The searing white heat I felt on the nape of my neck was excruciating. The smell of burning flesh filled my nostrils. It's sweet putrid stench triggered my urge to gag, but the burning sensation overrode all. I kept trying to move away, but many hands forced me in place while I envisioned my skin burning away like paper from a fresh lit match.
I tried to gather some sense, some reasoning for this.
"Mom? Dad!", was what I managed to sputter out before the pain subsided and a coolness blew over my wound. "Why is this' happening?", is what kept repeating in my head. I could barely focus my eyes. My vision was foggy at best due to my clenching them shut for pain's sake.
"It looks like he's gonna pass out.", I heard a sweet dove like voice speak. It was Miranda, my girlfriend. My childhood sweetheart. She was in the room. She was watching these people torture me. Why?
I began to weep.
"If he hasn't passed out yet, this'll do the job. G'night son.", I heard my dad say. I tried my best to lift my head and find his voice but I'm met with hard pressure on the back of my head and a flash of light.
The haze begins to lift and I look around. Things that I see aren't making sense. It's my house from I was seven, and I'm staring at my G.I Joes. My trip though nostalgia lane is broken up by my dad walking in my bedroom door and my mom introducing him for the first time. He had been away to what I thought was army stuff. I get up to hug him and I'm snapped back into the fog.
When I can see again, I'm in church. But not as a parishioner, more like a patron at a movie cinema and I'm viewing sermons and services that fly by me at super speed. It feels like my mind is going to pop with all the holy images and words that are being absorbed in my head.
King Nebakenezur stays in mind. His story of wandering the wild for seven years because of his pride. Daniel chapter four if I'm not mistaken. More fog rolls in.
Now I'm at my parents house at our "after church" finger foods buffet. All the halved pigs in blankets and pop you can handle. Happens every other Sunday and sometimes half the church comes. By that I mean Father Lycus, and the Saskens, my parents neighbors, and Miranda. Some times with but most times without her parents. Perks of a small logging town in upper Washington state, I guess.
But this is tonight I remembering. My dad and Father Lycus are discussing the Book of Daniel again. My mom and Mrs. Saskens are cleaning up the blanketed pigs feast. Miranda's brothers, Cain and Saul are here as well. In town on leave from the reserves. They themselves consumed the lion's share of the food tonight. I can tell by the way Miranda looks at them, exactly how important to her they are. This is something I have to make sure stays the same after her and I wed. Keeping her happy, is like my dad say, job numero uno.
I do love her.
I catch myself staring at her. I can't help it. She has been my best friend my whole life. Coupled with the fact that she is drop dead beautiful, me being a lucky man goes way without saying.
We announced our engagement just last week and still can't believe that she agreed. Again, lucky man.
The lovely moment seems to slowly rip apart when I notice the look in my mom's face. She is clearing off the coffee table, but the look of severe concern and fear on her face is inescapable. I hear my words, "What's wrong Mom?", try to leave my mouth as I'm tackled from behind.
Cain and Saul are dragging me to the coffee table. They force me down and secure my shoulders. Military training at it's finest I suppose. I feel someone climb atop my back and the feel of cold metal on my skin as it slices through my shirt. The room is spinning just like the moment and I can't halt its cycle.
I hear, what I think is prayers from on top of me. This is not happening. Father Lycus is mumbling prayers from on my back, while Miranda's brothers play Gestapo with my arms.
"Mom! Dad! Make 'em stop! What'd I do?", I cry out.
"It's your time son.", my dad replies. He adds, "Don't fight it, just hold still and be the man I know are and can be. Your branding will mark the entry to your next chapter of life."
"Why?", I ask.
From above I hear Father Lycus, "Daniel chapter four son. You know it Anthony, you've always known it. Seven years of trails you'll face. Just as your father faced, and as his father faced. Seven years alone, to return with God's favor! Seven years alone to taste humility's flavor.", he almost seemed to chant.
I noticed Miranda bringing in, what looks like a poker for the fireplace. I can't help notice her tears. She mouths the words "I'm sorry.", as she hands the poker, which I see now is glowing white hot, to Lycus above me.
I feel Lycus' hand grab my hair and pull my head up to where I can see my fiancée in full view. Before I can say anything, searing white heat is blazing into my skin at the nape of my neck. I clench my eyes shut soo hard, I feel that they might break.
I'm awake now. I can smell fresh made onion rings from Harry's Burgers but the odd thing is that I'm in the woods and no where near Harry's. I also notice that I don't feel like me. I feel, I don't know, in tune ... is the closest I can describe it. The bird's thoughts are in my head, as the same with the trees and their roots. It's like a cacophony of nature's will inside my body.
I try to call out, and notice the sounds coming out of my mouth are not words and not my voice. Instead something deeper in tone unleashes in the air.
Fear sinks it's claws into my spine and for the first time since I was a child, I desperately want my mom. Her snicker doodles and a hug would feel soo great right now. What's happened to me?
I look around to gather my bearings and see a carving in a tree. It's mine and Miranda's from our fourth grade trip. I'm in Hodge's Clearing. I'm near home, a few miles out. Then it hit's me, Miranda!
I make way towards town. The fear in my heart is swelling and tears are falling like warm rain. I've run the whole way in, but I'm not exhausted or tired. I can see Harry's Burgers just up ahead out of the brush. The smell of boiling grease is nauseating.
There she is, standing outside of Harry's. She is looking in my direction. My god she's beautiful. I start towards her, but she whispers., "Stay hidden. Don't come to me. I know you can hear me.". Even when she whispers, she sounds like a dove. She points to her ring finger and says, "Seven years Anthony. I'll will be here when you come back. I love you baby. Go. Be safe and come back to me.", she coos before turning away and walking back into town.
"What the hell is that!?", I hear from my right. A telephone repair up on the pole is staring at me and yelling, "I told you, sweet Jesus, I told you all there was Big Feets up here!".
I run as fast as I can towards the woods and I don't look back. Miranda's last words stay lingering in my head as I run. "Seven years ... ".
Three weeks later ...
Miranda grabbed her brushed aluminum travel mug from the counter and scraped her change from the counter into her purse. "Thanks Ronnie.", she called to the young enamored convenience store attendant.
She bundled up and braved the cold outside. The inside of her Jeep feels like a comfy blanket compared to Northwestern December morning. She pulls out onto the road and adjust the stereo.
"... WKBF in the morning, WE'RE GRIZZLY! Hey morning commuters, weather and traffic on the fives. You listeners keep going nuts with the Sasquatch sightings. We all know he's out there, but please quit tying up the GRIZZ lines with Big Foot peek a boos! In other traffic news, a log hauler jack knifed on the ..."
Miranda smiles to herself, and rubs her engagement ring.