The lighting is at the perfect angle, high above her. With such deep set eyes, and the light as it is, it seems her face carries two bottomless pits. She thumbs the golden crucifix that dangles from her neck, withered lips pursed in a disgusted frown. She is hunched and fattened, overfed and abused by time. Wrinkles crawl along her flesh, worn from sins kept secret. Grandmother stands in the way, as she has always done.
She sways softly in the Autumn breeze, glaring at me as I stand without motion. We stare at one another. I recognize that she is in the red velvet dress I buried her in. Blood trickles down her forehead from where I struck her with the wooden cross that she would use frequently to beat sin out of me.
"What are you doing, filthy child?" Her hoarse voice cracks the silence of the woods just behind her. I do not reply. "Going to play in the woods?"
I revert back to as I was when she first said these words to me. A small eager child whose mind had no limitations. I wanted to play, to frolic with the rabbits and deer. I yearned to smell the wild lavender, to bathe in the creek I only heard from my bedroom window. But she wouldn't let me. She wouldn't let me do anything.
"Only filthy girls wish to play in the Devil's church!" She roars, eyes growing darker, gripping on the crucifix tighter.
I am a woman, now. And she does not own me anymore. I walk towards her. I do not stop until I step through her, through the phantom. She'll never control me ever again.
The trees tower over me. Each step I take, twigs and leaves scream in violent crunches. I attempt to tread lightly, but they continue to give away my presence. I am the only sound in this forest. No birds caw above me or beat their wings in flight. I hear no rustling coming from the bushes, no animal takes curiosity with me. They have turned their backs. But I will not turn back, not until I am baptized by nature itself. I know I cannot continue as I am, treading into a deeper silence.
Inhale, hold for the count of ten, exhale. My arms spread out. I bathe in the sweet scent of wild plants. Lavender, oak, ivy, I am among their scent. I strip my two sweaters, tossing them onto the Earth's face. I take off my boots and my socks. I remove my pants and leggings beneath them. I rip away my underwear and tear through my tank top. There will be no more silence, I will be as the animals are. Nude, dangerous with my newfound freedom.
Calm fingers push themselves into the moist soil. I begin to wash my body in nature's womb, becoming the foundation of life. I feel warm as I scrub the soil onto my face, the small particles rolling down my cheeks, bouncing off the tip of my nose. I decorate my hair in fallen leaves, in the very twigs that cried beneath my heavy boots. As my eyes open, I finally see.
I creep along the forest's back. I make no sound. In return I am given music. I hear the bushes tossing as rabbits gather their young. I find an owl softly hooting, turning its head to watch me watch it. Birds fly above me now, birds of blues, reds, browns, and gold. They fly as the fireworks to welcome me.
"Woman." I hear a deep voice call for me. I look around to find its source. "Woman." I turn my head to the left where I find a tree whose roots are so mighty they peak out of their grave.
A fox lies between the thick roots, blood around its muzzle. It looks at me, not blinking once with its dilated eyes.
"Death is not tragedy. Waste is tragedy." The fox turns its mouth to its body, devouring its tail, working its way to its hind legs.
I leave the fox to eat itself. Nature does at it pleases, as it must to survive. I could not stop it, nor could I care of what it has to say. I will never flash my fangs at my own body.
The sound of animals become more prevalent. I hear them grow louder as they scream at one another. I hear the smaller birds plea for mercy as the hawks and owls take their pick. Snarling of starving wolves and foxes are silenced by the cries of rabbits. Nonetheless, these are not for my ears to prize. The prize is the sound of water flowing. The creek shimmers in the pale sunlight. A glimmering road to salvation.
My toes break the water's surface, cold and inviting. The water so clear I can see its shallow floor with smooth rocks and curious fish. I enter the water, it rises barely above my hips. With a deep breath, I throw myself into its grasp. The current cradles my submerged body, swaying me, washing me whole. I emerge with a loud breath. There is silence. The forest is struck in awe. Fish turn belly up, hearts stopping in astonishment. My rebirth has left me strong enough to lift the creek itself, if I so wanted to.
I step out onto the floor of the woods. The animals rejoice in their maddening noises. I hear them all around me, barking, cackling, cawing, singing, calling my name as I walk amongst them now.
I am their mother.
I journey further into my new home, stepping behind the shadows of trees who stare at me as they have stared for centuries. I find a clearing amongst them, a clearing occupied by a mother like myself.
A doe stands awkwardly, pushing a fawn out of her. She struggles, legs trembling as fluids leak. I enter the clearing, she does not notice. I reach the doe close enough to smell the salty sweet scent of birth. I am so close. The doe notices. She freezes, eyes wide, directed at my own. I can feel her screaming, though her mouth is shut. She stammers quickly forward, attempting to take off in a sprint. She gives one more hard push, the fawn falling from her womb. It tumbles, neck snapping as it lands on the doe's hind legs kicking up into an escape. The forest swallows the doe, imprisoning her as I stare down at my gift.
Kneeling before the fawn, I scoop it up from the sticky grass. It's cold, moist in my arms. I cradle it softly. Looking down at my beautiful baby, I plant a tender kiss upon its forehead. As I look up I find my grandmother. Eyes a home for shadows, the fox's head in her arms.
Tatiana Gonzalez lives in the cold land of South Dakota, using the dreary days of gray skies to motivate her writing for surrealism and horror. She's a short story writer and has been published in college anthologies, previously, but she is also known to dabble in poetry and novel writing.