Strangers In The Forest

 

It was a Saturday afternoon and my mother wanted me back home before sunset. This was an unspoken agreement, never once broken by any one of us. The dozens of paths inbetween trees were not yet overturned with darkness, so it meant that I could make it back in perfect time. The heat dried everything up but my eyes, which were tiredly squinting at the water beside me and brought my mind to replenishing concentration. I decided to carry on, and as my attention to the stream was interupted by the bone-like snapping of branches beneath my feet, I decided I had better get on quickly. Treading along the bank, I headed downstream for deeper water. Fallen trees bridged the width of the river and stretched perfectly across to both sides. I still lacked the courage to wander across them. I was simply broad shouldered and lean. There was too much of me to be acrobatic. The sheer length of me would smash into the side of the earth if I were to jump. My worldly troubles not conquered by tumbling contortion, my inhibitions never to be as small and flexible as me.

The day still felt young however the water reflected less light into my eyes and the deep greens of the forest started to darken and glow in their shadows. Each step I took happened to disturb the natural frenzy of things below my feet and I became agitated at the uncomfortable rhythm I was walking at. Along the edge, wet rocks of all sizes were scattered allow the bank and walking across them made my bones slant in their joints awkwardly. I growled as it maintained its slippery joke on me all along the riverside while beads of cold sweat rolled in twos down like dice.  I could see that it all came to a basin-like end in which the right hand corner became a deeper pool of water. It seemed that my journey had come to a satisfying end. The rest of the river ran down on the left, through a skinny avenue of earth which allowed the steady draining on the rest of the stream.

The air was thinning like worn ribbons that had snagged at the threads. Each gasp I took wore the forest out. The flash of the sun was changing colours and cut through trees in fades that changed their directions. Each possible direction of my excitement. Whole chunks of the sky ran through the wide gaps between branches and punched dying light between the arms of the large oaks and birches. The settling of the sun made the horizon of the forest more visible. The exposure to the things along the belly and legs of the forest increased within both eyes. The details of forest twinkled in unison before a square, wooden structure which housed an intimate creche-like decking appeared ahead and knocked itself into my focus. Natures perfect course had been discovered again and made a spectacle by human hands. I marvelled first at the good workmanship and then the deep water that bled out through a tiny slit in its side and off elsewhere. It worked perfectly, no shrinking or flooding despite the mossy bottleneck that designed it. A perfect flow which if altered could compromise anything. I chuckled as I understood why someone would want to build both something and nothing here. Just a place for a place.

I couldn’t see the bottom of the river. There were no sharp looking rocks underneath, no frayed green hairs stuck in between rocks to reveal its invisible outline like a ghoulish fluorescent mist.  My hand reached out and groped the smooth bar that ran all along four equally long horizontal beams. Dark grey and silky skin smooth, the secret dock was perfect in its craft and made with materials titles that were not missed by the forests. Grazed with all the joy I could hold, I crouched my left limbs inward and attempted to board the lock. The back of my arm rubbed underneath the beams which were just neck height, and finally, I slid into the craddle like a baby joey hoping into its mothers pouch. I threw my weight into the centre, giving both my curious eyes a front seat view. The volume of the water could be felt as the surface shined like a thick black jelly with no end to its influence on everything. I felt sick with excitement as I stared down into the origin of all great things, but was puzzled when my sight focused and I simply saw my sweaty, round face. A watery reflection. For some reason I was disappointed to see myself. My legs bent down and crossed after I thought about face and how it ruined this place. A calmness skipped along the river surface and sat with me as I stroked the rough planks beneath me. Not belonging and free to reign like the forest dust, I settled on the river for some time, took my shoes off and embraced the balance that came.

 

 

The first night of summer 

A mockingbird was singing boldly in the break of the summer evening while a large water rat scurried beneath the warm wooden braces of the house. A small child can be heard singing and murmuring.

“What do you say?!” The young girl’s shadow is dancing devilishly in the hallway light. “Sing with me Leanor!” She bounds from one room to the other, her small chubby legs slamming her shiny shoes into the ground, slapping. The hallway besides the dinning room was a cluster of children, toys and random bits of clothing. There was a small tan-coloured doll with three strands of hair, a yoyo and a ball the faint brazed colour of salmon pink. In a crumple beside the entrance of what was probably a bedroom lay a thick burgundy children’s dress, fixed with velvet red bows. From the wreckage of child memorabilia sprung Katherine, a child of 3 and a half years of age with the curiosity of an explorer. She wore only a small white under dress that seemed especially handmade. It brought light to the dinning room when the life of her came running in, to the much overstated delight of her parents.

Behind her sledged a less emphatic extension of the family, yours truly. I must conceal the fact that I am very tired or else they will know I went well beyond the woods again. It’s been a whole year after all. I drag my feet a few final steps through the narrow corridor before shooting myself with a sharp fix of reclaimed discontent. It does the job and before I even sit down, I am able to look unshaped by the comfortable commonness of it all. As per usual, father is late to the table on account of his project and mother is darting around the kitchen like a bloodhound. Katherine is somewhere under the table no doubt, with dirty feet that mother will surely complain about. Right now it is just me and the stunning vitality of the bright vegetables before me. The light dangling above casts but little shadows on the bulging skins of green peppers, while the summer humidity doesn’t shrink a single leaf. My daydreams are broken by my fathers carpenter walk.

His legs stomp into the ground with absent rhythm as if to stumble on account of full blown numbness. The blood in his legs migrates to the creative proportions of his brain, he would tell me, as if he was almost afraid of sounding too epic. This he claims is no laughing matter and it is the cursed price of the creator; to become a paraplegic, reliant on the structure of the project totally. He extends his legs more as he reaches the table before stretching once leg more than the other while in his chair like an old, rusty grasshopper.

“This chair feels uneven Mardia” My mother doesn’t change her routine. The room feels good enough to be in now, and I’ve noticed a spring in my mothers step. She serves the large amounts of meat and corn from a single massive pot. The saffron delicately mixed in looks like small slithers of gold and my eyes can barely contain my stomachs hunger. I wait for everybody to be served and consume all that is on my plate guiltily. My mother scorns me from across the table while I notice my dad has scoffed his food down too.

She pats her face in her lips in a very alien manner and proceeds to clear the table once everyone is finished. Without remarking on my mothers strange behaviour, he begins a conversation about something he is working on, another gift for somebody in town. I stare back at the plate which harbours only a few vegetables now. There is a simple courgette and tomato looking seemingly suspicious together. Their plum darkness containing not enough contrast, their rich flavours making my belly ache furiously. My mother and father, it seems, have descended into an argument. I grab messy Katherine from the chair and proceed to take her to the bathroom down the hall. The bathroom is messy from when I had initially been in there, I roll my eyes over the complete lack of care about my forbidden ventures. This is how mother must feel, I thought.

I fill the bath with the warm water that my father had so carefully boiled before working on his contraption. His level of care always seemed spider-web like to me. Somewhere in his mind it was obvious that we were always there on a rotating pedestal, we might circle back out of sight but it only means we are coming right back to the forefront of his schematics. Switching the lens of his eye to ‘family friendly’.

I carry Katherine into the bath and place her in slowly. Her arms become weightless under the weight of the water and I quickly sit her up. She looks into my eyes with the general content that a child has. The bold stare that is neither in want or need, just pure belief, freezes me. She almost looks lifeless when the water surrounds her. I stare out the window to the darkening opening to the woods with the general fear a child doesn’t have. I know that every time I go back, the forest becomes less of a hiding place as each night follows, slowly breeding itself into it’s own ambivalence. It festers slowly like a sleepless jungle.

 

 

A trip to town 

My shoes crush into the crumbling roads and give me the urge to run along ahead of my father and sister straight into town. I can’t hardly wait to reach the shops, I hear there is a new machine of wonderment, something me and my father had spoken about over breakfast. I have scuffed the bottom face of my shoes now but that doesn’t really matter. I can still see the noble shine on the front, the polished gleam of all things perfect. Even if there was but a spec of dirt there, the magnificent willingness of my eyes could remove any impurity and discard of it. I can smell the stomach-tickling sweetness of the bakery and without a ghost of a doubt, I bound through the groups of people to reach my favourite trio of shops.

There it was, the apple pie that brought me out of bed this morning and kept me forgetting about the woods. It shines so greenly despite only the golden crusts flashing their soft skins at me. Its shoulder is crispy and old, but its holy body, becoming ever fairer as it thins downward.

“The apple of my eye”, my dad remarks despite knowing that saying this hadn’t even had the same effect since I’ve become of age, since I had been revealed my truth. He places his hands warmly around my shoulder despite it being a hot day, and we both stood staring through the glass like people admiring past love ones in haunted mirrors. In the reflection, people can be seen hurrying by as, almost to avoid sharing the same eye space in both real life and in the ever fixed structure of glass. But what they don’t know is both can and will be shattered.

The owner of the store comes out to greet us in a dark green stripped apron and a funny hat. He stares my father directly in the face out of respect, my father showing his by making a point of normalising the situation. We all stumble into the shop like three little insects running from very large predators, asif we knew that the likes of them couldn’t fit through the thin dimensions of the door my father had shaved for Greggory. It was another one of dads woodworks that he’d made to somehow protect us all. There wasn’t a moments silence when we passed through the threshold of safety and so I do the respectable thing and try to engage in adult conversation without so much as a word of input. An art form my mother would always call it.

“There’s more pressure now you see, I can’t even deal with the amount of food orders” Greggory scraped his thumbnail across the wooden desktop which balances plenty of cake tins and stands. Another one of my dad’s humble makes, another breadcrumb he had placed ahead of him to earn him passage through town without harassment.

“You don’t look too pressed here now though” They both share a glorious laugh that made the prettiness of the shop seem super delicate amongst loud and happy men, accompanied not by the shrewd and coldness of women, but of the wholesome nature of anyone but.

“I know you don’t think you should attend these things but I really believe it would be good for your family. Especially for Mardia, she only goes out late at night at you know how people speak ill of your family already.”

My fathers patience reserved for anything other than work receded back so far, I could sense the frantic thoughts in his mind as he realised he had just become vulnerable. He grabbed the prepackaged apple pie in a white paper bag, and gave Greggory a brief but friendly look. We quickly leave the white, femininely decorated shop and I stare at the apple pie behind the glass. It shrinks and shrinks as I am pulled away.  It ceases to exist when I stop looking at it.

My attention is now focused on the large group we had passed earlier, circling what I could only guess was some sort of grand unveiling. The invention, I had just realised, was still yet to be seen. My fathers hand gripped the bag tighter around its neck, as if it was a bit of game he had just shot. His usually reserved stance took an animated re-positioning and the old rusty grasshopper suddenly seemed to grow bigger into something like a butterfly. I stared at his back and wondered if, with these eyes, I might be able to turn him into an Angel and fly him towards the front. No wings seem to grow but his growing excitement surely did. His faded green shirt is all I can really see as he wanted to check whether the invention was okay for young people. Before he could ask, a man stripped free a large white cage from a thick dark red cloth. Inside the cage was a small rabbit, just as I had foretold. These marvellous eyes and the honestly inside, I smiled. Before my father or the audience had a single chance to even admire the trap, the short and very hairy man pulled a rusty lever. The cage closed in on itsef like an infinite venus fly trap, devouring itself over and over. The cage’s structure seemed to shrink and shrink and clink and clink before expelling what was simply a screwed up ball of fleshy blood. The hairy man shouting “THE AMAZING CRITER COMPACTER – TRAP ANYTHING 50CM TALL OR LESS AND NEVERMIND THE MESS”

My fathers lean jaw hung open and his eyes had no movement beneath his thin framed spectacles. Other people were talking amongst themselves, huffing and gasping. Me and my father being visibly different from the settlers looked at the bunny ball and seemed to share alot in common with it. Our habitat taken and sold up as a treasure, and our demise sold as nothing more than a doomed trinket. We remain caged in a nightmare here in Tejas. We wandered home. My shoes felt very worn in and my mind kept thinking about the Church and how we didn’t go there as we usually do. Maybe my dad is growing aware of my strengths, I must visit the forest immediately.

 

 

Money in the house

Katherine and I decide to pick apples for mother as she claims that the apple pie we picked up is purposefully being baked badly now. Her paranoia about the new towns people extends to what she calls her woman’s intuition. She says that when I am a woman, I will soon come to learn what this is. Using Katherine to grab the apples, I tell her to hold her arms out as far as she can with open palms. Her hands do so and I watch how her wrist bends like the tree she picks it from. Her skin is not rough like the matted barks of this tree, but is similar to the reddish brown belly of others, strong and alive. I wonder, if like an apple, could she survive a fall and still encourage happiness? I drop her and she cries.

My father, who’s standing besides the house with a large project with his favourite set of tools, throws them aside in one motion. He pushes me out of the way and holds Katherine as she is hurt.

“I can heal him father, I can bring her back to health.” His eyes are buzzing side to side in a puzzle. He looks asif he wants to speak but doesn’t. He seems to inspect each eye as if to be searching for either magical truth or demented illusion. I notice that mother has not heard Katherine screaming however I had almost not noticed it myself. It’s funny how you might almost never forget a sound but never ever hear it again. I go indoors expecting a swift telling off by my mother and a brush with the Bible, but she is not here again. There is nothing on the vegetable bowl in the middle, that is how I know. I look around the quaint room I am in, and remember I am needed elsewhere.

“Is that when you go to the forest the second time?” the officer writing down everything I say watches me pensively as I relay the events he has asked me to recall.

“No” I tell him. I could wall right out of this room if I wanted.

“I had been going every day for a year, but my routine is exactly the same…” I continued. I would really have breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time. Mother always quiet, Father always late and myself…always there when needed.” The officer swallows deeply into his throat.

“And your schedule when going to town?”

“Yes, that is the easiest. We go to the bakery to say hello to Greggory, before we go to the centre to see if anything spectacular is on. And then we go to Church…usually”

The officer tapped his fingers on the side of the table just like my dad would do after he finished a job. He called it ‘setting the slab’.

“Why don’t you go anymore Leanor?” My head started to spin. The muted sound of my mum shouting started to fill the empty holding room.

“The argument meant I couldn’t.”

He held back his pen like he was controlling a vicious snake right by the throat. I leaned in asif I was trying to draw memories from a well of all my deep reflections.

“The night after a dropped Katherine, mother came home. She was her usual self, carried in a basket of vegetable and a cloak for outside. Although she recently looks less guilty. Her and father got into an argument, and there I watch him slap her around the face. She went to her room and cried so I just put Katherine to bed myself, she’s hard to put to bed.”

“Was it then your father asked you to go to the Chapel?” His brow was sweating now and it was confusing me. Why did this man want to know about this? Nobody else does.

I inhaled faintly. “No, that was the following night. He grabbed me on my way to my room and said “My little girl, there are others I could send. But you are the one I have chosen. You must go see what is happening. Go quickly.” And I did. I was floating like a little angel of the night, sent by the Virgin Mary herself. My heart was adamant that I was unveil my mother for her tricks, however I found none. I walked past the vegetable stall and the door swung open. The priest saw me in the dark of the night. His old white skin was injected with so much holy light. For once, the man smiled at me and he told me that I would be of great importance to him if I claimed my mothers sins for her.”

“Continue…please.” His eyes, which previously hadn’t paid much attention to mine were saturated with so much focus, he seemed blind. This was the way that my mother sought to be seen by the men, this is how she said she put money in the house.

“He looked at me just like you looked at me, except he showed me how to see. I remember feeling eyes on me, like that little bunny at the show. I remember what the unveiling felt like.. I must go.”

“Wait goddamit!” I glide past the door and sprint down through the front door and into the street. I can hear a small crowd of the people calling out for me but I could not stop. Why did he want to know about Katherine? Does he even know where my Dad is? I have to get back to the forest. My arms are moving faster than my legs, winding my closer to what I must desperately reach. I am by the house now, I see my mother. She has been forgiven so now she may see. ‘

 

 

Two little streams

 

I walked along the natual path between the trees and traced the path straight to the start of the river. My mother, cold faced and wide eyed in the darkness was clinging onto my hand.

“You must tell me where your father is. He won’t speak to me. He doesn’t understand that I protect all of us.”

“I know mother, you try and relieve your sins, just like I do.”

We both cross over the bendy branches to go to downstream. As we walk, her face glistens like white sands in the moonlight. Her hair, which was thick and clear black, hung in a heavy plait behind her head. Her eyes were nothing like my fathers but moved in the same way, always rolling over the same hills and staring at the same clouds. Their life before me was in a hot distant place, however without the forest, I doubt I would want to be here at all. Realising I hadn’t spoken for a few minutes, I showed her the tiny weak stream on one side and the large reserve of water on the other side.

“You see mother, one is a river of sins and the other is not. One is forgiven and the other is not. Everything is either the pie in the bag or the pie on the stand. The rabbit or the cage. You or Dad. Dead or alive.” Her eyes, which were usually concealed by sad almond like sockets that hid from daylight, opened. I looked into her eyes and saw magnificent eyes just as the Priest had seen in me. I guided her under the wooden banister onto the decking, and she shrieked.

“KATHERINE!! LEANOR WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?” She scooped her up quickly like an eagle. Her eyes were bulging from her head. I couldn’t breathe. I walked away from her and looked at her.

“What is that Leanor?” Her eyes were fixated on the bundle behind me.

I too scooped up what was infront of me. It’s face was even smaller than I had remembered, it had been so long.

“It is mine and yours’ forgiveness. I went by the Priest that time you argued with Father, and you have been fine ever since. Dad is gone and this girl is here now…”

My mother threw up into the stream beside us in a fit of violent crying. I could only compare it to screaming I had all that time ago. I couldn’t do anything but watch her sickness pour from one stream to the other. I felt a noble presence in the air.

“You…I…What have I done…Where is….Leanor..Why?” Her voice trailed off into an emotional swell of questioning, not audible to anyone. It sounded like the chattering of the town people, random bursts of loud sounds and hisses. Her eyes continued to sob until she finally gripped Katherine to her, who was crying again.

“You must leave this thing, okay? It is dead. Come with me now and find your father please.” I walk back from her. She is not dead, I laugh.

“She is just not loud like your Katherine. You didn’t even notice. You sat in your room for a year, while I carried your burden and now you want me to relinquish it into these streams?”

Her eyes flashed red. “Did your father help you with all of this…” Her tone was that of a wounded wolf with nothing to lose.

Her frail body turned as if to walk away. I lunged forward and pushed Katherine into the water.

Her body bobbed under the water over and over like a duck, not sure what it was doing. It reminded me of everything. Neither here nor there until it is. I looked at my baby’s face and saw nothing, no life given by Katherine. I turn to find my mother has struck me in the head, hard.

 

Local News

LOCAL PRIEST AND TEJANO FAMILY FOUND DEAD ACCROSS TOWN

Following the events of an interview conducted by Sheriff Halsely following a missing persons report, a list of homicides occurred within 12 hours of another and involved the premeditated slaughter of the much loved Texan Priest Joseph Howard. The link between the murders is unknown but the body of a mother and three minors were found in the Jasmine Forest just outside the town centre earlier today at the end of a stream. The Priest and the father of these minors were found inside the Priest’s bed, whereby his new bed was fitted with a contraption device then caused both people to be impaled in a metal prison that gradually shrunk. Sources that knew of the family said the father was a practising carpenter and a social outcast. Police are investigating any possible motives here as the local towns people are mortified.

The wife who filed the missing persons report for her husband is considered to be involved in the events, however police were suspicious of the 13 year old minor who ran away from a police office when questioned. Any people affiliated to the anyone in the family is expected to step forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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