Know this, what I tell you is not true. It is just a story, just words. It is important that you do not forget this.
First, there is a forest. Or a jungle. It does not matter. It could be a town, even, abandoned many years before. But it is not, it is a forest.
The forest is black and dark and deep, and people often say it is haunted. They say a woman was killed there. An old woman, haggard and foolish, angry; or a young woman, beautiful and wise, seeking medicine for her child. It was the woman’s husband they say, or lover, (they work the same) that killed her, that stabbed her through the chest with a knife.
Now the forest is haunted. They say it is full of ghosts, or ghouls or even monsters. They do not say it is full of demons, for it is said only fools believe in demons.
There is a man. Blond, they say, as rich as the summer sun. In truth, his hair is black, but that is not important. The man does not believe in ghosts or ghouls or monsters or demons. So he does not fear the forest. Why he chooses to go into the forest, I do not know, perhaps you will ask him.
Know this: the forest is large. Bigger than it appears from the hills, and among its trees are rivers, valleys, gorges and ponds, all as black as the forest. The man is good with maps and memory, but becomes lost in these woods. He sits on a log and laughs at himself.
“What a fool I am being, becoming lost in these woods.”
An owl flies to sit next to him. Or a crow. A crow would be better, but it is an owl. The owl speaks to him. It says: “You are lost, and I have watched you. The forest here is black and dark and deep, and you are one man.”
The man does not talk to the owl, because he knows owls cannot speak. But he is wrong, so the owl speaks: “I can show you the way out, if you choose to follow me.”
But the man has not found what he looks for. Who has? He stands and finds his own path.
Now the forest is darker still. The trees are thick, like tall men, huddled, bent with whispers. He finds a river, its water cold, lifeless, and he crosses it. He finds bramble bushes, needles sharp like a splintered bone, and he wades through them. He finds a broken bridge over a hole, dark, which may be only a grave deep, or it may have no bottom at all. He scrambles over it. The spot he finds himself now is truly bad, for even if he were to know his way back he would have to cross bridge, bush and river, and his pants are wet and torn.
This is where he finds the woman, sitting on a log. Perhaps she was waiting for him, perhaps he was looking for her. But neither notion is the truth. Some things just happen.
She looks at him. She has no face. The man is surprised, as the story had said nothing of this, and he is accustomed to faces. She beckons for him to sit, but he does not. He touches his weapon. It is a sword, maybe, or a knife, or a gun. He does not use it, so it does not matter.
She reaches into her bag. She pulls out a bottle. It is round, and black, its lid copper, its side marked by decorations, glass animals. It oozes from its top, the liquid smelling of mud and lavender. It has the taste of honey left out to rot, but it feels more of oil than of sap. She gives the man the bottle, and he takes it.
“Most who come here come with payment,” the woman says, though she has no mouth.
The man puts the bottle in his pocket, or perhaps his bag. “I have brought nothing to trade with.”
The woman laughs or she cries. The two are often the same. “All men can trade if they are willing to part.”
The man does not trust the woman, but he does not wish to be rude. “What I have, what you want, I will give to you, if I can.”
She nods, she knew he would say such a thing. Her finger is long and she points. It is a needle, her finger, though it is not, the needle that the man’s mother would use to sew and stitch. She points to his hand, and he gives it. The needle is cold in his finger. He watches her take one, two, three drops of red. It is a fair deal, he knows. Equal.
The woman gestures to the distant trees. “That is where you came, and where you will go.”
The man thanks her, but asks: “And what will I tell?”
“Nothing. Only that you were lost and now you are found. That the woods are black and dark and deep, and that they are filled with ghosts and ghouls and monsters, but not demons, for only fools believe in demons. You will hide what you have bought.”
The man nods, for he knows her words are true, and leaves.
It is important to remember that this did not happen. This is a story. The man does not exist, the woman does not exist, the forest does not exist. The bottle, that alone is true. I can see it even now, its lip oozing, the smell growing stronger each day. At times I will taste what has escaped the cap, but never do I open it. One day, perhaps soon, perhaps not, I will twist the cap, and drink what was bought. That day you will have a story.
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