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Enquist Section 1 Word Count: 1045 Aokigahara

The plane begins its descent. Mount Fuji touches the sky. The Japanese call it the gateway to the heavens. My father wants to meet me near the base of the mountain in Aokigahara, or as it translates into English, the Sea of Trees. The Japanese are the best of us, my father said. He raised me like I was Japanese. Have a nice time in Japan, the flight attendant says as I exit the plane. I look out into the sea of people and cabs. Lost. I dont know where to go. My father always taught me Japanese traditions but why didnt he teach me the language? Take me to Aokigahara, I say to a man sitting on the hood of his cab. He looked at me with a blank stare. I pull out a map and point. He shakes his head no. No one take you there, he says. Lost. Still. What exactly does my father want? I assumed he was dead. The first contact from him in two years was a plane ticket, a map, and a note with a tiny piece of rope. Aokigahara, I yell at a bunch of cab drivers. They all look at the ground. A small, old man approaches me. You want to see forest, he asks. Yes. Come, I take you, he says, wont be cheap. I show him money and he nods his approval.

Colin Enquist 2 Section 1 Word Count: 1045 The drive is two hours. He doesnt talk much. Or hes exhausted the extent of his English. It up here, he says. You know story of forest? I nod. Why you go there? My father. He doesnt say a word. At the foot of the path into Aokigahara, I gaze at the green sea. I wasnt sure exactly where to meet my father. The cab driver notices my confusion. He grabs the map. Go here, he says, rope guides you. I dont understand. My father told stories about Aokigahara. Suicides happen there more than anywhere else in the world, he said. I didnt realize how real the stories were, until the end of the trail. Signs litter the trail, all in Japanese, with a number at the bottom. I assume it is the suicide hotline. The end of the trail is roped off, with another sign. I step over the rope, ignoring the sign. The forest becomes thicker beyond the rope. The aroma of the trees fill my nostrils, they smell like rosemary. Red tape is wrapped around a tree leading into the forest. It is eerily quiet. The map points me to follow the trail. I push ahead. More tape, this time yellow, wrapped around a tree leading in another direction.

Colin Enquist 3 Section 1 Word Count: 1045 The next marker is seven kilometers away. It gives me time to think. My father is a good man. He proved to me respect could get you anything in life. Son, one day, you will understand. The weight of the world rests on your shoulders. But really. It doesnt matter if it sits there. You are not Atlas, nor do you need to be. So roll it off, gently, and carry on with your life how you choose. That was the last thing he said to me. Then he went off on his yearly trip to Japan. A month went by. He didnt send word. He didnt get on his return flight. Worry spread through my body like cancer. Three months later the Japanese police contacted me. They had no idea where he was. He checked into his hotel for a week before checking out. I was beginning to think he had died. Then the letter came. The date stamp was two weeks ago but the letter is faded, as if worn over the years. I follow the creek on the map for two kilometers. It is small, almost dry. I walk along the ridge above it. At the end of the creek I see it. The rope. The same rope as the chunk in the letter. Tied from tree to tree. Follow the rope. Ill be at the end, read the letter. Life needs structure, father used to say, it is the ability to manipulate that structure which brings us a good life. He always made sure my structure was tested. Nothing has tested me more than his disappearance. I dont know how long the rope goes. What will I say to him? Will I be angry? Will I be happy to see him? The rope ends in a cove of trees. He is not here. I walk to the middle of the cove.

Colin Enquist Section 1 Word Count: 1045 HELLO, I yell. Silence.

I sit on the ground for a second. Got to catch my breath. My heart races. The sweat drips off my forehead. I look back at the rope, dug into the bark of the tree. The rope goes upward. No. I run to the tree. Pull out a knife and cut the rope. Hes gone. Hes been gone for two years. Just a skeleton and fabric. I huddle under the tree. A few feet from my father. He was always so strong. The skull stares at me. I take off his backpack. His bones crack and creak. Opening the bag slowly, I dont know if I want to see what is inside. I pull out an envelope. A lump grows in my throat. Placing the envelope in my bag, I pull out what is left in his: a portable shovel, a cross, and a bible written in Japanese. Lost in the sea of trees, the sun begins to fall. The shovel is small but it is sharp. I begin to dig. I cant walk. Lost in a sea of trees, I sleep. The trees are so thick I dont notice the sun rise. I place his remains in the grave with his bible and cross. Hopefully this is close enough to the gateway to the heavens. The walk is a blur of green. Lost. In a sea of trees. I am seated on a plane. Enjoy the flight home, the same flight attendant says.

Colin Enquist Section 1 Word Count: 1045 I open my bag and grab the envelope.

The envelope has a piece of paper inside with one line. It reads: I couldnt remove the world from my shoulders this time. I feel my shoulders relax.