It seems I have forests on the brain these days. My last post before the first part of Valeshka was also a fantasy story about a forest. Maybe it’s all the time I’m spending in my apartment due to the COVID isolation, but I guess there’s something about the woods that seems particularly magical these days.
Part 2 – The Strange Forest
Valeshka would never have known where to go looking for two stolen souls, but for reasons she couldn’t quite explain, her trust in Val was absolute and he seemed to have some idea about where to look. “I feel pulled.” He told her. “Pulled by our souls, I’m sure of it.” So Valeshka dressed for a journey, not knowing how long they would be gone or how far they would be going. Indeed, the distance they would be travelling was quite beyond her imagining even if she had put her mind to it. After putting on her own clothes, without quite knowing why, Valeshka returned to her parents’ bedroom and pulled from their closet a long black coat, a scarf, and a pair of gloves all belonging to her father and put them on as well. Then, suddenly wanting something of her mother’s to keep with her as well, she slipped an ornate pearl ring into her pocket, as it was too big for her to wear. To be honest, the coat and scarf and gloves were rather large as well, dragging on the ground and slightly drowning her hands and face, but they stayed on at least, so she was determined to wear them. It felt right, standing in the clothes of a man, preparing to leave her home for what she suspected somehow would be the last time. She pulled on a pair of leather boots and pushed open the front door where Val was waiting perched on the railing of the stairs. He took off into the air and she took off on foot after him. She walked, and Val flew overhead, a few dozen metres at a time, stopping on a streetlight or a branch or the eaves of a house for Valeshka to catch up to him before taking wing again. As she made her slow progress below, Valeshka longed to be in the sky with Val. Longed, in fact, to be a part of him. It felt to her almost as if some essential part of her own self was missing as she plodded along through the streets of her formerly beloved town, which now seemed colder and greyer than ever before. Not, not missing, she mused as she continued following her dear friend, not missing, just slightly askew.
So they journeyed past streets and streets of houses, into the bright and busy centre of the town where people all around seemed not even to notice either of them any more than they would have noticed two ghosts. They journeyed through the centre, past the school and the park where Valeshka could remember spending her days and her afternoons, much longer ago it seemed than it was, and as she remembered she realized something about that slightly askew feeling. She realized that it was not as new to her as she had first thought. It was, in fact, as familiar as a long forgotten friend who, when you finally see them again, suddenly appears in your memory as if they were they all along though moments ago you would have sworn you’d never met them before. The feeling had been with her often over the years, and in fact had been with her just this morning
(was it this morning?)
when she’d decided on a whim to wear her father’s clothes as the outer layer she would be showing to the world on this journey. Past the school and the park, past the warehouses and sprawling industrial complexes, past the increasingly sparse smattering of older houses, rundown and woebegone, until all Valeshka could see in any direction were trees. It looked always as if all the trees were the same distance apart as far as she could see, but somehow as she continued to follow Val the trees continued to grow closer together, as well as larger, until she realized they were in a forest. On an impulse, she pulled off one of the gloves and reached into her pocket to feel the ring. There was something comforting about the smooth roundness of it in her fingers, and feeling reassured she looked around her again. This forest was not like any she had ever been in before. The trees looked as strange to her as aliens from the moon would have been, but whenever she drew close to one and inspected it, she couldn’t quite point to anything, even in her own mind, to explain the strangeness. The shape of them, the colour of them, the texture of the bark under her hands and the smell of the damp leaves above, they were all exactly what she knew trees to be. And yet. Looking around at the forest as a whole, something about it was utterly foreign. “Are you sure about this?” She asked Val. “Have you been here before? Do you know where we’re going?” He flew down and landed on her arm, and once again she heard his voice. “I don’t know where we are.” He confessed. “I don’t know if we’re anywhere, in fact. But I’m certain we’re going the right way. Do you trust me?” Valeshka smiled. Of course she did. She trusted him more than she trusted herself. She had no choice but to trust him, and knowing he was leading the way, and that he was confident it it, made her feel entirely safe.
Neither of them knew how long they had been travelling. The idea of measuring or guessing at the time seemed quite absurd, however. The whole idea of time, in fact, struck them both as the most ridiculous idea anyone had ever conceived of. All that is to say that when they noticed the darkness that had wrapped quite close around them, the idea of “nighttime” was so far from their minds that it never occurred to either of them to think of the darkness as such. It was not a suffocating darkness, they could still see a fair distance around them, though there was not much to see given the denseness of the forest, but there was certainly a sense of weight to the darkness, a sense that it had more substance than is usual. There was also a spot, or rather a direction, in which the darkness was thicker. Not darker so much as heavier with that sense of substance. Without needing Val to tell her, Valeshka knew that this was the direction where they must go. She understood at last how he had felt the rest of the
time they had been travelling. Seeking a tiny reassurance before continuing, Valeskha reached her hand into her pocket and felt for the ring. Again, the feel of it calmed her slightly, but as she fidgeting with it, it slipped onto her finger and she was quite surprised to find that it fit. She pulled her hand out of her pocket and looked. There it was, the ring sitting on her right ring finger as if it had lived there all along. But even more than the ring, what now drew her attention was the hand itself. She barely recognized it. She knew it was hers, and it was familiar in a way, but it was not the hand of the small girl who had set out on this journey. She looked from the hand, up her arm, and finally down her body and gasped. Val, hearing this, glided down and landed on her shoulder. “What it it?” he asked her. “Are you alright?” She was alright, she supposed. But it wasn’t just her hand. She was not longer the little girl who had set out on the journey however long ago. The ring fit, but also the scarf was no longer drowning her, and the coat that had been all the way down to her feet when she put it on was now sitting where it was meant to just below her knees. No, she was no longer a little girl. But she was not quite an adult yet, either. This transformation didn’t seem quite as bizarre to her as it would have any other time in her life, and as the surprise passed and the realization settled, more and more it seemed to her like the most normal thing in the world. Yes, of course she wasn’t a little girl anymore. These things happen, after all, why shouldn’t they happen to me, she thought. And so she turned her attention again to that patch of thickening blackness where she knew their journey must continue. “Will you stay with me, Val?” she asked. “I know the way now.” Val simply cawed in return, and nipped gently at Valeshka’s ear. She smiled at that and prepared to move on, but before she could, they both noticed something, something they certainly were not expecting. There was a figure emerging from that deeper darkness, and it was walking directly toward them.