Stagnant water soaked Seth’s boots. With each step he clobbered generations of dead plant life under his feet. He walked a path taken by many before him. A separation in the field that stretched forever. Compacted flora gave him a semi-solid platform to walk on, but with each step the water bubbled up from beneath.
Hours into the never-ending plain he passed a man. Behind the man was his toddler son latched onto his father’s finger. The boy’s face was dirty and he looked shrunken. The father, the same. His eyes were to the ground and in a daze. Seth stopped and reached into his bag. His thought was to offer food, but they kept walking. The boy turned back, hand still wrapped around his father’s finger, and waved.
When Seth reached the edge of The Windbreak a chill swept over his body. He wasn’t sure if it was his imagination, but the air became cooler and thinner. He chalked it up to years of stories meant to scare him, but he knew the facts. The Shape was in the forest. That wasn’t made up. Too many people had seen it and described its features the same.
Once at a clearing in the woods, Seth decided to rest for the night. He sat against a tree with his bag cushioning his lower back. He pondered how many days it would take him to find The Shape and his wish that he would speak to it. To keep me safe in battle, he thought. But another thought entered his mind: Did I really travel all this way just to be kept safe? He could ask for anything in the world and it would be brought upon him.
Greed seeped into his mind as he stared at the treetops swaying above him before falling asleep. When he awoke, he gathered his things and kept moving. Where? He wasn’t exactly sure. He had no coordinates or landmarks to find The Shape. Only that it lived in The Windbreak. But as he walked deeper into the forest he could once again see the beaten path below him.
He followed it for hours until he thought he was going in circles. Trees with the same markings and branches in the same patterns, but he couldn’t be certain. But all suspicions left him when he peered around the corner of a white birch tree to see it. The Shape. It wasn’t there before, but it was now. As if the tree was a bastion of reality that wiped away the real world. It appeared.
Birch trees were separated into a clearing. Shrubs littered the interior circumference before giving way to a sand center. It floated there above the sand. A dodecahedron in shape. It was unmoving as if it were not suspended by some means of technology, but just there in that spot on a grid. The point of three pentagons met and formed its forward face. It pointed at Seth. Each pentagon, twelve in total, were separated by thin gaps that emanated a red glow. The faces of each pentagon were iron in color, but smooth.
Seth moved in circles around The Shape, but it only showed him the one side. It’s ‘face’. There was no hum of a motor or vibration of circuitry. It just was.
He studied it in silence, not sure what to do next. It was then that something heavy moved through him. A wave of sorts, but there was no sound that produced the wave. It rattled his throat and thumped his chest before a voice spoke to him inside his mind.
“Weary traveler,” It said. It’s voice panned from left to right in his brain. It surrounded him. “I gather you have come to speak your desire?” It had a smooth voice, but sinister in tone.
“I have.” Seth’s voice trembled. His vision became telescopic. A tunnel vision that only let him see The Shape. He was mentally surrounded in darkness now.
“You must know of my wage?” The voice said, surrounding him.
“You’re The Merchant of The Windbreak. The Twelve-faced Sphere. The Shape.” Seth knew all of its names. There were more, but The Shape spoke again ending Seth’s recitation.
“Speak of my wage,” The voice hissed in the back of Seth’s ear. “Not my names.”
“Trades.” He said hoping to appease the thing.
The blackness went away and Seth was in The Windbreak again. He remained standing in front of The Shape. The white trees seemed further away now as his attention was on nothing more than the being before him.
“Lay your hand upon me.”
Seth moved forward. The crunching leaves beneath him sounded a world away. He came close to The Shape. It owned his entire vision. Nothing else remained. He raised his right hand and felt the smooth metal-like structure. There was no imperfection in it. No pores. No bumps or dips. The red glow illuminating from the panels seeped across the black-grey metal and it spoke again.
“I know what you wish to be granted, but you must speak it.” The voice sounded as if a person were behind him speaking directly in his ear.
Seth clinched his left hand and blinked for the first time in what felt like an hour. Did I really travel all this way just to be kept safe? He thought. A vision of his mother and brother at the dinner table flashed in his mind. Seth wondered that if he spoke a wish of safety, if its only purpose would be to appease his mother. And then – “I want to fight gallantly on the battlefield. To be a war hero.”
The red glow rose to a blinding degree and then faded. The voice was right next to Seth’s ear now.
“The deal is done.”
When Seth blinked next The Shape was gone. He turned in circles but it had vanished. He smelled his right hand and noticed a scent that reminded him of a blacksmith’s forge. The smell of molten steel embedded in his palm. A suction from inside his mind fled and his ears popped.
A whippoorwill called out from somewhere in the encircling birch trees. He could hear the sand envelope his feet as he searched for reason in the clearing, but there was none. There were no tracks leading out of the forest but the tracks that Seth left while entering. No shaking of the tree tops.
I must have been in there for hours, Seth thought. Whether he meant in his own head or perhaps inside of The Shape was unknown. But when he looked to the sky, he saw that it was noon. He’d conversed with the thing for an hour at the most. He reached out toward the empty air in front of him in a thought that maybe it was still there floating under a spell or cloak. There was nothing. He peered back around the bastion tree to see if The Shape’s reality would show itself again, but it did not. It was gone.
Seth stood in the clearing for minutes longer, eventually asking himself why he was still there. He had got what he came for and there was nothing left for him in The Windbreak. He grabbed his satchel and headed back towards the Easternmost of the Dual Plains.