Telling Tales 27
It Sees in Time
No one went into the woods behind our town. They were filled with all manner of dangers. Trees with tangled roots to trip you. Sinkholes to trap you. Boars and bears to savage, wolves to eat you. Deep in the forest, at its darkest point, there was even a witch. We had never seen her, but her house moved of its own accord, and the entire town could see its chimney stack tottering across the tops of the trees, dark brown smoke belching into the sky.
There were also treasures. Once every two or three years someone would arrive at the town through the forest in spite of all of the dangers, laden down with gold once, the most amazing fruits anyone had ever tasted another time, and just before the moment when this takes place, a blue and green jewel shaped like an egg, glimmering lights in its core.
The woodsman clutched it to his chest, a precious stone nearly as big as his head. We didn’t recognize him, not even after we had cleaned off the blood and dirt from his face. By then he had died, his face frozen in fear. He had never spoken so much as a word. It was too much. Our town was not in so much need, but that temptation, that wealth, it is simply too much for many people to bear. It means freedom. Independence. Strength.
One young man after another tried his luck, sixteen in all, and only one ever returned, the ninth. He had no jewel, but he had the same scrapes and cuts. “It sees in time,” was all he said, but he spoke the words over and over. As far as I know, he lives still, uttering the same sentence even now.
I was no better than the young men, nor were my friends, young though we were, and with the spirit and enthusiasm of youth, I thought that I would succeed where they had failed. I packed food for three nights, for in my ignorance I was sure that it would be the work of few days. When my parents began their work, I made my way into the forest.
It sees in time, I repeated to myself. I would understand what that meant sooner than I expected.
The trees in the forest are dark and close together and they create a kind of a thumping hum. I counted to comfort myself as I threaded my way between the trunks and thorns. One. Two. Three. Four. I stepped with my counting. One. Two. Three. Four. The deeper I trod, the faster the hum thumped. I don’t know how long I walked, for the sun did not fully penetrate the branches, but I had gone through much of my food when I saw the first body, one of the young men two three four. Then a second three four.
By then I was counting not hums, like a heartbeat, but bodies. One two three four. Two two three four. Eight so far.
Then I understood.
It sees in time. The beats of the forest’s heart. It saw me walking, had seen all of these young men, now stretched out against tree trunks.
I could not stop. I walked further on and further in. Three two three four. Twelve bodies, twelve young men. The heart beat in time, a four count. Sixteen total, and one had escaped, only three bodies left.
Four. Mouth agape.
There was an empty tree, waiting for me. I walked on, unable to turn away, until I saw…