A Walk Through The Forest
posted Tuesday, 6 November 2007
A fiction by DF Lewis written today:
A Walk Through The Forest
I changed the rhythm of my pace as I entered a special part of the Wood that the map called Forest.
I waited for reaction to the opening of my ghost story but none came. There was nobody to react.
It’s an easy note to strike – pretending that my narration was being made to a gathering of like-minded people in the cosy firelight of a civilised turn-of-the-century parlour, each participant eager to enter into conversation with me by constructively interrupting my narration, entering such discourse as easily as they might have entered the trees of the story: a story made more believable because of their awestruck, rapt attention and interpersonal responses to it. But I was simply telling the story to myself so as to have my own company in real time while still actually within the story’s woody gloaming itself. You see, I did not want to believe it. Belief would have been too frightening. And if I told it to others, I would have been duty-bound to believe it, so as to give the story an edge of suspenseful credence the more so to entertain my audience.
I did not want to believe it, I maintain. Quite frightening even if this were half-believable; more so if it were truly real.
The trees were thickening around me as I spoke. Or should I say, as I strode? I tried to switch my mind to other concerns – was the parlour (in which I would have preferred to sit telling this story to like-minders) as veritably turn-of-the-century as I had earlier assumed. If so, the turn of which century? The cadences of the room’s decorations and in-built electronica indicated 1999 fast becoming 2000 in the mistaken fear of end-of-the-millennium changes, a fear that was so prevalent then. But looking at the listeners, they were dressed as if it were 1899! One was dressed like a Victorian Vampire. But, of course, nothing in the parlour could be real. That was just my daydream to help me withstand the Forest that the Wood had now become.
My map originally showed me entering a sparsely and intermittently wooded suburban area. But now it indicated that I was beyond the pale of this outer countrified residentiality of a gaslit city and was soon to be bodily overcome by trees without even glimpses of house-lights between the trunks. Earlier, I was amidst topiary and rigorous tree-surgery. Now it was as if I had grown an unruly head of hair and I had no narrative comb to untangle it.
“Sorry, why were you walking there in the first place? I didn’t really hear you begin the story, as I got here a bit late?”
I stared at the man who had interrupted me. He was squatting on a stool too near the fire for comfort, clutching an umbrella with which he had bustled into the parlour. Indeed, because of the firelight, he was the only person I could now see clearly, with the dusk having abruptly turned the parlour windows tantamount to night-blocks – and nobody had evidently thought to switch on the parlour’s new-fangled lights. The other members of the audience had become shadowy presences subsuming the characterisations I had given them before the man with the umbrella had entered the room. I did, however, sense I heard mounting mutterings among these shadows, either agreeing with the man’s question because they, too, had missed at least some of my preamble or complaining that he had spoilt their concentration of listening with his interruption.
“You may leave your umbrella in the hall,” I suggested, more to take the fanning wind out of his sails than to offer helpful advice. In truth, I, too, had forgotten how my story had begun, and I merely deployed delaying tactics. With a face flushed by embarrassment or by fire, the man scuttled from the room. My own fluster thankfully was disguised by the autumnal gloom having drained all colour from me.
I laughed; my daydream seemed to take on a life of its own: an autonomous narrative course quite outside the reality of my situation. I shivered as the trees around me shrugged their shoulders in the re-freshening of the wind. It was as if they scorned ... spurned my laughter.
A walk through the forest. This was, however, no routine constitutional after an unduly heavy supper. I felt I was feverishly intent upon leaving somewhere for good or eager to arrive at a permanent abode after a long period of idle wandering. I had only the rhythm of my pace to give any clue as to whence or whereto I went.
Easing the pace to slower than a walk, I stared at the map in the scratching-light of a match. The place called Wood seemed to spread from amid the last housing estate towards the edge of a place called Forest, the two places’ relative tree-densities represented by the varying of cross-hatching between irregular margins.
I looked around. Were they following me? My language was often over-florid. My thought-patterns retained their own form of diverse cross-hatching. I had no hope of being followed on this rite of passage. I was alone. Unutterably alone.
But ghost stories could not contain such loneliness, if only because of the ghost’s presence itself presenting a company of sorts to a lonely narrator. Given Victorian beliefs, a ghost could be just as sentient as those who were not ghosts. But...
Pace for pace, I suddenly felt we were mutual shadows, the ghost and I. A Wagnerian quest for each other.
“You said you were alone, didn’t you? What was it you said, unutterably alone? But you did utter it! And now you admit there is a ghost to keep you company. Not that I believe in ghosts!”
The man (now without his umbrella) had returned to his fireside position and positively laughed at his invocation of my inconsistency. He was evidently trying to get his own back.
I tried to spurn his faulty logic by returning to the Forest. The map now told me I was in an inner part of Forest called Wood. I could see through the trunks towards vistas of a new electrified city. I would soon be out of the Wood altogether without having to retrace the rhythm of my steps. Not through the middle and out the other side – but deeper towards the middle where, strangely, things now became clearer.
A crack of gunshot. I fell to the ground dead. I felt a comb being dragged with difficulty through my shaggy head of hair, and heard the crackle of branches as shadowy story-arsonists roamed in my wake. Then the stench of flesh. Thankfully, a kindly ghost sheltered my body from the rain with the unfurling of his portable parlour ceiling.