In the Hespian Woods, I had a childhood friend, a wind demon. His name was Auriga. We used to glide through the woods together, me on his back. Auriga was wiry and very deft, easily flying through twisted boughs and matted roots. Together, we learned to slip in and out of human souls.
I don’t know how we had the courage to try such acrobatics. I couldn’t do it now. But as children we throw ourselves recklessly at any experience until we master it or it masters us. Now we calculate the risks and look at manuals, at least those of us considered wise. Auriga is no longer a wind demon, but a Thaexou, those wild creatures who ride inside electrical currents like master charioteers.
Back then, in the Hespian Woods, I did not know what I was in the world of others, that I could be something entirely new and unimagined. That I could be new to even myself. Traveling with Auriga, we saw every part of the Hespian Woods, at every angle and perspective. Eye to eye with the birds, inside the underground network of trees, through roots and worm holes. We never knew where we would end up, at times back where we had begun, tying space and time into neat little bows. I loved Auriga then. In childhood I had no true atma, clinging to leaves and rocks like a weak magnet. Though a child himself, Auriga took care of me, and thus my atma was shaped and it was love.
A young wind demon must travel far and wide. To complete the initiation into adulthood, the demon must make the final journey alone. Yet, Auriga took me along, and for reasons unknown, the Elders did not object. The young are not given maps; it is up to them to create their own. Some demons are anxious to make their own roads and highways. Auriga chose to ride the existing currents, sightseeing at a leisurely pace. The Hespian Woods is a bubble plane, floating through various realities and worlds. Other woods, we found, were bound to rocks. And while we, as elementals, could travel anywhere, there were creatures whose lives were like the fragile petals of an emerging bud. Auriga did his best not to travel too closely to such fragile beings, but sometimes a glancing look was all it took. Rot began even before the petals had time to reach the soil. Such death was nothing like I’d ever seen before.
Once, we were passing by a ripening meadow and were suddenly sucked into a narrow tube made of wood. Inside a vortex, Auriga and I becoming intertwined so that there was neither one nor the other but an entity entirely other which was also us. That was a life too. Emerging from the wood, discovering my atma, my love as song, spreading into the heart and soul of every creature folded into this one world. It was a life worth completing, and I had Auriga to thank.
In the Hespian Woods there is a flower. You must, without knowing that you are doing it, step on it with your bare feet to experience its full beauty.
I look up into the sky and see all the various worlds and know I am in every one, even those I do not remember at all. In each I am the song best sung.
We met again years later. He was married with fifteen children. I was surprised by how strong he’d become, both in body and character. His wife was a Crystith, an anthropoda spirit, and had strong ideas about raising children. Auriga didn’t mind and let her have her way. I asked him, as we skated across the calm, green sea, he with a boisterous child in his arms, if he still kept the map he made during his initiation. He said: ‘My dear love, you are the map.’ And for the first time I understood what I was to him, and my heart was full of his atma.
This was at that time when water wyrms were beginning to demand more of their old worlds back, their population growing just as ours was rapidly diminishing. ‘It’s the rhythm of life,’ my shifu said. ‘Once it was the water worlds fast disappearing, the wyrms with them. Now it is our turn.’ Would we come back too, I wondered. No use asking my shifu questions that had no answers. He already thought me silly. And so I was, and am, for I am full of nostalgia. And this is a song for myself.
A Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions nominee, J.A. Pak’s writing has been published in BHP, Litro, Lunch Ticket, Joyland, Queen Mob’s Tea House, etc. More of her work can be read at Triple Eight Palace of Dreams & Happiness