The Paw Print
Crossing the field felt like a dream. Last night, the barn had been a fantasy; now, its pressing reality commanded Brad’s attention. The cracking wood and peeling paint provided tangibility to the detriment of the world around him. As he walked toward it, the grain-like weeds around him waved into a blur of smudged gold. It seemed a watercolor painting had come alive. All that stood firm to his eyes was the barn, and with each step he took, his longing to run his hands against the warm cracking paint grew. Shadowy birds circled the field as intrusions upon his psyche, but then at last he stood before the barn’s looming, ancient frame. He reached out with his left hand to widen the black crack between the large doors.
The wood warmed his cold hands, and as he walked in he felt the temperature rise several degrees. Streaks of murky light poured in at right angles through cobwebbed glassless windows. All sounds ceased, and Brad felt like he was incubated in some agricultural womb. He surveyed the room: full of piles of forgotten hay and the odd occasional rotting tool.
A pair of pigeons startled out a window and surprised him, but the sleepy warmth of the barn pulled him back in to safety. His eyes focused on a ladder leaned against an upper loft, and he turned towards it. As he climbed, the boards creaked, as if tired from bearing the weight of men. Above him, the roof was weatherworn, shafts of light setting yellow circles below. As he reached the top, his hands grasped pieces of straw and grainy dirt as the loft window to the left blinded him. A wall of hay stood against the back.
As soon as Brad’s eyes focused, they fell upon a half-buried wooden box with a little metal latch. Again, the boards groaned deeply and cobwebs plastered his face as he hunched under the slanted ceiling and moved towards it. Reaching the straw-covered box, he flipped the latch and opened it to discover a fresh stack of seven or eight comic books. They were familiar and dated within the year.
Someone has definitely been here recently.
He sat with his back to the loft window and began flipping through a comic book. Suddenly, . eyes darted up. The sharp snapping sound of wood popping came from below him. Before he could react, he was in the air, surrounded by jagged wood planks, bits of straw, and musty air. It was as if he hung there frozen, hands and feet extended to the roof, a mid-air illuminated tornado of human and dirt.
Then he fell.
Groaning on his back, he squinted through the plumes of dust. After a moment, he sat up slowly, and found himself largely undamaged, save for a sore backside. The fall had been broken by the weak floor, now caved in like a mini-meteor strike all around him. The box had gone flying, and comics were lying all around him. The floor under him, cold dirt, brushed his hands and he reached tentatively over jagged edges of planks.
His fingers touched an old can of beans, a frantic black beetle, and three baseball cards. He had fallen through a trap door about a foot deep. He picked up one of the baseball cards and thumbed the dust off it.
These aren’t baseball cards… what language is this?
“Cura Te Ipsum” was engraved in golden ink on one side; the other side was painted with unexpectedly vibrant colors. This card held the portrait of one of those medical symbols with the snakes around the rod.
Brad picked up another card that held the same gold inscription, but on it was painted a silver broadsword. Holding both, Brad shifted his eyes from one to the other. He held the card with a sword on it up to the light.
“This sword is awesome,” he said.
A flash of light blinded Brad, and he suddenly found himself lying on his back in the middle of the field of grain-like weeds.
“What the hell?” he said.
The wind picked up and pushed the grass down all around him. Nursing a sudden headache, he stood up against the gusts and saw that the barn was completely gone. He was alone in a circular clearing.