There’s a place on Patterson Loop where they left the rocks. It’s just past the clapboard garages and, when you looked out from the steps of your front door, you could just see the glint of micah and quartz and stones rubbed so raw that they looked more gray than silver.
But you remembered what they were. How sometimes, when the light caught them just right, they glowed gold.
In the beginning, you never ventured there. In fact, your mother forbade it. She told you that the wide street of your neighborhood was a river and that the other side was like the dark forest, the Hundred Acre Woods. But evil. She hadn’t needed to say the word evil because even you had never found the Hundred Acre Woods comforting. There had been something festering there, something that made Eeyore turn sad and that sort of sadness terrified you.
So instead, you spent days of home school recess with the other military brats, down by the playground that sat just at the center of Patterson Loops backyards. As if the houses themselves that faced out onto the loop were a barricade that kept those swing sets safe. There was a forest that ringed the bottom of the grassy hill where you built tepees and cooked acorns and called yourself by the name Boxcar. Where, for a half-hour you survived almost alone in the wilderness until you heard your mother’s shrill call.
And sometimes, you wondered if there was a little panic in her voice when she said your name from the hill of your backyard. It didn’t scare you but still, it made you wonder. And so, you’d shove dirt off your knees even though some always stuck to the wrinkled divots of skin and trooped back up to the house for math.
There was an unspoken agreement that no one touched the houses you made and forts you built, except, once in a while when an acorn disappeared or a stick door was left open, you wondered if someone else had been there. Some woodland sprite who just needed warmth. Or something to eat.
A part of you knew that whoever came and disturbed your sanctuary also thought about the rocks.
For your ninth birthday, your father gave you a rock tumbler. You sat in your room for hours, listening to the thunk of stones, watching the red drum turn round and round until the jagged and ugly pebbles that came within the box transformed. They weren’t rocks at all, you realized but pink roses and smooth amethysts.
This red drum, you decided, could tell you the truth about the rocks.
So slowly, against the warning of your mother’s voice, you became a collector. It started in the playground’s forest, within the confines of the loop’s safety. You’d stuff your pockets with stones chipped from the small forest cliffs and dug up from beneath the campfires. You always replaced them with other rocks, just so the sprites could keep their houses, and sometimes, perhaps out of their mutual respect for you, they left you small stones as well.
You’d take as many in your pockets as you could until you had to hold them up by the elastic waistband and troop up to the top of the hill, so heavy you thought that if you sat down you’d become a stone yourself.
And one by one you fed these stones into the yawning mouth of the tumbler. Those stones though stayed gray, lifeless, as if placing them inside the tumbler had erased their façade and show you, finally, that they were really nothing at all.
Your mother liked your hobby. She gave you clear compartment boxes in which to keep all of your polished stones. They began to replace the seashells you collected on Sag Harbor beaches. They grew and overtook the back of your closet. But you never released any of them.
You never said these words aloud but sometimes, when you opened the red drum, you were disappointed. No matter how magical the forest was, it specialized in acorns and fairies, not in gemstones and you realized that the only way you could find what you were looking for would be to go to where the rocks were.
It was winter when you finally crossed the street. A light dust of flakes had fallen and you couldn’t remember how you ended up in the front yard instead of the back but you strode to where the garage was and then around the corner. There was an old water hose to the side of the two-car and you stared at the frozen spigot as you passed.
There was a small sloping path up onto the rocks and even though the snow coated everything, you didn’t slip as you clambered onto the stone ocean.
It was silent and you crouched down, one glove pulled free, your fingers tracing the hardened rocks. They were loose and stacked on top of one another, so many you couldn’t even count.
You forgot how to breathe. Like a treasure hunter discovering a hidden cache, you scooped rocks up until your fingers were raw and numb. The weight of them, the texture, there was something in them that you knew was different. Special.
As you stood with your rocks in hand, you saw something you hadn’t noticed in your haste to get to the rocks, to take them all and carry that weight with you to the tumbler. There were footprints and in your memory they were twice the size of your father’s, just made in the snow. They descended to the forest your mother warned about and your skin prickled at the back of your neck. You skidded and slipped all the way back to the house, wondering who it was that watched you dive upon the rocks like a starved child.
You shut yourself in your room, laying the rocks out before you, your hands shaking as you hooked the drum into its outlet. The tumbler started to hum and you couldn’t choose which stone you wanted to reveal first.
What secrets you would find.
Finally, you picked a pointed rock with a silver glittering hue and gently placed it inside the machine. Closed the door. Watched the red drum spin.
Your bedroom window looked out toward the garage and sitting there, you tore your eyes from the tumbler to look out the window. The snow had begun to fall again and suddenly, you felt queasy, thinking of the footprints and the way the snow would just erase them like you were never there to see them.
You can’t remember what made you do what you did next but you took the unpolished rocks and stowed them in an empty bin in your closet. You turned off the tumbler and you returned it to its box.
Years and years passed and still, you never looked inside the red drum to see what magic had taken place with that stone from where they left the rocks. But somehow, you knew something had changed.
About the Author: Salena Casha's work has appeared in over thirty publications. Her fiction has been included in Wigleaf's Top 50 Very Short Fictions and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her first three picture books are housed under the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishing umbrella. Visit her here.