Maiv explored the forest in the months following Marco’s death. She occasionally used the VR system, paying attention to angles of view to find cameras. It was a slow process since she still wasn’t sure how to tell the computer what she wanted to see; it seemed to take voice commands for the VR system as a suggestion despite complying with voice requests for status updates on the equipment and weather reports. It would even watch her traps for her and notify her with a pleasant chime when she’d caught something. So she did most of her exploring on foot, walking the length and breadth of the forest. The cameras were hidden high in trees along with speakers. Subwoofers created low resonance intermittent sounds; for what reason, Maiv could only guess. Perhaps to keep the animals away? She mapped the sites where she found the detritus of last moments, collecting ID cards and gleaning details of lost lives. She spent many an evening studying the pictures and holograms, trying to construct stories and circumstances with the sparse clues.
One in particular caught her imagination – a letter, written on paper of all things, from someone named Steve to his lovers. It took the better part of a day to make sense of the scrawling script. Steve spent seven pages apologizing for a breach of his marriage contract. He was being pressured to enter into a secondary marriage agreement in order to keep his job. The letter was dated 6 May 2106, about the time the forest preserve was established.
Maiv was thinking of this letter when she put on the VR glasses. She wanted to check on hunting sites; she dreaded talking to Marco. So she was confused by the sunny field of tall grass waiting for her. A new concrete building sat at the center. Oaks, pines, and maple saplings had been planted at varying intervals around it, intended to look natural. She recognized her hut as it had been when first built.
Maiv listened. Wind blew through the tall grass. A tractor rumbled in the distance on a neighboring farm. Any ghostly whispers were drowned out by the wind though susurrations in the grass could have been doubts and fears. Then Maiv heard a scratching sound. It was too consistent to be the scrabbling of a trapped small animal. She followed it to a man sitting on an overturned bucket and bent over a pad of paper. He wore denim jeans and a dark green windbreaker. His blond hair was peppered silver and pulled back in a ponytail.
“Steve?” asked Maiv.
He looked up, puzzled. Seeing no one, he muttered, “Just the wind.” He scratched a couple of more sentences then tore off the sheets and folded them carefully.
“Steve, think about it.”
He froze, frowning. “Nerves,” he decided as he put the letter into a waterproof bag and sealed it. He picked up a black case and opened it with trembling fingers.
Maiv realized it was a gun of some sort. “Why?”
Steve grimly assembled the pistol. “Why? Now that’s the question I should have asked Amethyst Hamberton. I told her I could not enter into a marriage contract with her niece. Greg and Kyle deserve better.”
“Yes, they do. How is this better?”
He carefully put a single bullet in the chamber. “We’ve been married twenty two years. They are the finest husbands I could have ever hoped to exchange shares with. How can I take any of my shares away from either of them to give to some corporate family?” He stared at the gun.
Maiv nodded, a wasted gesture since he couldn’t see her. and recited the nursery rhyme,
“10 shares to my ma,
10 shares to my pa.
10 to the state,
10 to myself,
40 to the corp,
and 20 to my love.”
Steve smiled. “Or loves.”
“So you can’t kill yourself without their permission.”
Steve’s face contorted in anguish. “I had earned back my shares from the company, last five on Friday. I promised my husbands…” He just shook his head and put the barrel in his mouth.
“Did you ask them? Perhaps they’ll understand.”
Steve sat there, his finger on the trigger.
“It might be worth a try,” Maiv coaxed.
Steve slowly set the gun down. After several moments of staring at the grass, he said, “Maybe you’re just a voice in my head or maybe this place really is haunted. But you make sense.” He stood up, reaching a decision. He quickly gathered up the letter and gun, shoving both into the case. “I’ll let you know how it turns out.”
Maiv watched him cross the field to a light truck, watched as he drove away and the dust settled. She wondered, as she took off the VR glasses, where the cameras and speakers were hidden if the trees hadn’t grown large yet.
Copyright 2014, Kimberley Long-Ewing, all rights reserved