Where are you?
My tall rain boots sloshed mud up onto my pants as I struggled through the thick brush. It had been raining non stop for nearly a week, and with each step, I feared my feet would sink too low into the soaked earth, I wouldn’t be able to pull them out again.
I said, where... are... you?
A spiky weed whipped out at me. I must have freed it from its restraints around the other weeds, allowing it free reign to hit me across the cheek, the deep sting eliciting several foul words from my lips. Stupid weeds.
"Did you hear me?!" I screamed to the trees, disturbing the birds. "I said,where are you!" The only response I received was from the nature around me— the squash of the mud beneath my feet, the birds screeching at the intruder in their woods, the wind trickling through the leaves.
I was starting to believe the stories about the Visitors weren’t true. The beginnings of a fit of rage stirred up in my chest as shame and embarrassment set in ‘cause I allowed Philip to convince me to come out here. And for what? To ruin my good pants and make a fool of myself in front of Mother Nature herself.
A low growl hissed from somewhere within the trees, “Looking for me?”
“Oh shi—“ I stumbled away from the voice, quickly losing my balance and falling hard into the mud below. One of my boots flew off. Landing on the ground was… bittersweet. The heavy rain had softened everything to the point where it wasn’t exactly a painful experience. But it wasn’t entirely pleasant to be covered in sticky soil.
“Oops!” The voice trilled, a mischievous laugh almost tangible as it laced through the air and caught my ears.
I sat up and looked around desperately. “Where are you? Who are you?”
A creature dropped from above, hanging from a branch by its tail. I blinked several times in attempt to process what was in front of me. Its… fur— was it fur? — seemed to swirl and shift like moving water. Wisps of black smoke drifted off the tips of its disheveled coat. Its color was such a deep black, the only details I could make out was its outline, and the curious blinking white eyes that bore into my soul.
“Don’t pretend you don’t know who I am.” It hissed out, revealing sharp edged teeth, shining white against its inky form. “You came looking for me, after all. Right,” It swung forward, grabbing my head and digging its claws into my skin, “Emery.”
My mind was spinning. I think part of me hadn't really expected to find anything. I had hoped, sure, but truly believed? And now... now I didn’t know what to feel. Fear? Panic? Pain? Fear, intrigue, fear—?
“Sweet Emery, don’t be afraid.” It cooed huskily, releasing my head, dropping from the branch and landing on my chest.
It was no bigger than my cat back home, Hastlehoff. Albeit, Hastlehoff was a large cat, definitely bigger than most I’d seen. Grandmother blamed it on steroids corporations were secretly injecting into cat food, and often complained that if she had wanted such a large animal stalking around the house, she would have gotten a dog.
I shook my head. How could my mind wander at such a time as this.
“Oh, sorry, that was me.” The Visitor said, crawling up onto my shoulder and sniffing around my ear.
“I was getting to know you a bit.” It replied, a frustratingly vague explanation. “You have a lot of thoughts about your little whiskered friend littered around in your mind.”
“You’re… reading my thoughts?” I asked, incredulously. Though, I was speaking to a wispy animal that spoke. A wispy animal that looked like Hastlehoff. Hastlehoff was grey and white, with speckles of black—
“We’re so much closer than that now, Emery. Thoughts are such a surface level of our connection.” It stuck its nose in my ear. Reflexively, I smacked it away, and it swatted back, catching my skin with its claws. “I’m everywhere in your mind now. Your memories, your thoughts, your desires— even the hidden parts of the mind you can’t access yourself.”
“Oh.” I said stupidly, suddenly at a loss for words. Visitors weren’t what I thought they would be.
Philip said they could read your mind, that’s how they found people in the woods. He said they were supposed to be guardians of the forest—
— and they granted requests to people who came to seek them, as long as the Visitor found them to be innocent or pure or whatever.
It shook its head, tendrils of smoke twirling through the air. “What are we, genies? Come on, get out of the mud.” It jumped off my shoulder and grabbed the branch, settling there and staring down at me with its beady eyes. Were they glowing?
I climbed up off the ground, balancing myself on my booted foot. “So,” I started as I glanced around for my other boot, “if Philip was wrong, what are you?” I spotted my boot several feet away. How had it cannonballed so far? “Do you have a name?”
It leapt off the branch to another tree, maneuvering toward my boot while avoiding the soggy ground. “Basselt.” It answered, landing on a rock by my boot and grabbing it with its clawed little hands, sitting back on its haunches. It now resembled more of a small monkey than Hastlehoff. A weird small monkey. It’s fluffy, smoky tail was long and swishing back and forth. I only just now noticed its little pointed ears sticking out from the sides of its head. “Your friend Philip was… mostly wrong. Visitors are guardians over the forest, but all that other hogwash?” It shook its head, a low rumble of laughter coming from it as it came back to me with my boot, hopping awkwardly from rock to rock.
I thanked it as I took my shoe, pulling it back onto my now muddy foot. “And what happens now?” I asked. “We’re all connected and crap, right? Do I just go home?” I gasped as a possibility came to mind, “Am I your slave now?”
Basselt cackled. It was uncontrollable, deep and honestly a little terrifying. I grew uneasy waiting for it to compose itself, it took quite some time. “Absolutely not, Emery. What use would I have of a human slave? You’re so large and bumbling. You’ve got the mobility of a rabbit tied to an anvil.”
I frowned. That was a bit harsh. It wasn’t my fault the skies decided to crack open and release a flood.
“No, I suppose now we’re more like… partners.” Basselt said. “Visitors are inherently rather curious, so I’ll feed off all of your vast human knowledge, and in return, I’ll tell you secrets of the forest.” It said. “But go home for now. Learn something delicious for me when you get back, won’t you?”
“Wait— “ I tried to stop it, but before my eyes, Basselt’s smoky figure dissipated into thin air. My shoulders slumped. I still had so many questions, and so many unresolved emotions about this whole encounter. I stood there a moment, wondering if it would come back. I heaved a sigh when it didn’t. “Philip won’t believe this when I tell him.” I said to myself, and headed back in the direction of home.
Oh, Emery, you have so much to learn…