The Castle in The Woods

You are there. You glide through the rusted, iron gate. The air is cold, dark. Except for a few stray dogs, hunting through the fallen leaves, the castle grounds are desolate. Thirty feet above the ground, you fly forward, headfirst. You are weightless. Halfway up one of the white stone towers, a small window shines green. The rest of the castle is dark. The green window is far away, but in a moment, you are there. You smile as you watch the latch at the bottom come undone, and the window slides upwards and opens, and you slip inside.

The walls of the room are emerald green, with a million cracks that interconnect, like the skin of an old painter’s hand. The room is almost empty. A couch, made of wicker, with red cushions, up against one wall, and just then, you notice by the furthest wall, a woman is standing with her back to you, though you can see the book in her hand. She has long blonde hair, and slivers of red light catch your eye from the rubies in her blue gown. She’s been gone so long – five years – but you still recognize her from the way she stands – one hand on her hip, one leg bent at the knee – and a rush of warmth fills you up, though only for a moment, as when she turns toward you, though you haven’t made a sound, she has on a sad, knowing smile. You are rushing towards her, and she closes her book carefully on her finger, saving her place, and in instant you are flying through her. You thought her weight would stop you, but you are both weightless and you do not even make a ripple in her gown.

“I’m sorry, my darling,” she says, reaching towards you and catching herself, pulling her hand backward, and you remember the way she would tuck the hair behind your ear, reading aloud to you when you were much younger.

Just then, you take a step back, suddenly noticing the red stain on her gown, halfway up her ribcage. It is dark red, fresh, and you remember waiting with your father in the hospital lobby, him pacing and fiddling with the skin between his thumb and index finger, waiting for the surgery to be over.

“Are you okay?” you ask.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, honey,” she says, smiling more fully now. “How are you? I want to know about you… ” she finishes, and brings the book she is still holding up to her chest.

You pause. Looking over her shoulder, you notice there are three wide shelves of books set in the wall. The books are all different heights, some thin, some thick. A few, leather-bound. Others, their spines weak, barely able to keep their pages from falling onto the grey stone floor.

The gold writing on the book she is holding catches your eye, and you see her smile. You are reading the words now, “Eva Colapietro and The Argentine Locket,” and she angles the book so you can better see the cover.

“What –” you start, and stop.

“It’s about you, sweetheart,” she says, smiling. “Of course it’s about you.”

“Is it good?”

“It’s very good.”

“Well, how does it end?” you ask, reaching for the book. She lets you pull it out of her hand, and you flip open the back cover to read the last page, and she laughs.

You are reading – “and Eva escapes her captors, through the canals of Venice, with the locket around her neck” – when she interrupts you.

“There’s just one thing, Eva.”

You look up at her, and she is pointing towards the bookshelves.

“They’re all about you,” she says, and you step closer and read the names of some of the others: “The Fabulous Life of Eva Colapietro,” “Eva and The White Rose,” “Eva, The Accountant.”

“Which one is the right one? I need to know, Mom… I need to know what happens next,” you say.

She gives you a look you remember well – eyebrows scrunched, lips pursed, trying to not smile, appraising.

“Come see more of the castle,” she says, after a pause, and turns, looking back at you over her shoulder, and you follow her through the arched doorway in the back wall of the room.

She is leading you down a wide marble staircase, yellow light flooding the centers of the steps, heavy shadows on the sides, and you remember being very young, on the back of her bicycle, in the late evening — after dinner, or later, if you couldn’t sleep — riding along the dirt roads of the countryside, no one else around. She would hear you laughing, and slow down and lean the bike against a tree, and you would examine the way an acorn, at your feet, fits perfectly in its shell, before picking it up and pulling it apart. Now, the huge great hall below, the suits of armor you pass at the foot of the stairs, seem to belong to just the two of you.

It is when you see the body on the marble floor of the hall, crumpled, fifteen feet away, but yet, the outline solid, the colors full — the black hair, the t-shirt ripped a bit at the neck — that you know you are waking up. Your shoulders and neck tense. You reach for the marble banister at your side to catch yourself, but is hazy and your hand passes right through it. You stumble down the last few steps, bracing for the fall, but the landing is soft, and, opening your eyes, you see grass and dirt against your cheek. You turn, and the chandelier hanging from the castle ceiling and the walls of giant, uneven stones are fading out of focus. Your heart pounds as trees, almost translucent in the moonlight, loom overhead.

Motionless, you sit and wait for the scene to change completely, the shapes to stop reorganizing themselves. It is cold. Your skirt is damp with mud. You brush off the green streak of grass and pebbles stuck to your leg, under the cut on your shin. Turning, you scan the sky for a landmark, trying to figure out where you are — and there it is. Lifeless in the grass, on his side, ten feet away, his back to you. Dried blood is caked in his black hair and on the back of his grey t-shirt.

You close your eyes, and open them. Still there. Your hands are in your hair now. Your palms press against the knots in your temples. You close your eyes again, and open them. And again. It is getting harder to see, through the tears. All around you are trees, their leaves red and orange and crisp, and thick, green bushes, and to your left, a clearing before a cliff. You hear leaves rustle in the light wind, and behind you, a bird chirps twice.