The Child-Eating Forest Speaks Its Mind
Hello, skin-clad sapling. Young beast? Or boy?
Such a start! Such turning about in swift gyre!
Rag-clad limbs stutter on my loamy ground
As wide go the eyes in a dirty face.
Doubt not the voice of a Forest made
By rustling leaves and scraping branches
In fine imitation of breath and tongue
Of others passed ‘ere your own arrival.
My vast foliage breathes as do your lungs
My brooks and rivers match your blood and lymph
Twisting roots, deep and shallow, ancient and new,
Knit and knot to make my verdant thoughts.
I am Forest, wide and deep, filled with life
Seen and unseen, much faint to your eyes
As your own inner life eludes perception
Swimming in your blood and gut.
No trick, no dream. I am myself, self-made
Replete with thought and feelings true enough
to thirst and hunger through seasons’ turnings
So hard, is it, to think me lonely too?
With a million facets of insect eyes
I espied your crossing of my border,
Followed by hawk and sparrow, fox and hare,
And by wolves unseen. Remember the wolves.
Have I a name? All things have their name.
Forest I own, a name I own to, self-seize.
But some are given. Devil’s Wilderness,
Dark Wood, and, by some, Child-eating Forest.
Don’t run, boy!
I told you not to run. Stop up your tears.
‘Twas only a root thrown up in your path.
Your wind will return, your scrapes will heal,
Though some indignity may linger on.
That “Child-eating” name does annoy and vex.
True, over ages, many entered, few left.
Some as free, or foolish, but many led
And rare were times I kept their bones by choice.
I have seen a woodsman, axe edge sharp
And silver as the coin he had received
Strike a young lass down, and leave her parts
For vermin, and her guiltless eyes for crows.
I have seen an aged crone offer apples,
Dipped in syrup to hide the poison’s taste,
To brother and sister who dared intrude
Upon the land she thought her kingdom.
I have seen weeping women, stone-faced men,
Bear cloth-wrapped bundles, some still and some quick,
Some silent, some making cries and whimpers,
lay them in my gloom and depart again
So very many of those last. So many.
What? No. I told you, I am a Forest.
How could I possibly have saved any?
Mercy is not in a Forest’s nature.
Is that sound you spoke just now your name?
I do not like it. I will keep you boy.
Why do you start again? Unbug your eyes,
And speak to me of you. Tell your story.
Oh. Orphaned by plague. Taken and sold
To a cruel master. Ran away. How common.
But few so brave or foolish to seek escape
In the shade and depths of my dreaded woods.
Go, boy. Aim towards the lowering sun.
Two miles, a river at my border.
Cross those waters and reach safe lands. At least
As safe as this harsh world will allow.
Give not your thanks, boy, foolish stupid boy.
Forest is not your friend, only itself,
I speak in tongue bare half-heard by you,
Shaped by desires and nature my own.
I did bid you remember, did I not,
That I have wolves? Do you hear, approaching,
Their high rising howls as the sun descends
Towards darkness? Run, boy. Run very fast.
You might make it.
Bruce Arthurs has been a lifelong reader of science fiction and fantasy. He’s written occasional stories, and very occasional poetry, since 1975, with over a dozen scattered sales. In the 1990’s, he also edited two anthologies and wrote an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (“Clues”, 4th Season, 1991). After a long hiatus, in late 2012 he began writing and selling fiction again while recovering from a badly broken arm. He lives in Arizona with his wife Hilde, several housemates, and six cats. He can be found on Twitter as @BruceArthursAZ.