Said the Forest to the Fox

The fox-who-was-a-boy fled the wilderness into the wood, where forgetting has no place, into the wood that remembers every facet of the world, where all of history and knowledge flourish, where every tree tells a story made of words solid unspoken, as textured as bark. The boy-fox sought sanctuary in the thick, wrinkled skin of the forest, in its many branches of possibility, in its leaves that touch the wind and the sun’s golden gaze, in the rings of its ever-growing interior.

Deep in the forest, the boy-fox climbed up into a tree he found to his liking, a tree to represent all trees, a tall banyan that was itself a forest of trees, thick with roots and trunks and branches and leaves reaching up forever into the night sky, as if to touch the very moon and stars, where memory and knowledge dream.

In the arms of the tree, the boy-fox curled up to slumber, hugging his foxtail for warmth.  The boy-fox dreamt himself a gray fox, chased by hounds and nobles on horseback.  The hounds he alluded by scampering up a tree, not towering but squat, big around, and foreboding, not a banyan or any other sort of tree he’d ever seen before in any forest.  Its roots struck into the earth and rock like the giant hands of old witches.  Its branches spread like long, crooked gallows, and from them hung gray leaves like damp rags from men whose necks had long ago snapped.  The strange tree stood reminiscent of a swamp, though the earth all around was dry as dust.

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The Forgetter and the Fox

The Forgetter walked, wearing the clothes of the host and carrying the work of the poet in a pack on his back.  In his right hand, he held an empty cup, and in his left, a letter.  Or rather, not a letter so much as an envelope.

The Forgetter was also once someone else (as were the others), but he remembers not who he was or the names of those before him.  It has become his habit and his duty, as enemy and husband, to protect the present by forgetting the past.  In her one-room fortress, the Duchess waits for him, to forget, so she might continue preparing her dinner party.

But the Forgetter forgot his way home (to the house of the host), and instead found his way into the wilderness where he crossed paths with a gray fox who was a boy.  The fox-who-was-a-boy said to the Forgetter,

“When will the storms come?  When will you open the letter?  When will the Duchess throw her party?  All the guests were scheduled to arrive, but your dark cloak lingers longer than usual and your shield is wide.”

To this, the Forgetter replied, “Open the letter yourself.  I do not know its contents, or if I did, I’ve surely forgotten.”

And so the boy-fox snatched the envelope with his teeth and tore it open.  The fox looked to the cloaked figure who had held the envelope and beheld the Forgetter-as-Death, with sockets for eyes and gumless teeth.  The fox shrieked and fled from the Forgetter’s vacant gaze and bony fingers, but it was the Forgetter who feared most the envelope’s contents.

The Forgetter drew from the envelope, not words on pages, but only the letter F.  “What have I done?  How far have I gone, that I’ve reduced all words to this single letter?”

The Forgetter ran after the fox, but the fox was not to be found, so as not to be forgotten.

The Duchess and the Pen

In the cellar of the stunted tree met those two yet without names, the beast which changes form and the entity without form.  They descended into the cellar from different doors and met there beside a channel of water.  The beast took the form of a calico cat—orange, black and white—if only to provide some continuity with its earlier encounter with the poet.  The formless remained as it always was, never to speak or to solidify, but nonetheless potent with intention.

And so the calico mewed for them both:

“We need the Duchess as an Empire needs its Emperor, as the sea needs a Captain and the wind a pilot.  But the Duchess is also a torment.  She has caged us in the one-room house of the host and threatens all that may be with pins and needles.  The poet no longer writes and the diver hasn’t the oxygen for the deepest of dives.  I, myself, forget myself.  And your war with the Morcant stumbles over definition and particularization.

“We forget to gaze upon the face of Narcissus,” spoke the calico to its own reflection, “for we’ve spent too long in our beds, gazing upon the ceiling.

“The Duchess is our key and also our downfall.  We need her but must limit her power.”

To this, the entity without form did an impossible thing and nodded, if ever so slightly, so that the calico could perceive with certainty its silent agreement.

“Then it’s agreed.  The Duchess must part ways with the pen.  She will bark as she must, but she must not write.  The pen must return to the hand of the poet, and the storms must return to the skies.”

The Cellar of the Stunted Tree

Beneath the mind of the host (in a dark forest far from the house of the host) dwells a room that lies subterranean, just beneath the forest floor. In its center, growing from a platform: an old tree, thick around and squat. It appears as a dwarf tree in this room but corresponds to another on the forest floor, a mirror image, as if the two were one, the trunk rising through the center of the room to emerge above.

In this room, on either side of the tree, run man-made, shallow channels of water fed from a nearby river. These channels run parallel through the room, from one side to the other, dividing the room in half (in some conceptualizations of this room, only one channel runs through the center of the room, with an island in the middle from which grows the tree). Near where these channels enter and exit are doors on either side, four in total, high in the room near ground level, and stairs carved from the walls that descend from each of the four doors to the floor of the room.

The room is both grand and suffocating; tall of ceiling and enclosed like a cellar; constructed, square in shape but caked with mud, carved from stone. It is a room of dark dreams and earthly comforts, from where life roots, flows, and dreams.

It is the room of the squat and gnarled tree, both stunted and eternal. The Duchess refers to the room as the Cellar and does not go here; its structure can only be known in dreaming.

The Blind Poet

The diver stood where the bed had been, and so the Duchess demanded, where would she rest her head in the house of the host?

“Here,” spoke a man with dark spectacles.

“Here, on this side of the white curtains,” he tapped his hand to the hardwood floor, beside where he sat.

“Here, make this one room home smaller. Here, where you can see yourself sleep and hear yourself mumble, where all the doors will surround you.”

The man with dark spectacles stood, opened the front door, and walked out into the courtyard.

“The blind poet speaks,” said the diver of the man with dark spectacles.

“Yes,” the Duchess understood, “His spectacles were once storms, but lightning struck glass so often, they’ve burned black. He was the one whom the host knew as Storm Keeper, but his storms became poems and his poems became words. And now, as we know, even words have grown scarce. He writes with his tongue and speaks seldom.”

In the courtyard, the blind poet did not look to the sky. In a land without storms, rain meant nothing, and the cool air loved him as a ghost. An orange tabby purred at his ankles, and so he knelt and caressed behind its ears. Whenever he pet a cat, he worried it might bite. A cat only gives subtle clues about its intentions, clues one can spot but not hear or touch. And so the blind poet kept his distance from the arrival of the fourth.

Soon the small room would become crowded.

The Duchess and the Diver

The Duchess drew back the white curtains to reveal a sopping wet diver in a rubber suit, surrounded by a baker’s dozen white rabbits.

“And what have you been doing?” demanded the Duchess of the diver. “Announce yourself, and we will know you as the Diver, with a capital D!”

But the diver shook his head no. He had been diving for words, words that made him wet. And his spirit shown brightly as he removed his diver’s mask to reveal bright eyes and a smile. (But still his ears remained beneath his rubber cap.)

The Duchess grew envious of the diver and his refusal, but she maintained her calm. “Tell me, should not a diver demand of the curator to become a learned man, to know his work? If the diver is no one, and he dives only for the museum, then what is the ocean but a shallow pool?”

To this, the diver replied, “You will know when I bring you strange creatures rather than pearls, that I dive the trenches.”

But the Duchess knew also the value of a pearl necklace, and so she snatched a rabbit by its ears and broke its neck. This she did also to the second rabbit, then the third. She continued with all the rabbits until she reached for the thirteenth, which she spared.

The Duchess

The Duchess fussed with white curtains and spoke aloud so no one would hear:  “Speak not of eyes because everyone knows eyes are everything, and to speak about what everyone knows means nothing to no one.”

I must take down the curtains, she thought.  No, first I must shred the curtains.  No, first burn the curtains, then shred them, then take them down.

There were twelve. Twelve from childhood, each with its own position in a circle, in relation to the others. But she could not remember them. She thought perhaps if she tried to write their names on a page, then they would all make themselves known. Or perhaps they would change. After all, they were only an idea, the twelve. An idea of completeness, complete aspects to rule one, equal to three times four, a cycle and divinity.

She left the curtains up and closed them to create a wall. Behind them, she would rest her giant head until the twelve bled from her ears, as her eyes and mouth were clearly preoccupied.