On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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I count each day as a blessing from heaven.
My good fortune is clear. I have managed to obtain peace and a large measure of contentment in my remaining years. Though each day is much like the one before, I find only comfort in my routine.
The forest seems to go on forever. Though my most strenuous hiking days are behind me, I have been two full days into the trees before turning back, having seen no sign of an ending. The sounds of life are everywhere.
I hear larger animals sometimes, but I have never seen one. I expect they keep to themselves just as I do. In the morning, I occasionally see tracks nearby, but nothing that I own is ever disturbed.
But what do we really own?
I built my home with my own hands, and the tools I had with me. To call it a house is generous, but it is certainly a cabin. It keeps me warm in winter and cool in summer, and I never want for fresh water. The river, the well I dug, and the spring on the hillside all ensure my survival.
I have never asked where the food comes from, and it has never failed to be waiting for me each morning. I built my modest shrine to my ancestors before I had finished the walls of my home, and I pray every morning and every evening. When I awaken each day with the dawn — or before it now, as old age sets in — I find a full day’s provisions laid out for me in front of my shrine. There are never any footprints. I give a prayer of thanks, and I don’t ask further questions.
I’ve been here for many years now. I think I camped under a makeshift shelter for the first several months, while I built the frame and roof of my home. There was no rain at all during that time, but the foliage all around was always moist and green. On the night after I made my home weather-fast, it rained, and I knew that I was blessed.
I make a fire each day, mostly for the routine and the light and the sound of it, rather than warmth. The forest is temperate, and winters are mild. I have no complaints. I cook over the flames, and then I set about my day’s tasks, whatever they may be.
Very often, I build. I fell trees, and strip the bark, and cut the trunks into logs before breaking them down further. I make furniture sometimes, or even entire outbuildings. I have three structures now, besides my home. One is a latrine, and one is a place for the tools I own and the tools I have made, but the third lies empty because I can think of no use for it. I have no need of a larder, and I have no others to accommodate.
I think I had a family once. I feel it strongly to be true. I sometimes wonder where they are, but I sense that like me, they are at peace. I try not to worry. Indeed, it is difficult to worry about anything here in the forest. Perhaps they are even somewhere among the endless trees.
I think I had a wife. There are moments in the night when I half-awaken, and in that twilight place between dreams and awareness, I think I can almost picture her face. And then I hear the soft sounds of the wind through the trees, and I find no sadness in my forgetfulness.
I think I had a child. Perhaps a son, or perhaps a daughter. Sometimes I imagine what his or her name might have been, but nothing sounds correct. I know that whoever the child may be, and wherever, that they are happy and at peace.
It has been many, many years since I have seen or spoken to another person. I do have vague recollections of doing so. I remember the idea of other faces besides mine, and the sound of other voices. I remember the idea of places besides the forest. Places that were flatter but also taller; emptier yet more full. Filled with life and yet devoid of nature. I find those thoughts confusing, and difficult to reconcile. For what else could there possibly be beyond the forest?
My home is in a clearing; one of many. The river cuts through nearby. Less than an hour’s walk brings me to the lake, or if I go in the opposite direction from home, twice that distance will bring me to the caves. They are empty, save for the small animals of the forest, and the rocks all around are far too steep for me to climb now. I sometimes wonder what lies on the other side, but in my heart I know it will only be the forest.
I sometimes pray for books, and books sometimes arrive. Stacked beside my food for the day. The books are all of facts, regarding how to sharpen a saw, and how to bore a straight hole, and how to cut and assemble rafters. The covers never bear the names of any author. Sometimes they are about the theory of music, or a language besides my own. They are never stories, because what stories are there to tell about things besides the forest?
And so I read and I learn, and I will sometimes go for weeks on end without considering the possibility that there might be anyone else in the world besides me.
I swim, and I build, and I cook, and I walk. Sometimes I sing, but I never know where the melodies come from. And sometimes I even speak out loud, hearing the strangeness of my voice under the canopy of green, and I think that all the unseen animals pause for a moment to listen. A respectful silence of brief attention, before going about their business as before.
It is a fine life.
I exist in calmness under the cool shade of the trees, amidst birdsong and running water, with the sigh of the breeze through a hundred thousand leaves. I smell the earth and my fire, and the scent of cut wood all around, with the air above always clear.
I age, but as the trees do, only little by little. I have everything I need.
I live within the forest, as perhaps I always have done, and I am at peace.
I hope you enjoyed this brief tale. If you have any thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear from you; I'm @mattgemmell on Twitter.
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