The barn’s skeleton is a hulking thing. Civilizations of termites have risen and fallen, epochs of rat kingdoms ended in starvation and even the molding straw finally dissolved into mush. You stand at the corner of its lurching frame and examine the cornerstone, trying to divine some sort of reason out of its crumbling cement. Close your eyes. Breathe in, breathe out. Remember your mother’s story of how she gave birth to you here, how your father washed you in the pig’s water trough and declared you beautiful. Imagine the reek, blood mingling with the sheeps’ wool wet from one of twenty leaks in the ceiling. You should remember something so important. But there’s nothing.
Apparently you came back often when you were old enough to walk. Spent hours staring at the expressionless animals, daring them to react. Your father would show you the scar on his knee from when the stairs collapsed on him as he dragged you from the rafters.
“See here, look what you’ve done.” And even as you both smiled, and laughed, you never could actually remember that fateful day, only knew its true nature from the bitterness in his tone and the subtle limp in his gait. How strange, to have a sin be so heavy without memory of it. To only know secondhand what a horrible person you truly are.
Your mother had given you directions, recited them slowly, in a way that’d be patronizing if you were anyone else. It took two hours of trampling uncertainty, stumbling over stones and bulging roots and all the detritus of nature, until you found the abandoned shell, practically ran into it without seeing it, because your eyes always seem to be experiencing the world ten seconds too slow, or eleven too fast.
A shadow begins to lap at your feet. You look up, and see a cloud, the only one in miles, drifting overhead. You leap out of its path with sudden urgency, tripping over the rusting frame, creating a vibration that ricochets up the rebar, making a deep sonorous ring. Fleeing one bad omen only to rush into another one. Grab your wrist and yank it five times. Compulsive repentance, curses only fixed through strange routines. There used to be a journal where you inscribed every proper counter-spell for bad luck-walk under a ladder, hop in a circle. Talk out of turn, bite your cheek until you can carve out a tiny piece. Think something cruel, pull out strands of curling hair until the pain returns propriety.
Your friends wait back at the motel, four bodies to a bed. Your lovers, too. They look to you for guidance when you barely know how to walk in the right direction. But somehow stories, far more permanent than memories, sprout where you tread, evolve as you travel.
Has any of your life really happened? You catch flashes—bright festival lights, water flowing over your head, someone’s calloused hands gripping yours. But nothing coherent, nothing solid, fragments of worlds that may be entirely fabricated. Maybe you were swapped with your true self, maybe you are a changeling made of mud and mugwort sent twenty years too late. A failure of crafting. An incidental inconvenience.
Blink, and you’ve spent hours ruminating with nothing to show for it. It’s like this every time-you try to find some clarity by going off on your own, reweaving the fraying threads of your memory, but walking the exact same path, both practically unconscious and altogether too aware of everything that you’ve told yourself shouldn’t matter. This stupid barn was supposed to fix things. Return to the beginning, complete the cycle, but all that’s left is rust and undergrowth because you are now certain your connection to this place, no, the place itself, is
dead. That’s it. Your eyes dart like silver minnows, searching the dusky air for a reply. That’s a conclusion, it’s something. And as the thought ferments, you can feel the omens of three decades crashing in on each other, the walls of the barn collapsing, one by one.
When you reach your friends in the early hours of the morning, your knees are lightly crusted with dirt and blood. You curl up next to your lovers and kiss them lightly. There is no need to rush the inevitable. It will come, soon, you feel it contracting in your chest. There’s no need to fear the omens anymore.
Arin Krausz is 17 years old and lives in Woodland Hills, CA. Arin identifies as transmasculine, loves to work with Twine and other modes of interactive fiction, and spends most of their time with their three cats.