For three years, no winter came to the pine forest. The boy was not expecting that, but he had not expected to fall through the glass globe, either, with his fingers outstretched, palms pressed against the cramped, concave terminus of his world. Afterward, he’d fallen through again—not just once but so many joyous times!—into the story where the black-eyed child lived. Into hunts and dances and summer rainstorms, into waterfalls and alpine meadows. He had thought he governed the magic: press hard, look long, don’t blink. He had not expected such gutting eye contact or fierce friendship, nor to understand the heart of all stories so soon. They turned seven together—he and the black-eyed boy. Then came the kiss that moved his blood like a rattle in the brush and finally the promise that neither could keep.
The day after, he fell through the glass for the last time. He knocked against a dozen branches, clinked among a hundred other globes of glass, and landed in a plume of duff. When he looked up, it was spring. And all the stories—including his own—had gone.
For three years, the boy prepared. He dried and stretched furs to cover his body, chewed rabbit skins soft for shoe leather, and grew lean and strong on meat and nuts and summer berries. He waited for the third-year winter that would herald the story he sought—the one in which the black-eyed boy would be turning ten, receiving his glory notch on his left ear and the honor of a spear for his right hand. He waited.
One morning, the air turned thin and bright with snow. The pine boughs sparkled, hung with story baubles, flashing in the sun. But so many! And none of them dear. Not one.
He cut a mark in the tree outside his cave, hunted, and counted the days.
At ninety cuts, the icicles melted, the snow dissolved and evaporated in the sudden warmth of spring, and the glass globes that were filled with life vanished with the third-year winter.
He cried and thought to rip his own ear but could not steady the knife.
Many winters passed. They were fourscore and some long, but never ninety again. The tree bore ladders of marks from his knife. He was a young man when, at last, he came upon the story in the snowy canopy of an elder tree. Cupping the ornament, his heart sank as he saw inside it that the boy he sought was still no more than a child, black-eyed and huddled over the same fire he remembered from long ago. The wind whispered move on, come away.
His lips tightened. He could feel the old kiss. He pressed his thumbs to the glass, willing it to take him in, yearning until his eyes smarted, until the long hours shortened and grew dark. Plucking the globe, he carried the story in his fur coat like a pilfered pomegranate back to his cave.
That night, he tried to find its secret—how to reenter the story, how to cleave open the magic of it, as he had in time past when longing had been enough.
While he slept, he was a youth again, and the boy was older, and both grinning, grinning—faces streaked in ceremonial soot. Together they traversed the low-brush-pocked steppes on the backs of two sleek mares, chasing pronghorn. By the fire, his friend’s lips tasted of dust and sweet sap. Their hands were rough and hungry, their mouths worshipful, their muscles ropes and stone and beveled glass. He marveled at the body jutting over him, outlined by such milky battalions of galaxies, by the bright piercing of nearby stars.
Well past noon, he woke in a sweat and lunged for the ornament where he’d left it with his knife and bow, cushioned in his outer furs, which he’d removed before crawling into bed.
Instead of blown glass, he found a triangle of ash. The brown, hardened cap that had attached the story to the elder pine, like an acorn’s cupule, fell aside as the young man scooped the handful of remains into his palm. Stunned, he dusted through the ashes. Nothing. No talisman, no trophy, no keepsake. Nothing at all. Nothing! He staggered back and hefted aside the wooden door to his cave. Spring. Green everywhere. The tree where he kept the days in shallow cuts was wet with melt.
Threescore and twelve. The third-year winter was gone again. Over in a blink.
He looked down at what was cupped in his hand and knew that he might wait three more years forever, and search every tree, crack open every sprightly bauble, burst them all in a blood-filled haze, and never again find the story. Knew that he had last night consumed it. Knew it somewhere in the deep ache at the back of his pelvis, at the bottom of his throat, and in the sharp stinging pulse around his eyes.
The wind whipped up, then, and lifted the ashes into a flurry. He watched them scatter over dripping moss and new grass and sail out of sight. The last sigh of the wind hushed by. Carry on, he heard it say, but he could not bring himself to move, either to step back into the dark cave or deeper out into the springtime afternoon. Breath stood in his lungs, like an alert deer, holding in the quiet glade for a long time.
At the base of the elder pine, he thumbed back a tuck of new earth and gently pressed what was left of the story: the cupule, the bauble cap. He sat beside the berm, the mound no bigger than a snowflake, and leaned his head against the tree. He closed his eyes.
Sometime later the sunset cooled on his skin. In the trees, he could hear the sound of tinkling glass, or maybe it was a hermit thrush far, far away.
BIO: Lora Rivera writes and climbs rocks in Tucson, Arizona, where she’s worked as a literary agent, children’s biographer, and crepe maker. Today, Lora develops online trainings for child welfare professionals and serves as the senior editor of Stories from the Drylands, a community-driven anthology. In a land awash with sunlight, she’d trade her mother’s Irish hues for her Asian-Indian father’s darker tone—but that’s all she’d like from him, thank you. Learn about forthcoming and published works at www.lorarivera.com.