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Arrivals & Departures

 

   Haniel drew her coat tightly around her. She pulled the door with the peeling red paint shut behind her for the last time. The familiar click of the latch was the only sendoff she'd receive. Haniel knew she would not be missed by her mother. The odd holes that covered her body were an embarrassment for her mother, and a constant reminder of her mother's perceived failures and losses in life. Haniel's father left as soon as he saw the strange holes, on the same day she was born. Horrified, he claimed no child that was his could be born with such a strange deformity. He accused her mother of having an affair, and she in turn blamed Haniel, for some unknown reason, never explained to Haniel. she found no benefit in the holes.

     Haniel was an obvious combination of both parents, in spite of the holes. She had her mother's long auburn hair and her father's deep-set hazel eyes. She could never figure out how she could be responsible for The 7 unusual holes in her body.

     The doctors had no explanation, it was a miracle she even existed they said, as none of the holes interfered with any of her vital organs. As she grew older, the teasing from other kids, the not so hushed whispers in public by strangers, the outright rude comments and questions, caused so much pain, she became numb to all of her emotions. She thought it ironic how something that made

her numb, could also still cause so much pain. Haniel was small for her age of 14, with delicate features and except for 3 visible holes from the neck up, a very pretty face. She didn't know where she was going, just away. Oddly, her experience of neglect by both of her parents had also blessed her with a somewhat sassy sense of self-reliance and courage. She dragged her worn, olive green duffle bag on the ground behind her as she gripped her grey woolen coat closed against the chilly breeze. It was early morning; the few neighbors around would still be asleep and the sun would not rise for almost another hour. Nobody would see her. She walked the dirt road that bordered the forest further than she had ever walked it before. She worried if she had brought enough supplies in her bag. Food, water, clothes, toiletries and a few tools from the shed. It would have to do. She actually only had one plan. It was just to leave, and that had been accomplished.

     As she walked, the sun was just beginning to peak over the top of the trees and the air was getting warmer. She saw a big, grey boulder and decided it would be a good place to rest and ponder her path.

     "Where ya' headed so early?"

    

     A raspy voice startled her out of her head chatter. Appearing out of nowhere, a very bent old man was walking towards her from the other side of the dirt road. His odd silhouette taking a slice out of the sun rising behind him. His gait was to the left as his head leaned to the right, causing him to have a strange sense of balance. His cane, a sturdy tree branch, navigated from the right. He was tiny, frail, and his age was out of sync with the brightness that shone from his sparkling blue eyes. He wore an oversized, khaki colored flannel shirt, buttoned all the way up to the collar, baggy khaki pants, a black fisherman's cap and worn, black, high top Keds. As he moved closer, he noticed the holes in her face. He moved right into her personal space to get a closer look. Haniel sat on the rock motionless and stunned he'd be so forward."

     "I've seen that before." He said, expelling a tired breath. "I know of a doctor who can fix 'dem holes for ya'." He pointed a finger in the air.

     Haniel said not a word as she studied his old and wrinkled face, with the bright blue eyes.

     "Yep, seen it before. Only problem is you gotta' go through the Invisible Forest her to git to 'em."

     Haniel finally spoke rather defiantly as she could not imagine any problem big enough to keep her from seeing a doctor who could fix her holes and make her normal."

     "Why would that be a problem sir.?"

     "Well, nobody ever come back outta' the forest. Obviously, it ain't invisible, it's right here, all around us. Nobody quite sure why it's called the Invisible Forest, but they're sure they want nothin' to do with it. Folks 'round here are afraid to death of it. The entrance starts right o'er yonder, where that big wooden sign sits in the ground." He pointed a crooked finger towards the entrance a good few minutes hike down the road. He looked back at her with a slight smile, belched and crumpled to the ground, dead.

     Haniel jumped off the rock, in shock at what had just happened. She looked around to see if anyone had seen but there was nobody. She bent down and checked his pulse. All she could feel was her own heart beating so rapidly, ready to burst from her chest. She couldn't just leave him lying there, dead. Everyone deserves some kind of burial, she quickly decided.

     "Oh no, I can't believe..." She said, repeatedly, as she tried to gather her thoughts and figure out what to do next.

     It occurred to her; she'd never actually seen a dead person. She needed to find a place to put him, his final resting place. She looked around at the dense forest that seemed to go on forever. Leaving her bag on the road she gently put her hands under the armpits of the little old man and started to drag him into the forest. She kept stepping on the back hem of her long red skirt and had to keep stopping to kick it out from under her boot. She was surprised at how light he was; he could not weigh much more that she did. As she dragged him over the shrubby plants and pine needles on the forest floor, she suddenly wished that she knew his name.

     She found a nice flat area with a patch of sun shining through the trees, almost as if pointing to it. She stared at it realizing she had nothing to dig the earth with. Haniel leaned against the tree to catch her breath.

     She let out a shallow sigh which was intercepted by the flood of adrenaline coursing through her body. She looked around and searched unsuccessfully in her surroundings for something she could dig with. She decided to walk back and get his cane. As she approached the road, she saw a dog, the whitest white dog she'd ever seen, it was almost glowing. It was up the road, in the direction from which she'd come. It was investigating something on the ground in the middle of the road.

     She whistled to the dog and managed to get its attention, easy on such and otherwise quiet morning. The dog looked up and came running to her with so much exuberance it made her laugh, a welcome release from the current drama. She bent down and pet it on the head.

     "Hi there!" She closed her eyes to better feel the comfort of his fluffy softness.

     "I detect sadness."

     She fell back onto the ground. "You talk?"

     "Yes, I always have, I was born this way, Lord knows what's in my woodpile. My name is Radi. Long 'a', short 'i'." He said, like a teacher instructing his student.

     "Wow, Radi, I'm Haniel, it's been a crazy morning." she said, recovering herself from the ground. "I don't know where to begin..." Then, Haniel had an idea.

     "Radi, do you like to dig holes?"

     "Oh yes, I LOVE to dig holes, the deeper the better, the smell of fresh earth is intoxicating to me!"

     "Please, follow me." Haniel turned and started walking back to where the old man lay, a wrinkled, crooked, khaki colored vessel of a life completed.

    

     Radi followed Haniel into the woods trotting happily behind her. His fluffy white coat ricocheting shards of sunlight off of it as they wove their way through the trees. When they got to the old man, Radi walked over to him and gave his face a sniff.

     "Dead."

     Haniel shook her head in affirmation.

     "Did you kill him?" Radi asked, very matter of fact.

     "Good grief! No! He just dropped dead while talking to me, I don't even know his name and I've never seen him before in my life. I was wondering if you would help me bury him? You know, dig a grave." She said, uncomfortably.

     "Well, that would certainly be the decent thing to do, wouldn't it? I mean, considering the circumstances and all."

     "Yes, I agree."

Haniel walked to the area she had chosen, even though the light had moved, it still looked perfect.

     "I was thinking right about here." She did a little graveyard waltz, took a few steps forward, to the side, back, and once again to the other side and again forward to where she started. She stood back in awe, as Radi got to work.

     He had dug what appeared to be a perfectly rectangular hole, about 3 feet deep, in what seemed a very short time. He somehow managed to remain glowingly, pristine white. Haniel decided to search the old man's pockets for a name so that she and Radi might give him a proper eulogy. She retrieved a tattered brown wallet from the breast pocket of his shirt. Nothing  was in it except a small folded piece of paper and a wadded and flattened one-dollar bill. She unfolded the paper and read the shaky, blue ink scrawl aloud.

     "Michael Virtue." She shrugged. "Michael Virtue is is then." She looked thoughtfully at the one-dollar-bill, "I guess you won't be needing this, but I might, thank you Michael." Haniel placed the wadded dollar in her coat pocket and the wallet back in his shirt pocket, where she'd found it.

     Radi watched as Haniel gently rolled Michael, into the somewhat shallow grave. She rested his cane on his chest and folded his hands over his heart and cane. She softly closed his blue eyes which had lost their brilliance and she stood up straight. She looked at Radi and gave him a nod towards the pile of dirt he'd just dug. Radi turned and started on the mound of dirt he'd created, refilling the grave as quickly and cleanly as he'd dug it. Haniel walked on the top of it to press the dirt down, her black boots caking with the moist, fresh earth. They stood together, looking at the grave, and Haniel cleared her throat as she prepared to speak.

     She placed her left hand over her heart, feeling it to be some kind of proper ceremonial gesture of sincerity.

     "Here lies an interesting man...um...one who lead a life of service, at least to me...um, in the short time I knew him. I will remember and be eternally grateful to you, Michael Virtue, for telling me about the doctor to take care of my holes, so that I may one day lead a normal life. May your kind soul rest in peace, Michael Virtue. Amen."

     "Amen." Said Radi.   

 

     They looked at one another, nodding with mutual approval and silently headed back to the road. They sat at the roadside, absorbing the sun and what had just taken place. Haniel on her boulder and Radi resting at her feet.

 

     "You said you detected sadness when I pet you, how did you do that?"

 

     "it's hard to explain." Radi said, thoughtfully. "When you touched me, I felt it, then it was gone. Like a wave." 

     "Hmm... I didn't know I was sad, but I guess it makes sense." Haniel thought about how numb she was; she didn't even know when she was sad.

     Radi interrupted her thoughts. "I only feel love, no other emotions really. It was an interesting sensation to feel sadness, I know what it was even though I'd never felt it before. How strange that I was able to identify your emotions when you couldn't. So, what is the story with the holes, the old man and the doctor?"

     Excusing his bluntness, she explained. "Well, I was born with the holes. They are nothing but a burden and the bane of my existence, I would like to get rid of them. I hate them. The old man told me about a doctor that could do that but that I would have to go through the Invisible Forest to get to him." She waved her arm to demonstrate the expanse of the forest next to them. "He said nobody returns from the Invisible Forest. Nobody knows what is in there or why it is called the Invisible Forest. But one thing is certain, everyone is afraid to enter it. That said, I can't imagine anything that would keep me from finding the doctor that can cure me of my holes."

     Radi jumped up onto the boulder and put his head up against hers. She stroked his ears gently, closing her eyes. "I feel anxiety." He said.

     She laughed, "Hey, why don't you come with me, we seem to have some kind of strange connection, it could be an amazing adventure!"

     Radi didn't need to think about it, he loved the idea. "Yes, you can find your doctor and I can learn what emotions, other than love, feel like, you seem to be a wealth of them! Let's do it!"

     Haniel picked up the end of her bag and they started walking. After a few minutes, they stood at the entrance to the Invisible Forest. A sign was posted warning, "No Smoking, No Camping, No Dumping and NO RETURN! ENTER AT YOUR OWN PERIL." Haniel took a deep breath, expelling it slowly, she started into the Invisible Forest as Radi trotted after her.