A Puzzle in the Woods
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
On a day trip in the forest, all the other children in my class found autumn leaves. I found a puzzle piece.
It was rough to the touch, made out of wood, textured like bark. When I showed it to my teacher he laughed and told me I should throw it away. Surely a stray piece of a puzzle would never find its solution.
A sucker for mysteries, naturally I held on to it.
At home I turned it over and over, convinced there was something more to the mystery than met the eye. I examined it closely, held it to my ear, even smelled it, and that was my first clue. It held the scent of the forest, not in the way that a piece of litter would, but in the way that told me it belonged there.
When my fingers brushed the rough surface again I had my answer.
The next morning I pedaled as fast as my bicycle would allow, jumped off at the sight of the first trees and ran from bark to bark, searching for the empty space that awaited its tenant, hoping to be complete again. Hours passed, and I wandered deeper and deeper into the woods. I knew my parents would be worried sick, but the urge to solve the mystery had me in its grasp.
The sun rose to its highest point and began its inevitable decline, bathing the leaf-littered forest floor in a warm glow. I knew I had to go back before dark, but then I saw it. The tree was a giant. It looked remarkable. Its massive bark was littered with open spaces, all of them shaped like the piece I held in my hands.
A closer look revealed something else. The tree was hurting. Its leafs were withering, its branches losing their color. I placed my ears against it and swore I heard a thousand voices, all pleading for help.
There was but one thing I could do. I placed the first piece, and the tree filled my head with visions. Memories. Clues as to where the remaining pieces might be found. I looked up and noticed the leafs were a little greener, the branches a little brighter.
“I’ll come again,” I whispered, placing my hand on the great bark one more time, then running home as fast as my legs would carry me.
I had plans to make.