When the lights got low on the bayou, the shadows of the bald cypress and tupelo trees stretched long across the water. The tendrils of their branches interrupted only by the patches of grey green moss or the ripples of an alligator searching for dinner. Paw Paw would say that the trees were travelling, sending their souls out for safekeeping. The Devil comes at night, Paw Paw would say, and the birds and small mammals might seek shelter in the trees, but where would the trees seek shelter? They had to keep their souls safe just like everybody else. For weeks after Paw Paw first told me this, I was frightened whenever I saw my shadow. I imagined that my soul was seeking shelter too and I ran and ran to catch up to it, to draw it back into me. When Paw Paw got wind of this, he laughed so hard he fell over and made MeMe spill her berries. He explained that only trees could do this, that we were stuck with our souls for better or worse.
We sometimes sought shelter in a shallow “den” at the base of three tupelo trees joined together. At other times, when the ground was too wet, we climbed into the tupelos with the smaller animals and stretched out along heavy, bald branches. No matter where we found fit to hide from the Devil each night, we always found time to listen to Paw Paw tell his stories and teach us about our fears. He would stretch out his black, hairy paws and point to each of us with a curved claw like Death brandishing his scythe.
For some reason, whenever he mentioned the fifolet, he always pointed at me. He would say that the fifolet was the Devil’s favorite hiding spot, but we all new that was a lie. If the Devil had the treasure under the fifolet, he would have no need of little bear souls like ours. We never seemed to agree on exactly what the treasure was under the fifolet, but we all knew it was a treasure well worth a devil’s time.
For a long time, I lay awake at night, wondering why Paw Paw pointed at me like that. It could be that he didn’t trust me. Maybe I’d earned about as much trust as a little bear who fears for his soul could hope for. Those concerns were fleeting on the nights when I could see the glow of the fifolet blossoming out from the farther swamp. It was low and yet embraced the sky like a private sunrise. On those nights I believed that Paw Paw was a magician. He dug his crooked paw into the future and came back knowing my heart. The fifolet called to me and not because of any treasure, but because I wanted to see that light on my fur. I wanted to see my shadow grow and flicker. If any place could help me keep my soul safe, it was that fifolet. And maybe there was gold. Or maybe the treasure was whatever it took to get there.