The Forest

A girl goes for a walk in the forest she knows so well.

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1. The Forest

With bare feet, she climbed across the slippery cliffs at the river bank. One wrong step and she'd fall in, and be swept away by the rough current. Her skull would crush against the rocky riverbed, and if that didn't kill her, the water that'd flush into her lungs when she'd try to scream would.

Despite the risk, she wasn't scared – she never had been.

 

“If the forest takes me, then so be it,” she'd said once.

 

Nothing underneath the green treetops frightened her. No bear, wolf or rock had ever hurt her more than she could handle, and she trusted them not to.

 

A breeze of light, warm September air kissed her flustered cheeks, leaving a soft smile on her face.

 

No, the forest had never hurt her. From when she'd first started exploring it, it'd protected her, as a mother would protect her child.

It'd fed her with its wild berries, warmed her with its fallen branches, and given her shelter in its dark caves.

It'd comforted her when she was sad, calmed her when she was furious, and always listened, when she told it about her worries.

 

It never judged her, it never lied.

 

The heavy log that bridged across the foaming river was at least as slippery as the cliffs, but still, she wasn't scared.

She'd quickly learned to crawl across it, in oppose to walking.

 

The second her naked feet his the mossy ground on the other side, she started running. Aimlessly, aggressively, freely.

 

Getting lost was not a worry to her. If it happened that she did, she'd simply wait for the dark to overcome the landscape, and let the starry sky guide her back.

 

Above her squirrels and birds would hear the rapid thumps of her feet, and flee to safety further up in the tall trees.

 

She could hear her own heartbeat and the rush of her blood in her ears, along with the sound of branches that occasionally cracked beneath her feet.

 

“That child is going to get herself hurt in those woods,” she'd overheard the woman next door tell her mother, “It's just a matter of time.”

 

She didn't understand. Neither did her teacher, or her classmates, or the cashier at the grocery store. They couldn't see how good the forest was to her. How it kept her safe and never betrayed her.

They didn't know how it'd soothed her better than any person, when she'd needed it the most.

 

Taking a long, deep breath, she filled her lungs with the fresh, clean air, and let it out with the loudest scream she could muster.

 

“I think you should start being home a little more often,” her mother had said, looking at her from the other side of the dinner table, “We never see you anymore.”

“I've been busy,” she'd replied.

 

Her mother was wrong. The little, white painted house with the red tiled roof and perfectly mowed lawn wasn't her home.

The forest was.

She was home more often than ever, they just didn't know.

 

Breathing in once more, she let out another shrill scream, emptying her lungs of all oxygen.

 

The monster had driven her away. The monster, who'd smiled sweetly at her at their first meeting. The monster, who'd crouched down, shaken her hand and said: “You're as beautiful as your mother.”

 

Her mother had laughed. She hadn't understood.

 

Bitter tears steadily welled up in her eyes, as they'd done it so many, many times before. Tears of hatred. Of desperation. Of fear. Of hurt.

 

It was the same tears she'd cried when he'd hushed her in the dark. The same tears she cried, when she looked at her tainted body in the mirror.

The same tears she'd cried time and time again, when her mother announced that she were going on yet another business trip.

 

No amount of body shampoo, cleaning soap or bleach had been able to wash it off. The shame, the bruises, the hand over her mouth.

No amount of aggressive heavy metal on full volume, had been able to drown the sound of his voice, when he'd told her: “This is our little secret.”

 

Steadily slowing down as she ran out of breath, she wrapped her arms around the nearest tree, shivering and panting.

 

Its bark scratched her softly, even more so as she sank to her knees.

 

“I have a secret,” she whispered, almost silently, looking at the tree with a pleading expression, “Do you want to hear it?”

 

The forest always listened, the forest always saw, the forest always knew.

 

Under the gentle singing of little songbirds, she told the tree everything, leaning into it with her legs curled up beneath her.

Its stem hugged her as the wind stroked her hair, letting her relieve her heart without interrupting.

 

They knew the story already, as they'd heard it many times before. It'd been whispered by the breeze between the swiveling branches, squeaked about between the squirrels, howled by the owls, chuckled by the springs, and screeched by the eagles.

 

She stayed, safe in the embrace of the tree, until a bright orange color had eaten up the sky.

 

“Thank you,” she said as she got back on her bare feet, “For always listening.”

 

The gentle wind followed her back, watched over her as she let the roar of the river lead her. Even when she stopped to pick splinters out of her feet, it stayed by her.

 

It whistled to the forest's souls, telling them that their child had yet again come to them with a pleading look in her eyes.
That she'd told them about the monster that plagued her, once more.

 

The late bloomers that were the September flowers shivered at the news, their heads turning as she passed them.

Some leaned in to kiss her ankles with their soft pedals, leaving her to smile softly – it tickled.

 

The lazy rays of the evening sun peeked through the treetops, watching in silence as she made her way through the deserted landscape.

Even the birds had gone silent.

 

Laying a hand on the slippery log, she shut her eyes and turned her head, looking back at the hastily darkening place she called home.

 

“I wish I could stay with you,” she said, her voice still thick and gritty.

 

As she pulled herself onto the log, the forest took a breath and held it.


Every animal, every leaf, every stone watched with great care as she crawled across the natural bridge, with the foaming river racing beneath her.

 

Sniffling still, she reached the middle of the log, just as a strong wind blew in from her side, ripping at her hair and clothes.

Barely had she steadied herself, before the fallen tree shed its bark, leaving her to lose her grip and fall.

 

For a second, she wondered if the forest too had decided to betray her, however, the moment the water caught her, she knew it hadn't.

The river embraced her tightly, gently rocking her in its arms.

 

The riverbed left countless loving kisses on her face, all while the wind whispered to her above the surface.

She was safe, under the protection if the forest she so much loved.

 

The current carried her a good mile, before finally surrendering her to the wind.

 

“Thank you,” she whispered.

 

The whole night she spent thanking every creature, flower, tree, spring and rock. Carried by the wind, she flew with the birds, danced among the leafy trees, and followed the eager squirrels as they showed her their nests.

 

The sadness that'd weighed upon her for so long, the river had washed away. When she asked it where it'd taken it, it refused to tell her.

 

“It's gone, child,” it chuckled, “Worry not.”

 

The sun had been high in the sky for hours, when the wind suddenly dragged her to the edge of the forest.

 

“What are you doing?” she giggled, letting it sit her down on a branch, “There's nothing out here.”

 

But there was.

A woman with long, blonde hair came walking down the path, seemingly looking for something. Occasionally she'd call out a name, that struck her as strangely familiar.

 

“Who is she?” she asked, furrowing her brows as she was left without an answer.

 

Accompanied by the wind, she followed the stranger, watching her with great curiosity. She had so many questions.

 

The wind gently nudged her and pointed to the place where the path's material switched from gravel to grass and moss.

 

“What is it?”

 

Sighing soundlessly, it swooped her off the branch on which she'd been sitting, and took her down to get closer.

 

At the edge of the path, a pair of gray sneakers had been left behind. The woman quickly bent down to pick them up, just to call the familiar name once again, this time much louder.

She was sad. Scared.

 

Reaching out her hand, she cupped the woman's cheek and smiled.

 

“It's going to be okay,” she said, “I know it will.”

 

The woman didn't acknowledge her presence. Instead, she started running down the overgrown path, calling the name over and over.

 

“Can we go now? The oak promised to tell me a story,” she told the wind, grinning as it lifted her from the ground and let her fly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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