The boy trudged through the dark forest. He kept his brows low and focused, because though he was afraid, he chose this. He couldn’t allow himself to fear his new backdrop. Not today, not ever.
He’d been wandering in the dark forest for a year, sometimes drifting, sometimes walking hard and with purpose, but the purpose had always been fiction, his own invention. The more the boy realised this, the stronger his fear grew.
He’d been sleeping in the shadows of vast, tangled roots. Their coils were ancient. He could feel this. The trees he passed between were giants, their highest branches far above the forest bed, out of sight in the deep blue fog and rain that fell up there, so far above that the rain never reached him. The boy had a distinct feeling that he, and the dark forest’s bed, had been sinking further each day since he’d entered. The tangles of roots were growing taller too, their bases thick with black mud, thicker than when he’d first entered with hope and determination.
He’d encountered some creatures in the ominous forest, mainly shadows who spoke in foreign whispers. He’d attempted to communicate with them but they were not like him. There was no understanding. He often felt like though he saw them, and they saw him, they were never really in the same place, only projected towards him from other forests like this one, darker ones, or colder ones. There was no way to become one of them. The boy had learned this.
Some of the shadows had glowing eyes, purple or sheer blue, icy and cold but beautiful, small seeds of colour in the monotonous depths. These bright-eyed creatures would reach out to him, sometimes use words that he recognised, but like the other shadows, somehow they remained elsewhere. He’d followed some of them, when fooled by his invented purpose, and they’d led him to white buds hidden in the murky earth. The boy ate these buds, picked them, dried them out and smoked them, as the creatures had shown him. It was all he needed to consume. The buds kept him nourished and kept his mind open beyond the dark, but soon the boy began to dream too much, too often.
In these dreams he ceased his march, his drift. He began to create in the darkness, and this was his torchlight, his soul’s fuel, the only thing the monstrous forest, the whispering shadows, could not put out.
He carved words in the roots with a sharp stone. He scattered the bark with stories and verses, songs and words. He played beats on hollowed trunks, whistled low, hummed and nodded his head to the tune of the white buds in his blood. The darkness became lit with his own darkness, a more aerated darkness, no longer thick, but filled with passages and spaces, tunnels leading upwards, winding through the black he was trying to defeat. He filled these passages with words and meaning, melody and rhythm, becoming quietly confident he was no longer inventing. He was creating something real, finding something real.
When he thought about trying to escape the forest, words saved him. When he thought about turning back, music saved him. When he cried from the pain of the past, of loneliness, fear, words saved him, music saved him.
He closed his eyes and saw water, mountains and clear air. He followed these visions, his ideas and meaning, his own fear becoming the wolves at his back, chasing him towards something he couldn’t identify yet. He knew he needed to be here, in this dark forest, trusted all the feelings and thoughts that had led him here, and then, one day, one year after he’d entered the forest, he heard a new sound. It was music. But it wasn’t his, not his fiction or his creation, but he recognised something in it. Like his own, could have been his own, but it belonged to another. He was sure of this.
A voice broke through the trees. It was beautiful. It made his heart soar. His stomach knotted up and he wretched, and for three weeks he followed the sound, never eating, never sleeping.
Finally, he reached a clearing. There she was. Not a shadow, not a bright-eyed creature, but a girl. When she saw him she smiled, looked down at his feet and up at his face again. She was sitting on a tree stump. She was dressed in black and her nails were black, even her eyes were shrouded in black, but they were fierce, warm and alive, her skin white and her hair was golden. It hung down past her feet and coiled around the tree stump, billowing downwards through the earth. He stood strong, wanting to approach her, but frozen. So she continued to sing, her eyes locked on him, her coils of hair rocking gently. And then it went away, his fear. He felt heat in his veins, entering him through her eyes, her song. He approached her and started to hum. He sat beside her and they faced each other. They sang. Somehow he knew her words. They just came to him as if they’d always been there. The boy felt a feeling inside him he’d only felt once before, in a distant time he had to fight to recall, long before he’d entered the forest. It was pain and wonder all at once. He thought ‘magic’, ‘stars.’ And he’d forgotten all about ‘magic’, ‘stars’.
When the song was over the girl gazed up at the fogged tree branches in the distant sky, the smell of fire suddenly strong, falling down on them like hail, scattered and sharp, erratic and violent.
She gasped and looked at the boy, let out a high sigh. “I fear the dark,” she said.
The boy smiled. “Don’t be afraid of the dark.”
He took one of her hands. It was cold and soft. He stroked the side of her golden hair gently.
“Let’s play another song,” he said.
“Ok,” she said. “But this time, let’s never stop.”
Music filled the dark forest. They travelled through time. Then there was no time, just their music, in some other place. They were there with it. No more shadows. No more dark forest. Just understanding, one that doesn’t need to be explained.