The landscape unfolds like a map beneath me. Matchstick trees and ant-sized cars cover the jigsaw-edged continents, while tiny boats and specks that must be birds are spread out over the rolling ocean. Toys on a mat, scattered and abandoned.
Jessie would have loved this. She loved the idea of exploring, finding new places, seeing new animals and people – got it from me, I suppose. She could never sit still, always busy, moving constantly. Maybe it’s better she’s not here. It’s a long flight.
Rain taps against the body of the small plane, running down the window, blurring the blues and greens and browns to a smeary child’s painting. I close my eyes.
The plane shudders, jerking me awake. No. Jessie. No. No. It’s just turbulence. Nothing more. Nothing more. The seatbelt is tight, too tight. I can’t reach her. I clutch my bag on my lap, holding it carefully, as if it were a child. The leather is smooth, worn on the handles, zips polished with use to gold discolouration. My trusty travel bag. Never lets me down. The keyring on one zip knocks against my hand with the shaking. It’s a trashy thing, from a holiday giftshop. A gift from Alys. She collected the cheap trinkets from wherever we went. After the chain broke, she helped Jessie make a new one, braiding together three pieces of wool, one for each of us. Family, together forever.
Isn’t that a lovely fantasy.
I turn my thoughts to the trip ahead. I’ve not travelled for many years, so I’m constantly refreshing myself, running over my mental checklist and the plan. Land, hitch a lift out to the village. Stay the night, buy supplies, and head out into the forest. Map a few miles in, and return.
No-one who goes in ever returns. They say it’s cursed. Ai Talyugaachi, they call it – the Infinite Forest. All stories, I’m sure. Large, unmapped forests can be dangerous, full of wild beasts, easy to get lost in and starve. The danger is worth it, for the excitement. Not recommended for inexperienced wanderers though. I’d certainly never take Jessie there. This is no wild back garden or well-maintained woodland. This is nature, undisturbed and untamed. This is not child’s play.
The sun is dipping behind the horizon as the plane drops onto the runway with a jolt. Fresh air floods in the open door, and I breathe it in as I walk across the tarmac, glad to finally be able to stretch my legs. The airport building is brightly lit, bustling with people and noise. I won’t be here long. I hurry through the swirling crowds towards the exit.
The sky is blazing red and gold with the last of the sun, but down at ground level all is shadows. My foot catches on something – a rock, discarded litter, who knows – and I tumble, scraping my hands and arms on the rough ground. My bag falls beside me with a heavy thump. Brushing myself off, I go to pick it up, but it snags and the seam rips open, sending my belongings tumbling to the ground again. I stand there in the dark, holding the empty shell of my life in my hand, its contents spread out before me.
Time for a new bag. This is the end of an era. I’m numb to the loss. The keyring knocks against my hand as I gather up my stuff. I’ll have to find a way to get it off.
A drop of water splots onto the leather. It isn’t raining though. I wipe my eyes, then turn back to the doors of the building, to brave the busyness once again. There’s bound to be a bag shop in there, where I can get a bag suitable for walking. I go over my plan once again, adjusting it to suit the current circumstances. Land (done), get a new bag, hitch a lift out to the village. Stay the night, buy supplies, and head out into the forest. Map a few miles. Return. Maybe map some more the next day. Return.
A flare of doubt. No, I’ll return. There’s no curse. That’s just a story to scare the children.