I came into this world with boots caked in the mud of forgotten previous lives. This world was a dark one, but even though the woods maintained supernatural density, I could always find you. There was a stench. You were noxious in ways still foreign to my unbroken skin. I tried to appear invincible when I was not. You were slimy and slipped out of my small hands, leaving them empty except for small rocks that made me hate you for a moment. Giving chase through the trees, into holes, and across the rivers. You were the feeling of swampy water up to my knees. Eventually, I would manage to catch you with a dangerously firm grip and stare into your bulging yellow eyes, wrinkling my nose as you wet them with an elastic tongue. You kept good company. Sometimes I would sit on rocks and watch you politely, or I would be forced to carry you violently in a paper cup. Whispering to you hopes of staying put while we waited for the rope swing. I appointed myself a vox for your misunderstood stories and was always, between exhausted gulps of breath, a willing raconteur of your worldly ideas. The neighborhood kids tormented me with neigh-saying. But I was never ready to unveil my world of plucky adolescence; alone, barreling through the woods, and a keeper of all secrets. 

You were occupation. I went unbothered for many hours between neverending trees that encircled the old farmhouse. A void. Ugly and so overgrown with grudges that, when the neighbors floated past, so would murmur about its sinking structure. I learned better than to wander down dark halls. Instead, I made up my corner where I’d never sleep but could watch my donkey called Ghost braying in the pasture. Painting clouds on the concrete walls until they were washed away again in the seasonal flood. 

My cousin Tree would sometimes visit from two big green bridges away. And on visiting days, I would smuggle my salamander inside my overalls pocket to sneak into the basement and dig out a dusty old trunk. Dressed in beads and matted curls and tunics, we would dance to the only song on my only tape over and over until we went unnatural creatures. Tree was the only person who understood the actuality of the house and me and my salamander. We would cry and throw mud at the windows and never say any of it aloud.

One winter night, a beast broke into the house so angry and swinging an ax. Snow fell onto the floor in front of the big ugly chair where I had shrunk down small enough to hide. I met the familiar yellow eyes between the splintering wooden door. He painted the house red with violence and bounded again into the nightforest. I understood the beast and knew him not as a stranger. I had held him with my own two hands, even put him in my overalls pocket, which now burned that same angry red. Shapeshifter. My repetitive naivety presented as necessary games. You were never really mine. I watched you disappear a thousand times and I had shed two thousand tears. I was determined to fight my way back to the real you again, but a depraved beast is what you’ve always been. The games only ended when I was the one to leave. I had to cross dozens of big green bridges to find release from your spell. And with all these years gone by, I am still stuck in my head. Stuck in the days of my apocryphal Spring, mixing your yellow eyes up between memory and imagination.

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