She was walking on a wooded trail, looking up at the sky through the trees when she tripped on something.
It was a tiny, ancient looking metal box, with slits on the top and sides. Heavy for the size. The box seemed to be alive, only afterwards she wasn’t really able to say why she had that impression. The best she could come up with was that it had a living energy.
Something reached out of the box and touched her hand, just below the thumb. She thought she heard the words “help me, ” or maybe it was just the wind, or tiny bells.
Startled, she dropped the box.
There was a red mark like a tattoo where the tiny hand had touched her. A poppy encircled with tangled vines, with some sort of word entwined in them, in an alphabet and language she didn’t recognize.
She tried to find the box, but it was gone.
The mark on her hand didn’t go away. It didn’t bleed or hurt, it was just there. It was larger than the box had been, about 2 inches across. She didn’t understand how something as tiny as the thing that touched her could have made such a large mark. Or how such a brief contact could have created such an elaborate design.
She made some attempts to figure out what the word was, but without knowing what language it was in she didn’t have any success.
At times it seemed to take on a luminescent quality, but she thought she must be imagining that.
She tried not to think about it.
Weeks later, she went to a party. She got a beer out of the cooler with a pretty black label with a red poppy on it, and noticed a mark on the back of the bottle that was just like the one on her hand. The beer was delicious. The brewery was called Poppy Side.
It wasn’t a brewery she was familiar with, and the hosts of the party couldn’t recall where they purchased it. It was the only bottle of that particular beer in the cooler. She took the bottle home with her.
The next morning, the mark on the label was almost invisible. She thought perhaps she’d imagined it entirely, but could see it if she held it up to the light. She took a picture of it hoping to make it last long enough to find Poppy Side. The address was a in small town nearby. She wasn’t able to turn anything up in a Google search, aside from an address for the brewery. No phone number.
The next day, she drove out in the country to the address listed for the brewery.
She found only an empty and an old farmhouse. No one answered the door, but peeking through the curtains it did appear to be inhabited.
She left a note on the door with a printout of a picture of the beer bottle, asking them to give her a call if they knew anything about the brewery that shared their address.
Two days later, she got a call from a woman named Jenny about her note. Jenny said that her son Jaime used to do some brewing from the farm, but he had been missing for about two years. She said he had been starting to have some success, went to a meeting in town to discuss a distribution deal and hadn’t returned. She reported his disappearance to the police, but since he’d had a history of heroin abuse and past disappearances, they were not willing to provide much help. But he had been seemingly clean for over a year before he disappeared. All the other times, there’d been signs of trouble. The gradual decline in work, increase in hiding and lying. This time, though, he’d seemed happier than he’d ever been. She hoped he’d come back when he had everything sorted out. She didn’t seem to be too worried that he’d never return.
Jenny didn’t know anything about the beer itself. The bottle was one of her son’s. She didn’t remember any marks on the label though, but said given her son’s past problems she had been annoyed that he’d used a poppy on the label at all. He told her that poppies were a symbol of memory and he was trying to move forward while honoring what he’d been through to get to the present.
She thanked Jenny for her time, and went to the library to see if she could get some more information about Jaime or the beer he brewed. The librarian helped with the search, but all she found were a few arrest reports, and one review of the beer on a homebrew site.
She emailed the person who ran the homebrew site to see if they knew the brewer or had been in contact with him.
A few days later, she got an email asking her to subscribe to the Homebrew Review and an email from the woman who ran the site. The woman seemed to have more questions than answers. She was also very interested in contacting the brewer, but said she hadn’t heard from him in over 2 years. She was surprised that the beer had never been produced on a larger scale. She didn’t know anything about the brewer, except that he was a hobby brewer who hoped to “go pro” soon. The woman said she’d let the Homebrew Review know if she heard from the brewer.
As she read the email, she had the impression that the beer tattoo was a more glowing red than it had been before. She brushed a hand across it, and thought she must be mistaken. It was the same matte crimson it had always been. Was she just imagining that a new tendril from the poppy mark was starting to unfurl as if it was about to wrap around her wrist? She shook her head, mostly sure it was her imagination.
There must be some explanation. She just needed to find that little box that had stamped her hand.
She went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. As she set the pot down, she heard something at the kitchen door. When she opened the door, there was nothing there, but she thought she heard laughing. Laughing, or tiny bells.
As she turned around to pick up her coffee cup, she noticed it was half empty. Right next to it, there was a tiny metal box with slits in the top and sides. The same one.
She bent down to get a closer look, careful not to get close enough for it to touch her. It was a tiny, ornate cage. Inside the cage she could see two red eyes looking back at her. And the little creature was laughing.
She was not at all sure that it was a good sort of laugh. Every peal of laughter seemed to make the tendrils on the vine on her hand unfurl a little more. Like a real one would. One that would completely overwhelm the tree it grew on.
She wondered what that would mean if there was a human being supporting the vine instead of a tree.