Carlos had planned the little expedition for over a month. It was not related to work in any way, it was merely a pet project of his own he wished to look into. Occasionally, it was said, there would sprout up a forest in the middle of the desert that would last for a few days, only to vanish as quickly as it had appeared. Carlos wanted nothing more than to see this strange forest and take photographs of it for science. Maybe not the big, fancy science like his colleges studied in the labs, but for the little, quiet science, like the small fossils Carlos kept on his desk because he liked them.
He had told Cecil about his plans a few days earlier, eagerly explaining what he thought they would look like over dinner. Cecil had never seen the forest himself and he was interested in what Carlos would find.
"I wish I could go with you, but Station Management wants me to come up some new scripts for prerecorded weekend shows." he sighed. "At least it's better than having to work weekends as well, but I just wish they'd given me more notice before hand, you know? But I want to see the photographs you take."
Carlos promised to take as many photos as he could and to not leave a single angle of the forest out.
The trip would take a full day, from early morning until night for him to drive out to where the forest was supposed to sprout this time, take photos, and drive back home. He had marked down on the calendar that Thursday was set aside as his day off.
On Wednesday morning, however, he revived a phone call that the lab had been flooded with a mysterious liquid fog, and that whatever work they had been doing was now cancelled until they could get it all drained, which would most likely be the end of the day. He asked if Carlos could come in tomorrow, to which he agreed.
With a sudden day off, Carlos realized he could go see the forest sooner than expected. He leaped out of bed and hurriedly dressed, grabbing some food and tree his gear into his car before explaining quickly to Cecil what was going on. Cecil glanced up from his writing and nodded, wishing Carlos a safe and fun trip.
With that, Carlos was off. He turned on the radio and sang along with the tunes he recognized and tapped his fingers to songs he didn't know. Eventually the radio gave out, the signal too far away and lost to static. Along the nearly three hour drive, he briefly picked up a numbers station, and he listened to that until it made him feel odd and he turned it off.
Finally, he could see it in the distance. He could scarcely believe his eyes at the colors of the leaves. Reds and oranges, but also pinks and purples and even blues. The wood twisted up out of the ground and spindly beaches reached for the sky. He parked and stared at it. There was about sixty to a hundred trees, all very close together, swaying in the light breeze. He reached in the back of his car for-
Where did it go? Surely it was right here!
In his haste to come see the trees, he had forgotten to bring his camera.
Carlos was crushed. If he drove back right now to get it, it would be dark by the time he made it back to the forest. He couldn't come back the next day as he had promised to work. By the time he would have another chance to come see it again, it would very likely be gone.
He got out of the car and sat down on the ground. He pulled out a pen and his notebook in an attempt to draw the forest, but he was no artist. The ink and the paper conspired against him and none of his tries turned out looking anything like what he wanted them to. He cursed under his breath.
He eventually gave up trying to draw, and just looked at the trees, trying to commit them to memory. He gathered up some of the leaves that had fallen from them in the hopes that perhaps they would stay after the forest was gone. He had been sitting there a little over an hour when he heard a noise that caused him to look behind him.
There was a car coming towards him. A familiar car - Cecil's car, to be exact. He pulled up near Carlos and got out, taking the camera bag out with him.
"You forgot something." he smiled, handing it to him.
"Oh gosh, Ceec! What about your show?"
Cecil shrugged. "It's ok. I'm sure I can come up with something. Maybe I'll write about the forest." he joked.
"I'm so lucky to have you, Cecil." Carlos set up the camera. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"I was taking a quick break from writing about an hour after you left when I saw your camera bag sitting by the door. I tried calling your cell phone but it was already out of range. I knew this forest thing meant a lot to you, so I knew I had to bring this to you."
"You're a lifesaver, Ceec." he snapped a photo of the trees.
"I brought something else, too." he said shyly.
He pulled out a picnic basket.
"I know it's not exactly the same, but... I've always wanted to have a picnic, you know back when I was... I mean, I can't eat anything now, but you can, so I was thinking if you were to eat it would almost be like what I pictured. That is, if you want to."
Carlos laughed. "I would love to have a picnic with you, honey."
Cecil's face lit up. They spread the blanket out underneath the trees and sat down on it and Carlos ate while Cecil talked and they took turns taking pictures - of the trees, of their picnic, of each other, awkward selfies, and they made use of the automatic timer to take some of them together under the trees on the blanket.
"Pictures are so important." Cecil said. "It's like a memory you can hold on to, one that never changes or is forgotten."
Carlos smiled and leaned in close as he pressed the button, an image of their faces now burned onto memory of the metallic card inside.
"We had a special treat this week, listeners. In the middle of the barren desert a lush forest grew up. Where there was once nothing but dry sand and harsh air, suddenly there were colorful leaves and tree trunks to lean against and a rustling noise when the wind blew. Even science is not quite sure how it came to be, but science thought it was quite lovely even if it couldn't be explained and defied all odds.
Carlos and I went out to look at the wandering forest. We rested under its branches and had a picnic, which Carlos said was delicious and possibly the best picnic ever - his own words, not mine, listeners. You can see some of the photos on my tumblr. The forest was amazing. It was a little sad to think that it would all be gone so soon - Carlos says the forest only lasts a few days before it disappears - but the experience, while it was happening, was wonderful.
Sometimes things come along that you know are only for a very short time, and that makes the time you do get to experience them all the more sweeter, and all the more sad.
It's important to take the time to appreciate the fleeting things. It can seem, sometimes, that the smarter option is to hold these things at a distance, as though pushing them away in the here and now will also push away the eventual, inescapable pain of losing them - for lose them we will. But once these things are gone, all you have left are the memories you made, and perhaps a photograph or two. Maybe there's no relic left over at all, as happened for me and Carlos in the forest, because even the leaves so carefully gathered withered away and disintegrated once miles away from the trees they had fallen from. All you are left with is what you were able to keep in your own mind and heart. And in those moments, left with no tangible proof of what had happened, you will be glad of even the painful, wistful memories of things - and people - now long since gone."
Cecil, sitting in a chair with his feet up, was writing the script by candlelight in his bedroom. He paused in his work, looking over at his mortal boyfriend sleeping in his bed, his even breath a metronome in the silent night. Cecil turned the page of the notebook to a blank sheet, and smiled wistfully.