The Forest Person

Friday, 19 September 2008 4 responses

On both sides of the narrow two lane road pristine wilderness pushed against the tarred surface where plants stopped growing and the pavement began. Ancient trees lifted their limbs over the road, forming an arched canopy that filtered out the last fading rays of dusk before they could illuminate the shadowy tunnel humans had created.

In the quiet of approaching night a single car swished along this forest road, its revealing headlights shining through the brush at the road's edge, glinting as they caught the luminescent eyes of forest animals peering out shyly from the darkness. The car was the kind of mediocre conveyance purchased at any used car lot: underside slightly rusted from the salt used to melt snow and ice in the winter, scratched and dented, functional but not glamorous.

Inside the driver sat wearily in the worn cloth seat: a middle aged man, a few pounds overweight, the first few strands of gray highlighting his brown hair. He was driving home after a long day of work, the car engine humming like a comforting lullaby. Somewhere at the end of this forest road there was a home where the man's family waited for him to return. He had called them earlier that evening, just a few hours ago: "I'll be late again, I have a few things I need to take care of before the weekend." He had heard the disappointment in his wife's voice, but it could not be helped. "I love you," he had said as he hung up, eager to finish his work so that he could return. Now he was on his way back, a few miles from home, his mind already at his destination.

The car was speeding around a bend when suddenly the headlights caught a dark shape up ahead on the road, just a few yards away. The man stiffened, slamming on the brakes and jerking the wheel to the left, towards the other lane, but he wasn't fast enough. There was a sickening impact as something passed under the right front wheel, jarring the car and deflecting its course slightly. But the man barely noticed, for he realized to his horror that he had over steered, and now the car was hurtling up the earth embankment on the left side of the road, aimed toward the dense forest where solid tree trunks stood like the palisades of an ancient fort. The man threw the wheel back to the right—too far, too fast, and the car ramped off the embankment. Later the man would often reflect on that brief moment of silent airborne trajectory, before the tires touched down on the road, screeching as the car spun around to a stop facing back the way it had come.

The man sat still for a few moments, shaking in the aftermath of the accident, his shoulder aching where the seatbelt had pressed into his flesh. Over the noisy gasping sound of his own ragged breaths the man could hear a hot metallic pinging coming from the stalled engine. As his heartbeat slowed the man shifted in the seat, thankful that the car wasn't wrapped around a tree at this very moment, thankful that he had made it through the accident with nothing more than a few bruises. He realized that he was still tightly gripping the steering wheel and he let go, reaching down to dry his sweaty palms on his slacks.

Grabbing the keys dangling from the steering column he turned the ignition key forward, praying that the car would start. The engine ground for a few stressful seconds before springing to life. The man sighed in relief, leaning forward in the seat to inspect the car's hood. The entire right front of the car was dented and crushed, the headlight smashed, the hood creased. "What on earth did I hit?," the man wondered, looking along the road, back where the accident had started. The car's single remaining headlight cast a yellow glow along the road, and in its beam the man saw a crumpled figure lying on the pavement.

The realization surfaced slowly, but it hit the man with the sickening sour taste of overwhelming dread. "Good God!" he cried aloud, "I've hit a child!" The dark crumpled form had two small arms and legs, and the face could be seen from the side, in profile. The man threw open the door of car, his heart beating wildly again. Rushing up to the small limp figure, he dropped to his knees on the pavement beside it. A sickening smell of burnt tire rubber hung in the air, and the man coughed as he bent over the small body laying beside the dark skid marks.

Terrified to think that perhaps the child was already dead, the man picked up the thin wrist to feel for a pulse. His fingers brushed along the wrist, once, twice, and then he recoiled in horror, dropping the wrist back onto the pavement. The skin beneath his touch had not been the soft, warm flesh of a human, but rough and woody like bark.

His mind racing, the man took a closer look at the figure laying before him, trying to find some explanation, some justification for what he had felt. The figure was small and thin, with dark skin, but it was skin the color and texture of bark. The body was small like a child's but the face was that of an adult, and there was something strange and unexpected about it, similar to a human's and yet slightly different in a way that the man could not determine. The body appeared to be clothed with vegetation: leaves, bark, and twigs, torn away and crushed by the impact. Broken gashes and cracks scored the tiny figure and a dark fluid oozed from the wounds—not blood, but a thick sap that dripped down off the body like maple syrup. The man backed away a few feet, wondering what this was, what creature, or person, or being it was before him.

But even as he watched the figure stirred slightly, moving its small arms and legs jerkily, with obvious pain, and it turned its head in the man's direction, opening its eyes to reveal two dark orbs, completely black in color, like smooth wet stones at the bottom of a creek. The wooden lips moved as if the being was trying to say something, but it couldn't. The man moved back a few more feet in mixed horror and wonderment, but then, in his mind, he heard a quiet, peaceful voice, like the sound of wind in the treetops or water spilling over a waterfall. "I forgive you," the voice said, "There is nothing you can do to help me. Move away from my body."

The man was shocked to hear the creature's voice in his mind, and at first he didn't understand what it was telling him. "Move away from my body!" the voice repeated more urgently. "Quickly! For your own safety." The man stumbled backward, his eyes still on the broken figure before him. As he watched the dark eyes slowly closed and the body went completely limp, settling downward into the limpid state of death.

But then the body stirred and lifted slightly, not with life, but from the disturbing movement of some external force. The man stood in place paralyzed with shock, watching as a thin twig stretched upward from the broken abdomen, thickening as leaves began to unfurl, twigs growing outward until it was a small sapling growing from the dead body. Faster and faster the small tree grew upward, branches pushing out and up, leaves rustling as they filled in along the branches. Then the pavement around the body began to crack as great roots pushed up from the ground like muscular snakes, crumbling and shattering the surface with a tremendous tearing sound.

Now a great tree stood where the body had been, gnarled bark with lines and whorls like cryptic hieroglyphics, a solemn column standing watch in the middle of the road. The man turned and ran toward his car, and as he jumped in and slammed the door he saw that vines and bushes were beginning to sprout up around the tree, dense vegetation and underbrush sprouting up where the road had been a few minutes earlier.

The man gunned the engine, whipping the car around, the tortured frame creaking in protest. The scene in the rear view mirror was a wall of plants and trees lit up by the red glow of the tail lights. The man accelerated away, looking behind in awe. At that moment he realized that he could never view his world in the same way again.

© Nathan P

Nathan is an aspiring writer of poetry and prose. Currently he is working on a book about the mysteries of this world and the many subtle details and moving moments that people often overlook. Nathan can be contacted through his reading and writing blog: Inkweaver Review.

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