Samantha didn’t show the book to anyone. She resumed her normal life, going to school, attending swim class, eating dinner at 6 pm with her family. But in the evenings she opened the leather book and studied its pages. Page one showed a map with various lines curving around and sometimes connecting. Page two showed another map with different lines curving and crossing, and sometimes meeting each other and sometimes leading off into nowhere. Little X’s appeared in various parts of the map. The next several pages showed the same, but with different X’s in different areas of the map. Some of the X’s were dark, and others were light. Above the X’s was an arrow tilted at various angles, some arrows leaning to the right, others to the left, others straight up, and others straight down. Each X had its own arrow.
Samantha didn’t know what to make of the maps. She studied them for hours, trying to understand the lines. She studied the maps so much she neglected her own homework, and when her parents checked on her, she would quickly slide her math book over the leather book and smile at her mother.
It seemed clear that the maps described the forest they hiked in, for what else could they refer to? But the lines — if they were trails, then the whole system was much more complex than she initially thought. She thought there were a few trails in the wilderness, but these maps showed hundreds. Were the trails underground, were they something other than trails altogether, such as connecting trees? Even the smallest paths were drawn with incredible detail and precision.
And what could the X’s possibly mean? Were they places where treasure had been buried? By whom? Did it refer to mining or coal deposits? Perhaps this as the map of a mineral scout. Or maybe the X’s were locations where they planned to build other cabins, or ranger stations. Maybe the map was left over from a previous era, when loggers marked trees they planned to fall, or where power lines would run. It seemed that the maps on each page maybe showed a magnified section of the larger forest. But the X’s remained a complete mystery.
She thought she might ask a ranger, or a park historian, to interpret the map. But she didn’t know any. Nor did she want to share her find with anyone else. Perhaps this was meant for her to find. There was something there for her.
Samantha longed to return to the forest where she had found the leather book, but their parents would have none of it. Samantha’s mother had been so worried over the incident that she’d fallen sick, and her father asked her to stay at home caring for her mother until she was better. Though Samantha was allowed to occasionally play in the neighborhood with friends, there was no way she would be allowed to hike on her own. At least not for the rest of the summer. Probably not until she was 18.
Samantha thought about ways to return to the woods. Maybe she could go with a ranger, or another adult. They could drop her off and leave her with a cell phone. But when she suggested her plan, her parents, protective after having so recently lost her, immediately shot down the ideas. No cell phones get service way in the forest, maps aren’t reliable, and it isn’t appropriate to be alone in the forest with a ranger or other adult, they explained. No, she was done hiking for the season, maybe for the rest of her life. She might as well buckle down and get ready for another quarter of school.
There must be a way, Samantha thought. If I could just go back for an hour or two and explore the map, she was sure she would find something. Days turned into weeks, and more and more time passed by with no ability to return to the forest. At night Samantha often imagined in her mind the eyes and green glow she’d seen in the bushes. Could it have been a wolf, or a cougar? It wasn’t the eyes that glowed green, but the body. The eyes were white, unlike that of an animal. And the spear she picked up in the same spot? Had she narrowly escaped a gruesome death? Was it some lunatic hiker whose cabin she stayed in? Was it a hunter out for deer who had been intrigued by her sudden presence? She didn’t know what to conclude, but she felt compelled by the mystery. She couldn’t put it out of her mind. She kept the leather book of maps and markings to herself, carefully tucked under her own bed. She pulled it out again to study it, comparing it with constellation patterns, with oceanic wave rhythms, with seasonal migrations of birds – no interpretation came to her.
And then an idea came to her. The trails — perhaps they weren’t trails at all, but were scores of music. The lines formed patterns. Not all the lines formed the same pattern, but like a sketch, with multiple lines forming a trend, perhaps this trend was a note. It showed the direction of music that could be graphed as a low and high pitch. She turned the pages and looked at the trends. Yes, she could see it now. She took out a sheet of blank paper from her math notebook and connected the trends of lines from one page to the next. Some lines could form different melodies, if superimposed on top of each other. Each maximum point and minimum point could be plotted along an axis of musical notation, and when all of these lines were pulled out and arranged, they formed such a pattern that it was undoubtedly music. It had enough repeating trajectories, and recurring patterns that looped back around. Could it all be an elaborate code, or some key to a forest song?
Alone in her room, she began to sing the forest song. She liked to create her own melodies, often hybrids of familiar tunes but blended in a new way. But now she had a new rhythm and meter based on the map notations. She studied the map in her mind and began to trace out the melody in her voice. She hummed at first, getting the melody in her head. She sketched out the musical notes into sound. In a few places it was jagged, changing notes rapidly, but this gave the song a bit of energy and darkness. She then started adding words, a phrase here and there. She repeated the same phrase over until it she came up with a new line, and then added it into the mix. Despite her attempts, the music seemed to resist words — it remained a tempo and a kind of pulse, a forest pulse, she thought. She closed her eyes and lay back on her bed, the leather book clutched in her arms, and she kept humming the tune until she fell asleep.