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Forest
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Omega Vision
Face Flowed Into Her Eyes

Gender: Male
Location: Miami Metropolitan Area

Forest

This is a story I wrote for my Advanced Writing workshop.

It was an experiment, written at a transitional point in my writing from fantasy to a more literary magical realism.

I'm not seeking to have it published.

Forest by Jonathan Duckworth


Mother asks that I stay home. There are dark circles under her eyes as she stirs the stewpot.

“I woke up like this on the night your father died,” she says, laying out a steaming bowl for me. “I dreamt we walked down a road and your father left us. Today you left me too.”

I laugh. “Dreams are nothing.”

She says nothing more. I eat the stew then step into my boots. I wear the black robes and heavy cross of a monk over my school-teacher clothes; to make thieves think I’m a holy man. I search the room for father’s gold compass-watch with the brass chain and find it on chair near door. Father told me that a German in a workshop in Paris made it with American gold.

“That means it is magic,” he said when he presented it. That was ten years ago, one year before his entrails were strewn across Manchuria by the little yellow men in the Far Eastern War; when he died grasping the Tsar’s two-headed eagle.

I slip it under my robes and kiss mother on both cheeks. She stares.

“It’s important,” I say to her silence. “The children will not teach themselves.”

I kiss her on her cheeks three more times then leave.

Outside it’s colder than expected. Neighbors are all huddled inside their homes where gray fingers waft up from stone chimneys. I shiver and remind myself of the importance of teaching the children, even if they’re all unruly peasant boys that don’t know a piano from a billiard table.

Neighbor girl Yulia waits for me at the fence, leaning on the fencepost with her chin on her perfect white hands and her lips turned up in a rosy smile. She doesn’t wear mittens or a scarf and ignores the snow falling on her shoulders. She’s a tall, strong woman with braided hair the same color as the watch chain. She tugs at my cross and her breasts quiver with laughter; she always finds it funny. When I first discovered how wondrous a woman’s body could be I saw only joy in Yulia. Now I must work not to picture a half dozen children crowding behind her: the younger ones with their mouths wide open like hungry chicks and the older ones holding out their hands and swearing that this is the last time I need loan them money because their luck at the card tables is sure to turn.

“Vanya,” Yulia coos, “Shall we marry today?”

My response is the same as ever. “It would be a nice day for it.”

She pats her full stomach. “Do you think our son will raise himself?”

I blink. “Are you sure?”

She stands up straight and crosses her arms. “Sure of what?”

Sure that you’re not just putting on weight. Sure that its mine.

“Never mind, I must go,” I say, kissing her on lips.

I feel her stare on the back of my skull. My robe catches on the fence on way out; I almost tear it getting free.

Just outside of the village waits Old Pavel. He traded one leg for a brass medal in the Far Eastern War. He leans on his crutches and waggles his stump at me in greeting. His black mustache hides his lips so it’s impossible to know when he’s smiling or frowning.

“When will you enlist, Ivan?” Pavel asks. “The Germans will not kill themselves.”

“Perhaps another day.” I pat him on his shoulder.

“They are nicer to volunteers than conscripts,” he says. He’s right, of course.

“I must teach the children,” I say.

Even if they don’t know their atoms from apples.

He shakes his head. “Do you like the Germans?”

“I like all kinds of people,” I say. I pat his shoulder again then leave him behind.
Me, a soldier? Ridiculous. I’m more useful to Russia in a school than on a battlefield. Perhaps when the Tsar comes to school to help me teach arithmetic and grammar I’ll return the favor and help him with his war.

I march up hills and through copses on a road I’ve traveled a thousand times.

The snow is ankle high and will only get worse as winter deepens. I trudge through it and wonder if the children really can teach themselves. Ah, but to live in a city, where schools are just one street over, and where children don’t point to the Pacific ocean when asked to find Russia on a globe.

I stop at the crossroads between home and the school. The left and right roads are as white and barren as the road behind. But ahead, toward the school, birds sing from the boughs of green trees and fat bees pollinate the flowers growing in cracks between the naked paving stones.

Strange. Nothing in the books I stole from the University in Voronezh speaks of such an oddity. Then I remember reading that in faraway Brazil, the summer comes when winter falls on Russia. The world has made a mistake, like when a man walks out of his home wearing two socks that don’t match. In any case, the warm air returns feeling to my ears, nose, fingers, and toes. Farther down the road I start sweating.

I try to pull off my monk robe. It gets caught on my head, I tug and tug, the fabric stretches, and I almost stumble. Groaning, I pull the robe back down.
My heart jumps. Trees everywhere: trees as wide as horses are long, with bark as white as fish bellies. Bramble patches cover the ground where the road was. Vines with heart-shaped purple leaves wrap around the tree trunks. I try to remember if anything like this was supposed to happen in the Amazon Rainforest where winter is summer. Nothing comes to mind.

The road is gone, but I’m not lost yet. Not while I have my compass-watch. I pull it out. Flip it to the compass side. Needle spins. Once, twice, thrice. My heart thumps. The needle spins on.

A rustle in the brush. I turn my head, and a white blur shaped like a woman springs out from a mass of vines and snatches at my watch. The chain snaps, I fall into the briars, my robes tear on the thorns, and the cross digs into my chest. The girl giggles. Her footsteps patter across the vines and shrubs. I scramble up; the girl is already many yards off. She only allows me brief glimpses as she weaves around the trees and through the bushes. Strong, springy legs. A lean body of white ash and feet of black char. A scent like a smoking hearth. Father said that a man’s soul is in his hands, and that a woman’s is in her eyes. This girl hides her eyes under tangled hair. I cannot catch her, even when she stops to laugh and wave.

Deeper, deeper into the forest. My lungs plead with me, my legs pop like old wood, but I go deeper, deeper, deeper into the forest until I collapse. The pain in my lungs is what a bullet must feel like. I rise to my knees, strip off robes, and shed the cross. Perhaps I can stay on my knees for rest of my life.

“Father’s watch will not recover itself,” I mutter, and rise.

Days pass, wandering the forest in a vain search. The forest is large enough that I can scream and not even a poacher answers. The bark on the trees is smooth and soft, like Yulia’s hands used to be. The leaves are three, five, and seven pointed star shapes of all colors. Colors like those that the wandering monk in black robes made with his prism of glass when he visited my village ten years ago. He held the prism with cracked and cut fingers, bony but strong. This monk said that a forest existed somewhere, where little boys wandered in and never came out. He had a thick black beard and stared a thousand miles off. I was too scared to ask him his name. Perhaps I should have, it feels important now.

There’s no moon at night, but the flowers in the underbrush make silver light. They wither when I touch them, and the light dies. To preserve the light I leave them be. The birds here have golden wings and red crests like crowns. They don’t sing and spend all their time preening. They must be from the west.
I drink from puddles for the first two days until the third morning when I find a stream. I throw off my clothes and jump in. My face is dirty, my hair is starting to grow out already. Too messy for school teacher. I’ve a purple welt the shape of a cross on my chest. The cold water soothes the welt, though it still aches. I dunk my head into the water and the current runs through my hair.

Then the girl giggles, as clear as if she were in the water with me. I breach the surface with a gasp. She’s on the bank, her eyes still hidden, and my boots in her hands. I try to say something dynamic and commanding, something that will make her drop the boots and return my watch.

All that comes out though is “Who are you?”

I try to leave the stream, but my foot slips on the stones and I almost fall again. She’s gone by the time I regain my balance. Then the wind arrives and passes through my skin down to my bone. I get dressed to stop the shivers.

The wind carries smell of roasted bird. My stomach growls then roars.


__________________

“Where the longleaf pines are whispering
to him who loved them so.
Where the faint murmurs now dwindling
echo o’er tide and shore."

-A Grave Epitaph in Santa Rosa County, Florida; I wish I could remember the man's name.

Old Post Oct 20th, 2012 01:54 AM
Omega Vision is currently offline Click here to Send Omega Vision a Private Message Find more posts by Omega Vision Edit/Delete Message Reply w/Quote Quick Quote
Omega Vision
Face Flowed Into Her Eyes

Gender: Male
Location: Miami Metropolitan Area

I follow the smell up-stream to a spring where three women swim and sing songs under the shade of ancient willows.

“Ivan, Ivan, play with us. Ivan, Ivan, swim with us!” they chant.

“Show me food,” I demand, holding my sides.

The singing stops, and for a moment I’m left to my own silence. Then one swims up to the shore and points to a spit roast over a campfire hidden behind one of the willow trees.

How did I not see that?

I burn my hands ripping the bird off the spit. Starved wolves eat with more dignity. The women rub my shoulders as I fill my stomach.

Only after I’m finished do I notice that the women are naked. Full breasts, flat bellies, white smiles, spider hands with sharp nails, and long, damp hair. I dip my feet in the water and sit with them.

“How did you get here?” I ask them, shuddering as one rubs the welt on my chest.

“A bastard told me he loved me and went and died in the war with the Turks,” the first says, leaning her head on my shoulder. “I walked into the water and never walked out.”

I wonder which Turkish War she means.

“A pogrom came to my village; they burned our temple and then rounded up the survivors. Since they were good Christian men they baptized us by throwing us all down the town’s well,” says the second, combing her dark tresses with a whalebone comb.

“Some cossacks rode into my village. I hid at the river bottom one minute too long,” third says, running her hand through my hair.

Silence. I stare at each woman. They’re serious. I try to laugh. “Ridiculous. So you all drowned?”

Their stares don’t change. “Yes,” they say in unison. “Rusalki always drown.”

Rusalki. I try to laugh again. A familiar word from the folk tales. Ghost women luring men to rivers to drown them. Silliness and superstition. Like visions from dreams.

The third sniffs my cheek. “He smells alive,” she says.

The first stops combing her, leans in, and licks my face with a tongue like a cat’s. “He tastes alive too.”

The second gasps, grabs my hand, and squeezes so hard that my knuckles pop. “Are you alive?”

I look at their eyes for the first time. No pupils.

I clear my throat. “Yes.”

They look at each other and then at me.

And I jump to my feet, bowl the rusalki over, and dash away.

“Ivan, why do you run?” they yell.

Shoulder through bushes. “To get somewhere else,” I shout. Don’t look back.

Hurry forward, farther, farther, farther away.

“Ivan, why are you scared?” Their voices turn to a chorus of echoes in the forest depths.

Cut feet on nettles and briars. “Because I’m alive.”

“Ivan, where are you going?”

I hit my head on a low branch. I say nothing more.

Their chants and yells fade. My breathing sounds like an old fireplace bellows by the time I slow down. When I come to stop in small clearing I double over with my hands on my knees and my head almost to the ground.

Silence.

Hours pass before I resume my search for the girl with my compass-watch. I treat the sores and cuts on my feet with herbs mother showed me years ago. Push through vines and saplings. Try to guess the monk’s name. Solve arithmetic sequences; forget the solutions in the same breath. Compose poems and recite them to the rude, preening birds. Eat honey from hives without bees. Imagine giving lectures in Paris, and what the air must taste like in Paris. Apologize to my father for losing his watch.

I walk ten days without stopping, until the hundred men with one face cross my path and force me to crouch behind the safety of a fallen tree.

They pass, and each collective footfall is like an earthquake. The bayonets on their rifles scar the trees, and their boots crush the light-giving flowers. Their lips are shaved off along with their beards and mustaches so they can only snarl. Eyes are fixed forward and held open by pins and hooks. A tight, perfect formation. Except for one empty patch in the middle where one more person should be.

I follow them. Watch them stomp their way to the river’s edge. Cry as they march into the water and drown, cry as their hats float up and flush downstream.

I give up the search for the girl; find a nice tree to sit under, to wait for death to come. Mere minutes pass before the bushes around me rustle.
Something big flies out of the brush. One of my boots, it almost hits me on my chin. The second boot bounces off my chest. Enter the girl, with my watch clutched between her teeth.

Her hair still falls over her eyes.

I stand up, but don’t even consider trying to catch her. Instead I hold out my hands.

“That’s mine,” I say, pointing to the watch.

She tilts her head.

“Give it here.”

She drops the watch from her mouth. It clinks on the ground.

I stare. Then I take a small, cautious step forward. She doesn’t move. I take another step, then kneel down, reach for the watch, and take it. I stand up, and wipe the girl’s saliva off the watch.

She giggles.

“Why did you take it?” I ask. “Why give it back now?”

A rustle behind me.

“She cannot understand you,” says a deep voice I heard years ago.

I half turn. The bearded monk looms over my shoulder. Still dressed in black.
Still with powerful hands, a thick beard, and a thousand mile stare.

I’m only surprised that I’m not surprised to see him.

“How did you find me, monk?” I ask, trying to keep an eye on him and the girl at the same time.

“Please,” the monk holds up his hand. “Call me Grigori.”

“Grigori,” I mutter the name three times. I’m less confused with each utterance, by the third time it makes perfect sense that flowers should make light in the absence of a moon, just as it’s clear that sometimes a world can forget that summer is winter only in far-off southern places and never in Russia.

“I did warn you, did I not?” he runs a few fingers through his beard.

“Who is she?” I ask, pointing to girl. “What is this place?”

“A forest,” he says, as if it answers both questions. “A dream of a forest and a forest’s dream.”

“How do I get out?” I ask.

“You have your compass now. Use it.”

I turn watch over and almost cry. The needle spins and spins and spins and never stops no matter where I point it.

Grigori puts his huge bony paw on my shoulder and squeezes. “It is never that easy, Vanya.”

The girl slaps me on my back. Takes off into the brush.

“Run after her,” Grigori says. “Learn the color of her eyes. Or let fear hold you here.”

I chase her. Chase her deeper, deeper, deeper into the forest.


__________________

“Where the longleaf pines are whispering
to him who loved them so.
Where the faint murmurs now dwindling
echo o’er tide and shore."

-A Grave Epitaph in Santa Rosa County, Florida; I wish I could remember the man's name.

Old Post Oct 20th, 2012 01:54 AM
Omega Vision is currently offline Click here to Send Omega Vision a Private Message Find more posts by Omega Vision Edit/Delete Message Reply w/Quote Quick Quote
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