around, and walk backwards.”
She yelled these words to me three times and I was left confused.
The sun was setting and I didn’t want to be in this creepy forest any longer than I had to. I took one more look over my shoulder at the sunset and made a dead-sprint for the tree. The mess of mangled limbs got bigger and bigger. I could make it before the sun sinks! Then, it stopped. I kept running, but the tree seemed to get smaller. It looked even further away than when I started running.
I stopped. The sky was getting dark. I took a deep breath, faced the last shreds of orange light, and walked backwards towards the tree. I closed my eyes; I was light headed and my lungs were starting to spasm. I couldn’t hold my breath much longer.
My foot caught something and I fell backwards. The sound of splintering wood bounced off the trees. I was glad to breathe again. I turned around to get my bearings. I had landed on what used to be a pretty, wooden box. I picked off the cracked lid and found a mechanical chameleon. I found a crank on the bottom and twisted. A clashing wail cried out from the box and the lizard tried to spin, but wouldn’t.
We’d gotten into this mess because of a broken music box; here I was, breaking another one! The first had appeared in my mom’s old room at my grandparent’s house. Mom had found an old music box with a salamander in it. She cranked it; the salamander danced and flashed a fiery red and yellow while a song in a haunting minor key spilled out. She reached out to touch the lizard. It caught her finger with its tongue and she vanished in a burst of flames and the music box was nowhere to be found. Ever since that night 3 years ago, I have been searching for her.
As I stood, a gust of wind threatened to push me back down. Icy bits of rain tried to poke through my cheeks. I drew my hood more tightly around my face and looked up at the tree. It was riddled with notches all around the trunk and here was a hollow about 10 feet up. The tree looked like it could fall apart any moment, but I would freeze in this weather. The wind screamed and the thunder pounded through the forest. I nestled the broken box in my hoodie pocket then climbed and slipped my way up into the hollow.
Lightning attacked the trees. The forest floor glowed and danced as flames took hold of anything they could eat. They began to work their way up my tree. I huddled back as far into the hollow as I could and covered my face.
“Once song and fire combine, all will be fine,” the damn hag was echoing in my head. I cried out and chucked the music box out of the tree. The box came to life playing the same minor melody that had played for my mom. Flaming lizards crawled out of the box and headed straight for my tree.
The melody and blaze carried on through the night. “Please, please, please,”was all I could muster as the smoke surrounded me. I don’t know who I was asking.
As morning broke, the smoke drifted away and everything began to cool. Coughing, I peeked out from my perch. Everything was scorched and parts of the forest were still smoldering.
The bark of my tree was cool enough to touch. I clambered down and got a better look at my tree. The lizards had fused with the bark in the shape of an archway and pulsed with an orange light. I reached out to touch one of the lizards. It snapped its head, hissed at me, and nipped my finger. I recoiled and a blister started to form.
I stood back to get a better view of the archway. The center looked hollow, so I tried to walk through it. Intense light flashed and I was thrown back, the melody ringing in my ears.
The entrance shimmered for a moment. When it stopped, I could see my mom on the other side. She saw me and tried to run through the arch. She was thrown back, too.
“Mom! Are you okay?” She got up and mouthed something back to me. I couldn’t catch it through the shimmering of the arch.
We both walked up to the arch and looked at one another. I waved and she gave me a sad smile.
We tried to break through a few more times before plopping down and staring at each other, exhausted. I snagged the music box. It survived the fire without the slightest scorch. Mom perked up and scooted closer to the arch. I moved to where she could see.
I opened the box and everything looked brand new.
Mom made a twisting gesture with her fingers, so I turned the box over and wound it. She motioned for me to wait. She pulled the music box from grandma’s house into view and wound it as well. She held up her fingers and mouthed, “count of three.”
We opened the music boxes, the melodies clashed with each other, the lizards swarmed into a frenzy, and mom dove at me.
She made it through!
She tore the music box from me and chucked them both back into the archway. A horrendous screech blew us back. We just held one another and waited for our ears to stop ringing.
“It’s finally over,” Mom said.
“Where were you? What happened to you?”
“I promise I’ll fill you in soon, sweetheart. It’s a long story that I never used to believe. Your great, great grandma stole something she shouldn’t have. Now it’s where it belongs.”