Friday, May 22, 2009

Kesterwood Forest

Chapter One


Still drowsy from sleep Lilith moaned as she laid there, her body feeling achy and stiff, gradually as she began to wake up, her senses became aware that the air was fresh and crisp. Slowly she unfolded her arms from her chest and let them slide to the ground; beneath her hands she felt the soft grass with her fingers. Her mind still foggy she wondered,” Grass? On a city street?” Her eyes opened wide in disbelief as she sat upright in a panic. Rapidly, she turned her head from one side to the other. Looking in all directions, she found herself alone in a forest. Her mind began rapidly taking in her situation, “A forest?” The trees were so numerous and dense that the sunlight was barely peeking through the branches high above her. Mistrusting her own eyes, she rubbed the sleep out of them and mustard up the courage to look around once more. But it was to no avail, no matter where she looked she saw nothing but trees in every direction “How did I get here, where am I?” Only moments passed as she tried to assimilate her surroundings, “I know I was in the city when I went to sleep, and this is definitely a forest, but what forest, and where? How did I get in a forest, I know I didn’t walk here.” She rubbed her eyes yet again and held her head as if trying to wake up from a dream, but when her eyes reopened the forest was still there, “There’s no rational explanation, I have to be dreaming.”

Struggling to clear her hazy mind, she recalled falling asleep on the sidewalk next to a brick building, she had been homeless for some time now and with the shelters nearly always filled she had taken to sleeping on the sidewalks. “I remember I was across the street from the Burger King, so how the heck did I get here?” Her mind whirled, struggling to make some sense of what was happening.

When she drifted off to sleep the previous day she had been reliving the many failures of the fifty odd years of her life; she wondered why she still existed. She sat there bewildered and confused, continually contemplating where she was and how this could have happened. Becoming even more frightened, she tried to make light of the situation, “I bet this isn't Kansas, Toto.”

Glancing down at herself, she saw that she was wearing the same tattered clothes she had been in for weeks; somehow that was a comfort to her, “Well, at least that hasn't changed,” but she wished there was something more than just her clothes to prove that this wasn't some sort of weird dream.

Taking a more precise look around her surroundings, she spied a small bubbling creek meandering through the trees, “Perhaps if I splash some water on my face it will help.”

When she tried to stand, she discovered that the simple task of getting up on to her feet was not easy, her legs were shaky and weak, most likely because it had been a few days since she had eaten any decent food. Slowly, but surely she stood and stumbled over to the creek, once there she knelt down to take a deep drink of the water, it felt refreshing, clean and very cold, “Maybe this will wake me up.” Bending over a second time she scrubbed her face as hard as she could with the cold water hoping she would waken from this dream, or at least help her make sense of the situation. One moment she’d feel scared and lost, and the next, frustrated at what seemed to be occurring, “This can’t be happening, I just have to wake up.”

She stepped away from the creek and sat down, leaning against a large pine tree; vigilantly she continued to search the surroundings, hoping to spot something that would give her some indication of where she was.

The forest was thick with foliage and lush with a variety of vegetation, there were some enormous gnarly trees with canopies that reached so high her neck hurt to look up at them. Squeezed in between all of the trees were shrubs and undergrowth of all sizes and shapes struggling to survive, many of which she didn’t recognize.

Focusing her vision on one tree in particular she thought it was odd that it appeared to have a face with long hanging moss for a beard, “Overactive imagination,” she thought.

Feeling exasperated, she was no longer certain about much of anything, with the exception of one thing; the small amount of sunlight that had been making its way through the branches only moments ago was beginning to fade. Taking a deep breath she exhaled quite discouraged, “This isn’t good, not only am I delusional and lost but now it’s getting dark, what else can go wrong?”

She was sitting and contemplating what to do next when she inadvertently realized that something about the forest seemed strange. She remained silent and listened intently; with the exception of the bubbling creek, the forest was noiseless; no chirping of birds or scurrying of little animals, it was completely silent. The quiet was unnerving and a shiver went down her spine as she began feeling frightened. Suddenly she looked up thinking that she saw something move, there she spotted what she assumed was the only other living thing in the dimming forest. On a branch above her head, sat a snowy white owl staring down at her; a bizarre feeling of relief ran over her body, “Thank goodness I’m not alone”.

"Well, hello there, Mr. Owl," she found herself saying out loud.

The owl sat and stared at her without so much as a blink of an eye. Continuing to watch the owl, she proceeded with her one-sided conversation, "It's okay I really don't expect you to answer,” “I may be nuts but I’m not crazy… or am I?” Her situation being uppermost in her mind, she took a brief moment to glance around and then back up to the owl. In a somewhat subdued voice, she uttered, "I don't suppose you know where we are?" A silly grin crossed her face at the thought of a response coming from the owl, "I realize that you know where you are, but I was wondering if you’d care to share that information?"

“Gads, I'm talking to an owl, why am I talking to an owl, it's not like he's going to answer me! Nothing better than proving you’re nuts to the world. I'd better start looking for a way out of here, it’ll be dark soon.”

Recognizing that any light she may have would soon be gone, she stood up and began to walk in the direction of the setting sun, “I hope I can find some sort of path to help me find a way out of this forest. How does someone fall asleep in the city and wind up in the middle of a forest anyway?”

Unfortunately, the more she walked the more lost she appeared to be and there seemed no way out; eventually, it grew too dark to look any further. She had found no path or any footprints to indicate that anyone had ever passed this way before; nor any sign of life other then that of the owl, nothing was to be found in any direction but trees and more trees. She grew weary as the darkness began setting in and walked over beneath a large oak tree to rest, still resolved to find a way out of the forest.

Decidedly, she knew that the darkness was affecting her judgment and she needed to get some sleep, “There’s just no way this is real, it has to be a dream,” she thought over and over, “Maybe I’ll get lucky and wake up on the street again and all of this will go away.”

Hunger growled in her stomach as it had many times before, but she knew she was tired enough to fall asleep without it bothering her too much; after all it wasn’t the first time she would be going to sleep without eating.

Night in the forest was proving to be damp but clear and she was thankful that it was not very cold. She searched around the tree in the dimming light and noticed a large patch of comfortable looking moss and inched her way over to it. The moss was much softer than the cement she remembered going to sleep on the previous night. Lying down she gathered leaves around her to help keep the night dampness away, her eyes slowly began to close, but not before a movement from above made her glance up. She squinted, straining to see up into the tree branches; barely she made out the shape of the white owl perched above her. Seeing the owl somehow reassured her as she drifted off to sleep, “Odd,” her last thought was, ”I didn't notice that the owl followed me.”

Unknown to Lilith the owl kept a vigilant watch over her as she slept, leaving only once to hunt in the night. Morning dawned and minuscule rays of sunlight began filtering through the dense trees stretching to the forest floor, sprinkled here and there were a variety of small shrubs that had struggled to sprout from the sparse rays. The crunching sounds that the dried leaves made as Lilith began to waken alerted the owl to lean down to get a better look. Her eyes remained closed as she began to stretch her arms in the morning ritual of waking up. Pausing while she rubbed her eyes Lilith wondered if when she opened them she would still be in the forest, or back on the streets she had come to know so well, “I don't hear street traffic,” she nearly said aloud. To confirm her thought she opened one eye, “Nope, no cars here, that's for sure.” Sighing heavily she pulled herself into a sitting position and rested her back against the big tree, “I just don't get it, none of this makes any sense.”

Glancing upward into the tree she found the white owl sitting there, watching her, "Well, I see you're still here,” she said acknowledging the bird. With a few exasperating groans and her knees creaking she pushed herself to get up and stretched and twisted the night kinks out of her body, “Boy, it's hell being old. Worse then that... it's hell being old and obviously out of my mind! “ "However,” she mumbled out loud to herself, while she looked around, "at least no one here is looking at me in disgust." Cautiously she peeked back up at the owl shaking her finger at him, "And don't you say a word!"

She then scrutinized the area around her, this time more keenly than she had the night before, for she realized she was not only hungry but very thirsty too. Automatically, she reached into her shirt pockets to see if maybe she had a half of a stale doughnut left from the other morning when she was fortunate enough to have had coffee and a doughnut at the shelter, but luck was not on her side. All that she found in her pocket was an old pocketknife, and a watch that had stopped working, she hit the watch in her hand wondering why it was no longer functioning but it did not start up again. The time on the watch said 3 p.m., which was about the time she thought she had laid down on the sidewalk to rest and had fallen asleep. Having found nothing to sustain her, she returned the items to her well-worn pocket. Feeling at her wits end she looked around one more time but nothing had changed, “I never should have left that creek last night.”

The white owl suddenly fluttered its wings and the sound caught her attention, briefly Lilith speculated if he was about to fly off and leave her. The owl settled back down and as she continued to stare up at it she saw that there was something on the branch near the owl; though she strained to see, she could not make out what was on the limb. Being curious in nature she tried to get a better look, but no matter how much she squinted she just couldn't see what it was, “I’m old AND blind,” she moaned to herself. Finding determination building inside of her she examined the tree more closely. Old though she may be, she felt that she was still capable of climbing a few branches to where the owl sat, “One will attempt almost anything when one is dreaming,” came the humorous thought.

Grabbing onto a low branch she literally, walked her feet up the trunk, and then thrust her leg over the first branch to pull herself up, hugging the tree tightly while straddling the branch, she glanced down, “Taadaa! Not bad for an old broad!” Then she looked up towards the owl, “I must be nuts!” she thought. Maintaining her balance as she got to her feet she reached for the next branch, steadied herself and miraculously scrambled to get to the next level unscathed. Another quick glance up told her that she was almost high enough to see what was on the branch; the owl sat and watched never moving, as if it were a porcelain statue. Positioning her feet on her current branch, she stabled herself and then reached for the next limb, her hand missed the branch, and instead she grabbed the trunk of the tree to avoid falling, “Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, ok, so Tarzan I'm not, but I know I can do this!” Her heart pounding from the fright, she reached out again and this time caught a hold of the branch, realizing that she didn't have a lot of strength left in her, she paused to take a few breaths, before going on. With the help of some small limbs and the larger branch she had a hold of, she pulled and climbed her way up, “Whew, finally!” Happily, she found that she was eye level to the branch that the owl was perched on and immediately she began to search along the branch until she found the object next to the owl. When she realized what it was she screamed, "Ewwwwwww! A dead mouse, that’s disgusting." Cringing slightly she looked at the owl, "Went hunting for breakfast, huh? So nice of you to offer to share it with me, however, I’ll pass if you don't mind."

Discouraged and still hungry, she lowered herself onto the branch she was standing on and sat there collecting her thoughts and taking a moment to catch her breath. Before she began her descent she looked around from the newly found height, the thick canopy did not allow her to see very far, however, she was able to glimpse a little more then she could when she was on the ground. There was one area in particular where she noticed the sun peeking through, but not much else. Straining as hard as she could, she spotted something… or, thought she spotted something, “Could it be the creek?” she wasn't sure. Desperately she tried to focus her eyes so that she might see better, but she remained unable to distinguish if it was the creek or a shadow, “I need glasses.” She decided to climb down the tree, carefully, and go investigate the sighting.

Once she successfully maneuvered herself back to the ground, she immediately headed off in the direction where she hoped to find the creek; reaching the brightly lit area she stepped out into the sunlight and paused to savor its warmth. Giving her eyes a moment to adjust to the brightness Lilith strolled across the patch of grass and discovered what she had hoped for, “Water!” There, winding amidst the trees, just out of the sun’s reach was a creek. She hurried to the creek and knelt down cupping her hands and filling them with water; Lilith drank until she felt she couldn't take another swallow. The cold water made her feel somewhat refreshed as she doused her face experiencing relief now that she had found the much-needed water. Not knowing how long this impossible situation would last; she resolved not to stray far from the creek.

As she turned from the creek she noticed the owl landing in a tree on the far side of the clearing. Curiously she marveled, “How strange that an owl would follow a human around like this one is doing,” yet at the same time, it was oddly comforting since she still had not spotted any other life around.

Her eyes strayed down the tree in which the owl sat and she saw a group of shrubs that appeared to have blossoms on them, ever curious she went to investigate. Once she had crossed the sunny area she found that indeed the bush had blossoms and berries, “Food!” Quickly she picked a handful of berries and was about to toss them into her mouth when she hesitated and wondered if the berries would make her sick, or worse, be poisonous. Since she did not recognize the berries as any that she knew, and caution, being the better part of valor, she decided against eating them and unhappily tossed the berries to the ground. Eyeing the discarded berries, the owl swooped down and quickly ate them. Lilith watched with surprise, “Well, if he doesn't get sick I guess I can eat the berries.”

While anxiously waiting to see if anything would happen, she found herself becoming concerned for the owl, though she was very hungry she didn't want to see anything happen to the bird. He was, after all, her only companion and the only sign of life she had found since waking up in the forest. The owl flew back to his branch in the tree and resumed looking down at her while Lilith kept her eyes on the owl.

After some time had passed and all seemed well, her hunger took over and she decided to take the chance and eat some of the berries. As quickly as she could pick them she was tossing them into her mouth, surprisingly, she found that they were delicious. Once she felt the hunger pangs leave, she continued to pick what berries were left on the bushes, wrapped them in a big leaf she had found, and placed them in her pocket, ”Ok, now what do I do? I still don’t have any idea where I am or how I got here, and I’m lost... very lost.”

Just as these thoughts entered her mind, she saw the owl fly to another tree. She watched as he landed on a branch, almost out of sight, "Hey,” she called out, “Where are you going, you’re not going to leave me, are you?" Not letting the bird out of her sight, she began to walk towards him but as she drew near, he flew off again. Instinctively, she quickened her pace and tried to keep up with the owl, yet each time that she would almost reach him he would fly off to yet another tree farther away.

Never wanting to loose track of the water, she kept one eye on the creek to be sure it remained in sight; on and on the owl flew, always landing and seeming to wait for her to catch up to him. After about an hour of this she was beginning to tire and paused to catch her breath, "I don't know where you are going, friend owl, but could we take a short break? I'm not young, ya know, and exercise was never on my to do list.” This time when she came close to the tree that he had landed in, he did not fly away, “I'll be darned,” she thought, “It’s almost like he understood me.”

Taking advantage of the fact that the owl stayed where he was, she collapsed and rested against the tree. Leaning her head back on the tree her eyes began to close, she was just about to take a nap when she heard the owl take flight again. Having no other plan, and not wanting to loose him, she jumped up and followed the owl.

After some time of playing catch me if you can, they came upon a wall of broad vines and plants covered with thorns. Though she searched frantically she could not find a way through this strange growth. Suddenly, the owl began to fly over the impregnable barrier, startled, she yelled out to the owl, "Hey, Don’t leave me here! Don't go; I can't follow you! I can't get through here!" Disheartened, she stood quiet for a moment hoping the owl would come back, but the owl did not return. Again she tried searching for a way through the thorns when suddenly the vines parted as if a door was opening before her. Stunned and too tired to run, she stood there with her mouth agape; it was as if a vision had appeared before her, there stood an old man with his frail hand on the bushy gate.

"No need to yell young lady, a simple ‘hello’ would suffice."

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