Falling in from the twenty-fourth corner.
The girl in the argyle socks and the man with the rifle stood at the mouth of the cave. She had followed him here after he emerged from the river, smelling much less sweet just as she’d expected. She assumed he was going to get a better look at the house, but when the cave became visible, he hiked towards it. The girl in the argyle socks had long finished the square of rabbit and had washed her hands in the river. She had dried her hands on the back of his shirt — every bit of fresh water would help keep away the cloying smell that would inevitably grow stronger again.
The man with the rifle raised his right hand and pointed ahead, motioning her to follow him.
“Are you sure you know the way?” the girl in the argyle socks asked as she filed in behind him.
He didn’t respond immediately. He wanted to be sure before confirming or denying. He was able to reply in the positive minutes later when the air began to change. Dry, earthy dirt gave way to moisten flora. He heard the girl in the argyle socks drop her bag. He turned around and saw her take off her jacket. She put her hands on her hips, staring at him.
“I’m sure, it’s just down there.”
The man with the rifle quickened his pace. The girl in the argyle socks moved faster to keep up with him, thankful that he hadn’t started running and that the air remained only slightly wet. She had been in caves where the transition between dry to humid was much more abrupt and unbearable. The man with the rifle slowed down as they approached an open space where rock formations both round and flat signified human manipulation.
The girl in the argyle socks noticed a mound above the center rock slab. She stepped towards it at the same time the man did. Since she was smaller, she was able to climb on top and look down directly at the space behind it. Her breath caught as her eyes set upon two urns.
“What do you see?” the man with the rifle asked.
“I’m going to reach in and lift them out. I need you to raise your hands so that I can pass them to you.”
The man’s hands reached up and the girl placed one urn and then the other against his fingers. She climbed back down after she heard him put them on the ground. The sweet smell of death instantly intensified. The girl didn’t know how much longer she would be able to stay in this cave before her lungs demanded clean air.
As though he knew what was troubling her, he asked her to pick up the smaller urn and follow him out of the cave. The girl in the argyle socks bolted out of the cave’s opening and inhaled deeply. The man with the rifle grinned just a little bit.
“What do I do now?” he asked as he set down the larger urn.
The man with the rifle did as the girl in the argyle socks instructed. He unscrewed the smaller lid followed by the larger one. He thought something extraordinary was going to happen. He thought there would be bright lights or gusts of dust, but what did transpire wasn’t quite so operatic. The man with the rifle started to smell honeysuckle, he could feel his heart beating. It was soft but it was beating.
The girl in the argyle socks reached out to him, putting her hand on his heart. Her eyes widened and she smiled. Moments later the man with the rifle felt heat spreading through his torso. He leaned back and then lay down, resting his head in the girl’s lap. He looked into her face and his breathing grew deeper and slower. The girl pulled her bag aside, reached inside and removed another square wrapped in reddish layers of cloth.
“I’m hungry again.”
The warmth that had radiated through the man’s body had dissipated by the time the girl finished what was likely another chunk of rabbit.
“Are you ready?” the girl in the argyle socks asked.
“Ready for, for what?”
“To tell me what happens now.”
The man with the rifle blinked several times, put his right hand on top of his sternum, and took several deep breaths.
The girl in the argyle socks nodded as she told him that his body was already decaying…from the inside out. That he felt his heart beat, smelled sweet death, and experienced the warmth were indications that he had reunited with his heart.
“You aren’t going to eat me, are you?”
“Not if you don’t want me to.”
The man with the rifle stirred.
“I’m kidding — I don’t eat dead flesh, proper and dead flesh.”
The man’s mind was sharp as a razor, yet his limbs were cold. It was like lying in snow. He only had a few minutes left before verbal communication would be impossible. He wanted to tell the girl what he’d learned and remembered since opening the urns. He was readying the words when she said them for him.
“You asked Alexandra to do it, didn’t you? When you left it was because you’d died but you wanted to come back for her if there was still a chance, so you asked her to put your heart and your organs into urns. You’d wanted to be able to see that she was all right. You couldn’t have known the world as you knew it, as any of us knew it would never be the same.”
The man with the rifle nodded.
“You decided to let me come with you that day because you needed to find your heart and you knew I could help you. You knew that I would help you.”
The man with the rifle nodded.
“I will finish the burial ceremony after your body dies, truly dies…and then you can go find Alexandra.”
“Why?” the man narrowed his eyes.
“Because,” the girl poked his right shoulder. “It is your soul’s work to find her and see that she is okay. If you don’t, you’ll wake up right back here somewhere and there’s no guarantee that you’d have any body let alone the same body or that you could find me again to help you.”
“Trust me, I’ve seen it happen before…my uncle has seen it happen before.”
“Why would you help me again?”
“Because it is my soul’s work.”
The man with the rifle was too tired at this point to ask any more questions. With the last handful of lucid moments, though, before he could no longer feel his body or conceive of his self as a thing, he realized that the girl in the argyle socks was already dead. She had been dead the entire time and her carnivorous appetite was how she was able to hold onto having a physical body long enough to help him get to this point.
The girl in the argyle socks repeated the words, “find Alexandra,” during his last breaths. She hoped this time, the words would sink and stay in his particles. The man with the rifle had gone through this organ reunion exercise twice before — may the third time be the charm and when he woke up, they could both continue on with their work. The girl in the argyle socks would help the man with the rifle find Alexandra, and finally, she could find the one who would help her find her own heart.
These Campfire Tales may continue in the future. Only my muse and time will tell.