November 04, 2013

The Dead King in the Forest

This is the story of a girl who was always cold. She liked winter because it made her disappear. Every cheek was marbled grey, every hand was reddened, and suddenly she didnt look so peculiar. Every year she was standing at the front door, waiting for winter to return as if winter was her long lost sailor love. And winter would come like a flock of black birds, shifting all the dead leaves in the street from a corner to another, storming between the buildings in a reassuring whisper. She would wait for him at the red door of her house, and he would come sweep her off her feet and make her dance, her long black hair being tangled and knotted between his icy translucent fingers.

This year, she is still waiting. There are still sunny days to live before her frost love comes to the door. She is living in a place where a forest has grown in the middle of the city. The forest has grown and grown until it is almost the size of the city itself. There is a tree for any man or woman that has ever lived or died there, and more. The people of the city built a great stone wall around the woods, but nobody is fooled by it : if someday one eats the other, the city will be the one to be eaten. Already the deep coppery roots have traveled through the coppery soil and reached the water that meander between the streets.

The girl runs through the fields of grey grass and almost trips in the furrows. All around her the crows unfold their wings like widows veils to escape, and they laugh because they are so much darker than the sky. The girl runs to leave the city and the traveled paths behind her, she runs until she can hear the leaves falling in love with the cold ground, stroking it seductively with their warm shades. The girl is all dark hair and pale skin, and she has always watched with jealousy the glorious paintings of falling leaves. When leaves are the only things left to listen to, she stops.

In front of her stands the ghost of an enormous tree. They cut it down. It was the biggest and tallest tree in the forest. When it was still alive, it would have been so tall he could have smothered the sun in its foliage. The flesh of its stump is scarlet red, and the ground all around it is covered in tiny patches of crimson sawdust, as if the tree was bleeding endlessly. A thousand years from now, the blood will still stain the earth and mark the spot where they cut its head off, says the girl. This is not anyones blood, says the girl. This is the blood of a king. The dead king in the forest. She lays her hands on the dying flesh and she wonders why they cut it down. Maybe it was threatening to fall ; maybe it had decided to leave this forest and go away to be the king of all the woods in all the land. Maybe the tree-king wanted to become a tyrant.

It is dusk and the light is fleeting. The last flock of crows is crossing the purple sky. She is walking away from the king and heading to the neck of the woods. There are fallow deers grazing nearby. She can hear them singing. At the end of the forest, one of them is sharpening his antlers against a birch tree. She listens to the rattle and she does not want to disrupt, but a twig crunches treacherously under her foot, and the deer lift up his head. She freezes in deference and fear. Will he attack her ? Will he disappear in the space of a heartbeat ? He does neither. He draws near, his hooves making no sound as they touch the cold earth. She has stopped breathing now, fearing that any movement will be taken as a terrible offense. But he draws near and soon he is in her reach. So she unfolds her fingers reddened by the cold (the camera is long forgotten on a moss-covered rock), and she offers her open hand to the deer. The deer puts his nose against the hand and pushes gently, like she has crossed an invisible line and needs to back away, just a few inches. When she does, he looks at her and the dusk seems to disappear, as if the whole world was covered in frost, stuck in the time between day and night. A few seconds, then the deer turns around and goes back to the dark bushes where he came from.

As she returns to the traveled path, she takes the time to pick up a few things on the cold ground, and leaves them on the crimson stump. A fall offering, for the dead king in the forest. A light to remember before winter comes.

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