Always The Deep Dark Forest

 In Short Stories

If ever you go again into that dark forest, remember the following story. It’s about a girl not so different from Goldilocks or Little Red Riding Hood; both being girls that went into a forest and came out again. The thing is that we are attracted to going into the dark forest, and even though we might not wholly make the decision consciously to do so, there are times when all of a sudden we find ourselves in the thick of this place without knowing how we got there or why.


This is what happened with this particular girl; I’ll call her Josephine.
You see, one day Josephine finds herself in the darkest part of the forest with no idea how she got there. You can imagine it being quite a shock to her. There she is…. At the end of a sudden in-breath… Dark and deathly quiet; the end of this last breath just disappearing around the corner of time.
With just enough light to see what is around her she slowly turns her upper body, hardly daring to let her feet move as if this might disappear the ground on which she is standing. Her eyes – wide in surprise – do not quite register fear; this is still around yet another corner. For now time seems to have come to a standstill, even though this is just an illusion…
Time is moving.

So… her eyes wide get used to the light; they try to focus on something; anything. She is just in that moment where her brain will soon move into action and start imagining; where it realises there is no sense of familiarity or recognition. For now, the forest is just the forest, nothing more and nothing less. Fear hasn’t yet made it anything else other than what it is.
Is she there in the forest? Can she let herself BE in the forest?
Will she breathe out?
She breaths out; she has to of course. It comes out all stuttery and awkward and the sound of it is uncomfortably obvious in the thick silence. There is no denying now that she is here in the dark forest; she has heard herself there.
Hearing herself has made her self-conscious. She wonders if there is anything or anyone who is listening to her sounds. She wonders if anyone or anything is watching. This wondering makes her want to be very quiet and near invisible. But no matter how her body tries, she cannot be completely quiet; she cannot stop her breath. And the mere fact of her bodily existence makes it impossible to not be where she is; the space she inhabits.
She is unable to disappear and her self-conscious feeling of being watched and heard is getting more painful with each reluctant breath. She needs to get away, to do something, to move from where she is. So she runs. And runs. But the sound of her breath just gets louder and the feel of her body more intense as she runs. And it’s not just her own body that is physically felt and her sounds that are heard. Her running makes the forest creek and snap. The forest is felt sharp on her arms and legs and slippery and wet under foot.
Futility stops her. She turns around and around to control the forest by trying to keep it in her sights in its entirety. And from exhaustion she closes her eyes and the forest is gone.
But she is still there. She can pretend that the wet forest floor under her feet is something else, something familiar. Or she can pretend that her feet don’t exist and then she doesn’t need to feel it at all. Seeing was the big problem anyway. Once the eyes are open there is no denying. Cover the eyes and you can make any reality you want; any illusory reality that suits your needs
.
But the forest is merely the forest. How did it ever become an object of fear? At what point exactly did it become necessary to escape it? Was it when she experienced no familiarity? Or was it when she heard her own breathing as the loudest thing ever? Or was it when she experienced all this and realised she couldn’t run away from it because… simply…. she is there; she exists? And no matter how much she tries to keep herself small and tries to stop her breathing, she just can’t stop herself from being alive.
How alive can she allow herself to be in a strange place? And what makes a place strange and unfamiliar? And why is strangeness and unfamiliarity frightening?
Anyway…. Even though these might be interesting questions to contemplate, they are not really vital.
Being unequivocally alive, she has no choice but to use time and space to her advantage.
And how she does that is up to her.
Will she stay in the forest for now and find a way of being alive there in a manner that will gratify and satisfy? Or will she walk straight out of the forest hopeful of finding familiarity and ease once she leaves it behind? Who knows how long she’ll have to walk to find the place where she’ll finally be able to allow herself to be fully alive.
How strange is she to this mythical place where she hopes to be able to be fully alive? What is comforting and safe about familiarity?
Is there anything more familiar and safe than your own body and your own in- and out-breath?
As familiar to you as your existence are these; so as to completely take you by surprise now and again, confronting you with your strange undeniable aliveness.
Sometimes you are this Dark Forest.
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