Next Journey

I traipsed over the dunes with the Skink bouncing along nearby. It was early afternoon by now, and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to camp here in the nice soft sand dunes and make a fresh start tomorrow or keep going and get stuck sleeping in whatever sort of forest I could see in the distance. In the end, the unknown – and the possibility of finding my muse again won and I kept on going.

The forest was much like the one on the far shore; that is to say, much like the hot, humid forests of my youth. Moss grew on everything and the undergrowth was incredibly thick and almost uniformly thorny. The ground underfoot often squelched, and I had to navigate over or around numerous puddles and ditches full of stagnant, smelly water. The Skink disappeared and then reappeared over my head; like a squirrel, he chose the high road and scampered along the branches that formed a thick mat over the forest.

“What are you doing up there?” I snarled as I unhooked my pants leg from a particularly clingy vine.

“There aren’t as many thorns or puddles up here. Besides, you’re grumpy and I don’t want to talk to you,” Skink sniffed.

“I would be a lot less grumpy if I weren’t battling those same puddles and thorns,” I remarked acidly.

He just smiled at me and disappeared again. I heard branches moving as he ran ahead.

The Skink was right. I was grumpy. And it wasn’t just the heat, humidity and thorns causing my foul mood. I was really bothered by what the King of Cups had told me about the She Wolf. Did she really not want to come back to me? Was I so awful? Could she not see that there were extenuating circumstances? I plodded more and more slowly as my mind churned through these ideas over and over again. What would I do if I couldn’t find her? What if I did find her and she absolutely refused to come back, or maybe even refused talk to me? The thoughts echoed in my head repeatedly as I trudged along.

Finally I stopped altogether and kicked savagely at a dead branch. As it bounced off a tree trunk, I whirled and leaned against the rough bark of another tree. It was useless, all of it. I took a rough breath, and then buried my face in my arms and cried.

I stood there sobbing hopelessly against the tree. The loneliness I felt with the loss of She Wolf was suddenly overwhelming and I didn’t know what I would do without her. The whole quest seemed futile now, and I might as well be done with it and just go home. My tears came harder and the sobs felt like they were tearing loose from my soul.

I felt a touch on my shoulder and I flailed angrily at it, eyes still squeezed tightly shut, but whatever it was grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go. I opened my eyes, shouting, “GET OFF!” only to see the Skink’s worried face peering at me. He was clinging to a vine that hung from the tree I was crying against, patting my shoulder and trying to steady his swinging perch.

“Jane, don’t,” he said. “It’s not that bad, really. We’ll find her, and it’ll be okay. C’mon, let’s keep going. I’ll bet we can find someplace to stay for the night that’s not quite so damp.” He tugged at my arm and smiled hopefully.

Slowly I stopped crying, sniffling loudly and wiping my eyes with my hands. The Skink rummaged through his pockets and came up with what seemed to be a clean handkerchief. “Here, blow,” he said.

I nodded silently and did as he told me to. Then, still sniffling and gulping a bit, I followed him off through the brush.

By late afternoon, the forest was giving way to meadows of tall brown grass and cooler breezes. I was still feeling very down and wasn’t inclined to conversation, but the Skink was talking enough for both of us. He chattered endlessly, commenting about everything he saw and every change in the scenery. I just nodded and followed in his wake. Whatever energy I had possessed earlier in the day was gone and I was drained and empty now. It took everything I had just to follow him.

The cooler temperatures made it possible for me to keep going, though, and eventually the patches of forest became full of pine and fir trees. The ground underfoot was rocky instead of muddy and the air grew positively crisp. It almost felt like a beautiful autumn afternoon in the Rocky Mountains near my home. I found a large rock and sat down on it, taking out the water bottle the king had given me. After a long draught of water, I looked around.

The sky overhead was a deep, clear blue. Pine needles covered the floor of the woods and there was next to no underbrush. What there was, was not excessively thorny, for which I was thankful. The Skink climbed up on the rock beside me and said, “We’ve made some progress at least. I don’t know quite where to, but at least this is better than the first forest we were in.” He cocked his head and added, “Don’t you think so? You’ve been awfully quiet since, well, since…” he trailed of uncomfortably.

“Since I fell apart back there? Yeah, I know. I really don’t feel like talking now, either,” I told him. “I’m here, and I have to keep going even if I want to quit, so I’ll keep going. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there’s any point in this.”

“But you do want to find her again, don’t you?”

“Yeah. I do. Of course I do. More than anything, I do. I’m just afraid she won’t have me back.” I looked at the water bottle, tipped it onto my hand and splashed my face with the fresh water. “I’ll try to have a better attitude. Come on, let’s go and see how far we can get before dark.” I heaved myself to my feet and started off again.

The way was clearly uphill now, and it was getting cooler and cooler. I finally poked around in my pack and pulled out some warmer outerwear just as the first flakes of snow started to fall.

“One thing to be said for adventuring in magic places, the weather can change really quickly,” I said to the Skink, who was dragging out my wool scarf and wrapping it around him like a toga.

“Ya think?” he replied.

The snow grew thicker and thicker and the coniferous forest gave way to a thicket of willows, like those that grow beside streams and rivers in the West. This thicket, however, went on and on. Between the snow and the never-ending willows, I was growing very disoriented. It was growing dark now, although the snow kept it brighter than it would have been otherwise.

I had to take my glasses off – they were caked with snow and even as nearsighted as I am, I could see better without them than I could through them at this point. The Skink took the lead, helping me pick a safe course through the growth.

Frankly, I was so busy trying to navigate that I forgot to feel discouraged for a while.

Finally we broke free of the willows into a swirling storm of fat wet snowflakes. I could barely see three feet in front of me and almost walked right into a tall, weathered board fence. I put one hand on it and walked parallel to it for a few feet. A gate appeared beside me, slightly ajar and offering some relief from the snow blowing into my face. I ducked behind it, shook the snow out of my eyes and looked around at the snowy yard in front of me. It looked familiar – very familiar. I took a hesitant step, and then another towards the wooden deck near the fence. I mounted the steps and looked at the grey stucco wall of the house in front of me. The door before me was, like the gate, slightly ajar and I pushed it open, into my own back room in my own house, the same one that I had left from just this morning.

My computer was right there on the desk by the door, and there was the spare bed that no one else had space for stored there in the back room, in my way. The shelves on the far wall were full of my books. The scrap of carpet on the tile floor was the same one I put there last week.

I stopped, sagged. It was over, then. It was all well and truly over, it was all no good. Clearly the quest was futile if the first place it led to was back to my own craft-and-writing room where inspiration no longer came to me. Bad enough to know that the She Wolf was gone and didn’t want to come back. But this, this was nothing short of mockery.

“NOOOOOOO!!!!” I hurled my pack on the floor and stamped my feet, shaking the room. I kicked at the base of the bed, howling with despair. The Skink, eyes wide, retreated to the counter on the far side of the room and tried to wedge himself behind a set of plastic drawers full of rubber stamping supplies. My tantrum roared on and I flung the pillows from the bed across the room. Pens and pencils from the cup on the desk flew as the tears streamed down my face and I cried, not quietly this time, but loudly, raging against everything. I raged against my abandonment by She Wolf, against the circumstances that had led to me creating a wall around myself that she had found impossible to penetrate. I raged against the unfairness of life and against the nasty, fickle temperament of fate.

Finally, exhausted, I collapsed on the bed and cried more and more quietly into the comforter. I felt the Skink hop onto the bed and then, finally I drifted into a restless sleep while the heavy wet snow swirled down though the night outside.

-Jane ©March2010

12 responses

  1. Wow! What now. This is a most interesting story. And I love your descriptions.


    1. Thank you, Vi. This is not the easiest journey for me to take either in real life or in the story. I have never been truly comfortable with portraying conflict and I think my writing would be better if I can get beyond that, so I am trying to work on this while I’m writing this journey.

  2. Although conflict may be hard for you to want to portray it does make for interesting reading and tension in your writing. Comfort zones, you remind me that as writers we all need to push our comfort zones, and explore areas we may not think we want to write and yet we can.

    1. Yes, June, the interest is what I’m looking for, as well as characters that are more, well, real. And what better place to stretch my comfort zone than a place that I’m comfortable – here? As I try to find my inspiration again, I am trying to grow as a writer. So hang on for the ride – it may be bumpy.

  3. I love that this is no easy quest, all done in a flash. You convey the frustration, the agony, the exhaustion that is associated in a way that we can all relate to. I know myself I go from finding gold to being in another pit of worms within what seems like seconds, especially since I persistently pull swords out of my deck and have to find a positive way of dealing with them. Skink is a wonderful character but I am seeing you, as the narrator in a fresh light too.

    1. Thank you Heather.Swords – yes – I keep coming up swords, too, and it is appropriate for what I’ve been dealing with. Trying to deal with swords in a creative and constructive manner is indeed challenge. This virtual quest mirrors, in many ways, my interior quest right now. At least the virtual one helps to make sense of the interior one, and at least in the virtual one I can manipulate the outcome. I do hope that my character here is a more three-dimensional one – that is something I amtrying to create.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this installment. The way you are using creative writing to write about searching for a muse or inspiration for your creative writing is, in itself, creative and inspirational.

    I like the way you go off on a journey and then end up exactly where you started from. The creative process does seem to be like that sometimes. At the same time, I think you are moving. Maybe the place where you find She Wolfy is back there at your desk and in your computer 🙂 – just a thought.

    1. What’s that old adage for writers? Something to the effect of “If you can’t think of anything to write, write about that”? Well, that’s what I’m doing. Just the act of writing can help open up the system again, and I hope it will work for me this time. It’s not quick and it’s not easy, and no, the quest won’t end with the journey back to my own desk, but it’s another step on the way.

  5. Oh, Jane, you have really captured the despair of abandonment. Now that is storytelling at its finest.

    1. Thanks, Lori!

  6. I want a Skink of my own!

    1. Be careful what you wish for.

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