Before her unexpected death, she gave me a dead pocket watch for the girls to play with.
She tried finding a watchmaker that could fix it, but eventually gave up.
I forgot about the damn thing the moment I gave it to my girls.
It wasn't until I decided to do another toy purge before Christmas nearly 2 years later, that I saw it again.
It was thrown at the bottom of their toy bin, or rather on top and it slid through the open crevices, winding its way to the bottom.
As I picked it up, the golden steel was alarmingly cold.
My fingers let go in a flash as frost - bit the skin on my palm.
CRASH CLANK CLINK BANG
Closing my eyes and hoping it didn't break, my neck dropped and I peeked one eye open. Just enough to see cracked glass and a handful of tiny gears that are probably not where they are supposed to be...
When I reached down, I was hoping with every ounce of my being that I could just stick it all back together and back to its, um, well...back to its former broken self...just with a new scar.
With the gears picked up, I grabbed the watch carefully. I didn't want to traumatize it any more than I already have.
Still bitterly cold, I looked at the back first to see where the gears go.
But I couldn't find an opening.
Hell, I couldn't even find where or how the gears popped out.
Starting to pry apart the pieces, I didn't know what I was doing. I wear a Fitbit from the 21st century and plug it in to charge.
After fidgeting with it for what felt like an hour, I gave up. I'm not a puzzle person. I'll give it to my husband when he gets home.
Or maybe I will end up forgetting about it.
Setting it aside to focus on the Mt. Everest size pile o' toys in front of me, I heard a distinctive metal TINK.
The glass top had popped off, and with it - the clock hands and the background circle with numbers inked in elegant cursive.
Well...it's broken broken now, I thought. No longer seeing a point to keeping it anymore, I grabbed the trash bag to throw it away. But when I picked the pocket watch up - a tiny folded piece of paper fell out.
Sure, why not. Why wouldn't a mysterious paper appear?
Unfolding the squared paper that poof'd appeared - I could see a few words and some sort of design.
I scooted back to give my legs some space to stretch and form a V, I cleared some space in between my legs and laid down what turned out to be a map in the shape of a perfect circle.
The design I noticed was a giant labyrinth. In the middle, a tree with roots sprawling over top the labyrinth walls.
The words I noticed were scrawled on the outer edge of the circle.
At the center, your secret awaits.
Huh? What does that even mean? How did she come into possession of this watch? Did she know this was in there?
I rotated the map to read the rest.
At the place where the road ended, your
Your what? Huh? Did someone run out of ink? Is this a joke? A prank?
I don't have the spoons to play Sherlock right now.
Grabbing the edges of the map - if that's what you want to call it - I started crumbling it up.
And that's when I saw it.
I caught a corner section of text I didn't recognize when the sun shining through the window hit it just right.
Lowering the map into the shade, the text disappeared until I held it back up again.
Bridge of the cobbler
Sitting silently for a few minutes in puzzled confusion, a thought came racing into view.
Nah. Nope. No way. No how.
Only one thing was coming to mind. Our last trip together was to a suspension bridge. We drove past an "End of Road" sign and we both laughed. I told her I knew where we were going. But I was just as surprised as her that the route we were taking was unpaved back roads.
We weren't lost, but on the hike, we laughed for 2 miles straight about her obsession with cobblers...and timepieces...
A cold shiver ran up and down my spine.
The hairs on my neck stood straight. And I started contemplating if I should go on a mid-December solo road trip.
It took me longer than usual to make a decision, but I decided to grab my 10 essentials, refill my water bottle, and follow a weird map I had never seen in my life.
That toy pile will be tomorrow's me problem.
The drive was uneventful.
I took the same road to the same bridge. And as I passed the same End of Road sign, I laughed the same laugh.
And as I said the same "of course I know where I am going," it hit me that she wasn't next to me.
Alligator tears were preloaded for this moment, waiting for their moment in the spotlight. I had to pull off to the side.
I hadn't grieved this deeply in a long time.
Letting myself feel the 5 stages of grief, I dried my eyes as the final tear fell, and I took a look at my surroundings.
Mainly to make sure I was still alone, and that I could get back on the road. Or rather - get back on the unpaved End of Road.
But when I looked over my driver's side shoulder, a piece of metal glinted from the speck of sun peeking through the grey clouds.
Of course, I checked it out.
It looked out of place and weirdly exactly where it was supposed to be.
As I inched closer, I saw the same design that was on that map.
A labyrinth with a giant rooted tree in the center.
Huh. I have never heard of this place. I didn't see it last time we were here. It has been 2 years though...
Running back to my car to grab my pack and double lock my car, you bet I walked right past that metal map, straight to what did not look like an entrance, but the only place with a game trail to get through the dense overgrown brush.
As I walked in circles, I contemplated every life decision that brought me here. Wandering in the middle of the forest, as fall turned to winter, all because I found a strange perfect circular map with clues only my best friend would know.
Is this some kind of reverse ouija board thing?
Feeling like I have been walking in enough circles, I unfolded the map.
Not sure why. I haven't paid attention to how many circles or loops or laps I have done.
What I lack in observation, I more than makeup for in curiosity.
After a quick glance, I didn't see anything. So I decided to hold it up to the disappearing sun. It worked earlier. So why not?
My eyes followed the lines between the inked walls until I saw it. An invisible dot. Maybe me?
Yeah. Makes complete sense.
And according to this dot, the tree is apparently on just the other side of this wall of trees to the right of me.
Looking at the wall of trees around me and the clear path ahead, the only way through is around.
Right when I gave up and just about turned around, the wall gave way to the most beautiful, 8 limbed tree that looked like it could hold the world inside its grip.
Carefully shuffling my feet across the forest floor, I didn't want to break the peaceful silence that swooped around the center of a labyrinth I had no idea existed just a day ago.
Folding the map and putting it back in my zippered coat pocket, I held my breath as I inched closer.
The map said the secret awaits me.
With my fingertips running across the edge of the ancient tree, I didn't know what to look for.
I'm not the most observant so I was half waiting for a sign to pop up to tell me they have been trying to reach me about my car's extended warranty.
Heh. That would be funny. And just my luck.
After I completed a couple of laps around the octopus-like limbs - I took a few steps back until I could see all the way to the top.
Nothing remarkable except some spits of rain mucking up my freshly washed glasses.
I sat down in criss-cross applesauce fashion and decided to pull out the map from the timekeeper.
This is crazy. Why do I get myself into these situations? One day, following my curiosity, is going to get me in trouble.
Today might be that day. Because I am in the middle of nowhere at the End of the Road with a barely visible entrance to an almost neverending loop-di-loop.
Again, I didn't see any new visible marks so I held the map up to the sky, and wouldn't you know.
The dot from earlier was now right next to the tree. So clearly I am the dot. Knew it.
My eyes followed the labyrinth to the exit. And saw the rest of the sentence that ended in "your" - appear.
At the place where the road ended, your car insurance awaits.
Nah, I'm just kidding.
At the place where the road ended, your journey will begin.
Checking the map against the light from the setting sun, I didn't see anything else.
Taking a deep sigh, my brain started trying to figure out what that even meant: my journey will begin.
Does that mean my journey began at the entrance to this stupid place?
But how could that be? Those words didn't make their grand appearance until I got here.
I sat and stared at the ancient tree in front of me, listening to the leaves dance in the breeze, and the birds chirping somewhere above me.
After refueling, I decided it was time to go because I was nowhere closer to making this whole thing make sense.
The path back to my car felt 10x shorter. I was too tired to question why.
What journey will begin? I kept asking myself.
I am not a puzzle person. Especially riddles. Riddles are my kryptonite.
As I put my seatbelt on, I glanced over my driver's side shoulder - but the metal sign to the labyrinth that the map in the old pocket watch directed me to - was no longer there.