I told them it was a UFO. Then a train. Then a fire. I've conjured so many versions of the memory—memories and screen memories—I've lost the truth. The truth burned in their spacecraft engines. The truth burned in the firebox of the old steam engine, cracked in the coals, blasted out the whistle in a scream. The truth burned in the forest fire, writhed into black worms of crisping tree trunks, sizzled into the ash of old leaves, flared into balls of gold fire. Now, I pick through the ash of my memories for the bones of the truth. Memories and screen memories. I sift my hands through the burnt duff.
The truth: it was night in the forest.
But the silent hovering spacecraft, the feathered UFOs, were owls, the beams of their saucer eyes. Moon-faced barn owl. Twin disks of great-horned. A masked man summoned them to the trees. Spruce branches fingered the clearing, and the Milky Way swirled between the owls' silhouettes. He called to them in their own language, the language of owls, so many species surrounded us, screech and spotted and saw-whet. The hook and eye clasp of my bra stabbed between my shoulder blades. I ached to be abducted.
The truth: there was a scream.
Not a train whistle. But a human howl. The steam engine made of flesh, a tender of organs, firebox of lungs. I was the train plowing through the forest. My desire fueled me, and I longed to burn the place into my lungs. My ache throttled my bones. My ache thrashed through my muscles, steam to pistons, breath to bone. Burn the place to become it. Though I stood still in the clearing, my longing crashed through the trees, chugged through my chest, and escaped my mouth. The eyes of owls watched me, embers from the smokestack of my scream.
The truth: there was a fire.
Downy smoke, barb of flame, hooklets of heat. The forest that burned was my lungs. The forest that burned was a feathered body flown into the flames, crisped quill trunks. Flammulated. The furrows in the man's wooden mask glowed orange. I wrung out my lungs in a screech braided with the burning owl's last song, echoed off the wood, curled into his hoots, ricocheted off the living trees and the witnesses' folded wings then freed my lungs to suckle the smoke.
I told them it was a UFO. Then a train. Then a fire. Memories and screen memories.
The truth: Burning is becoming. Breathing is becoming. A soul combusted. Mine. Or the human one inside of me.
Looking out from owl eyes, everything is alien, everything is steam, everything is afire.
Myrth Killingsworth is a wild co-creator in an ecosystem of language. Her work recently won the tiny journal’s climate change contest. She is pursuing her MFA in Fiction at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she serves as an Asst. Managing Editor for Hunger Mountain Review. Myrth lives in northern New Mexico and is currently working on a novel about electronic dance music and mushroom mycelium.