“The Petrified Forest,” by Melody Sage
Upon entering, you are greeted by stone trees bent over sideways, their leaves paralyzed mid-wave despite the absence of a breeze. You pass a deer frozen leaping up with an arrow lodged in its veined granite neck. Drops of its dull blood are scattered on the ground like marbles. Solidified lichen particulates crunch under your boots. Locked in the pose of lowering his bow, the hunter looks mildly dismayed, even without pupils. You run your finger across the wrinkles incised in his cheeks, his stubble gritty to the touch like fine grade sandpaper, and tap your fingernail against his hard eyeball, making a satisfying series of clicks. Everything is colored in shades of white, black, and gray, variations on shadow casting shadows, flecked with subtle flakes of mica. The scent of dust makes the inside of your nostrils feel dry. You continue walking across a stream that has turned to glass, the trout trapped inside like chunks of suspended lead. Anything you accidentally run into will cut or bruise you, so you take your time, enjoying the unusual scenery.
You are here because you have heard stories about the forest, and you had to see it for yourself, the same way you had to touch the hot stove when you were a child, even though you knew it would burn. Occasionally you hear a crow, but otherwise nothing except your own footsteps, which resonate loudly, as if you were striding across a deserted bank lobby.
You finally find her in a cave, sitting with her arthritic hands folded in her lap, as if she were waiting for a bus and forgot to bring something to read. There are no albino pythons writhing around her face like you had expected, and for a moment you are disappointed. Her face is not ugly either. Her face is not a face at all. Her face is a mirror, polished and convex, barely reflective, as muted as pewter, crackled and rubbed bare in patches with the passage of centuries. She beckons to you. You have to come close to look inside, so close your moist breath fogs her skull. And you do.
About the Author:
Melody Sage is a professional artist. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2013, Quaint Magazine, Apeiron Review, and elsewhere. She is the 2014 recipient of the Scott Imes Award and currently resides in Duluth, MN.
This story was a finalist in The Conium Review‘s 2014 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Ashley Farmer.
This story was one of The Conium Review‘s nominations for the 2016 Pushcart Prize.
Image Credit: ©/ Dollar Photo Club