(a collection of independent vignettes)
The forest was alive.
I could tell from the ground. Solid and unyielding, it was the only thing keeping me standing. Like two lead pencils, I felt like my legs were inching instead of walking. Each heavy step I took seemed to echo and reverberate back to the core of the Earth. The dirt was marking my path, I only hoped they weren’t paying too much attention.
I could tell from the roots. Thick and strong, worn with time but all the more wise for it. Nearly tripping over one, I braced myself against the tree and took a breath. Keeping my head down, my eyes drank in the sight. Wrinkles, like memories, etched into their bark as deep as trenches, hiding secrets that were waiting for someone to come and figure them out. They looked like hands reaching down to grab that which I didn’t know. But something worth while. I wanted to stay here, I wanted to figure out their truth. They were the reason I had come at all.
But I had been rash, and overlooked something. Something important.
I could tell from the air. It was breathing. The wind inhaling with slow, gentle breezes letting the leaves, as green and vibrant as life, take the exhale. I was alone. That was the lie they were telling me. And the worst part was I wanted to believe them. But that would make us both liars.
And it would make only me the naive one. It was a word my mother had called me too many times. In hindsight, I guessed she was right. About that, and something else.
Don’t go into the forest.
I smiled, but there was no happiness in it. Everything was quiet. And then all of a sudden, everything went loud. They found me.
Three shadows had come up behind me. In all of my struggle to get away from them I didn’t have much energy left. I had been running for five hours straight. Any normal human being, especially a girl who looked more like a flower than a tree, shouldn’t stand a chance against the watchers of the forest. The hulking ones I had thought only existed in legend.
In the hard way I guessed I had learned of one of the forests secrets. But the revelation was more bitter than sweet.
At least now there were only three human sized ones left. The first of the five had drowned when I ran behind the waterfall. The second had gotten impaled on that sharp, low lying branch a mile back. Black carapaces that upon closer inspection looked like armor instead flesh, spread knife tipped wings blocking the way I had come, and beady black eyes that never changed focus. My mother was right the deeper you travel, the scarier the forest becomes. These insects looked like they had come straight from the Jurassic period. No wonder she had kept me inside for all those years.
On the other side of these bugs there was me and, locked into my grip, my small hunting knife.
“Fine. If that’s how you want to do it.”
The forest was alive. And right now, so was I.
That was the way it was going to stay.