Alfred found himself in the top of an enormous tree, wondering how he had gotten there. He looked up, but could only see trees, well, parts of trees at least. There were palm leaves, maple branches, fir and pinecones all hovering around him, but there was no sky. He looked down, but could only see branches descending into blackness, there was no ground. And so he sat.
Alfred could see the canopy where it was illuminated, but there were not even two, let alone four, posts. The movements of his neck and eyes were beyond deliberate, verging on mechanical. Closing his eyes, he embraced each of his senses. Between the crooks of his fingers on his left hand, which rested on the trunk, he felt the sticky sap as it leeched out beyond the lock and into the cold air. Between the fingers of his right hand, he felt the rigidity of the branch, which he only lightly embraced.
Inhaling deeply, he caught the scent of lavender, though he knew it did not grow within many miles of this forest. It conveyed to him the sepia stained tones of a young girl who kept her dreams in a shoebox. She allowed him the privilege of seeing inside of it once. He did not know where she was now. Alfred exhaled.
He attempted to focus on the breath as it escaped the body, and realized that it was the only sound he could hear. He held his breath.
The only time he could recall true nothingness in this manner was in gym class. They had been forced to do several weeks of swimming. At the end, the unwitting were allowed to do as they please in the water. Alfred found comfort by holding his breath and floating underwater, allowing the ripples from the movements of others to influence his body as they saw fit. This was the only other time Alfred could recall hearing true silence. Silence was the only time he couldn’t hide anything from himself. It was also the only time he felt he existed.
And so he sat.
Opening his eyes, Alfred craned his neck to rest it against the tree. He felt comfortably warm, but each time he exhaled, he could see his breath escaping. He passed a fair amount of time watching the breath dissipate into the ether. While he watched it disappear, in its place, on a branch parallel to him, there appeared a small, brown barn swallow. They watched each other intently, but with no viciousness in either of their hearts. The swallow sang a portion of its song, while Alfred only continued to stare into it. He wanted to see its breath escape as well, but nothing appeared. The visitor was silent for awhile, cocked its head to the right, and flew off. Alfred watched his breath escape.
Looking around once more, he began to notice that many of the trees matched the barn swallow for depth and effectiveness. They did not move, and he could not see their breath either. Weeks before, parts of the forest had been ablaze. No one had figured out the ultimate cause, and despite efforts otherwise, it had been extinguished. Alfred figured he should be able to smell the remains of such a devastating occurrence, but all that there was was lavender.
He thought it might be nice to be laying in a bed, and have a small light on the table beside him – but he couldn’t be sure.
With his right hand he pulled out the contents of his right pocket – and so from his right hand he then allowed two quarters, a sticker of a rhinoceros, and the stub of a blue pencil to fall into the dark. With his left hand, be brought out the contents of his left pocket – 2 bottle caps, a plastic pink spoon, and the second hand from his watch that had broken off.
He closed his eyes once more, breathed deep, and exhaled. When it dissipated, the swallow had returned. As they watched each other once more, Alfred thought he smelled a very faint scent of smoke.