Entry A-3 “Autumn Leaves — II”


Gravel spluttered all over as the tires locked up. The van had come to an abrupt stop, leaving a long streak of disturbed pebbles in its path. Elise shrieked as she was tumbled about in the window from where she was playing. She rubbed her side where a bruise would later form.

She turned to her big sister with an accusatory tone, “Sis!”

Meridian didn’t seem to even register her sister speaking to her, keeping her gaze intently fixed on the road ahead. This prompted Elise to do the same.

Illustration showing the interior of Meridian's minivan. There is a 
		fallen tree blocking the way. Meridian's reflection is visible in the 
		mirror. She looks distraught

Meridian sank into the seat with a deep sigh, scratching her head. Elise—not knowing where they were, or what they were here for—tried to gauge what this meant from her sister’s expression.

After a few seconds Meridian turned the key, choking the engine. The radiator tapping and clicking as it contracted and cooled down. Taptaptaptaptaptaptap... The sound grew deafeningly loud to the driver, she had to get out. She pulled the handle and got out without closing the door. Elise was still in her seat.

The older sister dug her hands into the cardigan as she made her way to the obstacle. Leaves cracking as they met pressure against the lower gravel layer. She came to a stop as she inspected what remained of a fallen aspen tree. It had seemingly been there for a long time, yet showed few signs of breakdown from microbes and fungi. This both intriguied and scared her. Meridian turned around without saying anything, now slowly trudging back to the van. Her expression did not give many answers.

Elise raised her voice, trying to get her attention. “Um!”

Without stopping, Meridian replied to the question before it could be asked. “We’re walking the rest of the way.” She continued marching, circling toward the back, and then vanished out of view.

The minivan’s trunk opened behind her, and Elise jumped in surprise. Meridian’s silhuette crawled in over the numerous folded seats, and came out of view behind Elise. The younger sister followed around the corner to see what was going on. Her sis was digging about some trash on the floor, turning over cardboard, garbage bags and styrofoam boxes. A lot of these were pieces of packages that had periodically come to their house. Elise never saw what was in them. Her sister continued to search, now onto the pile on the folded seat next to Elise. After turning some more familiar junk over, Meridian raised a pair of bolt-cutters out, looking satisfied.

“Can you carry these?” Meridian asked in monotone. It sounded less a request and more a demand. The tool showed some signs of use, one of the rubber handles having worn slightly off. It made Elise imagine what her sister might have been doing with them.

Since Elise didn’t answer, Meridian spoke again. “I have a feeling.” Elise did not understand what ‘the feeling’ was referring to.

Before closing up, Meridian grabbed the handle of a larger tool and slid it out back.

The two had made it about half a mile past the fallen aspen tree. Their footsteps loudly imposing on this since-long untouched land. It was quiet on the path, the only company was the birds exchanging their occasional hellos.

Meridian was taut—wielding a shovel as if to ward off any attackers. Was there something to be afraid of in this forest? Elise had not picked up this tension, skipping around and kicking leaves about, seemingly unencumbered by the tool on her shoulders.

“Hey sis~” Elise said in a singsongy voice.

“Mm...?” Meridian mumbled in response, snapping out of her racing thoughts.

“Can I come with you to your job some time?”

Elise meant her other job. Meridian raked her brain for a way to say no.

The old growth towered over the both of them. There wasn’t many leaves left to cover the branches, leaving them spiky and uninviting. Yellow, red and brown had settled in layers atop the ground, making it difficult to see where the path started and ended.

Elise was ever so playfully following in tow, tracing Meridian’s footsteps. It was a fun game to occupy yourself with when Sis was out doing work things like this. Her thought-stream got cut short as she bumped into Meri, who had stopped. Elise poked her head out past her. There was a 10-foot tall chainlink fence blocking the way. It was new and sturdy looking, addled with many warning signs that beyond this point was an ‘authorized-access area’.

“It just keeps getting funnier,” The one in front remarked with spite, staring forward.

Elise approached the fence to look at one of many plastic signs mounted to it. The print said something about the ‘Department of Highway Transportation’. The girl tilted her head, not fully comprehending the message.

The older sister was frozen in place, her mind filling with some indescribable apprehension.

Meridian looked through the hole they had made. A remarkable amount of leaves had piled up on the other side. It seemed to span past even where the road turned around a corner. What was before them appeared to be an enormous leaf pile—or perhaps a sea—blanketing the closed-off area.

Something immediately felt different when they crossed to the other side. Their feet would sink into the mass below, and eventually meet the idea of solid ground. It was beginning to dawn on Meridian that this was not completely ordinary. She had never seen something like this in the many autumns she had spent here. It was not completely unexpected that it would be this way.

Elise was delighted to have so many leaves to play around in, once again playfully skipping and jumping around. This wouldn’t last long as the depth of the leaves would increase exponentially as they made their way further in. She grew tired by the time they had reached a knee-depth of leaves, during which it was more like walking through a heavy coat of snow—Except full of bugs and whatever else nature could conjure. Meridian didn’t like thinking about it.

By the time they turned the Meridian was also in to her knees, and Elise down to her waist. Their efforts growing strained and slow as the the depth increased. They had tried to scale the sea to try and walk on top of it, but they would only sink back down. It seemed to only get worse the further they progressed, even more impossible accounts. It was not completely obvious if it was wise to keep going. Maybe the Meridian from six months ago would have considered it.

Around the corner was would have been the gate of the property. There was no longer a road to see leading in, let alone ground. Only a vastness leading up to an imposing structure, completely cloaked in shades of autumn leaves. At the head of one of the gate posts something caught Elise’s eye. The top of a rusted, pale blue mailbox that bravely stuck out of the vastness. Upon closer inspection, a series of alphabet stickers spelled out a familiar name,