FOREST OF FORGETFULNESS
By Wayne Summers
May stabbed the ground with her father’s spade and turned over a mound of dirt containing three potatoes. Bending down wearily and looking for all the world as though she had been beset by a labour beyond her capability, she snatched them up one by one and tossed them into a nearby bucket. When one of the vegetables missed their mark her frown deepened.
“Bloody potatoes!” she cursed into the breeze. “Damn father! Making me dig…”
Her thoughts trailed off into nothingness as she dropped the renegade tuber into the wooden pail.
Again she plunged the spade into the ground, irritation causing her to drive the metal blade deep into the fertile soil. This time the way it felt slicing through the earth felt different. When she pulled the blade out of the dirt it was glistening and where the implement had pierced the ground there was a spreading patch of clear, gelatinous goo oozing up from below. She bent forward to more closely examine the mysterious substance and noticed that a dark green liquid had started bleeding through it.
For a moment she could not think what to do. Should she go and disturb her father, who was by now working on the plough? Or should she investigate the strange occurrence herself? She turned towards the old, wooden barn with the rusty red roof and imagined her father hard at work, pounding out a dent in one of the plough blades, and decided not to bother him.
Using the spade, she gently scraped away the mud which had formed, removing more and more dirt until she came to something that looked like a giant potato. With the utmost care she inched the blade of the spade under the object and levered it out of the soil, the greenish ooze pouring out of split she had made and collecting in the hole.
The object was certainly no potato. Only when she had removed the whole thing from the dirt did she see that it was, in fact, an egg. And there was something inside it!
Meanwhile, an ominous bank of dark grey cloud had begun to gather overhead, masking the shadow that was approaching behind May. She had just bent forward, arms outstretched towards the egg, when a deep, scratchy voice caused her to stop mid-air.
“What have you done?!”
May gasped and spun around, nearly treading on the contents of the egg.
The creature was female; her greenish-grey breasts drooped over a lightly-haired stomach. A stubbed nose sat on a pock-marked face that was peppered with dark green nodes. Brown teeth filled a mouth rimmed by large lips that were so dark green they were almost black. The irises of her eyes were pale red. It was the troll witch Balbaya.
“Wicked child!” she spat, sending a spray of foul smelling spit in May’s direction. “You will pay for this!”
May’s body began to quiver and her throat suddenly felt tight.
“W-what have I done?” she whimpered.
She followed Balbaya’s eyes to the contents of the egg, which were now clearly visible. The tiny, barely formed body of a troll baby lay dead amongst the pieces of eggshell; its bulging eyes closed, never to open.
“I’m sorry,” May sobbed.
The words had barely slipped from her lips before she felt a churning sensation building in her stomach. The air around her began to swirl, stirring a handful of stray leaves and dry grass.
“I’m so sorry,” she cried but Balbaya was unforgiving.
The stiff breeze turned rapidly into a whirlwind, sucking May off the ground and sending her spinning around within its vortex. The last thing May saw was the rusty red roof of her father’s barn and then everything dissolved into a black wasteland.
“Hello. Hello, can you hear me?”
The voice sounded far away, as though it were in a dream. May opened her eyes slowly.
The light was dim. All around her were the twisted and tangled branches of tengle trees; above her a ceiling of tengle tree leaves. She put her hands down to sit up and they came to rest on a giant tengle tree’s moss-covered roots.
“Are you alright?” asked the voice again.
“I think so,” she replied, looking up at the man’s face. “Where am I?”
The man held out a smooth, pale hand and helped May to her feet. “I don’t know exactly,” he replied. “I know I should. I’ve been here long enough.”
May got to her feet and brushed the leaves off her skirt.
“Why don’t you know?” she continued. “It seems strange that you can’t remember something as simple as the name of a place.”
A sly smile crept onto the man’s face.
“Well, what’s your name?” he asked.
For the life of her she couldn’t remember. She shook her head and blushed. A glance at the handsome stranger told her that he was waiting for an answer. Her forehead wrinkled as she pressed her lips tightly together.
“It’s no use,” said the man finally. “You won’t remember. I can’t remember my name and nor can anyone else that lives in this damned forest.”
May looked around at the twisted maze of trunks and branches that formed tunnels through the forest and at the small creatures that scurried across the mossy paths to holes concealed in the roots of the tengle trees.
“You mean there are others here?”
“Lots. It’s a large forest. You can meet someone one day and then never see them again. Maybe they find their way out. I don’t know. Good luck to them if they have.”
“How long have you been here?” asked May.
The man cocked his head and raised an eyebrow.
“Sorry,” she said sheepishly, realising her mistake. “This is going to take some getting used to. But if you can’t remember names, how do you know what to call people?”
“We make them up,” he replied. “Although every few days you have to make up another one because you’ve forgotten what the old one was. Today I am Luke.”
“What’s my name then?”
Luke regarded her for a few seconds, peering deep into her chocolate brown eyes. “I think you look like a Susan.”
“Susan,” May echoed softly, listening carefully to the way it sounded when she said it. “Susan. Yes, I think I like that name.”
“At least for now,” added Luke.
Luke began to wander down the path and with nothing better to do May, or Susan as she was now known, followed. After only two steps she removed her shoes, enjoying both the freedom of not having to wear them and the cool, softness of the moss beneath her feet which made her feel as though she were walking on air. The squirrel creatures darted here and there. They were the only thing in this dark and dire forest that bothered her and she shrieked when one of the critters threatened to run right up her leg.
As night was settling over the forest Luke suggested they find a place to sleep.
“There aren’t any creatures that will attack us while we’re asleep, are there?” Susan asked nervously peering into the inky blackness.
“Not that I know of. I’ve never gone to bed and not woken up.”
Susan opened her mouth to reply but then didn’t quite know what to say. Was it that she hadn’t understood what he had said or was it that what he’d said hadn’t made any sense. Exasperated she lay down.
“Night,” called Luke.
“Night,” Susan called back, keeping one eye on the little creatures scampering around the forest until she fell into a deep and restful sleep.
The following morning they awoke to the scarce light which barely illuminated the forest floor.
“How are you feeling today?” asked Luke.
Susan stretched out her arms and winced at the pain in her back.
“Oh I feel terrible. My muscles are aching and I feel as though I haven’t slept a wink.”
Luke laughed. “You’ll get used to it. Let’s go and get some breakfast. I think there’s a foog tree around here somewhere. It has the most delicious….”
“Foogs?” said Susan.
Susan could hardly wait to see what a foog was. “I hope they taste all right,” she thought to herself. “I’m starving.”
After eating breakfast and ambling their way through the many tunnel-like pathways the pair came to a small clearing with a pond at the centre. The grass at its banks grew long and thick, and was peppered with small bright yellow flowers. Sunlight glistened on the crystal clear surface of the waterhole and as they approached Susan could see fish weaving their way through the water weeds that grew on the bed of the pond.
“Oh how beautiful!” she remarked. “I’ve never seen such brightly coloured….Such brightly coloured,” she stopped walking for a moment. She could feel her muscles begin to tense and her blood pressure rise.
“Trigs,” announced Luke from the edge of the pond. “Brightly coloured trigs.”
“Ah trigs, yes,” agreed Susan in a bid to hide her embarrassment, although she wasn’t entirely convinced that that was what they were called.
The morning light danced on the ripples sent radiating to the outer edges of the pond by Luke and Susan slipping their legs into the cool water. Susan lay back on the soft grass and asked Luke a hundred and one questions about the forest and Luke did his best to answer them.
“If it’s true that people forget everything when they enter this forest, why can I remember some things and not others?” she asked.
Luke looked at her and then across the pond at the squirrel-creatures as they dashed from the safety of the trees to the water’s edge for a drink and then back again.
“I don’t know. I never think about it and when I do come up with an answer I forget it. It seems to me it is a gradual process. At the beginning I think I remembered more than I do now, although I can’t be sure.”
“Why can I still speak then? Why haven’t I forgotten how to use words?”
“Oh that happens,” explained Luke. “Everyone here forgets words and so we just make up news ones.”
Luke thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I can’t remember which words are made up and which aren’t. After a while it all becomes normal.”
“So how come you remembered the name Luke?”
“That’s easy. It’s because I met a man called Luke yesterday, or maybe the day before. I can’t remember. Anyway, when he introduced himself I thought ‘Nice name’ and so I took it for myself. He won’t need it. Probably got a new name for himself by now.”
Susan let a tear slide down her cheek as she sat up. A lock of long blonde hair dropped down over her face and she brushed it back over her head.
Luke put an arm around her shoulders. “What’s wrong?”
Susan shook her head and sniffed back the tears. “I don’t know. I just feel like I’ve lost something. Something very dear to me.”
Luke knew better than to ask her what it was she had lost. It would have been impossible for her to name it.
“That’s a pretty pendant,” he said finally, hoping to distract Susan from her melancholy.
Susan raised a hand to it and touched it gently. “Yes, I guess it is,” she said looking down at it. “Oh look, there seems to be something written on it. Can you read it?”
The pendant was on a short chain which made it impossible for Susan to read the tiny letters or for Luke to get close enough to read them either.
“Here let me take it off,” Susan suggested.
To my angel, love Gran
Susan shrugged. “It means nothing to me. I can’t recall who Gran is.”
“Well it’s a pretty pendant,” Luke said holding it up to the light. “See how the crystal at the centre splits the light into a little rain…thing.”
“Oh yes. What a beautiful rainthing.” Susan agreed.
At that moment a squirrel-creature, attracted by the crystal glinting in the sunlight, shot up out of the grass and grabbed the pendant between its tiny paws. Susan screamed.
“Get it!” she shouted. “Oh please, get it. It’s the only thing I have to remind me of….”
And she stopped. She could not remember what it reminded her of. In fact, it didn’t remind her of anything. She just knew she couldn’t lose it.
Both of them chased the squirrel-creature into the tangle of tengle trees, trying desperately to see where the little creature went.
“There it is!” shouted Susan from behind, pointing to a grand old dame of a tree. “It’s running up that one!”
Luke scrambled up the tree trunk and made it to the first branch seemingly with ease, while it took Susan several attempts and a torn skirt to get there. By the time she had hoisted herself onto the first branch Luke was more than half-way up and almost out of sight.
“Don’t lose sight of it,” she called. “I’m right behind you.”
Luke either didn’t hear her or was too intent on getting Susan’s pendant back for her.
Susan was at the half-way mark when something went flying past her. Whatever it was hit her on the nose and when she brought her hand up to rub it there was blood, though it wasn’t hers. It was then that she realised it had been the squirrel-creature. Her heart filled with joy. That meant Luke had got her pendant.
“Have you got it?” she called as she neared the top and caught sight of the bottom of Luke’s feet.
“Lewis,” he said.
Susan struggled up through the canopy and stood beside him.
“Lewis,” he repeated. “My name is Lewis.”
“Okay, pleased to meet you,” Susan giggled as she held out her hand for Lewis to shake. “I’m May.”
May burst out laughing and nearly fell off the branch she was standing precariously on.
“Careful,” said Lewis. “I don’t want you to fall before I’ve given this back.”
“My pendant!” May squealed. She took the pendant, leaned forward and kissed Lewis firmly on the lips. “Thank you. Oh, thank you so much.”
“So it seems that in the clear light of day our memories have returned.”
May smiled. “Yeah, I wonder why that is.”
“Don’t know. There must be something in the forest that interferes with our ability to remember things. The water from the pond perhaps, or the moss. Moss has spores, doesn’t it? It must be something to do with the moss. Anyway, now we have worked out the secret of this forest, what are we going to do?”
May shrugged. “Only one thing to do. Get out of it. Father is probably worried sick. That’s if that old Balbaya hasn’t got to him.”
“That old witch! She’s the reason I’m here. I chopped down the tree she lived in for firewood. What did you do?”
“I did something far worse. I killed one of her babies. I was digging up potatoes. Of course I know that trolls lay their eggs in potato patches, but I was angry and I wasn’t thinking. I just wasn’t careful.”
“So how do you propose we get out of here?” Lewis said, changing the topic.
They scanned the immense carpet of green with sinking hearts.
“It’s going to take us ages,” May moaned with a tone that suggested she had given up before they’d even tried.
“Especially when we know that the minute we go below the canopy we are going to forget everything.”
“We’re doomed,” sighed May, her shoulders slumping.
“Now just hang on a second. I have an idea. What if one of us stays here in the branches and calls to the other one? The minute our voice gets too difficult to hear we climb the nearest tree and call to the other person. They climb down their tree and when they can hardly hear the first person, they climb the nearest tree and so on until we come to the edge.”
“That’s going to take forever,” May groaned. “Look at how far away the edge of the forest is!”
Lewis frowned. “Well, it’s better than wandering around here forever. At least we will make it out eventually.”
May looked down at the broken leaf she was twisting about in her fingers. She blushed bright red.
“I’m sorry. You’re right. We have to do something.”
“Now, who should go first?”
May felt like telling Lewis he could go first but then she realised that if she was ever going to stop being so self-centred that now would be a good time to start.
“I will,” she said. “I’ll do it.”
And before Lewis had time to protest she had started climbing down the giant tengle tree.
Above her she could hear Lewis calling her name.
“Are you alright, May? Keep climbing. Let me know when you get to the bottom.”
Within a few minutes Lewis heard May call out that she had reached the bottom.
“Walk away from the pond May. Walk away from the pond. Keep walking.”
Already Lewis was beginning to see that his plan had one flaw. It wouldn’t be long before they were both hoarse. “Keep going, May. Can you still hear me? Answer me if you can hear me.”
From what seemed like a great distance he heard May reply that she was all right.
“Climb the tree. Climb the tree. Are you climbing May?”
With no reply he had to assume that May was climbing. Each second bled into the next until Lewis thought he could stand the wait no longer. He called again and again, each time with a little less enthusiasm. At least they had tried. A gentle zephyr rippled the leaves around him and brushed against the surface of his skin. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. How different the air up here smelt, how different it tasted.
The voice was unmistakeable. He opened his eyes and saw May standing in the branches of a tree several metres away, waving frantically.
“You made it,” he called.
“Yes,” she replied. “Your turn now. Walk towards my voice and shout loudly because it was really difficult to hear you at times.”
Lewis descended the tree as fast as he could, walking towards the sound of his name being called.
“What’s going on? What’s all this shouting about?”
It was the voice of a man.
“We’re getting out of here,” Lewis replied. “Care to join us?”
The man beamed and with that sorted both men walked towards the sound of May’s voice and then past it until they could barely hear it. “Climb the tree,” she called. “Climb the tree”.
“I’ll climb this tree and you go ahead,” Lewis said. We should be able to go much faster with three of us. Keep calling my name - Lewis. Then when you can barely hear me any more, climb the tree.”
And so it went. Slowly but surely they made their way through the forest, calling to each other. And as they called more and more of the people trapped in the forest came to join them so that soon the trees were full of people calling to those on the ground. Through the night they snaked their way through the tengle trees; the edge seeming not so far away by the morning.
“Shall we rest?” May asked Lewis as they met up in the small crowd hurrying to the next tree.
“I suppose we’d better. There’s still a way to go. We’ll need to take it in shifts. We can’t expect people to stay up in the branches for longer than a couple of hours.”
May agreed and within a few minutes they had planned a system and had spread the word. Only three of them were required to stay above the canopy at any one time which meant they were all able to get at least six hours sleep. May could not wait to lie down on the moss. Her head ached and her mouth was dry. Her fingers, cut and split from climbing, had stopped stinging an hour or so ago. Now they were numb and several times she had almost fallen out of the tree she was climbing. Only the hope of returning to her family’s farm and seeing her father had kept her going.
The sun was a glowing ball of fire on the horizon when the first person made it out of the forest five days later. His excited shouts spurred the others on and soon there was a joyous chorus of shouts, though the jubilation was short-lived.
The minute the ground began to rumble everyone knew that Balbaya was on her way. Up through the dirt she rose into the bright day like a black cloud to darken their moment of happiness.
“So you made it out!”
The smell of Balbaya’s breath reached them before her words. The elated group turned to face the spot where the troll witch had materialised.
“Your excitement will be brief,” she snarled. “You’re all going back in and this time there will be no-one to remember your little plan.”
Yet before she could raise her arms to start the whirlwind that would sweep them into the forest, Lewis was running at her. He pushed her with all his might and the large green witch went spinning towards the forest. It wasn’t long before the others, eager to get their own back, joined in.
“Stop it! Stop it at once!” growled Balbaya. “You’ll be sorry. You wait. You’ll all be very sorry.”
But Balbaya didn’t look very well. In fact she looked greener than usual. Around and around they spun her bulky frame until she was sent spinning into the forest, stumbling and screaming, never to return.
Wayne Summers was born and raised in rural Western Australia. Growing up, he lived in many towns, however, he was a shy child and didn't make friends easily so retreated into his imagination. He was always good at writing and won prizes at school for his stories. At 17 he left home and moved to Perth, where he now lives and works. He teaches English to overseas students and has just completed his Diploma of Counselling. Writing is his passion.
Where do you get your ideas?
…either from dreams or music. Sometimes just a snatch of music will inspire a whole story.
What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?
…fantasy is important because the real world has lost most of its magic and is often an ugly place to be.