As the heavy flow of the river crashes through the dam, it knocks over one of the biggest logs stationed by the beavers. The constant roaring and rumbling masks the feeling of the log’s crash. But turning your head downstream, two geese can be seen tugging on the same piece of plastic in their mouths. Streaks of water are sent into the air by the rapid flapping of their wings. The constant roaring and rumbling masks the feeling of splashing. Examining closer, you can notice both of the geese’s wings don’t look as thick and full of feathers as the other, almost to the bone skinny. Probably why both geese didn’t take their conflicts to the skies where the thickest trees are bent by the wind. Focusing through the leaves, a group of birds so high they appear as dots in the sky breeze through the foliage. Your eyes follow them through each leaf as the bird in the front takes a rapid turn to the left. That turn forces you to turn your entire body to continue your visual pursuit. As you follow the flock, the feeling of gravity takes a turn on your head until a familiar face locks onto your blurry and far-sighted vision. 

“Enjoying the wilderness?” They exclaim with a slight smirk and some strands of green and blue hair in their mouth. Their hands were on their hips and their chest was expanding and deflating.

In an attempt to lift yourself, you almost fell off the rickety old bench. Slowly regaining your balance in an ungraceful flailing of your arms. After that series of events, a deep sigh from the core of your body was let out. Looking up to your friend, you point to your ears. 

“Oh okay.” 

They reply while you force your hand into the pocket of your incredibly tight jeans and take out a small white device. While placing the device into your ear, the constant roaring and rumbling intensifies but the splashes of the geese and the swinging trees flicker into the focus. 

“Sorry Anionia, I was enjoying the wilderness.” 

“We know each other so well” 

Anionia replies as a grand smile appears on Anionia’s face.  

“This place feels like me, it feels like I could stay here forever.” You say as the grand smile disappears from Anionia’s face.

Anionia walks around the bench and sits down next to you. Taking a breath as if they hadn’t sat down in a while while looking out at the view. The splashes from the geese have transitioned to simply ripples on the river and the trees had slowed their swinging and rustling. Anionia puts their arm around you and rests their head on your soft puffed jacket. 

“We’re gonna need to leave soon, but I think we can spare an hour.” Anionia looks up to you with apologetic eyes before going back to resting her head on you and flickering their eyes shut. You look out to the river as the shadows bend. 

The heavy flow of the river as it crashes into the dam awakens you. Your head was fully horizontal, only lifted slightly by a soft puffed jacket. The first thing you noticed was the intense chirping occurring all around you and the incredibly strong buzzing of your right arm. It must’ve fallen asleep, especially with the way it was pressed between your body and the bench. But as your hand skirts past the puffed jacket that was on the uncomfortable bench, your mind finally awoke. Immediately lifting your body off of the bench, you prepare your voice.

“Caty!” 

The violent scream exiting your recently awoken body caused an uncomfortable jolt of pain in your throat but you brush past it as you grab the jacket and dash across the forest. The shadows covered the entire forest now and the only light in the sky was from one direction, east. And the sun does not set in the west. The chirping and quacking skirt past you while you search for her. This is common in the city as she doesn’t enjoy crowded spaces, but losing her here is a fear you not only revered but warned Caty of. You walk on the river coast since it’s your only landmark, taught well by your rebellious father. As your eyes adjust to the darker environment, you see that familiar face across the body of water.

“Caty.. Are you serious right now?” 

She doesn’t notice you and she won’t notice even if you raise your voice. As you peer down at the rushing river, all you can think about is getting back home. You step a foot down into the stream and flinch at the idea that the water is not cold. It was strangely warm. With that fact, you commit fully to reaching deep into the river, and with as much strength as you can muster, scoop up and launch a spray of water straight at Caty. 

“Ahh!”

Caty launched into the air like the water you launched at her. She scanned the area, immediately locking you with a ferocity you did not know she was capable of portraying. 

“What the hell! Anionia?” 

Caty blasted out those words like bullets but your feelings at the current moment had Kevlar on. Your arms lift, pointing to the sky. Originally a deep and navy blue, now fully dark. Caty sits back down and locks her eyes on the flowing river in response to Anionia’s visual remark. As you scoff at her display, you make out a stone bridge covering the distance between the shores. Visible cobwebs and vines are covering the possibly ancient creation which will bridge the gap between you and Caty. Your steps accelerate despite the mud ruining your new running shoes. You halt in front of Caty and speak no words. You simply gaze upon her cowering state with no semblance of putting an end to it, but a need. 

“It’s time to go back to the city.”

You and Caty reach the tunnel. From beyond the hill where the tunnel is placed, is a grand light emanating. Not only a light but you notice an intense roaring and rumbling reach your ears after the silence of the wilderness. The light covered the sky in such great concentration, that you may as well call it day beyond the hill. But in contrast, back towards the forest is darker than what you call dark. 

“Let’s go, you know we can come back easily.” 

Caty nods with a slight irk on her cheek as you both enter the abyss. A time of absent vision later and the intense flash of vision suddenly appears. You gaze up at the sky-bound apparatuses that cover over the ground like a canopy. Each building in the city reminds you of enlarged versions of the trees in the forest. With “branches” hanging off of the skyscrapers with solar panels posing as leaves. The mechanical and electrical genius that led to these inventions is the singular thought going through your mind at that moment spent gazing upon the future. Snapping out of your joyous trance, you turn to Caty who you didn’t even notice was gripping your arm. 

“Not enjoying the.. urban-ness?” 

Caty lifted her head and didn’t reply, simply gazed past your eyes and up at the leaves, then dropped her head back down to your shoulder. A swift breeze blows past the filled streets of the city. Despite the deepness of the night, there is an active presence throughout the grounds of the forest. Since humanity is confined to the artificial forests, all their activity is compressed. Completing your daily errands during the most active hours is a fantasy and with the absence of whether the sky is dark or lit, the working day is constant. It is simply the choice of the individual when their preferred hours should be. The streets are now filled constantly but people are finally living in an artificial nature. What could have been ten minutes of walking turned to half an hour due to your staring at the canopy and the anchor attached to your right arm. You finally arrive at Redwood Tree-85B. One of the biggest and tallest trees in the forest. You enter the lobby and flash your Pinecone badge at the receptionist. They disregard you and quickly tap the button opening the gate. You think to yourself every time you enter the tree that calling the key a pinecone badge is silly even for this city. Caty lives in the lower levels of the trunk so you drop her off at her room. She stops right before opening the door.

“We’ll go back another day, don’t worry. You know how difficult it’s becoming with the new “ 

Caty recoils back and buries herself deep into your arms. You can feel the front of your shirt getting wetter as you grab Caty by the arm and look straight at her blurry eyes. 

“I’ll come pick you up at ten tomorrow! We’ll go back for the whole day!”

Caty smiles, wipes her eyes, and turns back to her door.

“Have a good rest Anionia!” 

She disappears through the bark-textured door. Hearing some conversation inside, you lean your head in and press your ear to the door.

“Jesus finally! Where were you?”

Caty’s responses are muffled and you cannot make them out but it seems to be Caty’s mother replying.

“With Anionia? You know we don’t think she’s a good influence.” 

You recoil at her response but then are reminded that you should be used to this by now. Turning to the hallway, you sigh and take staggered steps in preparation for your almost twenty-minute commute from the trunk to the branches. The trunk lower floors are a layer of hallways and rooms on the outside and the inside is hollowed out. Fitting multiple stores into the hollow area since exiting the building is an effort and only worth it when you have a special area you wish to travel to. 

Entering the elevator, the view of the bridges and paths across the hollow area connecting like nerves is a sight you’ve always enjoyed to gaze upon. Pressing your cheek up to the glass as you connect mentally to the view. With the five minutes of connecting over, the shock as you get out of your head led to almost missing the door closing. You had to suck in your stomach to squeeze through. The level that breaks off from the trunk and splits off into the branches is completely dedicated to consuming with no residential area. There are six areas where you check in with the leaf badge to enter the branches and you live on the northwestern branch. You flash your leaf badge at the receptionist as they wave to you and open the gate. Your room is at the end of the hallway which has a conveyor to travel through quicker. As a kid, you always worried if the branch could ever break off the trunk and everyone in the branch would die due to the height. Your mother always said that the branches specifically are focused on being structurally sound since the most important people lived in the branches. That answer never convinced you and you still worry to this day. Shouldn’t you worry about the foundation more if you want to protect the branches? You reach the end of the hallway and your leaf-textured door opens up before your hand reaches the handle. 

“Well well well… Anionia Fletcher. Welcome back!”

You fail to hide your nervous smile from your father as you go in to embrace him.  

“How was your time out?” 

Taking out all your rattling belongings out onto the table from your loose pants was an effort, especially with each corner locking your valuables into the pocket. With a turn and a sigh towards your father, your answer seeps out slowly.

“Yeah. I uh- had a fun time.” 

He is focused on the cooking but manages to acknowledge your answer through the stream of noise made up of his old-timey music. Recognizable as Spiderhead by Cage The Elephant from all the time spent with your father. His knife work on the radish slowly morphs into the song’s beat. He finishes the current radish and lifts the visibly used cutting board, lifting it over the salad bowl and sliding the radish slices down the board. With the pouring of some olive oil and salt, he finishes the bowl and forces all his weight onto his arms that are holding onto the counter. He turns to you with a look proclaiming his restlessness before covering it with a slight smile with a hint of disappointment.

“I assume you and Caty headed to the wilderness?” 

He already knew the answer, yet you nod nevertheless. 

“I only allow you and her to go there, but when you abuse that priv-”

“I know. I’m sorry Dad.”

The only thought going through your mind was how this news would affect Caty. Your routine of staring at the ceiling of your bedroom would surely be prolonged this night. After getting out of your head, you peer at your father who has prepared the table. He returns to the kitchen and grabs three plates out of the cabinet before putting one back after a long stare. Although the high-altitude winds seemed calmer today, sitting at the table with Dad always brought out a silence louder than the most intense hurricanes. 

“I promise to convince Caty to not go to the wilderness tomorrow.” 

Dad continued to eat through his plate but he thanked you with a blink. 

 

The morning was many times louder than the night before as the intensity of the wind was particularly strong today. You were in a hurry to leave in fear of the branch breaking off. Dad had already left to work and you did not want to test your luck alone in the apartment. What was a twenty-minute commute to the trunk lessened to five. In the elevator again, you admire the trunk’s community. You live in the most populated tree after all. As the number on the elevator screen drops by one, so does your heart rate. Although reaching Caty’s floor might have increased it a little. As you sprint around the tree’s hallway, you remember last night and the promise you made. Your feet get in position and slide through the rough and cheap carpet breaking to a halt. Caty’s door was a few steps ahead and the imagining of different scenarios clouds your head. She wouldn’t get mad right? You reached the bark door and only once leaving your thoughts did you notice the noises coming from Caty’s apartment, muffled arguing and crashing. As you lead in to listen to the potential argument, the noise unmuffles and you hear the handle turn. You launch yourself back and slam the back of your head into the wall. In an instant, the arguing went silent and the ceiling lights were drawing onto your eyes. Your skull feels like it’s made of a heavy metal and lifting it takes an immense effort. A blinding light fills your vision and a face enters your vision. Although blurry, it was recognizable as Caty’s face. Caty seemed to be calling out to you but in your disorientation, words could not be expelled or processed by your mind. She turns back to the light and another figure can be seen. They perform actions that can only be interpreted as arguing from their movements. Caty then picks you up and carries you somewhere else but you feel a quick halt and see the figure grabbing Caty’s arm, stopping her from moving. Caty pulls herself out and hurries along the hallway. Throughout the trip, you slowly regain your orientation but you are unable to discern your location. A little more reorientation later and you spot a sign saying, “Federally Illegal Trespassing, Mandated by the City of Seattle and World Mandates.”. There was only one place in the city where that sign can be seen and that is if you try to exit the city. Caty was headed back to the wilderness.

 

Crossing through the wire-cut fence awoke you with a sharp scratch to your left thigh. The abyssal tunnel to the other side was in full view in front of you. 

“Ah.”

You were able to speak and feel again as Caty’s arm around your waist was practically crushing your ribs. 

“Caty! I’m awake.” 

She looks at you with a wide smile and sets you down on the tanbark and rocky floor. She grabs her hearing aid out of her pocket and puts it in with excitement. 

“Anionia! What happened to you? Never mind that, I brought you to the tunnel, let’s go!” 

You grab her arm tightly before she enters the tunnel and prepares to deliver some shattering news. She looks at your hand tightly gripping her elbow and looks back at you with confusion and a pained expression.

“Caty.. I’m sorry but.. we need… We need to learn to enjoy the city as much as the wilderness.”

The pained expression turns to horror as Caty attempts to break your grip. 

“Caty… please.” 

Drops of water flail out from Caty’s face as her attempts become more violent and she frees herself, leading to her falling over on the ground. She looks to be getting into her rolled-up position but stops halfway through and wipes her eyes with her bloodied sleeve which held your thigh. Lifting herself and looking at you with pink tear-filled eyes. 

“It’s me!” Caty shouts prominently enough to echo from the metal buildings and stone walls surrounding the tunnel. 

“Caty, please… Let’s just go back home.” 

“It’s me who needs to learn to enjoy the city! You already do!” 

Even your eyes filled with tears which is a sensation you haven’t felt in a while, not since your mother. The emotion and wave of shock aches your head and you drop back onto the fence. You look up to Caty who sprints and disappears into the tunnel. You jolt back up and prepare to chase after her as a hand grabs your shoulder causing you to slip and hit your head on the stone wall. 

 

A ceiling fan, broken blinds, and a tall bookshelf with only four books tucked away, a paper peeking out from one, and multiple toys on display. You look at the paper peeking out and stick your view on it for a while but the wind strikes you back. Tonight it is howling like never before. Your routine of staring at the ceiling of your bedroom must have been shorter than usual. You can barely even remember it. But flashes flicker into focus. Turning your iron-like skull head to the right revealed your father sitting in your chair. He was reading one of your books, Afterglow, and slammed it shut after noticing your presence. His hug seemed to relieve your aching head but still pained your body.

“Anionia Fletcher! You scared the crap out of me.” 

With your head calmed you remembered something. 

“Wow.. quite a nightmare for you to react like that.” 

Your father lets go and sits back down. He takes off his glasses and rubs his forehead, hiding most of his face. 

“Honey… You didn’t have a nightmare.” 

The confusion of the situation cleared away and you jolt out of bed, flailing towards the wardrobe.

“Caty! Dad, she ran away, she left!” 

Your father grabbed you by the arms and held you in close. You felt your face wetting his work shirt and you broke down, screaming out into the world. Who was there to listen? Your father? 

“Dad… I’m never gonna see her again, aren’t I? Just like mom.” 

Your father peels you away from his embrace and grabs hold of your head staring straight into your bloodshot and defeated eyes.

“We leave at ten in the morning tomorrow! We will search that forest for both of them!” 

You stare deep into your father’s eyes, so determinate yet hiding the hopelessness within. You’re not your father. Every time you traveled with Caty to the wilderness, it was as much for Caty as it was for you. New running shoes to traverse the lands quicker. Hopeless eyes to your father hiding the determination within. The paper peeking out from the book on your shelf was a note found deep in the Seattle forests with fresh ink which you found in a tent. Signed Azure Fletcher. My mother ran away months ago, but if she’s still out there, there’s hope. For Caty.