Alone in the Forest
Tania turned, and froze. They were gone. Where? They had been standing right there, by the oak tree. Even their very presence seemed non-existent in the cool air surrounding the vast oak tree. Her breath quickened, blue eyes widening. Suddenly she was aware of her heart pounding in her chest and ears, her hair and skin moving to the heavy, staccato rhythm.
In her head, a hive of bees began to swarm.
She ran towards the oak tree, dodging past the thin black and white trunks of birch trees, her long tawny hair catching on branches as she flew through them. She stopped a metre short of the oak, still they did not appear. Tentatively, she walked around the tree, her little feet navigating themselves around the cumbersome roots. She silently hoped that they were simply hiding, waiting to jump out and surprise her followed by laughter.
Behind the tree, there was no one.
She yelled for them until the sound caught in her throat, familiar voices not heard. Tania looked around for any indication of where they might have gone, but even the path they had walked had disappeared. Trees blocked her view any way she looked, their tall menacing bodies barring her access to the forest beyond. She felt as if she was being stared at by hidden heinous beings from all directions, encircling her and drawing in. She felt the infinite, secretive body of the forest size her up; a feeble child afraid of the dark. The frightening thought of night drawing near, its silent dark tresses blanketing everything in sight began to dawn on her. She shuddered. Tania looked again, but the forest was empty.
Gradually her heart slowed and her breathing became less rapid, she sat at the base of the oak tree, cradled by its comforting roots. The silence of the forest greeted her, its soft zephyr gently embracing her small, fragile figure. She accepted that now, she was definitely alone.
She cowered with her eyes wide open and her body firmly pressed against the soothing figure of the oak tree. Not a single thought crossed her mind for an indefinite length of time - all she did was breathe. Gradually, her mind cleared. It was then that Tania awoke to the busy hustle - bustle of the forest at midday. What she didn't know was that she was witnessing much more than a person simply walking through the forest would; she now had her eyes and ears open. She made up an entire orchestra’s percussion from the excruciating silence one would normally hear.
The underlying soft, stealthy rustle of pine marten, squirrels and mice along with the erratic drilling of a woodpecker combined with the hoof beats of faraway herds of deer created a beat that the whole forest moved to. An entire choir made up of the dramatic soprano shrill of tiny birds harmonised by the indulgent alto owls and bawling bass of the stag’s hollow bark. Two squirrels chased each other up a nearby birch, stopping to hide playfully behind their bushy brown tails and pinch the seeds out of pine cones, hastily pulling off the limbs radiating from its long core and launching them into the air.
Tania unravelled herself from the clutches of the oak tree and walked to the spot that she was standing in when they vanished.
From the tree she had been staring at a strange collection of leaves at the base of a young birch. Now she stood on the very same patch of ground, but this time she stared for a different reason; the leaves had somehow rearranged themselves, or something had rearranged them, into an arrow that pointed ahead of her. The leaves drew her eyes towards a gap between two young saplings in which a solitary, shy toadstool stood. Its thick red and white hat enveloped its unseen head, as if it were an over-sized helmet worn to protect the flimsy mushroom from being trodden on by oblivious creatures.
She was dragged towards it by curiosity – what does it look like underneath?
Kneeling on the ground, she could feel the cold, damp blood of the soil seep onto her bare, pale knees, the skin around them growing whiter still as her brittle bones rested uncomfortably onto countless sticks, stones and twigs. She gave up trying to keep her green skirt clean and sat cross-legged in front of the toadstool, savouring its delightful, quaint appearance before she would take off its prominent, polka-dotted feature.
The toadstool stood unaware of the hand reaching for its cap, and did not cower when Tania’s gentle hand glided over its smooth skin. But when it felt her hand grasp its hat and tighten, it crumbled to pieces. She gasped in horror, immediately guilty for decimating such a complex and beautiful product of nature. She quickly moved away from the crime scene, afraid that someone or something might see what she had just done. The further she hurried from the moss and decapitated toadstool, the denser the bushes, trees and their branches became, subtly pushing her back towards the moss and mushroom. She silently shuffled back to the beautiful broken body of the mushroom, hanging her head in shame.
Ahead, in the same direction the moss had been pointing, was another toadstool sitting at the base of an old birch tree that similarly beckoned her. This time she did not touch it, she tried to stay as far away from it, scared that the slightest breath of wind would destroy it just as she had previous one. The leafy arrow was now obscured by the trees and roots when she looked back at it from the second toadstool, but she felt a strange force pulling her towards a third toadstool that was even further away, as if it were an organic magnet.
At the third toadstool, she noticed how the trees had become further apart, making it easier to see three more toadstools that stretched on ahead of the third. She kept following the fungi, some of them tall with small caps shaped like scoops of ice cream, or short with flat, wide caps that curled in at the rims like miniature umbrellas. She kept walking, counting the toadstools as she went, until she came to number 12 and was unsure what to do as there were no other toadstools ahead of her.
There was, however, a strange collection of leaves. They were not shaped like an arrow, but they were the exact leaves that she had been looking at before they transformed into the arrow.
Tania turned, and gasped as she saw her parents standing at the base of the oak tree.
Thank for reading my short story! Please feel free to offer any advice or thoughts in the comments below.
© 2019 Jemma Hulbert