SIMON OF THE WOODS
One time at the hospital we ate pretzels. I never thought I'd be one.
I awoke this morning in a position to which my body strongly objected. Various portions of myself were pressed up against other parts who had not heretofore been mutually introduced. For example, I had not until this morning been aware of the fact that I could scratch my ass with my elbow.
I untangled myself with a series of dignified grunts and eventually tumbled akimbo in the middle of the tiny wooden house. I tried to get up but I smacked my head on the low ceiling and immediately found myself sitting again, cradling my skull in my filthy palms.
"Nurse?" I called hopefully.
The morning was misty. The sun was up, but the hazy shadows were long. The grass was lost in a mauve fog that puffed and swirled with the activity of breakfasting birds. The air was cool and thick, and it still carried a wet, night-plant scent.
"At least the creature didn't come back," I whispered aloud, because it made me feel less alone.
But I wasn't alone. My eyes flipped to the left, and then my head slowly turned and craned up. The vicious little creature was crouching on the roof above me, its long tail flicking back and forth menacingly. When our eyes met its pointed jaws drew open as the thing let out a spine-chilling breathy growl.
"Good morning," I said, flattening myself against the railing and sliding along its length slowly. "Please don't bite my eyes out."
The creature watched me, its yellow eyes narrowing. Its haunches twitched and I almost threw up. I continued to shimmy away from it, my feet dangling down over the edge of the wooden platform in search of the first rung of the ladder nailed into the trunk of the tree.
I bent my body to begin my descent, but this panicked the animal and it jumped on my face with an inhuman screech. We sailed backward through the air together and hit the grass rolling, my breath pushed out my chest as claws gripped my neck. The animal and I bounced apart. I turned over and cast around wildly for my adversary, but it had already regained its feet and was prowling around me, the fur along its spine standing up on end like a crest. It spat at me viciously, hissing.
We circled one another, eyed locked, my breath rasping.
That's when a high voice called out, "Hey! What are you doing to my cat?"
The creature scampered away to the right. I tracked it and saw it leap into the arms of a very short man with large eyes and freckles. The little man was regarding me suspiciously, his hand hovering over a bulge in the pocket of his shorts. The animal licked his hand and nuzzled against his chest. He put it down and started walking closer, the cat close at his heels.
"Keep that thing away from me!" I cried.
He stopped walking and crossed his arms over his chest. "What are you doing here?" he asked slowly, his voice reedy.
I pointed to the tree house. "Is this your house?"
"Yeah," he said, frowning. "So what?"
"You, uh, didn't come home last night, so I slept up there. I realize that was a fairly uncivilized thing to do, but I've been through a bit of an ordeal." I straightened my robe and re-belted the sash. "I'm terribly sorry for any trouble, sir."
"Are you some kind of weirdo?" asked the little man, stepping closer and appraising me frankly with his round eyes. As he emerged from the shadows I saw that his skin was pink, like uncooked bacon.
"No," I claimed.
He sucked his lip for a moment and kicked at the grass with his toe. "My name's Pish. I live over there." He shrugged vaguely in the direction of a wall of conifers.
"Hello," I said. "My name is Simon."
"Are you all alone?"
"You don't have anywhere to stay?"
"Not as such."
He shrugged again. "You can use it, if you're nice to my cat, I guess."
"That's exceptionally generous of you."
"Are you hungry?" Pish asked me. I nodded. "I'll see what I can do. You stay here, okay?" I nodded again. The little man turned and jogged away through the grass, disappearing into the gloom beneath the trees.
By the time Pish returned his suggestion had transformed my quiet but longing belly into a churning knot of desperate hunger. I had noticed a bush made of lettuce and tried eating some, but the green matter was bitter and fibrous; I was in the process of spitting it out when I heard Pish's high-pitched giggle. "This salad is awful," I groaned, wiping my tongue with my fingers.
We sat in the tree house to eat our picnic. I confess that I was not able to restrain my appetites, though I did try at the beginning. I tore through three apples voraciously, juice running down my chin, and then took a triangle of hard cheese in two savage bites. There were brown ropes of bread, crunchy sprulets, and a butter biscuit for each of us. Pish let me have his.
"Thank you," I said. "Please excuse me," I added. "I was just so hungry."
"You eat like my dog," said Pish.
"What's a dog?" I asked. Pish giggled. I smiled sheepishly. "Can I ask you something, Pish?"
I narrowed my eyes. "You're a child, aren't you?"
He exploded into gales of laughter then, his face turning red as he rolled around on the floor of the tree house. I tried to warn him but he wasn't listening, so he rolled right into the mustard. We both started laughing when I saw the expression on his face. "You're hilarious," he wheezed. "Do you want to come fly my kite with me?"
I grinned while I asked it: "What's a kite?"
More laughter. I rolled my eyes and followed him out of the tree house. It turns out a kite is a kind of paper-and-sticks contraption which rises into the air upon the wind, teased out on the end of a string. Pish was very good at keeping it aloft, but I found it more of a challenge. "Good -- now run with it!" Pish would yell.
But I'm still not all that good at running, so my co-ordination would fail me and I'd fall spectacularly into the grass. We performed this routine many times before I handed control of the kite over to him for good. While he flew it I sat down on a nearby hillock, using my hand as a blind against the sun.
"How does it make you feel, Pish, to be at the beginning of your life?"
"Fine, I guess," he said carelessly, eyes on the kite.
"But you have so many options, and no experience to guide you. How do you choose what to do?"
He shrugged. "I just do what I do."
I considered this. "Have you ever thought about leaving this planet? Travelling beyond Samundra one day?"
Pish gave this question more thought, rolling his tongue around in his mouth as he gave the kite a tug and caused it to swoop in a tight circle. "Yeah, probably. But I'm kind of afraid to go through the gate."
"Yeah," I said quietly. "Me, too."
"Besides," he added as he reeled in the kite, "I've got everything I need right here."
Come evening he brought me supper and an armful of blankets. I snuggled into the tree house, but found it hard to be comfortable. Pish told me a long and meandering story about some kind of rodent he had followed to its nest the day before, and then started yawning and told me he'd best move along. I thanked him and he climbed down. I heard him call his cat, and I ran my fingers along the scabbing lines across the side of my neck with a wince.
Eventually I lay face down on the wooden house, in imitation of that peaceful, wonderful moment of reclining bliss on the first day of my life. I draped the blanket over my head, in imitation of my hospital-bed fort.
"Dear diary," I mumbled into the floor, "I have become the pet of an affable child."