New Game Plus

You are walking, suddenly, along a road. Ancient slabs of stone, weathered and broken, smoothed over by footsteps. How many years? Since they built this road, ancients muttering in a language no one will hear again, buried so long in the earth that they are the earth. The dirt that covers over these stones is singing a song that you have always and never heard. You choose your steps across these stones carefully, forgetful of the complex maneuvers necessary to place one foot—there—in front of the other, to leap over this tree that has fallen across the road—when?—to reach into your pack and consult your map.

How many years? Since last you were here. You try to follow the road but you can only stop, look at the sky, at the flowers—colors you’ve never seen in waking, colors you can feel but not name, colors you have dreamt, colors you have assigned to the talons and tail feathers of creatures you thought existed as a child, before growing up and learning better.

How many miles? Must you walk along this road before you reach home. You do not look where you are going—you fall from a ridge into a lake. When you look up, you remember this feeling. The sky dismembered by waves and angles and prisms. You remember this, grasping for solid land, searching for “up” as if it were some lost treasure. You remember a jewel glimmering red as an “OFF” light in the reeds and rushes of the water.

You do not look where you are going, but where you might go, where you might have been, where you might, in another world, be—a version of yourself whose fingers can thread the arrows, whose hands can grasp the rope, whose legs can leap, whose heart will not feel fear when you discover that you are falling, that there is nothing above or below you, that you will never again see land. You look ahead, to the horizon, where trees and buildings and flowers and farms pop into place while you walk, as if God is behind on his work, struggling to do math in his head, rifling through the papers on the desk for his geometry notes.

You come to a field. A girl stands there, stout and strong, a sling over her shoulder, a tunic as blue, not as this sky, but as the sky you see when you close your eyes.

“Well met, stranger,” the girl says, and you feel as if you know her, but cannot place her face. Someone you lost long ago, someone you’ve been searching for since before you remembered how to breathe.

“Do you know me?” you say, sheathing your sword and holding out your hand, which startles you as it flashes brown and ruddy across your field of vision. It is a hand, but it does not look like yours, how you remember it, how you would draw it for someone if they asked you, if you could remember it, if you could remember anything but the feeling this girl gives you, this ancient stone in your belly weighing you down, making your new life feel so heavy.

“Well met, stranger,” she says. You reach into your bag. You hold out an apple. It is all you can think to give her.

“Well met, stranger.” You reach into your pockets. They are heavy with keys. If only you could find the doors that need opening.